Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Enjoying Entertainment Used to be Easier: Kate's Weight, Fat Pam, and Beyond

I love to be entertained. I mean, who doesn't love to sit back and laugh at a hilarious new sitcom, or fall in love with the quirks of the main character in a blockbuster movie. I have a touch of social anxiety and recently discovered that I am an introvert, so it makes sense that my primary source of entertainment is television and movies. Between my cable provider, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, I pretty much have access to all of the entertainment I could ever want. And it was great. Until I stopped hating my body.

Much like what I wrote about in my last blog post, it's increasingly difficult to enjoy social media without being inundated with weight bias; I'm bombarded with ads for weight loss supplements and plans, before and after pictures and weight loss success stories, health "concern" trolls, and outright fat hate every day when I browse Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It insidiously inserts itself into my online shopping experience. Ordering books like Intuitive Eating and Body Respect trigger a skewed algorithm that tells my Amazon home page to offer up myriad titles of diet and "lifestyle change" books in my "Recommended for You" and "Inspired by Your Shopping Trends" lists. But I persevere, take a breath, and move on.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that mainstream media prefers to display thin, sculpted bodies that adhere to the traditional societal image of beauty. It probably also isn't a revelation to hear that often times the fat person in a television show or movie is there for comedic purposes; the butt of the joke, the best friend, the DUFF. But it's much more pervasive than that. The rabbit hole of fat bias and stereotyping goes very deep. The breadth of this didn't register in my consciousness until I decided I wanted to stop hating myself, to put an end to my nearly 30 year battle against my own body. And now I can't seem to tune it out. I have to believe that people who identify with other marginalized groups face the same turmoil as they fight for respect, equality, and legitimacy in society. And considering all the nuances of intersectionality, how can it not get overwhelming? My favorite line from one of my social media friends is, "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." I said it before, but it bears repeating, it gets exhausting to be so angry all the time, to have to keep justifying my right to exist the way I am right now (which can often be a fight in my own mind). And not just my right to exist as I am, but my right to be respected as a human.

The messages in entertainment that shame and marginalize fat people, some subtle while others opting for more blatant tactics, are everywhere. The pilot episode of the Netflix series Jessica Jones shows a fat woman eating a cheeseburger as she works out on an elliptical while the lithe and athletic main character provides her disdainful narrative (there is so much wrong with that scene, I can't even). I excitedly watched the pilot episode of HBO's new series, Divorce, and caught three separate instances of fatphobic dialogue, including health concern rhetoric. Finally having a television show like This Is Us feature a character that actually looks like me (with respect to her body type), I felt a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Then I watched the pilot episode as Chrissy Metz's character, Kate, is introduced to the audience as every fat woman trope out there. I want to make it clear, these are three examples of television shows that I really like but I struggle through much of the content (seriously, I love This Is Us). I have to watch around the stuff that gets under my skin. Just watching the commercials for American Housewife was enough to allow me to conclude I didn't need another fat-lady-making-fat-jokes-about-herself television show in my life. (On a side note, learning about the whole "Fat Pam" narrative confirmed that I made the right decision there.)

Before getting involved in Fat Acceptance (and the less diluted realms of Body Positivity) and deciding to ditch diet culture in favor of adopting intuitive eating and the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, I would have watched those examples above and, if I thought anything at all, I probably would have agreed with the messages they conveyed. More likely, I would have just unconsciously internalized it and engaged in self-hatred and disordered eating for a while. Knowing how omnipresent these messages are makes me hesitant to do things like re-watch my favorite movies. I don't want to tarnish the good memories of my favorite characters and story lines by watching them through eyes that are no longer encumbered by my own, internalized fat hatred, with a mind now acutely aware of how cunningly subtle the messages of fat hate can be.


While I think that the Kate character in This Is Us is a very real representation of a lot of women (regardless of their size), my hopes are that her character will evolve into a woman who learns to stop hating her body. Being fat and accepting it (I'm not at the point where I can say I love my body, but I'm trying) doesn't mean that the world is easier to navigate. There will always be places I don't fit (literally and figuratively) and people who want to hate me simply because of the way I look. I think it's good to show that in a television show (like Kate's perception of people snickering and side-eyeing her on the dance floor) because it's real. But I'd also love it if those same characters didn't always turn that inward to substantiate their self-loathing and internalized hatred.
Image via. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Yep, Still Undateable: My New Friend, Tony

When I last had you captivated with my tales of online dating, I had yet to introduce you to the final aspirant for my love and attention. Let’s call him “Carl ‘Tony’ Anthony” because, well, that’s what he called himself…

‘Tony’ is a 50 year old man living in Allenton, WI. A successful civil engineer who took over the family construction business after his father passed away. He loves what he does because it keeps him busy and indulges his affinity for world travel. You see, his company is often in the running for seven figure contracts from around the world, important people vying for his civil engineer-y services for things like road design and city planning. His company also does things like planning and construction of state-of-the-art entertainment complexes such as Edmonton Arena and Rogers Place (which I have since Google-learned are one in the same). Now, I wasn’t under the assumption that my new friend Tony was purporting to have had a hand in such a grand project, but was merely providing an example for educational purposes.

Early on in our conversations, he let me know that he’d had some bad experiences on OKCupid, women from foreign countries asking him for money, so he wanted to be super careful. He felt very lucky to have met me because he had been seriously considering deactivating his account. He asked if I might feel ok giving him my cell number, so we could text. I didn’t feel I was putting myself at risk by giving him the number, I can always block him (or change my number) if things got weird. He then suggested that we both deactivate our OKCupid accounts. I saw no harm in that. I mean, I wasn’t doing so under the guise of thinking that he was “the one,” I just didn’t want the complication and potential confusion of getting to know more than one guy at once. Done. And our text conversations commenced. Questions and answers and pictures, back and forth, as we attempted to determine if we were compatible.

This is the perfect juncture in the story to let you know that I was not so fool-hardy as to not take steps to attempt to validate some of the things he was telling me. I Googled his phone number and did reverse image searches on the photos he sent me via text. No results; no matches anywhere on the net. That’s a positive sign, right? No results for his name on social media, but he said he doesn’t use it because he just doesn’t have the time. Alrighty; moving along….

As we got to know each other, I asked him where Allenton is in Wisconsin. The name sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. Here is a screenie of his response:


Uhhhh, that’s nice?


So I Googled ‘Allenton WI’ and linked to this...

I guess he didn’t think the zip code or census data were important.
I challenged him, responding, “Lol, did you totally copy and paste that info about Allenton from Wikipedia?” He didn’t admit to doing it while also not not admitting to doing it. So, was he just wanting to sound smart? Or was he so unfamiliar with Wisconsin geography (e.g., currently a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that he felt that was his best bet in casual conversation? I decided to leave that breadcrumb in the back of my mind, where it could mold and fester into proper suspicion.

A day after we began our text conversations, he asked if I would Skype with him. “Jackpot,” I thought! If I’ve learned one thing from Nev Schulman, it’s always get them to video chat. I’ve never used Skype before because I’ve never had a reason to use it. So I told Tony that I would download it and sign up for an account. He gave me his Skype ID and, as soon as I sent the request, he added me and sent me my very first Skype message:


And our first Skype call began. I was using my smartphone and, having never used the app before, I thought I had done something wrong when I could see him but not hear him. He disconnected the call after less than 2 minutes and we resumed using Skype instant messaging, where he let me know that he had been able to hear me just fine. He chalked it up to his connection, and I said I would download it on my PC for our next attempt to see if that worked better.

Over the next few text chats, I learned that he bought his house in Allenton in 2007, and the employees of his company (whom he refers to as ‘his boys’) have helped him renovate it. His dog, a two year old German Shepherd named Kent, is very smart and loyal. His mom lives in Janesville, and his younger (only) sister, who is happily married with two little children, lives in another state. He’s never been married but his most recent long term relationship ended 11 months ago when his girlfriend cheated on him, accusing him of not being attentive enough. “Am I not giving you all of my attention, Sandy,” he asked? Yes, Tony, you are quite attentive… a bit too attentive.

He couldn’t stop telling me how happy he was that we’d met. That he just wanted a partner, someone to love and cherish, and he was sure that we had chemistry and would be together. He talked about how he can’t wait to ‘fix up a date’ for us to meet, and for me to meet his family and he hoped that I wanted the same. He went on about how he wanted to travel with me. He was falling for me, he said.

Alright, Tony, let’s back this shit up a minute. We’ve been chatting for all of two days and you’re falling for me? You don’t even know much about me. Let’s take it down a few notches, m’kay? He apologized for being too forward, but he knows what he wants, and he wants me. I said that I appreciated his optimism and self-assurance, but that it was too intense for me this early on and was making me uncomfortable. He apologized again and our subsequent conversations were more vanilla. We tried to Skype again, this time I logged on using my PC and webcam but, just like the first time, I could see him sitting there speaking (and drinking his pink energy drink from a Blender Bottle) but no audio was coming through. We disconnected and chatted a bit over instant message.

He likes scary movies, especially 80’s classics like Friday the 13th. He prefers Xbox One to Playstation 4 when playing his favorite games like FIFA and Assassin’s Creed. Cats are ok, but he prefers dogs. He doesn’t watch much TV because he’s so busy with work. Oh, speaking of work, he has a contract coming up that’s taking him to Miami – and – he’s waiting to hear if he got the bid on a huge contract in West Africa, which would have him staying there for five months to oversee things. How exciting!

“What’s your email address? When I’m in Miami, I’ll be so busy with my boys that I can’t text or Skype so I will email with you,” he explained. When I conveyed my confusion (no texting but email is doable?) he simply resigned himself to getting back in touch when he returned in four days. I started to feel the weight of that putrid, decaying remnant of our first conversation, the WikiPaste incident. Perhaps I hadn’t done my due diligence in my initial detective work. I started looking through all the pics he’d sent me. He was wearing this black baseball cap in a few of them, it had a logo and slogan on it. Maybe if I Google that, I thought, I can at least see if it’s from some place near where he says he lives. Breadcrumbs, people, breadcrumbs. The logo was in pink embroidered script, Zesty* – Real Men Drink Pink. Hmmmm….creepy strip club maybe?

The first couple results took me to dead ends, promos for California winery tours. I kept seeing a link to this amateurish looking website for something called “Standard Re-Start*,” but it looked like another dead end, until I started clicking around. It’s all health and wellness crap, real pyramid scheme-y stuff, and *lo-and-behold* one of their products is a pink energy drink powder called Zesty* (see also: the prelude to our first Skype call, the video content of our second Skype call). And there it was, right on their Facebook page:

But, but….. that says “Look at Dude*.” That’s not Dude. That’s Tony! Right? And it just escalated from there. A few clicks from that page took me to Dude’s personal Facebook page. I found many of the pics I had received by text. And while we’re on the subject of texting with Dony (Tony…. Dude…. Dony), one of the first pieces of info I searched was his phone number. That was my introduction to the world of ‘non-fixed VoiP’ phone service, but knowing what VoiP is, didn’t look any deeper. Now that I was feeling queasier about the whole thing, I searched the number again and found that the carrier is a company called NextPlus (get your *FREE* account to text and call over Wi-Fi… blah, blah, blah). You can, with nothing more than an email address, set up an account with NextPlus and obtain a phone number with any area code you wish. There are apparently two viable reasons why someone might use it to communicate: 1) They are concerned about their privacy and believe that someone can glean more actual personal information from a cell phone number than is possible for the general public, or 2) They have something to hide. At this point, I’m betting on the latter.

Facebook is a great and powerful tool. I found some similarities between real-life Dude and the online alias Tony. Dude is 46 and lives in a small town in Wisconsin that isn’t Allenton. Remember Kent, the two year old German Shepherd? He’s actually six years old, and his name isn’t Kent. Dude is in a long term relationship with a woman, both of them frequently on the receiving end of jokey comments from friends and family about “putting a ring on it.” Dude’s mother passed away suddenly a couple of years ago and never lived in Janesville. Dude has a sister who lives in another state with her two kids, but no sign of a marriage, happy or otherwise. Oh, Dude has a second sister, too. I wonder why she didn’t make the final cut into the life and times of Carl ‘Tony’ Anthony. Then, things got weird…

Dude’s girlfriend, the one he is very much still in a relationship with? A click on her Facebook profile greeted me with the message that we have a mutual friend. I am Facebook friends with one of her relatives. Not someone I know in real life, or have ever even spoken to off Facebook. We are Facebook friends out of happenstance. An acquaintance of an acquaintance of a friend, who I added to grant me access to a closed group.

What was Tony’s end game? I wish I could say for sure. Learning all of this info on the real guy behind the pictures, I was left with the question, “Is it Dude using a fake name to scam women, or is he a victim here, too, having had his pictures and online presence stolen by Tony in an effort to scam women?” I had a plan. The names of Dude’s aunts and uncles were listed in his mother’s online obit, and one of my options was to tell Tony all about my cats… that just happen to have the same names as three of his uncles (totally not true, but a great story, bro). You know, see if that shakes him. I could try and bait him into offering me some samples of that crappy energy drink powder; see if I could catch the catfish that way. Alas, my fun ended prematurely.

After “returning from Miami,” he sent me a text message, telling me that he missed talking to me. He asked if I could Skype, and I agreed. Before we could even get to another fake video chat (oh yeah, that’s a real thing), I jokingly shared that my friend was concerned about my blossoming relationship. I told him she said I should ask him to send me a pic of himself holding a sheet of paper with my name and the current date written on it. He just about lost his mind. The immediate and complete overreaction was very telling, “How can you think that of me, we talked on cam,” he exclaimed. I went on to say how my friend’s daughter had been scammed by someone who could even fake a Skype call. He stopped responding. And that was the last time I heard from Tony.

I reported his spoofed calls to Skype, and his account was banned for abuse. I reached out to NextPlus to file a complaint, and their response included that they deactivated the account for fraudulent activity. I contacted OKCupid and, after some initial run around, I received feedback that they have blocked his login credentials to prevent him from ever using that profile again. I felt good about all that.

Be smart online, and in life. No one falls in love after three days of text messaging. If it feels weird, it probably is.

I learned a lot from this experience. About the things people attempt when trying to scam someone via online dating. The “civil engineer” is just as common as the “military man,” because it's plausible for either to be out of the country for extended periods of time. Google reverse image search doesn’t reliably return results. All of the pictures he sent me via text were on Dude’s Facebook page, yet they returned zero web results when plugged into Google. Most importantly, I learned that I thoroughly enjoy puzzles. Once I got that first hit from Google, I was a woman on a mission. Nothing could stop me until I had it all figured out. Nev and Max – watch out!

* The names of the real life people, products, and businesses have been changed to protect the innocent and avoid giving traffic to their shitty merchandise. Ambiguity of some locations is intentional.
Image via

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Fat is Not a Virus

I saw an article shared on social media recently about 15 couples who "lost the weight together." At first I scrolled past it, but then my curiosity got the better of me and I did something that I try never to do... I ventured into the comments section of the Facebook post.

After reading a bit of the back and forth vitriol between the 1% of the Fat Acceptance (FA)/Health at Every Size (HAES) readers futilely arguing their side against 9% "concerned for your health" and 90% outright disgust and hostility, I wanted to read the article. I wanted to give it a chance to show me it had more substance than the fat hatred in so many of the comments.

I'm not going to link to it here, I don't want to give it any more traffic than it's already getting. I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding one of its many iterations if you really want to. It's really more of a slide show than an article. The lead-in is a short but scathing warning about the issue of "contagious obesity." This was a new term to me, this "contagious obesity." With no scientific evidence cited (are there ever in these types of articles?), these two paragraphs "confirm" a fatphobe's worst fear: being fat is contagious. What was masked as weight loss "success stories" was nothing more than a platform to extend another kick in the teeth to fat people. Isn't that so often the underlying (or sometimes in-your-face) intent with articles featuring stories of weight loss? To make those who are fat feel small and unwanted, while inflating and bolstering the confidence of those who fit the slim societal ideal of beauty? Oh, the irony. I was overwhelmed by feelings of anger, upset, and sadness. I wanted to cry and hit something all at once.

A closed Facebook group I belong to recently had a great discussion about "before and after" photos and the grossly disproportionate heroism and accolades granted to people who lose weight (and fat people who are "at least trying" to lose weight, a.k.a., the "good fatty"). How weight loss is seen as the pinnacle of success and life achievements. Like being fat is the epitome of personal failure. After reading this "15 couples" article, I just felt utterly defeated. Maybe it's because I'm still in the beginnings of my HAES and FA journey. There is so much resistance against and hate toward fat bodies that I can't help feeling like I'm trying to put out a forest fire with a toy water pistol. To feel like I have to constantly justify my right to exist as I am, sometimes even to myself, is exhausting.

Between the constant barrage of media like that article, medical prejudice and mistreatment, ill-conceived and intrusive comments and advice from friends, family, and even strangers... how do you rise above it all? How does a fat person (or someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder) keep fighting against all this? How do we defend ourselves against internalizing all that hate when it constantly threatens to seep in like deadly gas through a poorly sealed window, so we can be mentally healthy and not fall back into diet culture and/or disordered eating and behavior?

After 27 years of trying to lose weight and change my body, at the age of 39 I found some great women on Twitter who showed me that there was an alternative. Through reading blogs like Fat Heffalump, The Militant Baker, and Dances with Fat and articles and books written by Lindy West, Linda Bacon, Virgie Tovar, Lesley Kinzel, Lucy Aphramor, Evelyn Tribole, Hanne Blank, and more, I learned so much. Like being happy and being fat aren't mutually exclusive and that being fat doesn't mean that you're a walking death trap of sickness. They taught me that I don't have to sit by and silently accept the discrimination and hatred directed at me and those with a body like mine. It was a novel idea for me that I can eat a salad because I love the taste of the fucking salad and not because it's a "clean" or "good" meal, and that it doesn't make me a bad person or weak-willed if I have dessert. Tweets by Fat Girl Flow, Artist Ali (and her Ok 2 Be Fat account), Your Fat Friend, and so many others have been like my lifeline, women who know me without knowing me. Instagram accounts like She Might Be, Kobi Jae, Suma Jane Dark, The Chza, Heffalumpish, A Beard Named Troy, Eff Your Beauty Standards, and The Every Body Project show me that every body is unique and beautiful in its own right, and I don’t have to make myself smaller or dress to blend into the background.

It's been two years since I started adopting the FA and HAES philosophies. I try not to look backward, but that can be just as challenging as moving forward. Throughout this still relatively new period of personal growth and acceptance, I can't help feeling isolated. Despite a stellar online community of support among people who are fiercely passionate advocates for FA and HAES, I grow apart from my family and friends in the offline world ('IRL' as the kids call it). My friends and family who are fat don't seem to grasp what HAES is or how to reconcile it against decades of being told that being fat is bad and is never ok. Many of them misunderstand intuitive eating as my "new diet plan," or insist that it "won't work" (as they are assuming I'm doing it as a means to lose weight). Even my friends who aren't fat seem to perpetually deny themselves certain foods, assign a moral value to what they eat (or don't eat), restrict their meals to rigidly dictated portion sizes rather than trust their body's own cues of hunger and satisfaction, or exercise out of a perceived necessity rather than enjoyment, all because they fear being or becoming fat. I love my friends and family very much, and it hurts that I no longer connect with them on that deep level. When you find that the strongest link in your bond with someone was your mutual desire to become (or stay) physically small, how do you segue your relationship beyond that? I don't want to talk about what I eat (unless it's to share a really delicious recipe or restaurant dish). I don't want to admonish myself for not exercising. And hearing others do that, all the time, hinders my blossoming ability to leave diet culture and years of disordered eating and skewed body image in the past. I've stopped hating myself, and I'd like to keep it that way.


Ideas like "contagious obesity" are dangerous and detrimental to everyone. They further marginalize, stigmatize, and exile fat people in an already fatphobic society. It gives fatphobes another reason to hate fats. It doesn't matter how long I've been fat or what circumstances brought me to my current weight. It doesn't even matter if I'm "fat and healthy" or if I'm fat and have a chronic illness. You can't "catch" fat like you can catch the flu virus. My body is not your concern. My body is not your business. My body is not a disease to be cured.