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

An open letter to an internet troll

fat catDear Troll.

Hi. Actually, this is going out to all internet trolls. Cos, let’s face it, there’s a few of you. But, you’re the one I’ve got a particular beef with right now. So, listen good.

The other day, you trolled a blog I used to keep (for journalism school, actually) about anti-obesity hysteria perpetrated by world governments and big corporations. You told me that, if I “put as much energy into weight loss” and I did “obsessing over Fat Acceptance”, I’d “be a healthy weight by now.” You said that you have given up smoking (congratulations) and that you never felt the need to start a “smokers acceptance club” (that’s fine, don’t). You said that if I truly cared about future generations, I’d take part in a war on fat (which can be won, apparently), and that accepting fat was like accepting cancer.

You got a bit pissy when I wrote back to you and said I was neither expending energy dieting nor caring about what you thought of me. I told you that my weight and my health were none of your business, just as your former smoking habit is none of mine – and you weren’t too keen on that. You said I had a “serious problem”, because I got “worryingly defensive” when a poor, innocent, misunderstood soul such as yourself tried to start a dialogue on a public blog. To which I re-stated my position:  you provided unsolicited advice that I should be losing weight, not participating in Fat Acceptance – and I told you I did not care for your advice.

You responded by spewing all this bullshit at me: that you would advise anyone with a weight problem to “act on it, not act out on it”, that “severely overweight people” are deeply selfish because they’re sucking up all the support services and that those of us who advocate for Fat Acceptance are merely lazy, defeatist and are giving up on ourselves.  You also made blanket statements that people of “a sensible weight” live longer and have a better quality of life, without providing a shred of evidence to back this up.

Yeah. What a charmer.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this letter. Your mind is pretty much made up. But, just in case you do happen to stumble across this blog and discover this post (the same goes for anyone else thinking of trolling this space), I have a few challenges for you. You challenged me on the supposed futility of Fat Acceptance, and I am issuing you a challenge in response. I am a giver like that.

My challenges for you are as follows:

1) First and foremost, if you absolutely must send a stranger condescending, paternalistic messages via email, use a fucking spellcheck. It’s not that hard. Protip: words such as “sesnisble”, “defeatest”, “expectancey” don’t actually exist. Your poor spelling only serves to make you look more like a moron than you already are.  So, if you must be a dickhead, be a dickhead that uses correct spelling.

2) You stated that you only wanted to start a dialouge and “provide an alternative viewpoint” by commenting on my blog. Fair enough. If you disagree with me (and you made that one clear), by all means feel free to send me an intelligent and thoughtful response, saying, “Ezza, I do not agree with the premise of Fat Acceptance, because of ABC, and maybe you should consider points XYZ.” Except…you didn’t do that. You took a pot shot at me instead. You made it about me, my body and my health. You said that if I was being a good girl and dieting rather than wasting my time on Fat Acceptance, I’d be skinny, and we’d all be happy. Sounds…a lot like unwanted, unwelcome advice to me.

So, no, sunshine, you didn’t want to provide an alternative viewpoint. You wanted to pass judgement on a woman whose body was, in your eyes, defective, deficient and diseased. You essentially told a complete stranger than she’d be better off huddling in the corner eating plain lettuce than dedicating her time to a cause she believes in. So,  in future, don’t hide behind the excuse of just wanting to start a discussion. One is perfectly able to do that without casting aspersions on a random woman in New Zealand with a blog.

3) On that note, you claim to be happy with your body. Well…in my experience, people who are comfortable with their bodies don’t tend to make snarky comments about the bodies and health habits of people they’ve never met. So, I would challenge you to examine yourself, and ask why exactly you’re so threatened by a fat woman who actually likes her body as it is.

4) Another protip: when a person tells you their health is none of your concern, reacting with, “Oh my god, don’t be so fucking defensive” isn’t exactly going to endear you to them. Also, if you come into a Fat Positive space and tell the blogger he/she should be “focussing on weightloss”, they’re going to get a bit miffed.

You didn’t like it when I stood up to you, did you? You clutched your pearls a bit when I told you that if you were looking for your beeswax, you weren’t going to find in on my fat body, am I right? I could have ignored you, sure. But on that day, I’d had enough, and told you to sod off.  And, honestly? If being told to sod off on the internet is the worst thing that happened in your day, then you’re doing pretty well. If you’re getting all butthurt over people who reject your unwelcome diet tips, then it’s probably best not to go dishing them out in the first place.

5) You have dismissed those of us who practice Fat Acceptance as “lazy and defeatist”, and claim we have simply given up on ourselves and our health.  Just wondered – have you ever actually hung out in a Fat Positive community before, or tried properly getting to know people who practice Fat Acceptance? I’m guessing probably not. So, my challenge to you is to find a Body Positive community and learn a wee bit more about us. Oh, there’s plenty of places we hang out. You can use Google, I assume?

You might be surprised to see that a large number of us have not, in fact, “given up on our health”. You might also be surprised to find that we don’t actually live on a steady diet of takeaways, junk food and fizzy drinks. We have a range of eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, high-protein, low-carb, or just your standard meat and three veg. You’ll find plenty of us who get takeaways once in a blue moon, don’t care much for cake and lollies, and would very rarely add Coke to their grocery carts (I enjoy all of those things, but hey. Civil liberties and all that). You’ll find we actually do like moving our bodies. We walk up to 20-40 minutes a day (*raises hand*), swim, do aquarobics, cycle, do Zumba and yoga, take belly dance and hoop dancing classes, or just go to the park with the dogs and the kids on a regular basis.  Shit, some of us even participate in marathons.

So, no, we’ve not given up on ourselves. We’ve just chosen to practice healthy habits while celebrating the bodies we have. As opposed to, you know, practising healthy habits because we’re fixated on changing our size and shape. Most of us have tried that. So, no, you won’t find any resigned acceptance of our bodies here.  No defeatism. Not much in the way of laziness. Just people out there, enjoying their lives, who eat fresh food, enjoy movement for the sake of movement, and generally living fab lives. So, you might want to check your stereotypes before chucking a label on us – or any group of people.

6) My final challenge to you, darling troll, is this: do some reading. Or, at least do some more reading. I’m guessing you didn’t bother to click on any of the links I provided about the weight=health myth, did you? Did you bother to take a squiz at this study, which found that healthy habits resulted in healthy bodies and good long life expectancies, regardless of body weight? What about this TIME piece, and the study that found that obese people with good fitness levels were almost 40% less likely to die early than their thinner counterparts? Or this one,  where a study found thin people are actually at a higher risk of developing heart disease? (That first study can be found here, by the way).

How about this article about the obesity paradox – which finds that larger patients with chronic conditions have a better chance of survival than slim patients? Or even the basic Health At Every Size Manifesto? Have you checked out anything to do with the concept of HAES? Plenty of free stuff here you can look at.

There’s a nice wee reading list for you. I mean, you must be pretty bored if you’re looking for fat women to lecture online. So, do some research. Educate yourself. That is, if you’re not too scared of having your precious “thin is better” delusions shattered just a wee bit.

Actually, you know what? Yes, read all the studies. All of them. But, my biggest challenge to you, is to treat us fatties with *basic respect*.

Whether we practice healthy habits, or not. Whether we eat nothing but organic foods, or nothing but TV dinners. Whether we have tiny portions, or stack our plates like we’re at a buffet at every meal. Whether we’re gym bunnies, or do barely any exercise at all – due to illness, disability, or because we simply don’t enjoy it. Whether we walk everywhere, or drive everywhere; whether we take the stairs every morning, or take the lift. Whether we’ve got a clean bill of health at our doctor’s office, or are struggling with several health problems at once.

Whatever we’re doing with our lives, we deserve respect. Because we’re human being, pure and simple. We do not need your harassment, whether that’s in our homes, on the street, or on the internet. We don’t need your health tips, or your diet evangelism, or your mean-spirited little digs, masquerading as friendly concern. And we certainly do not need your nosy ass barging in to any area of our lives. Like I said, you look after your health. We’ll look after ours.  Cos you ain’t gonna find your beeswax anywhere near us.

Here’s my final challenge: Leave Us Alone.

Yours,

Honey Bunny.