Unbearable Weight

Powerful interview, The Unbearable Weight of Fatphobia: A Conversation with Samantha Irby

But let’s be clear, this is about far more than just hurt feelings and humiliation. This kind of body terrorism means that fat people get denied jobs, housing, affordable and adequate healthcare, and various other services simply because other people don’t like our bodies […] Everywhere we turn, everywhere we go, we are reminded about how much people hate us and our bodies, and how much they think we should hate ourselves and our bodies, too. We are continually told, in one way or another, that we are not allowed to take up this space and that we will not be valuable unless we shrink. For many of us, this has been happening our entire lives, or for the vast majority of it. It’s deeply dehumanizing and demoralizing, but for a lot of fatphobic people, that’s exactly the point. They think we don’t deserve to have a good relationship with our bodies. They think we don’t deserve any other kind of existence. They often think we don’t deserve to exist at all. 

Denial as Virtue

A great post here from s.e. smith on Denial as Virtue:

This is not about whether people should love or hate their bodies, or about how people should navigate their own relationships with their bodies. It is about the ways in which society encourages a disconnect from the body, rewards people who ‘control’ their bodies by effectively turning them off and refusing to listen. It is also about a society where certain bodies are considered controlled and others are not, and by extension, people in control are considered virtuous while others are not. Lack of willpower, loss of control, are believed to be negative personality traits which can be read in the body. After all, if someone was in control, the body would be thin and lean and hard and it would conform with a specific beauty ideal. It wouldn’t be soft and fat.

Please read the rest. This is so important in creating a cultural and historical context for the development of disordered eating. My father, for example, who was sent to a brutal Catholic boarding school, could never get over his belief that denying himself food was virtuous and, in this, I’m sure he subconsciously influenced my own feelings about food and eating.  He believed that denying himself breakfast and lunch was virtuous and because he was starving would then eat “too much” in the evening and feel guilty about it. Quite often, I would catch him having guilt-ridden fry-ups late at night. It effected his health and his mood.  We tried to talk to him about it, and my mother even banned him from using negative language about food and eating in the house (he would refer to eating as “stuffing”), but we could never shift it.


Emotional Truth & the Rhetoric of Love Your Body Day

In the US, the 19thOctober saw the celebration of Love Your Body Day – “a day when women of all sizes, colors, ages and abilities come together to celebrate self-acceptance and to promote positive body image”.  As far as I’m aware this initiative hasn’t caught on in the UK where I live so it’s quite new to me.

When I had a look at the promotional material for the event, I was surprised by the surge of anger that I felt at this obviously well-intentioned initiative, which no doubt does some good, perhaps most of all in raising consciousness and getting women talking about the issues. I’ve written before in my journal about my problems with being instructed by feminists to “love my body” and I think this is a good opportunity to elaborate a bit more on those problems.

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Bra update

So today I braved the bra shop. Thank goodness I took my girlfriend because the bra-shop women jumped on me as soon as I walked through the door and insisted I need a new fitting in case my boobs have changed in size (which I was told me they do on a regular basis?!).  I don’t blame the shop assistants, since they’ve obviously been trained to offer fittings because it massively increases the chances of making a sale.  Being in a cubicle half-naked with a complete stranger puts you in a vulnerable position and, quite frankly, I’ll buy a bra just to get out of the situation!

My girlfriend could tell that I was about to bolt at the prospect of such torture, so she got me to refuse the fitting and assert my right just to try on some bras. I think I’ve figured out how to survive the experience:  get my girlfriend to dress as dykey as possible and take her along because the bra shop women (who are trained to deal with feminine, heterosexual women) just could not cope with her and backed off fast once she took over the proceedings.  In the end we did quite well and I got some bras I’m fairly happy with, even if I don’t even want to think about the price tags attached to them.  It was good for me to have my girlfriend see the experience of bra shopping for herself (she doesn’t wear a bra very often) and confirm that I’m not overreacting.

She was struck by how overwhelmingly heteronormative the shop is – everything’s pink and you’re surrounded by “testimonies” from customers going on and on and on about their “assets” (I so hate that term). She also saw how subtly coercive it all is.  There’s less privacy than in most clothes shops; you’re herded around and subjected to the suggestion that you don’t know what’s best for you. They claim to be looking after you personally, but they’re not really. They never have all the sizes in the shop, so you still end up feeling like a freak. They imply that you should have one bra size, but this is crap because the brands are all slightly different so you need different sizes depending on the brand.  The marketing makes huge assumptions about the women who come into the store and basically, the entire presentation seems designed to make anyone other than a white, heterosexual, feminine, non-disabled woman feel incredibly uncomfortable.

A barely coherent rant about bras

Every now and then, I wake up in the morning extremely uncomfortable in my own body.  This always leads to BRA ANGST. I try on every bra in my collection (which is only about 5 because bras in my size are fucking expensive), find each of them wanting, and threaten to cry.  Most of the time, I somehow manage to ignore the bra problem, but when it forces itself on my consciousness I become infuriated about the fact that I do not own a single bra that makes me happy.  The most comfortable one I own gives me a uni-boob and makes me look like I’ve experienced some kind of cosmetic surgery disaster (at least this one was cheap).  My two sports bras give good support, but dig into my rib cage in a way that becomes painful by evening.  The nicest bra I own gives good shape, but not fantastic support.

I have been professionally fitted and the bras I’ve been sold are still NOT COMFORTABLE.  At my size, almost all bras and under-wired and I don’t care what anyone says, these things are NOT COMFORTABLE.  Having wires around your boobs and incredibly tight elastic around your ribcage is NOT COMFORTABLE. The best I can say is I’ve got used to it.  And I’m sorry, braless feminists, for me, going braless is not comfortable either; I’m very top heavy and engaging in any vigorous physical activity without a bra is positively painful.

Of course, one of the problems with bras is the way they try and mould our bodies to conventions that have nothing to do with nature – pert, firm, lifted and separated. My bra shop informs me that their bras will “lift my breasts up to where they’re supposed to be”. Um “supposed to be”? by whose standards?  Since this is not how breasts are naturally supposed to look, it obviously takes strenuous effort on the part of the bra to get them into this position, hence discomfort.

There is only one shop where I can find bras to fit me and every time I enter it, I do so in an embattled state of mind. It’s not just the frustration of the difficulty in finding a bra that fits, it’s the heteronormativity – the insistence on femininity, the assumption that all I want to do with my breasts is “make the most of my curves” (read: attract men), the general implication that comes in all the advertising that, “Well, you may be fat, but at least you’ve got big boobs and men like big boobs so you’re probably not a complete failure as a woman!”.  The one “soft cup” bra in the entire collection (rarely in the actual shop) is accompanied in the catalogue by the suggestion that you might be a bit weird for wanting “everyday comfort”.

The fact that it’s such a damn struggle to find a bra with even a moderately good fit (standing in a changing cubicle with bras piling up beside you and an increasingly flustered sales woman is a very disheartening experience), you start to feel as if it’s your body that’s somehow wrong.  But it’s not, what’s wrong is the idea that women’s bodies can be standardised. Women are always being told that most of us are wearing the “wrong size bras”, as if it’s women that are stupid rather than the bras.  Surely there’s something wrong with the bra production system if so few women are able to find bras that fit them!

The real problem is of course that women are highly individual in this area and in a sensible world, all women who want to wear them would be able to have good quality, affordable bespoke bras made for them individually.