Attempting to Personalize Spam: UR DOIN IT RONG

I just received an e-mail that begins:

hey there! I’m embarking on  weight loss scheme, in 90 days, and I’ve been inspired by your blog.

Yeeeeah. No, you haven’t. Unless you mean you look at us fatties for “thinspiration,” in which case, you probably wouldn’t be so stupid as to ask me to link to your weight loss blog. And you are indeed that stupid. 

Dude (who’s in his late teens) goes on to add:

Weight affects everyone, and with child obesity on the rise, I feel that people like me need promoting, to show that no all kids are lazing around getting to the size of whales!

Consider yourself promoted here, genius.

My inbox isn’t like this every day, but it is a lot of days, and I’m not alone. Fucking keywords.

Big, Sloppy Kisses for Daniel Engber, and Some Other Stuff

So, we haven’t touched Wall-E around here so far because others have handled it ably, Pixar-loving* trolls are a pain in the ass, and as far as I know, none of us have seen it. But I’ve got to send some love out to Daniel Engber for this Slate article on exactly why the “easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe” is a big load of hooey.

[T]he metaphor only works if you believe familiar myths about the overweight: They’re weak-willed, indolent, and stupid. Sure enough, that’s how Pixar depicts the future of humanity. The people in Wall-E drink “cupcakes-in-a-cup,” they never exercise, and if they happen to fall off their hovering chairs, they thrash around like babies until a robot helps them up. They watch TV all day long and can barely read.

It ought to go without saying that this stereotype of the “obese lifestyle” is simply false.

Be still, my heart! And yeah, it bloody well ought to go without saying, but as reactions to Engber’s piece at both Jezebel and Gawker** illustrate, sometimes it doesn’t go even after you fucking say it. Sigh.

Anyway, go read the whole thing and enjoy one of those rare, exhilarating moments when someone outside the fatosphere actually gets it. And hey, now that I mention it, those moments haven’t even been that rare this week. For another dose of “surprisingly humane” attitudes toward fat people, go follow Michelle’s link to a MeFi post wherein a fat woman asks the hivemind if it’s okay for her to wear a bathing suit in public — and they say hell, yes! After that, head on over to the NYT’s Well blog, where Tara Parker-Pope approvingly quotes a bona fide medical doctor who says crazy things like, “Perhaps I am too easy on people, but I don’t like to lecture people on things they already know. I don’t like to say the obvious: ‘You need to lose weight.’”  Granted, the doc also goes for the obligatory, “Yes, obesity is a problem,” and says he still helps people try to lose weight — and as always at the NYT, you should not read the comments. Dear god, DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. But any doc who says, “Instead of patronizing obese patients with a lecture, I try sympathizing with them,” gets at least a small, un-sloppy kiss from me.

Finally, since we have no fluff today, please feel free to use this thread as a place to talk about summer movies other than Wall-E, or anything else that pops your cork.

*Like Rachel, I actually am basically a fan of Pixar — although like every feminist blogger in the universe, I would really love to see them produce an ass-kicking female lead character one of these days. I watched Monsters, Inc for the first time recently and adored it (a couple of throwaway fat jokes notwithstanding), though that might just be because the Mean Whasian Baby, now a Mean Whasian Toddler, looks and sounds exactly like Boo. In any case, I am not anti-Pixar. I am anti-lazy, crappy satire that relies on ridiculous stereotypes.

**As your Sanity Watchers leader, I will not link to those posts, but you know where to find them if you must.

Meta: Why I’m Such a Bitch

You know, comments are simultaneously the best and the worst thing about blogging. The immediate feedback is gratifying, often educational, and (at least around here) usually fun. I love getting to “know” the regular readers of the blog who participate (though I don’t forget about you lurkers, either), and I’ve even developed a few real-life friendships out of comments and the Fatosphere community. Hell, when Sweet Machine and Fillyjonk started writing here, I’d never met either of them in person — I just assumed from their comments here, at Fatshionista, and at other blogs that I’d like them if I did, and I’d be proud to have them contributing to a blog with my name up top. Both hunches turned out to be very true. 

But there’s a reason for the bitchy comments policy I wrote before they ever got here: Unmoderated or even lightly moderated comments can turn sour very fucking quickly. I’m thrilled and honored to be a regular Broadsheet blogger now, but as I’ve said before, most days, I don’t even let myself look at the comments there — on my posts or anyone else’s — because they’ll blow my Sanity Watchers points for the month. And it’s the same at most online versions of major newspapers and many blogs that don’t make comment moderation a top priority — I don’t even bother looking at the comments, because I know they’ll be full of argumentative assholes spoiling for a fight, better known as trolls. When those comments aren’t dispatched swiftly, they take over a thread like weeds.

And that sucks, because there are always some good comments in among the bullshit, but when a thread is overgrown with jerks, it’s not even worth trying to find those comments. Skimming through the troll comments to get to the good ones raises my blood pressure and makes me sputtery, so I just don’t do it. And that’s the number one reason why anyone who pisses me off here gets shown the door right quick (see rules 5 and 7). If my blood pressure goes up, my doctor’s just going to think I’m eating too much bacon, and I don’t want to deal with that aggro. 

The problem with this policy, insofar as there is one (and I don’t actually think there is), is twofold. 1) The definition of “troll” is open to interpretation. 2) People who get on my tits aren’t always trolls, per se, and I don’t necessarily care about the distinction anyway. If somebody’s comments are consistently giving me a stabbing pain behind the right eye, I feel no obligation to be patient with that person, regardless of whether he or she falls under the rubric of “troll” in most people’s estimation.

And that’s the thing I think I made abundantly clear in the comments policy, but which some people still seem to get hung up on occasionally: It’s my right eye — and Fillyjonk’s and Sweet Machine’s respective right eyes — that makes the determination as to whether certain commenters are causing more trouble than they’re worth. We don’t take a vote, we don’t check comments against a list of specific unsavory behaviors and score them on a scale from 1 to 10 — we just ask ourselves, “Is this commenter giving me a fucking headache?” And if the answer is yes, then we generally follow a three-step process. 1) Point out that the person is violating the standards of discourse around here in some way, and warn them that it needs to stop. 2) Get snarky. 3) Banninate. Sometimes, we skip straight to 2 or 3, depending on the size of our headaches, but usually, if you look back, you’ll see we did carry out point 1 somewhere in there. And in light of the clearly posted comments policy, bothering with step 1 is being generous. 

What this means is, if you think we’re being unnecessarily bitchy, this is probably not the blog for you. And that means exactly what it says — it’s not a criticism, just a fact. We’re not trying to be exclusive for the sake of it, we’re just saying, the bloggers here all have strong personalities, zero patience for bullying and/or thread derailing, and high standards for communication. We’re actually pretty forgiving people in real life, but if we gave the benefit of the doubt to everyone here who gives us that stabby pain, A) we’d go crazy, and B) the comments threads here would be miserable reading for the vast majority of Shapelings. Everyone loves a little blog dramaz, but nobody loves a thread where one or two people keep yelling, “BUT YOU’RE WRONG AND I’M RIGHT I’M RIGHT I’M RIGHT WHY WON’T YOU JUST ADMIT I’M RIGHT?” (Hence rule 6, among others.) So we don’t put up with it. Period.

Realistically, this means that we have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazymaking.

Most of our moderation work goes on behind the scenes — every first-time comment has to be approved, which is why you almost never see a drive-by fat-hater here anymore — but when an approved commenter starts driving us batshit, it’s out there for everyone to see. And we’re okay with that, too. We think about our responses, and we own them. But they’re not up for negotiation. We only get bitchy after we’ve perceived a consistent pattern of disrespect for the comments policy and/or the spirit of the blog. If you don’t perceive the same pattern, then one of two things is happening: you haven’t read all the same comments we have, or you have different standards than we do. Either way, it’s our call, and arguing with us about those calls is far more likely to get you on the shit list than change our minds. 

Is this attitude of ours despotic? Draconian? Bitcherrific? Sure. It’s also what makes the comments here pleasant, entertaining, informative reading 99 days out of 100. For all the times I’ve been accused of hating free speech, banning “anyone who disagrees with me,” constructing an echo chamber, denying fat people the opportunity to read important information about their health risks (SRSLY), et fucking cetera, the discussions around here still somehow manage to be lively and loaded with polite disagreement, constructive criticism, and differing perspectives. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But we also wouldn’t have it like Broadsheet or the New York Times or some of the big-name liberal blogs — where the commentariat routinely confuses “self-expression” with “being a fucking asshole.” 

And as I’ve said before, if our readership were dropping, our comments threads were getting shorter, or any of the many Shapelings we’ve come to trust let us know they think our iron fists have gotten a little too big for their velvet gloves, we’d take a long, hard look at the way we run things around here. As it is, though, the numbers keep going up — and for my money, our unrepentant bitchery is one of the reasons for that. Like I said, I love comments — writing them, reading them, responding to them — but when blog owners lose control of their comment sections, it can turn me off on a whole damn blog, even if I’m crazy about the posters there. If the discussion sucks, I go where it doesn’t, and I can’t believe I’m alone in that. Every time a public banning happens here, I get grief about how I’m alienating people who might want to learn — emphasis on the might — as if the entire fat rights movement will dissolve tomorrow if I don’t award every jerk who drops by his or her own special soapbox. But alienating the people who cause trouble makes this space safer and more welcoming for those who don’t. It makes it the kind of blog I love to read — and until somebody starts paying me a shit ton to do this, the fact that I love reading this blog as much as writing a third of it is the only thing making it worthwhile.

So that, my dears, is why I’m a snarky bitch with an itchy banning finger, and why I encourage Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine to be the same (not that they need my help, frankly). It’s because I love this blog, I want to keep loving it, and I want people who are turned off by thread-derailing bullies to keep finding their way here and falling in love with it, too. So far, it’s working. 

DC/Balto Shapelings: Call me!

Hey, Shapelings in DC, Baltimore, and environs, please contact me! Shapeling Kate217 is setting up a meetup next month, and I don’t want to put the details right on the site, so I need the contact info of anyone who’s interested. (Then I will probably pass you off to Kate217, who is about 29305802 times of a better planner than I am.)

Brand-new email address is babyflavored at gmail dot com.

Boston fatties: Want to help out a student?

The other day I got the following request from a lurker named Meredith:

I am taking a sociology class this summer that is looking at personal narratives, and our final project is to interview someone about a topic we would like to do some research about, and I would very much like to interview someone about how they got involved in fat activism. It would only be a 15-20 minute interview, and the interviewee’s identity would be kept confidential. I think that the fat acceptance movement is a social movement of real significance, and I am hoping that doing this paper could lead to further work in grad school.

I was hoping that one of you might be willing to post a brief message asking if there are any people in the Boston area willing to speak with me briefly in the near future. You can include my email address as contact information.

It’s always a little weird to get a request like this from a random person — one doesn’t know what to do about it, since you don’t know whether they truly mean well (see: everyone’s understandable paranoia about the magazine’s request for BMI photos. Meredith was fully aware of and apologetic for this in her email). But, as it turns out, Meredith isn’t a random person; she’s a student working with frequent Shakesville and Pandagon commenter (and God of Biscuits) MAJeff. I still can’t vouch for Meredith personally, but I highly doubt that Jeff would be steering her wrong. (And she seems very nice.)

If you live in the Boston area and are willing to meet for a short interview, you can email Meredith at merramac at gmail dot com. If you’re dying to help out with her project and don’t live in Boston, you might as well shoot her an email too — maybe a phone interview would be of use.

Iowa Flood: How You Can Help

Whenever I read about a natural disaster in the news, I think — like most people would, I guess — about the people I know who might be affected. Usually, if I know anyone in the area that got hit, a quick e-mail or phone call finds that they and all their loved ones are fine. So when I e-mailed a friend who lives in Iowa City — our own Shapeling Sumac — the other day, I was expecting to hear pretty much that.

Instead, I heard this:

Thanks for checking in, dude. Things are bad–my mom lost her house, my stepdad lost his house, my sister and her husband, who lived at my mom’s, lost all their stuff.

The only good thing is that the water crested yesterday, so it’s not going to get higher. My mom’s house is apparently still standing (with water well into her second story–and her first story is raised 8 feet above the ground), but some of the neighbors’ houses are totally just gone.

Right now we’re trying to find housing for the four of them, but it’s hard. All the leases end at the end of July and local landlords are being fuckheads about helping flood victims with flexible leasing or month-to-months.

But besides that everything’s fine. I’m not being snarky. We really are fine, just kind of shaken and stressed. We’re healthy and my mom and stepdad have flood insurance (most of the victims of this flood don’t) so they’ll be able to rebuild their homes quite easily when the water clears out.

I asked her if there’s anything people can do, beyond the obvious. Are there charities besides the Red Cross that seem to be doing good stuff on the ground? Anything I could use my little bloggy megaphone to promote?

She replied:

I haven’t heard of anyone else taking donations so far, other than Red Cross. I know the last time the river flooded, the Mennonites did a ton of rebuilding for people. I have no reason to think they won’t be helping this time too. It’s just that rebuilding is still a few months out. But their work is especially important for people who did not have insurance and who will not have money to hire contractors to rebuild. The Mennonite Disaster Service website is here.

Other than that, there’s not a lot to be done. Maybe watch the news and, if your readers are in the area, come down for what is sure to be a monumental clean-up for the cities of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids after the waters completely recede. I mean, the sandbags alone are going to be a total mess.

Then later, she forwarded me an e-mail from none other than Barack Obama, suggesting the following:

If you are able to assist in flood relief efforts, there are many ways to help your neighbors in Iowa. Here are some resources to get involved:

  • Call 2-1-1:When you call 2-1-1, you can receive information on flood-related assistance, including road closings, evacuation and shelter information. Opportunities to help are available by zip code, so anyone can find out where to help near their home.
  • Iowa Concern Hotline:
    Volunteer hotline for people who wish to help in recovery efforts.
    1-800-447-1985
  • Iowa City Flood Hotline:
    319-887-6202
  • Johnson County Emergency Management:
    319-356-6028
  • Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Service Program — Cedar Rapids: 319-378-0337

Shapelings, if you have any other suggestions, please leave them in comments. One thing I do know is that plus-size clothing donations are usually in short supply after events like this, so I’ll see if I can find out where to send them.

Update: Red Cross is handling the clothing donations, and apparently only drop-offs. If you’re in the area and want to donate, call (800) 733-2767 to make sure they’re still looking for what you’ve got. (My guess is, yes, they’ll be looking for stuff above a size 16 for women, at least.)

Laurie suggested contacting the Humane Society to see about helping homeless pets. My guess here is that foster homes near the area will be especially helpful, since so many people are moving into temporary housing where pets aren’t allowed.

And Tom Hilton over at Shakesville offered this link for info on where volunteer sandbaggers and the like are needed.

OT: Come Hear My Smart Friends Read Poetry

On June 23rd, my dear friend (and the person who introduced me to Al) Paula Cisewski, will be reading in Chicago, along with our fellow Vermont College grads Rauan Klassnik and Carrie Olivia Adams. If you’re in town, please come check it out.

Monday, June 23rd

7:00 PM

Quimby’s Books

1854 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 342-0910

Rauan Klassnik was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Now he spends most of his time in Mexico looking after birds and dogs with his wife Edith. His poems have appeared in such journals The North American Review, MiPoesias, No Tell Motel, Caesura, Sentence, Tex!, Pilot Poetry, and Hunger Mountain. His first full-length collection of poetry, Holy Land, is newly released from Black Ocean.

Carrie Olivia Adams works in publishing in Chicago. She is also the poetry editor for Black Ocean, an independent press based out of Boston, New York, and Chicago. She has published one chapbook, “A Useless Window,” and her first full-length collection, Intervening Absence, is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press. Her poems and criticism have appeared in such journals in Backwards City Review, Cranky, DIAGRAM, Verse, and Lilies and Cannonballs.

Paula Cisewski is the author of Upon Arrival (Black Ocean, 2006), the chapbook How Birds Work (Fuori Editions, 2002), and the co-author, with Mathias Svalina, of Or Else What Asked the Flame (Scantily Clad Press, 2008). A Pushcart nominee and amateur thereminist, she lives in Minneapolis where she teaches writing and humanities courses and hosts the Imaginary Press Reading Series.

Me, Elsewhere

Just a quick hit to let you all know I weighed in on former UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s bulimia over at Broadsheet yesterday (thanks to all who sent me that tip), and I officially announced my retirement from Ask the Blondes today. (Unofficially, I’ve been blowing it off and letting Laurie do all the work for months.)

I’m curious to hear what Shapelings think of the Prescott piece. I’ve got a word limit over at Broadsheet, and as you might have noticed, I’m not naturally inclined to keep my thoughts brief (ahem), so I’m still learning how to deal with that. I had 3 basic points in the Prescott piece: 1) Much of the coverage of this story has been vicious and demeaning; 2) I’m glad Prescott’s put an old, fat, male face on eating disorders, which might cause people to question their stereotypical ideas about ED sufferers; and yet 3) I’m irritated that as usual, a terrible thing that mostly affects women becomes major news as soon as it affects a man. I thought I made those points all right, given the lack of space for me to elaborate on them.

But somehow, the Broadsheet commenters read that as me mocking Prescott, showing a total lack of sympathy for people with EDs, and of course being a man-hating feminist. The last part is to be expected, but I’m confused by the first two. Are they crazy, or did I totally fail to get my points across?

Also, if you’ve got other stuff you want to talk about, feel free to use this as an open thread.