Guest Blogger Tasha Fierce: A Maxie Girl In A Barbie World

Tasha Fierce edited the amazing ‘zine Bitchcore from 1998 – 2001 and co-blogs at I Fry Mine In Butter. Her writing explores black invisibility and racism in feminist spaces, sizeism and fatphobia, black queer invisibility, and transgender issues and subverting gender roles. Also, she’s my sister – okay not blood related – but she’s my family.

I have a deep, abiding love of fashion and the various bibles that dictate the terms of such. No matter how many times I tell myself I’m not going to pick up another fashion magazine, no matter how many times I reflect on how damaging staring at anorexic-thin models in clothes I will never fit into is, and no matter how many times I cancel my subscriptions, I still eventually give in to the lure of “100 Accessories under $100 You Can’t Live Without” and buy the damn magazines again. And start another subscription, because, you know, 12 issues for $8 is a really good deal.

So since my chosen career path is “fashion/beauty editor”, and I have started my own nascent fatshion blog to hone my skills, I find myself needing to exist partially in that world that really wants nothing to do with me. At least, until the next “love your body” phase comes along and “plus size” models are all the rage — and even then, I don’t exactly have the shape or height of your typical plus size model. Loving Chanel but knowing Karl Lagerfeld is hugely fatphobic, to the point where he can’t even stand the thought of fat women wearing his diffusion line at H&M, causes serious cognitive dissonance. Writing about fashion requires looking at current runway looks and trends, and while plus size fashion has come a long way, it really pales in comparison to the variety, beauty, and creativity you find in designer clothes made for “normal size” women. It’s extremely hard to desire the amazing looks but be unable to wear them. While low end retailers are going up to larger sizes, you still need to be at the smaller end of the fat spectrum to fit into those sizes, no matter how much stretch they put in their clothing. And even those who can get with the stretch would be hard pressed to fit into the non Lycra-infused items.

All this requires me to live in the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. DuBois, not just in the fact that I’m a black girl living in a white world, but also in the fact that I’m a fat girl desiring to live in the fashion world. DuBois describes double consciousness as such: “[...] this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” How accurate that is when applied to my relationship with a world so obsessed with being as small as possible, but that I at the same time love so much. Battling diet obsession becomes that much harder when you’re doing research by reading magazines full of stories of severe calorie restriction just to fit into a size 2. And battling self-hatred is that much harder when l’m looking at runway looks I’d love to re-create but can’t because the designers just don’t see me.

But this is the field that I love, that I feel drawn to. So it falls on me to continue to love myself in the face of if not hatred or disdain, erasure and invisibility. Because I’ve chosen this. It’s not something forced on me; this is not some other oppression. I can work to change the way the fashion world works, and thankfully there are a growing number of women doing that right now. Some may say it’s a silly world in which to try to create some kind of movement for inclusiveness, but hey, what can I say. I love beauty in all forms, and there is beauty in fashion, just like there’s beauty in fat bodies and the way we dress them. And I think, just maybe, if we can effect change in the fashion world, the larger world, which is very much influenced by fashion’s ideals, might change too. That’s the more noble purpose I strive for. And if I get to wear cuter clothes because of our success, well, I’m not going to object to that.

Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

You may remember friend of SP Mean Asian Girl from her previous guest post, The Fantasy of Being White. We loved that post so much that we asked her to weigh in on that most vexing of seemingly innocuous little internet games: the Facebook celebrity twin meme. Thanks, MAG! — Sweet Machine

Oh? No!

Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

By Mean Asian Girl

(with a little help from the SP crew)

When I first heard about the Facebook celebrity doppelganger meme, my first thought was, “Where do I find a picture of [Asian woman most recently and/or frequently seen by whomever I’m speaking to]?”

See, because I’ve been told I look like several different people, the most recent being Sandra Oh. Most of you don’t know what I look like, but suffice it to say, not like Sandra Oh. My friend Charles, who is black*, and happens to think Sandra Oh is hot, doesn’t see any resemblance at all. Then again, Charles’ opinion of Oh may be in the minority.

OK, let me digress for a moment. I googled Sandra Oh, expecting the first thing to pop up would be her IMDB profile. Before I finished typing, the first suggestion that popped up was “Sandra Oh ugly.” Which was where I found that Asian Bite website. So maybe the whole idea of anyone trying to pay me a compliment is not the case. I am tempted to start a discussion of whether people think Oh’s very Korean-ness is what makes her ugly. Maybe some other time. I’m a bit too stunned at the moment.

But anyway, years and years ago, someone told me I looked just like the girl in “Karate Kid II,” who, if you notice, does not look very much like Sandra Oh. In fairness, I probably look more like Sandra Oh than like Tamlyn Tomita.

As it turned out, the very cool women here at Shapely Prose were having their own discussion of the racial/ethnic-fail aspects of the doppelganger meme and were kind enough to invite me to join in.

Eventually, we touched on how Janet Jackson and Kristy McNichol have the same face, Elvin from the Cosby Show, the appropriate celebrity doppelganger for Kate’s husband Al, and a staged reading of The Big Lebowski, but prior to that, we made some more serious observations about white privilege and doppelgangers.

And first, we agreed that I look nothing like Sandra Oh.

“This seems like one of those Facebook exercises that’s mostly about a certain kind of girl getting to wank about how hot she is without looking conceited,” Kate said. But fair enough, I guess. If someone told you you looked like Anne Hathaway, or Blake Lively, or, for that matter, Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry, wouldn’t you want to tell people?

Problem is, if we’re talking about Hollywood stars, or even prominent women known by most U.S. residents in general, the pool gets awfully shallow if you’re not white. Kate told me, “I can think of like four Asian-American actresses off the top of my head, and none of them, except possibly Keiko Agena**, have characteristics I could see as part of a recipe for you.”

Part of a recipe. Sure. But we can’t do collage profile pictures. Or at least I can’t. So I have to settle for what other people think. Because, really, what most people see when they look at me is that I’m Asian, I have epicanthic folds over my eyelids, flattish face, black hair, etc. And what do you know? Sandra Oh also has epicanthic eyelids, a flattish face and black hair! So does Tamlyn Tomita! Though, actually, based on the Tamlyn Tomita comparison, they’re not even paying particularly close attention to my hair.

At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” I once worked at a news service with two African-American women, Robin and Debbie. Robin was probably 5-2, close-cropped hair, round face and very loud and outgoing. Debbie was 5-6, longer hair, thin face and quiet. They did not start working there anywhere near the same time, nor did they cover the same beat. Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones. Any of you who do not have similar stories have either never worked with more than one minority or have worked in remarkably enlightened workplaces.

Of course, it’s not just about skin color and ethnicity. Kate knows a couple of dark-haired fat women who wanted to go as Pat Benatar for Halloween, but didn’t because everyone would assume they were Beth Ditto. I mean, you’re fat, you’re a rock chick … duh. Fillyjonk mentioned how people told her she looked like Kate Winslet when Winslet was in her relatively fat*** state

I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow. I’m just saying, well, maybe I should point you all to Sepia Mutiny for a little more perspective. If I may digress a bit, the line “If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,” is horrifying. But maybe I’m still hung up on the “Ugly Sandra Oh” issue.

If you don’t feel like reading through that whole post, try Fillyjonk, who puts the matter pretty succinctly for a privileged white girl:

“Getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color and body type is bad enough,” she said. “But getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color, period, elides your actual features even more.”

To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

*I mention this for no reason other than to wonder if perhaps this is a white thing. I’m not sure any person of color has told me I look like Sandra Oh, including, obviously, anyone Asian.

**Though I had seen “Gilmore Girls” once or twice, I had no idea who Keiko Agena was until Kate mentioned her. I am old compared to the SP crew, esp. when you consider that I saw “Karate Kid II” when it came out in theaters.

***i.e., Hollywood fat

Guest blogger Volcanista: Of boobages

Volcanista is a Friend of SP, geologist, and LOST evangelizer.

So, over the holidays I took a badly needed holiday vacation, and because I like warmth and the tropics, I decided to go to Chicago and hang out with Sweet Machine, Mr Machine, and their most excellent cats. I read books, watched Lost, took naps, cuddled with the kitties, and took a hot steam bath next to their radiator every time I went to the bathroom. It was quite excellent, and my suitcase will never again be entirely free of cat hair. But we did venture out into the cold a couple times, expressly to hemorrhage money. We both needed some self-pampering and both had noticed our bras weren’t fitting quite right, so one day we made appointments at Intimacy and went downtown to have our breasts handled by professionals (after making a necessary stop at Lush for the post-holiday sale and far too many new bath bombs).

When the saleswoman asked me if I thought I was the same size as before, and I said “No, I think I might be a C cup now,” she said, “I’d say a C or a D.” !!!  Shapelings, moving to a B cup was a big change for me last year. In response to a college house questionnaire, I once named my breasts “Small” and “Equally Small.” As I later said to SM and Kate, every time I go into Intimacy, I come out a cup size larger (SM: “You should be in their ads!”). Anyway, SM and I spent too much money and spent the next 24 hours staring at our own and each other’s amazing tits, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that I am almost at the high end of my normal size range right now, and it’s making me reflect on how much my breast size has fluctuated during the past decade. I have been this big a couple times now, though with much less well-fitting bras — the first time I went on the pill in my early 20s, that time I tried the birth control patch (I haven’t gotten quite that big again since, but it actually turns out that three steady months of morning sickness are not worth it for boobies), and once or twice over the course of my normal weight fluctuations since then. So if properly sized, I would say I range from an… A? (never properly fitted at the low end, but they are little) to apparently at least a C, normally within the span of a year or two. I should note that I am on the short side and very petite, and when I gain or lose weight it seems to go and come entirely from my rack. The convenient part of this is being able to shop straight sizes and not having to buy a whole new wardrobe when my body decides it’s time to be 10 pounds heavier for 6 months; the inconvenient part is that those changes routinely — and dramatically — affect the size of the most expensive part of my body to clothe. Now that I have a salary I allow myself a once-annual indulgence in one or two lovely, perfectly-fitted, exorbitantly priced bras (which means we are up to three nice ones to date, one of which fit 3 months ago and two which fit today) and fill in the rest of my week with cheap purchasesfrom the internet to get me through with minimal pokage. So my breasts could still be happier, but they feel wonderful (and look HUGE!) a couple times a week. Like today! The girls say hello. To everyone. Loudly.

The upshot is that my body kind of acts like a one-woman case study on boob size. Because the rest of my body doesn’t really change outwardly, I have more or less isolated the breastage effect on social interactions. I spent a couple years after college living in the Land of Entrapment. I went on the pill there for the first time when the weather was warm, which bumped me up probably (in retrospect) from an A cup to a C cup over about a month of warm weather. Furthermore, the local social culture there is such that men are a lot less subtle in checking women out than back east, so there’s no mistaking it. It was very easy to notice changes in how I was treated between month A and month C.

I was certainly blatantly checked out and hit on a lot more. That isn’t too surprising, because, hey, I’m here to be eye candy, right? But I wasn’t used to that kind of treatment so it was weird. And frankly, while sometimes it felt weirdly flattering (hey, I was 22), being sloooowly checked out on the street is pretty damn objectifying. It’s bad enough when men think (somehow) they’re being subtle! I bet the men in this video thought so:

But what caught me even more by surprise was how much friendlier people were — men and women, friends and colleagues and strangers. Most of those people probably were not even particularly interested in sleeping with me or deliberately hitting on me (hard to believe, I know!). They were just… nicer. I didn’t have to wear anything especially revealing for that to be true, either. Bigger breasts just meant better treatment in general, and while some men were creepy and deliberate about it (see above), for most people it seemed to be unconscious. We are heavily socially conditioned to react favorably to breasts.

Honestly, I like my breasts in general and think they look nice on my body at all of the sizes they’ve been, but I’ll admit that I like them a bit better when they’re larger. Clothes look sexier to me and I feel damn hot. I don’t dislike the girls on the small end, but I will certainly sometimes wear some padding or pushing-up items to keep the clothes looking the way I like them to. Frankly, I don’t feel bad about this. It’s one of the many conscious concessions I make to the beauty ideal (see also: shaving legs; bleaching upper lip; and wearing v-neck sweaters, high-heeled shoes, dresses, and variable quantities of make-up). I don’t dislike my body or the things about it I alter for cosmetic reasons; it’s just a hell of a lot easier to do those things, and I consciously choose to do my femininity that way. Besides, I can’t undo all of the training that has taught me what to find attractive, so I pick my battles. For me, in part because I’ve been taught big breasts are better, and in part because of my own [highly scientific!] personal experiments and observations, the portrayal of the rack is part of how I present myself. It’s not even that I consciously display the ladies for personal gain — in terms of skin and cleavage I actually show pretty little, and I am not very interested in deliberately manipulating the people around me* — but I like to look nice and girly and so I go with it.

But I think there is nothing wrong with not going with it, with refusing to play up my breasts or hunt for clothes that create the appearance of that hourglass figure. There would be nothing wrong with refusing to do that as a personal fight against the beauty ideal; or with just not giving a shit; or with deciding it’s too much of a stretch and too much work to be worth it. I mean, the beauty ideal is impossible to reach, but as people go I definitely have it on the easier side, because I am thin and a little hourglassy to start with. When my tits are bigger I have to do even less work (though it’s still a conscious effort). If you don’t want to work for that, I mean, who the hell cares?

Well, okay, a lot of people care, but what they care about is policing you, not attraction. Otherwise they would just happen to not find you attractive, and that wouldn’t be offensive to them, and they wouldn’t care about how you looked. Except that it is your obligation and role as a woman to be attractive to all men, of course. Besides, I can attest that many people are attracted to women with small breasts. While I have been treated very differently on the street based on my breast size, my statistical ability to actually attract real dates/lays are unchanged across my full range of boobages.

Summary of long-winded post: People treat you differently when your breasts appear different sizes, mostly because our society is fucked up. But we should present our breasts how we want to present them, fuck anyone who gives a damn**, and not let the girls hold us back from enjoying our lives, dating, dancing, or taking luxurious Lush-bombed baths. Oh, and we should make a conscious effort to be equally friendly to the small-busted ladies, to counteract that unconscious conditioning that makes us act just a bit friendlier to the chestier among us.

*This is a lie. For instance, I deliberately distracted SM with my breasts so that she would request a guest post, because I deeply covet her internet-fame.

**Not literally.

Cross-posted at Volcanista.

Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those women do not want to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like to date them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy about it. Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.

The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.

This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.

Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.

Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.

On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the woman is as close as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the odds are pretty good.

The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.

There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail?

Yeah. He does. About every two weeks.

This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.

So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.

The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.

Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.

Miss LonelyHearts wishes you happiness and success in your search for romantic companionship.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST ARE NOW CLOSED.

Guest Blogger M. LeBlanc: The Fantasy of Staying Exactly As I Am (or, This Far and No Further, This Fat and No Fatter)

I’ve got a problem. And since I suspect I’m not the only one, I want to start a dialogue about this psychological artifact of Fat Hate and try to figure out what the hell we can do about it.

You see, I’m doing pretty well at accepting my body. Which is, to be sure, a fat body. I buy nice clothes that fit. Most days, I feel good about myself and the way I look. Many days, I feel downright sexy. I don’t diet, although I can’t really attribute this to fat acceptance because I’ve basically never dieted in my life. I’ve interacted with food in fucked-up ways, and tried to deprive myself of food, but always pretty much gave in by dinnertime. I have started thinking of myself as a “fat chick” in a non-pejorative way and have rid my friends/boyfriend/family of the “you’re not fat!” monkey response. I told my doctor to bug off when she prodded me about losing weight (Her: are you exercising/eating a balanced diet? Me: Yes and Yes. Look, my diet’s great. I feel great. I think I’m just fat. Her: (look of horror) I hope not! Me: (mentally) God, what a horrible thing, to just be naturally fat.)

But I still feel the instinct to diet and/or to exercise for the express purpose of losing weight. All. The. Time. Is it because I want to change the way my body looks now? Nope. It’s because although I have made peace with my fat self, I can not endure the thought of being any fatter than I am. And I think, you know, someday I’m going to get pregnant, and I’m going to age, and I’ll be even less fit than I am now, or I’ll have health problems, or I’ll have kids or a bad back or bad knees and I won’t be able to exercise. And then I’ll be fatter. Horror of horrors. I think to myself, yeah sure I look good now, when I’m young, with good skin, no wrinkles, good muscle tone, in great health. But what about in ten years?What about twenty?! The horror.

It’s an ever-changing boundary. I’m sure that if I were given a picture of my current self five years ago (when I weighed about 30 lbs less), I would have been shocked and horrified. Now, I’m cool with it. Because you know what, self-hate is a lot of work. And I don’t doubt that however I look in ten or twenty years, I’ll probably manage to be okay with it.

But still, I can’t manage to get away from the bigger-is-worse, smaller-is-better paradigm. It’s kind of hilarious, but I feel like I should lose weight now so that if I gain weight in 5 years, I’ll be back to where I am which I have decided is an “okay” place to be. The upper limit of okay. But okay.

I call it “This Fat and No Fatter.” I didn’t really put a name to the mentality until I started browsing the “women for women” section on Craigslist a few months ago and noticed a disturbing phenomenon. Unlike the m4w section, in which a lot of the posters mention a particular size of person they find acceptable (or say that they don’t care), but a huge portion of them don’t, discussions of acceptable body size are absolutely ubiquitous in the w4w section. It’s either 1) thin or “average” women looking for the same, or 2) fat chicks looking for women “my size or smaller.” These discussions are often disturbingly specific, like “no larger than size 16″ or “up to size 22″ or “under 210 lbs.” And I realized, because self-hatred is hard, women are forced to accept the bodies of other women who look like them to avoid cognitive dissonance. But any fatter? No way.

This mindset has been plaguing me since I was a kid. My dad used to advocate that I diet when I was a teenager because it would be “harder to lose it” when I was older. I don’t know whether this has any basis in fact whatsoever, but I believed it. Actually, I think I can affirmatively say that it’s total bullshit, because dieting doesn’t work, period. The only difference is that if you start dieting when you’re a teenager, you’re more likely to engage in disordered eating and have a fucked-up relationship to food for the rest of your life. But it ain’t actually gonna make you thin. I also think the approach was part of a “she’s okay now, but what if she keeps getting fatter?” mindset. Which I’m sure he’s hysterical about now but, since I told him I didn’t want to hear another word about my weight oh, about, ten years ago, I don’t have to listen to it. (To be fair, my dad lives in an environment with an even more fucked-up attitude towards fat than we have; would you believe that he, at 5’5″ and about 190 lbs, was told that he needed to lose some weight before the manager of the place would let him join the gym? That he needed to diet before he could safely exercise? Jesus.)

I can’t shake it. Even though I know, intellectually, that I’ll probably feel just fine about my body in five years or ten years, because self-hate is way more work than learning to love my body as it is, I feel, emotionally, that my future body will not be objectively okay even though my current body is objectively okay.

The power of social narratives about body image, shame, and humiliation, are incredibly strong. Because those social narratives govern how I feel about the future, while my own experience governs how I feel about the present and the past, feelings of shame dominate, and they infect the present. I feel like getting married while being fat, or being pregnant while being fat, or being a mother while being fat, or being sick while being fat, are all going to be impossibly awful and shame-filled experiences. Even though I’ve already had boyfriends while being fat, graduated from law school while being fat, tried a case before a jury while being fat, had to use crutches because I sprained my ankle while fat, performed in front of hundreds of people while being fat, interviewed for jobs while being fat, lived while being fat.

Fat acceptance isn’t just about accepting your body as it is now. It’s about accepting your future self, the one who might weigh a little more and look a little older. And she’ll be okay, too. Not just good, but great.

M. LeBlanc, if you don’t already know her, blogs at Bitch Ph.D., lawyers in Chicago, and frequently raises the level of discourse in comments here.

Guest Post: The Fantasy of Being White

By Mean Asian Girl

I’m a friend, neighbor and grad-school classmate of Kate’s, but while I’m a faithful reader, I’m not much of a commenter. Every once in a while, however, here is a post that resonates with me to the point that I really have to say something. This was one of them.

Me and everybody else, right? So why do I get my own special guest post — a year late, no less? For starters, read that first part again. But secondly, and more importantly, as someone who has spent a lifetime passing for thin-to-average – and I say passing because, for what it’s worth, I weigh much more than people think I do — my perspective on the issue of self-acceptance is a little different.

First, a little background: as the name indicates, I am Asian-American, specifically Korean-American, and both my parents were immigrants. I grew up in a small city in the greater Detroit area that for most of my childhood was about 70 percent white, 29 percent black, the Gonzaleses, the Yamauchis and us. The Yamauchi girls each graduated high school in three years – partly because they were smart, but I think mostly because they were not enjoying high school so much that they really needed to stick around for prom. Let’s just say that while our community was diverse, it wasn’t exactly multicultural.

I hated myself for being Asian. I hated having a weird name. I hated having parents who ate kimchi and pronounced things funny. I hated my black hair and my bowl haircut.* I, who was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, hated being asked “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” In kindergarten, I drew pictures of myself with blue eyes and blond hair.

Since self-hatred is a pretty difficult concept for a five-year-old to grasp, I boiled down all of these feelings into an intense dislike of one feature: my eyes. They were the problem. If I had different eyes, life would be better. I’d be pretty. I’d be popular. At the very least, I figured, kids on the playground would no longer be able to make fun of me by pulling their eyes into slants and pretending to spout “Chinese” gibberish. What I really meant was, if I had different eyes, kids wouldn’t be mean to me.

I was lucky. I got older, I got smarter, I got nicer friends. And unlike the Yamauchis, I had a pretty good time in high school. I got good grades. I participated in various activities I enjoyed. I had male friends – I was especially popular when it came time to study for exams – who would occasionally turn to me for a sympathetic ear about how some girl wasn’t interested in them. But I, the weird kid, the “Chinese” girl, was clearly not date material.

I graduated from high school in 1986, well before the archetype of the “hot Asian chick.” There was no Lucy Liu. There was no … well, damn. I guess even today there aren’t a lot of specific “hot Asian chicks” who capture the collective imagination. But back then it was Farrah Fawcett, Christie Brinkley and the like. Needless to say, I fell very, very far outside that ideal.

And sure, maybe it wasn’t all about race. But honestly? I think part of it was. Again, this was long before we had a biracial president. I knew very few black-white couples, let alone white-Asian or black-Asian. It was not for nothing that I had to mark “Other” for the racial-ethnic category on standardized tests.

While I was smart enough to recognize that anyone who would refuse to be my friend simply because I was Asian was a racist asshole not worthy of me, I was incapable of applying the same logic to boys I was interested in. Clearly, it wasn’t their attitudes that needed to change. I mean, we all knew Asian girls just weren’t as attractive, right? With the eyes and all?

It was around this time that I found out there was surgery to de-slant eyes. Heavenly choirs started singing, people. I’d have this surgery, and I’d be pretty. It was so simple.

But of course, it wasn’t. My “Fantasy of Being White” wasn’t exactly the same as the “Fantasy of Being Thin.” Even if I could change all of my physical features**, I would’ve had to change my name and my family members and make up an entirely new cultural background for myself. Not that that wasn’t tempting at times.

Ultimately, I started to question what my fantasy really was, and what was driving it. Did I really want to be white, or at least non-Asian? Or did I just want people to like me? Was it worth it if they liked a version of me that had been doctored significantly to meet some cultural standard of beauty?

Those of us who are fat, or use a wheelchair, or have teeth that aren’t white, or skin that isn’t either, or slanted eyes, or hair where we shouldn’t, or not enough hair where we should, or a variety of other characteristics or combinations thereof, would have to do a lot of erasing and adding and subtracting to reach some kind of beauty ideal. If we don’t, or sometimes even if we do, at some point someone in this society will tell us we’re ugly. We hear it enough and we start to believe it. That sucks, and it’s hard to overcome. Despite my own efforts, I certainly haven’t managed to do it. But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.

What I have managed to do is find friends, a husband, a career – a couple of careers, actually – and some happiness here and there “despite” having slanted eyes. I also have a daughter – she’s “Whasian,” so her eyes aren’t totally slanted – whom I hope to raise with slightly more self-esteem than I had or have.

It would be a great world if we all loved ourselves as we are. But if we don’t, or we can’t, we can at least be aware that the version of ourselves that we’re so eager to change is worth a second look.

*I am willing to embrace the various physical and cultural attributes of my ethnicity, but I draw the line at the bowl cut, which I think to some extent is some westerner’s idea of what Asian children should look like. So long as I have control over my daughter’s hair, I will have eyelid surgery before I allow her to get a bowl cut.

**Fay Weldon has a great book about a woman – not Asian, but fat, actually – who did exactly that.

Guest blogger volcanista: On thin privilege

FJ says: I felt like I’d been seeing a lot of “but it’s hard to be thin, too!” comments recently, not really here but from Jezzies and whatnot. I’ve taken on thin privilege in comments threads before (pet peeve: yes, okay, I know clothes don’t fit you perfectly, but at least most stores have things you can try on), but I wanted to get a thin ally’s take on what it means to be a thin ally. So I asked our resident skinny scientist, volcanista, if she would do the honors. She’s also cross-posted it on her blog, which you should visit because we all love volcanista.

So, Fillyjonk recently asked me to write a guest post about thin privilege.

What’s interesting is that at first, it was really hard for me to know what to say. My first, reflexive thought was that I could just tell my own story! I mean, I’m thin and all. But I quickly shot that down. Talking about my experiences as a thin person, on a FA blog, would be an excellent demonstration of thin privilege, but it wouldn’t accomplish much else. Fat acceptance is fundamentally not ABOUT the thin experience. It’s really not about me, at all. In fact, that’s really what I should be talking about.

But I’m going to take a minute to ward off as much of the anticipated defensiveness as I can right off the bat, even though I hate feeling like I’m placating the WATM-style whining (this time with Thin!). After all, it’s not like the FA community needs a lecture on thin privilege (HEY GUESS WHAT FATTIES I GET IT NOW CAN I HAVE A COOKIEDOUGHNUT): this is really for thin people out there who haven’t really considered their own privilege.

So, do some thin people get shit for being thin? Of course! People’s bodies – especially women’s bodies – are treated like public property all the time. And standing out in any way, especially in a physical way, often just seems to invite additional ridicule and mistreatment. Maybe that’s why some thin people posit that they are the same, the fat experience and the thin experience. Getting teased and bullied for the shape and even the existence of your body, something you fundamentally can’t change, and in many cases (for both the thin and the fat) something you might try to change about yourself in hopeless and self-damaging ways – well, that shit hurts, and it’s a deeply personal, formative experience. So I think that for some thin people, there’s resentment when they hear a fat person complaining, like the fat person is trying to invalidate or one-up their own painful, skinny past. For others, there can be this pull to try to identify with the painful experiences of a fat person: to think you understand, to find a comrade who was also pushed around by the kids on the playground. I admit that I think, at first, the latter is the perspective I came from more often when I would talk with my fat friends.

Both of those reactions are, I think, understandable. But they’re rooted in privilege for one major reason: those experiences were not the same. The similarities I listed above, well, that’s probably about where the commonality ends. (There are other similar, small details, like being sized out of some clothes, but I think that covers most of it.) Sure, the thin kid and the fat kid both got teased/beat up/ridiculed/targeted through school, and that’s horrible. Both probably still get at least occasional public insults as adults. But there is a fundamental difference in the way society as a whole treats, envisions, pictures those two types of bodies. That teasing didn’t happen in the same social context, so it didn’t have the same tone or impact. And if you haven’t lived in a fat body, you simply can’t know what that experience was, or how much worse it was than your own.

Again, don’t get me wrong; bodies in public and especially all women’s bodies face an impossible catch-22. The line between not-thin-enough and too-thin is impossibly narrow (ha!), and a moving target, besides. That size six is wayyyyy too fat to be a model, ew so gross, but OMG, did you see how disgustingly thin those runway models are??? You either have to diet (to finally become either that really hot thin person, or at least just incrementally less-fat and therefore more acceptable), or you’re far too thin. Everybody loses. But there’s a fundamental question of degree here. In social discourse there may be pretty frequent complaints about those women who are too skinny, but it simply does not compare to the scale of fat stigma. (And I think a great deal of that discourse comes from resentment, felt entirely fairly by the vast majority of the population that doesn’t have one of those idealized bodies and has been practically disappeared from the public eye. Blaming that on thin women is, however, misdirected.) When every image of a woman in every magazine, on every tv show, in every movie and billboard and annoying Facebook ad, is not only thin but impossibly-Photoshopped-thin; when half of the reality shows on TV these days seem to be weight-loss contests; when every women’s magazine cover is screaming about diets and weight loss; when the assumed audience for every news article about health issues is universally thin, and doctors are berating and even blatantly neglecting their patients because all they can see is their own fat-hatred – well, there’s simply no comparison.

Example: Last week, I finally got around to getting a physical at my new doctor’s office. I’m not crazy about her, but she was the only doctor in my area accepting new patients when I moved here, and she’s brusque but does the job. It bothered me from the beginning that there are ads for drugs literally papering the office walls, including distorted weight loss statistics on posters advertising weight loss drugs. There is even one of those hanging from the scale (I mean, seriously?? HEY FATTIES DON’T FORGET YOU’RE A FATTY). But as a very thin person, though I hate it, that really doesn’t impact me, and I need a doctor. So at this visit, my first physical there, they measured my waist circumference, I shit you not. The nurse took the measurement and then said, “Good girl!” while she wrote it down on the chart, like I had accomplished something by having thin parents (and deserved a doggie treat for it, no less). And then the doctor, when she looked at my chart, said she was concerned that I am underweight. I said, “Yes, and so is my whole family, and I couldn’t gain weight if I tried,” and she shrugged and said, “Okay!” Based on everything else that goes on in that office, I can pretty much guarantee that if I had been fat (hell, probably even a BMI of 26) I would have been walking out of there 1) with a prescription for WW (there were ads for that, too!), 2) with an admonition to cut out the cough drops, and 3) fighting back tears.

So apparently, if you’re “too thin?” (to live? Clearly not!) – oh well! We know there’s nothing you can do about it (because for some reason, THAT has entered public awareness, but the futility and harmfulness of weight loss programs have not), and at least you aren’t fat (because while my BMI category may have the highest mortality rate, at least the movies say I’m sexy!). And while “Put some meat on your bones!” may make me want to break a window with my bare hands, it doesn’t even compare with repeated, hateful catcalls of “Whale!” or “Cow!”

When FJ asked me to write this post, she mentioned that it might mean more for people to see a post about thin privilege written by a thin person. I don’t think she meant that for the SP community (hi, choir!), but the certainly for the broader, more fatphobic internet-public that might stumble in from Salon. It makes me angry (at the world, not FJ) that because I’m not one of those fat fat fatties, I can bring some cred to this whole FA thing: look, a skinny girl who cares about fat people!! hey, what was this post about, again? Yeah, I have automatic credibility on the subject of fat prejudice, despite never having experienced it firsthand, while actual fat people are just wrong/deluded/lying. THAT makes sense.

So that fucking sucks. But maybe if enough allies write posts like this one, people will just start listening to what fat people are saying about their own lives in the first place.

A Visit from Aunt Fattie

We were thrilled when Shapeling A Sarah posted this poem as a rejoinder to a grossly fat-shaming one that is making its way around via email forwards. Thank you, A Sarah, for sharing your brilliant wit with all of us!

About A Sarah: “I write song parodies as a way to deal with stress (and got one published once, but under my real name), I’m married with two small kids, and I once had a paid acting role in a radio drama for truckers.”

aficon_full

A Visit from Aunt Fattie

‘Twas the month after Christmas and all through my body,
I was quite unconcerned with being a hottie.
The legs from my mom’s side, the shoulders from dad,
The cells made from holiday meals I’d had…
All parts were happy, contented, and warm,
Joyful and useful and causing no harm.
I grabbed my down comforter, kicked off my shoes,
And settled in bed for a long winter’s snooze.
When from the bathroom there arose such a clatter!
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the loo I flew like a flash!
(But my stomach felt fine, so I threw up no sash.)
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the talking scale which I’d thrown out last year!
More rapid than eagles his insults they came.
He whistled, he shouted, he called me a name:
“Now, Failure! Now, Ugly! Now, Sloppy and Lumpy!
Unloved, Unlovable, Loathsome and Dumpy!
Count points, log your food, and get ‘healthy,’ you cow.
Waste away! Waste away! Waste away now!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So into my mind his aspersions they flew…
I thought, “Oh, I’m loathsome. Whate’er shall I do?”
I hated my shoulders, my legs, and my tummy,
And all of those meals I’d thought were so yummy.
I hated myself for my natural weight range.
I decided to diet… er, make a ‘lifestyle change.’
But just as I started turning around,
Down the chimney Aunt Fattie came with a bound.
She was dressed all in pleather, from her head to her heels.
On her chest and her cape? Baby doughnuts, for reals.
Her eyes – how they twinkled! Her dimples – how merry!
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!
The stump of her stogey held tight in her teeth,
And the smoke it encircled her head like a wreath.
She had a broad face and magnificent belly,
That shook, when she laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
Though chubby and plump, a right jolly old auntie,
The sight of my scale caused her to get ranty.
“Don’t listen to him,” she said. “I mean, really!
Diet for weight loss? What for? Oh, how silly.
Imagine a pill that, for just three percent,
Does all of the things that the pill-makers meant.
Everyone else? They’ve just wasted their money.
But now let’s pretend the pill also tastes funny,
Gives you bad breath, makes you cranky and tired,
And, oh yes, three hours a day are required
To swallow it. Tell me, do you think you’d try it?
‘Cause, honey, that’s just what you get with a diet.
Or let’s say it works. What then? You’re entitled
To live life unhindered, unbroken, unbridled?
Your diet success gives you license to dance?
Swim? Work out? Run a race? Wear tight pleather pants?
Make a friend? Make a date? Take a break? Take a bow?
Girlfriend, you know you can do those things now!
Plus, FAT ISN’T BAD, for Pete’s sake. It’s just tissue.
If others don’t like it, it’s their goddamned issue!”
So we jumped on the scale, which shattered to bits,
Then spent hours indulging our sardonic wits.
And I heard her exclaim, ‘ere she turned on her heels,
“Hell yeah, some things taste just as good as thin feels!”

Guest Blogger Cacie: Missing the Point

Longtime Shapelings will already be familiar with my dear friend Cacie from the “To hell with tiny pants” post. When I heard the mindbogglingly antifeminist responses she’d been getting to her upcoming breast reduction — news that, to be fair, might throw people off a bit, but COME ON — I asked her to write a post about it. (Incidentally, though this should go without saying: This is a space to talk about assumptions, cultural and personal, and the way those come out in unguarded spontaneous reactions — in other words, how things people say off the cuff can reflect a misogynist culture. It is NOT a space to talk about whether Cacie is making the right choice or has the right motivations in getting her surgery.)

I’m getting a breast reduction tomorrow. It’s something I’ve wanted since the summer I was 13 years old, and for years I tried to convince myself that I could live with them. When I discovered how wonderful the health insurance at my new job was going to be, I started thinking about scheduling a consultation with a surgeon – worse case scenario, I’d learn a lot more about the procedure and my health insurance would decline to cover it, at which point I’d have to consider the financial feasibility of it. A few weeks later, I got a call from my doctor saying my insurance company approved it, and I scheduled my surgery.

It’s not easy for everyone to understand. In fact, I’d venture to say that most initial reactions include at least one, or if not all three of the following statements: “WHY?!” “You’re not that big!” “What does your boyfriend think about this?”

I can almost understand the first two. Most people wouldn’t willingly choose to go the opposite direction of society’s standards of beauty/sexuality, and trying to see the world from another person’s perspective can be tricky. I’m not totally okay with it, but I understand it. The third statement, however, is problematic in several ways.

My boyfriend and I have been together for over three years. We live together. He’s seen me have an emotional breakdown over burning the potatoes. I’ve seen him drive like a maniac and flip people off in traffic. We both have our less than beautiful sides, but we are overwhelmingly happy together and that’s all I’ll say about that sappy stuff. So you can probably understand the kind of nasty responses I have to swallow after someone asks me “what does your boyfriend think about this?”

“Considering the fact that my boyfriend is extremely shallow, and the only interesting, attractive, and lovable attributes I have are my breasts, it’s going to be pretty difficult for him. But it’s super nice of you to make such rude insinuations and call my relationship into question.”

I’m pretty sure most people don’t realize exactly what they’re saying about him, me, or us when they ask that question. Of course he cares about me and of course he’s attracted to me, but if he had seriously only stayed with me for the last three years because of my large breasts, and I knew about this and didn’t care, then… actually there is no “then.” Because that is totally unrealistic. So what do I actually say to people when they ask me this question?

“He’s an ass man.”

Guest Blogger Lauredhel: “The Obese”

The awesome Lauredhel of Hoyden about Town wrote to us the other day and asked if we’d take on one of her pet peeves: using the phrase “the obese” to describe the entirety of fatkind. We explained that we are A) huge fans of hers, and B) a bunch of slackass losers, so if she wanted to see this topic on Shapely Prose, she’d just have to guest post. Fortunately for all of us, she obliged — and made some hilarious graphics, to boot. Thanks, Lauredhel! — Kate

By Lauredhel

People with disabilities have for quite a while been promoting “people-first” language to reinforce the simple, yet radical, notion that people with disabilities are people first, PWD second. “Diabetics” are people with diabetes; “disabled people” are people with disabilities; “wheelchair bound people” are people who use a wheelchair.

But before activists and advocates could move from this adjective-”people” format to “People with such-and-such-an-attribute”, there was an earlier step. Getting rid of the monolithic mass noun. People with disabilities were typically labelled as a homogenised, Othered mass:

“The Blind”, “The Retarded”, “The Crippled”, “The Wheelchair-Bound”, “The Autistic”, “The Handicapped”.

Please don’t get me wrong, here – even this basic linguistic change is nowhere near ubiquitous. Mass-noun terms for “The Disabled” continue their powerful hold over both everyday speech and formal labelling. And this is not the Oppression Olympics – I’m not comparatively evaluating the oppressions of PWD and fat people. (Coming from the intersection of both, I hope I have a touch of extra cred when I say this.)

But it’s this deliberate language change process that springs to mind, for me, every time I see or hear The Obese.

There’s a resonance, here – and it’s with horror-movie terminology. When I read “The Obese”, I think “The Slitheen”. The image of the Absorbaloff forces its way into my mind (why, Rusty, why?!). The Blob. Children of the Carbs. The Doughnutyville Horror, perhaps.


The Obese are constructed as a big ol’ shuffling mob of zombies, out to accelerate global warming and eat babies and spread contagious fat to poor innocent citizens.

“Zombies”, you say. “Isn’t that just a little – hyperbolic, Lauredhel, hon?”

No. The actual term “walking dead” abounds for people of a certain size.

In the book Obesity, By Alexander G. Schauss, Schauss quotes a clinic director evaluating NFL players:

“The players who are at greatest risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are the offensive and defensive linemen – they are the walking dead; they just don’t know it.”

Susan Powter’s “The Politics of Stupid: The Cure for Obesity“, pushing her diet-that-is-not-a-diet cure, talks about

“resurrection from the walking dead millions are “waking up” in daily”.

People advocate calling fat children “the walking dead” to scare them into dieting.

The zombification and dehumanisation is internalised, too; repeated social messages are powerful things. A diet blog is dubbed “Dead Man Walking“. A commenter on fat fu even called hirself “walking dead morbidly obese” – while mentioning that sie has been that way for thirty years.

And there’s this, and this, and this.

The usage and context of the term “The Obese” bring home to us the fact that society thinks of fat people as a mob. A sinister, homogenised, shuffling, soulless mob. People who are fat are Othered, defined as something apart from normal. Our fatness is considered our key and defining characteristic; something that sets us apart from “regular people”. Our bodies are foreign, and undesirable, and frightening. This attitude is dehumanising, deindividuating, and what’s more, it gets on my wick.

I hope we as a people can start to take a leaf out of the book of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, when they say:

What Do You Call People with Disabilities? [or fat people, or any other "kind" of people ~Lauredhel]

Men, women, boys, girls, students, mom, Sue’s brother, Mr. Smith, Rosita, a neighbor, employer, coworker, customer, chef, teacher, scientist, athlete, adults, children tourists, retirees, actors, comedians, musicians, blondes, brunettes, SCUBA divers, computer operators, individuals, members, leaders, people, voters, Texans, friends or any other word you would use for a person.

(Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.)