A few years ago I wanted to create a club for fat activists called Girth Guides. I love coming up with cute names for things and after I stopped patting myself on the back I registered the domain and swore I’d do something with it. My vision was an online gathering place for activists to seek community and a bit of support, a place where they could take a break from the public and private activism work that all too often leads to burn out.
Shortly afterwards I experienced a mental breakdown and burnt out myself. Life became mostly about protecting myself and I ceased doing interviews and public writing and even meeting up with people and going to events. I never stopped my personal activism, and I never stopped experiencing fat stigma. It is a perpetual work, and it IS work. Many people don’t think they are doing labour when they are resisting and questioning systemic abuse and neglect. It takes a toll.
Girth Guides: Patches for Fat Activists
Last year I saw how many artists were producing their work in patches and I remembered Girth Guides. I remembered the reason why I wanted to belong, and why I wanted a recognition of my work; so with the encouragement of my friends and peers I started to create artwork for merit patches – a small part of the concept for Girth Guides but the most tangible element.
The idea was that people could validate their own experience and reward themselves for their merit. It’s about recognising how we struggle and survive and overcome. There is no measure of fatness or activism, no hurdles to jump or litmus tests.
The original Girth Guide patch collection
After an amazing crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, I was able to get 14 patches made and now I have distributed the rewards to my generous supporters I’m super pumped to announce they are now available on Fancy Lady Industries to purchase!
My personal pink collector’s sash modelled by my dress form. The whole collection of Girth Guides patches have been sewn on.
There’s a limited amount of collector’s sashes (if demand requires, I can make more!) and because I have some ultra special Patron of the Fats patches left over, I’m going to include one when you order the complete collection of patches in one transaction. These patches were offered for the very highest tier of pledges for the Pozible campaign and due to ordering minimums I do have leftovers but I do want to maintain exclusivity!
People seem to have this weird barrier between digital and non-digital life. Naively, the general consensus is that life away from the screen is “real life”, as if what you do on the internet doesn’t count. Online bullying has serious consequences and I think bullies carry on abusing people because they don’t consider themselves bullies if they do so via a keyboard. Employers admit that people aren’t hired on the basis of their public social media profiles, and crowd-sourcing campaigns have the power to significantly change someone’s life. Real life is digital life too.
So my beef today should not be dismissed as “Internet stuff” because it closely mimics the interactions women have with each other in face to face socialising; and while it is certainly not bullying or overt discrimination it contributes to a culture of feminised body shame. I follow a couple of fabric stores on facebook, hoping to be the first to hear about a bargain, however most of the time my feed is full of “cutesy” images about dieting and exercise that make me want to see if I can run my iPhone through my own sewing machine.
“A smile is the most beautiful curve on a woman’s body.”
“Calories (noun) Tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night.”
“Who you callin’ a fat quarter?”
I run my own pages, and I’m the first to admit my community building is pretty non-existent, but I absolutely abhor online community building targeted at women that leans heavily on the body, and how flawed it apparently is. Instead of building rapport with audiences about your products, inspiration and projects it seems the easy way out is to fall back on that time-honoured feminine adhesive: how to be skinnier, or at least look it. In my own life I refuse to engage in this topic with family and friends, and it’s really bloody hard to feel part of a group when you cut out body-snarking conversation filler.
It goes from “this food is just empty calories” to “god she looks like an anorexic velociraptor!” and all of it serves to redirect your focus away from meaningful living towards how desirable you can make your body, presumably for men considering the hetero-centric culture we live within. Facebook page owners continue this distraction seamlessly via humorous images that have us chortling “oh carbs, you fiends!” and hitting like.
I prefer to see actual products, the ways people have used them, inspirational photos relating to the topic of interest and most of all, discounts and special offers. Coming back to fabrics, and sewing as a skill, how is it that there is a lack of material to discuss on a page for a fabric shop? There’s a truly immense field of techniques to learn, with a rich history reaching back thousands of years. When people reduce sewing to a mere women’s past time it raises my ire, and conflating it with de rigueur body shaming hits not just angry buttons but shame switches too.
Just tell me what you sell and how useful it will be to me, and I won’t unlike your page.
Remember when I used to blog regularly? I had a lot to tell the world, a desire to be heard and seen. Writing to an audience was a novelty, a gentle fluffing of my ego after writing to no one in particular for most of my life. Hardly anyone was blogging in Australia, people wanted to talk to me, and I got opportunities to do exciting things even though I’m not the most fashionable or the most tactful or well spoken.
After being ignored by fashion all of my life, it felt empowering to be able to source and critique what little fashion was available to me. I spent what money I could on clothes and accessories, never wanting to fall behind other bloggers. As well as being fat, there were other things for me to deal with like mental illness and resultant joblessness. Maybe buying clothes wasn’t the best priority, but it made me feel good. I finally felt like I was part of a clique that lead, instead of followed (or got lost).
I never considered myself a 100% fatshion blogger, because I used too many words and got angry frequently, never fully being palatable enough for brands to consider sponsoring me. I was snubbed on many occasions, and this became more and more apparent as the number of Australian fatshion bloggers swelled. Newer, more congenial personalities were favoured, and I wasn’t surprised. I was categorised as too political, and fell back, feeling miffed but knowing that ultimately it was great that more fat people were speaking up.
Other things worked against me – ongoing mental health issues and hospitalisation kept me from blogging success. Blogging became about networking, personality and (frustratingly) looks. All the things I was terrible at. All the reasons why I felt so at home on the internet right from the beginning in the 90s. Due to my inability to form “relationships” with brands, I had to buy all the new clothes instead of being sent them. I couldn’t financially keep up with that, I didn’t make money out of my blog so it wasn’t worth that kind of investment. Even the advertising network I was part of stopped sending me opportunities and sponsorship offers, and the ones I did take up actually didn’t benefit me financially at all!
Clearly, many things about blogging were turning out to be much like the regular world I struggled to fit in with. Popular bloggers were white, less fat than me, certainly more conventionally attractive, and bought/ were gifted clothes frequently. Events in Australia for plus size fashion started occurring and were in “major” fashion hubs like Sydney or Melbourne, far away from Brisbane and the original Axis of Fat (a group of my friends and I based in Brisbane, among the first fat activist bloggers in Australia). Even when there were events closer to home, I could rarely bring myself to go due to now crippling social phobia.
The focus of fatshion blogs was fashion and consumption thereof, with rarely a critical lens applied. I began thinking more and more about capitalism and how it had tried to reject fat & fashionable people, but now shaped how people were seeing this emerging group of fatshion bloggers. The media requests that came into my email inbox were largely about fashion, and not about medical malpractice and neglect of fat people (which, I propose, is the actual killer in the so called “obesity epidemic”). The mainstream media had cottoned on to the fat activist movement in the blogosphere but only wanted to see us talk about fluffy topics, rather than bullying, harassment, abuse of human rights and denial of health care.
I don’t know why I seem to be talking in the past tense, because this is now. This is why I struggle to chit chat about whichever plus size brand is releasing poorly made, questionably fashionable, dubiously manufactured garments this season. I am angry at capitalist systems that not only abuse fat people for not looking good in clothes, or not providing fashionable clothes, but also make us feel some kind of imperative to spend above and beyond what we have to make up for our fat bodies. I’m angry that blogging is now just a new funnel for PR and marketing people, and most bloggers rarely get paid what mainstream media workers do for providing the same service. Being paid in clothing is NOT being paid in cash money.
I’m disillusioned with this whole fat blogging game. If I blog about clothes, readers will come. If I blog about politics, I am rarely engaged. Mostly, I struggle to put words together these days. I am on a lot of medication to function as neurotypically as possible (for me), and my ability to write and read has deteriorated. Remember when I was a blogger? Am I still a blogger if no one reads this stuff? If I don’t get free clothes? If I challenge dominant ideas? If I can’t afford to keep up? If I am sick, fat, and unattractive?
I was going to write a big post about my (and Nick and Miffy’s!) appearance last night on The Project but I have compiled a rushed recap instead because I had to get off the couch to do this and we are in a co-dependent relationship. First, here is the video for your viewing pleasure (if you are outside Australia it may not work but give it a go anyway.) I’m anticipating that this embed won’t work, so here’s a link to the video on the website.
We open with the classic fat zinger footage, headless fatties and motorised scooters. Fat people going about their days having their butts filmed without permission, drinking drinks and shopping for food like they aren’t essential requirements for living or anything.
Dr Cat Pause arrives and is cute! I want to be sure to stress that we need to step away from the good fatty/ bad fatty dichotomy. It’s not helpful. Also, some fat people are unhealthy (i.e. live with disability and disease) and it’s not for reasons you might automatically assume by looking at them. Some thin people are unhealthy (i.e. live with disability and disease) and you might dismiss that because their bodies are read as healthy. Quit the oversimplification of body size, health and disability, ok? It harms people.
Screencap of Nick and I sitting on our couch.
It’s not really called Fat Pride, or that’s not what Nick and I identify with. We say we are fat activists. There are zero things wrong with being proud of your body (at whatever size) but it’s hard for many fat people to find pride because of the burden of stigma, and “fat pride” doesn’t welcome those folks. We talk about stigma, frustration, ill treatment and at a very basic level, try to reach people with the message that fat people are humans and we have heads.
Nick and I arrive. We talk about stigma against fat people. Dr Sam Thomas arrives, talks about overstatement of risks of being fat.
Screencap of Anna Peeters, expert of not letting fatties into her club. Hand drawn text says “No fatties club soz”.
Anna Peeters arrives, we are worrying her with our fatness, she is part of a society for obesity. I wonder if any fat people are in that society? Probably not. Her testimony about health risks makes aforementioned fatties seem all footloose and fancy free, but fails to consider the non-fat related illnesses they have. Also it’s very nice they care so much about scaring fat people, I wonder if Stephen King advises them on their thriller skillz. Can we get a price check on who is funding the ANZOS please? Considering Peeters worked for C.O.R.E at Monash, who are funded in part by Allergan (A LAP BAND MANUFACTURER), I am highly dubious.
Screencap of me walking Miffy on a leash, the camera is at her height! Also hearts are everywhere.
Peeters redeems the case for fat stigma when she says it exists. Unfortunately most viewers probably didn’t believe us when we said that first. Thomas agrees, SOCIETY IS FIGHTING FAT PEOPLE. All we wanna do is have a groovy time and daydream about unicorns — WAIT THERE IS MIFFY. Nick and I demonstrate that we can walk.
Screencap of a close up on my hands typing. Hand drawn text says “bloggin bloggin bloggin”.
Screen cap of me concentrating really hard on sending out laser beams.
Happy music, focus on our blogging! Dramatic music change, I am concentrating very hard on doing up a jump ring on my fat necklace for the 100th time. Peeters bastardises the Sound of Music and stages an elaborate number called, “How do you solve a problem like fat people?”
Screen cap of Nick concentrating on making people fat with laser beams.
Screenshot of The Project panelists: Lehmo, Charlie, Kath and Waleed. A speech bubble says “We have opinions” and text saying NOT FAT with arrows points to each person.
We return to comments from non-fat panelists because they have feelings and opinions.
Charlie Pickering says we do judge people based on weight. Another thin person legitimising things fat people said first! I would give him a cookie but I ate them all.
Waleed Aly pulls out the concern troll card, which coincidentally wields an internet connection and a false sense of entitlement if you look closely. He thinks we are driven to being fat by stigma. Oh so it’s not like our bodies and personal health, environment, class, race, gender have anything do do with it. Thinking is hard for many non-fat people.
Kath Robinson admirably doesn’t even bother with concern – FAT PEOPLE ARE INTENTIONALLY BEING FAT AND STIGMATISING THEMSELVES. “These people could potentially be unhealthy and risk bad health problems!” Like suicide and death by neglectful health professionals or NOT seeking medical help because they know they’ll be treated awfully! At this stage I am laughing bitterly and bringing fat forehead to fat palm with rapid and great energy.
Lehmo, who only has one name because he is special and important, winds up for his big finish: “if you need a motorised cart to get around then you need to lose weight”. What ableist guff that doesn’t consider the intersection of fat & disability! (Not that I expected that degree of nuance on a light entertainment teev program.) Fat people on scooters don’t do it because they think it’s cool and hip and that people will say “SWEET RIDE YOU ARE COOL”. Fat people on scooters get abused because they are fat and SO RUDELY using mobility tools to move about their lives!
It’s been a bit of a bumpy start to the year so I’ve been trying to take care of myself as best I can, but the upshot has been having more time to create. Actually my frenzied swings between furious output and overwhelming fatigue and depression have caused concern for my psychiatrist, no kidding, which means I might have my diagnosis changed. Which is another bump on the dodgy bitumen of 2012.
Without delving too deeply into all that super raw stuff, here are some drawings I’ve produced. The first two are commissioned digital illustrations of Lillian and Jaimielee (the Fancy Bonanza winner); the rest are further explorations of ugly/ vain/ amazing/ perfectly cromulent embodiment.
Illustration of Lillian, who is fat and pale skinned, wearing a sheer black blouse with a red polka dot pencil skirt and red shoes. She stands on a checkerboard walkway in space!
Illustration of Jaimielee, a fat babe of colour with orange hair, helping her fluffy white dog Muscles stand up in the middle of a suburban street. Jaimielee wears a blue chevron striped top with a grey cardigan and blue jeans; Muscles wears a cute grumpy puppy face.
Illustration of myself (with longer blue hair) wearing a disdainful look upon my face and a singlet that says "Don't invalidate my ugly."
Illustration of a fat babe with brown skin and candy pink hair standing astride a yellow bike with a basket full of flowers, books, food and a white puppy.
Illustration of a babe with white skin, zits and huge honey coloured hair looking in a hand mirror. A speech bubble above says, “Look at yourself!” and text on the mirror says, “Stop looking at yourself.”
My ugly exploration seems to be dividing people fairly sharply down the centre; some find they can not get across reclamation because of their relationship with the word, or how it seems to reinforce beauty ideals/ a binary between ugliness and beauty, while others find it resonates strongly with their experiences. I am listening to a lot of feedback on the topic and it’s been terribly complex to navigate through it all, because I am not objective and am swayed by my own experience and embodiment.
One thing is patently clear: I can never seek to speak on behalf of any other person when it comes down to identity. I can reflect on what it’s like to be fat, disabled, acned, cisgendered and white and how my body has been viewed as ugly. I can not ever know what it is like to be a person of colour or trans, and I can not ever understand how the word “ugly” can hurt someone who isn’t me.
I am now very concerned about my use of people of colour in this series of drawings because it’s pretty messed up of me, a white person, to reinforce that dominant and damaging idea that people of colour are ugly because they aren’t white. Unless I am drawing a person of colour who identifies as ugly, I will not put that identity on them in the future. It’s not down to me to reclaim anything on behalf of any marginalised person who isn’t me, and I apologise for not checking my white privilege.
My thoughts on the ugly concept are still muddled and having the opportunity to read and listen to discussion prompted by my drawings is of such great value, whether people are vehemently opposed to OR empowered by the concept of ugly reclamation. I know that when I reclaim ugly for me, I don’t want to stop using the word “beautiful” and other synonyms for beauty, like lovely and gorgeous and hot and cute. It’s not a case of one or the other, it’s knowing I can be ugly cute and rock the shit out of it. I want to cease fretting about being acceptably palatable to the world and be more concerned with maximising my already present awesomeness.
Finally I’ll just add this video clip for Ugly by 2NE1. Zoe showed it to me the other night and I wanted to make sure I included it in my information gathering so I would be reminded to look for commentary on the song, video, and band.
Like many people, I’ve spent a long time fretting over being ugly. Beauty, or being pale and smooth skinned, able bodied, straight haired, thin, with symmetrical features amongst many others of varying arbitrariness, seems to be rewarded with good times, pay rises, attention, excused speeding tickets, prolific representation in the mass media, romantic partners and popularity. So every time I’ve been rejected or passed over I’ve simply put it down to being ugly. I used to get incredibly upset when I perceived my blemished skin and fat belly to be holding me back from success, popularity, romance and otherwise.
As I got more into fat activism I started to realise that the problem wasn’t me, it was this construct of beauty, and while it was nice to know it might not all be my fault… it still didn’t feel good to embody ugliness and to be treated poorly because of that. Not everyone has thought me ugly, but those that haven’t (and do not) surprise me!
As a blogger posting photos of their outfits it feels like ugliness still holds me back – because when I look at the most popular bloggers, they all embody and uphold traditional beauty standards and practices. I do not. The other day I was thinking about this, and trying not to blame myself for not being a beautiful and successful blogger, and I realised that maybe embracing ugliness was an answer. I will never have smooth skin. I doubt I’ll ever shave regularly again. I have visible tattoos, piercings, stretch marks, and scars. I am fat. I am not particularly graceful. I laugh loudly. I don’t cross my legs. Yet I still identify as femme, because it’s important to me to embrace a femmeness that challenges my culture’s screwed up notions of femininity and beauty.
Illustration of a fat person in a pink polka dot bra and undies with stretchmarks and hairy legs sitting above a banner that says "Ugly femme pride".
I don’t have to be beautiful, and I don’t owe it to anyone either. It took me two years to fully understand this after first reading Lesley Kinzel’s Uninvested in Being Beautiful. I was so struck by this epiphany today that I decided to draw it. UGLY FEMME PRIDE!
This illustration is available on t shirts, stickers, mugs, posters, bags, etc on Red Bubble, Spreadshirt and Cafe Press. (Cafe Press has plus sized t shirts!)
I was hoping to draw the Fancy Bonanza prize today so I went to look through the hashtag on Twitter and discovered… I couldn’t see tweets older than 6 days old! Argh! I thought I had 30 days of the hashtag archive to play with! This meant that I couldn’t draw the prize in good faith because two days of entries had been wiped from Twitter’s history and a bunch of people would miss out on the giveaway even though they’d entered. BAD TWITTER.
After having a minor panic attack, Nick’s helped me think through the solution. We’ll be re-running the giveaway and this time we are tracking the hashtag entries in a number of RSS readers (yay backups!) The #fancybonanza redux will now close December 14th at 12pm AEST (+10GMT), and I’m going to be giving away TWO more necklaces (blue and green) to two runners up.
It really blows that everyone has to re-enter the draw and I’m so sorry we weren’t aware of this Twitter limitation before we ran it. I’m so bummed out because I wanted to ensure that the winner would receive their necklace and brooch by Christmas!
Let’s do this again!
The grand prize!
• an ivory No Diet Talk brooch,
• purple hologram fat necklace and
• a custom digital portrait of you.
One of two runners up prizes
• a blue or green fat necklace.
Follow: @fancyladyind on Twitter
Tweet: I REALLY want to win the #fancybonanza!
(Just once is all it takes!)
A photo of two No Diet Talk brooches in black and ivory pinned to my green singlet.
First you could declare your site a No Diet Talk zone, and now you can set boundaries around your body with a No Diet Talk brooch! Horah! I’ve probably timed this super well with the party season coming up, but it was just a happy and fortuitous accident.
A photo of corn flour that has been sifted over the No Diet Talk brooch and left behind a lovely powdery stencil.
You can wear the brooch on your person or you can sift powder over the acrylic to create political baked goods and hot beverages too! Try it with icing sugar, coloured coconut or cocoa and create a fabulous diet talk free zone over the next month, a serene bubble away from the party goers who like to shame themselves and others for eating delicious holiday food.
No Diet Talk brooches are available to buy right now on
I'm a fat, crafty lady who lives just outside Brisbane, Australia with my husband and my one-eyed dog. I'm an avid pen collector who holds funerals for them when they die. I've been wearing clothes since 1980 and sewing them since 1995.
I make jewellery and other trinkets and sell it all on Fancy Lady Industries.