Fuck Yeah, Fat Journalist

keep-calm-and-sparkle-181So, 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:

Grad

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,

Honey Bunny

On fat lovin’, Grade A Bullplop and Pumpkin

Everyone, I’d like you introduce you to Pumpkin. He’s my husband of almost 18 months, and is, says I, The Best Person In The World, Ever.

Here we are! (As part of a wedding party, not our own wedding)

Most gorgeous pic

He’ll feature in quite a few of my posts. You’ll like him – he loves gaming, going for runs and big, philosophical discussions, has impeccable taste in music and movies, has more pairs of shoes and prettier hair than his wife, makes mean omelettes and French toast, cuddles like a demon, and is generally the kindest, gentlest, most loving man I’ve ever met. Yeah, I’m biased.

We’ve been celebrating, because on Sunday, 30 June 2013, it was our fifth birthday. As in, it’s been five whole years since we’ve been a couple. We met a dating site (thank God for the internet ;)) in about January 2008, we finally met over Queen’s Birthday (in late May), he asked me to be his girlfriend after our fourth date about a month later on 30 June, and we’ve been just about inseparable ever since! And, it’s fitting that I mention our fifth birthday on here, because he has been a HUGE part of my Body Love journey these past five years.

In my pre-Pumpkin days, I was pretty convinced (though I longed for it) that couplehood was not for me. Cos, I was fat, y’see. And not just fat, but physically deficient overall. As far as I was concerned, my eyes and maybe my legs at a pinch were the only things going for me. My friends who had boyfriends or were consistently getting laid were gorgeous – “regulation hotties” as they say in Mean Girls – and thin. And if they were carrying any weight, they were carrying it in the right place. (Looking back on it, my mates who were coupling off came in all different shapes and sizes – but, my self-image was so shite back then, I was pretty sure the Hunchback of Notre Dame had a better chance of landing a date than I). Yup, I was a walking Janis Ian song.

So, I believed that, in order to bag me a bloke, I had to get thin. But, since getting thin had eluded me so many times, the best I could hope for was a partner that *accepted* my  body. A parter who could see past all my lumpy bits and be able to appreciate me for my wonderful, dazzling personality, my sharp wit and my big heart (cos, y’know, hearts are allowed to be “big”). Someone like the little kids in the old stories – who went to the toyshop and chose the teddy bear one eye, no legs and bald patches because they “saw with their hearts” and were much kinder and lovelier than the other children. For that, I knew I needed a *really nice guy*.

I met Pumpkin on a blind date, and he was a really nice guy. Really nice. And cute. 😉 And pretty much ticked all my boxes. And, eventually, we fell in love. But, what I came to realise was that Pumpkin fell in love with me not *in spite* of my body but *because* of it. Yes, he fell in love with my wonderful, dazzling personality, sharp wit and big heart. But, he was pretty hot for me physically as well. 😉 I remember one time when we were first together, when we were making out and getting all amorous, and I (TMI alert…) ended up losing my top along the way…and his eyes lit up, he said to me, all husky and jagged, “My God, you’re gorgeous,” and kissed me harder. “Bullshit,” I thought. “I’m pale, I”m flabby, I’ve got rolls and love handles everywhere, I’m wearing my worst bra and he’s going to get turned off.” But, he didn’t. He truly loved (loves) my fat body. He loved my voluminous bosom (duh ;)), my generous thighs, my round bottom, my chubby face and bountiful belly – he generally had a very high regard for my wobbly bits, to quote the Colin Firth in “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”. He loved my hair, eyes, nose, lips, smile, gap in my front teeth – pretty much everything. I was beautiful to him – and not just on the inside.

Now, I’m a feminist from way back – so I’ve always felt a little uneasy about relying on a man to improve my self image. And, even with a wonderful partner like Pumpkin, I still struggled. All those years of self-loathing had well and truly done their damage – and, if I’m honest, to hear such loving, tender words spoken about my body from a man was…weird. Not just because of the voices in my head constantly ripping me apart, but because I’d spent a great deal of my life on the receiving end of words that were *anything but* loving and tender, some of which from some of the strongest male figures in my life (and a former partner). So, it was hard to take in at first. But, Pumpkin was undeterred, and still he called me his beautiful girl, his gorgeous woman, his hot bride, stunning, glorious and magnificent. And, little by little, I began to believe it. So, like it or not, Pumpkin’s love has gone a long way to helping me like myself just that little bit more.

If I’m honest, I do hope Pumpkin and I can be some kind of inspiration to people who despair of finding a relationship because our society has told them that their bodies are not worthy of love and respect. These days, we live in a culture that is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of fat people, like myself, finding love. In fact, our culture is so disgusted by fat people that it cannot bear the thought of those of us outside the beauty norm having anything remotely resembling a romantic relationship. We see it splashed all over the internet  – those stupid slogans like “guys don’t make passes at girls with fat asses”, those horrendous No Fat Chicks posters, all those idiotic and fat-shaming memes. We’ve got people like Samantha Brick, proudly declaring that her husband has threatened to divorce her if she gains weight, and that the only way to land a date is dieting to the point where you pass out, and Mariella Frostrup telling us it’s okay not to date fat men because their fat is a sign they’ve got serious issues, and won’t be a suitable partner (uh, yeah).

In the movies and on tele, we very rarely see larger people, and especially larger *women*, involved in romantic storylines.  At this moment, the only larger actresses that spring to mind that have had their own romance plots are Melissa McCarthy in Gilmore Girls and Mike and Molly, Sara Ramirez in Grey’s Anatomy, Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray Nia Vardalos (and she’s lost *a lot* of weight recently) in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Of course, there was Bridget Jones, as I mentioned up top – but, instead of finding a bigger actress to play that role, they got Renee Zellweger to gain weight and praised her for “suffering” for her art). Nope, fat women on screen are either the Mums or Aunties, the comic fall-guys or class clowns, or the bullied outcasts who eat their feelings, not the girlfriends or the lovers. And if they are the girlfriend of the lover, fashion magazines get their undies in a knot and say they’d be grossed out to see fat people making out on TV.

And, well, too many times have I seen the trope of “fat-chick-as-funny-fall-guy-and-can’t-get-a-date” splashed about by companies trying to sell weight loss products. Weight Watchers did a doozy several years back, with a TV ad featuring a fat woman in party hat on New Year’s Eve, sitting alone and mopey at the bar, while all these happy couples making out around her. Make it your New Year’s Resolution to lose weight once and for all was the theme, but of course. The worst one, however, is an ad for weight loss surgery which appears time and time again in our major daily newspaper here in Wellington – which has, in the centre, an overweight young lass, sitting with her head in her hands, starting at one of those traditional bride-and-groom wedding toppers, looking wistful and defeated both at once. The tagline? “Obesity’s not much fun. Can we help?” Yup, that’s right. Get your stomach amputated, get skinny, get the bloke, get the dream wedding. Vomit.

Honestly, it all comes down to the basic *dehumanisation* of fat people. Our culture can’t allow us love, because we’re subhuman. Heather Kolaya, model, fat activist and writer of the brilliant blog Fat Girl Posing, spoke about the dehumanising and desexualisation of fat people, in which she wrote:

Be prepared to be stripped of your entire identity as a fat person and especially as a fat woman. Not only are you not a sexual being, but you don’t even register as anything other than a genderless blob. This is because fat people are so gross that people don’t want to think of them as sexual beings. Much like old people or disabled people, or, god, you can think about the conservative’s ick reaction to gay sex (you can think about the ageism, ableism, and homophobia that go along with those as well). People just think, ick! and so reduce you to a thing. It’s the ultimate in dehumanization. To have your sexuality taken from you just because someone else can’t stand the thought of it.

Yes, it’s disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. And I bought into it. I believed that love, relationships, sex and marriage were not for the likes of me. Those were for thin girls. Me, I was nothing more than a meme to be laughed at, a cautionary tale from a columnist, the fat friend, a tacky “before” picture and, as Heather put it, a sexless blob. But, with the help of my amazing husband and the Fat Acceptance movement, I saw that it was all, in the words of Homer Simpson, Grade A Bullplop.

I was fat when Pumpkin and I had our first blind date, when he asked me to be his girlfriend, when we had our first kiss and first slept together. I was fat when we moved in together, and on the night he proposed. I was fat on our wedding day and, you betcha, I’m still fat, after a year and a half of marriage. And, y’know, he’s a big lad, too. But, we’re still in love, rolls and bumps and dimples and all. Our bodies are beautiful, and we won’t hear anything different about each other. We’re sexual beings, we’re loving beings, we’re awesome beings. Human beings. We’re not a meme, or a cautionary tale, or a before pic, or a pair of blobs. Just two people, who are crazy about each other, who happen to be on the tubby side.

Through the Fat Acceptance movement, I learned that my body was, in fact, worthy of love. Wondorous, glorious, unapologetic love. To those people, like me, who grew up believing that their bodies are the ultimate barrier to finding a soulmate – that’s a lie, sent to you with love from Hollywood and the internet and diet companies. Your bodies are worthy of dignity, care respect – and of romance, partnership, marriage and really great sex. And love. Loads and loads of love. Do not settle for anything less.  Fat, or thin, you are worthy.

Me, I stand for Love At Every Size. And, I have a fabulous husband who stands with me.

Breaking the habit

fabulousA mate of mine recently set up and added me to a Facebook group she made, to help keep herself accountable as she embarked on a new journey in her life. Her plan is to break (in her words) her unhealthy eating and drinking habits in 30 days – in front of her family and friends, via the Facebook group.

I sent her a supportive message, and pointed out that I have started, through Health At Every Size, practising healthy habits, which are helping me feel amazing and much better in my body, even though I’m not losing tonnes of weight (well, I don’t know. I don’t own a scale). I said I hoped that her making healthy choices makes her feel awesome, and that she can PM me if she wants to chat. Which I hope was an appropriate response. I also discouraged her from weighing herself. But, that’s up to her.

My friend asked people to post on the the group’s wall if there were any habits they themselves wanted to break within 30 days. Several people posted – saying they wanted to give up smoking, kick their midnight snacking habit, drink less coffee, go to the gym every day etc. And, for solidarity, I added mine – to break my habit of negative self-talk. Negative body talk in particular.

Because? The things I still catch myself saying about my body are far more poisonous than any processed food or refined sugar I’ve ever put inside it.

This post is quite timely, as Ragen Chastain did an awesome blog just the other day about body talk amongst women. The website BlogHer.com did a survey on “fat talk”, which found that almost 75% of the women surveyed (not sure if this is US women, all worldwide…but still). across all age groups, engage in negative body talk with other women. All the usual stuff like, “my butt looks huge in these pants,” and “ugh, my thighs are massive,” and “oh my god, I look about three months pregnant” (yup. I’ve used that one). In even more disturbing news, negative body conversations are starting in girls as young as 11 years old. Which I can believe. BlogHer asked the women who contributed why they engaged in such damaging conversations, and their answers ranged from “We are afraid of sounding like we are bragging about our bodies,”  to “it’s bonding over a common interest” to “it’s the social norm – just part of life.”

Yup, so true. Remember this clip from Mean Girls? Where Rachel McAdams and the other mean girls stand in front of the mirror and verbally bash their bodies (I have man shoulders! My pores are huge! My nail beds suck!), and Lindsay Lohan’s character’s chimes in with “I get really bad breath in the morning”? I laughed – somewhat ruefully. Because that scene could have been lifted straight from my own teenagerhood. And preteens before that. And adulthood after that.

I vividly remember being about 12 or 13 and going to the pool with a couple of girlfriends. We got into our swimsuits, stood in front of the changing room mirror – where we preceded to boldly point out all our flaws and imperfections, just like Rachel McAdams and co. According to us, we were fat, our thighs were massive, our stomachs stuck out too much and our butts were saggy. At the time, it didn’t seem to do us much damage – after a while, we shrugged it off and made a beeline for the water, where we clambered around on those giant inflatable dragon thingies for a couple of hours. But looking back on it, it disturbes the shit out of me – we were so young, so innocent and we already pouring scorn and disdain all over our bodies. We’d only just convinced our parents to let us go to the pool by ourselves for an afternoon, and we were already bonding, already forming this warped camaraderie over what was supposedly so wrong with our young figures. It’s…scary, really.

So, that was where it started. And it continued through my college years. And followed me to University. And stalked me well into my 20s. Time after time, my gal pals and I got together and we put our bodies through the ringer. We did it at sleepovers. We did it on coffee dates, and out for dinner. We did it while out for walks. At girlie movie nights, and while out drinking. Even at the “crafternoons” I organised – when we should have been squealing over our combined yarn stashes and swapping brownie recipes. And we were mean. Meaner than Simon Cowell and Donald Trump and that bitchy “PR maven” on America’s Next Top Model combined. Our boobs were too small, or disproportionately huge (mine). Our butts were flat and mannish. Our thighs were gross and dimply (mine). Our shoulders were too slopey (mine). Our arms were too long. Our feet were ugly (mine). We had back fat (me). We looked pregnant (me). Our skin was blotchy. Our hair was oily (me) and we had gaps in our teeth we could drive a truck through (me). Yup, we were bitches.

These days? Actually, I’ve noticed the bitchy body conversations dwindling a bit between my mates and I. I dunno – could be that we’re getting older. I have some really close girl friends I can talk to if I’m feeling truly shite about my self image, but, with most people, I try not to incite body bashing conversations, especially not in a group situation. However, when it’s just me and my husband, that’s when the slurs start coming thick and fast. “I’m disgusting,” I’ll tell him over breakfast. “Look how massive my stomach’s gotten,” I’ll pipe up, grabbing fistfuls of my midriff so he can’t possibly miss it. “Ugh, I’m a fat pig,” I’ll yelp over dinner, having cleaned my plate, which is a Bad Thing at my size. “Ugh, look at my double chin,” I’ll implore him while we’re having a romantic moment in the bathroom, brushing our teeth.  “I look like shit, eh, babe?” I’ll chirp, over and over again, as I’m about to climb into my bed, in my adorable pyjamas, into his waiting arms.

Yes, I have ruined many a schmoopy and cutesy couple moment with all my  body hating bullshit. He’s my husband – I’m only telling him all this because, in his presence, I feel comfortable enough to divulge how truly filthy I’m feeling at any one moment. But, it’s bad. Cos it hurts him. It breaks his heart to see the woman he adores heap such hatred and vitriol upon herself – and it breaks my heart to see him do the same. He thinks I’m crazy, he thinks I’m cruel, and he wishes I could see what he sees. And in my dark moments, I wish I could too.

So…yeah. While I know I’m getting better in the area of body bashing, there is still room for improvement. So, I decided it would be my 30-day challenge to ditch the shitty self talk. But, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Because…talking smack about oneself is familiar. Its comfortable. It’s something I’ve done since primary school (saying everything from my art projects to my pigtails looked “dumb”), so it sure as shit is easy. It’s weirdly self-preserving as well: in the culture I was raised and schooled in, bragging about one’s achievements and/or appearance was a cardinal sin. Oh sure, you could be proud of the aforementioned achievements and/or appearance, as long as you didn’t shout it from the rooftops. In fact, being self-depreciating and critical was preferable to being immodest and “up yourself”. So, even now, to say that I’m pretty/smart/talented/cute/sexy feels odd and uncomfortable. Down-playing my achievements and being cruel and bullying to myself, however, comes perfectly naturally.

And actually? Like a lot of habit-forming behaviours, body bashing can become oddly addictive. Margaret Cho said it the the best:“It is a good life, if I watch myself. Kind of like when I used to diet, but now instead of limiting calories, I will not allow negative self talk. I cut out insults like I cut out carbs and it is hard as hell because I crave self abuse like hot, fresh sourdough bread, but you know you have to be nice to you if you are going to live together.” Very, very true. And it’s weird, because I crave compliments from others in the same way I crave New York Pizza and Whittakers Peanut Butter Chocolate. Yet, when the compliments do come, I don’t believe them. And so, the cycle begins again.

But, Margaret is absolutely right. You and your bod are pretty much stuck together for life – so you may as well be kind to it. Think about it – would you tell your bestie she’s hideous and repulsive and looks like shit? Hell no. And if you did, you’d tell her you were really fucking sorry, and buy her coffee and a new pair of shoes every day for a month. So…what if we saw our bodies as our best friends? They do some pretty amazing shit for us – they breathe, they blink, they pump blood, they hug, high five, smile, laugh, the works. What if they were our mates, our chums, our soul-mates and allies? Not our adversaries. And…best friends don’t talk shit to each other.

So, this is my challenge. Treating my body as a friend. Not a frenemy. And, basically, as Margaret says, cutting out self-abuse. I am not cutting out hot sour dough bread (or any bread, for that matter), but I want to cut the bullshit. No I-look-like-shits, no I-hate-my-stomachs, no My-thighs-are-huges, no I’m a fat, disgusting pigs, no I’m uglys. None of that. Because it hurts. It hurts me, it hurts my husband, it hurts my mates and I’m sick of hurting. I can’t always muster up nice things to say about myself in the place of all the abuse…but not giving in to body bashing is a good place to begin. If I ain’t got nothing nice to say about me, then I’m saying nothing at all. I’ve been a Mean Girl all my life, but I can stop any time I want. And…I’m stopping now.

More later.