Yesterday I received a comment on my blog from Mia Freedman. I wanted to respond properly, and at length, so it has taken me a while. Unlike Ms Freedman, I don’t make any coin from my blogging, and as someone with parenting, study and some paid work to do as well, there was no question that I could do that immediately. This delay has been to the detriment of my already tarnished standing as far as Freedman and her supporters are concerned (it has not gone without comment on her blog) but that, I’m afraid, was out of my hands.
Freedman’s comment is below:
Hi Spilt Milk,
If you ever wanted to write a post explaining fat acceptance (FA?) then I would certainly consider publishing it on Mamamia.
It’s a movement I know little about and would be interested to understand it better.
My intention on yesterday’s post – as I repeatedly tried to explain – was never to generalise about overweight people but to highlight a newsworthy phenomenon of gainer blogs and Donna Simpson in particular.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
What those of us who responded critically to her post Fat, fatter, fattest: meet the people who think bigger is better initially asked for was meaningful engagement, so I was pleased to see that she had stopped by Spilt Milk. (Incidentally, Freedman has since changed the title of her post to the far less inflammatory Gainer Blogs, which is a speedy back pedal if ever I saw one.) Subsequent exchanges, however, have led me to doubt whether what she sought here was meaningful engagement at all.
To be totally honest, I am disappointed. I think, if done in an appropriate way, a post and discussion about Fat Acceptance on Mamamia would be very helpful. Clearly, despite being a growing movement and closely aligned to body image advocacy, FA is a concept of which Freedman and many of her readers remain largely ignorant. Obviously, an opportunity to change that would be a positive thing. I felt immediately ambivalent about being the one to do a guest post, however, both because of my reservations about Mamamia, which I’ve discussed before, and my need to ration sanity points. In other words, there were commenters there who were rude to me personally and showed enormous prejudice against fat people generally, and I’m not sure that’s an environment I would want to contribute to. I did, nevertheless, keep an open mind. Open-mindedness is a position that has generally served me well.
Perhaps because of that, it has struck me that Mia Freedman is quite obviously not approaching Fat Acceptance with an open mind.
I accept that Freedman did not post her piece about Donna Simpson with the explicit intention of drawing fat-hating comments. And as I and others have repeatedly said: feederism is not something I condone, nor is it aligned with Fat Acceptance. But the reality is that hateful fat stereotypes applied to Donna Simpson are the same stereotypes applied to other fat people – people who are fat for a whole range of reasons. And beyond that, some commenters on her post did make generalised statements about fat people and obesity, a few engaging in quite lengthy justifications of this hatred along the lines of ‘tax payers dollars’ or ‘health care workers dread obese patients.’ That Mia Freedman, with all her years of experience in writing and publishing and all of her years of speaking about body image could read such comments and see no fat hatred at all is astounding to me. I know she’s an intelligent woman with critical thinking faculties so I am, literally, flummoxed by such a denial. It would have cost her nothing to accept that some of those comments were hurtful and denigrated fat in general, and to condemn the prejudices underpinning them, and thus forcefully distance herself from such attitudes.
Such an action: a display of empathy with those who feel maligned by the proliferation of fat-hatred all over the place, but especially at Mamamia, would have been powerful. Mia Freedman is the kind of role model that young women might look up to: she’s successful, smart and has an interesting career. As a body image advocate and someone concerned about the welfare of teenagers, she must know the hurtful impact that words can have. She must know that the fat girls reading her blog are vulnerable — painfully, dangerously vulnerable — to hating themselves when they read hatred directed towards obese people. I would be extremely surprised if Freedman didn’t care about those girls, but I am thoroughly convinced that she has done a very poor job of conveying that care.
And it is blatantly obvious that she cares not a jot about me, or about the Fat Acceptance movement that she claimed to be interested to “understand better.” Fat Acceptance is not three women sitting in a room plotting to bring down Mamamia: it is a huge, diverse, international movement. Within the movement are people of all sizes – but yes, a lot of us have in common that we are fat. We are fat, we are accustomed to very real discrimination on the grounds of our weight; we recognise that such discrimination is fed by myths and misconceptions about fat and health, and that underpinning it is a lot of fear and hatred. The movement includes successful and prolific writers like Kate Harding, health experts like Dr Linda Bacon, bloggers like Marianne Kirby (who has just featured on a Dr. Phil episode which is yet to air in Australia) and concerned members of the public, like me. Information about Fat Acceptance and the related concept of Health At Every Size is all over the internet and there’s a big ol’ shelf of books dedicated to it. For the Chair of the Body Image Advisory Group to be openly ignorant of the size acceptance movement is in itself a concern. In Freedman’s latest blog post, she distances herself even further from FA by calling those who have been critical of her recent work simply ‘the fat activists’ and also in centering her response around the misguided notion that our intention was mainly to defend feederism. I have personally made it perfectly clear to Freedman, over twitter, on her blog, and on my blog, that I am not in support of feederism (beyond an acceptance that people have a right to bodily autonomy). In continually reframing the discussion as one purely about Donna Simpson, I feel she’s being obtuse.
Freedman obviously feels attacked. That’s understandable. My intention was never to attack her, and I’ve no desire to cast aspersions on her personal character. I’m not surprised that she felt the Today, Tonight story was unbalanced — that’s to be expected from that type of programme. But her reporting on Donna Simpson and gainer blogs was hardly responsible or balanced! She didn’t do her research (admitting she knew ‘nothing’ about the gainer phenomenon, despite quite balanced articles like this being easily found with the magic of google) and she didn’t – despite her media experience – predict that her post might be interpreted as an invitation to hate on fatties. Perhaps that was a simple mistake. And perhaps, had she simply admitted that the “Fat, Fatter, Fattest” post displayed some poor judgement instead of nastily attacking those who criticised it, this would be a very different story.
I seriously doubt that Freedman’s offer of a potential guest posting spot on her blog still stands. Frankly, she’d probably be equally surprised if I still wanted to take it up.
This is a woman – a powerful and influential woman – who called me crazy. She also implied that I am dishonest, repeatedly claiming on her blog that only one or two of ‘the fat activists’ had posted criticism of her under multiple names, which is an accusation completely without foundation.* I don’t know everyone but I know that there were at least three FA bloggers posting on her site, at least two other concerned people who support FA that I personally am aware of, and also several other regular Mamamia commenters who accepted that what I and some others were saying was reasonable criticism. To blithely make statements erasing all of those people as if they never existed is, frankly, offensive. To delete the comments of posters who tried defending themselves against accusations of dishonesty is not a positive way to contribute to peace-making. Ms Freedman is fond of saying “peace out”, but in this case she’s not been fond of compromises, humility or in a few instances even a fair go, and that makes the peace process a little difficult.
Here is the bare face of it: I’m a fat woman, with a loud voice. I used that voice (independently, there was no carefully mobilised attack force here!) to express my concern about whether the commentary on the blog of a body image advocate was appropriate. I didn’t expect that I would necessarily be handed the floor. But I also didn’t expect to be personally attacked and to have my integrity called into question. I am a person with a mental illness, and although that illness doesn’t prevent me from being reasonable and articulate (I hope!) it does make me feel anxious and vulnerable. Especially when people call me crazy like it’s a joke. Especially when I am silenced for speaking my truth.
My truth is that I am a fat woman who has to walk out of my front door tomorrow into a world where, if the comments on some of Mamamia’s posts are to go by, I will be deemed selfish and lazy and hideous. My truth is that I was once a girl who was teased about her weight, and I have a daughter who will face a world full of body prejudice soon enough. My truth is that when I think about all the young fat girls who feel that they are disgusting and unlovable, I feel overwhelming sadness. My truth is that I know that what those girls need to hear from someone they look up to — someone who advises the government on how best to protect their self esteem — is that they matter and they are not disgusting and they have been heard. And my truth is that I don’t think, after all that has happened, that Mia Freedman is listening.
If that truly changes, I’ll peace out.
- I think it’s really important to note that no one is asking for Mia Freedman to be ‘sacked’, as was suggested on the Today Tonight piece. This isn’t, once more with feeling, about attacking someone’s character or livelihood. There is a good clarification of that here.