30 July 2010

Anti-obesity campaigns: language and shaming

This news story made me cackle because it's an amazing looking glass inversion of debates about language that continue in fat activism.

Say fat not obese, says minister

(Short note: I'm not into policing language and I think it would be a dull, reductive and Orwellian world if we all used the same words all the time. My feeling is that people should use the language to describe themselves with which they feel most comfortable. The rest of us should try and treat those labels respectfully.)

I had to do a double-take when I first read this article. My initial reaction to a quick skim of the headline was: "Yeah! Call me fat! That's exactly what I want, skip this obese nonsense." I reject obese because I don't want to be defined as a victim of a terrible disease, as someone who need curing, as a tragic figure for pity and paternalistic intervention. But the definition of fat being mooted in this article is as something appalling and dreadful, a shaming weapon. These guys really think that fat is an insult, they don't get it as a marker of one's identity and experience, or a way of describing communities, or its politicised nature. What a shame the BBC did not have the breadth of vision to get quotes from people who might have an alternative viewpoint.

Depending on your perspective, 'obese' is either kindly or oppressive and 'fat' is shameful or liberating. Look, I drew a table to illustrate how the kinds of words each likes to use is a polar opposite of the other.

Aside from my cackling, this story is also a depressing example of how alienated each of these two groups are from each other, a situation which is not helped by the the mainstream media. We literally don't speak the same language. It makes me despair that some kind of common, respectful understanding of fat could ever be developed between these two groups of people. It seems like another example of how the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the Global Obesity EpidemicTM (initiated by weight loss industry stooges) has sabotaged people's access to non-shaming, appropriate healthcare.

22 July 2010

Fatphobic feminists and jumble sales

An amazing and somewhat lively/vitriolic debate is going on over at The F-Word in response to a post about the Big Bum Jumble. Who knew that plus-size second hand clothes could provoke such a reaction? It's depressing to see the piece hijacked into going-nowhere debates about health. Read, marvel, despair and join in at your leisure.

19 July 2010

Interview: Amanda Piasecki

I recently had the great fortune to spend some quality time with Amanda Piasecki in Oakland, California. Super-smart, thoughtful, gorgeous, funny and generous, she got me thinking about the Bay Area, and about the influence of radical groups on early fat political movements, amongst other things. We also filmed ourselves dancing Janelle Monàe's Tightrope dance in her front room. Amanda is a 21st century activist through and through, she understands popular culture, and radical fat embodiment, and she uses interactive media skillfully and seamlessly. Her depth of knowledge enables her to bring a fresh and critical perspective to the current state of fat activism. She is one rad fatty! Read more and swoon.

Please introduce yourself

I'm Amanda Piasecki, I'm a working stiff, a tired artist, and an aspiring public intellectual who is interested in the intersections between bodies, identities, and aesthetics. I'm interested in fatness in part because of my lifetime struggle to peacefully occupy my own body. Fat, female, queer, cancer-surviving, and otherwise – I seem to be relentlessly living despite the hype. Fat bodies' contemporary role as death symbols is also particularly interesting to me, partly because scaring the shit out of people is an interesting social proscription to live with. I'm also more pragmatically interested in the challenging, sometimes tedious work of fat people and other outsiders resisting hate and developing vibrant, self-supporting cultures.

The most wide-reaching thing that I've done is coin the term "Fatshionista" and start the online community of the same name. I also served on the NOLOSE board for six years and have done some good and bad performance and installation work that explores fatness.

I grew up in tiny, remote town, three miles from the Canadian border in Northern NY, US, and now live in Oakland, CA, US. My family are immigrants and working class freethinkers (not an oxymoron!). I'm a born world-straddler – I learned very early to accept dialectical realities simultaneously – a quality that has served me well in the work of building culture and community among people from radically different backgrounds who may only have their size in common. I'm both tough and lucky.

I'm also unemployed at the moment, so if anyone wants to give me a job, I'm really good at building online communities, running websites, teaching, and curriculum development. Hire me! Got a PhD program? Pay me to enlist.

What's it like to have invented a mass movement?

It's tremendously discombobulating to see this seemingly exponential stream of on- and offline cultural production related to fatshion and Fatshionista. Of course, there's thousands of people now involved in the "Fatosphere", so building this "movement" is not even remotely all about me – in fact, there's plenty of people involved who have no idea that I started Fatshionista, especially since I'm not involved anymore and the internet attention span is so abominably short. However, sometimes the community's wide-reaching impact smacks me over the head and I'm reminded that I made that thing. I find it both mind-blowing and alienating to see so many people directly changed and challenged by my thinking.

What do you think of the state of fatshion at the moment? What are the things that you like? Where would you like to see it go?

I'm relieved on one hand that enormous companies are starting to understand that there's money to be mined in the plus-size fashion market so that fat people have more access to the resources to adequately cover our asses. On the other hand, I don't think that having more consumer choices in the Anglosphere is at all the measure of fat liberation. I think that fatshionistas should take the sartorial resourcefulness and creative zeal learned from historical scarcity and leave the sweatshops behind. When possible, I encourage folks to buy used, make their own, and buy from small designers.

I'm tremendously pleased about the ways in which the cultural zeitgeist toward valuing the handmade, at least in North America, has expanded to include plus-size fashion. I love the designers I've seen selling their work on Etsy and in venues like the Kiss the Curves fashion show in Oakland. This is the direction I'd like to see fatshion go.

Some of my favorites are, in no order of preference:

Chocolate Sushi Couture

Cupcake & Cuddlebunny

Size Queen Clothing


I'm also so impressed with small business owners like Deb Malkin at Re/Dress NYC who are doing the work of selling affordable vintage and used clothing and serving as fat-positive community hubs at the same time.

Whenever possible, my dollar is allocated to these folks way before Lane Bryant.

Fundamentally, I believe that style is not about cash outlay, but is about creatively working what you have. I also think that style and fashion are fine, but being a badass fatass is even more important.

Charlotte: Amanda talks more about fashion and style over on the Big Bum Jumble blog.

What are your tips for fat people who want to dance?

Fat people who want to dance but are hung up on social stigma need to start dancing right now – like right this minute, in your living room, in the bathroom, only by tapping your toe, whatever you've got. If you can't do it, message me, I'll dance in front of Skype with you, and way more foolishly. Now's the time.

I've always been a not-particularly-skilled but extremely enthusiastic dancer. I'm no Burlesque, ballroom, or bellydancer – I don't belong in a public performance of any kind – but I think that pursuing embodiment through dancing for regular people is tremendously worthwhile. Dancing for five minutes in my living room or three hours at a party completely knocks me into my body like few other pursuits, and I want everyone who is so inclined to experience this.

About my favorite way to dance is dance-karaoke style, with my dear friend Devra and anyone else who's willing. Here's how it works: you get some YouTube videos, you clear a space in your living room, and you dance along. Hijinx ensue. It can be embarrassing and possibly dangerous, but I really recommend it. Devra and I have run workshops at the last two NOLOSE conferences called "Master of Dance" in which we lead groups in this ridiculousness.

Could you share a few online clips of your favourite dance sequences, and say why you like them?

Here are some favorite videos:

Fat Dancer This fat Belgian guy is my hero. I think he's sexy as fuck while having a wicked sense of humor about what his fat sexuality might mean to people. And his moves, Jesus Christ! I think he must be the child of fat punks. He makes me feel old, but I love him. I can only last like one minute into dancing along with this video before my knees give out and I need my asthma inhaler.

In the Bush dance 2 - Part 13 I aspire to be Ms. Tengobaila. She's my dance leader of choice lately – she just dances, films herself, and puts it on YouTube – she has hundreds of videos! I found this video because I love the song – 'Push, Push In the Bush,' by Musique, and love the video because Ms. Tengobaila was clearly there in 1978 at Studio 54 getting her thing on, and because she really goes for it – sweat, pelvic thrusts, delicate hand movements and all. She's no joke.

Kamal Haasan - Tamil Bollywood Star What can I say about this video? The way that this guy locates his masculinity in his fierce dance moves is something that completely trumps American Marlboro Man or GI Joe masculinity in my eyes. This video makes me want to be more butch.

Could you say a little bit about your interest in medical self advocacy for fat people?

My experience having rare cancer at age 18 taught me much earlier than most people that doctors only really know part of the story when it comes to all of the weird-ass maladies that afflict the human body. I also learned that each individual is definitively the authority on her body's own experience, and that there's no morality attached to disease or bodily diversity.

Fat people are under such attack by the healthcare establishment that it feels crucial to me to share what I know with whomever I can, even if I don't have the entire story myself. I also think that the power dynamics between healthcare providers and patients are so deeply imbalanced, especially in the American healthcare system, that it's almost impossible for anyone to get good care, let alone people as seriously medically pathologized as fat people. I've run medical self-advocacy workshops for the last ten years or so in part so that people have a forum in which to deal with being so deeply shamed by the healthcare system, and figure out how to maximise the care that we get anyway.

What makes Oakland a compelling place to live?

Oakland is historically a tough working class town, home in the 1970s of the Black Panther Party, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and an infamous Hells Angels branch. It's an incredibly diverse city and where many Bay Area radicals and regular people who lack the money to pay San Francisco rents make their homes. It's a beautiful underdog city, and I'm proud to call it my home.

Speaking of Oakland, what can fat activists learn from the Black Panthers?

The Black Panthers' militant reputation doesn't begin tell the whole story about them, nor can I tell it here. In addition to being armed revolutionaries, the Panthers were also hard-working social change pragmatists who created amazing community programs like the Free Breakfast for Children program, which was the model for the breakfast programs that now exist in public schools throughout the US.

The Panthers' Ten Point Plan is a powerful and incredibly well-articulated example of what self-determination might look like and the Free Breakfast for Children program is one practical way the Panthers helped make their vision a reality.

While comparing the struggle of fat people to the struggle the Panthers faced is not possible, nor is it the goal, I challenge fat activists to take inspiration from the Ten Point Plan and articulate our own vision for a self-determined reality, then take practical steps to make it come to fruition.

What's next for you?

Next for me is figuring out how to pay my rent if the US Senate votes down extending unemployment benefits. Stay tuned for the rest.

What else do you want to say?

Thanks for giving me a forum to express my thinking and for being a fierce, hardworking dynamo, Charlotte. I tremendously appreciate all that you do. (Charlotte: Thanks! Sob! And backatcha!)

14 July 2010

Conference Report: NOLOSE 2010

It's over a month since NOLOSE and I'm still overwhelmed by the experience. When people ask me how it was I have no way of answering. Words like 'intense' and 'amazing' seem about right but they don't really come close. I thought I'd use this blog post to process it a little and yeah, it's personal. NOLOSE is different for everyone and this is a bit of what it was like for me.

This was the first time, perhaps ever, I'm not sure, that NOLOSE was held on the West Coast of the United States. This was a significant shift because California is the motherlode for fat queer, trans and dyke culture and many superfat Nolosers live there. It's also perpetually sunny, and the location helped make it possible for us to have a whole accessible venue to ourselves. It was also the busiest NOLOSE I've seen, and the one with the most diverse crowd.

During the course of the conference the Oakland Airport Econolodge became Fatlandia, a kind of utopia. The pool was rarely empty, the meeting rooms were named after fat animals ("I'll see you in Manatee!"), friends and loves from far-flung places got to spend time with each other, and it was like a little temporary village of rad fatness, and there was a lot of joy. A week later I heard that Luscious had died suddenly. Part of what is making NOLOSE hard to process is thinking about Luscious' presence there. For me, this NOLOSE has become idealised in the sunshine, like a space before the Fall. It's very difficult to think about, so I'll focus on the concrete things first.

Katie LeBesco interviewed me for a documentary she's making. She asked hard questions! I think it's going to be a great piece of work, be very excited about its release. It was fun bumping into Linda Bacon as I walked on the set, and Esther Rothblum as I left, and so flattering to be represented as a peer to these legendary authors and activists.

I chose to do workshops that were about feeling embodied, rather than discussion-based activities. This is partly because for the last few months I've been stuck at my desk and I had a real itch to move and feel connected to my flesh. So there was synchronised swimming; a bunch of us learned the Thriller dance ('give new meaning to the term "morbid obesity'") which we later sprung on an unsuspecting audience at the dance; I meditated with my belly out; threw myself around at the deranged Master of Dance session; and participated in Nomy Lamm's beautiful and unforgettable Singing As Social Justice workshop.

My activities included a workshop, a co-chairing the keynote panel, reading at Queer Memoir, and working at the Den of Desire, a fat activist brothel. (Yes, you read that right, and I'll write more about this some other time). I really loved Galadriel Mozee's keynote presentation during the panel. She talked about the food justice movement from a radical fat perspective, one which is often overlooked within a paradigm that tends to demonise obesity. It was also a pleasure to hear Deb Burgard speak, I've been a fan of hers for a long time and it was great to hear her debunking healthism within the fat rights movement.

Our own workshop was another highlight. A large group of us constructed a queer and trans fat activist timeline together. We pasted it up on the wall and people added their own memories of significant historic events. Some people gave oral accounts which I recorded. This timeline will form the basis of a zine which will be archived around the world. People are so cut off from the history of the movement, I want to do something to rectify that situation. It was wonderful to see activists of different generations all adding their work to the timeline. The earlier years were fairly sparse, but the last decade has seen an explosion of activity. It was very exciting and inspiring to see it all forming before our very eyes.

Through sheer exhaustion I missed the discussion about extending NOLOSE to cisgendered queer men, a stretching workshop, a session by Nancy Thomas who was involved with the historic FAT LIP Reader's Theatre, the Mixed-Size Relationship Caucus, and the play party. Ach. But I managed to catch Elana Dykewomon reading The Real Fat Woman Poems, and I stayed for the community meeting at the end. There were also group meals, schmoozing, dancing and performances, and times hanging out with some of the most amazing people in the world.

And then it was over. One minute I was jumping for joy and hugging people I hadn't seen for ages, the next we were all dispersed. It's so strange how Fatlandia feels like the norm when you're in its midst, as though life is always like this, and when it's no longer there you can't help but feel bereft. Some people stayed in the motel after the conference was over and they said it was like a ghost town. For me, it all feels like a funny dream.

Past NOLOSE conferences have given me a massive boost, like a dose of something strong that enables me to function in the real world. This one felt more complicated and mellow than that, perhaps it was because I was busy, or that there were simply a lot of complex dynamics going on. This was my fourth conference, so perhaps I am just becoming more seasoned, or at least more aware of the politics and business that goes on behind the scenes. Having said that, it's still a thrill to see new people getting into it and loving the space, especially international delegates. It still takes my breath away, and I still treasure those moments that can happen here but which are unlikely to happen anywhere else. I think it is a vital event, life-affirming and life-changing, and I will keep going and supporting it for as long as I can.

By the way, the NOLOSE Board is recruiting new members. Get in touch through the website, sign up, volunteer, join in, help make it good.

Intergenerational fat activism with Charlotte and Meryl

I met Meryl Trussler earlier this year when she invited me to speak about fat stuff at Ladyfest Goldsmiths. For someone who thought she did not know much about fat activism, she really took the baton and started running. Since then she's founded LDN XL GRRRLS, through which she is producing a zine. She has a lot of drive and I think she's someone we should keep an eye on.

For the zine, we decided together that it would be good to have a conversation about fat, sort of like a cross-generational thing between a younger activist who is new to the movement (that's Meryl with the moustache) and an older one who's been around the block a bit (that's me Living the Dream). Neither of us are claiming to speak for everyone, we just wanted to create some dialogue.

The conversation turned out to be a long one! We've got a lot of things to tell each other, it seems. A slightly edited version will feature in the LDN XL GRRRLS zine, along with Meryl's beautiful illustrations, some of which I've pinched for here, but here's the longer piece.

Charlotte: why do you think fat is political?

Meryl: Well, you know I'm a newcomer to fat politics, so I know my answer is gonna be all stunted by misinformation, but here's what I think so far: because like abortion and contraception, like homosexuality, it's one of those things that make the public bristle and think they're somehow allowed a say in what you do with your own body. And I do think it shares that ground with those issues of gender and sex for a reason. It has the power to both make bodily gender explicit (think of the Lane Bryant lingerie ad that was said to be too racy, alongside the apparently less problematic half-naked skinny chix we see every day on TV) and to disguise/queer it completely (the issue of "man boobs" etc.) And that scares the shit out of the media because they want sexuality but they want it their way, contained and categorised. Aside from gender issues, I think politicians are afraid of us because they've come to think of us as indicators of all their country's failings, e.g. the recession, couch potato culture, joblessness and so on. Because the idea that this stuff CAUSES fat still permeates, which we fat activists know is bull. They should be proud to have us!

Charlotte: wow, great answer! I'd add that it's political because of the effects of stigma and discrimination on fat people, and the idea that we need civil rights and recognition of our value in order to counter that stuff.

Meryl: Do you think "thin" as the beauty standard is here to stay?

Charlotte: If you think of historic and cross-cultural readings of The Body and of the way that beauty is recognised in bodies, you could say that thin as a beauty ideal is not here to stay. Although it feels so ubiquitous to you or me, there is evidence to the contrary: people feel differently about bodies – women's bodies mostly – across time and place, therefore things will change eventually.

However, these readings can be really problematic because they tend to try and force one model of understanding beauty or bodies onto another context where that external model is irrelevant. This can end up being racist and colonialist, or historically reductive and naïve, and it requires us to ask questions about who is producing this knowledge and why. So I'm really wary of parroting the popular line that "in some cultures/historical eras it's ok to be fat".

I think there are systemic forces that make thinness the idea in 21st century western culture. If you look at capitalism, for example, standardised bodies that are generally thin make sense because they are easier to sell standardised production line goods and services to – fat bodies are wildly diverse, we don't fit that world. So I think challenging the predominance of slenderness as a capitalist ideal means also taking on wider political and philosophical ideologies. These are so powerful, and only one part of why thin is an ideal, that I think yeah, it's pretty likely that thin as a dominant culture beauty standard is here to stay.

On the other hand, I think people interpret beauty in their own idiosyncratic ways. I don't think there is a beauty ideal, I think there are loads of different ideals and that they are chaotic and contradictory. I get called beautiful fairly often and I look like a fat dyke freak, which is what I am, and quite far away from a fashion model standard, yet I'm a hot proposition in some of the circles in which I move. Perhaps what people are becoming more conscious of is that beauty is not fixed, and that it can mean many different things. I think the current hippy/ Buddhist/ mindfulness trend I'm encountering in alternative cultures, which is often preoccupied with the concept of gratitude, is also about finding beauty in the everyday, for example, and in expanding notions of beauty.

I also think that beauty has many limitations, it's somewhat bourgeois! I'm not interested in supporting the kinds of power relationships that beauty underpins, where beauty is a hierarchy. I don't know, either, that beauty is the driving force for most people. I mean, I love to be surrounded by beauty, beauty motivates me, but it also seems irrelevant.

Ok, here's another question: as a young fat activist, starting out, what do you want and need from older people who have more experience of the movement?

Meryl: Mostly I just need reassurance that there is any point at all in it. I know one of the biggest purposes of FA, for me, is that it makes ME feel better, and that there's a sense of community that is really... nourishing to the soul. It emboldens me and makes me stop holding back from things because of my size. Now a part of me knows that if it did that for me, it can do that for other fat girls (which is what I'm trying to do with this zine to some extent), and that is of course a massive achievement. But on the other hand there's kind of a ceiling to it. As confident as we might be, there is still going to be external hatred pushing us back. And I don't know if there's anyone who can completely bulletproof themselves from being hurt by that. I feel like there's only so far we can get when, you know, The Man is so impenetrably cruel, so impossible to change.

So I guess my counter question is, do you feel like it's actually possible to change dominant societal views on fat? Because so far I feel like the only people opening up to body acceptance are the people who really, really, deep down, longed to be able to accept themselves as-is in the first place.

Charlotte: I think fat is relevant to many people, not just those who are fat or want to feel happily embodied. Part of what makes fat such an interesting subject is that it is implicated in so many areas of modern life, including health and medicalisation, economics, corporatism, equality, rights, body stuff, legitimacy, gender, power, race, beauty, class, all of it. This means that there are loads of stakeholders.

I thinks social views do change but I'm not sure of the process by which that happens. Obvious interventions like legal rights or being visible make a difference, but the nitty gritty of social change is more elusive and is contingent on so many factors. You might do some kind of fat activism with the idea that it will make some kind of positive difference and it has a completely unpredictable, and maybe unwanted, outcome.

Also, fat people are a diverse group, often brought together only by our body size, and there are disagreements on the best way to create social change. I think this highlights a mythology, the belief that only unity can create change. I think in reality social change is much more fragmented and wild, it happens in ways that can't be controlled, it has a life of its own. I suppose my approach to activism is to do stuff that makes sense to me, is fun and interesting, life-affirming, and hope that the ripples touch other people. Sometimes this happens and it's very satisfying. There are lots of people and organisations out there creating their own ripples too.

Now you! What sort of social change would you like to see around fat?

Meryl: I guess because I'm always trying to climb inside the media/pop culture beast I focus the most on that. Like you say, social change happens in so many ways - bringing in size discrimination laws like they have in San Francisco would actually get pretty immediate notice, but the kind of change I think is easiest to effect is the slow-release kind that works through the kind of images to which people are exposed. I think "normalising" is a powerful force. Even as a fat chick, I used to stare at other fat people; through following the blogs that I follow now, I see so many images of beautiful fat women that it no longer comes off as novelty. I think the same thing could work on a greater scale. All I want to see is fat characters in TV shows whose weight doesn't define them, and fat models in photoshoots that aren't part of Glamour or Dove's self-congratulatory bloody "real women" campaigns, and fat people in art who aren't there to represent corporate gluttony etc... I just want to see a more accurate portrayal of reality in the media. But then I see fashion magazines who would rather blackface their models than hire a woman of colour for some godawful "tribal trend" shoot, and I know that realistic representation is a long way off for all of us.

How do you think we can best respond to discrimination and hatred when it's happening to us on the spot, on the streets?

Charlotte: I think the bottom line is about doing what you can to prioritise your physical and mental safety when this kind of thing happens. Some people are more fragile than others, and harassment can really ruin a good day. I find it helpful to remember that people harassing me don't know me at all, and therefore have no claim on my value as a human.

In terms of harassment, I use several strategies:

1. Ignore it. People say things because they want a reaction from me, I don't give it to them or escalate that kind of violence, I walk away from it. This is my most common response.

2. Turn it into a teachable moment. Sometimes there are opportunities for having creative discussions about crappy behaviour. This is rare and relies on my not being a pompous windbag (my natural state).

3. Attack. This works if you are with a group of people. Charge with your bellies and flab flying, scream, look as terrifying as you can, laugh and ridicule. Harassers do not expect this response from fat people and it freaks them out in a satisfying way.

In all cases, talk about it with people you love and trust and/or write about it or process it in some way. Don't keep it to yourself or bottle it up. I don't get verbal harassment so much these days, though I get hate mail, which I always share and often publish.

When the heat of the incident and the upset has died down, you're in a better position to think about what might be done in the longer-term, perhaps to organise around the issue. Again, this is good to talk through with people.

Now you: what do you like about fat people?

Meryl: I'm a firm believer that we are no different than anyone else apart from the various struggles we go through, and I wouldn't want to make generalisations. I can speak better for fat activists, or body acceptance advocates in general. I just love their bravery, their determination, and their camaraderie. I love having great food on the table without it requiring a 20 minute discussion about how we shouldn't be eating it for whatever reason. I love not having to fight with people to get them to accept a compliment. And I love being able to talk about how much I hate certain advertisements or movies without being thought of as a complete buzzkill!

The fat body itself, I think, also lends itself so well to analogy, which pleases me as the flowery writer that I am. I think it's as pleasing a body type as any other, and it comes in so MANY shapes! I noticed that stretch-marks can look like a fading out firework trail, and that made me smile.

How do you think the parallel universe Thin Charlotte's life would be like? What advantages have being fat had for you?

Charlotte: The only benefit I can think of in that parallel universe is that plane travel would be more comfortable. I'd be a fussier dresser because I'd have access to more clothes. But I think I'd be more likely to be straight, I'd be more ignorant about a lot of things, I'd be less developed and mature as a person. I'd have fewer ways of understanding things about fat because I wouldn't have direct experience of it, so ironically I might have more internalised fatphobia. I'd still be formed and/or fucked up by other life experiences.

I think the fantasy of a parallel thin me is really seductive, but it's empty when you take it apart, it would bring me very few benefits. People think that being fat is a tragedy but I owe so much to it. Not that my fat body has necessarily created all of these opportunities, it's me, my drive and intelligence, and ability to capitalise on it too, I think. But fat is at the centre of my creative, community, political, emotional, social, intellectual, financial lives. It's brought me everything that I care about.

09 July 2010

Public weighing scales are really strange

I was in Berlin last week and I noticed these vintage weighing machines on the platforms of a couple of U-Bahn stations, the older ones, I'm guessing. You put ten cents in and it spits something out, possibly a card with your weight on it, I don't know I didn't have the right change. There's a height and weight table attached to the front, a height measuring scale on the side, complete with hook where you presumably hang your coat.

I don't know how many of these scales are out on the platforms of Berlin's underground, or if they exist in other parts of Germany or German-speaking Europe. They're quite unobtrusive, but once I saw one I started noticing them elsewhere. Going away highlights the strangeness of everyday life. I've seen weighing scales in public places in the UK too but have never paid much attention to them until now.

It makes me wonder why one might need to be weighed on the platform of a train station, or any public place, and also why would one need to be weighed in general. Their presence and incongruity smack of body surveillance culture and the idea that we can never forget that how much we weigh is really important.

It reminds me of an experience I had in San Francisco last month (yes, I've been around a bit). There was another set of weighing scales outside a South American convenience store in the Mission. It was shaped like a rocket ship. For 25¢ it tells you how much you weigh on Earth, the Moon (something like 15% of your earth weight) and Mars (approximately half your earth weight). A lo-fi electronic display presents a narrative that includes a countdown and a pretend voyage to the stars, whilst telling you these various weights inbetween. I'm sorry I have no pictures, I was mostly too gob-struck by the whole experience to get my camera out. It was no Yay-Scale, but it was fun and really bizarre. God only knows what this is all about.

08 July 2010

Goodbye Change4Life?

Great news! No more government cash will be given to the execrable Change4Life programme. It's the silver lining in the otherwise terrible new British government's campaign of funding cuts.

Terrible news! It will now be privately funded and become even more of a hideous train wreck of fat hatred than before.

Obesity marketing campaign 'cut'

Fat art that reproduces fat abjection

A couple of Nick Turvey sculptures have been picked as part of the Fitzwilliam Museum Sculpture Promenade 2010, in Cambridge, and will be there until next January. One of them is called 'venus' and BoingBoing reported: "It's carved from a block of upholstery foam, and coated in a rubber skin, so when you grab hold of those rolls of fat you find they are actually soft. Some people are disgusted, others love it, but it's certainly provoking reactions. It's one of a series I'm making about the materiality of the human body."

The artist's own statement goes like this: "a new kind of realism, using abstraction to trigger responses at a neural level ... quasi-musical variations or transformations of a simple, rhythmic form ... a set of possibilities like the malic molds, shaping the spangles of illuminating gas/ether ... the human body as a material object in myth, propaganda, dream and fetish ..." (Yeah, me neither).

I'm interested in what people think of as being a 'positive image' of fatness because 'positive' is such a subjective concept. I suspect that some people regard this sculpture as a positive image of fat. Look at the ladies giving her belly rolls a good old feel in the picture, for which the file is called venus-hug. Hug the fatty! It's lovely! But this sculpture really creeps me out and I want to say why.

'venus' sounds like an allusion to ancient fat female figurative sculptures that include the Venus of Willendorf, who has been appropriated by fat activists. But where those figures have at least heads, this venus is a representation of a fat woman who is nothing but her rolls of fat. Turvey is right when he mentions the word fetish, I think this is what he has produced: a representation of a fat woman as fetish object. Judging by the comment to BoingBoing, or his oblique artist's statement, I don't know if he has done this intentionally or understands its implications.

For me, a positive image of a fat woman might include some sense of autonomy. Ideally it would be produced by someone who has direct experience of a fat woman's subject position. I don't see any of that here. Instead, I look at venus and wonder: Where is her mouth? If she had a mouth, what would she say? "Get the fuck off me!" "Where are my rights?" Instead, a fat woman is diminished here through abstraction into little more than something passive, accommodating, squidgy and lovely – a magical fatty – and/or a disgusting blob. It's so limited. We deserve better representations than this.

Like John Yeadon's recent crap art I wonder if this sculpture is also a misguided product of mainstream obesity discourse, albeit a weak attempt to offer a more enlightened reading. It makes me long for art produced by people who actually have a clue about fat; Allyson Mitchell is one whose work is amazing, but yes Amanda Piasecki, I'm looking at you, and yes Stefanie Snider, I'm desperate to read your art criticism too.

07 July 2010

Jenny Craig is a tool of The Man

Mo Kalman gave me this in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. It's old and it's good.