Queer Feminism’s Closeted Sexism?

It’s my 30th birthday today! To celebrate the occasion I have decided to reproduce on my most controversial, and heartfelt, pieces from the year. My question to you, is: Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?

I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.

Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.

Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012
Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012

As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.

I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.

We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.

Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol
Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol

Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?

I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it.  How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.

The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.

© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/
© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?

‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’.  We hear this quite often. Don’t we?

Well, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.

Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.

The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.

Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.

As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.

It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.

Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show
Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show © Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.

What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.

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5 Movies to Watch When You’re Unemployed (Laydeez)

The underemployment saga continues as I forage ahead in Torontonian society armed with a temporary work visa, an ever-changing resume and very few pennies. Brrrr, it’s cold out here! Writing cover letters and applications isn’t fun, which is why I’ve decided to distract myself by making a list of movies to watch instead of doing the aforementioned job applications. Pretty awesome, huh? Now I can procrastinate productively!

Here’s the top 5:

5) Working Girl (1988)

Don’t be put off  by the fact this movie is probably older than you are. This classic tale about impostor (Melanie Griffiths/me) who pretends she is really her boss (Sigourney Weaver) and in the meantime has an affair with Harrison Ford is great fun for any horny temp who dreams of grabbing her boss’ position and honey.

The hair has got to be one of the best things about this movie.
The hair has got to be one of the best things about this movie.

4) The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Meryl Streep is great as the boss from hell and we get some kind of fuck-the-fashion-industry validation at the end of the film when Anne Hathaway’s character rejects crazy working hours in favour of a good relationship with her bf. However, how is she going to afford the clothes now she’s unemployed? Oh yeah, she got some kind of writing breakthrough. Sigh. If only making it in this world as a journalist were that easy (my life).

Give us your best bitch face, Meryl.
Give us your best bitch face, Meryl.

3) High Fidelity (2000)

Why is this one in here? Isn’t this film more about break ups? Well, probably, yes. But this movie based on the book by Nick Hornby is a serenade to losers everywhere. Failed in relationships? Running a slow business? Have extensive but impractical knowledge of rock history? Then this film’s for you. I love it for hating the shittiness of the way the main character treats his girlfriends but then has some kind of mid-life epiphany and turns into a nice guy. It’s kind of the sad-case-turns-good story that I like. Now that shit I can identify with.

Joan Cusack is one of my favourite actresses. She's also in Working Girl and she's way cooler than her brother, John.
Joan Cusack is one of my favourite actresses. She’s also in Working Girl and she’s way cooler than her brother, John.

2) Girls (2012)

OK, not a movie, but this new TV series about a bunch of underemployed twenty-somethings trying to make it in the big city really speaks to my heart. (Like, duh!) I didn’t expect it to be any good, but I empathised with the main character’s Hannah’s low self-esteem, shitty employment situations and even shittier boyfriend. My life is like that ! Yaaaay! Cathartic for the Y-Generation with our few pennies and fuck load of cynicism, Girls is great for its fairly realistic portrayal of working life in 2012. Think Sex and the City but way more funny, realistic and oddly uplifting. Watch out for series 2 in January 2013.

The unemployment, the ennui, the loss of parental funding...
The ennui, the underemployment, the loss of parental funding…

1) Erin Brokovich (2000)

This old classic about a broke single-Mum sticking it to the Man is heart-warming. (Truly, I mean it! I’m not being cynical at all. No, really.) Julia Roberts stars as the stubborn woman who blackmails her way into a job at a law firm and proceeds to make a ground-breaking case against the environmental violations of a global pharmaceutical company. Yay, working-class undereducated women sticking it to the man! And it’s based on real life. Also,  did you know that her Hell’s Angels boyfriend is played by Aaron Eckhart of The Dark Knight Two-Face fame? Who knew he could grow all that hair?

Mmm, I love cute hairy bikers!
Mmm, I love hairy bikers!

Fat Myths – BUSTED!

(You have to say the above in the gravelly voice of a movie trailer voiceover man.)

Yesterday I got a very long comment on my ‘Too Fat for Fashion” post from last week. It pretty much showcases the kind of fat-hating ideas that are accepted by most and I wondered whether to publish it or not. Does a calm but very sexist and very wrong comment have a place on my blog? Although I would  usually say ‘NO!’ and instantly delete personal or aggressive comments, I didn’t delete this one. I disagree with its content but I didn’t want to give any ammunition to people who might accuse me of silencing different viewpoints. Some of my lovely friends suggested that this is an opportunity for me to bash some of the myths that women, fat and thin, face, every day. So this is what I decided to do. I approved the comment so it now shows below that post and, I have taken what I see as the main myths about fat from this comment and write my own response to them. Please be aware that this post really needs to be a book, and I’ll let you know when that’s done. In about a decade.

 Fat Myth #1: “Fat people are not sexy”

This is silly. In fact, it’s the easiest for me to refute. Fat people are sexy. I think fat people are sexy and I know lots of people, both men and women, who are both fat and sexy. I am hot and other people find me hot. I considered posting gratuitous pictures of me and friends on this blog, but decided you have already seen enough of me in the buff. And stealing pics of my hot friends off Facebook and posting them here probably wouldn’t be consensual (darn that consent!). I therefore kindly link you to this post, drawn to my attention by my friend Pearl. Although Kate could only be considered ‘fat’ in the crazy fashion industry, the rest of the women are fat (and hot, duh!).

 Fat Myth #2: “Fat is unhealthy”

This is a hard one to refute. After all, all health authorities tell us that fat is unhealthy and we will die earlier if we are obese. So, I am just going to go with my gut on this one.

It is possible to be fat and healthy. I was very unhealthy when I was skinny – I was depressed and mad and hungry all the time. Even though I looked conventionally beautiful I was miserable. Barely sleeping, barely eating, my intellectual capacities greatly dimmed, I know I was unhealthy.

Physical and mental health are connected. I think exercise is a good thing – I love endorphins – and I feel good in my body and mind when I exercise. I also know that exercise doesn’t make me lose much weight. In fact, I enjoy food more when I exercise and tend to eat more. I feel sexier because my body feels more fluid. I am more healthy.

My experiences with health authorities have led me to greatly distrust them. I have been lauded my doctors for being healthy when I felt really unfit. I have been told I was too fat by nurses who asked me nothing about my diet or exercise habits, at a time when I was cycling up to 14 miles a day and felt healthier than before. I have been given wrong information about both my sexual and general health owing to assumptions about my queerness and fatness and I know the health system is flawed. Of course there are great health professionals out there, but who gives them their information? How can they better assess my health in a 10-minute session when I live in my body every day? I trust some doctors to help me when I need them, and I grant that they know more about a lot of health issues than me. But I also use my own judgement when listening to their information and take some of it with a pinch of salt. I have already linked it, but in case you missed it, here is a great video about fatness and health from a health professional. 

Lastly and, perhaps, most importantly, I don’t believe that society’s aversion to fat people is really about our health. If society really cared about fat people, it wouldn’t laugh at us and characterize us as lazy, stupid and greedy. It’s very easy to laugh and point a finger. I think our collective hatred of fat people reflects our own insecurities. Most people are so miserable, we put other people down to make ourselves feel better. Maybe we’re just all so hungry from those superfood salads that we are secretly jealous of the food that fat people get to eat?!?!

Fat Myth #3: “Fat people are greedy”

From a feminist perspective, the idea of wanting too much fascinates me. For women, it totally makes sense to me that we want more than society tells us we are allowed. We want to be successful, to love and be loved, to have babies, a career, to travel, to be artists… In short, to fulfil our individual potential. We are constantly sidetracked from embracing our desires, of all kinds, by the pressure to fit sexist beauty ideals. We spend so much energy, time and money trying to fit this ideal, we forget our own paths. Unhappy and tired because we are undernourished, we try to achieve an ideal of thinness that by definition slips further and further away.

Some fat activists see the desire to eat and take up space with our fat as fat women’s refusal to be shrunk into the tiny box that society allows us. Told that we should disappear, we do the opposite. We want and so we take.

In terms of overeating as a disorder, which it is, it can also be seen as an expression of thwarted desire. I know I eat sugar when I get the anxiety in my stomach that means I actually want to write. Sugar come downs and the sleepiness of being too full combine with TV to dull my senses, lead me away from my creativity. I eat to dull my desires and in this way deliberately obscure my talents. I want to I hide from the world and live in my dreams rather than my reality. The big bad world is scary. Being miserable is seductive; it seems easier than being happy.

It would be easy for me to say being fat is a wholly positive thing. That I have a great relationship with food and that my fat is 100% good. But it’s not. I know that my fat is both a natural body shape and a symptom of my thwarted creativity. Nothing less than starving myself would make me thin, but there is a level of fatness at which I feel too fat. I know this might seem to undermine some of my fat-positive beliefs, but, like all realities, fat is complicated. Only you can know when you have a positive relationship with food, fat and your body. Only you know when you feel good in your body; when you are healthy. Everyone is different, and it is this individuality that both the cult of thinness and, in some cases, overeating, strives to obliterate.

My most personal response to the characterization of fat people as greedy, as wanting too much, as “incapable of restraint” is why should we restrain ourselves? Why should we downsize our dreams to fit into the tiny, awful mould that society allows us? If overeating is the desire for more, more than we are allowed as women and as human beings, then it is a truly rational response to the life of emotional and artistic subsistence that our capitalist and consumerist society allows.

All my childhood and early adult life I was told I was wrong: too fat, too clever, too different. I wanted too much. Now, I am trying to stop railing against myself. I think the world is a better place if I am who I am meant to be. I receive and give more love the happier I am, I put stuff out there into the world that is a force for good. Who is going to say the unsayable if not me? Who is going to be the crazy artist, if not me? We need our different and crazy people. The truth is, taking up space and acting out our desires, our personal truths, makes us happier and better people.

There you go! All done! Feel free to comment with your own responses to these common fat myths so we can build a fattie army of resistance. Hurrah!

Zinefest Berlin is this weekend! Plus, a little update

Hey kids, hows it hanging? Everyone in NYC all right? Hope so. So, as many of you Berliners know, this weekend is Zinefest Berlin 2012! Following the festival’s amazing debut last November, Zinefest continues, bringing self-published radical content to the world of Berlin’s underground. I was very lucky to be in attendance last year, along with my very popular vagina (or, more correctly, vulva) cupcakes and feminist zine. My awesome friend riotmade with love is selling my zine and all proceeds will go to a local queer project, because we are that nice. So go along and read!

The deets:

03-04 November 2012

SFE Gneisenaustrasse 2a

10961 Berlin

the prettiest printing of Dressed Like That, like, EVER

Before I go ahead and publish my post of the week tomorrow, I wanted to let you guys know that I will now be publishing new content every Thursday. This is a (potentially self-defeating) to be more organised and provide you, the reader, with a more consistent service (blah blah blah). I could make a graph to prove this theory to you, but I can’t quite be bothered. So yeah, Rock on. Thursdays are now your favourite day of the week!

But You Have Such A Pretty Face!

Ok, guys, it’s time for me to come out. I know, you’re going to be shocked. I tried to deny it, but I just can’t. Now, don’t tell any other fat activists, but I REALLY LIKE SALADS (hides fattie face behind cushions). DON’T JUDGE ME! In this post I bitch about shaming fat women when we eat in public and throw in a picture of me stuffing my face for, like, reference. Enjoy!

OMFG! Yup, I seem to be pretty obsessed with writing about fat at the moment. It’s really got my (baby) goat (casserole) going. How many times have us fatties heard such ridiculous comments? I still remember, from when I was an impressionable babe, how a relative once commented on how much fatter women are in America and how ‘they have such pretty, well taken care of, faces and nails.’ She implied that this was to compensate for the ugliness of their fat bodies. This comment has haunted me most of my life. It implies that fat people can never be beautiful and has struck the fear of fat into my plump heart.

Not too long ago a German friend of mine gave me this academic article on ‘The Experience of Eating Out for Fat Women.’ Reading the article I was, like, yes, I feel like that, yes, I do that, yes. It was painful to read, recognising my own pain in others’ experiences. The author, Dawn Zrodowski, collects stories about eating out from self-identified fat women. Unsurprisingly, many of these women choose to not eat out or modify how much or what type of food they eat when in company. Because as fat women what they eat (or don’t eat) is commented on by others, they find the whole business of eating out fraught with self-hatred.

I often question how other people will perceive me when I eat out. Especially if I am alone. I imagine that I will be seen as a sad case, both for being fat and for being alone. The shame I feel around eating is similar to the shame I feel about being single. Both are discourses that are framed with concern for the health or happiness of the (fat or single) person, but both are actually very effective ways of demeaning women, while pretending to be nice. It’s OK to abuse fat people – through ad campaigns, the tyranny of the fashion industry, advice not to eat that donut because it’s too fatty – because it’s common knowledge that you are ‘doing it for their own good.’ It’s also socially acceptable to undermine someone for being single. ‘You should bring a plus one, have you been seeing anyone lately, aren’t you afraid you’ll end up alone and eaten by Alsatians (Bridget Jones rip off)?’ This false concern masks a chance to get one-up on fatties and singletons.

Stuffing my face in the name of art. An anti-diet performance at The Berlin Femme Show 2012

But this constant social criticism has almost nothing to do with the health of the fat person concerned. As Jackie, an excellent vlogger I recently encountered, argues in her It Gets Fatter video, discourse about fat and health completely ignores mental health. If society were so concerned for the health of its fatties, she argues, it would recognise the damage such shaming causes. (Please go check the project out. It is unutterably amazing.) 

Like I’ve said before, such blatant shaming of fat people, fat women especially, has something to do with wanting to make us disappear. It’s, like, a universal truth that women’s bodies are naturally more fatty than men’s. Our curve-hating culture encourages us to spend our energy attacking our own female, fatty, bodies rather than taking our anger out on, like, the big evil patriarchy. Low self-esteem? Check. Anti-feminist? Check. Effective, huh?

Zrodowski concludes that a lot of fat women “choose to eat alone,” a choice that worsens their “problematic relationship to food” and also alienates them from the social act of eating with other people. Our fat hate causes fat women to hide their ‘problem’ away and we, as a society, collude in this hiding. I, for one, know that my impulse to hide the chocolate that I am eating from others only reinforces my own difficult relationship with food. Instead of enjoying something delicious, shame spoils the fun. It’s a vicious circle. Recently, I have decided to stop hiding how much I eat from the people around me, and this is leading, gradually, to a far more happy relationship with food. No longer denying myself a pudding at the end of a meal, I am less likely to go home and binge in anger and frustration.

Being the stubborn feminist that I am, I often respond to the pressure to ‘eat thin’ when out and about by deliberately choosing fatty foods, even when I don’t want them. Part subconscious conviction that this is a treat (because you shouldn’t eat fat, right?) and part middle-finger to the patriarchy, evil promoter of salads, this is my way of saying fuck you while enjoying a tasty treat. That said, I am recently discovering that I often don’t want the fattier food, but the more vegetable-y one, but refuse to order it because I imagine other people will think, ‘poor fattie on a diet’ or, ‘good, you’re trying to lose weight.’ I know not everyone thinks like this, but I also know some do. And I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking they’re better than me.

I’m not sure I can offer many pearls of wisdom on strategies how to deal with eating out for fat folks right now, but I know that reading awesome fat positive zines and books like Fat?So! by Marilyn Wann and Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach help to free my inner fattie. Any other suggestions for awesome fat-positive blogs or books to read? All together now, after me, “Free your mind and the rest will follow…”

Over and out from Lipstick Terrorist, secret lover of salads…

Too Fat for Fashion

Rant warning! My experiences of clothes shopping in Montreal. A city for thin fashionistas.

Here’s the thing. I love dressing up. I love make-up, skirts and skimpy clothes. I love looking sophisticated, punky and kinky. I love red shoes and lipstick. Short skirts and black lace tops. Beautiful French knickers, framed by a thick 1950s garter belt. But today stepping into a clothing store I was made to feel all wrong.

I am seriously depressed right now. Having gone into a four-storey shop with a good plus size section and tried on about 20 items of clothing all I managed to get was this shitty t-shirt. It’s ridiculous. I mean, what’s it going to take?! All I want are some pretty clothes goddammit so I look sexy and feel good in myself. Argh! As one friend said, I’m not even that big! But this seductive hierarchy of fat versus fatter is not even the point. No one – no matter their body shape – deserves to feel too big to be sexy.

This is what the clothes industry does. It tells fat people, sorry, you’re not meant to be in this store. You don’t have the right to wear these clothes. You’re not allowed to feel good about yourself. Please go to the one store in the city that has plus-size items and buy an overpriced flowery dress. For God’s sake, don’t come in here! You make us look bad.

I feel I have said this, like, a million times before, but the choices the fashion industry makes are not benign. They are carefully calculated to promote an ideal female body that is virtually impossible for the majority of women to emulate. Did you know that in the UK the average size of women is 16? This is my size, and today, in Canada (which is meant to be a fatter country forgodssake), I couldn’t find any skirts that fit me. On a good day I think that this collective exclusion of clothes for fat people is mostly unconscious. On a bad day, like today, I know it is deliberate. I know my thin friends find it hard to find clothes that fit them, often spending hours of their time and a lot of money to find outfits that they feel good in. But there is a difference between the shopping experience of fat and thin women. If a shop for doesn’t even stock your size, this absence suggests that young and fat women don’t exist. That you don’t exist. Thin people have a right to complain about the fashion industry too, but their experiences are just not comparable to ours. The fact that most high street (that’s main street for you North Americans) stores don’t even stock my size makes me one seriously pissed off shopper with damaged self-esteem.

Just: BLEURGH.

The fashion industry has given me this problem and now I have to deal with it. I have two options. One, I say fuck it and carry on my happy fat way, somehow dragging the dregs of my self-esteem with me into a far more expensive online shop. Or I capitulate to the system and lose some weight. I know that if I drop one size that I will just about fit into many stores’ ‘large’ and I will finally be able to find affordable and chic clothing. I’ll be happier because I’ll look prettier. Or will I?

I have always thought this: Just one size smaller, and I’ll be prettier, happier, more productive. I’ve always thought that the answer to my love-life, success and happiness lies in the elusive ‘one size smaller.’ Maybe to some extent it does. It takes a self-confident person to date a fattie and fat people are less likely to be chosen for the job than their thin colleagues. But, having been both a size 12 and a size 18, I know that my inner state of mind has always been the same. I have been a miserable size 12, a suicidal size 14 and happy somewhere else. Does the clue to my happiness lie in the size of my stomach? Despite all my logical arguments to the contrary I believe, that yes, it does. I know this is brainwashing. My acceptance of a self-hating lie. But faced with being fat and broke in bad clothes, or thinner and looking good in more affordable clothes, what am I going to choose? Do I even really have a choice?

It’s all very well for Forbes-listed Lady Gaga to proclaim she loves all her ‘Little Monsters’ fat, anorexic and gay, but how can I, as a fat person, keep my self-esteem intact in the face of a world that routinely makes me pay for it? Did you know that if you Google ‘fat people’ the first suggested search terms are ‘fat people jokes’ and ‘fat people falling’?

I am incapable of thinking I am pretty now. Looking at old photos I used to hate, I can see how beautiful I was. But looking at a photo taken recently, I can only think ‘fat, fat, fat.’

Luckily, I can change this self-hatred into anger into art through my writing here. This makes it useful, but it is pretty hard, and I can always use some help. How do you guys fight self-hatred? How do you teach yourself to be more comfortable in your body? I’ve found a couple of awesome articles about loving your body. But I’d love to hear your ideas.

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