Kitty Fisher

Size-positivity, feminism, self-esteem crises, ginormous tits.

Archive for the ‘fat’ Category

hate speech

Posted by Kitty on July 24, 2008

So I go on about my roller derby league here a lot, and what an empowering sport it is for women of all shapes and sizes. Have I linked, incidentally, to the Campaign for Real Booty? It’s a good ‘un, and I applaud Cindy LopHer for having the bright idea to run with it.

Anyhow. In her intro post, she makes some excellent and true statements about body image and roller derby and all that, so I won’t repeat it all.

But I will share something I’ve noticed. Derogatory words carrying implications of overweightness or gross obesity still do get used. (Normally only under extreme circumstances, to be sure, but it has happened.) But there’s a distinction, and the distinction has nothing to do with actual size. I am curious as to what extent this is true of the population at large, and how much it’s just me and my derby girls, but I suspect it’s rather widespread, given how many other FA bloggers have mentioned this sort of thing.

One of my teammates was angry with another skater, and referred to her as “Shamu”, and made a joke about her eating habits. I was shocked.
“I’m the same size as her,” I said. “Maybe bigger. I’m fat too. I don’t like it when you say things like that about fat people.”
“Honey,” said my offending teammate, “I’m almost that size too. It ain’t her size that makes me call her that, it’s that I don’t like her.”

That, in this friend’s mind, is the difference between being fat and not being fat: whether she likes you or not.

I’ve leaned on her to cut that shit out, and for the most part, we all now stick to simply rolling our eyes about people we don’t like, or explaining the ways in which they’ve proven themselves idiots, instead of insulting their physical characteristics. We are adults, after all. And it’s a lot more constructive to point out that someone’s logic is flawed than to make snide comments about her fashion sense. (Which is just generally true of debates in general, really.)

But to what extent is that true in the world at large? I hear frequently of people saying, “My friends make fun of people my size for being fat but then insist that it doesn’t apply to me. What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Fat” has become such a loaded term, fat and its related descriptives. Fat means bad, and all the mocking names for fat people are reserved only for bad fat people.

It bothers the crap out of me, but I suppose it’s logical, in some twisted way.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that really, it’s not a good idea to do that. It’s kind of like distinguishing between, to pick something inflammatory because I can’t think of anything less objectionable so please don’t flame me (I’m not making a direct comparison here, just a rhetorical one)– say, for example, gay people and faggots. You have a lot of friends who are gay people, and they’re cool and all and you like them, but you hate faggots. The distinction between these people who share a characteristic boils down to the fact that to the ones you like, you don’t mention said characteristic, but to the ones you hate, you use it to apply a hurtful label.
Somehow, I think, your gay friends would not be particularly amused. You could clue them in on the distinction, and if they liked you well enough and understood your sense of humor and all, they might not get angry with you, but they would probably still be uncomfortable on some level.
If you don’t believe me, go back through that paragraph and substitute “black people” and “niggers”. Just try it, I’ll wait.
See what I mean?

It’s not cool.

Because what you’re doing is reinforcing the old belief that that characteristic, whether it’s sexual preference or skin color or body shape, is something that is in itself negative, and implying that you can forgive the ones who are your friends, can overlook that trait, because they themselves are such a positive presence that the negativity is balanced out.
Maybe that’s not what you mean.
But it’s in there.
And to come down to it, that’s a pretty shitty thing to imply.


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Average Size

Posted by Kitty on May 23, 2008

I have been trying to nail down where the statistics come from in all those magazine articles that say things about the average American woman’s size. Most of the sources simply state the statistic, which is usually “Fifty percent of American women wear a size 12 or larger”, but occasionally it says “size 14” instead, with no citation given.
This SFgate article has more detailed claims than normal, and a citation of its source, so I’m going to take that and run with it: “Sixty-eight percent wear a size 12 or larger, and 52 percent wear size 14 or larger, according to Grace magazine”.

That’s my nod toward statistical accuracy. Now I’m going to dive right off into anecdotes.

I think of myself as being bigger than average. Gradually I’ve begun to realize that really, I’m not. I’m a 14/16, hourglassy, Rack of Doom balanced out by Super Ass (it only grew in recently, I’m rather proud of it after having been top-heavy for a long time), fairly heavy for my height because of speed skating muscles, pretty happy (finally!) with my appearance. And only as I’ve achieved that last thing have I been able to look rationally at my chronic fashion woes: I am not a terribly huge person. In fact, I may be… Average.

I know that every time the topic of clothes shopping comes up at roller derby practice, about half to a third of us complain that we can’t find anything that fits us in stores. Another girl and I spent all of last season looking for frilly panties to wear over our tights. (Shorts are too constricting, but skirts fly up, and if one’s ass is going to show, one should clothe it in something that makes it obvious that one expected one’s ass to show. In addition, more layers is better, and padding is double plus bonus.) She’s probably got 50 to 55-inch hips, so we’re in a similar size situation. We couldn’t find anything, and wound up trading tips on making our own. (Find men’s athletic underwear– the black spandex kind– and sew lace on using a zig-zag stitch. Then you get some thigh coverage too, which is good if you’re trying to avoid rink rash. The other girl actually sewed on rick-rack with pom-poms and made continuous cracks about her “Mexican Taxi Ass”. She rocks really hard, in case you didn’t figure that out.)

Applying statistics, that means that between 50 and 33% of the members of a group of women between 18 and 50 who spend 10 or more hours a week, for eight to ten months at a stretch (we have a brief off-season), in extremely intense physical activity, cannot find clothing to fit themselves.
A few of us are big enough to shop at the plus size stores.
But most of us aren’t, and yet… can’t shop at the regular stores either.


I am AVERAGE SIZED. Statistics and anecdotes both seem to bear this out. AVERAGE.

So what’s my point?
“Plus size” is a bit of a misnomer, as it just means “larger than smaller than average”.
There is a gigantic collection of women for whom plus size is too big, but misses’ is too small. Because they are AVERAGE.

What is WRONG with this picture?
I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.

I’ve started making my own clothes. I’ll let you know how that works out. At the moment I’m stumped with the ‘threading the sewing machine’ part of it, but at least I’ve got the sewing machine.

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size doesn’t matter

Posted by Kitty on May 14, 2008

My boyfriend is a little sarcastic about my dinner-table discussion of size positivity and fat acceptance and all that.
He’s a sarcastic bastard in general, but he’s right about this.
I make fun of him for his size all the damn time.

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about his waist size.
He weighs 135 pounds. He can’t buy pants that fit, so he goes to specialty shops for the next best thing: 29 inch waist, 36-inch inseam. (He can also wear 30x34s in some brands, which you can occasionally get in straight shops, but it means he needs a belt and they ride lower than his underwear, which he dislikes.) The one pair of tailored pants he owns are tailored to a 28 and a half inch waist, with a thirty-seven inch inseam. He has very long legs and a high waist, and his lack of spare flesh means that, unusually for a man, his hipbones protrude beyond the width of his waist. His arms are likewise too long for his little body. His collarbones protrude. His knees are larger in circumference than his thighs.
People who are not used to him think he is starving. He had stomach problems in high school, and was referred to a gastroenterologist. I should explain, he had no problems with digestion, he just had mysterious tummyaches. He was eating normally, like a teenage boy– unable to sleep through the night during growth spurts, he would wake up and clean out the fridge– his mother would deliberately make too much at dinner so he’d have leftovers to eat at midnight. He ate probably three or four thousand calories a day– just like a normal teenager. But he was having stomach pains.
He walked into the gastroenterologist and the doctor actually gasped, “You shouldn’t have waited so long!” Assuming that this emaciated young man was having digestive issues and had starved for lack of medical attention. It took a few minutes to sort it out.

He isn’t starving. He isn’t anorexic. There’s nothing wrong with his intestines. But he’s six feet three, and 135 pounds. He eats more than me, most days, though I like sweet snacks more than he does, and am more cranky if I skip a meal. (He, on the other hand, likes to sit and munch through most of a bag of Chee-Tos while staring at the computer in the evening after dinner.) According to his BMI, he is one pound away from being hospitalized for anorexia. (He meets none of the other criteria, of course, but by the criteria that make me Obese with a capital O, he is Underweight, and Scarily So. He would not be allowed on a catwalk in Spain.)

I make fun of him for this all the time. I joke about his hollow leg where he puts all the food. I pinch his protruding hip-bones. I make noises like a xylophone and pretend to play songs on his protruding ribs.
I am wrong to do this. But I feel defensive, so I do it.
He is perfectly healthy. He beat me at arm wrestling last time we tried, and at regular wrestling too when that didn’t ‘take’, though I outweighed him by 70 pounds and got hours more exercise a week than him. When we move house (we’ve done this several times together) I do all the heavy lifting and he gets the door. He is stronger, for his size, than I am, but I am simply bigger than him, and 200 pounds of woman is going to be much more effective at leg-pressing a giant sofa up three flights of stairs than 135 pounds of man.

I grew up in a family with a big mother and a small father. My mother was always an impressive figure of a woman, five feet eleven inches with size eleven feet and broad shoulders and hips. My father was a small man, just six feet, narrow shoulders, narrow hips, small waist; he has never weighed more than 147 pounds. (Normally he’s 145. You can use him to calibrate your scale, most days, and his weight has been unchanged since 1965.) Several years ago my mother, through strict calorie restriction and a heightened exercise regimen, lost over 100 pounds. But even now, she still outweighs my father by at least thirty pounds. (She looks like a little old woman now, much older and frailer, but is overjoyed to finally not be “that fat woman” anymore, so I am glad for her at least. But she now has osteopenia, and I wonder how related it is to a crash diet at menopause.)

It shouldn’t bother me that my boyfriend is so much thinner than I am. That has always been normal, in my personal experience. I admit I’ve always found it a little odd when very large men take up with very small women; not that I don’t think it should happen, but that I’ve found it strange that the woman’s smallness is seen as normal or even desireable as a characteristic in itself.

But there– yesterday, it was a lovely sunny day. I did the laundry, and then went to hang it up outdoors. I have a little yard, finally, and a little clothesline, and these are things that make me happy. I grew up with clothes smelling of sunshine and grass, and in my young adult years city life has made that impossible. Now I can have it again, because I have a good living situation and a good life in general. I do count these blessings and am grateful for them. (I also have a dozen new strawberry plants. Life is joy, especially in the springtime.)

So I hung out the clothes yesterday. And there were the boxer shorts I sleep in sometimes, size XXL, white, with little penguins on them, my sister bought them for me when she worked at Old Navy. I hung them up: they’re probably twenty-two inches wide. Then I bent down and picked up the next item of clothing from the basket. A pair of the boyfriend’s boxer shorts. I hung them beside mine. Approximately half the width, but the same length, they made my shorts look comically gigantic, like cartoon bloomers. I could sail a boat with them.

I stood a moment, poleaxed by my unexpected reaction to the juxtaposition. I am a huge person. I am gigantic. How can I have been feeling so good about myself? (I was, in fact, wearing only a sports bra and a pair of jeans because I’d thrown my t-shirt into the washing machine because it was muddy from gardening, and had been inwardly smug at how nice it felt not to be worried that the neighbors might see the vast expanse of my snow-white belly which is, incidentally, more solid than normal what with all the workouts of late.) Whammo, self-esteem gone.

It took me a moment to bring myself back from it. I know I’m twice his size. I know that. I know it would kill me to weigh what he does. I also know he would look awful at my size, and the things he would have to do to reach, let alone maintain, my weight would make him miserable. We both eat a healthy diet– together. Now that I don’t care anymore, I may eat more than him, but not by much, and not most of the time (I seem to have a smaller stomach, and get full faster, despite the relative sizes of our midsections). He doesn’t make fun of me for being fat. I’m learning not to let my defensiveness make me make fun of him for being thin.

Of course his god-damned underpants are going to be smaller than mine. That is perhaps not how most people’s worlds look, but that’s how my world looks. And I like my world, I’m happier in my world. The only way this little fact of life is going to change, given that both of us are at healthy stable weights, is if I go and find myself a bigger man. And to do that, I’d have to get rid of the one I have.

Hah. Unlikely.

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Posted by Kitty on May 4, 2008

A post is brewing on what happened while I was in London (which is why there was no post last week), but in the meantime I wanted to address something that comes up almost ridiculously often.
Breast reductions.

Last night my team hosted a roller derby match between two other themes. Since we weren’t skating, we didn’t wear our uniforms– ‘hosting’ means that we worked the door, manned the merch table, sold raffle tickets, laid out the track, set up the chairs, and all that. Roller derby leagues are volunteer organizations, and rely heavily on the unpaid labor of their members and their members’ most devoted fans (skaters’ husbands and boyfriends, and sometimes girlfriends/partners [though girlfriends/partners tend more often to get sucked in as skaters…] are known as Derby Widows, and are the backbone of the behind-the-scenes work it takes to run an organization like this.
I know I’ve digressed. But I have a point here. Since we weren’t skating, we wore costumes instead of uniforms. We decided to dress up as ‘biker chicks’, but that means different things to different people.
I showed up in a corset I bought at a Renn Faire, and a pleather miniskirt. This corset used to fit me properly, but now when I lace it all the way closed, my boobs pretty much pop out the top.
So I wore a halter top underneath– a halter top with an integral bra. No more flesh than normal was showing, it was just in a different place.

I did get a lot of stares. I’m used to that. Our team captain wore leather chaps and underneath, spandex booty shorts with her name screenprinted; I wasn’t alone in drawing stares. (Her name also wiggled when she walked, I don’t know if she realized that. It’s unimaginably hot. I felt rather tame beside her, though I couldn’t bend over because my skirt was so short. Another tangent: one of the many phrases that used to fill me with fear which roller derby has completely stripped of terror is “Your undies might show.” Might! I bought these cute ones on purpose because I figured they WOULD!)

One of my teammates, standing next to me, surveyed the acreage of my cleavage. “So what’s your bra size now?” she asked. I had complained earlier how it had gone up, and now this corset, and all my favorite bras, now fit.
“Thirty-two J,” I said a bit glumly. “The specialty lingerie shops don’t even carry that one.”
“And you haven’t had a reduction why?” she asked.
I was shocked. I get that question sometimes, but this particular teammate is a fellow in size-positivity, a die-hard feminist of both the new and old schools, etc.
She went on in my shocked silence to mention two skaters on the league who’d had breast reductions and were happy with them.
“Because,” I said finally, working very hard not to be snippy, “while it’s inconvenient that I can’t find bras my size off the rack, I see no need to have cosmetic surgery just so I can shop in the mall. I’m not changing my body for fashion. I’ll just have to learn to sew.”
“Oh, oh,” she said, “oh no, I’d never– I’d never suggest– screw fashion! I just…. doesn’t that hurt your back?”
I’ve been skating with this woman for nearly a year now. “No more than anybody else’s,” I said. “My back is the first part to get really fatigued when I skate, but I’ve noticed a lot of smaller girls with the same problem.” The speed-skating crossover relies heavily on the muscles of your lower back to move the legs, and since you’re bent over, you have to sort of cantilever your upper body’s weight through these muscles. “It never hurts otherwise. I have great posture.”
“Huh,” she said.

It’s just assumed that if you have boobs like this, you’re going to have problems with them. Mine have grown more or less steadily since I was 12, but gradually. Being reasonably active ensures that I have no problem with the weight of them. But this blows people’s minds, and I get asked all the damn time by other women why I don’t have a reduction. I know I’ve just got to be less sensitive to the question, but it hurts every time: people see them as a problem, instead of as part of my body.

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Letter to Land’s End

Posted by Kitty on March 20, 2008

I’m a believer in polite protest. Every damn year I get Land’s End’s damn Swimsuit Catalogue and every damn year it says something like “Swimwear for everyone!” or “Swimsuits for Every Body!” and every damn year, right under that caption, it says, a little smaller, “Cups up to DD!”

Every Body does not have cups under DD. And rather than storm and rage and cuss them out for reminding me I’m a freak, I have started an annual tradition of writing them a polite letter.
So here’s my 2008 letter to Land’s End.

Dear Land’s End,

I wrote to you last year this time to say this, and I’ll probably write a letter annually, but I live in eternal hope.
Ever since I was a child it has been an annual tradition to get a swimsuit from Land’s End. It was one of the few things on which my mother would splurge. But in my late teens, I began to have trouble. The largest cup size the suits go to is a DDD, and at 18 I was already an E. Now I am 28, and I wear a 34H.
The Internet has been my salvation; I have found that there are thousands of women in the world just like me. And the Internet makes it easy to order garments in just my size from manufacturers half a world away that understand that women come in more sizes than 34, 36, 38 A, B, C. Over 50% of British women are a D-cup or above, according to a 2006 survey by the bra company Triumph. More dangerously, a study by the British Journal of Plastic Surgery determined that 100% of women seeking breast reductions were wearing the wrong size bra, meaning that most of the medical symptoms leading them to seek out this dangerous surgical intervention were caused by improper undergarments rather than any real flaw in their bodies.

So I have learned not to be ashamed of my “fat” anymore, and not to squeeze into something that doesn’t fit or flatter me– not only is it deadly to my self-esteem, but it’s also potentially risky to my health.

But I miss Land’s End. And the years I spent ashamed, wearing big t-shirts with an old bra underneath at the beach instead of the cute swimsuits my friends wore, have left me more sensitive than I’d like to be. And so, again, when I get the annual swimwear catalog, proudly proclaiming that you have a suit for every body… It hurts a bit. No, you don’t. You don’t have anything for me. Or for the thousands of women like me that I’ve met online and swapped resources with. We all have to import from Britain, because there is no US company that believes that women above a DD-cup deserve to dress up pretty at the beach. We spend millions of dollars annually, and cannot support domestic industry.

Lane Bryant has recently put out a line of lingerie stores, Cacique, that cater to the D+ market. So there is progress; we Americans are overcoming our body shame, and our corporations are noticing how much money we’re bleeding into the British bra/swimsuit market. (They still only have 38 bands and up, because they do not understand that even thin women can be F-cups, but at least it is progress. I can hope that someday I can buy a bra in the mall, though still not today.)

So, my hope springs eternal. I hope that someday I can go back to buying Land’s End bathing suits. I used to hope that I would magically grow thinner, but I have realized that this is the size I was meant to be. I am strong and healthy and turn heads on the street, and I am confident enough that this summer I have a bikini to wear. But I had to import it: it is not a Land’s End bikini. It is not as well-made. It will only last me this one summer.

Please re-consider your demographics. There are more women shaped like me than you’d think. How much more would it really cost to expand the range of sizes you offer? How much do you stand to profit by it? American women are learning to love their bodies regardless of not being able to fit into “regular sizes”– there have been articles in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and segments on national television shows about us.

In short, thank you for offering quality products. Please offer them to me. I have money I would rather give you than send overseas, especially given the current exchange rate and economy. Just think about it, that’s all.


[my name]
Long-time customer

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You’re Not Fat

Posted by Kitty on March 18, 2008

I get this a lot. I’ve always been a fairly blunt person, so from time to time I’ll have reason to make some reference to being a person slightly too large for the world. I see no reason to tiptoe around the issue, so I simply use the word “fat”. The reaction from my friends is usually a shocked, slightly hushed, “You’re not fat!”
I usually reply, “Medically, I’m obese!” with a big cheesy grin. But I’m aware that I’m treading in a minefield with this one.

I think, in most people’s minds, I classify as an “inbetweenie”, and pretty much always have. I see-saw back and forth from not quite fitting into a size 12 up to not quite filling out a size 16. (And we’re just not going to get into the complete and total fiasco that is sizing for my upper half.) I have the sort of shape that can sometimes “pass” for non-obese, with most of me in reasonable proportion to the rest (we’ll discuss the titties some other time), and a well-defined waist, and other markers people look for when judging whether someone’s “that fat” or not. (But pointing these out are classic hallmarks of denial! I can’t tell you how long I’ve spent on this paragraph trying not to sound like a delusional or judgmental asshole.)

I know I’m too fat for Society– I get plenty of feedback about that, thanks. But I’m not big enough to qualify to be Fat. People bigger than me think I’m mocking them when I try to squeeze into their group. People smaller than me are shocked, shocked when I call myself fat: either they don’t think of me that way, or sort of do and are rather frantic about denying it. One thing’s for sure, people are really, really awkward about the topic of Fatness. And the same women (universally much thinner than I) who exclaim, horrified, “You’re not fat!”, often then go on to remark upon their own problem areas and how they need to lose weight.

And, of course, we are always bombarded with examples in popular storytelling (ads, books, movies, sit-coms) of the Fat Girl In Denial. She is an archetypical character: a fat girl who just doesn’t realize that she’s outside the norm, and deludes herself into believing that she is completely acceptable the way she is. The normal kids string her along into thinking that they’re truly her friends, and that she’s really accepted, and that there’s nothing wrong with her. At first she may be hesitant, skeptical, but eventually she throws herself entirely into the fantasy the normal kids have created, whereupon they spring the trap and everyone points and laughs at the Fat Girl Who Thought She Was Normal. Ha ha!

When people trespass where they don’t belong, they deserve to get slapped back, and we must all laugh to prove we understand.

It’s hard on the fat kids, to be sure. But it’s hard on the inbetweenies, too. Because they don’t dare assume they’re safe, but if they at least attempt to take comfort in their outcast status, they get rejected from that side, too. There is nowhere they can go that is not a trespass.

You might think I’m talking about kids on the playground, here. But… I was probably 24 when this happened. I went to the mall. I had a job interview. I needed something to wear. I went into Express or some store like that with my fashionista sister, who was at that point a size 8 on the bottom and a size 10 on top. She knew, she assured me, alll about problem figures. So she led me through the store, and we tried on everything. Their largest size was some abominable hybrid called “13/14”. While the style flattered me, all the garments were too tight. “We need, ah, the next size up,” my sister said delicately.
“Um,” the saleslady said, apologetically, not looking at me. “There, um, well, isn’t one.”
We went from store to store. My size fluctuates, and some days I’ll find something, but on that day, the gods were frowning. Nothing fit me. Nothing interview-y, at any rate. Finally, I despaired, and dragged my sister with me into Lane Bryant, despite her protests that it was the fat lady store and I wouldn’t find anything there either. I grabbed a size 16 from the rack, in the first style I saw that seemed right. It fell off of me. OK, 14 then. It also fell off me. Bewildered, I stepped out of the fitting room. “Can I help you?” the saleslady said.
“Do you have this in 12?” I asked. “For some reason the 14 is too big, even though in all the other stores, the 14s are too…” I trailed off because the woman had started laughing.
“Get out of here,” she said. “You’re not fat enough to shop here.” The other sales lady joined in her laughter.

Normally it would be shockingly rude for a sales person to laugh at you when your clothes don’t fit. But I deserved it. I had trespassed, and as we all know, trespassers need to be slapped back. I had spent the whole day trespassing. The skinny people stores did not need to ridicule me; in their world, not being able to shop there was punishment enough. But shopping at the Fat Lady store is something reserved only for Fat Ladies; to go in there, somehow, is to seek refuge. If you seek refuge without having refugee status, then you are trespassing. It is assumed you will be delighted to find that you do not have this refugee status, and so they don’t really have to be nice about it.

I abandoned my sister to her reverie at the Gap sale rack and went to the bathroom and cried. You’re too fat to shop anywhere else, but you’re not fat enough to shop here. There is nothing here for you, you freak. Put your money away and go home.

So I did: I went home and my mother pinned up the hems of a pair of her pants so that they’d fit me. I wore an old blouse with a stain on it that I just wore a scarf over.

I didn’t get the job.

I was later fired from another job, and one of the reasons they gave was that I “just didn’t dress professionally enough” and didn’t fit in. At 28 I still sometimes overhear my coworkers giggling at what outfit I’ve cobbled together for that day, and getting dressed in the morning is my least favorite chore of the day.

I don’t know what credentials you really need to be a Fat Acceptance advocate. But all I want is to be allowed to be what I am, look how I look, and to not be considered a trespasser everywhere I go.

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