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.