So, I planned to do this post straight after my graduation – but life happens, and yeah. Have also been pretty much constantly exhausted, so have spent most of my evenings playing Fruit Ninja to wind down. There’s something enormously therapeutic about slicing up fruit as it whizzes across your iPad screen.
Anyway. Back in July, I officially graduated with my Diploma in Multimedia Journalism. Which is cool. I’ve dreamt of being a journalist since I was…14? 15? Except I didn’t actually manage to get into journalism school until my late 20s. Long story. But, I got there – I got accepted into a fantastic programme, I finished in the finished in the Top 3 in my class and I landed a job at a successful daily regional newspaper. So, being able to don that gown and sash and walk across that stage after all this time felt pretty fab.
I decided to a graduation-themed post after seeing Dr Cat Pause’s brilliant Tumblr, Fuck Yeah, Fat PhDs! Which, well, is full of awesome fat people who have either graduated with a PhD or Masters and decked out in their regalia, or people still studying towards their degrees, and generally looking amazing.
Cat’s page was inspired by that idiotic tweet by University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller. And, if you can’t be bothered reading that story, his tweet read as follows: “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth. ” As we say here in New Zealand, “yeah, nah.” Also, it turns out that Miller was recently censured by the University for claiming the tweet was meant to be “research”. Karma’s a bitch, no? So, it’s quite timely that I decided to do my own post on undertaking higher education while fat.
For me, Miller’s tweet represented what I loathe the most about fat hate and body shaming in our society today. The idea that fat bodies represent a weak will. A flaw in character. A moral failing. Our society tells us bad, evil, reprehensible – we have supposedly “let ourselves go” , we have “sat on the couch all day eating cupcakes” and we have completely fucked up our bodies to the point where we’re beyond redemption.
Fat people, like me, can’t possibly have success. We can’t possibly enroll in that course. Or join up with that dance class. Or sign up to do that 5k walk, or that marathon. Or apply for that dream job. Because we just don’t have the motivation or willpower to see it through. Because “we let ourselves get to this state”, we simply lack the discipline required to do those assignments, or go to those lessons, or do the training, or show up to work every day. Because we apparently, “let ourselves get to this state”, and we may as well stay firmly behind closed doors until we rabbit-food ourselves down to a societally acceptable size.
Sorry, Geoffrey, sweetie. That shit don’t fly with me.
Now, I know there’s some out there that think busting stereotypes is an ineffective form of activism – especially when it comes to fat bodies, as there are people out there who can’t go around busting stereotypes, for various reasons (such as illness or disability), and those people get forgotten about in the process. I will say that, no matter where they are in life, EVERY FAT PERSON is entitled to basic dignity and respect, whether they’ve got a PhD or not. But, as long as there are people like darling Geoffrey in the world, I think it’s vitally important that we celebrate fat people and their amazing achievements. So, I’ma tell you about journalism school.
First, here’s Pumpkin and I after the graduation ceremony:
My journalism diploma – while I realise has *nothing* on a PhD – was hard. At the very start of the course, our lecturers told us that they’d be in our corner the whole time, but all the wanted in return was a year of our lives. They warned us it would be hard bloody slog. Our head lecturer, a notoriously hard man to please, told us, in our very first class, that a third of the class will be brilliant, a third will get by, a third will struggle and at least three to five of us will fail.
As the weeks progressed, it became apparent that our tutors weren’t kidding. The workload was HUGE. First, there was our stories – we had to have 36 of them published by the end of the year. We were given a couple of weeks’ tutelage on news-gathering, interviewing and writing and, from about the third week, we were chucked right into it – we were given an area of town to cover, told to come up with our own ideas, and have an interview and story done by the end of the week. We were, for all intents and purposes, journalists right from the start. On top of our stories, we had shorthand, which was an absolute bitch. We were expected to do *at least* two hours of practice a night if we wanted to pass. We had to keep a blog on a particular issue in current affairs (guess what I did mine on? ;)), which we had to update twice a week. On top of that again, we had the usual assignments, tests and group projects – testing our research skills, our knowledge of media law and ethics, our understanding of the New Zealand court system and local government, our knowledge of numeracy and statistics, how to write radio scripts, how to use a “newsroom” video camera – the works. Oh, and then there were our chosen subjects on top of that – and I ended up having to write a 4,000 word feature piece, learn how to operate (fiddly) radio editing software and undergo vocal training, and make a three-minute news video, doing all the filming, voice overs and editing myself.
That year, I was tired, pretty much all the time. There were early mornings, and some really late nights. For me, there was barely any time for a social life. There were tears, and there was tonnes of snapping at my poor Pumpkin (who was an absolute rock and angel through the whole process). There were plenty of stress-related colds, and me almost falling asleep on the couch every night. There were deadlines, lots of breathing down our necks by our tutors, and plenty of pure unadulterated panic. Because Pumpkin and I were both studying, there was little to no money – as in, there were some days I got through class on nothing but coffee and adrenaline, as we had no food in the cupboard. And, as is unfortunately the case with me, there was self-doubt. Oh, so much self-doubt.
So, with all that in mind – yes, to get the nice shiny diploma at the end, you had to be pretty fucking disciplined. You had to be motivated. I am sure that if Geoffrey Miller knew just what journalism school involves, he would discourage fat people for signing up. Cos we “don’t have the motivation”, see.
But no. This fat chick passed that course. Actually, the fat chick (who was definitely the fattest one in the class; not that it bothered anyone) excelled. Sorry to blast my own trombone, but I went over and above the call of duty when it came to my story count: I published close to 60 stories over the year, when the bare minimum was 36. I had 17 stories published in local papers (the rest were on our school news site), two of which were on the front page. At our school awards ceremony, I won the award for Best News Writer, and was nominated for five others, included Best Overall Journalist. And, I managed to get snaffled up by a very talented and well-respected Editor just a few short weeks after the course finished. No discipline? No motivation? No sticktoitveness? Not this fattie.
Y’know, if Miller was reading this post, I doubt he’d be convinced. But, the point of this blog is not to win the haters over (though, that’s always a bonus). This post is for the people who read tweets like Miller’s, and get beaten down further. The world has spewed all kinds of filth at them, and then, when people like Geoffrey Miller come along and projectile vomit their fat hate everywhere, they second-guess their dreams. Because they believe the assholes who tell them that dreams aren’t for the likes of fat people. This is for those people talked themselves out of a PhD, or any sort of higher education, because they told themselves life would only get better once they got thin…the ones for whom comments like Miller’s are particularly triggering and hurtful.
I shared my story about journalism school in the hope that I might inspire even one person like me to go for their dreams. To just say, fuck the fat shamers. Fuck the stereotypes. Fuck their pre-conceived bullshit ideas. Fuck them trying to protect me from failure because I “don’t have the motivation”. Fuck their “shouldn’ts” and their “advise you not tos” and “that’s not a good ideas.” And then go ahead and enroll for that PhD. Or that journalism diploma. Or go for that job interview. Or go on that date, try out for that musical or buy that ridiculously bright dress. To just *do it*, cos it’s their goddamn life.
There will always be Geoffrey Millers in this world. There will always be fat-shamers, bigots and general idiots. Just like there’ll always be boy bands and insanely high power bills. So, I believe the best revenge is to live out loud. If we lock ourselves away and hide our light under a bushel, the Geoffrey Millers of this world have won. So, to my fellow fatties, my advice is simple: go for that PhD, and go for those dreams.
Big fat hugs,