Book, Media

In Which I Continue to Learn the Hard Way What NOT to Say to Reporters

So, a week or so ago, I did an interview with Joel Mathis from the Philadelphia Weekly. (I was warned that it would be about fat women and sex—for a sex-themed issue—and I warned him back that I’m probably too prudish deep down to give him any juicy quotes. We proceeded from there.)

So. He was very nice, said his wife’s a big fan of the site (hi, if you’re reading!) and quoted me accurately in the finished version*. However. I keep learning the hard way, again and again, that there is a big difference between being quoted accurately and actually getting your point across. 

Here’s what Mathis quotes me as saying, in response to (I believe)  “Do you think of yourself as beautiful?”

“I do feel beautiful on my own terms,” says Harding, a blue-eyed blonde who weighs in around 200 pounds. “I’m married, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and plenty of guys have thought I was beautiful.”


I’m sure I said all those words. I’m also sure I followed them up with something like, “But really, that’s not the point. It’s nice to feel validated by other people, but that’s not what matters. Plenty of people don’t think I’m beautiful, and the point is, their terms don’t have to be mine.” (He does throw that bit in later.) I also noted that said blonde hair and blue eyes (and associated fair skin) and 200-lb. body and hourglass shape actually bring me a lot closer to the beauty standard than many women are, which makes me less of a target for hatred from dudes who think a woman’s worth is directly proportionate to her perceived fuckability. (Granted, I’m sure that whatever I actually said, I didn’t articulate it anywhere near that clearly. But I do know I did not leave “My husband thinks I’m beautiful and plenty of other guys do, too”—with the implied “So, nyah!”—just hanging out there like that.) 

I’m totally not criticizing Mathis for this, I hasten to add. I think he did his job in good faith—and the article’s quite positive. But the more I talk to reporters, the more I realize how important it is to think about the soundbites I’m spewing, even as I couch them in more nuanced babbling. I cracked up when I saw the Q&A we did with Damsel, because every one of those one-line answers was pulled from a ramble that lasted a couple minutes. Nothing’s out of context or troubling to me, and it totally makes sense given the space constraints—but good Maude, there was some hardcore abbreviation there.

Contrast that with the Salon interview I did via e-mail, for a better sense of how I tend to answer stuff. (And then factor in that THAT was edited down substantially—including the removal of one whole Q/A volley — because I can’t ever shut the fuck up. “5 Questions with Kate Harding” became “4 Questions and This Is Still Like 1400 Words Long Because I’m Doing You a Favor, KATE.”) Several of the reporters I’ve talked to—including Mathis—have ended the conversation with something along the lines of, “Wow, this went longer than I expected!” Yeah. Hi.

The thing is, I think one of the reasons people seem to like this blog is that I do go on forever and get into ridiculous levels of detail and clarification when I tackle a given subject. (Certainly, as with my beauty, there are those who don’t dig it. And certainly, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom about blogging, which holds that shorter posts are always preferable to longer ones. But I keep rambling and y’all keep coming back, so… Suck it, conventional wisdom.) I feel so hamstrung when someone asks me to make an important point about fat acceptance in one or two sentences, because you can’t. Not if you’re a thoughtful person.

I mean, there’s a big fucking grey area between “gives good soundbite” and “talks as much as I do.” But still, at least half this blog’s raison d’etre is that the media continuously reduces incredibly complex issues to incredibly simplistic conclusions. The quick, easy, empty quote is king. Eat less, move more! Put the fork down! Get off the couch! And oh yeah, love your body! If the media actually dealt in nuance, I’d be free to blog a lot more about my dogs and write novels with pink high heels on the cover. THAT WOULD BE A REFRESHING CHANGE, LET ME TELL YOU.

So now, because I’ve gotten some attention and half a book deal for responding to vastly oversimplified articles in a thoughtful and nuanced (albeit rambly) way, I’ve been rewarded with the opportunity to vastly oversimplify my own thoughts for a mainstream audience. Um, yay? I mean,  it’s not even that I have a problem with selling out. I’d seriously consider appearing on the cover of Maxim in a whipped-cream bikini if I thought it would move books. I’m trying to make a living as a writer here, and that’s hard enough to do even without being the kind of person who gets all hung up on “standards” and “principles.”** It’s just, I don’t know how to boil this shit down to media-friendly quotes without coming off as a total jackass. And yet, I don’t want to turn down any chance to get publicity for both the book and the whole concept of fat acceptance. 

So. Got any advice, Shapelings? Those of you who are better than I at nailing down talking points, what are your suggestions for one-liners about various aspects of fat acceptance? Those of you with media experience, what are your suggestions for avoiding the pitfall of barfing up an irresistible soundbite (like, “Plenty of guys think I’m beautiful!”) in the middle of a more complicated thought? Any help would be appreciated.

ETA: I didn’t get to this earlier because—heh—I had to run off to do another interview, but can we also talk about that illustration? I’m really not sure what to make of it. On the upside: Hot, fat woman of color, with a head and a face. On the downside: Hypersexualized, mostly naked woman of color, who’s not so much “fat” as “like 75% ass.” (Please see Julia’s essay in the book for more on that important distinction. OK, fine, you can read it here, too, but buy the book anyway.) Does it reinforce the myth that it’s more acceptable for African-American women to be fat? Is the mostly naked factor mitigated by the fact that it’s the “sex” issue, so that’s probably to be expected? What do you all think?

Edited again: MezzoSherri just made this excellent comment. (I wasn’t sure if Constance was white, but it would have been on-point even if the article only mostly quoted white women.)

I do not currently have the brainpower to try and unpack the layered meanings, assumptions, and cultural messages behind the fact that an article which quotes three fair-skinned fatties (me, Kate and Constance) and references a fourth (Marianne) is represented with an illustration of a woman of color in lingerie crouching in submission/performance for (I’m assuming) the male gaze.

*The finished version also includes an interview with Shapeling MezzoSherri, whom I was lucky enough to meet last Saturday. Yippee! And it also calls me “the godmother of the movement,” which is off on a lot of levels, starting with the fact that it’s a 40-year-old movement I’ve only been involved in for 2 years. But like “Queen of the Fat-o-sphere,” it does amuse me—as long as I think of it in Mafia terms, not quasi-maternal ones.

**This is a joke. Mostly.

121 thoughts on “In Which I Continue to Learn the Hard Way What NOT to Say to Reporters”

  1. This is making me think of the “Bull Durham” scene between Nuke & Crash. :) Not that you’re Nuke, I hasten to add.

    These are probably all “duh” points, and I’m sure others will have many more to offer, but:

    Always pause, longer than you even think you should, before answering a reporter’s question. Take a breath.

    Speak a little more slowly than you would normally, and pause (breathe!). As you’ve experienced, you can’t rely on reporters to quote all of a long quote, or properly mine a rambling answer for just the good stuff.

    Have a few blanket statements ready — write them out, make sure they’re concise — and if you can make one of those fit the answer, lead with it. They are definitely looking for those pull quotes, so have a couple of them — maybe on the slightly shocking, attention-getting, disarming side, but in a *good* way — ready, with a couple of variations. Think headlines or ledes, just like you already do when you write.

    Avoid clauses — the “but” or the “exception” might get dropped.

    Sarcasm doesn’t always translate well in print, so be careful with it.

    Always remember they’re not your friends, you’re not having a conversation, and, most importantly, you will just about never be quoted accurately, no matter what!

  2. One last thing — if you don’t already have an FAQ on a few of these issues, or the book in general, either emailable or available on the blog, perhaps consider creating one that has a few of those sound bites on the most critical issues. It would help educate some of these reporters in advance, and the lazy ones, because sorry, but they exist, might just quote the FAQ (most accurately) without giving an interview.

  3. While reading this, the thought popped into my head that preparing for a media interview might be a lot like preparing for a job interview.

    You KNOW they’re going to be asking a lot of the same questions no matter how they phrase them. So it’s best to have a stable of canned answers that you have rehearsed and that you know make good sound bites. You can always add a sentence before or after to frame your canned answer to seemingly answer their specific question before you go off into answering it how it will make you look best. And keep the answer focused on the point that you want to make, not the one that they will try to carve out of it.

    Then practice these on family and friends until either 1. they can answer the questions as well as you can, 2. are ready to hire you…uh, write up an interview with you themselves, or 3. tell you if you don’t stop talking about this they’re going to put you in a crate and ship you to some far away land by slow boat. The idea is you can pull up your chosen phrasing at any time and without thinking about it so it sounds natural and charming and unrehearsed :).

  4. For identifying the problem, I would boil it down to say “Weight is one of the few things left (if not the only thing) that people are allowed to comment on and discriminate about…”

    Something along those lines.

    Or, “Fat acceptance means not telling someone they’re beautiful… as long as they lose a few pounds. It means accepting people for who they are, and not destroying their self-esteem and body image by trying to hold them to one socially-acceptable standard.”

    But really, doesn’t the term “fat acceptance” almost speak for itself?

    Fat acceptance: the remarkable, unbelievable ability to accept oneself or others for who they actually are instead of who others say they ought to be. Even if they’re fat.

  5. I can see why you would want to make your message the most effective it can be, but I just want you to know you’ve been doing a fantastic job at expressing these ideas. I’ve been very impressed with the articles I’ve read so far.

    Which reminds me of one of the reasons I love you, and it’s that you are so thoughtful in the way you think about these issues. You manage to analyze and express ideas that get at the heart of so many things I’ve felt but could never figure out how to say. The longer the post, the better.

  6. I’m a reporter.

    Sometimes, a really smart source won’t answer my question. As in, they will answer me with some sort of personal mission statement that blasts my question back at me in the greatest of ways. That source would answer that particular question something like this:
    “Beauty is meaningless. My life, though, is full of meaning and purpose and that brings me joy and makes me connect with the human race in a way that matters. And that. friend, is real beauty.”

    I always include those kind of I-see-your-question-and-raise-you-an-answer-you-can’t-refuse quotes. And they always make print.

  7. I know what you mean Kate, but just a comment here, I read the full article and I don’t think you come off anywhere near a jack-ass.

    There’s only so much nuance that can be accomplished in a short article like that, and you did your best. Also, the implied “so, nyah” didn’t really come across to me either. It seems you were just being honest and real with your experience. Frankly, I that that many believe that the 200 lbs is so far from the beauty standard, it doesn’t matter that you have blond hair and blue eyes. Could it be worse in terms of discrimination? Sure if you were much heavier, but in terms of “sexiness” no you are still pretty far (just talking in terms of Madison Ave./ Hollywood “values” not reality!)

  8. For identifying the problem, I would boil it down to say “Weight is one of the few things left (if not the only thing) that people are allowed to comment on and discriminate about…”

    Except for how we explicitly reject that position in our comments policy.

    Kate, for sympathetic interviewers is it possible to ask if they can email you some questions first? You can even just explain that you have been known to ramble and will take up less of their time if you know which thoughts to collect. Personally I’m pretty happy when I can email a source first and let them know what I’ll be looking for, because I’m more likely to get the quote I want.

  9. I am happy to report that I was also quoted correctly. (Yay!) Now that I’ve seen what pieces Mathis used, I feel freely empowered to blog about the other things I talked about and the various ways the whole experience has me thinking about stuff. (Also Yay!)

    Usual sanity watchers warnings apply to the comments. (Boo!) Though in this moment, I’m rather amused by the all-too-usual slam about us featured fatsos eating burgers and fries all the time.

    Good Shapelings, I am quite literally sitting here munching on carrots as I power through the end of my workday. Irony, thy name is “vegetable.”

  10. So many sizes
    And yet you say just one shape
    Can be beautiful.

    Say everything like it’s haiku. I think you should look at this problem as a chance to establish your brand – but instead of focusing on just one aspect of yourself, go for a double-header: Kate Harding, Queen of the Fat-o-sphere and kick-ass Zen poet.

    Okay, yes, I’m kidding, but just imagine this – interviewer asks you a question, you breathe deeply, descend gracefully into a particularly twisty yoga-pose, and then respond in a perfectly balanced mini poem of exactly seventeen syllables.

    Of if the interviewer asks one of those condescending, concern-troll-type questions, simply narrow your eyes inscrutably and answer, “Your lips move, yet I can hear no question.”

  11. Fillyjonk – Rule Eleven – I do apologize. I thought I had seen people talk about it in those terms here, but it must have been another blog.

  12. Is the quote below an error, or am I missing some other city-specific message boards on this site? Sorry to get off topic here….

    Sherri Wilcauskas, 39, is a fundraiser at Philadelphia University who, like D’Ulisse, is a participant in the Philadelphia message boards at Harding’s website.

  13. The problem with the question is that there’s no good, direct answer.

    I really like Cindy’s idea, although frankly, I’m getting a little sick of the whole “inner” beauty thing. I’d really like to see us get to a place where we can just admit we’re not beautiful and get one with our lives, to say and mean “it’s OK to not be beautiful.”

  14. ’d really like to see us get to a place where we can just admit we’re not beautiful and get on with our lives, to say and mean “it’s OK to not be beautiful.”

    Kate and Marianne are both beautiful, though, so it would be dissembling for them to say they weren’t.

  15. Not an error. Mathis did miss the nuanced distinction between the Shapely Prose blog and the Shapely Prose site on ning.
    (I hope I got the hyperlink thing right!)

    There’s all kinds of boards there – including one for Philly.

    PS–If I screwed up the linkage, just email and I’ll send the URL.

  16. Canned job interview type answers are a good idea. If you had said the last part first–the part about how that’s not the point, and other people’s terms don’t have to be yours–do you think that’s the part he would have quoted in response to that question?

  17. Some of the most complex academic theories come with soundbites attached, for instance “the medium is the message,” cogito ergo sum and e=mc2.

    Making soundbites seems to be an art form. I don’t know if there’s a formula, but part of the trick seems to lie in accepting that a soundbite will never convey a whole concept in all its nuances; it’s just an introduction to the subject.

  18. When I read the article, I thought that Joel Mathis based his article around the question “Can fat women perceive themselves as beautiful?” And the answer was Constance D’Ulisse and Kate Harding both perceive themselves as beautiful, but Sherri Wilcauskas won’t use that word to describe herself. (Or at least not yet — but the article made me think “I bet she’s beautiful too, but maybe she doesn’t see it yet, or maybe she doesn’t want to say so.”)

    And the piece is entitled “Roll Reversal” — and the idea of a person possibly with fat rolls? who probably eats rolls? finding herself beautiful is a reversal of the role that society expects such a person to play “oh, I’m so fat and ugly I must stop eating rolls and then maybe I won’t have rolls.”

    I thought that the article was sassy and thought provoking and Kate, I didn’t think that you sounded nyah nyah at all. In fact, that little sound bite that maybe you wouldn’t have ever said if you had known how it would be used — maybe that was the inspiration for the whole article.

  19. I tend to be rambly as well, though I still can’t manage to get my point across as well as you can. I like your blogging style – obviously since I am here, right, so yea screw conventional wisdom.

    I think I like Kimberley O’s suggestion. :)

  20. Kate, it feels to me like what you were attempting to say in a few statements was: “Beauty is a subjective term which attempts to pigeonhole people according to what a faceless fashion conglomerate has decided people should look like. I know I am awesome and I don’t need outside input on that.”

    Am I close? Was that too long?

  21. I agree strongly with Jmars. I think that the whole notion of inner beauty really amounts to dignity. Although the contemplation of dignity can produce a sensation like that of contemplating physical beauty, they’re not the same thing. The thing that kind of gets to me when people discuss inner beauty is that, often in a moment of weakness, they’ll say they’re not feeling beautiful, and it’s unclear if they mean in a physical or inner sense. Casting dignity in terms of beauty encourages insecurity about physical beauty to lead to insecurity about dignity.

    In other words, I think it’s important to break the chain between human worth and physical beauty further up than inner beauty. Human worth and dignity do not stem from beauty, physical or otherwise, and so one doesn’t have to be beautiful to anyone in any sense to deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

    Sorry if that’s a little off-topic, but Jmars really touched on a point that I think is important.

    As for phrasing quotes so that they convey messages better in interviews, my sympathies are with Kate. I always prefer a more nuanced argument to a succinct one that has several holes that could easily be filled in with a little more explanation. As Kate mentions, that’s one of the reasons why I like this blog (and Kate’s writing)–it’s quite rigorous, and not only asserts an argument, but charitably preempts potential objections.

    My only advice is along the lines of what Fillyjonk suggested. Ask for the interview questions in advance. If you can’t get them in advance, and you get an interview question that you found it hard to provide a good answer for, try writing a concise response later. If you get a similar question later, you’re more likely to get what you want across the second time.

    Ultimately, thoughtful people should realize that ideas presented in the media are limited by space constraints, and that they should do some more reading on an issue they’re interested in before dismissing it.

  22. I really like Cindy’s idea, although frankly, I’m getting a little sick of the whole “inner” beauty thing.

    Me too!

    I do think Cindy’s point is excellent, though — thanks!

  23. Kate what I have to say is probably not what you’re going to want to hear. But, its been my experience that you’re just lucky if you don’t get misquoted.

    I have a good friend who has done numerous interviews with national papers, magazines (one’s you all would quite well), books and he’s yet to be happy with what’s been presented. I’ve interviewed him and his presentation is spot on. He has awesome soundbites but journalists always eff something up. Even nationally known interviewers have taken things out of context or edited something strangely.

    Its the nature of the beast. You do a five thousand word interview with someone and then condense it down to 500.

    And, hello, the only reason why your worried about this is because women are taught that its bad form to be complimentary to yourself. Women need to see women who are willing to say ‘I’m beautiful’.

    Then there’s this:

    “I’d really like to see us get to a place where we can just admit we’re not beautiful and get on with our lives, to say and mean “it’s OK to not be beautiful.”

    I don’t think its pollyanna-ish to say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. There are dudes and gals that I get hot for that others that would probably send others reeling. All I can think is ‘I WANT THEIR JUNK IN MY TRUNK’ Seriously, maybe he looks like an aging accountant with a gut and he’s balding but I’d fallate him joyfully. Maybe that bartender is s a big girl with smokers voice to you but she’s the hottest thing I’ve seen in a while. Dinner is served.

    And I’ll stop there so I can get criticized for objectifying people. *sigh*

    So no, we can’t just get to a place where we make generalized statements about stuff that is sooo subjective.

  24. Ug, I hear you. Before I learned that you never talk to my uni’s crappy paper, I was asked to give an argument against the crazy dead fetus anti abortion sign holding protesters that show up on campus once a year. I said something along the lines of “I feel like in a way they are lying with pictures. Most of these are from late term abortions because the images are more shocking, but late term abortions are usually done for compelling and heartbreaking medical reasons and aren’t simply elective.” This of course got boiled down to “They’re lying.” Which made me sound like a whiny douche. And then I got yelled at by the leader of my pro-choice campus group for not knowing I shouldn’t talk to the paper. Blarg.

  25. And, hello, the only reason why your worried about this is because women are taught that its bad form to be complimentary to yourself. Women need to see women who are willing to say ‘I’m beautiful’.

    valerie, I tend to agree with you on the inevitability of oversimplification, but I think you’re misunderstanding the problem with the stripped quote here. Kate’s trouble isn’t that she was seen calling herself beautiful; it’s that she was seen answering the question “do you think of yourself as beautiful?” by saying that some men think she is.

  26. Christ, I’ve been talking to the media on Harsh Things going on with my housing situation (in Canada), and I’ve been realizing that short, sweet, and easy to digest is all the time I’ve got. Only I’ve got books worth of stuff I want to say.

    Anyway.Nuance really is the issue. But for the win, I’ve been using:

    Diets Don’t Work – no, not even if you call them lifestyle changes”

  27. Kate’s trouble isn’t that she was seen calling herself beautiful; it’s that she was seen answering the question “do you think of yourself as beautiful?” by saying that some men think she is.


    And this is one of the challenges of doing interviews, as valerie points out.

    And we learn from the things that go wrong, so maybe next time, something more like “I think I’m beautiful, and the people I love think I’m beautiful, and I don’t care what magazines or strangers have to say” might be less susceptible to truncation that leads to misinterpretation.

    But I don’t know. This crap happens to me every time I open my mouth to a journalist, and I’ve been a journalist myself. When my next book comes out, I’m just going to point at things.

  28. Kate’s trouble isn’t that she was seen calling herself beautiful; it’s that she was seen answering the question “do you think of yourself as beautiful?” by saying that some men think she is.

    Yup. “I am beautiful because some men say so!” *cringe*

    I agree with the rest of what you’re saying, though, valerie.

    Also, because I just thought of this… Not only was I not feeling bad about complimenting myself, I think that might have popped out because I was trying NOT to sell myself short. What I said BEFORE that is just as interesting a question as what I said after it—and it’s distinctly possible that I said something like, “You know, I don’t think it really matters if anyone finds me hot—though I do want to reinforce that attraction is subjective, there’s no one universal standard, so yeah, my husband and plenty of guys have found me me hot.” (Again, I’m heavily revising what actually came out of my mouth, which was probably like, “Zuh? Yeah, attraction, not universal. Don’t care. I mean, husband. But still.” But the smarter version is WHAT I WAS THINKING, DAMMIT.)

  29. “I’m getting a little sick of the whole “inner” beauty thing. ”

    You know, I think I’m just tired of condescension. How about people just agree to not say anything if they don’t have anything good to say. Don’t feed me bullshit and tell me its pumpkin pie. For example:

    Speaker 1: Do you think she’s fat?
    Speaker 2: How about those Dodgers?

    Keep saying it. Eventually your friend will stop being a clueless prat AND you’ll not participate in saying condescending a*hole.

  30. Another piece of advice that was passed around frequently when I worked for politicians is facts tell, but stories sell. People, including reporters, identify with narrative better than they identify with numbers. That’s part of why it’s so difficult to combat the anecdata about dieting with hard science.

  31. (( Although, of course, my Number One Sound Bite wouldn’t work the beauty angle.

    But frankly, the beauty angle scares me, and I cannot address it, because it always seems to come back to the guy who dismisses the human rights issue in favor of his ‘plaint “but I don’t want to be expected to want to fuck it”, whether that’s racism, homo-/trans- phobia, misogyny, ablism, or healthism.

    How about: “Douchebag hetero dudes, I’ll personally call everyone on the planet besides the stereotypical hot chick and let them know to cross your precious dick off their to do list.”

    Too aggressive? ))

  32. It’s a cliche for a reason, but I stand behind beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Because it’s true. I’ve met several guys who are standoffish because they don’t want poor, pathetic, fat me to fall in love with them. Then they gape at me when I tell them, that I suppose they’re attractive in a conventional way, but I am in no way attracted to them as more than friends. “Buh Wha?” That’s right, you’re not all that AND a bag of chips. Go figure.

  33. Yeah I can see that problem. Buuuut it wasn’t MS, Bitch, or even the New Yorker. It was a straight media venue. What you said is pretty normal. Maybe there’s a fat woman out there who thought ‘well, maybe I can get boyfriend’ after reading that.

    People who see a fat woman saying ‘I get laid, I like myself, and I wrote a book about how you can go fuck yourself if you don’t like that’ are probably not going to assume that you base your self-worth on men (or that you expect other women to) because clearly you’re a bra burning radical even suggesting that fat chicks get laid.

    Words do matter. But I think you need to let yourself off the hook for this. And I say that as someone who obsesses about everything I say and do.

  34. RE: the illustration

    Holy Schmoley.

    Someone get that person a Critical Race Theory reader pronto pup. Or a freaking Patricia Hill Collins book or something.

    That’s really the most clueless, crazy thing I’ve seen in a while.

    Not only is it the same tired trope of late 90’s hip hop videos but apparently we are to value nothing else about this woman than her butt or fat womens butt. And eff you on that from someone with a small ass.

  35. @ valerie: Yeah, that illustration would’ve been exceedingly different with different shoes, no?

  36. My only suggestion is to go for shorter answers that put the ball back in the interviewer’s court. Don’t think of it as a long conversation–think of it as a cross examination in a courtroom and say what you need to say, but no more. Leave it there for them to deal with. Lots of questions really are looking for a yes or no, and either word is a complete sentence.

    “Do you think of yourself as beautiful?”

    “Yes, I do!”

  37. In my estimation, humble though it may be, this blog is about accepting oneself no matter what anyone else thinks, right, here, and right now, in this body. Doing what one loves with the body and ability one has. Not giving a shit how fuckable your preferred gender thinks you are, what comments concerned trolls have in the market or what your mom says.

    Keeping that in mind when you answer questions along with this experience will probably give you a more gratifying outcome.

    By the way, reading the book — can I tell you how giddy it makes me that you use “fuck” throughout the book. Yay!

  38. Yes, we are all beautiful in some way, but I bristle a little when we feel we have to defend our fuckability or beauty or whatever. So what if I’m not fuckable to anyone? Or beautiful to anyone? How does that change anything about how I should be treated by society? Just sayin.

  39. I’ve been a journalist too and I think those snappy, interesting tidbits are more likely to end up in the story than a long ramble.
    As much as there have been long rambles that were beautiful that I would’ve loved to put in stories, there just wasn’t space, and readers seem to be turned off by long blocks of text.
    I like the “job interview” strategies that others have suggested. I also agree with the idea to take a breath, think a *lot* before you say stuff, and speak slowly.
    I actually preferred people who did this because it’s easier to take notes and therefore get an accurate quote if they’re not speaking a mile a minute! It also ensures that I can get more nuanced nuggets, even if they are medium-length rather than super long or bite-size.
    On the other hand, there is the urge to get what you *really* think and not a “rehearsed” response. I would sometimes get irritated with people who seemed *too* canned.
    Maybe another thing you could do is slip in a bit, “On my blog, we’ve discussed (this complex issue), and relate your readers’ stories as well as your own. It might make the blog more intriguing – and make sure you give the reporter your URL! Short and snappy.
    I also like the e-mail idea. I loved e-mail interviews sometimes because it *did* help me pick out better quotes without losing accuracy. Sometimes someone will say a beautiful quote but I’m not sure about one word and if it’s phone or in person, I can’t get that missing word back. So the quote is kind of null, because then you’re stuck doing like, “I (think) diets are bullshit,” and that “think” means “she didn’t actually use the word “think,” and it dilutes what would have otherwise been a good quote.

  40. I don’t have advice because I’m just as prone to rambling. I’d probably start with “I reject the entire concept as beauty because I find it destructive” and then go on about that while the interviewer’s eyes glaze over. The sound bite would be just that phrase without the “because” statement, accompanied by a photo of me looking my most haggard.

    Fat acceptance is (apparently) so radical that news outlets can’t seem to get their brains around the concept. I like “the radical notion that fat people are human”, I totally think that should be the lead off for defining FA. Having some concise sound bites handy will keep editors from erasing nuance and running to people like Mememe! Roth as a “balancing perspective”. (So would pointing out that “health” is a red herring, but that’s another rant for another day.)

  41. Trying to figure out a good sound bite that explains that we in Fatland are not in fundamental disagreement with the position that it is good to exercise and eat a well-balanced nutrient-rich diet. The place where the opinion road forks is the expected outcome of what most will agree is healthy behavior.

  42. I wish I could help, but I am an incurable rambler. I spent an hour an a half talking about fat acceptance in a program I did last night, and I felt like it still barely scratched the surface. Not to mention three slides worth of what fat acceptance means to me, with an emphasis on how just because it meant this to me, didn’t mean it meant it to everyone else.

    Soundbites are awesome, especially when they get your point across succinctly, but damn, I don’t think that I could do it, and I don’t envy you your position of having to come up with them.

  43. I started writing a suggestion and then realized that it was a terrible idea. Best of luck with your learning process Kate! I think you’re doing great!

  44. Urm, soundbite.. not sure.

    Although I too wonder why it’s so important for any of us to feel beautiful…A beautiful spirit? A good person? These things are important. I’m absolutely all for fat acceptance, and stamping out the abhorrent discrimination that exists – I’m just not sure we have to be ‘beautiful’ in appearance to achieve it. Be a person fat or skinny why does beauty matter? Aren’t we then just introducing another form of discrimination?

  45. Because being beautiful isn’t about looking a set or certain way – what being beautiful in this context means is being ok with yourself. If you feel that you’re beautiful, what that means is that you like yourself. You’re ok with yourself. You don’t feel that you need to change anything about yourself.

    THAT is beauty. Not blonde hair or green eyes or just enough freckles. The emphasis is put on beauty here because if you consider yourself beautiful and feel beautiful the way you are, you’re not seeking to change yourself.

    People who are dieting? Those people don’t find themselves beautiful. That’s why they diet.

  46. I’m sure I said all those words. I’m also sure I followed them up with something like, “But really, that’s not the point. It’s nice to feel validated by other people, but that’s not what matters. Plenty of people don’t think I’m beautiful, and the point is, their terms don’t have to be mine.”

    It sounds like you do what I do–you know what answer you’re heading towards, but it takes you awhile to arrive at it verbally. (I think you’ve mentioned before that you have ADD? I am as well, so it could be that.) I’m on the academic job market right now so I’m dealing with the same issue–not in a providing the wrong soundbite sense, but in the taking too long to get to my point sense. If you find you tend to get the same kinds of questions a lot, a mock-interview situation where you listen to yourself answering the question and try to identify the core of your answer so you can get to it more succinctly might help.

  47. I haven’t read all of the comments, so I apologize if I’m not on the same topic everyone else is right now…

    If you asked me to try to sum up Fat Acceptance in one or two sentences, I think what I would have to say is this: ‘Fat acceptance is about loving our bodies as they are. It means finding beauty in the shape, the motion, the feel, the smell of…us, as we are.’

    At least from my point of view, the most important part of all of this is loving and honoring our bodies – not about who does and doesn’t find us beautiful. We live in these breathtaking, incredibly complex, resilliant bodies that do amazing things, often things we would not have thought was possible for them. In a sense, honoring our bodies is honoring our own humanity. It is choosing to identify our fantastic selves with the skin we’re in, with all of the variables that make it different from other people’s skins. I think it is in that difference, that uniqueness, that we truely find beauty.


  48. I was so focused before on my own brilliance (having totally forgotten the alternate title of The Book), I forgot to mention a bit of advice from my boss when I took over an account that requires a lot of contact with the press:

    Ask the reporters if they’ll let you take a look at any quotes that they plan to use before they print them. Not the whole article, just your quotes. That might give you a chance to kind of look them over and ensure that they aren’t being taken out of context, or to say “hmm, did I say that? What I really meant was …” and as long as the new quote isn’t too long or complicated, they might be OK with a substitution. Won’t work every time, nor will it necessarily stop someone who’s looking to pull a “gotcha” from getting you, but it might help.

    Maybe this is a no-no to some journalists, but people from wire services and business papers have been OK with it. No one I’ve asked has said “no.”

  49. Sanity Watchers warning on the comments on the Philly Weekly article, of course!

    It’s ok though, cuz I fought back a little! hehehe

  50. Journalist who does interviews chiming in. Honestly, there are limits to what you can reasonably expect in terms of being quoted because of space limitations in print. So, part of the answer is that as much as it pains you you may have to just slow down and try to be mindful that reporters may end up just picking out juicy sentences at random. Also be aware that parts where you sound rambly are often the parts that will get cut for space, even if there’s an important point in there (because there’s a limit to how much a journalist can alter your sentence structure without treading on sketchy ethical ground). Learning how to speak in a more focused way is something that will probably come with experience.

    Also if you’re not already doing this you should probably be asking them to include a link to the blog. Not just a general link to the front page either – a direct link to some sort of introductory post would probably be better.

    I know it’s a pain to have to be careful what you say, but given the subject matter I guarantee that at some point you’re going to run into journalists who’re actively hostile to your ideas and will therefore be itching to pull a “gotcha”. That alone is reason enough to be cautious and make sure you’re wording things in such a way that it’s difficult for someone to twist them into something you didn’t actually mean to say.

  51. I’m a blatherer too. I’m sure if I was ever interviewed for a story like this, I’d write out sample questions and answers ahead of time. And it didn’t occur to me before that there was a “clause” problem, like they’d just use the first part of the clause before the “but,” to make it sound like an entirely different statement. When I interviewed people for trade magazine stories, I don’t recall ever doing that.

    But reading the story, I don’t think you came off as arrogant at all, if that’s what you were worried about. The first thing he has you saying is a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder type of thing, after all.

    That illustration SUCKS, though. In more ways than I can count.

  52. I picked up a copy of the paper today and read the article in the locker room of the gym. Joel did quote me correctly though I was taken aback by the illustration. I also had a panic moment when I realized he included my weight. Then I thought, “Screw it. It’s just a number.”

    Of course I used some of my sanity points by checking the article online and the first two comments were from douchebags, especially the second.

  53. Slate recently did a thing defining Baseball in 150 words. Can we define what this movement is about in that or less? Major concepts?

    I think I’d say : FA or Body acceptance is the idea that everybody’s body is OK and not a reflection of their morality, intelligence, social standing, or worth. And, that people have less control over they way their body looks than our society says.

    Beauty? Is not the goal, the destination. It’s a peripheral thing. Am I beautiful? Sure, but not because I’m “good”.

  54. Honestly? Just practice. I’d sit down with a list of the questions you expect to get asked and write answers you like, and edit and edit and edit.

  55. ‘FA=the radical notion that fat people are human’ may not cut through all the bullshit of youth/beauty obsessing culture here in the US (and elsewhere).

    The first thought that popped into my oxygen-starved brain (asthma/bronchitis, people) was that I’m fat, I fuck other people and that’s the part that’s beautiful – that luscious connection regardless of size. My soul connects. But that may not go over so well in most markets.

    How about: Beauty really is a state of being: being in your body and being in the world. Accepting, allowing and being willing to be willing. And sometimes that willingness has to do with surrendering our culture-taught, self hatred and saying, “Yeah, I’m hot. Get over it.” And sometimes adding, “Now, get out of my way.”

    Total non sequitur
    Spent tremendous time reading past posts this week; I may have missed some super-important thread; sorry if I’m boring or dull!! Do you ever wonder why some trolls hate fatties so much? Do you think that fat-haters are angry at fatties for not complying with the skinny culture, and then they are really, really fucking pissed that they desperately want to fuck us anyway?

  56. I was away from this comment-thread for a while (picking up the engagement ring!), and it gave me a chance to reflect, especially about how, when Mathis asked me the question about feeling beautiful, he prefaced it by saying it isn’t the sort of question he usually asks an interviewee. And I’ve been thinking about how — in my current opinion– it circles back to this being PW’s “sex issue.”

    For a lot of folks, sex is tied up the question of being beautiful, or at least of being attractive to one’s potential/wished-for sex partners. In that context, I think it’s not entirely surprising that Kate and I fell into the “trap” of our own identity categories and relationships — thus defining our beauty through men’s eyes. And, on reflection, it’s 100% unsurprising that Mathis would zero in on those quotes in a story that’s focused on fat women, sex and (between the lines) romantic partnership.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m cringing a little to see my own more-nuanced-and-thus-too-lengthy reflection on beauty boiled down to. “My fiancee thinks I am even if I don’t.” But I can understand how that quote bubbled to the surface for the slant of this particular article.

    And in case there’s any doubt, let me say outright that I’m with Kate in thinking Mathis did his job in good faith. I absolutely appreciate the positive spin of his article. My only regret about my quote is how, when I said the words “I look good,” the word “good” had about 4 extra o’s and a half-ton of attitude that could not be captured in text and newsprint.

  57. This is off topic, but has anyone else tried to book two seats on an airline? I tried to do so with Delta today and suffice to say, after spending the last 1.5 hours on the phone, I still don’t have seat reservations. I spoke to 3 people (after trying to book seats online first – you aren’t allowed to book two seats under the same name), who all gave me conflicting information , and the last guy I talked to told me it was “impossible” for me to get two seats. I finally hung up in tears. I really want to go to this event. So much so that I’m willing to pay double and endure the humiliation of having to discuss the size of my ass with random strangers. What else can I do?

  58. Oh, Sticky, that’s awful!

    My only suggestion: Have you tried using a travel agent? They seem to know how to make things happen.

    You’re in my thoughts.

  59. Kate, if only this story had come out before your interview:

    Because it would have let you way, “Well, CAVEMEN think I’m hot!”

    Actually, I want that on a t-shirt.

  60. ‘I get laid, I like myself, and I wrote a book about how you can go fuck yourself if you don’t like that’

    There’s your elevator pitch, Kate!

    It occurs to me that when I talk to sources, I actually like it when they rephrase things several times — it gives me a chance to pick the quote that best expresses their position and best fits my story. I have no problem with people rambling, and often I’ll keep them talking or double-check ideas with them to give them a chance to hit on the best way to say it. Now, granted, I’m writing very different stories from this. But honestly, I think the problem here is that your quote was plucked from what you said by someone who isn’t alive to the implications of saying “men find me beautiful so I am.” In other words, the issue isn’t the quality or quantity of what you said, but the attitude and knowledge of the person who sifted through it.

    Generally people won’t have a vested interest in making a fool of you (even with a book like this), so they won’t deliberately pick quotes that make you out to be an ass or anything. But sometimes people just don’t think about or don’t have the background info to realize that the quote they picked actually misrepresents you.

  61. Thanks for the suggestions. I sent an email to Delta, but I’m not holding out much hope. I’m not stuck with Delta, but they have the best price and the best schedule for my needs. I usually fly with my husband, and he does not care if my hips touch his, but for my own peace of mind and comfort, I just thought I would do what they keep saying they want fat people to do and buy another seat.

    I did do this a few months ago on a Southwest flight. Even though I think they are assholes for being so hard on fat customers, at least they made it easy to book. I simply called up and asked. I’ll fly them again for this trip if I have to, but I’ll have to stay another night and endure layovers from hell.

    The Delta agent asked me why I needed the seat and if I really didn’t think I could fit in one seat. I know I shouldn’t care, but somehow, the whole thing felt really humiliating.

  62. Another reporter here — good ideas so far. Except for putting in some ellipses here and there, reporters can’t mess with your sentences much. So if you have an important point, figure out a way to make it clearly and quickly.

    I think we all forget that reporters are writers too. Yes, the job is to include accurate information and both points of view — but when I sit down at my computer, I’m not just a reporter, I’m a writer. Sentences need flow, rhythm, insight, clarity — and they have to fit in the space allotted. Brilliant as it may be, I can’t use your 5,000 word interview. If you have 5,000 words to say – start a blog. Or write a book. (Kate obviously knows what she’s doing.)

    And no offense to anyone – I know some reporters eff up. But who is more likely to record your quote accurately? The person sitting there with a recorder or pen/paper whose job it is to take it down? Or you, thinking about what you wanted to say and what your real point is — reading the story two weeks later? I doubt people get truly misquoted as much as they think.

  63. Kate, if only this story had come out before your interview:

    Because it would have let you way, “Well, CAVEMEN think I’m hot!”

    Or the artifact could have been carved by a cavewoman.

  64. I thought the article was written well, but the picture?! All kinds of wrong! If I wasn’t reading the article, because I consider Kate a sort of friend, I would have left the site immediately after viewing the picture. I found it extremely offensive.

  65. On booking the extra airline seat:

    I always made my reservations online, and I’d book one seat as “Jane Doe”, and the other as “Jane DoeEXST”. The reservations system does kick out what it considers duplicate reservations, but when you add EXST (for “extra seat”) at the end, it doesn’t care at all.

    Then when I got to the check in counter I just simply explained there was one passenger with two seats. Same with security: presented both boarding passes with ID while saying “one passenger with two seats” in a very matter of fact tone.

    By having your name on the other seat it’s clear what’s going on, and while it’s not pleasant to have to tell everyone, by being completely matter of fact about it the airport staff just took it in stride.

    I haven’t done this in awhile so I don’t know if there have been any programming changes since then. The one thing I do know is that gate agents have a lot of authority to change travel reservations, so if there are any issues when you go to check in (leave extra time!), they should be able to handle it.

    The other thought I had would be to contact your local symphony orchestra and ask them about how they book seats for their instruments when they fly.

  66. JupiterPluvius — Pure speculation, but I don’t think a woman carved it, only because it DOESN’T HAVE A HEAD. I mean, it’s not like it’s head was lost, but it was carved without a head – it has a little nub where the head would be so it can be worn or dangled or something. Sure, a woman could have carved it, I just think it’s likely she might have included a head. I just blogged a brief little thing about this.
    It’s not only incredibly old, and fat, but it doesn’t have a head. Clearly, this headless fatty trend has been happening for a long, long time. Which I chalk up to the male gaze.

  67. Hah! It’s a headless fatty!

    You know, I’ve heard a lot about the Venuses as fertility or sexual objects (and indeed, there’s a lotta vulva goin’ on here) – but what really really makes me happy is to see evidence that My Genes Existed Before McDonalds.

    Yeah, ‘cuz SHE just ate fast food and drove her car everywhere. 35,000 years ago. Yeah.

  68. The part that threw me out of it was “weighs in at”, a phrase that reminds me of fish, or deer.

    I weigh a particular number of pounds, I do not weigh in at &c.  Nurr.

  69. xtinas — I had the same thought at first, but then remembered that boxers also “weigh in at.” A better connotation for doing battle on behalf of fat acceptance?

  70. About the picture: it’s horrible. message: You can be fat as long as you’re black, smooth, with a very round and very big bottom and use sexy trappings like stiletto heels and a thong.

  71. It’s not a myth that it’s more acceptable for African American women to be fat. This is because of the assumption that most African Americans are poor, and can’t afford good food.

    Where the assumption for White women, is that they should be able to afford to look well, and that they are not being proper women, if they don’t use their money to improve their image.

  72. Good call, JupiterPluvius: CAVEPEOPLE THINK I’M HOT.

    And excellent catch on the first historical example of a headless fattie, WellRoundedType! HA!

  73. Some people just seem to think in good quotes. My husband is an academic who gets interviewed a bit, and is good at it, but I know sometimes he thinks of really good potential answers in advance and hopes he gets to use them. ;-)

    Also, I know sometimes he’s done more of a background discussion with a reporter in one call, and then the real interview in a different one. I think that was the reporter’s idea, when it’s something technical that he or she didn’t had much background in, but might be something to suggest? You can be a lot more rambly on background.

  74. It’s not a myth that it’s more acceptable for African American women to be fat. This is because of the assumption that most African Americans are poor, and can’t afford good food.

    It goes a lot deeper than that, Jackie. And white women’s perception that African-American fat women have it “easier” is one of the things that makes the movement alienating to people of color.

  75. It’s not a myth that it’s more acceptable for African American women to be fat. This is because of the assumption that most African Americans are poor, and can’t afford good food.

    Jackie, you are right that there are classist and racist aspects to fatphobia, but this is way oversimplifying the matter.

  76. And white women’s perception that African-American fat women have it “easier” is one of the things that makes the movement alienating to people of color.

    Cosigned. And Jackie, I am positive that we have had this very conversation with you before.

  77. Oy. The illustration. Maybe I have an overly paternalistic view of the PW, but I swear they pull some of these stunts just to maintain their alt-weekly cred. I also wonder if part of the impulse behind the hypersexualized image was an attempt to make an article—that wasn’t really that explicitly about sex—somehow more relevant for the “sex issue” of the paper.

    And I do not currently have the brainpower to try and unpack the layered meanings, assumptions, and cultural messages behind the fact that an article which quotes three fair-skinned fatties (me, Kate and Constance) and references a fourth (Marianne) is represented with an illustration of a woman of color in lingerie crouching in submission/performance for (I’m assuming) the male gaze.

    I say again: oy.

  78. Tropical Chrome, you are right, thank you! I talked to someone at Delta today who was actually able to help me. For anyone else with this problem ordering online in the future, you put your first and last name on the first ticket and EXST and your last name on the second ticket.

    Of course, there isn’t a shred of information about this on their site. Which I sent them a complaint letter about, also asking why their employees are not better trained on this.

  79. See, I presumed that at least one of the women interviewed was of color, so now I don’t know whether to be more or less troubled by it. I got the impression that this image was chosen to demonstrate what sexy fatness is, or what a sexy fat woman does/wears, so what does it mean when they talk to fair skinned women about fatness and illustrate it with a woman of color? My head hurts.

  80. And I do not currently have the brainpower to try and unpack the layered meanings, assumptions, and cultural messages behind the fact that an article which quotes three fair-skinned fatties (me, Kate and Constance) and references a fourth (Marianne) is represented with an illustration of a woman of color in lingerie crouching in submission/performance for (I’m assuming) the male gaze.

    Yes. This. I almost said that in the post, but I wasn’t sure if Constance was white. (Hi, Constance!) But then, even if there had been one woman of color interviewed, that would still be true on balance.

  81. Of course, there isn’t a shred of information about this on their site. Which I sent them a complaint letter about, also asking why their employees are not better trained on this.

    Good for you, Sticky! I’m glad you got it sorted out, but so sorry you had to deal with their ignorance yesterday.

  82. Generally, I have some thoughts about this but I must admit just thinking about it makes my mind feel muddled so the comments may be muddled as well.

    1) Beauty and sex are not really the same thing. SO if this is an article about sex…I find it interesting to have questions about beauty. Fuckability is not always about being beautiful so I find this conflation perpetually frustrating.

    2) the question would be really different if it were ‘do others find you beautiful’ that’s easier to answer. Most people fat, thin or in-between would struggle to answer the question ‘do you think of yourself as beautiful’ it’s just rife with awkwardness for so many reasons.

    3) um, let’s see…the third thought has escaped me…um…oh yes! I think that when speaking to ‘joe’ public through the media it is important to remember that simply being fat and being proud, talking about sex, wearing cute clothes, eating in public…those are all revolutionary, subversive acts and ideas. so…some people are not ready for some of the nuances you so BEAUTIFULLY bestow on the site but you may be blowing people’s minds just by being a successful, intelligent, well-dressed, beautiful fatty.

    3.5) Fully agree with sending people who want more nuance to the site…also totally fair to say to the reporter that his is some complicated shit…and even to have them print that…cause jeez…it IS!

    4) that’s all for now.

  83. The Delta agent asked me why I needed the seat and if I really didn’t think I could fit in one seat.

    Arggh. We’re really in a no-win situation, aren’t we? If we do what we’ve been asked to do, and spend our hard earned money on an extra seat, we’re asked if we really need it. Bad, selfish fatty for buying up a seat that could have gone to another person. But when we don’t, we’re bad, selfish fatties for letting our hips touch another person and giving them teh fat cooties.

  84. I almost think that maybe what we need when it comes to the whole ‘too fat to fly’ issue [I know, that’s died down somewhat, but still] is something like the illustrated BMI project. Most people when they hear ‘too fat to fly’ think about the headless fatties on the news – the very small percentage of the population viewed as gigantic, not someone who is actually pretty much average, but happens to have bigger hips. It would certainly wake up to the people who say ‘oh well it hardly effects anyone anyway’ to see that actually, someone probably only a few inches bigger than them could possibly have trouble flying. Especially if the people who might be too fat to fly still fit into the ‘normal’ BMI category.

    /thought that’s been bouncing around for a while now and probably isn’t relevant, but still.

  85. @ Kate: “Yes. This. I almost said that in the post, but I wasn’t sure if Constance was white. (Hi, Constance!) But then, even if there had been one woman of color interviewed, that would still be true on balance.”

    Hi Kate! Yes, I’m as white as the slushy snow. The illustration bothered me because it depicts a woman of color in an overtly sexual pose and the interviewees are white. I provided a photo, a face shot (hey, not headless, a bodyless fatty, lol). I guess the editors decided it didn’t fit in with the theme of the issue being that I wasn’t wearing thigh highs and thong.

    Joel asked if I thought I was beautiful, not whether anyone else thought I was beautiful. And, slightly tongue in cheek, I answered YES!
    For me, the road to FA began with making a friend of my body, being positive about my looks.

    Joel just sent an email apologizing for the illustration. And if you check the online article the positive comments are outweighing (lol) the negatives.

  86. Joel just sent an email apologizing for the illustration.

    I got one, too! I think everyone here is media-savvy enough to understand this, but let me say explicitly that he had nothing to do with choosing that illustration.

  87. I agree Kaz, MOST people do not fit comfortably in a 17.2″ wide seat (the average.) The “too fat to fly” thing is also so vague. Is it a certain weight? A certain width? Does it matter which kind of plane, which boarding agent or whether your seat mate complains? Does pregnancy count? Broad shoulders? None of this is explained in any way by the airline industry. As far as I can tell, there is no way to absolutely know or not know if you will be asked to buy two seats.

    I probably should have just bought one seat. I can fit into it (most of my weight is up front) but it is not comfortable. More than that though, I just didn’t want to get there the day of and have someone derail my travel plans or make me feel like shit. Nor did I want to endure a seat mate who isn’t okay with me touching their thigh. I’ve done the flight where I spend the entire time trying to hold my body to one side, and it is damned uncomfortable both physically and emotionally.

    Oh well, I’m just excited to go on my trip. I’ll stop thread jacking. Thanks for all the support, Shapelings! You all are the reason I can even endure the airline industry (a couple of years ago, I just would have made an excuse and not gone on my trip at all, thinking I would start living and flying once I made my fantasy weight.)

  88. Regarding the illustration …

    While the woman may be crouching (and do you know how *strong* you have to be to crouch like that wearing stiletto heels?!), the expression on her face is hardly “submissive.” In fact, to me, her expression is more like “Kiss my ass. You know you want to.” LOL.

    wellroundedtype2 said, “Sure, a woman could have carved it, I just think it’s likely she might have included a head.” Maybe not – with a ring carved so the figure could be worn as a pendant, maybe it was worn *by* a woman, and *her head* became the head for the figurine. (Imagine the ring resting right at the base of your throat, and you’ll see where the rest of the figurine would rest.) Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

    Good article, though. I hope it attracts lots of buyers for your book, and new readers to your blog.

    BTW, I’ve included a link to Shapely Prose in an e-mail to my workplace because they’ve gone off on their annual “OMG, the fatties are killing our insurance rates so everybody DIET!” rampage. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have some backup for when I explain my own history of being discriminated against for being fat, that it’s not *just me*. Who knows, maybe it will make a difference.

    Hope springs eternal, after all. :)

  89. Kaz and Sticky, a “too fat to fly” photo set comparable to the BMI project would be SO cool! We could couple photos of people standing, with photos of them sitting on a yardstick, showing the width of a plane seat. I think it would shock the hell out of people to see how almost everyone is measurably “too fat to fly”.

  90. I agree that no one is required to be “beautiful” to be worthy of respect or dignity, absolutely. But I’m not sure everyone is using that word in the same way. I definitely don’t think of it as having anything to do with whether or not anyone finds you sexually desirable – people’s bodies are beautiful, all of them, and what’s wrong with saying so? Physical beauty and conventional, mainstream sexual attractiveness aren’t even all that closely related in my head.

    It’s not a myth that it’s more acceptable for African American women to be fat. This is because of the assumption that most African Americans are poor, and can’t afford good food. Where the assumption for White women, is that they should be able to afford to look well, and that they are not being proper women, if they don’t use their money to improve their image.

    Jackie, other people have commented on this already, but I’m just blown away that you would have come here and said this kind of thing again. The book even explicitly addresses this issue in print now (in addition to all of the many times it has already been addressed on FA blogs, including this one, including in lengthy conversations with you). First, poor people don’t actually eat different kinds of foods than wealthier people (like, more fats, or more sugar); they just eat less altogether but in about the same proportions. And I’m pretty shocked that you would say that POC face less discrimination because they’re not expected to live up to the rich, white ideal. Because actually, they still are. I mean of COURSE they are. It’s not somehow easier to to face that kind of bigotry if you’re further from what’s considered an acceptable state. That’s just… kind of a mind-boggling suggestion.

  91. Eh… I guess it’s a step in the right direction for the FA movement, if not for feminism.

    Getting out the notion that “yeah, you can think fatties are hot and not be a sick pervert freakshow” is nice, but still leaves me kinda cold.

    Obviously, I would prefer if society did not believe that a woman’s primary function/responsibility is to entice as many men to bone her as possible only by altering her appearance (to whatever’s in vogue at the time), but they do… and they have for a long long time.

    Baby steps!

    As for sound-bytes, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. People who are interested in what you have to say will look into it and get the whole story (I did!)… people who aren’t interested will write you off regardless of what your quote says. So fuck’em.

  92. Hi
    Have you considered having some professional media training? That would help you hone your thoughts into messages and teach you how to get your points across in front of a camera, etc. Quite pricey, but maybe worth it.

  93. Kate, honey, the whole point of the Internet is to ramble a lot! Otherwise we’d all still be watching network news. ;)

    As for dealing with reporters and sound bites, I gotta agree with everyone who said compound/complex sentences are not your friends. Don’t throw any “howevers” or “buts” in there; that part of the sentence will get cut off.

    Problematic terms like “beautiful” can always be handled with a rhetorical “Define ‘beauty’.” comeback. Which gets to the heart of how the FA movement is pointing out the impossibility of our standards and how those artificially imposed standards hurt *everyone* not just fat people.

    Also agree on the narrative answers. Having some good short anecdotes at the ready is always a good idea.

    Maybe there should be another thread this week, “Sum up FA in 150 words”? See how many new sound bites we can generate. :)


  94. I’m hopping quite a ways up the thread, here, but when i interview someone who is spouting values that clash very intensely with mine, I don’t try to pull a “gotcha.” I have, on occasion, asked my managing editor to re-assign a story to another writer because I doubted my ability to represent a party fairly. Sometimes, that has worked.

    Other times, I’ve had to just get through the interview (with a Harry Holt Publishing author, for instance, who had the publisher drop an illustrator from his book because the illustrator was gay. He called the illustrator a “pervert.”) and write the story.

  95. I would say take a look at the writer’s work before your interview.
    See what they think about women, feminism, fat acceptance, food by what he has written before.
    Also see if you can tease out what kinds of questions he likes to write, and what kinds of answers he likes to print, and then re-phrase your top 10 most often asked questions in that style.

    If that seems like too much work, or you don’t have the time, find a librarian who’d like to make a couple of extra $$. :)

    Soundbites are good, I think, but too much reliance on them will make you sound like a politician on the Daily Show – Well, John, It’s really about fiscal responsibility.

  96. First, poor people don’t actually eat different kinds of foods than wealthier people (like, more fats, or more sugar); they just eat less altogether but in about the same proportions.

    I’m not sure I agree with this… I think the less money you have in America, the more high-fat, high-salt, processed foods you end up eating (not across the board, of course, but in general). We’ve talked before about the difficulty of accessing things like fresh fruits and vegetables if you live in the inner city, or having them be cost-effective if you lack time to cook or can’t get to the store often enough to keep them from rotting. (But you have been here when we’ve talked about these things, so maybe I’m misunderstanding you?)

    This doesn’t change the fact that Jackie is forcing us to have the same damn conversation about how racist she’s being, of course.

  97. I thought the NHANES analysis showed that that was a myth, but I can’t find the JFS article that talked about it, so I could be remembering wrong. I’m happy to corrected on that one!

  98. (not that a lack of access was a myth. Rather that while it might not be as fresh, people of different classes eat about the same proportions of broad food groups.)

  99. I think the intuition will just comes with more interviews.

    On a side note I made baby donuts!

    So cute and yummy.

  100. Oh I found it. Okay, this article just reports on total calories, which are less in poorer groups and minorities than more affluent whites, and on dietary fats, which poorer people actually eat less of (forgot that detail), and that the proportion of carbs doesn’t change. But it isn’t concerned with the freshness of food, fruits and vegetables, etc.

  101. Okay, this one she links to from the first article is a lot more detailed. Many of the studies were from other countries in that summary. And of course, I try to beware of Sandy’s own bias in her syntheses. But I think the data sound pretty convincing (without having read all 197 studies myself).

  102. Kate, I found the image that accompanied the Philadelphia Weekly article to be kind of appalling — mostly because it clearly references Saartjie Baartman, aka the Hottentot Venus, and all the extremely loaded cultural baggage that accompanies her iconic image.

    Given the tragic circumstances of Baartman’s life, and the painful racist, colonialist, and misogynistic exploitation she suffered — well, let’s just say that is one hell of a disturbing and incendiary illustration for an article that is otherwise a nice if not terribly deep little piece on fat-positive sexuality.

    And as has been noted, the illustration especially troubling in the context of piece that does not quote *any* women of color, or deal at all with the intersection of fatness and race.

    I know that writers don’t generally choose the illustrations that accompany their work, so I wouldn’t blame Mathis. But I’ve got to say — what the *hell* were the illustrator and the editor(s) thinking?

    More about Saartje Baartman here, for those of you who might be interested:

    Now, as for your query about how to be a clearer and more pithy communicator in the media — Kate, I would *strongly* suggest you invest in some media training. A good media person will help not only with things like posture, voice, facial expressions, etc., but will also help you craft your message so that you can get your point across more effectively and succinctly within the time or space constraints of various types of media.

    Good media consultants don’t come cheap, unfortunately, but if you can afford to drop some cash it is so, so worth it. (Maybe you can have a fundraiser on the blog, to help pay for it?) Kate, the work you do is so important, and you’ve become such a powerful spokesperson for fat acceptance, that I think some media training would be a great investment.

    I can even recommend someone, if you’re interested. (Just to be clear, I have no business or other relationship with the person I’m recommending. But I do know several people — including bloggers, authors, and political candidates — who’ve worked with him and rave about the guy.)

  103. LOL. Some thoughts and positions simply cannot be shoehorned into a sound byte that a)gets your concept across and b)makes the reporter happy. The subject is irrelevant, these truths I hold to be self evident that you cannot have productive communication in such a way to satisfy a reporter and effectively communicate complex ideas.

    The whole reason our country sucks right now is because people get their thinking from soundbytes and not from in depth, rational, logical thinking.

  104. I don’t have any helpful hints and tips on talking to reporters

    I just wanted to say how much I love the fact that in the comments on your Salon article, there are loads of people posting saying, “Hmm, I don’t think fat people should be discriminated against or you can’t be fat and healthy at the same time, but I do think it’s unhealthy to eat lots of junk food and never do any exercise, so obviously fat acceptance isn’t for me.”

    Actually, I think this is my favourite so far, from TheOtherBob:

    We shouldn’t ever stigmatize people who are fat — but at the same time we shouldn’t pretend that diet and exercise are irrelevant to health, or that weight loss is somehow “impossible.” It’s not — but even if it is, it’s always possible to become healthier.

    Salon commenters, welcome to Health At Every Size.

  105. i wonder why they told you this was an article for a ‘sex-themed’ issue then brand the issue the ‘summer” issue? this is where my problem lies. all of the ‘summer’ articles are about women’s bodies. the articles themselves aren’t sexist, but put them all together (with the sexually charged illustrations — playing Frisbee in a bikini ok, but why draw in giant erect nipples — huh, isn’t this supposed to be ‘the summer’)? in the end, we’re still just MEAT.
    Elizabeth Fiend

  106. I’ve read through the thread, and this is what I have to offer on how to talk to journalists. What you’re doing is public/media relations for your cause and yourself. These are the most important things I know about media relations and interviews:

    Number one, carefully create maybe five key messages that you want to communicate. Yes, these will be like soundbytes, but they don’t have to be word for word. They are messages and key ideas that are expressed clearly, they don’t have to be pithy.

    Number two, practice the interview. Like others have already said, think of all the questions that could be thrown at you, and practice a response to them.

    Number three, always remember that reporters are not your friend. No matter what happens, they have a job to do. They may like you, they may want the best for you, but they are not your friend, there is no such thing as ‘off the record’, it’s business, pure and simple. Stick to your key messages and you leave nothing to the imagination. Stick to your messages and you have the best shot at the ideas you want being successfully transmitted.

    That’s the best advice I got, coming from an industry source who is my friend and colleague. All the best, and thanks for keeping the cause strong.

  107. Hum…I see that you’ve already gotten a lot of advice from people in the press, so I don’t know whether or not this idea will be helpful.

    I work in public policy right now, and one of the things I do is write briefing notes for politicians. Maybe you could write yourself some.

    Usually briefing notes focus on a particular issue. The first page of the note is an executive summary with 3-5 speaking points and 3-5 bullet points with background information. The speaking points would be the “sound bites.” The background would be general statements that express policy (in this case, HAES/FA 101 stuff), statistics, and past developments. Maybe if you had something like that to refer to when talking to the press, it would be helpful?

    The rest of the note? a more detailed section with current issues and policy language and a more detailed background section with general and related information.

    These notes are one way politicians stay on-message – and probably why they sometimes don’t really answer the question they were asked.

    Of course, it’s always best if you have the opportunity to review the questions in advance, answer them in writing, and/or edit your answers after the interview.

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