Friday, October 5, 2012

Yes, Fat Women Can Be Good Role Models

I have a new post up at Clutch

If you are a woman, you are no stranger to body policing.  No matter how beautiful, or successful you are, people will always look for a flaw and suggest ways that you can change to better conform to the straight male gaze.  Stars like Katie Couric, Demi Lovato,  Salma Hayek and Lady Gaga, have all been very public about their struggle with body image and disordered eating.  Tyra Banks famous response to the fat shaming that she received, when critics felt that she was letting herself go, is but one example of a woman having to stand up against the belief that there is a size standard to which we all must conform.  If you happen to actually be a fat woman, the pressure and the scrutiny intensifies in proportion to your weight.

Jennifer Livingston is a morning news anchor for WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin and recently she was sent the following letter from a viewer, which her husband later posted on his Facebook page.
Hi Jennifer,
It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Thankfully, Livingston was given the opportunity to respond by the station and she said in part:
“Yes, the truth is, I am overweight. You could call me fat and, yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart. But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that?”

“You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted that you don’t watch this show. So you know nothing about me, but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”
Her response went viral for one simple reason, it resonated with people. All of us at some point have been judged and the more outside of the supposed norm we are, the more likely we are to have experienced this sort of abuse.

Fat is a very stigmatized identity and it is considered by many to represent a moral failing. Fat is associated with gluttony, a lack of control and slovenliness. These negative attributes attach themselves to fat people regardless of how active, engaging or beautiful they are. Fat is deemed so negative that women are starving themselves, and binging and purging to avoid the label of fat.  I think that it is fair to say that this is extreme, but in a world in which fat people are largely erased, policed and shamed, is it any wonder that we have pro anorexia sites littering the internet?  Before young girls know how to do long division, they are already considering dieting.   The reason that diet products, fat free foods etc., are largely aimed at women, is because some women live perpetually on a calorie restricted diet for fear of gaining any weight all.

Read More

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Happy Birthday Sparky

'Birthday Cake' photo (c) 2010, Will Clayton - license:

Though I have never met Sparky face to face, I truly consider him to be one of my best friends. He is warm, engaging, empathetic, strong willed and absolutely hilarious. I just wanted to take a moment to wish him a very happy birthday.  You deserve only the best and because of this, I am willing to send you some maple syrup, one hot cup of Timmy's coffee, a squadron of Canadian Geese which you may command to do fly by poopies and finally Benny.

Have a wonderful day!

For Allen West, Non-Negotiable Sex Acts are Acceptable in Marriage

'Allen West' photo (c) 2011, Gage Skidmore - license:

Gossip Extra claims to have gotten their hands on a private letter that Allen West sent to his wife during his tour as an Army lieutenant colonel in Iraq in 2003. 
He humbly tells her that, although he doesn’t compare physically to the male models of the movie Soul Food, he will always do his best to always be “a clean cut, healthy and affectionate man!”

At other times, the Christian conservative tea party candidate – who’s running for a district that stretches along the coast from Palm Beach Gardens to Fort Pierce – gets a little more, shall we say, daring!

The congressman proceeds tells his wife he expects certain intimate acts upon his return that will be “the standard and it is non-negotiable.”

He tells her: “From now on, you will wear two-piece swim suits when on vacations.”

Then: “Angela, I need to know, are you committed to being my porn star?

“I do not want to hear ‘no’ or ‘we’ll see about that.’ I want my fantasies to be with you. God has authorized you and you only as my partner for intimacy and that is what I want.”

And he signs off: “Get ready!” [source]
First, let me say that even publication of part of this letter is a violation of privacy.  I don't know how Gossip Extra got their hands on the letter, or even if the letter is authentic but clearly, West did not mean for this communication to become public.

It's sweet that he promises his wife to stay in shape and clean cut for her, but the idea that marriage to him means continual consent to his sexual desires is beyond problematic, because it implies that Mrs.West does will not have the right to say no to his demands.  It is further a problem that he believes that he has the right to dictate her dress.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thoughts on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

When I first heard about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, to be honest I was not in the least bit interested. TLC, the network on which the show airs, has a history of turning marginalisation and personal struggle into cheap entertainment for the masses.  What are we actually learning from watching Hoarders, or Intervention for instance? Of course, the people who participate do get some kind of gain through help, but generally speaking, these shows are created to encourage voyeurism and judging.  Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is cut from exactly this cloth. The Shannon family are extremely poor and they are loud - they are what is socially referred to as poor White trash.

Just like many of the shows currently airing on TLC, the problem is that the voyeurism focuses on an ism. June Shannon says on many occasions throughout the ten episode season that she feeds her family on eighty dollars a week, and that she only managed to get a GED, after dropping out of highschool to raise her eldest daughter Anna. The mere fact that a staple of the household is sketti (melted butter and ketchup covered spaghetti) and they constantly take things from dumpsters, which people have discarded, tells us that this family is very poor. Dining on cheap junk food and carbohydrates with nary a vegetable or a fruit in sight, is a sure sign of poverty, rather than choice. Families who constantly negotiate food scarcity buy food that will fill the stomach at the cheapest price possible, rather than concentrating on nutritional value. The Shannon poverty is presented as a spectacle and something that they should be ashamed of, even as the U.S. economy is stuck in the toilet and more and more people are applying for food stamps on a daily basis. Also interesting, is the fact that Americans tend to see themselves as nearly universally middle class, even as it becomes harder and harder to maintain subsistence. Even June's body is a marker of the family's poverty.  She explained that she was always wears socks because of an accident which happened at work and is clearly embarrassed by this. Well to do people do not hurt themselves on the job, and if they do, one can be certain they will receive appropriate treatment. This family has no pretensions about which class they belong to and this refusal to live in denial horrifies many. The Shannon family is what happens when you stop trying to keep up the Joneses.

In case you could forget for one just one moment what class of people the Shannon’s are, we are constantly treated to trains going by their home, reminding us repeatedly that they literally live on the wrong side of the tracks. Though the Shannon’s mangle the queen’s english horribly and this includes creating words like “smexy” and using words incorrectly, their meaning is clearly understood, yet TLC provides subtitles. TLC doesn’t provide subtitles for the hearing impaired, but they have made an exception in this case.  Clearly, the point is to remind us that the Shannon’s are to be othered at every turn.  It suggests that they are not like everyone else. It’s not difficult, let alone impossible to understand them despite the subtitles constantly scrolling on the screen.

Of course, watching this show there are a number of people crawling out of the woodwork to judge the Shannon family and how they live. Just as TLC clearly expects, people are flocking to say how terrible the family is - from their hobbies to shaming their weight, to attacking their diets, their pets (specifically Glitzy the pet pig),  their community, their manners and just about every other aspect of their lives. Everything is public property to be analysed, judged and criticised. Of course, rarely do these criticisms take into account the various pressures on their lives - or even how the Shannon family may choose to live their own lives.

It speaks a lot about the arrogance of society and the way poor people are dehumanised that people feel entitled to rip apart these people’s lives. Like their opinion on the Shannon’s family is somehow valid, their criticism matters and their judgement has any kind of value, rather than being the height of arrogant presumption.

the Unwritten Rules: Ep. 8 "Just A Group Of Us"

This episode highlights one of the many reasons that I love "the Unwritten Rules."  It is so true that the moment a few Black co-workers gather the White folk get nervous.  They turn and stare and try to interrupt.  It's almost like they believe we are going to have an uprising.  My friends and I used to play on this and become silent when a White person walked by and then the moment they passed by us, we would bust out laughing knowing full and well that this heightened their anxiety.  It takes some special type of arrogance to believe that whenever Blacks gather that we have nothing else to talk about than the White people.  Get over ya damn selves.

What did you think of this episode?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gay Man's HIV/AIDS Awareness month

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.    

Recently was apparently Gay Men’s AIDS/HIV Awareness day or some such (I’m not much of a one for special days) or so I infer from the number tweets, emails, blog posts etc I’ve seen from oh-so-earnest people urging me and mine to avoid the death-plague. And yes it comes with a side order of lots of advice, lots of instructions and not a little amount of shaming. There’s a distinct undertone of “this is still a problem!” “why are you still doing this!?!” “ZOMG why can’t you see how terribad this is!?” and a fair few lectures on all the things we don’t understand and really should know.

From my tone you can probably guess that I’m not overly thrilled by this turn of events. And it’s not just because of what I posted last week. It’s not even because of the number of straight people who saw an event like “Gay men’s AIDS/HIV Awareness day” and decided that they totally have something to say (though that annoys me).

What annoys me is the history behind the AIDS pandemic, especially when it comes to gay men.

See, once upon a time, there was no such thing as AIDS. There was a disease called GRID. You may have heard the acronym, some of the hate groups still use it today. It stands for “Gay Related Immune Deficiency”. Because, of course, at the time it was considered a disease only gay men could suffer from – hey, a surprisingly huge number of clueless Straight people still think that. And who can blame them with the hate groups saying it and blood services across the world endorsing it? It’s an ignorance that is still leading to straight folk being infected.

But I digress, as I was saying, AIDS, or GRID was a disease that infected gay men. Oh, they nodded towards Sub-Saharan Africa as well, but the common thread is that no-one who could do anything, no-one who had any real power, actually gave a damn about these lives and these deaths. So nothing was done. More, because our deaths were generally seen as a good thing by straightness, they were cheered, they were hailed. The more of us died the more that dear ol’ god up there was showing what an angry angry person he was and the more righteous the holy were in their hatred. Our deaths were proof of how right they were to hate us. You can hear it now, it’s not like the tune has changed over much, it just may, may not be sung in as many places.

So AIDS was ignored and a lot of gay men were infected and a whole lot of us died – and no-one cared for a very long time and over a very large number of bodies. And, of course, the hatred just pushed the disease up higher – and still does. Homophobia forces people into the shadows, into hidden lives and illicit encounters even when that’s not someone’s inclination. Having to remain closeted stops people reaching out – for testing, for treatment, for advice, for protection, for help. Homophobia gives us packages of self-hatred, low self-esteem, suicidal and reckless behaviour that stops people caring. It lowers self-worth and makes people vulnerable to manipulation, coercion, bullying, exploitation – and it all forces the rate up. The homophobia pushed more of us to infection and, in the past, death.