A recent article highlights the practice of Swedish model scouts seeking new talent outside of the Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders. The doctors at the center reported that last year patients were approached by modeling scouts while on walks outside the clinic. Employees at the center have since had to change protocols to avoid these incidents. From the article:
"Many of the girls approached... were teenagers and some had a body mass index -- a measurement of a person's height-to-weight ratio -- of as low as 14. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 for an adult woman."
As alternative-universe as this all seems, this practice falls well within the parameters of our understanding of western beauty standards, right? That sense of confused shock you might be feeling is perhaps due to the fact that the effort to diffuse the insidiousness of western beauty standards has been ratcheted up recently. The War on Obesity has provided an effective platform for codifying western beauty standards.
The public health rhetoric has allowed for the culture's fatphobia to rear its head under a new, more palatable banner. Yesteryday's "but you'd be so pretty if you just lost some weight" has become today's "I just care about your health."
In a recent radio interview with KPFA's Kate Raphael, I discussed the way that US standards of feminine attractiveness had nothing to do with health, and that, in fact, ill-health was at the heart of what the US (and the west more generally) find most attractive in women. If you're unclear on that, re-read the quote on patients' BMI above.
Keywords: Stockholm Center for Eating Disorders, model scouts, war on obesity, beauty standards
I met Jen Larsen a few weeks ago at San Francisco's Booksmith when she was in town for a reading of her new book, Stranger Here: How Weight Loss Surgery Transformed My Body & Messed with My Head. Weight loss surgery (WLS) is a highly charged topic, especially in fat activist community. As a fat activist and fat studies scholar it's easy for me to criticize the pervasiveness of WLS propaganda and decry the literal and figurative danger this practice presents; as a radically pro-choice feminist it's much more difficult (as of yet, impossible) for me to criticize or decry individuals who have opted to pursue WLS. Before I knew that Jen's book had been released by Seal Press (who also published Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion), I read a review of it in People Magazine. I was immediately interested in its critical engagement with such an important topic. Yesterday KPFA's Kate Raphael interviewed Jen and me about our respective books, our views on the War on Obesity and the different ways that our lives interact with fatphobia. Listen to the interview right now (the interview begins halfway through the episode).
Keywords: WLS, Weight Loss Surgery, Jen Larsen, Stranger Here, KPFA, Kate Raphael, Women's Magazine, Hot & Heavy (#hotandheavy)
Alicia and Kori at the September 1 Picnic & Swap at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Outfits styled from clothing brought to the swap.
Fatty clothing swaps are revolutionary. They are revolutionary because they subvert the expectation that we not gather - because when fat-bodied people gather we are more visible. They are revolutionary because they challenge capitalism. They are places where we pool the resources we have and share them. And then we celebrate that sharing. They are revolutionary because they undermine traditional gendered ways of relating. The culture of clothing swaps encourages the exchange of "girl, you werked that!" and "that looks so good on you!" They are revolutionary because they refuse to accept that we, as fatties, ought to wear only muted colors in conservative cuts. Fatty clothing swaps take the frownies upside downies and take fashions' lemons and turn them into lemonade spritzers with a cran twist. That's why I love fatty clothing swaps. That's why if you've been thinking of hosting one you really ought to!
Last weekend Kori Bias of Buxom Vintage and I decided to coordinate and create a plus-size clothing swap + picnic at the very tail-end of summer at Dolores Park in San Francisco. I would say I'm a bit of a veteran of the swap, having been to a little under ten of them myself. There's often food (hummus, wine, and cupcakes seem to be swap favs). There's always chisme. And there's plenty of love. But I had never really organized one. So, when Kori messaged me about Sep 1, I was all over it. I thought I'd make a quick how-to guide for the newbies who are considering doing it, but aren't sure about the ins'n'outs.
1. Your Vision Now, the vision portion is where most people begin and end (when it comes to swaps, careers, relationships, adventurous outfit choices). They get scared (what if no one comes?!). They get overwhelmed (what if 80 people show up?). They get mired in unnecessarily high expectations (I need boys in gold lame hot pants passing around smoked salmon mousse and capers on mini-toast or I'll diiiiiiiie! Trust me: I've so been there). That's what I'm here for: to remind you that you can make this swap happen!
When you imagine the swap you want to have, is it mostly friends or mostly people you don't know well yet? Is it at your house or at a park? Is there food? Once you figure out what your swap looks like, figure out what you need: mirrors? somewhere people can change outfits (some people will be more likely to want to change in private than others; so a place like a bathroom can be great, but the most recent swap I did was at a park, obviously, and people didn't mind trying on clothes over their outfits or their leggings/chemises)? ice? food? If the list starts getting long, ask yourself if you can live with doing a little less. The answer is almost always: Yes! Do not abort the mission!
Virgie's Vision Swap Rule: 99% of what you need for the swap you must already own or have access to.
The most low-maintenance/novice-friendly swap might involve your/a friend's place, some empty floor space, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I highly recommend for the first-time swap organizer, that you commit to a low-maintenance swap, plan to offer 1 or 2 simple snacks, with an expected turnout of 5-10 people.
2. The Date & The Time Figure out when you want to do it and set the date and time. Whether you feel you need 6 months or 6 days, figure out what works for you (the organizer/s) and those who may be attending. If most of the people you're inviting are long-term planners, you may need to give them a 1-2 months heads-up. If they're last-minute people, you may need only a couple weeks. Weekends are often the best, but people who want to show up will show up on a weekday evening. I don't recommend early mornings, but any time between 11am and 9pm are prime swapping times.
Virgie's Date Rule: I don't recommend giving less than two weeks or more than 2 months notice for a swap.
Virgie's Time Rule: Always expect that most people will show up an hour late.
3. The Venue My #1 choice for a novice swapper is your place or a friend's place. Choose a venue that works for you, your vision and that's as easy as possible. You can hold a swap outdoors in a park, for example, if you live in a place with clement weather, but make sure to advise guests (in the invite) to wear things like leggings and tank tops under their clothes so they can easily try things on while getting close to a true-fit and not having to get nekkid in public.
Virgie's Venue Rule: Steer clear of venues you have to pay for or that require strict reservation times.
4. Invites The invite is where you share the details from steps 1-3. Excellent things to include are: (1) time (start time and end time), (2) location, (3) whether there's going to be food and how much of it/what kind you want your guests to bring, (4) how private or public the venue is (back to Step #3), (5) if you definitely do NOT want certain items (like shoes, which are heavy and don't move as easily or quickly as clothing, but that can be amazing if you or your guests love shoes), (6) what the accessibility sitch at your venue is (could your venue accommodate someone with a disability or an 80 pound bag of clothes? If you live in a 5th floor walk-up/have any stairs, for example, this is important info for your guests and you can figure out how to make things work before the day of). Make a Facebook page for the event, send out emails, write a blog or a tumblr post and feel free to ask friends to promote it mindfully (you don't want Mike from the bar showing up... unless you do want Mike from the bar showing up) on their page/feed if you want to meet new friends.
Virgie's Invites Rule: If you're inviting a lot of people who aren't close friends, however many people RSVP, divide that by 2 and then multiply that number by 0.7 and you'll roughly have your number of attendees. Do not panic if the number is low!
The Day Of
5. Keep it Simple Do not under any circumstances panic! If you said you were providing snacks, then prep them. If you have extra mirrors to bring out do that. Most of the fatties I know aren't into sitting on the floor (I know I'm not), so if you have some extra seating or pillows to sit on those are great. Make sure you have some garbage bags or grocery bags for the leftovers post-swap. Put out your swap offering if you want. Turn on some music. Get a glass of wine.
6. So everyone is an hour late. Girl, don't stress. We already knew this was going to happen and it is absolutely no reflection on you, how much people love you, or how they feel about the swap. I have been to swaps where a bunch of serious swappers (such as: me) show up as early as possible to get first dibs. At our swap, Kori didn't want any actual swapping to happen until 1 (the event started at 11) so that folks could get a chance to settle in, talk and we could accommodate late-comers. Though I'd never seen it done before, I liked the outcome! You get to decide how that plays out.
7. Swap! As the hostess you get to decide how the swapping works, but mostly I've found that people organically gravitate to pieces that suit their style and there's enough to go around. If people don't take what you brought, then don't fret! If your guests are shy, get into that pile and start pulling pieces that might work for individual guests. Encourage people to try stuff on and give encouraging feedback. It's tres infectious.
8. Clean-up The etiquette around the leftovers seems to be that the host/ess and/or people who have a car take all or half the leftovers - once they're bagged up - to the local thrift store.
9. Bask in your Fabulosity You have officially joined the annals of hostess history.
It occurred to me today that I walked blindly into fierceness, not knowing if I could pull it off, hoping it would all work out, aware that I had nothing to lose but “my precious chains.” I pieced together the bits of life’s lusciousness which I’d learned to hang onto: first for survival and then something far beyond that. I’ve been a fat girl for as long as I can remember. The fierceness came much later.
Back to “my precious chains.”
The allure of normativity – the chains - in all its forms – heterosexuality, monogamy, thinness – is incredibly potent and alluring. The promise is simple: you do this and you get that. But the payoff remains ever illusive. That’s because the payoff actualizes for very few and even those who are the seeming beneficiaries also suffer from the weight of its suffocating, merciless and incessant demands. To imagine that in a time when my greatest worry could be whether I want cilantro on my tacos, I look around me and see people living lives of prescriptiveness and not liberation. And I realize that it’s because, as Native scholar Andrea Smith once said, systems of oppression must seem like the only way; they must seem natural and inevitable or people would never participate in their own subjugation.
I remember a time when I was very resistant to fat positivity. I didn’t understand it. Even though I was undeniably, by-every-western-measure fat, it felt like something that didn’t apply to me, something I wasn’t interested in. It made me feel unsure and belligerent and sometimes it made me blush. Even when I was organizing as a feminist, I was still sold on the bill of goods, my heart was still set on the prize of passing. I wanted so, so badly to pass! I didn’t have words for the longing that had grown inside of me. I wanted to pretend that this body wasn’t this body, and in disavowing this fat body I inadvertently sought to erase it and the other outlaw bodies that were like it.
And then came fierceness.
Me and fierceness went way back. Back to pre-school when I knew I was hot shit, when my belly was a fascinating orb and not the seat of my greatest shame. But I lost it. It was taken from me, forced out, presumed dead. But me and fierceness kept bumping into each other, and one day the glittery seed of fabulousness settled in again, began to lay down some roots, brought me back to life.
Fierceness is fundamentally about resistance, about liberation, about protecting the strut, the light, the too-tight pencil skirt from all the people and ads and social forces that seek to force it out of you. Fierceness is queer. It is brown. It is revolutionary. My fat saved my life. This body, which at one time felt like it had betrayed and imprisoned me, was in fact the source of my greatest liberation. My fat reminds me that I was destined for things greater than passing. It took me through grad school, through feminism, relationships, love, through political and intellectual territory I could have only dreamed of. And, girl, I’m just getting started.
I read this quote from Zoe Saldana this morning and had to commit it to an image. The line was arresting mostly because the proponents of the War on Obesity argue that this war is about health. The line starts with her speaking about her body as an “it” and then shifts from third person (“I’m over depriving it”) to first person (“because I want to look good”) by the end of the sentence. This line, to me, exemplifies the bifurcated way we’re meant to treat our bodies. As if the body and the self are two different things.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.