UPDATE: To anyone who has come here after watching Today Tonight’s report on the ‘fat fury’, I would like to apologise. I’d like to apologise for what THEY said. How THEY made it sound like I had called overweight people names. Or had allowed other people on this website to call them names. I didn’t and I wouldn’t. Ever. The idea of that is repugnant to me. I watched the report last night in shock. To me, it felt like all the work I’ve done for almost 20 years in the area of positive body image, fighting against prejudice and media stubborness to acknowledge that women come in all shapes and sizes and should be reflected in the media….well, it felt like TT tried to destroy it last night. I desperately hope that is not the case.
I was mortified by the way they portrayed me and twisted words. I still am. Anyway. Please take the time to read what I’ve written below to explain what REALLY happened….
The biggest storms are often the ones you don’t see coming. That’s exactly how it’s been with this seemingly innocuous post I did on Monday about the phenomenon of Gainer blogs. Somehow, it has deteriorated into national news in the Herald Sun, talkback radio and tonight’s episodes of A Current Affair and Today Tonight.
I’ve spent a surreal day answering calls from media, responding to comments and wondering how the hell this all happened.
Let me be clear, I’m not asking that you cry for me. Or send flowers. Or even sympathy. That’s not why I’m writing what I hope will be the final post on this subject. I’m simply doing what I’ve always done here and pretty much in every other place I write: tell you how it is. For me.
The past few days have seen me go from annoyance to astonishment to anger to frustration to sadness and back again many times. Right now it would be fair to say that my head is spinning a little bit. OK, a lot.
A quick re-cap:
Gainer blogs are websites by morbidly obese people who are deliberately trying to gain more weight. The particular woman about whom I wrote, Donna Simpson, currently weighs 354kg. She can barely walk and has trouble breathing and moving around. You can see that in the video below which I included in the original post. She has a 3 year old daughter and a teenage son. Her stated aim in the quotes and video interview I embedded, is to double her weight. To 700kg. I don’t know if that’s even possible. I don’t think it is. Not without dying in the process.
Why is she doing this? I’m not entirely sure. Money is part of it, I think. Subscribers to her blog pay money each month to view pictures of her in various poses and states of undress. She uses this money to buy more food to pursue her goal.
They are the facts. As stated by Donna herself. Here, you can see for yourself:
Did I call Donna names in my original post? No. The most negative thing I said is that this phenomenon of morbidly obese people trying to gain as much weight as possible and using blogs to publicly broadcast their progress is ‘odd’. I referred to these people as ‘fringe dwellers’, an indication that they were not part of mainstream society.
Without meaning to, this clearly inflamed the anger of the fat activists who took great offence at my original post about Gainers. Great great offence. This mortified me at first and I hurried back to check and re-check what I’d written, looking for the possible cause of their offence.
I couldn’t find it. I still can’t.
Yes, I tweaked a couple of minor bits of grammar and capital letters in words after I hit ‘publish’. I did this because it’s my website and also because sometimes in print, tone can be misinterpreted and I can only assume that this is what happened in this case. I was keen to make sure there could be no mistake about how I felt. I updated the post to state that I had made those changes and explain why. In no way did those changes contradict or obscure the sentiment of my original post.
And yet, a group of very vocal commenters who identified themselves as ‘fat activists’ have repeatedly accused me of ‘fat-bashing’. Not content to leave many many comments on the original post (none of which I deleted), they then went to the Herald Sun with their complaints. As is their right. They also took to their own blogs and social media to attack me for ‘fat-bashing’.
And that’s when I started to get angry.
Let me spell it out: I am not nor have I ever been a fat basher. Or any kind of basher. To even suggest such a thing is to know nothing about me or my advocacy on the subject of body image. I have spent pretty much my entire career pushing the envelope towards body diversity and the acceptance of all sizes within the media and the community. I have always advocated – passionately – for a positive body image inclusive of all shapes and sizes.
But that doesn’t mean suspending rational thought. That doesn’t mean ignoring the fact that the extreme ends of the weight scale – anorexia and morbid obesity – are a problem, both for the individuals, their families and for society. I am comfortable saying that.
Does it mean I condone calling those people names? Of course not. Does it mean I think they should be demonised? Absolutely not.
Which is why I was confused by the accusations of the fat activists.
There are almost 400 comments on that post and I only had to delete one or two that I deemed offensive to fat people. I have searched and searched through the comments looking for any more proof of ‘fat bashing’ and I can’t find it. Most of the commenters agreed that the idea of someone eating themself to death was disturbing and sad.
There were a couple of commenters who posted repeatedly under different names from the same IP address, attacking me. I left up their comments but I mentioned it in an update. On Wednesday night, without the facility to be able to moderate the post 24/7 and at the request of some of the fat activist commenters who claimed they were being abused (again, I couldn’t find it), I closed comments.
To protect them, not me.
I am a grown up. I have a media profile and am fortunate enough to have many outlets to express myself. I do not have a glass jaw – as evidenced by the fact I chose to leave up all the comments attacking me on the gainers post and elsewhere on the site. You do not have to agree with me to comment on Mamamia but you do have to be polite.
When I make a mistake or say something I regret, I am happy to own it. There is proof of that here.
But in this case, I truly feel that I have been grossly misrepresented by the fat activists. They keep accuse me of ‘fat bashing’ but are unable to provide any proof of it beyond vague references to ‘tone’. They accuse me of labelling them ‘freaks’. I have never done any such thing. Show me where or stop saying it.
For the record, I am fiercely proud of the work I have done and continue to do around Body Image. We have that in common, the fat activists and I. We want a more accepting and diverse society.
I have been chairing the Body Image Advisory Group for more than a year now.
I have spent (and continue to spend), a huge amount of my own time along with my fellow members of the group and government departments, compiling a report of recommendations to Government about helping to create a more positive body image in the media and society in general.
I have also done dozens and dozens of media interviews in my role as chair, calling on the media to start portraying women (and men) in a more diverse and inclusive way. I have done all that work for free because it is something I passionately believe it. Always have.
I feel faintly ridiculous wheeling out my body image credentials because I still don’t quite understand what I am defending. Oh wait, it’s the accusation that I am in some way hypocritical or traiterous for suggesting that the idea of a woman who is trying to kill herself with food in front of her children and the world is an alarming one. Or somehow inconsistent with my role as a body image advocate.
Is expressing concern about a pro-anorexia site akin to skinny bashing? I don’t believe it is.
Donna Simpson earns an income from her size. She has a blog based on her weight and she gives interviews to promote that site. Are fat activists actually suggesting we say that we shouldn’t mention her weight? Or that she be celebrated for what she’s doing?
Because I’m going to disagree with that. Just like I’m going to disagree with the idea of pro-anorexia sites being a good thing. They’re not. And they are most certainly not about positive body image. Because let’s be clear, positive body image is not about harming your body. It’s about aiming for a healthy weight and lifestyle. It’s about having a healthy mental and physical relationship with your body and with food. It’s about body diversity in the media. It’s about images and stories like this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this being seen somewhere other than just on Mamamia.
Yes, I’m feeling attacked. Yes, I’m feeling bruised and upset. I’m a real person not just a photo on a website. And what disappoints me most is that I think that at the root of it, I share the same concerns as the fat activists on many levels.
However even more than that, my greatest concern is the fact that there has been so much aggression on these posts in the last couple of days. I pride myself on the fact that Mamamia is like no other online community. We are nurturing, supportive and able to have intelligent discussions and differences of opinion without things deteriorating into argument. So I wanted to apologise to all the regular Mamamia readers and to anyone new who may be visiting the site this week for all the argy bargy. It was never my intention to inflame the fat activists or to somehow turn into their public enemy and I remain utterly baffled by how that happened.
But I will not sit back and allow anyone to willfully misrepresent my position on body image. I’ve worked too long and hard and passionately for that.
UPDATE: I just saw Today Tonight and A Current Affair and I am shattered.
TT made it sound like I had called overweight people appalling names. They gave no context to the post or what was said. They called for me to be sacked from the Body Image Advisory Group. I don’t know whether to cry or drink wine….so currently I’m going with both…..