The following is a guest post by Kath Read, who blogs at Fat Heffalump – Living With Fatititude. I love her writing and have learned a lot from her, including some fat stereotypes of my own. It’s been very humbling and very exciting to have my thinking expanded. This is a story, her story, of pain and power. I hope it expands your viewpoints (if they need to be expanded, that is) as it did mine. I also recommend you read more of her posts. Every post I’ve read has been honest, thought provoking, well written and witty, when appropos.
Kath Read is a person. She’s also a fat activist, a writer and by day an IT Librarian in Brisbane, Australia.
Up until a few years ago, I thought I was the most worthless creature on the planet.
I believed that I had no right to speak, have an opinion, share my beliefs, ask questions, or talk to people without being prompted directly. Even then, I often held back, or made jokes about the situation, rather than actually sharing my thoughts or feelings. I was full of guilt and shame.
But then I found fat acceptance.
I don’t remember exactly where I first encountered the concept, but I guess someone shared a link on Twitter or Facebook, and something piqued my interest, and I had a look.
Fat acceptance opened up a whole new world for me. It changed my life so much that I can’t express fully just where I was and where I am now.
Where I am now, literally now, as I type this, is sitting in one of my favourite blogging spots, a little tabled area not far from my office, writing this blog post on a laptop as I’m photographed and filmed by a couple of academics as part of a documentation project about fat embodiment and activism.
Me. Being photographed. There are moments that I still can’t believe that I’m allowing the above to happen, not just allowing it but feel relaxed about it and even enjoying it. I have a gap of about 20 – 25 years where there are only a handful photographs of me in existence. More years I think, I’m not really sure. I destroyed most of the photographs that were taken, simply out of self loathing. I’ve had more photographs taken of me in the last 25 minutes than I did in that 25 years. In the past few months, literally hundreds of photographs.
We found some photographs at work recently from 2003, and many people wouldn’t believe that the woman in those photos was me. My self loathing is actually visible in most of them, even if I’m smiling on the surface.
It’s a massive shift in my paradigm. To just allow someone to photograph me and relax (well mostly!) while they do so is so radically different to where I was years ago.
That’s fat acceptance and fat activism that has led me to that place.
An aside… it’s weird. Every now and then a giant lens appears over my shoulder like a shark swimming into view. I keep expecting to hear that music from Jaws, you know the bit with the cello? It’s also kind of funny to have someone seeing my writing as I do it – normally it’s only seen by someone else when I have given it a tidy up and clicked on “publish”, not while it’s flowing out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen. It’s a challenging exercise in the writing process.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand, fat activism has brought so much to my life and radically change how I think about myself. From a girl/young woman who received the dual message of “It’s lucky you’re smart, cos you’re not much to look at.” and “You shouldn’t get too big for your boots girlie.” to a 39 year old woman who has the confidence to allow people to document her life, and to share it with the world.
Telling my story is really important to me. I think the most powerful thing about fat activism is the empowerment it gives to people to tell their stories. Not to mention to hear stories of other fat people, which we simply don’t get in the mainstream. Fat people in the mainstream are one dimensional parodies – the sassy fat sidekick, the angry fat bully, the sad fat loner sitting at home in front of the television shoving food in their face. We’re not seen in the mainstream as everyday people, with multi-faceted personalities. We’re not seen as having jobs and careers, families and friends, hobbies and interests, passions and convictions. Part of the power of being a fat activist is putting a representation of a real person, with all of those things, out in the world for other people to witness. Both our fellow fatties, who often feel alone and isolated by the mainstream representation of fatness, and to non-fat people, who are sold this view of us that is not real.
Storytelling is a powerful, powerful thing. Religions grow from it. History is determined by who gets to tell their story and which of those stories is documented – which is how privilege is born. That’s what marginalisation is – the silencing of people’s stories.
Fat activism not only allows me to tell my story and document my own history, but it also allows me to create a place for you to tell your stories, and to encourage you to create your own spaces to tell your stories.
And sometimes, if you’re really, really lucky like I am, you get other people who want to tell your story as well.
I’m having a lot of lightbulb moments while I work on this project. I’m thinking about a lot of new things and learning a lot about myself. From personal stuff – my own identity and embodiment – to the broader perspective of what it means to be telling the stories of fat people in general. It’s become this strange meta process – the more immersed I get into a project about fat embodiment, the more I find myself defining my own identity and what I embody.
As I just said to Lauren, one of the best things about the internet is that we all have the power to document our stories and share them with the world, and to possibly have those stories heard by others, who then weave them into their own stories. My story becomes entangled with yours, which then becomes entangled with the people in your life, and so on.
So thank you, for entangling your stories with mine. That enriches my life far more than you can know.