Why I’m doing Armpits4August

So we all know what Movember is, don’t we? It’s been going on for some time, they do great things, it’s really cool, etc.

So now it’s the ladies’ turn, and during the month of August some of us are going to say a fond farewell and fuck you to our razors and grow out our armpit hair and any other body hair we grow to raise money for Verity; a charity that supports people with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

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“Drunkorexia”, huh?

One of the (many) things I’ve noticed since starting this bizarre, exciting, frustrating, amazing journey towards fat and self acceptance is how desperate people are to either become or stay thin in many first-world countries. My personal experience extends mainly to Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom, but this mentality is certainly present in the US and South Korea, and I’m going to assume the likes of Canada, New Zealand and most of Europe are similarly affected. In our insanely privileged society there is an almost paralyzing fear towards fatness.

C’maaaaaaaaaaan. It’s not that scary, is it?
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Welcome to Fatshion Hustlings!

Greetings, chaps and chapettes, dudes and dudettes, blokes and blokettes of all sizes, shapes, ages, walks of life and passionate persuasions!

So this, right here? This is my new blog. I have an older blog, at fatshionhustlings@blogspot.com, which I kept mainly when I was on my exchange year in Japan in 2010-2011. Feel free to check it out. If anything it will give you an idea about the sort of content I’ll be covering in this blog.

So, what is Fatshion Hustlings about? I probably need to give you all a small piece of my life story in order to explain it. My real name is Gillian. I was born in the north-western suburbs of Sydney, Australia in the late eighties. When I was a newborn I was allergic to breast milk. I was dehydrated, upset, frustrated, and not putting any weight on. My mum figured out that I was lactose intolerant and started giving me soy milk to drink. Suddenly the bubbling, exuberant personality I pride myself on came out. Now that I was getting adequate nutrition I was no longer upset or frustrated, and I started putting weight on.

And from then on, according to my mother, I never stopped.

Yeah, I’m fat. Quite fat. 97kg (214lb), last time I checked. A size 20-22UK. Since I clock in at an earth-shattering 161cm (5’3″), that makes my BMI… something comparatively high. And until a year and a half or so ago, being fat was the absolute bane of mine and my parents’ existence. I was put on diets when I was four, seven, nine, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-sixteen (the longest I’ve maintained), seventeen, and eighteen-nineteen. These diets were all different (some of them the same sort of thing, multiple times), all incredibly annoying to follow, and all leading to two major side effects that are as unfortunate as they are obscenely common.

Firstly, a childhood of being taught that food is the enemy led to some fairly disordered eating habits. I have no idea when I started to binge eat. It’s possible that I was a binge eater when I was quite small, since I apparently used to sneak food. Personally, I would argue that that is not so much an indication of a child binge eating as it is an indication of a child being, I dunno, HUNGRY, but I do have vague recollections of afternoons spent trying to get as many snacks down my gullet as possible. When I was in high school and became more independent I started buying food for myself and eating it in private. I was not very good at hiding my tracks at first, since the cleaner used to make the astute observation “Gillian likes her chocolate, doesn’t she? She’s got quite a lot of wrappers in her bin.” But I got better at it. I’d hide my rubbish in my school bag and throw it out somewhere where neither the cleaner nor my snoopy father could find it. Then I went to Japan for my first exchange when I was sixteen, became even more independent, and co-incidentally more dependent on food. This continued for the next two years after getting back to Australia, for my first two years in England, and hit its peak during my second exchange in Japan, when I was doing things like spending over 1000 yen on snacks, walking home, and eating the lot before going to bed, my stomach full to bursting.

Then I came back to England for the start of the final year of my undergraduate degree (which I’ve just finished), and… I stopped. For the most part. I am still prone to a little binging in times of extreme stress (when I’m pulling an all-nighter the night before an important assessment is due, for instance), but compared to the several-meals’-worth-of-McDonalds-in-one-sitting I used to partake in, I’m a positively brilliant eater now. I cannot say for absolute certain what helped me to stop this dangerous behaviour, but I would say most of my thanks should go to the Light Entertainment Society at my university, which I joined at the start of my fourth year. They brought joy into my life that I desperately needed, and once I had that source of happiness, my need to excessively eat diminished. In other words, I got lucky – I found something that replaced my disordered eating (for the most part). Not all disordered eaters are as fortunate as I was.

The other major problem my childhood diets caused was the sort of terrible body image no small child should possess. I remember being in Year 4 and sitting with the other girls. I was the largest of them all, and my lunch was the smallest. The unfairness of it all constantly struck me. Why was it that I was eating such small, boring, yucky lunches, and yet was the fat, ugly one, while all of the other girls were small and pretty? I used to fantasise about getting liposuction, and would spend afternoons crying in my room and wishing I could just be thin like everybody else. I hated my body with a passion I have not felt for anything or anyone else before nor since. Writing about it now, it seems insane to think that I once felt this way. What’s more insane than this, however, is how more people, and particularly more women, feel the way I used to about their own bodies than they feel the way I do now.

So what happened? What changed? In a way, not much. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I consider my body the height of sexiness now, or anything. I still feel down about my appearance more than I would like to, but I suppose that’s part of being human. On the other hand, I now feel an acceptance towards my body that I would not have imagined feeling before. What happened was, during my second year at uni I wrote a livejournal entry bemoaning my fatness or some other such thing, and a friend replied, telling me to check out the livejournal community, fatshionista. Within it I saw photo upon photo of these fierce, independent, strong, gorgeous women, all posing proudly for the cameras as though daring anybody to not find them sexy despite their being as heavy as me or heavier. The premise behind fatshionista was that fat people are just as healthy, as beautiful, as able as anybody else, and we have a right to be treated as such.

At first I was skeptical. The idea sounded good in theory, but I’d been taught my whole life to view fat people with disdain. Fat was, after all, exactly what I had spent so much of my childhood energy trying (and failing) not to be. Also, being fat was, clearly, very unhealthy, as my lifelong clean bill of health* indicated without any ambiguity. But eventually, after about a year of following fatshionista and reading the wise words of well-known fat activists (who talked about genetics, health at every size, fat stigmatisation, the dangers of dieting and the importance of fat acceptance, among other things), I realised that they were speaking the truth. I decided that my dieting days were over and my journey towards fat acceptance, and particularly towards acceptance of myself as a fat person, would begin right then and there.

It has been an interesting journey so far. On the one hand, I have become more fashion-conscious in the past few years, and dressing well has helped me to feel more comfortable in my body and, better still, to view my body as something that can sometimes be attractive. I also know more about the role of genetics in determining body shape, and have come to realise that my fatness is actually *shock horror* not entirely my fault! Also, accepting my body the way it is has become all the more crucial from a health perspective, since dieting and constantly yoyo-ing between weights has negative consequences. On the other hand… my family don’t get it. They’re all still pretty keen on my losing weight, and while I know that I shouldn’t live my life for somebody else, I am close enough to my family for them to be an important influence.

The point is, I have started my journey. But I was lucky, because I had access to the tools I needed to start my journey. But not everybody has access to this stuff. Many people don’t know where to start. What is fat activism? Why is it important? Isn’t accepting fat people dangerous? Why should we accept fat people, when they bring it on themselves? What is this all about? The answers to these questions and more are out there, and I want to do what I can to make people aware of these issues.

That, dear readers, is Fatshion Hustlings.

Welcome. 🙂

*I am healthy, as far as I am concerned. I do, however, suffer from chronic depression, and I have tested positive for PCOS and insulin resistance. However, I don’t think even anti-obesity nuts claim that obesity causes depression, and the other two issues need to be retested, and if it turns out I still have them they are perfectly treatable without my needing to lose weight.