Tag Archives: Charlotte Cooper

Themed Links: Fat and Size Acceptance


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.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Fat Activism in One Volume: A Review of Fat Activism

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement by Dr. Charlotte Cooper is being published today, January 4, 2016! In honor of this important publication, Laurie and Debbie, who usually greet the new year with a post of their own, are delighted to publish Lynne Murray’s review today.

Bright-colored cover of FAT ACTIVISM
Lynne Murray says:

This book addresses many issues that I personally have struggled with for 30 years of trying to live a fat activist life. Such as, why does each new generation of fat activists seem to have to reinvent the wheel?

True, in 2016 the internet provides a treasure trove of resources for those who search. But you have to know a thing exists before you can even start to look for it. Many people who desperately need fat positive information, inspiration and supportive communities will not even have an idea of what they are missing.

This is part of what inspired Dr. Cooper to write her book:

I was interested in how fat activist histories might be transmitted through communities because I was dismayed by how little fat activists seemed to know about the movement of which they were a part. I also felt that fat activism is under-documented and wanted to create a paper trail for others to use.

Fat Activism is an essential reference for those who want to know where the movement started and to get some ideas on where it can go from here. The breadth of Cooper’s research is amazing. Fat Activism is worth owning simply as a resource and a history of the movement. She seems to have studied and in most cases assessed almost every fat-related group, book or article created over the past 46 years. The 59-page bibliography alone is a Who’s Who and a What Happened When of fat activism.

Cooper deserves a medal for even reading the most condescending, smugly pseudoscientific “fat panic” materials. Examining these works of socially acceptable prejudice exacts a perilous price, as Cooper explains:

My own emotional response to such work encompasses feelings of powerlessness, anger that ranges from disgruntlement to rage and bewilderment at the flattening of the complexities of my life. Physiological effects are congruent with stress: shallow breathing, a tight chest, a sinking feeling. These are encounters with systemic sanctioned hatred. Reading this work as a fat person requires a certain steeliness, it can be physically and emotionally depleting.

Fat Activism doesn’t shy away from discussing internal tensions and stumbles inside groups and specific events. Cooper interviews activists to get individual reports on just what fat activism is and what it means to those who do it. She herself has been involved in a number of groundbreaking activism projects such as The Chubsters.

The project was formulated as a queer fat girl gang I established in 2003 after watching Katrina Del Mar’s low budget short film Gang Girls 2000, which created an imaginary world of queer gangs in New York. I imagined The Chubsters as existing in a similar universe where fat people take no shit and I hoped that this could bleed into real life. I enjoyed the blurring of fiction and reality. I used the gang to play with ideas of comic aggression and anti-social behaviour yet was explicit in my pacifism and welcomed all to take part; Chubsters did not have to be fat, queer, a girl or even remotely vicious. On reflection I suspect this approach stemmed from my own experiences of queer exclusion from lesbian feminist spaces in the 1980s.

The Chubsters operated through a website, a magazine photo-story, articles, workshops, talks and film-shows, a theme song, a short film and objects and ideas. These included a symbol, called The Screaming C, a snarling fat letter C with blood-dripping fangs, designed by two Chubsters, Yeti and Big Blu in 2004. The symbol became a useful manifestation of the gang. Other people adopted it, one person made me a hoodie decorated with The Screaming C, another is a stonemason and carved it into a plaque. In addition, The Chubsters produced hand signs, special terminology, a call and response; downloads for calling cards; and gang colours stitched onto torn denim waistcoats and worn in public. Another member made some Chubster embroidery.

This book began as a doctoral dissertation, so it starts with an appetizer of sociological terms and concepts. If these are not your treats, you can easily skip to the next course, which is tasty, juicy and mentally satisfying. Cooper provides insights and history enough to nourish any reader seeking understanding and inspiration.

Fat activism is habitually overlooked, assumed and dismissed, even by people within the movement, which is outrageous given how powerful it can be.  …

[T]here is no doubt that fat activism based on the lived experience, cultures and histories of fat people, which incorporates anti-oppressive values, feminist and queer tactics is able to offer a richer and more sophisticated vision for understanding fat than the proponents of obesity who remain intent on ignoring or belittling us.

So how might people know about fat? Through a disease model or through rolling down a hill together? Through bariatric surgery or poetry? Through terrible clinical encounters or a fat clothes swap? Through weight loss drugs that cause heart attacks and anal leakage or by reading Fat Liberator Publications? Through Very Low Calorie Diets or by visiting or working at a volunteer fat queer brothel? Through a conviction that something must be done about the problem of fat people or through getting tattooed with a Screaming C? Through a pernicious fantasy of slenderness or through a wink or a rebellious thought?

This book asks the hard questions and provides some encouraging answers. Highly recommended!