30 July 2008

Media: fat people and silly season

Here's a handful of crap from the Mail and the BBC from the past few days.

Having fat friends makes you fat too, which is kind of odd since the Mail also reported in April 2007 that every women needed a fat friend, especially Kate Moss, who is pals with Rachel Mordecai and Beth Ditto. Meg Ryan's in a fat suit, oh dear, and kids are going to get fat reports which will hopefully shame them into becoming world class athletes and winning the country some gold in 2012. Bad science strikes again in this generic report about the obesity gene but who believes that genetics guff when maintaining weight loss is easy as long as you exercise rigorously for five hours every week. Meanwhile, the Greeks are getting fatter. It's a global epidemic!

It would be nice to blame this week's rash of fat panic headlines on the silly season, which has just begun. But I don't hold out much hope for stories like these getting any more stupid as the summer unfolds because they are already a full-time staple of the British media. Part of me wants to see exactly how ridiculous reporting on fat can possibly get - I'm sure we're not at saturation point yet - yet I despair that this kind of stuff gets reported at all. I want to believe that people aren't so stupid that they believe what they read, but it's hard to hold on to that fantasy sometimes. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and dissociative when you think about the scale of self-perpetuating fat-hating propaganda. I do my best to turn off, or not think of it as being real, or else I get sucked into a vortex of puny sarcasm (see above). Yet I wonder how far it can go. There's such a huge, relentless volume of this stuff that it's only a matter of time until someone runs a newspaper or a TV channel, or a media empire, on the back of it.

Introducing FemmeCast

FemmeCast is one of the hottest bits of fat activism I've come across in a long time. At the moment it's a podcast but it looks as though it could grow into something much more. Don't know what a podcast it? It's an audio recording, like a radio show, that you can download from the internet onto your iPod or MP3 player and listen to at your leisure. The FemmeCast is currently up to episode three, and a new one gets released every few months or so - though I wouldn't gripe if it was more regular than that.

You'd think that a podcast directed at queer fat femmes, made by a bunch of pals on the East Coast of the US, would have limited appeal, so it's a testament to the folks behind this project that they have made it accessible to and inclusive for/of people outside that milieu. Presenters and correspondents stretch Femme to the limits and demonstrate the diversity behind the label. I like that. What I also like is that listening to the podcasts make me feel as though I belong to something bigger, and that the people on the recording, some of whom are my friends, aren't so far away from me after all. It's activism that transcends geographical distance as well as identity better than many other initiatives I've seen.

In my opinion, Femmecast owes a lot to DIY, punk and zine cultures. It's rough around the edges, and that's a boon, not a criticism. It feels real, there's a lot of humour in it, and you get the feeling that anyone with a computer and a recording device could make something similar. That's only partly true, it helps if, like the FemmeCast crew, you have a firm handle on pop culture as well as piping hot politics.

I think this is the thing that makes FemmeCast rock so much, the ease with which the podcast integrates the personal and the political. A light fashion segment, for example, about wearing a bikini has rich undertones to do with how one presents a fat body to the world; another piece talks about oppression and intersectionality; presenters share stories about bitter break-ups; there's comedy and culture too, and sex, and friends, and music, and...everything.

Give your ears a treat and tune in. Instructions for doing so, and information about the production, are here: www.femme-cast.com

24 July 2008

Anti-obesity campaigns: kindly hatred

I reverted straight to Chubster mode when I saw the headline Hug A Fatty, which had the subhead "and help them lose weight."

Invariably I find myself re-writing such headlines to myself and this one turned into something like: "Stab a fatphobe in the face and help them to shut up." Clearly I have some aggression to work out of my system.

I'm not going to get into the bickering about "the obesity problem" which is starting to divide along party lines and be played up in the press. The Tories are going for mean, and Labour is trying to be kind, but both are equally idiotic/fatphobic in their own way.

It's this touchy-feely approach to fat hatred that interests me. I've noticed it coming from the Bizarro World of the Obesity Stakeholder, of which Alan Johnson is a citizen, and it's also being presented in various papers about "obesogenic environments," the latest thing to be worried about.

Fatphobes of yesteryear were a lot easier to spot. They were ghoulish, like Rosemary Conley, or creepy, like Richard Simmons or just outrageously freaky, like Gillian McKeith. They usually had a clear financial incentive in getting fatties to hate themselves and seek salvation from them.

But this new breed is different. They wear suits and have government backing. They are supported by authenticating systems of academics, health professionals, quangos and reports. They appear to care about "the obese" yet, as far as I can see, appear to know nothing about Health At Every Size concepts, or the existence of alternative and more compassionate approaches to fat health and culture. They don't even seem to know any fat people, or have any interest in talking to those of us who have fat self-esteem and stuff to say about it.

These caring people see nothing valuable in being fat, they want to get rid of us, and they keep pushing an agenda of discredited bullshit health-depleting "scientific" interventions in order to do so. Of course it's doomed to failure, as they will find out when the wave of repercussions hits, that is: an inevitable epidemic of eating disorders and body dysmorphia; people getting even fatter because of their struggles with yo-yo dieting; and even more fatties experiencing long-term health problems because of weight loss surgery and drugs.

Kindly fatphobia is strangely hypnotic, its representatives appear to be saying nice…soooothing…helpful things, but don't be fooled. Listen out for the magic words, "treatment and prevention of obesity," and you'll know where you stand.

PS. Hi, and welcome to this blog. It's a place for me to talk and opine about fat stuff, ok?