Fat, zazzly, and accomplished #truth
A couple of weeks ago, a University of New Mexico professor named Geoffrey Miller tweeted a highly-offensive message about fat people who had the gall to think they would be dedicated enough to complete a PhD, implying that they shouldn’t even waste everyone’s time by bothering to apply in the first place. The tweet went viral — although I wonder whether the initial transmission was due to people who thought it was funny and passed it on. But eventually, people who used their brains to get their PhDs rather than to warm their assholes caught on, and there was a huge backlash.
One of the responses to the affair came from Cat Pausé, a fat activist and Fat Studies scholar in New Zealand. She had the idea of compiling an “open letter” of fat folks who were studying for, or had completed, a graduate degree. The project was called “Fuck yeah! Fat PhDs.” I was awarded my Master’s earlier this year, and am currently enrolled in a doctoral programme, so I definitely wanted to be a part of it. I just needed a photo.
Let me tell you a little story. A year or so ago I attended a workshop on body image. It was filled mostly by psychologists, therapists, and counselors with an interest in eating disorders. A few had come with colleagues, but most of us didn’t know each other. We were asked to get a piece of paper and write down our three favourite parts of our bodies, our three least favourite parts, the three parts we were most ashamed of and, finally, who in the room we would show that piece of paper to and why. I didn’t find the exercise difficult. I could readily scrawl down (1) smile, eyes, boobs; (2) backs of my arms, ankles, tummy; and (3) back fat, knee fat, tummy overhang. The telling part was number (4): Anyone — because it does not define me.
Since I discovered Size Acceptance, I have to say that there are a lot more photos of me than there have been in recent years. Whereas once I used to scamper for cover at the first sight of a camera lens, these days it doesn’t bother me that much. That’s not to say I always like the photographs, but, eh, whatever. I sometimes look back at other photos taken over the years. Some that I remember hating so much that I wanted to cry and never leave the house again, I look at now and think, Hey, they’re not that bad. Some are even quite nice. Some are still awful. But I’m not renowned for photographing well and I no longer let it define my self-worth if a camera has failed to capture just how special a moment was.
But back to the Fat PhDs. I don’t have any graduation pics because I hate all that stuff and didn’t go to any of the ceremonies. But as a result of my new non-terror of cameras, I had a selection of recent photos to choose from. I spent a week in London a few months ago for a cousin’s wedding and there were a few pre-event shindigs that let me get my glad rags out. The photo quality isn’t great, but most of them are of me and hubby looking happy and spruced up. We polish up well. But as I was flicking through the photos to choose which one to submit, I found myself trying to choose the one I looked fattest in. Seriously. I didn’t decide to do that up front, but I suddenly realized that that was what I was doing.
And then it hit me: two years ago I wouldn’t be caught dead on the business end of a camera, and if a photo of me did emerge that I hadn’t managed to shred, delete, or burn, then putting it up on the internet for the world to see would not be high on my list of things to do with it. And here I was, two years into Size Acceptance, willfully picking a photograph that showed me to look fat (although, admittedly, also quite zazzly) to add to this official “Up Yours, Dr. Miller” gesture.
If any of you out there are thinking “OMG, I could never do that, I will never learn to love this body,” I have to say to you that I am not one of those Size Acceptance folks who has learned to revel in every roll of fat and believe that my body is a thing of beauty. I wish I were. Perhaps one day I will be, but I’m not there yet. What is different now for me is that the idea that my body is not a magnificent testament to womanly loveliness no longer makes me want to curl up in a corner and protect the world from my hideousness and shame.
And now I look at that open letter from Cat Pausé, with page after page after page of Fat PhDs, and actually find myself incredibly empowered by it. If I weren’t already studying for my own doctorate, I’d probably want to go out and start one. Several people have said the same thing. I found myself smiling as I scrolled through page after page of fat men and women who had gone the distance and gotten their graduate degrees. I felt a sense of warmth and pride welling up in me, even though I didn’t even know most of them. For what? For academics? No. I think what I was experiencing was the virgin glow of seeing dozens and dozens of happy, accomplished, positive images of fat people. My response, and others, to this visual testament of fat success just goes to show how devoid of such positive reinforcement our normal visual diet is. I’m proud to be a small part in that change, but damn, we need more of it. Fuck Yeah!
If you would like to submit your photo to the “Fuck yeah! Fat PhDs” project, just click here.