Friday, July 13

Fat visibility and the Fattylympics

I was lucky to be stallholding at the fantastic Fattylympics, which was held in East London this weekend and organised by Charlotte Cooper, Kay Hyatt and so many other amazing people. The event was a satirical community event, protesting the impact of the Olympics upon East London (and London in general). I loved being present at the event for so many reasons – diversity, fun, laughing and being able to spend time in a community of people that I value so much. I went feeling nervous (I am not great at stallholding, or talking to people) and a bit worried about whether I’d be able to cope, and left feeling light hearted, full of ideas and empowered. I still can’t quite articulate how amazing the event was, how funny and life affirming the activism was. Fat acceptance is so often about SERIOUS BUSINESS STUFF – not that this wasn’t also, but the silliness and use of humour on our own terms was just so energising and necessary. Before I start moaning about what else happened on the day, please have a look at these photographs and Charlotte’s beautiful account as organiser.

I found out early this week that reporters from the Daily Mail had reported on the event, producing an article which, of course, pokes fun at the abundance of the attendees, makes inevitable jokes about how much food was consumed on the day and managed to get the entire point of the event wrong, as well as confusing the organiser with an attendee. The reporter and photographer came to the event despite the organisers publicly requesting that no journalists were present – they hadn’t asked permission, neither did they bring up their presence at any point, and the images taken from the day were published without so much as a model release or a fact check taking place. I don’t expect anything from the Daily Mail, I’ve never read anything from them apart from sensationalist, spectacularly incorrect and hate mongering writing, but it did make me think a lot about the price of visibility. This was a relatively small community event, with maybe 150 attendees, a peaceful protest that gained the attention of the mainstream media because of our fat – not because of the politics of the event itself, just because it was an easy opportunity to exploit for their own benefit.

I am angry about representations of fat in mainstream media because it perpetuates the idea that it is necessary for our collective health – it will help to make us all realise that changing our bodies is necessary, that it’s all for our own good instead of for what is largely an aesthetic norm. The thing is, the majority of reporting about fat isn’t about health or anything with any rational reasoning behind – it’s about hate. If the people that reported about the obesity epidemic actually gave a shit about our physical and mental health, they wouldn’t photograph us without our permission, sell our (generally headless) bodies on – and if editors really cared, they wouldn’t fill their articles with this imagery. They’d focus their lifestyle articles on health at every size, and on healthy food without attaching an inevitable weight loss/diet goal alongside it. It’s not essential to include this with a recipe, or an exercise review – but it happens constantly, nonetheless, because it’s presumed to be a common goal.

Similarly, if anyone really gave a shit about my health, maybe they’d make it easier for me to exercise in a public space without verbal and sometimes physical harassment. I get shouted at on my bike constantly – sometimes in tunnels and on main roads in ways that could make me swerve and hurt myself. They’d make it possible for me to be in public without the fear that someone is photographing me, or possible to walk through the city centre at night without being verbally abused. The thing is, all of this fat hate is nothing to do with health at all – it’s all to do with aesthetics, with how we look and how we use our fat. The people that abuse me don’t want me healthy, they want me to acknowledge my inferiority or to become invisible/not there at all. Visibility is not an option.

Hearing about this hit pretty close to home with me, because it’s a prime illustration of what the price of being visible is. We were having fun, hell, we were being active, and this had to happen. I wish it were possible to find accounts of the event in mainstream media that understood the point of the event, but it’s perhaps too much to expect anyone to see past such an easy opportunity. 

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