Body Impolitic

Category Archives: Size Acceptance

Post-Olympics Link Roundup

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Debbie says:

Coverage of the Rio Olympics led me to a substantial number of fascinating articles. Now that the event is over, I’d like to share some of them with you:

This really well-designed New York Times quiz has you match Olympic and Paralympic athletes with their sports. I confess I only got five out of 16 right, but the point — that all different kinds of bodies can be athletes’ bodies — is made, and made well.

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The quiz pairs well with Ragen Chastain (often quoted in this blog), writing about fat Olympians at her blog, Dances with Fat. Ragen breaks down five unreasonable assumptions which people sometimes draw from the existence of fat athletic competitors. Here’s her list, plus her full comment on one I thought she did particularly well.

This proves there’s no excuse not to be fit at any size

This proves that anyone of any size can be an Olympian

This proves that everyone of every size can be healthy

First, don’t confuse athletically successful with healthy.  Many athletes push far beyond what would most support their bodies’ health – risking  and getting expensive sports-related injuries that they wouldn’t otherwise be at risk for – in order to be successful at their sport.  They are absolutely allowed to do that – their bodies, their choice (though that doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t be asking questions about the way that sports are managed/judged and what is really “required.”)  Moreover, health is difficult to define, multi-faceted, not an obligation, not a barometer of worthiness, and not entirely within our control or guaranteed under any circumstances.

This proves that anyone of any size can be an athlete

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Female Olympians face their own set of challenges. As menstruation becomes more talked about around the world, Zheping Huang at Quartz discusses Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui’s radical acknowledgment.

When China’s favorite swimmer Fu Yuanhui openly mentioned her menstrual cycle on Sunday (Aug. 14) at the Rio Olympics, it was the first time many Chinese people realized it is possible to swim while being on your period. …

“I feel I didn’t swim well today. I let my teammates down,” Fu said, between gasps of breath. When asked if she was having a stomachache, Fu said: “Because my period came yesterday, I’m feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse.”

Just like that, Fu broke a great sporting taboo by talking about menstruation in public. During the 2015 Australian Open, British tennis player Heather Watson blamed her poor performance on her period after losing in the first round. At the time Watson’s remarks shocked the sports world and later sparked initiatives to break the silence on the issue.

The article goes on to discuss Chinese attitudes towards menstruation, tampons, and virginity. I learned a lot.

It’s no secret that people of fluid, indeterminate, or challenged gender have a daunting set of Olympic challenges. We’ve written here about Castor Semenya and Dutee Chand. Dana Moskowitz, writing at Deadspin, makes the question very personal.

What is it, exactly, that makes me a woman? Is it my breasts? If so, is it because they are a certain size? Is it that I have a womb? Does it matter that I have no idea if my womb works because I’ve never tried to get pregnant? Is it my two X chromosomes or my level of testosterone? I have no idea the status of either my chromosomes or testosterone for the simple reason there’s never been a good medical reason to test them. Asked to prove that I am a woman, I’d probably come up with this—everyone says I’m one.

I find myself returning to that thought exercise as Caster Semenya competes in the 800 meters this week. Semenya was told her entire life that she was a woman. Until she wasn’t….

Sports reporters have found ways of dancing around what this is. That’s why you’ll see the word “fair” in so many headlines about Semenya….

See, ladies, this is just about fairness! About leveling the playing field! About following the rules! Geez, women, calm down. We’re trying to make your races more fair for you!

One tactic, used by SI among others, is warning that this could be the end of women’s sports, as if this and not underfunding, sexual violence, and harassment were what kept women out of sports. Reporters will harp that this is about maintaining women as a protected class, ignoring that the legal term protected class means a group you cannot discriminate against—making this the bizarre act of asking if Semenya is too manly to be a woman, in which case she would receive the bizarro right to be discriminated against.

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But if your body size and shape is culturally acceptable for the Olympics, and you aren’t menstruating (or don’t care to talk about it) and no one has challenged your gender, the media still gives itself complete license to analyze and criticize your religious attire. At Al-Jazeera, Rachel Shabi has a biting response:

Witness the countless headlines breathlessly hailing the first United States Olympian to compete in a hijab: the fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

To help us get to grips with this dazzling achievement – the hijab, obviously, and not the fact that she’s ranked eight in the world – we had BBC World tweeting about the incredible phenomenon as: “Hijab and a sword” – which, we hope, is the start of a series, continuing with, say: jodhpurs and a riding crop; athlete pants and a javelin; leotard and a chalk bowl.

And then there was the viral image of Egyptian and German women playing against each other at Olympic volleyball, one in a bikini, the other in a hijab.

As the Libyan-American writer Hend Amry tweeted in response [to comments about “cultural clash”], the actual caption to this picture could have been: “Athlete vs athlete”. …

[W]hat has crept into so much of the commentary is a sense of – what shall we call it? – Orientalist awe, as with this Washington Post headline: “Muslim female athletes find sport so essential they compete while covered” as in, wow, these women love sport so much that they’ve even managed to overcome this uniquely disadvantageous Muslim religion thing.

If you’re celebrating the fact that official sporting bodies have stopped being so restrictive over uniforms, maybe spotlighting the hijab each time you see an athlete wearing one isn’t the way to do it.

In the end, so many of these links, and so many other Olympic stories, come down to what should be a very simple thing: what would it take for us to simply appreciate the athletic ability of these amazing people, without making assumptions about them, shoving them into categories, or generalizing from them as individual competitors to everyone else, competitors or not?

I’m about ready for Olympic competition for journalists; and most of them are a very long way from the finish line or the perfect 10.

Lisa Hirsch sent us the New York Times quiz, others are from our general reading.

Themed Links: Fat and Size Acceptance

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Debbie says:

I have a very long links list, and it struck me that several of them are about fat acceptance which (of course) is how Laurie and I got started doing this work. So today I present you with a themed links list, starting with

Fat Heffalump’s example of actual good positive marketing by J.C. Penney, directed at and featuring fat women.

I am not ashamed to admit that this made me cry.  In a good way I mean.  I was just so overjoyed to see how fat women are represented in this video, I burst into tears.  Which is really saying something.  I don’t cry about fat stuff any more.  None of it ever reaches me emotionally – I’ve grown so jaded and frustrated at the way we’re portrayed, the way nobody has listened to us, the way businesses insult and disrespect us and then expect us to give them our money.  I’ve never felt represented by marketing that was supposed to be aimed at me, and certainly not by the media.

But this… this is everything I’ve been banging on about for YEARS, trying to get brands and marketing to understand.  That they can market to us in a positive, aspirational way that INCLUDES us.  That says “We see you, and here are some products that we’ve got for you.  We’d like you to shop with us.”

I do understand people can be hurt and/or offended by the implicit expectation that all fat women/people should love our bodies. I completely respect that position and I want it to be part of the discourse. At the same time, I’m with Fat Heffalump in deeply appreciating honest talk from corporate America about how hard it is to be fat and how (some) people can — with support — find a way to be happy with that. I also especially appreciate that this commercial is diverse, and that the women are truly fat: this isn’t your 160-pound white girl celebration of fat power.

***

In the department of “no one should have to be told this,” Aimée Lutkin at Jezebel reports on how previous Playmate Dani Mathers first posted a nasty anti-fat picture and then recanted. I’m not going to reproduce the photo; you can see it at the link if you want. I will say that Mathers apparently captioned it “If I can’t unsee this than you can’t either.

Her walkback, as quoted by Lutkin, is also less than stellar, including: “That photo was taken to be a personal conversation with a girlfriend, and because I am new to Snapchat, I didn’t realize that I had posted it and that was a huge mistake.”

Maybe Mathers should be watching the J.C. Penney commercial above?

Although Mathers’ picture was not headless, it seems like a useful time to remind people of Dr. Charlotte Cooper’s 2007 essay on headless fatties, which someone I read linked to recently.

It’s quite bizarre, fat people are in the news all the time, almost constantly; “Obesity” returns more than twice as many Google News hits as “Madonna.” But we are presented as objects, as symbols, as a collective problem, as something to be talked about. Unless we play the game and parrot oppressive, self-hating, medicalised views about fat, fat people’s own voices, feelings, thoughts and opinions about what it is to be fat are entirely absent from the discourse. Because of this, we are currently unable to capitalise on the allure a fat body holds to viewers and readers, and this will probably continue as long as we are disenfranchised beings.

As Headless Fatties, the body becomes symbolic: we are there but we have no voice, not even a mouth in a head, no brain, no thoughts or opinions. Instead we are reduced and dehumanised as symbols of cultural fear: the body, the belly, the arse, food. There’s a symbolism, too, in the way that the people in these photographs have been beheaded. It’s as though we have been punished for existing, our right to speak has been removed by a prurient gaze, our headless images accompany articles that assume a world without people like us would be a better world altogether.

***

Dr. Ashley Kasardo has an excellent piece at the HAES® files on “Fat Talk as a Microaggression”:

Microaggressions are subtle, often brief exchanges, intentional or not, that send denigrating messages to individuals due to their group membership. For example:

  • “She’s so fat- it’s unhealthy.” Equates fat with being unhealthy, which is untrue. Assumes one’s health based on physical appearance. …
  • “You’re not fat- you’re beautiful.” Equates attractiveness with the thin ideal. Sends the message that fat and beauty are mutually exclusive. Bashes fat as a descriptor and makes it difficult for someone to own fatness as a part of their identity without derogation.
  • “I’m not eating that- I don’t want to get fat.” Makes eating a moral choice- you’re good or bad if you eat certain foods. Equates eating certain food with getting fat, or the idea that if you just act “right” you can control your weight. This isn’t the case for many, especially considering the role of genetics and one’s individual fat set point in their body.  Research shows fat people do not eat more compared to anyone else.
  • “You look amazing- you’ve lost weight.” Reinforces the thin ideal. Correlates worth with appearance- but we are more than our bodies. Reinforces the body as an object as well as fear of fat. … Complimenting weight loss or criticizing weight gain carry assumptions regarding weight and health that aren’t accurate.

Kasardo goes on to make some suggestions and recommend some reading material. In one way, I think it’s obvious that fat talk is a microaggression, and yet I don’t think I would have thought or said that so clearly if I hadn’t seen Kasardo’s piece.

***

Let’s close with fascinating fat science (and discount the required anti-fat moralizing that goes with it). Samoans get a lot of bad press for being fat, and I found this peek into the reasons–by George Dvorsky at io9–fascinating:

Starting around 3,500 years ago, ancestors of Samoans began the arduous task of settling the 24 major island groups of Polynesia. This colonization process—one of the most extreme examples in all of human history—took possibly thousands of years to complete. “They had to endure voyages between islands and subsequently survive on those islands,” study co-author Ryan Minster told New Scientist.

As Darwin pointed out many years ago, evolution requires long timescales. But in some instances, when environmental conditions are particularly severe and attritional, selectional processes accelerate the process—an evolutionary phenomenon dubbed “punctuated equilibrium” by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Make your own decision about reading the rest, because it does have the obligatory (microaggressive!) critique of Samoan diet and concern trolling about Samoan health. Nonetheless, it’s good to know that Samoan genetics have such a heroic history.

The Fat Heffalump link is from mildredlouise. Otherwise, links are from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, Sociological Images, Feministing, io9, and TakePart, along with other sources.