18 January 2016

Acknowledging the book's supporters

It's taken years to get Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement together and the experience has been a strange mixture of aloneness and putting things into a public realm. I did quite a lot of public speaking over its main research period, from 2008-2012, and of course there's blogging. But the work of putting a load of complex, scattered ideas together into something coherent, which started with the thesis, is a solitary thing shared only with a few close people. Perhaps what I'm saying is that I have felt alone in holding the full picture of this research and the book in my head.

Now things are changing.

I have started speaking about the book in public. Last week we had its launch, and yesterday I spoke at a queer community gathering. Both were packed out. There are more events on the way and I will post them as details emerge.

I'm struggling to identify my feelings in making this work public and being received in such an encouraging way. It's overwhelming. At the launch I remembered what it felt like being 15 years old and how unimaginable it would have been that I would grow up to experience people caring about fat stuff. What has been especially moving to me over the past week is the mixture of people who are finding things in the work. There was a time when I thought that there was only a small readership of fat people for stuff like this. I was wrong. My secret belief that fat resonates with people in many different political ways rings true. I suspect that people are as hungry as hell for a book like this, and lord knows I want to see more work in the world that shares and builds on its breadth.

By the way, I imagine that the book will find readers who hate it too, or people who haven't read it but have already decided that it shouldn't exist. I am steeling myself for that. There will likely be people who take the book and appropriate my ideas as theirs without crediting me. It's happened with this blog often enough. Oh well, no one expects much from a fat person! Putting work into the world is pleasurable and also painful at times but so far I have been lucky.

Even though I have felt alone, I have not really been alone. There are many people I need to thank, and here is a little list of them:

Some of the people's legs at the launch last week at
Gay's The Word bookshop
Pic by D-M Withers
All the people who consented to be interviewed for the project.

People who gave me direct emotional, intellectual and practical support. Between 50 and 100 people who I won't name because they value their privacy. This included talking things through with me, hosting me, cooking meals for me, making sure I was safe, caring about me and checking in.

Everyone associated with HammerOn Press.

The institutional advocates: The Irish Social Sciences Platform; University of Limerick, Coventry University.

The organisations that gave me platforms to publish, show, develop and discuss my work: The Association of Size Diversity and Health; Bad Art Collective; Big Bum Jumble; Bildwechsel Hamburg; Bird Club; Body & Peace Workshop; The British Film Institute; The British Sociological Association; Burger Queen; Canterbury Christ Church University; A Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism; Club Milk; Coventry Peace Festival; Department of International Studies and Social Science, Coventry University; Department of Media, Music, Communication & Cultural Studies, Macquarie University; Entzaubert Queer DIY Film Fest; Economic and Social Research Council Fat Studies and Health at Every Size seminar series; Fat, Awesome and Queer; Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society; The Fat of the Land: A Queer Chub Harvest Festival; The Fattylympics; The Feminist Art Gallery; Gay's The Word; Gender Matters at King's College London; Goldsmith's University; Incite; Department of Sociology, Warwick University; Lesbisch Schwule Filmtage Hamburg; London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival; London Zine Symposium; My Mouth Your Ear; New York University Press; NOLOSE; National Portrait Gallery; Palgrave; Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association; Power Queers; Project O and all the dancers and everyone associated with SWAGGA; Queer Images Edmonton; Raw Nerve Books; Rebel Bellies; Riots Not Diets; Ryerson University; Scumbag; Sister Spit; Sociology Compass; Soggettiva; Somatechnics; thirdspace; Tate Modern; Theatre Royal Stratford East; Well Now; Vignette Press; Villa Magdalena K.

All the reviewers, the ReTweeters, the supportive commenters, the people who have put me in touch with people who want to support the book, the translators, the people who have showed up for this work, the organisers and inviters, all the pre-orderers, the readers, the encouragers.

Ack, I know I've forgotten people. Please forgive me.

I imagine there will be more thanks to make as time goes on. As I said, I feel overwhelmed and very humbled by the response so far in these early days of the work.

Normal snark will be resumed shortly. Right now I need to lie down.

06 January 2016

Fat Feminism, missing women and conversations unspoken

A little while back, my girlfriend's neighbour got married to a man and had a clear-out of a load of lesbian feminist books from the late 1980s. She offered them to my girlfriend and said that a friend had left them. There was a great collection of about 30 books, popular genres like humour, detective fiction, romance. A real throwback to a different time, when lesbian feminist book publishing was in full swing.

I've been stressed about getting my own book together, which has manifested as insomnia, so my girlfriend has been reading these books to me to help me nod off at night. We may be postmodern queers but Lesbian Bedside Stories 2 has given us a lot of pleasure!

The other night she read a short story from that collection by Amanda Hayman called The Gift. It's about a fat Western woman working in Tokyo who gets picked up by a smooth operator and has an exciting fling with her. The story explores the protagonist's internalised fatphobia, and how the love of a normatively sized and rather glamorous lover helps her to heal.

I was pretty sure that I recognised the author's name and, the next day, when I checked my fat activism bibliographic database (yes, nerd alert, I have built one of these) I found her as the author of an article about fat oppression from 1986. Her article had led to quite a discussion in the journal in which it was published, including a fatphobic backlash piece! I did a quick internet search for her, bought a copy of the first Lesbian Bedtime Stories collection, and found that Hayman had a story there too and had published a few things about fat around that period.

1986 was pretty early to be writing about fat oppression in the UK. As I understand it, things didn't get rolling until a couple of years later, in the preamble to the Fat Women's Conference in 1989. It strikes me that Hayman is an important figure in British fat feminist activism. I'm currently feeling a really strong yearning to know more about her, to sit and have a coffee together, if she's up for it. There is so much I want to ask her. But I can't find her.

There are others whose work was instrumental in developing fat feminism in the UK. Heather Smith and Tina Jenkins spring to mind but I've never been able to get in contact with them. Their work is central to me. I've had brief exchanges with Angela English and Rita Keegan, who were also part of the London Fat Women's Group. It is too late to find Barbara Burford, she died in 2010, and Mandy Mudd too. I feel these absences very strongly. Conversations never had, continuity broken, transgenerational fat feminist activism thwarted; I miss these women. There is so much we could tell each other. I dream of them finding me, or of someone knowing them and putting us in touch with each other.

My own book is now out, but I wonder if I will ever stop trying to understand fat activism. The historicising of the movement is so underdeveloped, especially the older fat feminisms upon which so much of fat activism is built. It bothers me so much that their work is barely known whereas other stuff, often mediocre, gets trumpeted as the next big thing. I imagine I will always keep an eye open for the odd random name or connection that pops up, even when my girlfriend is reading me to sleep. I can't let it go, there are so many dots that need joining up, it's a monumental puzzle. No wonder I have a hard time dropping off at night.

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is now available through HammerOn Press and all good booksellers.

Bean, L., Duguid, B. and Burford, B. (1987) 'Body Consciousness', Spare Rib, 182, 20-21.

Hayman, A. (1986) 'Fat Oppression', Gossip: A Journal of Lesbian Feminist Ethics, 3, 66-72.

Hayman, A. (1989 and 1990) in Woodrow, T. (ed) Lesbian Bedtime Stories vols 1 and 2. Willits, CA: Tough Dove Books.

Jenkins, T. and Farnham, M. (1988) 'As I Am', Trouble + Strife, 13.

Jenkins, T. and Smith, H. (1987) 'Fat Liberation', Spare Rib, 182, 14-18.

Mitchell, L. (1986) 'Skinny Lizzie Strikes Back: an apologia for thin women's liberation', Gossip: A Journal of Lesbian Feminist Ethics, 3, 40-44.

Smith, H. (1989) 'Creating a Politics of Appearance', Trouble + Strife, 16 (Summer), 36-41.

04 January 2016

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement - Now Out!

My book, Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is published today by HammerOn Press. You can get it directly from the publisher, in bookshops, from all the usual online sellers. Paperback, hardback and EPUB formats are available.

HammerOn and I decided to publish the book today because for many people it is the first miserable day back at work after the holidays. It's the peak of New Year diet season misery, where people realise what their pledges to lose weight actually entail. We thought that readers deserved something better: a tool to help them incite revolution in an accessible way.

Oh yeah, we made a video.

In Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement I write about what people say about fat activism, how they're quite limited and how you need different methods to talk about what it actually is. I describe what my peers do, where this stuff comes from and some of the ways in which it travels. Towards the end of the book I explain how it has stagnated and how that could be remedied. I use queer feminism, anti-colonialism and disability to talk about this stuff.

Me, holding my book for the first time

The first responses from people who pre-ordered it have been very positive. The general feeling is that this is an exciting book that reveals useful and important things about fat activism, and activism in general. This is heart-warming for me to hear because I think I have written a book that anybody might enjoy.

Bethan Evans snapped this at News From Nowhere in Liverpool
Look, it's with the other political books, no longer stuck in 'Health'.