Who Cares That Lady Gaga’s Fat? Apparently, we do.

Since the revelation that Lady Gaga has put on weight, it seems like everybody has had something to say about her body. From the Daily Mail calling her “meaty” to feminists’ response to this fat shaming. It seems that Lady Gaga’s body is not her own. She is either so skinny it’s worrying, or fat enough to be laughed at. The media has been called out for fat-shaming a woman who has a history of eating disorders and feminists have jumped up in defence of Gaga’s extra pounds. I agree wholeheartedly with Jezebel that we should not criticise Lady Gaga’s body. But what right do we have to talk about it at all?

It’s true that I have been critical of Lady Gaga’s weight in the past. I thought that, amazing as she is, her super skinniness was not a good role model for the women who admire her. If even Lady Gaga has to be emaciated to be successful, what hope is there for the rest of us? I agreed with some of my friends’ celebration of her new, fatter figure. It’s great to see a curvier woman out there, kicking pop butt. But now, I am wondering, what right do I have to criticise Lady Gaga’s body at all?

Lady Gaga’s response to fat shaming, posted on her website, Little Monsters

It’s a sad fact that a woman’s body is not her own. It is never just the body of an individual, it always means something else. We scrutinise women’s bodies and attach values to their every (fat and thin) part. A woman’s body always has social meaning.

A woman is not only judged when she puts on weight, but also when she loses it. It’s not only emotionally unhealthy to force women to meet a super skinny ideal of beauty, but also to comment on her fat, or lack of, or eating habits at all.

As Ilona Burton said in the Independent, who cares about Lady Gaga’s fat? But the problem is, we all care, of course we do. Fat is a feminist issue. (Damn right Susie Orbach.) And it’s not only fat, dear readers. That’s fat, lack of it and the arbitrary rules we use to categorise each other as ‘fat’ or ‘thin.’

Let’s face it, this whole Lady Gaga scandal has nothing to do with the shape of her thighs. It’s about a successful woman. It’s about a 26-year-old woman who is one of the richest and most influential people in the world. Fat and beauty shaming are the most effective controls we have to keep women down. How many of us wouldn’t cry if we were told we looked fat in that outfit?

I can’t help but admire Gaga’s response to this outcry. On Tuesday, she came out as a recovering bulimic and anorexic and posted pictures of her in bra and pants on her website.  She then started a page on her site called Body Revolution (you need to sign up) and encouraged her fans to “post a photo of you that shows your triumph over insecurities”.  Gaga is now, along with Ashley Judd, one of my fave female celebs. To use this criticism as an opportunity to encourage us all to celebrate our freaky, beautiful bodies is wonderful. (You’ll probably never read me being so mushy again.) It brings a tear to this fatty’s eye.

You Are NOT What You Eat

I long for the day, when I can say ‘I’m hungry’ and it doesn’t mean ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’ or ‘I’m a failure.’ I write about my personal relationship with food, mean girls, and how food is never just nutrition for any woman.

Wahoo! First post from the U of K, on my way to Canadia. I said I be back… Eat your heart out Arnold Schwarzenneger… Let me know what you think 🙂

A friend of mine said to me this Summer that women are constantly in competition with each another. This was a real penny drop moment for me. I was, like, wow that is so true! That’s the reason so many of my female friendships have hiccups! Because we are constantly trying to be better than each other!

I think this competition is especially noticeable around body image. I know, like, a million other people have said it before, but women are taught by the media and our culture that we are only valued in terms of our looks. It makes sense to me then that we try to gain power by being the prettiest girl out there.

I find it difficult to relate to other women because I am taught that my worth lies in my body. I am always trying to be prettier, thinner, hotter than the next girl. I find it deeply hurtful when someone I like fancies my thin friend and not me. I know intellectually that if someone fancies a thin person, it doesn’t mean they won’t like fat me. But, emotionally, it just doesn’t compute.

Women often put the next girl down in order to make ourselves feels better. ‘Oh my God, she’s so fat, she shouldn’t be wearing that mini skirt/vest/bikini!’ Of course, this really doesn’t work. This is mean, and being a mean girl doesn’t make you happy. But, more importantly, it also makes you feel bad about yourself. When I think Ew, that girl is so fat! I am also hating the fat parts of myself. And self-hating just isn’t fun.

Me aged 19. I thought I was fat. Also, witness the cool trousers. Later in the evening, I didn’t want them to get ruined in the rain so I took them off and ran half-naked with them stuffed under my vest.

Today I saw a girl I used to go on the school bus with, like, a million years ago. Like me, she has always been fat – most would say ‘chubby’ – but, unlike me, she was always very chatty and seemed more at home in herself. As a child I always wondered, how can she fat and happy? For me, it always felt that being fat was stopping me from being happy. Now, of course, I realise it’s not fat per se that makes me unhappy; it’s all the energy I devote to self-hating. I believe that if I am thin I will be more attractive, successful and loved. I have been spending a lot of my energy recently trying to deconstruct the idea that I am only worth something in so far as I am conventionally pretty. I am trying to embrace my fat.

Seeing this girl again today after so many years, I was struck by how thin she was. Her face seemed deflated, flat, pulled tight, and all the freckles had been pushed together into one solid colour. Normally jolly, she seemed kind of bitchy. Is that because she’s starving? I wondered. I know she’s getting married soon. Maybe it’s for the wedding.

I know so many women of my age (late twenties/early thirties) and class (middle) who starve themselves. Dieting seems to be the thing to do. I often say to friends when we talk about eating, or fat, that I don’t know one woman who doesn’t have a disordered relationship with eating. Sadly, I think this is true.

The unhealthiness of my own obsession with really hit home when another friend, bored in her last year of university, told me she was thinking about eating all the time. What was normal for me was new for her. The revelation that not everyone is as obsessed about food as I am cast some light on my own habits. I’ve recently realised that I use food as a block, either to stop myself from writing or to make myself feel better when I find writing emotionally hard. I have all these great ideas, but I can’t write now, I’m too full. Too jumped up on sugar to sit down and write.

Sometimes I think that I am trying to fill a hole with the wrong substance.Sometimes I think that if I write enough, I will forget to eat and then I will be thinner. I long to be thinner. Sometimes I think that my relationship with food is so fucked up, I despair of ever being healthy.

Food is never just food for me, or for any woman. Food is moral, food is ‘naughty.’ Food is fat and thin. Food is beauty, happiness and being loved. Food is everything.

Every time I eat I think about my body. Even when I am satisfied and it is delicious I think, great, now I won’t want to eat anything else today and I’ll lose weight. It’s compulsive. It’s really fucking sad. And you know what? Being obsessed with food is boring. It’s boring for me and it’s boring for the people who know me. As writer Laurie Penny’s sister said to her about Penny’s anorexia:

“You were no fun at all when you were ill. You were always talking about food, and even when you didn’t it was obvious you were thinking about it. It was just miserable to be in the same room as you, to be totally honest. You just weren’t you.”

Laurie Penny, ‘Life Tastes Better Than Skinny Feels’

You are grumpy and boring when you starve yourself. Julia Robert’s character in romcom Notting Hill says, ‘I’ve been on a diet every day since I was 19, which basically means I’ve been hungry for a decade.’ Sometimes I wonder if most women feel like this. When I was 18 and at my thinnest, all I thought about, every day was food. I would plan my food meticulously, down to the timing, the amount. A bowl of muesli for breakfast, an apple for a snack when I got really hungry. A bowl of pasta for dinner and – my daily tasteless treat – a mug of Cadbury’s Highlights before bed.

The association of eating with sin and not eating with virtue is such a well known truism that’s it feels trite to even write. But when are we women going to stop measuring our own worth in calories? I long for the day when I can just eat and not translate it into how much fat is going onto my body. I long for the day, when I can say ‘I’m hungry’ and it doesn’t mean ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’ or ‘I’m a failure’ but it just means I want something to eat.

Mmm, this sandwich tastes good!

Further reading:

A Timeline of One Girl’s Relationship with Fat

“I want to disappear”

Burlesque: Sexy or Sexist?

My Breasts and the Bras That Don’t Fit Them

I’m Not Leaving You!

Hello awesome people. Some of you have been asking me, since I left Berlin a few days ago, if I intend to keep blogging. And the answer is YES YES a thousand times YES! I have a lot of posts on the go and maybe even some new plans for the site. Keep tuned in…

But back to the most exciting news of today. Well, not new news. More old, but still definitely very pretty. For those of you who still haven’t seen them, I decided to post a small selection of the wonderful and beautiful photos of The Berlin Femme Show 2012. They are so beautiful, I want you to see them too! Check out the slideshow below. A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

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Please don’t reproduce them without asking permission from the photographers Simson Petrol or Sara Svärtan Persson first. Slideshow can be viewed permanently under Performances tab.

Bye Bye Berlin, Hello World

Sitting here on my last morning in Berlin, I am trying to remember all the things that have made these past 2 years monumental for me. This blog is one of them. I have, finally, started to write on a regular basis and I am so much happier for it. I also organised The Femme Show 2012 and conceived and edited a collective zine about sexism. Berlin, you have meant so much to me. Berlin, you have driven me crazy and helped me get sane. Thank you.

A few people asked me if I intend to keep blogging here, and I am happy to say yes of course! I will be travelling into new patriarchal territory in Canada and I am sure there will be stuff there to blog (bitch) about in witty detail. Do keep checking in for updates on what I’m doing and thoughts about sexism. Who knows, this might even turn into a book.

The Berlin Femme Show 2012 @ Lido; copyright Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

As I sort my clothes and do all the tiny annoying things you have to do when you move country, I am surprisingly sad. I thought I would be so happy to leave; so happy. I have been waiting for this for years. To return to Canada. To leave the place of my depression and grey Winters, foreign languages and foreign customs.

Talking with a few friends who thank me for the femme activism I have done here, they remind me that I have made more connections than I expected. More connections than I wanted, even. I never wanted to be here. I never wanted to stay here. I always hated here.

That is one of my biggest problems; I never want to be now. I always want to be in the future. Then, when I live in Canada. Then, when I have a girlfriend. Then, when I am happy. I am getting better at learning the only time to be happy is now.

I am so sad to leave. I have more friends than I expected. I have loved more than I expected, despite stubbornly trying not to. ‘I’m not going be let them in, I don’t want them to know me.’ Sticks head under cover. This stubbornness competes with my real desire, hidden behind the defensiveness, to be loved and understood and to love back. I have always understood. Have you understood me?

Getting ready for The Femme Show, copyright Sara Svärtan Persson

Hence the writing, the performance, the activism. I have literally taken my clothes off on stage. My therapist explains my clumsy metaphors; you’re playing with your sexual boundaries, you have control [burlesque link]. I take centre stage. My unrealised performance of boxing my way through cardboard boxes, fighting to get free. Metaphor of being boxed in. Using my boxing training to break free.

I’ve aired my most secret thoughts, published them in a zine and here, and dared you to attack me. Femmephobic, transphobic? I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, and I know I am none of them. I push back. I cause deliberate controversy. I test the ground.

Berlin is a great place to experiment and learn new skills. The comparatively low cost of living here means that lots of bright young things from all over the ‘Western’ world have come to work. Studios are cheap, skills workshops are often free. People are willing to share their skills. New collaborations are continuously forming and dissolving. Writers become burlesque dancers become event promoters become bloggers. So many possibilities. Thank you Berlin.

I always knew this wouldn’t be the place for me to settle down, and I guess predictions are self-fulfilling. I never wanted 100% to be here; I’ve always had my heart somewhere else. Although I am glad these years are past, I am surprised by how much they have contained. There has been The Berlin Femme Show 2012, Dressed Like That zine, this blog, workshops on femmephobia in Copenhagen, Leipzig, Goettenberg and Hamburg. Friends that have passed through the city, leaving a little bit of love behind. A tiny bit of sugar left on the candy apple.

It’s been a really hard two years, and I’ve learnt a lot. And despite trying to live in the future too much, I am excited about my thirties. I turn 30 on the day the Mayan’s predicted the world would end. This will be two months after moving to Canada. I am hoping this new era will mean a change in consciousness for me, and for the planet. Maybe we’ll realise we’re living unsustainably and take care of the Earth? I am such a cheese bag.

Performing at the Femme Show; copyright Simson Petrol

I’d like to pretend this is an Oscars acceptance speech for one minute and thank all my lovely friends, old and new, for believing in me. I am blessed. I often forget that, but I am. I’d like to thank everyone who supported with kind words and actions and helped out with The Berlin Femme Show and Dressed Like That zine. I am sorry we never got those goodie bags to you. That’s what happens when two over-achieving femmes try to take over the world. Our desires can exceed our time-management skills. Don’t forget we still love you, despite this forgetfulness.

I also want to thank my good friend Rosebutt for believing in me as a performer. I still don’t really believe in myself, but I have tried to accept the praise from an artist I admire so fucking much. Trash Deluxe and its other organisers Kay P. Rinha and Nicopatra have created a great space for aspiring performers to test their ideas. My close friends for believing in me, and for scraping me off the floor when I needed it. Other Nature for selling my zine and Maedchenmannschaft for linking my posts.

It’s been a momentous two years, and I hope you accompany me into new blogging and geographical territory. Bye bye Berlin, hello Canada!

Still from Femme Show, copyright Simson Petrol

Am I asking for it?

Part 2 of 2 on parties: norms in straight vs. queer spaces, how to create a safer atmosphere and is there such a thing as unspoken consent?

Last week, I was really enraged at the sexist dynamics of a party, which had advertised itself as a respectful, erotic place for people of all persuasions. I felt like the lack door policy, and the permission of cameras, led to a sexist dynamic of straight men in casual clothes ogling women dressed-up in erotic wear. I was frustrated that the organisers hadn’t reinforced their door policy and allowed people in who were not on the guest list. I thought they needed to take responsibility for the atmosphere of the parties they create and acknowledge where they go wrong.

The vibe of this party got me thinking about the difference between this, a mixed party for straight and queer people, and queer parties for queers. My experience of mixed parties is, sadly, that I often feel the ‘freaky queers’ are being objectified by the ‘normal’ straight people. I get angrily defensive of my people when I feel we are put on display for the titillation of straight people. When we are just expressing our freaky selves in an atmosphere that we assumed would be safe.

Although I have many criticisms of the dynamics of queer communities, I do think there are some things we do well. Although our attempts to talk about hierarchies and prejudices are flawed, at least we are trying to talk about them. I don’t like imposing a blanket ban on straight men from spaces, because there are some straight men I would like to flirt with. But last week reminded me of how blessed I am that I can sometimes go to a party where I can dress like a pretty slut, and feel safe doing that.

Slutwalk NYC 2011

Last week I promised I would answer the tricky question, ‘is there such a thing as unspoken consent?’ Hmm. I really do set myself up for challenges, don’t I? I don’t really want to discuss sexual consent here, but I do want to discuss the norms of queer parties. I appreciate queer scene attempts to cultivate a respectful atmosphere where people feel safe. I have seen this a lot in Berlin around the treatment of trans folks at FLT (Women, Lesbian, Trans) parties. In our invitations to events, such as on Facebook, we use the space to lay out rules; how we imagine the space is going to be. We suggest what kind of atmosphere we are trying to cultivate. There is a leaflet that sometimes circulates on Berlin toilet doors that is a guide to the respectful treatment of trans folk. For the alternative pride march in Berlin, a group of femmes also made a guide to respecting femmes for the Berlin community, which has a history of not being so hot in femme respect.

When organising The Berlin Femme Show 2012 I got annoyed at how fussy people were about photographers and wouldn’t let people photograph them, but now I understand it a bit more. I hate to feel put on a stage, my freaky femininity, eroticism or queerness there for the entertainment of ‘normal’ others. I feel this especially when I am not performing. I expect and want attention when I do burlesque. I also want sexual attention from other queers at parties. But I see now that things like a ban on cameras helps to create a respectful atmosphere where no-one feels like they are being the freak and non-consensually performing for others.

Two days ago, a pretty shitty incident happened outside a mixed queer/straight club in Berlin. The party offered free entry to Queens and Kings, and because I couldn’t afford the entry fee, I decided to get changed into my Queen outfit on the street. This involved taking off my jeans to reveal stockings, putting on high-heeled boots and taking off my top so that all I was wearing were sparkly tit tassles and a net cardigan. A Queen indeed. Unfortunately, some drunk teenage boys took my near nudity as an excuse to come right up to me and stare at me, make some rude remarks and try to grab hold of me. My reaction to this was violent. I told them to fuck off and went to kick them. They left me alone after this threat, but I entered the party feeling angry with them, and guilty at my own violent reaction. Luckily, a friend was with me and escorted me to the door; otherwise I would have been afraid I would be attacked outright.

Perhaps I was naïve. Getting changed on the street and not expecting any unwanted attention. I had just come from being on a drag and burlesque stage, where I performed topless and was treated with nothing but respect by the audience. I think sometimes I forget that Berlin isn’t this big happy queer play space and that some men, when faced with a half-naked woman, think it’s their lucky day. A perfect opportunity to … what? I have no fucking idea what goes on in their heads at that moment. I pride myself on my empathy – my ability to understand others’ points of view, especially when I don’t agree with them – but I can’t imagine those teenage boys’ thought processes at that moment. I think it’s something to do with being macho, being in a group and wanting to show off to their friends. I don’t think they are thinking clearly. I think they are being drunk, and hyper and talking about girls and then they see a sexy girl and they do something really fucking stupid. I hope they feel bad about what happened. I bet, on some level, they do.

These two recent experiences have left me feeling exhausted by the fight for my bodily autonomy in straight spaces, and grateful that queer spaces do exist where sometimes, just sometimes, I can be who I am and not expect to be attacked for it.

I would also like to talk about violence as a response to sexual harassment. My instinctive reaction when attacked is to yell, swear and hit back. I have beat myself up about this but found it affirming to hear two feminine, queer lady friends of mine talk about their own violent reactions to being queer bashed or sexually assaulted. One told me she will kick and fight back until she sees understanding in their eyes that they have done wrong.

I would be interested to hear about your own reactions to sexist, homophobic or transphobic violence. How do you react and are these reactions deliberate or instinctive? How do you feel about the way you react?

Peace out.

‘I wore a corset; he wore jeans’ A.K.A. Why do men assume I’m dressed for their entertainment?

Hey guys! So, some of you may know this already, but I have a one year working visa for Canadia! Woop, woop! This means that I will sadly be leaving Berlin in 10 days, forever and ever and ever. Until I come to visit at least. It’s truly been a blast being here. Truly. I think I will blog about all the things I have learnt over my past 2 years here and post it soon. However, first things first. If you haven’t seen me perform and you want to, next Saturday is your last chance! I will be doing a solo at Berlin’s Trash-Deluxe. Sneaky sneak preview: I will be doing something involving oil and condoms. Oh, yeah.

Now, back to business. In this, the first of two posts on sexual norms at parties, I describe my adventures at an erotic salon. I ask, what dynamics do we agree to when we go to erotic spaces? Who is doing the looking at these events and how do we negotiate consent?

Last night I went to an erotic performance party. All in all, I am really glad I went. I got to see beautiful women doing bondage play and hang out in a small studio, where they showed silent porn films from the twenties in the cellar downstairs (so tempting to make silly voiceovers). I drank absinthe with flaming sugar dropped into the glass and chilled with an ice cube, and ate poached wild peaches with whipped cream. All of these things were great. However, as the night progressed, increasingly more men came into the private party. I was irritating by the increasing inequality of the gender ratio and couldn’t quite put my finger on why this bothered me, until my friend observed that none of these men were dressed up. This despite the fact that the event was promoted with a specific dress code, and the majority of the early party comers were dressed in extravagant, salon wear.

The kind of canape you might expect at an erotic salon

The erotic salon dress code had inspired all the early comers to wear clothes that suggested fantasies of 1920s Paris: flapper dresses, braces and white shirts, large kohled eyes and sculpted hair. Yet, nearly all the men that arrived after midnight were dressed in normal, casual Berlin wear: jeans, t-shirts, business suits and black shirts. One man even wore a beanie (not sexy!). Increasingly, the earlier participants were pushed to the walls while drunken men laughed and gestured raucously in the middle. The atmosphere of erotic tension and decadence that the organisers had been so careful to cultivate was destroyed as I gradually felt less comfortable and more angry at the shift in the dynamic.

My friend’s observation made me realise that I wasn’t just angry because a mixed queer-straight party had turned into an average Friday night heterosexual party, but also because the gender shift reinforced a really sexist dynamic of observer and observed.

As a promoter of themed parties, I know the importance of dress codes. Encouraging people to consider their outfits and dress especially for the occasion is an invitation to participate in the event. The sophisticated and sexy dress code for this party suggested that attendees would help to create the atmosphere of decadence, and were expected to participate in a respectful way, much in the same way as attendees of a sex party. Dress codes at sex and play parties are specifically necessary: tailoring your outfit to fit the event is a declaration that I am one of you, I am participating in this event; I am not merely an observer.

“the gender shift reinforced a really sexist dynamic of observer and observed”

Now, to be clear, this was not a sex party. This was a salon for erotic performers to network amongst ourselves, while enjoying an atmosphere of decadence and some subtle titillation from the performances. Making out was OK, however any bondage or more intense sexual encounters that weren’t part of a performance would have to wait for a less public space. It was a guest-list only event, and the dress code suggested sophisticated and sexy with a hint of smuttiness. Corsets and feathers and top hats were great; complete nudity would have been inappropriate.

Although it is normal to pay to get into erotic parties, this one was free and was promoted as a networking event for erotic performers. To me, this reinforced the idea that it was a participatory event. It was not as if we were paying money to watch performers on a stage. The canapés were free, and the drinks were cheap. The performers weren’t paid, and we therefore owed them respect. Of course, you should respect any sex performer that you see. But I kept thinking about London and how expensive a salon like this would be there and I realised that when you pay a lot of money for an event, you do expect the performers to perform for you. The cigarette girls walking around selling something, and the burlesque women and MCs in their expensive outfits are, then, there to be looked at (but not touched). You are paying for that experience of titillation; an erotic service. But as an attendee at a private party I had not bargained for performing for a group of drunken heterosexual men. I would have liked to flirt gently with a respectful man in a top hat, but I was not up for being the exotic treat on a straight lads’ night out.

The theme of the night was ‘don’t take a fucking picture of me, you jerk.’ I had to put my hand in front of the lens three times to stop a guy from photographing me eating. Another man sitting right next to us stared unblinkingly at my friend, as though she wasn’t really there, as if she were on a screen and he had paid to watch her. When he angled his camera at her face (he was close enough to touch her), I leaned forward and suggested, ‘maybe you should ask her before you take a photograph of her.’ It was only when I repeated myself that his eyes focused on me and realised that he was talking to a real-live human being and wasn’t going to get away with pure observation. He guiltily mumbled that he would delete the photo and soon afterwards disappeared into the crowd. The fact that he didn’t respond with a respectful, ‘I’m sorry, can I take a photo of you?’ but reacted as though I had shut him down, caught him in the act of doing something illicit, showed that he knew he had done something wrong.

“I would have liked to flirt gently, but I was not up for being the exotic treat on a straight lads’ night out”

At queer parties, or mixed parties where queers feel safe, I often don’t mind women taking photo of me. But every time a man tries to photograph me, especially when he doesn’t ask and assumes that it will be fine by me – that I have agreed to be there for his sexual entertainment – I, understandably, get really pissed off.

My friends and I concluded that what we was needed, as well as a stricter door policy, was an awesome detector. Like a metal detector, but which could detect awesomeness in straight men and admit them accordingly. I, personally, hope that one of you guys can invent this for me. At least, at the next party I organise, I am going to make damn sure that I enforce the dress code!

Check in next week for part two on the norms in straight vs. queer spaces, how to create a safer atmosphere and is there such a thing as unspoken consent?