Must-reads on fat visibility, fashion, and racist imagery

If you don’t read NYLON or aren’t an obsessive Gossip fan, you might (like me) have missed a recent photoshoot with fat icon Beth Ditto that used racist imagery. Threadbared has a spot-on analysis of what’s so troubling about the image, which you can see reproduced in the post:

The housekeeper is meant to be invisible, working unobtrusively around the perceptual periphery of the guest, and this scene is no exception. She is part of the set dressing, in which Ditto’s bright and hard-edged New Wave styling intrudes to asserts itself as distinct, as foreground. This blandness, this generic and ordinary landscape, the photograph suggests, is not Ditto’s natural habitat. By implication, it is the housekeeper’s.

Tara at Fatshionista follows up by asking what we do when one of the vanishingly few icons of fat acceptance fuck up so deeply:

Is it “ok” to give fat media icons a little more leeway because there are so few of them? Is the willingness to lower the bar proof that the FA movement isn’t taking race and the racism in our community seriously? How do we hold a media icon accountable for their actions when we can’t always engage or interact with them?

Both posts engage in excellent analysis and ask urgent questions about the intersection of antiracism and fat acceptance; please check them out.

ETA: Comments that claim that the racism of this photoshoot is “just one interpretation” will not be approved because they give me a stabby pain behind my eyes.

93 thoughts on “Must-reads on fat visibility, fashion, and racist imagery

  1. Absolutely we hold our role models to account for their actions, otherwise we give up our right to decide who is our role model. We also have to understand that just because someone is a fabulous fattie does not mean that they stand for all the same things we do.

  2. I know that, in photo shoots, the model doesn’t always have a lot of input into the concept and final presentation, and photos often end up expressing something with which the model would not have fully agreed.
    However, it’s very hard for me to see how Ditto could have not detected something amiss here, such as why she was being made up in ‘geisha-face’ or why there was an ‘anonymous’ asian maid playing cards with her. I’d thus hold her partly accountable for this, yes.

  3. I think it’s important to talk about these things. I think Beth’s fans should make it clear how they feel about the image; and how she responds should dictate whether or not fans continue to consume her product. I could be she’s not clued in to such issues. (I don’t know anything about Beth Ditto, except that she’s fat and has cool clothes.)

  4. Is it “ok” to give fat media icons a little more leeway because there are so few of them?

    Heck, no. Although I have no idea how a blogger is supposed to hold them accountable beyond pointing out what’s wrong with what they’re doing, which is what these bloggers are doing.

    To be honest when I first saw the picture I thought it was the geisha look that was questionable; didn’t realize the other lady was a housekeeper until I read Threadbared’s post. I thought it was someone else in the band or a roadie or whatnot. Once Threadbre pointed out the uniform and all I was on board with it, though.

  5. Although I have no idea how a blogger is supposed to hold them accountable beyond pointing out what’s wrong with what they’re doing, which is what these bloggers are doing.

    I think the issue is with other bloggers (and I’m not talking about anyone specifically, ’cause I actually haven’t read anything about this — have had my nose in my own book all week) who are uncritically saying, “Yay, Beth Ditto photos!” without analyzing the racism in that one — and commenters who become defensive when it’s pointed out.

    As to this question…
    Is the willingness to lower the bar proof that the FA movement isn’t taking race and the racism in our community seriously?

    … That’s a toughie for me, because I still don’t know where or what the movement really is at this point. The fat blogs are great, NAAFA’s still kicking, COFRA’s gearing up… but I personally don’t feel like there’s necessarily a cohesive, centralized movement that can be analyzed. (Although that could, of course, be because I’m inside what people of color see as a cohesive movement built around white people.) I actually think that’s a good thing, since there are still a lot of important questions about what the movement should look like as we go forward, I think.

    But in the meantime, it’s hard for me to determine what represents The Movement and what — especially on blogs — represents an individual voice. It’s a complicated issue because, “Well, that’s just one bad apple [or a small handful of them]” is such a familiar way of worming out of acknowledging how a system/institution/movement is broken. But at the same time… it’s a bunch of blogs. Any idiot, myself very much included, can say whatever damn fool thing she likes on her own blog, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of The Fatosphere — to the extent that there are any — much less an organized movement. So I’m sincerely torn on this point right now — is there even a functioning Movement, per se? Where is it? Who’s inside, and who’s outside? Is the Fatosphere essentially a movement itself?

    I’m really curious to hear other people’s takes on that — especially those who feel like there’s an indentifiable movement that they don’t see as welcoming to them.

  6. Ugh. What gets me about that photo is the attitude of ‘slumming’ about it. I didn’t read ‘non-white manual laborer fades into the background’ but ‘look at me, I’m so cutting edge and chic that I’ll hang out with housekeepers‘. Regardless of their feelings on the subject. Either way, that photo totally dehumanizes the housekeeper.

  7. This photo makes Beth Ditto look like a racist bully who uses working class people for her own amusement. You’d think she’d object to that, at least.

    And I don’t think we should cut fat icons any slack. That doesn’t mean we have to go around screaming “Privilege! Privilege” which is something of a team sport on many “progressive” blogs, but we should definitely call a fucked up piece of work a fucked up piece of work.

    This photoshoot is a fucked up piece of work.

  8. What aebhel said. I found the “background-ness” of the housekeeper combined with Ditto’s geisha makeup particularly offensive.

  9. Well, if there is a coherent FA movement, it’s not a very successful one, is it? In the nearly 40 years since NAAFA was founded, fat hatred and associated superstitions have gotten steadily more prevalent and now are as bad (in the U.S. at least) as they’ve ever been. If one just looked at the timeline, one would have to say that if FA has had any effect at all, it’s been to make things worse.

    But perhaps it’s less failure than lack of opportunity to move inward from the fringe. The ‘Net, and the blogosphere in particular, is oh-so-slowly bringing FA into the mainstream culture and media.The positions, beyond basic non-discrimination and possibly HAES, aren’t completely coherent yet, but at least the media has some idea where to look for information and who the accepted authorities or spokespeople may be. And even if just the idea of non-discrimination gets through, that would be some progress.

    As far as not feeling welcome — well, my personal beliefs are often openly denigrated or, at best, treated dismissively in FA forums. I don’t criticize anyone merely for disagreeing with my conclusions, of course, and I don’t want anybody to stop talking by any means. But I do worry that others who could and would support FA as wholeheartedly as I do, and could help spread the word, may easily be alienated.

    If the response were to be “We don’t need or want people who think like you,” I might say that the movement has not been so wildly successful as yet that it should be counting out anybody who could be both sympathetic and potentially influential. But I should let people speak for themselves, of course.

  10. After the similar sort of thing with Seal Press and the feminist blogs not long ago, I have a lot of these same sorts of questions (how do I show support for POC? Is not buying the book enough? Should I stop reading the blog? etc).

    The only thing I’ve figured out for sure is that I’m not willing to do the “forgive and forget” routine until, bare minimum, there’s been a real apology from the person who made the mistake to the people who’ve been hurt.

  11. I’m not a huge fan of Beth Ditto in general, so this may mean less coming from me, but I found the photo shoot offensive and am going to drop a note to her management as well as directly to NYLON.

    (I haven’t been thrilled with Ditto since her much-publicized “Gay men are responsible for the waif models craze” rant a while back.)

  12. What was the context of the picture originally? was there any explanation given for what was supposed to be going on? I’m still not sure what THEY thought the picture was about…

  13. I agree with aebhal. I thought the picture was more classist than racist (not that it didn’t have racist overtones, because it obviously did; I just found the classist ones much more pronounced). To me it said, “look at me! Even though I’m rich, I’m able to be in the same room as the unwashed masses without vomiting!” I’m surprised that this aspect of it hasn’t gotten more play (although the racism is certainly also worthy of discussion).

  14. @Sniper. We wouldn’t have to keep on pointing out people rolling around in their privilege, if they would knock it the fuck out. I find it annoying and tiresome to have to keep on telling people to notice their privilege. I feel like if you’re involved in progressive politics, you should be aware of the basics of privilege and be able to check yourself. And yet, people keep on denying it exists or minimizing its effects.

    @Kate

    I do think that it is difficult to analyze the FA movement as a whole, but I can say that the various aspects of it (NAAFA, Fatosphere, etc) do not consistently address race and racism within the community. Yes the Fatosphere are a bunch of individuals posting whatever they want, but there are patterns to what is said, what kinds of things are ignored, adn what kinds of things get a slew of negative responses. Tara’s first post on race and fatness on Fatshionista.com got a slew of negative comments both on teh post, and scattered about in other blogs. Adipositivity, as I have mentioned before, has gained almost universally positive commentary in the fatosphere and the lack of WOC (until quite recenlty) has gone without comment.

    That people will not stop saying “fat is the last acceptable prejudice” I think is the biggest sign that, as a community, we are not dealing well with issues of race.

  15. @harvenpenguin I think the racism in the image is intimately tied with classism. I dont’ think it’s possible to say which is worse, since they’re tied together.

  16. @Sniper. We wouldn’t have to keep on pointing out people rolling around in their privilege, if they would knock it the fuck out.

    What I was getting at was the tendency on some progressive blog comment threads for a bunch of self-described middle-class white people to point out each other’s privilege as if it were a contest. It seems to me that sometimes this drags the focus back to the privileged group rather than the people actually being hurt by whatever situation was originally discussed.

  17. I’d like that photo so much better if it had just been Beth Ditto against a dark background. The bedspread is so clashy and tacky (which from what little I’ve seen of BD is her style), but it’s the absolutely exhausted look on the housekeeper that draws my attention. I’m sure she didn’t intend to “steal the scene,” but her authentic emotion seems much more REAL than BD’s supercilious attitude. Beth Ditto is the odd man out in this photo, and it’s not to her credit.

  18. Oh, I also wanted to add that it was interesting to see BD wearing those silver lamé leggings again, even though they were just peeking out under her top. Even though I don’t like the concept of the photo, it’s great to see a famous person wearing the same item of clothing more than once. :-)

  19. That people will not stop saying “fat is the last acceptable prejudice” I think is the biggest sign that, as a community, we are not dealing well with issues of race.

    Totally agreed, but I’ll note that everywhere I read, people get called out on that whenever it comes up. Given the constant influx of new people into the community, I expect we’ll be playing whack-a-mole with that shit for a long time.

    Your other points are very well-taken. (I mean, so was that one — I just think people do move pretty quickly to shut that down when they see it.)

  20. ETA: Comments that claim that the racism of this photoshoot is “just one interpretation” will not be approved because they give me a stabby pain behind my eyes.

    Seriously? Sheesh.

  21. And by that I mean, “People seriously suggested that this photo might not be racist???”

    Tired writing has not clarity.

  22. Heh. Sorry about that. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some people would defend this, because I recall a discussion elsewhere where some people (idiots) defended the Obama-as-Curious-George t-shirt on the grounds that little monkeys are cute.

  23. @Julia–I totally agree. I just meant that I felt that the picture was built more on class issues than race issues. If the housekeeper would have been white, the picture still would have “worked” somewhat (in that it would have had roughly the same story). If it was just some random Latina in jeans and a t-shirt, it would have just been kind of confusing. But the fact that it is a Latina housekeeper adds a racist message to the already classist one.

  24. Totally agreed, but I’ll note that everywhere I read, people get called out on that whenever it comes up.

    Eh. I do see some people calling it out, and I also see plenty of people arguing that fat totally is a last acceptable prejudice. While I wish they were all newbies, I don’t think they are. SADLY.

    Some of this comes down to that, as a group, white people don’t see race/racism as an ongoing serious problem in society. While individuals may get it, convincing larger groups is a bigger issue. And that’s part of what I see as a big issue.

  25. I’m sure she didn’t intend to “steal the scene,” but her authentic emotion seems much more REAL than BD’s supercilious attitude. Beth Ditto is the odd man out in this photo, and it’s not to her credit.

    I have no idea who Beth Ditto is and my eye was very much drawn to the other lady as more inherently interesting. Mind you, I thought Ditto was a doll or a work of art rather than a living human being, so I was constructing something totally different in my mind. But even knowing who I am “supposed” to be looking at it I agree that the other lady definitely draws the attention, not just because of her expression but because of the picture’s composition. It’s a strange piece.

    I think some people arguing that fat is the last acceptable prejudice are describing their reality, in that in some groups, fat is the last acceptable prejudice, and I think some people in those groups don’t realize that their friends do not represent the totality of the culture. I think it could be argued that fat prejudice is the most broadly acceptable, in the sense that you can get away with it nearly everywhere, but I think there are still places where even that isn’t true, where people will tolerate prejudice against POC before they would fat prejudice.

    But if it isn’t newbies making that argument, that’s a bad sign, IMHO, because everywhere I’ve seen someone use that term they’ve been challenged, and this should be something you may not intuitively get, but that is obvious once pointed out – just because you’re not seeing other prejudice going on doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Since most FA groups have a fair percentage of women, and women deal with prejudice, you’d think that would go without saying, but I guess not.

    I would say some aspects of the FA movement take race and racism within the community and some don’t, which unfortunately tends to be the case (or at least feminism strikes me as being much the same).

  26. That is, some groups within the FA movement take race and racism within the community seriously and some don’t. *sigh* I just shouldn’t post when my allergies are nuts, I swear…

  27. I could NOT figure out – still can’t – what the hell Ditto was doing. So as to not hurt your head, I should say right up front that I agree that this image is racist – but I’m having a hard time unpacking it relative to other images. Of course, I don’t read NYLON and am maybe not hipster enough to have seen this before.

    To me it’s a really WIERD racial image. It doesn’t twig my “average” stereotypical racial dialogue from non-hipster sources – the housekeeper is being used as set decoration, for sure – but her boredom is ALSO visible.

    I don’t think that’s just Threadbared projecting or seeing something not in the picture. (Or if it is, I’m projecting too.) I also am being made uncomfortable by filling in narrative. But the woman doesn’t look comfortable, she’s not smiling, and her attention on Ditto (still a person of colour focusing on a white woman and the white woman as the object) is not … well, I can see a person and not just a uniform, whereas your everyday doctor’s office ad stock racism usually removes all images that aren’t Rousseaued in some way.

    In the doctor’s office ad stock, hotel rooms aren’t cleaned, they are clean. If there is a cleaning woman there, she is thrilled to be part of your Cleanliness Experience! She is joyfully helping you maximize your Comfort Potential! Yay! The housekeeper with Ditto looks trapped and not terribly interested in Ditto’s Comfort Potential.

    Juxtaposition and tokenism also exists as a racist trope, of course: was it A Sarah, on another thread, who unpacked some healthy living magazine and the only people of colour were being used as juxtaposition? Never the object, always the foil? I think this falls under that same racialized rubric: using the image of a blue collar woman of colour as a juxtapostion. But then why is she in uniform? That’s “uncomfortable”, at least to the white middle class.

    So it’s a weird dialogue to me, and I don’t know what it’s saying about the changing face of (hipster) racism. Maybe it’s just the same old, same old: Ditto is employing some form of cultural appropriation – like hippies with potlatch – by clothing herself in the garb of a “servile Geisha” and then boring the shit out of someone who is in a less powerful position — to show herself in control?

    Hmm.

  28. I will say, I totally didn’t get the Geisha thing until just now. I just thought it was bad makeup.

  29. @ Shiloh
    I think it could be argued that fat prejudice is the most broadly acceptable, in the sense that you can get away with it nearly everywhere,

    It’s really awkward how that isn’t true. People get away with racism nearly everywhere. It happens all the fucking time. Please do not try to argue that away or minimize it.

    Yes I am sure the people making the statement “fat is the last acceptable prejudice” believe it is true and it matches their experience. That doesn’t mean it is accurate White privilege makes it easy to dismiss and overlook racism. Class privilege makes it easy to dismiss classism. DItto for ableism, gender privilege, etc. Claiming fat is the last acceptable privilege means you think that other forms of oppression either don’t happen, or aren’t “really” oppressive, and that is buying into a whole lot of bullshit.

  30. I have to agree that we are for sure not down to one acceptable prejudice. I still see classism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, fat phobia, and religious prejudice all around me every day.

    I don’t know Beth Ditto other than the various magazine covers or photo shoots I’ve seen on FA blogs, but that image is lots of wrong.

    I see lots and lots and lots apologies made for people exerting white privilege in progressive bogs (not in this one so much because of the fabulous moderation skills [seriously I love you ladies]), and I also see the word ‘privilege’ being used in the same way that PC is used to dismiss the points the speaker is making. When I’ve told people that their privilege was preventing them from understanding something a person of color/woman/fat person/etc was saying, I get the “Oh no. Here we go with the privilege claptrap. *yawn* I don’t respond to ad hominem attacks” treatment. I’m like, no, seriously, fucking check your privilege, ass.

  31. While I wish they were all newbies, I don’t think they are. SADLY.

    Fair enough. To be honest, I’ve not been reading too many blogs lately, so that’s probably a big part of why I’m not seeing it as much, or am only seeing it in places where it’s called out.

    And yeah, Shiloh, what Julia said. I get that you’re trying to see things from someone else’s perspective and acknowledging that the conclusion is ultimately wrong, but it still sounds a little like you’re defending that line of reasoning.

    Some of this comes down to that, as a group, white people don’t see race/racism as an ongoing serious problem in society. While individuals may get it, convincing larger groups is a bigger issue. And that’s part of what I see as a big issue.

    True.

  32. I’m having kind of the same reaction as Arwen. I just can’t figure out what the Hell is supposed to be going on in this picture. It’s misguided at best.

  33. Comments that claim that the racism of this photoshoot is “just one interpretation” will not be approved because

    I’m going to have to take a chance on this one because I think regarding the WOC I think that the point here is classism and I stated this on the site of the original post, although my comments have yet to be approved.
    For me it wouldn’t have made much essential difference if the BD non-white and the other lady was white, the issue here is that a hard working minimum wager has been pressganged into an ill-conceived photo shoot with someone who’s
    how would BD feel if a group of housekeepers of any race decided to descend on one of her recording sessions and insist they just had totidy things up, right now but hey don’t stop singing Beth, it’ll entertain us!

    In fact Curt Cobain summed the the attitude to the other lady in the photo, ‘here we are now,entertain us’

  34. Not sure what is going on with this image either? But am wondering if the photographer/designer intentionally has Ditto playing the role of “rich bitch” – you know they used to photograph glamorous looking models with ice queen expressions kind of stepping all over their staff (figuratively) sometimes for fashion shoots? Because it seems that the domestic labourer’s expressions are very transparent in this image, very intentional, that we’re supposed to feel uncomfortable with an obvious exploitation of power, to empathise with her rather than the spoilt woman in geisha make-up which borders on a mask (ie. removed from us).

    If the photo intends to play on notions of racism/classism, to tell that story, is it still racist/classist for using unknown woman of ‘other’ race to highlight famous white woman? I guess so.

  35. Arwen, I just want to say that I am REALLY interested in what you and other smart, thoughtful people who understand privilege and oppression have to say about “hipster racism” as you put it. Because you’re putting your finger on something that I’ve been sensing but couldn’t quite articulate… It’s more than just the “ironic distance and a raised eyebrow makes EVERYTHING okay!” posture that yields racist t-shirts, though it is certainly that.

  36. This photo makes no sense.

    Also, tacky pink shirt, gold pants? really? and sideways pose that pretty much shows only BD’s face? what’s that about?

    It is ugh, bleh and grrr all in one.

  37. Wriggles, seriously, you can’t divorce the classism and racism in this photo. They are thoroughly intertwined. Yes, it still would be classist if the housekeeper figure were white. No, that does not mean that it makes no difference that she’s a woman of color.

    There is just no point in setting up the Oppression Olympics in this discussion. What does it accomplish besides refusing to think about race as a site of critical analysis?

  38. It’s more than just the “ironic distance and a raised eyebrow makes EVERYTHING okay!” posture that yields racist t-shirts, though it is certainly that.

    Hipster racism is just a variation of the old can’t-we-kid-around, some-of-my-best-friends crap that’s been around forever. Decades ago dressing up and going to Harlem was great fun for a lot of people who had no intention of supporting civil rights.

    The story of Josephine Baker is interesting in this light. She faced racial discrimination in her home country – even from her “champions” like Walter Winchell – and in France she was treated as an exotic “other”. Hipster racism, old-style.

  39. If the photo intends to play on notions of racism/classism, to tell that story, is it still racist/classist for using unknown woman of ‘other’ race to highlight famous white woman? I guess so.

    Well, and this image does not make any attempt to subvert that “rich bitch” trope, if that’s what it’s playing on. I don’t see it commenting on racism/classism in any way, just exploiting them.

  40. I really enjoyed the post at Threadbared…and I think – just like calling people out on sizeist bullshit or gender bias (et al) whenever and wherever we see it (with, of course, varying degrees of niceness, as called for) – it’s really important to call this out even with a fat icon (if she is such a thing) like Beth Ditto.

    I mean, when Latifah goes on a diet, we call her out, ’cause what the fuck? When Michael Moore talks about how fatties all need to eat “heavy foods,” we call him out on it, ’cause what the fuck? I don’t know why Beth Ditto should be any different on matters of race or class….and I think she needs to be called out on it, ’cause what the fuck?

    Calling someone we love on some bullshit is, in my opinion, an expression of love and not hate. ‘Cause seriously, y’all, if I pull some racist or ableist or homophobic or classist or sexist bullshit, I really want you all to check me with a loving, but honest, “what the fuck?”

  41. Racialicious (http://www.racialicious.com/) has been having some interesting discussions of hipster racism.

    Also Kate, as to “is the fatosphere addressing its own racism”, people defending racism appeared within hours. And apparently are bouncing around in moderation. Yes newbies keep on appearing, and keep on needing to be taught. Look at who calls them out though. Is it consistently you, FJ and Sweet Machine? Frankly, I don’t see the community of Shapely Prose commenters as being particularly aware of anti-racist issues *as a group*. Individuals may rock out, but I don’t see the community dialogue as being there.

    And of course, I link drop

    The Art of Defending Racism

    http://community.livejournal.com/sex_and_race/296541.html

    and How to Suppress Discussions of Racism (with illustrations)

    http://coffeeandink.livejournal.com/607897.html

  42. I’m going to have to take a chance on this one because I think regarding the WOC I think that the point here is classism and I stated this on the site of the original post, although my comments have yet to be approved.

    SM already answered this, but that would only be an issue if you’re saying the classism trumps or erases the racism. It’s not either/or; it’s both.

  43. Calling someone we love on some bullshit is, in my opinion, an expression of love and not hate. ‘Cause seriously, y’all, if I pull some racist or ableist or homophobic or classist or sexist bullshit, I really want you all to check me with a loving, but honest, “what the fuck?”

    I totally agree and I think this is perfectly put.

  44. This is the only issue of NYLON I have ever read, and I can’t believe I didn’t notice this. I must have absentmindedly flipped past it whilst on the can or something.

    Too much?

  45. The article and comments at Fatshionista are well worth checking out. In particular Roni makes a wonderfully balanced comment which I would summarise as saying that we need to challenge racism wherever it arises but bear in mind that anti-racist activists come from a place of knowing that no-one is entirely free from racist, classist, sexist , (anti-fat) etc attitudes. We challenge each other in order to encourage improvement – not with the expectation that any of us will become perfect any time soon.

    From my own point of view, Beth Ditto’s FA icon status should be irrelevant. To me, the cultural appropriation imagery she’s used is essentially no better – and no worse – than that of Gwen Stefani.

  46. To me, the cultural appropriation imagery she’s used is essentially no better – and no worse – than that of Gwen Stefani.

    Gag.

    You’re right though. Surely FA is not a fight to ensure that fat white people can be obnoxious fashion icons. That would be… embarrassing, to say the least.

  47. “To me, the cultural appropriation imagery she’s used is essentially no better – and no worse – than that of Gwen Stefani.”

    I completely agree.

    I have to say that I haven’t liked BD since her comments on gay men and fashion or her comments on Angelina Jolie and bisexuality.

  48. Oh damn, what did she say about Angelina Jolie and bisexuality?

    This is all making me glad I’m not a huge fan to begin with, because boy would I be crushed right now.

  49. Sweet Machine

    This is taken from: http://xrrf.blogspot.com/2007/07/beth-ditto-biphobic-or-blinkered.html

    We’re not actually sure if Beth Ditto is biphobic, or if she just hasn’t quite got the capacity to understand what “bisexuality” means. But she’s had a pop at Angelina Jolie:
    Gay singer BETH DITTO has hit out at actress ANGELINA JOLIE’s claims she’s bisexual, insisting she wouldn’t be dating BRAD PITT if she was.

    Eh? What on earth does that mean, Beth?
    “If she were actually a lesbian she’d be with a woman.”

    Uh… yes. That’s why she’s always said she’s bisexual, Beth. You have to hope that she’s not one of what we’d hoped were an almost-extinct type of homosexual, the sort who believes that there’s no such thing as bisexuality and believe that all bisexuals are either gay people who are too scared to “properly” come out or straight people who are trying to make themselves more interesting.

    If Beth Ditto were actually as feminist and sassy as she’s supposed to be, she wouldn’t come out with such monosexist cant.

  50. Though, BD seems to run a cool advice column and has addressed problems from bisexual teens, but I still don’t think it’s cool to call people out on their sexuality, celebrities or not.

  51. While I agree that the imagery is racist and classist, I think that the whole dialog around it would be different if it were art rather than a pop culture image.
    What if the image were taking race and class issues seriously, and intending to expose them? With all these people talking about it, clearly it would have been effective. I wonder, if it were art, and were meant to ellicit this response, would Beth Ditto’s participation be criticized in the same way?

    The picture summed up cultural appropriation, and why it’s a problem, really effectively for me. There are two women, one of whom doesn’t have the luxury of participating in the culture that the other is appropriating.

    Pop culture does all sorts of things like this, though, which would be stunning commentary if they were created, presented, and interpreted with any small amount of awareness, rather than just taken at face value.

  52. I’ve seen the picture before the controversy, and I didn’t see Beth’s hair and makeup as Geisha-like; to me her hair, makeup, and outfit was a throwback to 1980’s New Wave.

    Which is ironic because during the early to mid 1980s, there was this short-lived obsession with the Japanese culture and red & white & black color schemes. White people were donning headbands with Asian characters; The Karate Kid was huge, and David Bowie and The Vapours were loving their China Girl and Turning Japanese, respectively. So if Beth Ditto is apppropriating a look from another culture, she isn’t the first to do it and she certainly won’t be the last.

    If the housekeeper would have been white, the picture still would have “worked” somewhat (in that it would have had roughly the same story). If it was just some random Latina in jeans and a t-shirt, it would have just been kind of confusing. But the fact that it is a Latina housekeeper adds a racist message to the already classist one.

    That’s my take on this picture. But it’s also interesting to see the facial expressions of the housekeeper and Beth. It’s like they somehow know this picture will cause controversy. This is also why I don’t read high-fashion magazines. It seems they deliberately create these images for their own amusement.

  53. hey maybe i’m out of the loop but can someone fill me in on this michael moore bizness? i didn’t hear about him saying anything about this….maybe somebody has a link so something related?:

    “When Michael Moore talks about how fatties all need to eat “heavy foods,” we call him out on it, ’cause what the fuck?”

    (p.s. how do i italicize? i’m not good with technology…)

  54. I’ve only seen the image in question as it appears on Threadbared. I differ from her analysis, and the analysis here, in two particulars:

    – The first element I noticed in the photo was the face of the woman in the maid’s uniform. I read the rest of the image as the narrative of how that woman came to have that look on her face.
    – I assume that the woman in the maid’s uniform is a model hired by the photographer.

    I don’t think the exploitation and appropriation in the photo are accidental bits that appeared while the photographer was trying to capture something else. I think showing exploitation and appropriation was the point.

  55. Tari,

    “when Latifah goes on a diet, we call her out, ’cause what the fuck?”

    Huh? I mean, do you mean that? Because regulating on the way a person chooses to live in her body is exactly what I’m always trying to fight. It’s logically incongruous to hold a person to a “standard of fatness” while also espousing body autonomy.

    Don’t mean to make it sound like I’m taking your aside especially seriously, it’s just something that I see all the time, and I find sorta disappointing.

  56. I think showing exploitation and appropriation was the point.

    Even so, to what end? I don’t see any critique here — I see Ditto’s glamour and celebrity being set off by the anonymous drudgery implied by the deliberately anonymous housekeeper.

  57. The size acceptance movement is to be commended for speaking out against racism. Many social ills begin because of the fear of differences, instead of the celebration of.

    Keep up the great work!

  58. People get away with racism nearly everywhere.

    I totally agree. But my understanding of “acceptable prejudice” is “prejudice people will go on public record as sharing.” I know one person who will admit to his racism. I know dozens who admit to their fat prejudice. Does that mean I know more people who hate fat persons than people who hate persons of color? I doubt it. Fat prejudice the prejudice the most people will admit to, not the one the most people act on or are motivated by.

    Prejudice against fat people is often racial prejudice in disguise (POC tend to be more accepting of the fat). It’s often misoyny in disguise (women are the skinnier sex but get most of the fat hate). It’s often social prejudice in disguise (McDonalds and Burger King get the fast-food-makes-fatties spotlight, not Starbucks). Racial prejudice, misogyny and social prejudice all are pervasive and cross cultural, while fat prejudice is recent and culturally peculiar, so if I were to rank them I’d probably consider fat prejudice the mildest of the four.

    So in arguing it’s the prejudice people are most likely to see or admit to I did not intend to argue that fat prejudice is the most common. I think it’s often a mask people use in order to publicly attack their actual target. That’s one reason I would argue that fat activists need to challenge racism along with prejudice against fatties, and feminists need to challenge racism along with misogyny – any time you allow hate based on who a person is, you’re essentially okaying hate based on who you are.

    Of course fat activists should challenge specific health arguments and the like – but I think they need to challenge racism, sexism and social prejudice as well, because all those issues are part of it, and because the visibility of fat hate gives them a platform. This is the issue that many of those who don’t see most prejudice can see. If fat activists present fat prejudice as something peculiar and defend it on that level, then all they’re going to accomplish is pointing the hate in another direction, when I would argue they need to challenge the roots of that hate, namely that it’s okay to shun others based on something they can’t change, or that one group of people is superior to another.

    But apparently my understanding of what “acceptable prejudice” means is way out in left field (since it seems “acceptable prejudice” means “actual prejudice” and I didn’t realize that), so I may be missing the whole point here.

  59. But my understanding of “acceptable prejudice” is “prejudice people will go on public record as sharing.”

    Well, but a lot of people say all kinds of things publicly that they don’t *personally* think are racist but are clearly experienced racist by a ton of people who are not the original speaker. So in that sense, they are being publicly racist, but they don’t think they are because racism is “horribly bad stuff that other people do” rather than perpetuating systemic injustice.

  60. Huh? I mean, do you mean that? Because regulating on the way a person chooses to live in her body is exactly what I’m always trying to fight. It’s logically incongruous to hold a person to a “standard of fatness” while also espousing body autonomy.

    So, my flip remarks on Michael Moore and Latifah were probably not actually the most graceful examples, but they were what came to mind in the moment I had to comment. Also, I totally “we” referenced those comments, when I really should fucking speak for myself. Totally mea culpa.

    To clarify, if Latifah wants to eat whatever and exercise whatever and tattoo her eyeballs orange, that is totally her prerogative, ’cause it’s her body. And, while that certainly is her right, I am going to call her out on being a total fucking hypocrite (from where I’m sitting) because she had so often in the past impressed me with talk about being comfy in her skin, with her body just as it was (back issues pre-breast redux aside). I believe that hating even just 10% of my fat….is fat hate, and not okay with me in a fat acceptance context. Ymmv and all.

    Also, re: Michael Moore, here’s the post at BFB I was thinking of.

  61. It’s logically incongruous to hold a person to a “standard of fatness” while also espousing body autonomy.

    But it’s not logically incongruous to express disappointment when someone who has been very vocal about being happy with the size of her body suddenly starts shilling for a diet company. Nobody gives a rat’s ass what, precisely, Latifah weighs — the issue is, as Tari said, the hypocrisy. And calling that out is not the same as interfering with what she does with her own body.

    If I ever go crazy and decide to diet again, I truly hope the Fatosphere will give me what-for, because I’ve put a lot of time and energy into speaking out against dieting and in favor of loving the body you’ve got. That doesn’t mean I think fat bloggers would have a right to come to my house and and force-feed me — but I sure think they’d have a right to call me a goddamned hypocrite and a huge disappointment.

  62. If you go on a diet again, I’m going to stand on your yard and throw baby donuts at your windows. Whether you eat them or not is up to you.

  63. I don’t know where you live, though, so I’m not actually going to do that. Also I guess there’s no such thing as baby donuts. Also, I think I’m being weird and should just go home and do some laundry.

  64. Also I guess there’s no such thing as baby donuts.

    Aren’t donut holes kinda like baby donuts? I’d be willing to fling some donut holes in Kate’s general direction…

  65. Well, I’m not going to diet again anytime soon, so we’ll cross those bridges when we come to them.

    And you being weird is half the reason I like you.

  66. But wait, these pictures… oy. These pictures are just wrong, in ways that other people have articulated far better than I could. I have worked with hotel workers in a few different circumstances (as victims of trafficking, trying to unionize, just trying to get paid FFS) and these pictures make me furious. The exhausted housekeeper (who, in a real life situation would probably lose her job or at least a good chunk of her already paltry pay for taking a card break because she’d fall behind on her room quota), BD’s coy little shrug like she enjoys forcing another human being to play servant to her every whim without a moment’s concern for what impact her entitled games might have on the other person. It makes me ill, and I can’t imagine what the fuck kind of justification BD herself could have come up with to make these pictures okay. Like, there just isn’t one, or at least not one that I can imagine having the slightest validity.

    So, yeah, I guess for me, I have zero interest in giving Beth Ditto a pass on her racism and willingness to exploit oppressed women for fun or profit or fashion or whatever just because she happens to be one of the few visibly fat celebrities. It reminds me a little of the conversation about the woman on whom the fat hippo in Fantasia was based (there was a good thread on Racialicious that I will try to post when I get home because I need to GTFO of here), and people being so excited about OOO Fat Hippo! that they failed to recognize the exploitation of the woman’s body on whom this character was built.

    I like fatshion as much as the next person (well, okay, probably less) but I don’t want fat idols so badly that I can overlook this kind of bullshit. I have seen the inhuman toll this kind of bullshit has on actual living human beings.

  67. @Shiloh
    I totally agree. But my understanding of “acceptable prejudice” is “prejudice people will go on public record as sharing.” I know one person who will admit to his racism. I know dozens who admit to their fat prejudice. Does that mean I know more people who hate fat persons than people who hate persons of color? I doubt it. Fat prejudice the prejudice the most people will admit to, not the one the most people act on or are motivated by.

    People may not admit to their racism, but they sure as fuck act on it all of the time. Just as people who express fat prejudice insist they are just concerned about health, people express racial prejudice often insist they are just “not PC” or “just being honest”. That doesn’t mean they arne’t expressing it.

    What people think they are saying when the say “fat is the last acceptable prejudice” varies, but the message they are sending is “the only oppresion that is real, and that matters, is the one that affects me.” And that is utter crap.

    The majority of people who are bigoted, don’t think they are. Most racial bigotry isn’t perpetuated by KKK members, but by people who don’t realize that they’re engaging in bigoted behavior. If this is a new topic for you, I suggest doing some more reading about this subject and some more listening to POC when they talk about racism.

    Two places to start

    http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/required-reading/

    http://del.icio.us/starkeymonster/forcluelesswhitepeople

    This is not a subject I am going to continue engaging with in comments with you. I suggest you do some reading and some thinking.

  68. I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit something. As a white girl growing up bigger than her peers – I wasn’t just fat, I was tall – I felt ostracized. My mom, my peers, my extended family, etc., gave me messages that my body was wrong, that I was wrong, etc. I hated myself. On rare occasions, I wanted to be a boy because they didn’t seem to be as affected by comments about their size.

    But more often, I wished I had been black. It seemed to me that fat black girls (FBGs) were more accepted than fat white girls. FBGs were PROUD of their bodies. They were CELEBRATED for having lush, curvy bodies. I YEARNED to receive that kind of treatment. Oh, and the clothes!! The FBGs always seemed to have such wonderful stylish clothing that FIT.

    Now that I’m “all grown up,” I’ve become comfortable with my body and the culture in which I live. I’ve come to terms with my family’s fat prejudice. But you know, I still want to know where those chicks get their clothes!!!

  69. Rhonwyyn, there are some cultural differences, and some studies that show African-American girls, on average, have better body images than white girls, even if they’re fatter. But “slightly better than white girls, on average” is not saying very fucking much. We all grow up in the same fat-hating culture, and women of color are taught that their bodies are ugly and wrong for all sorts of reasons that white women never have to deal with. It’s easy to look at a group of people from the outside and assume they’re happier than you are, but you never know the whole story. And there are a lot of women of color who struggle with hating their bodies for all sorts of reasons, so even if the girls you’re talking about really did have good body images, generalizing about “fat black girls” is not cool here.

  70. That photo…urgh. Racist, classist, and tacky. The irony is that the Latina housekeeper has stolen the shot and walked away with it in her hip pocket; she’s the center of attention, while Beth Ditto comes off as irrelevant and out of place. Instant karma…

  71. @Rhonwyyn

    Exoticizing black women, even in ways you think are positive, is not OK. Also, you may want to consider why you never spoke to those “FBG”s and seemingly haven’t spoken to any fat black women about fat acceptance. Fat black women, and fat women of color in general, are not a monolithic group. We do not have a hive mind.

  72. <i.American girls, on average, have better body images than white girls, even if they’re fatter. But “slightly better than white girls, on average” is not saying very fucking much.

    See Pam Spaulding’s series about hair. I’m not American, so this issue was entirely new to me and very interesting. I have crappy hair thanks to PCOS. Yes, it’s an issue, and I do get a lot unwanted attention and stupid, unasked-for advice about it. Contrast this problem with the situation of black women who were told for centuries that their hair was inherently bad and ugly and that the only way they could make their hair “good” was to torture it (literally) into resembling the hair of the very people who were oppressing them and promulgating the good/bad hair idea.

    It goes on todayl. Even a prominent, accomplished woman like Cynthia McKinney get shit on by public media figure for daring to let her hair grow out.

  73. I love Pam’s series on hair, and that’s one reason why I went on to say “women of color are taught that their bodies are ugly and wrong for all sorts of reasons that white women never have to deal with.” But really, everything Julia said nails it.

  74. Also, I love (by which I mean hate) that the second I argue that A) there is no organized movement and B) hey, at least the most asinine racist comments are pretty well policed on the blogs I read, we get a gazillion new asinine racist comments right here AND NAAFA unveils a new website that trots out the “last acceptable prejudice” canard. I give. Message received, universe.

    It fucking sucks, and I don’t know how to fix it, group-wise, which is all I should have said in the first place.

  75. It fucking sucks, and I don’t know how to fix it, group-wise

    I think posts like this, where the bullshit is named, are a good start.

  76. I agree, Tari!

    Though at the phrase, “group-wise,” I got these involuntary shudders. It was unpleasant. ;-)

  77. I realize that might have been obscure. Sorry!

    (There was a crappy email thing one million years ago. It was literally my instant reaction upon reading the phrase to shiver and then correct it in my head to “GroupStupid,” though.)

  78. Kate and Julia,

    What I posted is what I felt as a child. At both school and home, we were taught not to talk to strangers, so approaching the fat black girls I saw on my way to or from the bus stop never entered my mind. I just observed the way they carried themselves and the way they were treated and came to the conclusion that they were treated as people of worth, treatment that I sorely lacked.

    Even now, I wouldn’t know how to broach the subject with a fat woman of color. There’s the whole “is she actually okay with being fat” thing combined with the “I know nothing about her culture except for what I’ve seen in the media and read online.” I don’t want to say something that seems perfectly reasonable to me yet turns out to be extremely offensive to her. How do you start a dialog? Where ARE the black voices in the fat acceptance movement?

  79. emilymorgan, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. I’m really freaked out by your link. Leaving aside the fact that what we should be talking about here are baby-flavored donuts, why is this company “sorry” that “Per the Vendor’s Request Contact Information is Not Available” for the baby donuts? I mean, if you’re selling goods and/or services, why wouldn’t they want to be contacted? Are these really, real baby donuts? Or are they just small donuts that the vendor doesn’t actually want to sell.

    Too creepy.

  80. Rhonwyn, some of the Fatosphere blogs are by WOC. (And at least one by a MOC, too, although he’s not fat.) Here is a master list of all blogs on the feed. But I see several just glancing at the current feed on the sidebar here. Also, Davita Cuttita of Pregnant Drug-Dealing Prostitutes has written some great stuff about both race and fat. (Also, it should go without saying, but if you’ve not heard of Mo’Nique, Google her and find out about everything she’s done.)

    As for the subject of the OP, I can’t begin to get it unpacked at the moment. I might never get it unpacked completely, but I’m pretty sure I have at least one post in me where I’ll give it a whack, as soon as I’m done with all my blogbreak tasks (a couple of days, probably). But for the time being, all I can say is…yuck.

  81. many comments on this thread seem to suggest or infer that the model in the maid’s outfit is in fact a maid IRL.

    none of the comments here suggest that beth ditto is in fact a geisha IRL.

    what’s that about?

    *relurks*

  82. lee, do you mean the fact that many people refer to her as “the maid” or “the housekeeper”? I took that to be shorthand for “the maid figure” or “the model dressed as a housekeeper” — since we don’t know her name as we do Beth Ditto’s — and not as a sign that people actually believe she is a maid or housekeeper.

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