26 July 2012

Being called disgusting, ugly, and unhealthy did not destroy me

A person made a mean and thoughtless comment about one of Substantia's Adipositivity portraits of me recently, I saw it just now. This is not front page news, I get trolled fairly often and I don't expect everybody to like what I do. Neither do I need reassurance that I'm nice, good, pretty enough as I am; whether or not I embody those things is irrelevant to me, I'm as complex as anybody else and I trust my sense of ethics.

I'm intrigued by the comment, if anything. I think this is because I am writing this morning about my affective response to obesity discourse. I often write about obesity discourse and the fat hatred it engenders in abstract ways, but here it is, like dirty smoke manifesting from the ether, finding a vessel in this person. The comment represents the entitlement of the discourse, its arrogance towards and alienation from the subjects – fat people – with whom it is apparently concerned.

Other people might feel devastated by such a comment, but I don't. This is not because I'm not a thinking, feeling person myself, I often feel hurt by things. It's because its separation from anything that is meaningful to me about being a fat dyke, or a person in one of Substantia's pictures, means that it will make no difference to how I live my life. The comment feels as mystifying and alien as if an ant had tried to explain something to me in ant-language.

I decided to look at the comment more closely and pick it apart a little, there's so much going on in that short statement measuring the value of my presence in the world. It goes like this: "I'm sorry, but this will never be beautiful. It's disgusting, it's ugly, it's unhealthy."

It starts as an apology but is not an apology. Why say sorry? What apology are they making? Are they trying to gently divest people from their fantasy that the photograph of me is something that might help them feel as though they can live in the world?

They use the dehumanising words "this" and "it" when talking about me. Or is this about me? Perhaps it's about the picture, the outfit, the street or, more likely, the fat on my body as an entity that is separate to me.

They use the term "never". How can they know? Many people have expressed deep affection for this picture. As it was being taken, a guy on the street asked for my number (that's him in the foreground blur). On what authority can they make that claim of "never"? It's nonsense.

It's kind of amazing to be called disgusting! I wonder if the person feels like vomiting when they see me, if that feeling of disgustingness is about trying to eject me from their own being because I upset how they want things to be so intensely. I secretly hope so because, apart from someone shitting or dying at the sight of you, this is the ultimate punken reaction. I am glad to be so disruptive and uncomfortable a presence.

But being called disgusting and ugly doesn't make sense in the context of their Tumblr. There are lots of pictures of punks, how come they don't recognise how punk I am? There are images of fat people too, cartoons mostly, how come they're ok but I am not? Scrolling through, I can see images of someone gleefully pointing a gun at the viewer; a wave of blood; a chainsaw killer; a hanged yuppie with a plastic bag over his head; Charles Manson; a woman with a pretty punched mouth and another woman with a pretty black eye; a stitched wound; a potato shitting chips! I am uglier and more disgusting than those things in this person's universe, I think I'm supposed to mind, women are supposed to care about being called ugly, but I don't.

The commenter does not know me and does not appear to have any qualifications that would enable them to assess the state of my health, yet they feel entitled to judge me. Typically, this form of judgment brings with it none of the compassion that one might extend to someone who was unwell, not that I want to be concern-trolled.

I don't know how to end this. I think I'm astonished by some people's capacity for thoughtless meanness, perhaps I don't come across much of that in my everyday life. The experience has made me reflect on how profoundly the internet affects how I live, the things I can do and witness, a life without it is unimaginable. It's made me think about accountability online, how off-the-cuff comments are not necessarily throwaway. Mostly I feel strong, politically and intellectually engaged with what it is to be fat; I feel alright. It's a miracle, really - actually it's not a miracle, you're looking at what happens after 20+ years of work.

PS. I sent this: Hi there, I wrote a blog post inspired by your comment about my picture. Perhaps you'd like to respond? It would be good to generate some dialogue. Tumblr won't let me send a link but you can get to the piece by Googling 'Obesity Timebomb'. Charlotte


Anonymous said...

I'm consistently blown away by your eloquent writing about what is so often a topic that attracts rash reactions. I love hearing your thought processes behind this stuff, especially as it's stuff I'm working on in my own head.I love that that guy asked for your number!

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks Amy. I like stopping to think about things.

The guy was funny and sleazy, but no, he could not have my number.

The Real Cie said...

Your response was so much cooler than the insult, which could only have been made by an ignorant twatwaffle.

Charlotte Cooper said...

The thing is, I'm not really bothered about being cool either. Maybe the person is ignorant, maybe not. I hope they respond, it would be good to have a conversation together.

Erin S. said...

Is it wrong that I am now picturing in my head walking down the street and leaving a little trail of jackasses literally shitting themselves at the sight of my body? I mean that would be pretty damn funny to me heh.

lilacsigil said...

I loved that photo the first time I saw it and I love it now. It gives me a strange feeling of joyous victory.

Veronica said...

"They use the dehumanising words "this" and "it" when talking about me."
I didn't even notice that. Can you believe that?! I've actually met you! Sometimes I am just staggered by how deep I've internalized certain things!

Veronica said...

"They use the dehumanising words "this" and "it" when talking about me."
I didn't even notice that. Can you believe that?! I've actually met you! Sometimes I am just staggered by how deep I've internalized certain things!

Anonymous said...

I'm the one that insulted you. Please excuse my english, I'm not a native speaker.

You are right, I wasn't thinking enough and I didn't thought you'll be reading this. But you put this picture on the internet and so you should have known there won't be just positive reactions on this.

It's right my blog is pretty disgusting, I'm fascinated by this morbid kind of beauty that people like Sid Vicious or Amy Winehouse radiate. Everyone can see they are not healthy.

The choice of words was wrong, I was too radical I'm sorry. But it makes me sad and angry that you promote unhealthy overweight. I can't belive somebody can live totally free, you are a prisoner of your own body.

Maybe I'm just mean, I had never weight problems and eventhough I'm not supermodel-skinny, I'm not even chubby.

You miss a lot. You miss how it fells to run so fast and so long that you think you fly, you miss that a guy takes you on his shoulders on a concert and how it feels to spin around the parallel bars. I didn't want to hurt you that bad, but in my opinion it's wrong to support people to not try to loose weight because everyone should be proud of this. That's not something to be proud of.

No illness on the world will excuse such a weight and it's NEVER, this beautiful word again, healthy.

I don't know if you will ever understand what you do to your body. I won't call you jealouse, that would be stupid, maybe it's dispite.

If you would like to insult me back or want to tell you something, proove me wrong, whatever, just send me a message:

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thank you for your response.

Yes, I knew people would be judgmental and fatphobic about the picture. It wasn't me who put it online, but the photographer, but I consented to it. Her name is Substantia Jones and she has a collection of photographs of fat people called The Adipositivity Project http://www.adipositivity.com/ I think this is an incredibly powerful project and I love Substantia, and we work together when we can. I think it is important to put photographs like these out into the world for many reasons, they are provocative pictures and that is intentional. I don't know if you would understand why this is a powerful project, given the tone of your comments here, but perhaps you could have a think about it.

I too like beauty that could be described as morbid or unhealthy.

The problem here is that you are stereotyping me according to how you imagine fat people live. You don't know me at all. How do you know I don't run until it feels like flying, or ride around on someone's shoulders? How do you know I would want to do that? Or that I would be jealous of thin people?

You go on, pitying and belittling me arrogantly, calling me someone who is beyond belief, who cannot be free. Your concern-trolling is entirely misplaced. You assume that you are a better person than me, with broader life experiences, and that you're healthier, as all normatively-sized people are, because you are not fat.

I don't want to insult you back "or whatever". It would be good if we could come to some kind of an understanding of each other as adults. You have insulted me and an apology that shows you have understood the nature of your insult would be good. On the other hand, the things you have written and your Tumblr make me think that you are thoughtless, judgmental, clueless and juvenile, so but I will not die or cry if you cannot manage it.

Meanwhile, maybe take a bit of time to reflect. I can recommend some reading if you are interested in finding out more about why I disagree with you, and why I am not alone in this thinking.

Anonymous said...

I think what you said about it being like an ant talking to you in ant language is pertinent here. I doubt if it is possible for 'oldandcunning' to apologise in a meaningful way because their basic assumptions and yours are so different. i think that it is clear that 'old andcunning' has never considered that being healthy isn't a universally desired or neutral thing. I don't think 'oldandcunning' has ever come across any critical thought about this and certainly has never encountered any disability theory. It reminds me of how Christians use the bible to justify things and can't comprehend that someone might not accept the bible as meaningful in the first place.

Anyway, I think you are brave and ethical in calling this person out and inviting dialogue. I hope I'm wrong and there can be some resolution here but I'm not holding my breath for it.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Yes, it's worlds apart. Can there be dialogue? Not convinced.

hayley said...

What a kind and generous response Charlotte.

Anonymous, can you not appreciate quite how radical it is to love and accept a body that is discriminated against and dismissed?

Your talk about "health" and "parallel bars"(?!) are poor justifications for not ever having thought about your own prejudice. It seems obvious that you just wanted to tell some stranger on the internet that you don't find her attractive. This is, at best, childish and arrogance.

Good news though, it's not too late to change, ask Charlotte nicely for those links.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I also should say that I love the examples of running, parallel bars and being carried around by a guy that they give about what you are missing out on. This is actually hilarious.
How about what you would have missed out on if you were thin? Numerous books and journal articles, films, artistic and activist projects, keynoting conferences around the world. The way that oldandcunning reduces you to a stereotype based on your appearance is not really surprising, because that is common enough stuff for fat phobia, but it is really very pathetic. they only need to read this blog to get a sense of your scholarship and accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if you don't understand, I assume that you don't care about that it is a very awful thing to try to make yourself and new beauty idol. The wold is bad enough people die because they've got nothing to eat.
If you treat yourself like this ok, but I don't think you should motivate others to do so.
Thoughtless, judgmental, clueless and juvenile. That's what I think of you too. We are not talking about fat, we are talking about unhealthy overweight. And you are not Punk anyway and I'm not very sure if you know what that is.
I'm working in some kind of homeless hostle, there are some cute old 77'Punks.
But that's not the matter. Call me judgemental, clueless, juveneil, maybe you are even right, but what you are doing is not what I would ever fight for. I would rather talk with you about how you can loose weight in a healthy way and keep a that weight. But I don't think you want to hear that.

I'm not thoughtless, I'm just confused. You are thoughtless if you think that your message is a good one.

combobulator said...

Just a quick dip in to note that feeling free is completely subjective, @oldandcunning. I've starved myself down to a "normal" size, and felt like my life was completely restricted and limited. I think a person's body is free when they can be as authentic as possible while living in it--fat, thin, or otherwise. Being an outsider as a fat person has been a tremendous gift to me, it makes the world much bigger than living in the limited confines of mainstream reality for some of us.

The Adipositivity Project said...

I’ve ridden on a man’s shoulders at a concert. I’ve spun around the uneven parallel bars. I’ve run so fast and so hard that I blah blah blah. Do I miss any of it? Not even a little. I’ve also stood on an icy sidewalk in Chinatown and photographed the thoroughly beautiful (to the core) Charlotte Cooper as she flashed passers-by, then had the full-out joy of reading her poetic description of same. If the intended intimidation of misguided detractors like “oldandcunning” took an experience like that away from me, THAT I’d miss like a motherfuck. I’ve never met a man’s shoulders or a pair of powdery wooden rails that could give me as treasured an experience as my frigid Chinatown afternoon, with Charlotte in her undies.

Thank you for your bold and brilliant beauty, Charlotte. Then and now.

eyebright said...

Blown away by your calm integrity inviting dialogue Charlotte. You're a bigger woman than I am :-)

I'm also quite impressed at oldandcunning coming to comment; however, as Kay said s/he isn't really thinking, just extolling a popular (which doesn't make it real) world view that fat is unhealthy.

Are you unhealthy charlotte? I'm sorry if that's the case, but if you are I doubt it's weight related. to me your writing, and the pictures of you - you in the flesh, seem supremely healthy to me.

I know many people who suffer from ill health. Oddly enough none of it weight related. I know a very thin woman who's an alcoholic and her liver is in a dreadful state. I know an average sized woman who's living with cancer, a fat friend of my daughter's who has MS, but then I know a thin woman with MS too. I could go on: the incredibly fit woman with horrific Rheumatoid arthritis ...

but you, and I really hope oldandcunning, get the drift.

Us humans are messy and complicated, we don't fit into boxes, sometimes we spill over the sides, sometimes we disappear into the corner, but one thing I truly to be true is that to be human is flawed, and beautiful, and yes, to forgive, with calm equanimity and invitation to dialogue, is divine.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks folks.

Anonymous, I think you're out of your depth here.

Max Airborne said...

Being fat in this world has actually taught me more about freedom than I think anonymous knows at this point in their journey. Imagine, freedom from bigotry, freedom from assumptions about what constitutes a "good" body, freedom to appreciate your body regardless of its shape, size and condition!

These are freedoms I feel proud of, and would love to share with you, anonymous. I hope you experience them someday.

Bee said...

As others on here have said, your invitation to dialogue Charlotte is a brave, thoughtful and kind response to such hateful words. To oldandcunning I want to say that we come in all shapes and sizes, and you can't tell how healthy someone is from their size (google health at every size if you're interested). Regardless, healthy or not (whatever size and whatever you think healthy means) everyone deserves respect. People find beauty and love and enjoyment in lots of different ways. If we all had to swing from the parallels bars to live free, life would be a pretty dull place, though I'm happy for you that you get so much enjoyment from it - I never did. I am privileged to have met Charlotte and been involved in events she has organised and I tell you this - I have no idea whether she's done the things you think are necessary for a free life but she has done amazing things. To live free is to do what makes you feel free not what someone tells you you should do.

maeve66 said...

It seems like the discussion might have wound down a bit, but I wanted to comment anyway, just in case you, anonymous, are still reading. I mean @oldandcunning. I am fat, myself, and I am 'unhealthy' as general doctors judge it, too and in fact have Type 2 diabetes, which the medical establishment links to weight. However, genetically speaking, three of my four grandparents had diabetes, so it's on both sides of my family, and my father does, too. None of them were what is defined these days as obese by the flawed and just as subjective as any other socially conceived measure of the BMI. I've run so fast, blah blah blah, and gloried in the uneven bars (really; loved them in high school), and experienced physical joy at many levels and in many ways. It seems that right now you are completely incapable of imagining yourself into someone else's place without condescension and assumptions, and that to me seems a much greater loss in terms of human experiences. Clinging to socially predictable visions of 'beauty' is a terrible limitation, and will greatly impoverish your life. The strangest thing to me right now is your comment about Charlotte not being punk. Is your definition of punk someone who lives in a homeless hostel and was listening to Sid Vicious in 1977? That's pretty bizarrely limited, too.

siobhan said...

wow, right on for starting a thought-provoking and challenging dialogue. I hope oldandcunning does some thinking: especially about punk, because being fat and not being ashamed of it is totally punk.

gita said...

Charlotte - such a shout out joyful picture. Bold and audacious.
Anonymous - Charlotte has graciously invited you to have a dialogue, a conversation but instead you have resorted to defensiveness, sniping and some weird self justification about being 'mean'. It makes me think you may not have the capacity to reflect or be considered and it seems to be there is self-destructive note to your responses. For this I feel sad for you.

And exactly what do you actually mean by 'healthy'? It's a concept which by it's very nature is not neutral nor benign. It is a construct. You certainly don't seem to understand notions of well -being and holism. I really could go on but parallel bars? Really? Possibly more parallel universe.
In summary I echo Charlotte's words - you really do seem out of your depth. If you are then be honest and authentic about this.

Debra said...

Oldandcunning, you have a very simplistic view of health and thriving. All of us make all kinds of choices about our own health and welfare, and it's foolish to make assumptions about what's in someone else's best interests. We all know many people drive themselves into ill health by trying to make themselves thin. I'm a fat person, and I'm interested in my health. I make personal choices based on evidence that I think are in my best interests. Being thin is not a priority or an interest; my focus is different. And of course it's no one else's business.

If I spent a great deal my time, thought and energy thinking about altering my body to match your expectations, I'd feel my time, thought and energy were being squandered on trivia instead of getting on with far more interesting things.

Ann Kaloski said...

Sorry I am also late to this, but I want to add something to stand alongside Charlotte and maybe to nudge @oldandcunning and others like them into thinking.

Charlotte you are brave, thoughtful and eloquent as well as beautiful. It is not at all easy to respond to such dehumanizing, thoughtless and patronizing comments, and your response is generous and pertinent.

@oldandcunning, there is much that could be said, but I agree with Charlotte and others that you are out of your depth. Admit this, or perhaps, perhaps you do want to understand, to really learn about these issues and not just spout opinion. I hope you are (really) listening to the commenters. Why not ask for a reading list, find out more and challenge your own ignorance. That is something we all have to do, all the time; thinking takes time and is way more difficult and radical than merely repeating judgmental and hackneyed views. You may still disagree with Charlotte (and me, and many, many others), but at least you could discuss the issues with an informed mind (and open heart) and not resort to insult and prejudice. And you may find – if you able to read and think honestly – that you change your mind.

Thinking is like flying . . .

Charlotte Cooper said...

Wow Ann, that is beautiful.

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. I am stunned by the support.

I had another thought this morning, obvious really, which is that it's not my body that makes me feel unfree, it's people's fatphobia.

Anonymous said...

oldandcunning is right ladies.

You remind me of these pro ana blogs. You try to convince people of your totally extreme beauty idol. Your views are just too radical to recognize that. Adipositivity is the new pro ana, everyone said it was pervert they said it's too beautiful but because they are so many people who are too fat nobody will critizise you.

Disgusting is also that people are starving because they have nothing and you eat and eat and eat until you burst. I'm not talking about kids in africa, but about people in your close neighbourhood. You are doing excessive CONSUME(!) of food that others need much more than you, you little punk. How much do you need to eat to get such a size? How many people could have lived well with what you ate too much? All the tons of meat that pollute our inviroment like no car driver can. Place yourself next to some hungry homeless, what will they say? You are the heaviest punk if's ever see, promote a LUXURY illness.

FATPHOBIA- that's really stupid.

You are doing wrong activism. Obesity is an illness. What would you say if alcoholics or junkies would run around and try to tell people you can't do better then live their lifestyle?

Why do I even waste words, you'll never get the connection.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Ok, you don't get it and you continue to insult all of us.

This is the last comment of yours that I will publish until you drop the bratty act and show the same respect for the people here that we have shown you.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming across this years too late, but I have met Charlotte briefly at a conference some years ago, and knowing a bit about her own personal history from her presentation I found this tidbit to be very funny: "And you are not Punk anyway and I'm not very sure if you know what that is." ROFL.

And it's very curious that someone who views themselves as punk, as o&c seems to, would not see the punk-ness of being unashamed of one's fat body. It's got fuck all to do with being a new beauty standard.