How to be a fat activist in five minutes a day
At Camp Boom recently, I did a talk called How to be a fat activist in five minutes a day. I would like everyone to have access to this information, livestreamed my talk from Camp Boom, and here's the video. If you'd rather read about it than watch it, a full transcript is below, and you can access the slides from my talk here.
I'm Jo. I run the House of Boom. I created Camp Boom. I hope you know these things already - I would be quite worried if you didn't! So my talk that I decided that I'm doing and I approved myself to speak at this Camp - it was touch and go there for a minute! Is on how to be a fat activist in five minutes a day.
I've said a bunch of times that I hope that this Camp creates an army of fat babes who are empowered to change the world. And while that attitude may be a little bit more subtle in some of the talks, I think the subtext of Camp is rapidly becoming text in my talk.
So this is how my talk is structured and it's ways to be a fat activist. I've divided my talk into four parts. The first is to choose your language carefully. The second is when you see a problem figure out what the solution to the problem should be and who can fix it and demand for it to be done. The third is to support those who are already doing it. The fourth is to take care of yourself. So rest, refuel and find strength in your community.
Do you know in Brooklyn Nine Nine there is a talk about a power move where Amy Santiago stops and pours an entire glass of water and drinks it just to hold
everybody's attention. I'm going to do that now.
Okay onward. First I need to put in a giant huge disclaimer on my talk. Fat activism and fat liberation comes from women of colour, who've absolutely done the heavy lifting so that white influencers could get paid to be like "oh I'm bloated because I just ate. But that's okay. Hashtag body positivity". I'm
Pākehā and now I'm going to stand - sit - and talk and talk about myself for 20 minutes. I'm not even going to you a history of Fat Activism because that's not my specialist subject and because I only have 20 minutes, but it is worth seeking you out to worth seeking out that knowledge for yourselves. My talk here is to share some of my experiences, some of the things I've done that will hopefully give you a little spark and maybe encourage you to do a few of these things.
So theme one is about choosing your words carefully. Here's a word. The word is fat. This is a word that carries a lot of... weight [chuckles]. But it's also possibly the most freeing word that you can use. I spent so many decades absorbing the message that to be fat was the worst thing in the entire
world. Missing out on activities like swimming, which I love, in front of my friends because what if I took off all my baggy flannel clothes and they realised I was fat??? And whenever people want to insult you, often -
especially if you're a woman - fat is the first word they'll go to. But when you get to go "yeah and what else have you got?" They've got nowhere to go from there.
But although taking care of yourself and accepting fat for yourself is it in itself a radical act, to be an activist you have to activate others too. So once you've taken back the word fat for yourself how can you help others on their journey? Whether they're fat or not.
I've come up with some questions that you can use when you're discussing people or when people are discussing you. You can ask these questions gently if it's people you care about or you think they might be generally open to learning or you could be abrasive. It's up to you. So the questions are:
1. Who taught you the word fat was bad? How do you think that person benefited from you feeling bad about it?
2. Why is that food 'naughty'? Did it kick someone? Was it stolen?
3. How are other people's bodies any of your business?
4. And do you think that unhealthy people don't deserve rights and respect?
I've seen a lot of discourse on the internet, usually from white dudes, usually aimed at feminists or people of colour, that if you want people to come around to your side you have to be nice to them. But you know what? Fuck that. You don't owe anyone any nice if they're not nice to you.
While we're talking about language these are some other words that I don't like:
- Obesity is a bullshit term rooted in racism and it's a way ofpathologizing fat bodies.
"Plus size" - if over half the population is wearing a size 14 and above, why are we the plus size? Why aren't people a minus size? Why do we get othered? (We know the answer to that.)
- 'Overweight' - again there is no weight to be. How can you be over it?
- Um and I personally hate the term curvy. Your body doesn't need to be hidden behind a euphemism.
- And also I hate the word 'naughty' as I think we've talked about.
I will say that when I set up the House of Boom website I had to do my search engine optimisation and so it's all "plus size", "Plus size clothing", "Plus size women's clothing". When I speak about House of Boom I say it's good clothes in sizes 16 to 30, or now it's sizes 16 to 34. Because I don't want to gender my clothes even though they are traditionally coded as femme, because I do skirts and dresses. I don't like the term plus size but you know if you don't want to miss out on people looking for plus size clothes.
The problem with fat liberation much like being a feminist or anti-capitalist is that once your eyes are open you'll start to see this shit everywhere. And while we're on the subject of reclaiming here - I know there's a lot of right wing racist dickheads on the internet who talk about being "red pilled" as the minute that their eyes are awoken to evil feminist conspiracies to deny them sex. But let's remember that The Matrix was written by trans women. So I'm going to say we're taking back the red pill. Your red pill moment is when you see just how fucking fatphobic the whole world is when you decide to do something about it.
So theme two. Now we can see the problems. What do we do? We try to solve them. Or we ask others to contribute to the solutions. Please note when I say "ask for" I may not always mean very politely!
So when you see a problem you figure out who is responsible for the problem, you figure out what the solution should be and you ask for the solution to be delivered. Let's start with an easy one. What's the problem with this ad? If you can't see the the second image very clearly it's the 17 Sundays size chart.
So this is a company that advertises itself as "size inclusive". This size chart goes to a 26. That is not inclusive! Side note - I never refer the House of Boom as size-inclusive because I only went to a size 30 until recently. I've now incorporated up to 34 but I still don't think that's inclusive enough to call myself inclusive.
So sometimes what I like to do when I get served ads like this is play
dumb. [Innocent voice] "Oh your profile says you're for -every- body. But I
can't find anything over a size 22 on your website. Am I looking in the wrong place?" I really like playing dumb and this is also a really good tactic to use if someone tells you a racist or sexist joke. Tell them that you don't understand it. Ask them to explain it to you. And when they do, say "but I don't understand what's funny about that?". All sweet and innocent and then see how they backpedal.
Sometimes when you complain about things - so in this case Ensemble Magazine wrote an article about Hine Collection who are great, but they called it "There's no size limits at Hine" and there ARE size limits at Hine because they go up to a size 26! So this is not on Hine themselves, this is an
Ensemble issue. I complained about it and Ensemble said that they changed the headline although it's actually still there when I went to get the screenshots. But you know they at least recognised the problem in my Instagram chat and went to change it.
Here's another example. Jamie, who is one of my friends on Instagram who
I've never actually met noticed that Trademe's clothing section offered search options for sizes 6 to 20 and then size 22 plus. Now I don't know about you but there's a lot of difference in a size 22 and a size 30 or something larger. I remember before I had House of Boom when I used to try to find clothes wherever I could and you'd have to scroll through literally hundreds of listings to find something in your size. And for some reason, [sarcastic] I don't know what it could possibly be, the people in sizes eight to 16 weren't given that same problem - they were catered to.
So Jamie started contacting Trademe about it and then she posted about it on
Instagram and so the other people would know about it and start tagging Trademe in. I took it to Twitter because that's my favourite preferred platform and within one month they changed it. They implemented a very simple little tag system that actually makes a huge difference and shows that fat people are not just this one big gelatinous mass. So that's exciting.
Having having the access to clothing and being treated respectfully in advertising is important. It's maybe not obviously life or death stuff but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have relevance in activism. But there's also a lot of work to do outside of the sphere of capitalisation too. Or capitalism sorry not capitalisation. Capitalisation's important as well!
If you've been following House of Boom for a while or fat communities in general then hopefully you know that for vaccinations and larger arms you need a longer needle. The reason I say -hopefully- you know, this is because Ministry of Health was very pathetic at letting people know. I only found out about it from a fat activist group in Australia and I had to put an official information act request to the Ministry of Health to find out if that was their best practice standard in New Zealand. And yes it is. And for a larger arm a 38 millimetre needle as opposed to a 25 millimetre needle was their recommendation. Cat Pause did a bunch of work of this last year as well, compiling stuff from around the world.
So when the time came for me to get my first vaccination last year I went in and I said "are you using 38 millimetre needle?"and the vaccinator didn't know that she had to use a larger needle, and in fact they had to go and get some from the pharmacy because they didn't have them. And so you bet I put in an official information act to the government to demand to know why they didn't have the knowledge or the needles. Oh and at the same time I asked about why they brought in tiny little plastic folding chairs when this was a group three vaccinations and that was opened up to people because of their BMIs largely. So you're having a bunch of fat people coming in and you have to wait for 20 minutes and you give them a tiny little breakable plastic chair.
[Audience member]:So hands up who had to stand afterwards. Cuz they didn't have a chair. Yeah. You can sit in. They're like 'you need to sit down' and I'm like 'I can't sit on those chairs'.
[Joanna] So this my first, my second vaccination was better. My fourth one was worse. So we'll keep going on that. The Official Information Act is one tool that you can use to ask for any information for the government that they hold about a certain thing. And generally they're required to answer you with a certain period of days. I can talk about this for a very long time. But I'm not the expert in OIAs and I'm looking at Iona and she's like giving me government eyes. But thereis a website called fyi.org.nz which makes submitting an OIA pretty easy. OIAs are a good way of bringing government agencies' attention to things that they should be thinking about. It's also a really really good way to catch people out.
So for example I saw this article written on Stuff by Sinead who was supposed to be here today but is not. I was pretty certain that there was some shonky lack of evidence going on behind this decision. Because having a gallbladder out doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have more health problems. Gall bladders don't grow back! Like I'm pretty certain that once they're gone they're gone. You can't have gallbladder surgery more than once. Probably. I mean I don't know bodies are pretty fucking weird but so I wanted to know.
Crash dieting is super super bad for you. It's very likely to cause more health problems in the future. So forcing someone to lose weight is actually likely to inflict more cost on the taxpayer in the future. And here I really must interrupt myself and say it's an incredibly ableist position to say that we should only let healthy people into New Zealand anyway and people's worth should absolutely not be measured in dollar values like that and I suspect Erin is going to have more to say about that tomorrow. But in this particular case I was trying to work within immigration's existing criterias. So I asked them for all the information they had - the research that they held that proved that forcing people to crash diet was going to be good for their health. They denied my request on the basis that that information didn't exist. Surprise surprise. Like honestly I was shocked. How could I know that they actually didn't have that information? I knew that would happen. I just wanted to remind them of that fact because I am very petty.
So my next move was to write to the Minister of Immigration who at the time was Kris Faafoi. He didn't reply. He didn't reply to any follow-up emails
I of course was absolutely not the only person contacting Immigration about this and it's important to note that the Green Party are doing work on reducing the bullshit immigration criteria of things including health things which is actually quite exciting for me to see, like because it's Ricardo Menendez I think - thank you Ricardo Menendez March - to see a straight-sized man - regular size man I should say, not a straight size-man anyway, like considering fat people, and not considering them to be THE ENEMY but to be including them. So good work Green Party!
But as we saw in the Trademe case earlier there really is strength in numbers. More voices coming together creates a bigger impact. In fact we should create big impacts because we are big babes! So working together to get resultsis a really a good thing to do.
So if you want a real low stakes thing to start up practicing with, you can jump on my favourite bandwagon. Look. I understand if you don't watch Shortland Street, you might think this is a silly thing to waste precious activism on but I assure you, I contain multitudes and do more than one thing at once and I bet probably the rest of you can too. Besides, representation is so important and here I flashback to the talk we just had. Have you all watched a show called Rutherford Falls? Yes? It's on TVNZ On Demand. Um it has four indigenous indigenous Native American people in the writers' room on this show, which is amazing and the main character is not Ed Helms. It's a fat Native American woman whose weight is never mentioned once. And very slight spoiler alert - She makes out with an incredibly hot conventional dude. And I cried. Because we don't see that. We don't see that very much. I mean there is
Retta in Parks & Recreation which is my favourite show and she also gets a hot dude and that's awesome. Uh Sookie on the Gilmore Girls's weight is nevermentioned. Other than that not a lot... oh there's also a show called Grand Crew which stars Nicole Byers and it's like Friends - it's basically like Friends but they're black they hang out at a bar and Nicole Byers has a lot of sex with a lot of different hot dudes. It's great.
Um so this is representation. And the reason I'm targeting Shortland Street is because they have done well at so many areas of representation. But they don't have fat characters. So I reckon for your five minutes of activism of fat activism this week you could consider writing to Shortland Street to ask for better. Yeah well Chris Warner's had like a thousand children like, he can impregnate a fat woman. That's cool. Oh and if you want to read the whole piece which basically is just about Chris Warner's sperm, it's on the House of Boom website.
Um so getting back to my talk. Theme three is about supporting those
who are already doing the mahi.
So here are some ways to put your money to good good causes. You can use your smaller fat or straight size privilege to support brands that support fatter people. So for example if I'm shopping for my friends or like online shopping for them for their outfits I generally go look at Asos because Asos fits me AND fits them. Obviously I run an ethical clothing company and Asos is not necessarily the most ethical clothing company of all. However sometimes you work with them the budgets that you have and the options that you have.
Uh you should tell your favourite label that you'd like your fatter friends to be able to fit into them too. And you should not buy from companies that push fat phobia or that are part of the diet industry. So support the people who are already doing the activism.
Activism is tiring and it's nice when people help you with it. Don't just like their posts, share them! And sharing works even better if you write something about it. Like, add your own voice on top of it, thealgorithms prefer that. If activists you follow have written books or sell clothes or art or have paid accounts buy them if you've got the money to do that. Subscribe to their newsletters if you're able. Tell them about stuff. Tell others about their stuff. Say nice encouraging things to them on Instagram or other places. Instagram is full of memes about ways to support people if you haven't got money to do it.
I'll let you in on a little secret though. And this is not targeted at these particular people in the screenshot. Whenever I post a letter to a copy of a letter I've sent to the editor about a fat cause like saying to a magazine editor like "hey you've done two fashion spreads for dogs now, would you maybe consider including some clothes for fat people? Maybe?". Uh it kind of makes me a little bit cross when someone on Facebook comes along and comments "oh thank you for doing that". Like it's nice that they spent 20 seconds to thank me for doing it but what I'd really like to see is a comment saying "thank you for this and I have taken an additional 20 seconds to copy your post and also send it to the editor to solidify your voice".
I understand it is not always possible. New Zealand is a small place. There are complex relationships and there are reasons why you may not be able to contact particular businesses or be seen to speak publicly badly about them. Like maybe you own an ethical clothing company. People might say it was you're being a poor sport if you said something like "Friday Flamingo is owned by a woman who sold a 'weight loss tea' that could BLISTER YOUR PERENIUM".
And fat people shouldn't support companies are actively trying to harm fat people. So obviously you can't speak out all the time. But
maybe you should.
But it's important to respect boundaries too. It is awesome when you are learning new things, but manage your expectations. Chances are the activists that you follow also have jobs, families and a whole lot of other shit going
on. They can't always be on call for you. Google is your friend. Be careful not to trauma dump. Activists try to hold space for you. They also need to hold space for themselves. Which goes on to theme four. Taking care of
The title of this talk being a fat activist in five minutes a day is very very
tongue firmly in cheek because I don't know anyone who can do a thing that involves your head and your heart so much for five minutes a day and just
like switch off. It doesn't happen. But am I writing this part of the talk just to tell myself? Like I'm forced to take my own advice? Probably.
Um but yes fat phobia and discrimination seep into every aspects of our life. You switch off your phone and try to relax in front of the TV and boom, there's a bunch of fat jokes. Or maybe you go to the theatre and the seats are too small. Or you go to the doctor and instead of actually listening to you about your actual problems they just tell you to lose weight.
I write a lot of letters by the way. I have found it tremendously liberating as I get older how much less I care about people liking me. I mean I wish Icould say I went all the way. But no. I'm not saying that you should you have open slather to be rude to people. But you are allowed to complain when you are given poor service. I'm not likely to in any popularity contest anytime soon though and this is another reason why you probably never see Boom on the fashion pages.
Your community is there for you. Finding people with the same experiences as you is so so important and I really really hope that Camp Boom will provide you with that community. But beyond that there'll be little moments of solidarity. That person at the office morning tea who also rolls their eyes when someone says "oh no I couldn't possibly eat that". That person on Facebook who told tautokos your comment. Your straight size friend who asks you which seats you'll be most comfortable in in a restaurant. Build on thoseunderstandings. Remember you are not alone. Now go write a letter to someone!