“This is discrimination for smaller women”

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Modeling a dress I designed for Portland’s Modified Style in 2012. Photo by Michael Zaugg.

There shouldn’t be anything less controversial than a clothing swap, right? Especially when it is being held at a local co-op that is all about sustainability, only carries vegetarian foods and has lots of vegan options. There is reduced cost yoga, cooking classes, potlucks, and more community events that take place in this same space.

This clothing swap was posted publicly on facebook event as “Large Size Women/Femme Clothing Swap” and the descriptor originally said it went from size 14 to 2X. Already not inclusive enough, but there was a capacity limit to 25. This was supposed to be a monthly event and naturally the interested list got to be in the hundreds. The organizer decided to narrow down the sizing more because of this, and changed the sizing to just 14 to 1X. I guess that one size was just too much!

I was looking at the comments to see if I was imagining the size change since I would not have marked interested if it originally only went to 1X. I then noticed the comment, “This is discrimination for smaller women.” Sigh. The organizer commented that there is another swap for smaller sizes at another day and time. No mention of how ignorant the statement was.

You see, there is no such thing as discrimination against smaller women. Let me explain! Fat bias and discrimination is embedded in our culture. Statistics show that fat people make less money- if they can get a job in the first place since they have a difficult time being hired regardless of their qualifications. They are also subject to harassment in the doctor’s office, which often includes a lacking or wrongful diagnosis. That is if they can get past the stigma of visiting a doctor’s office that tends to be a hostile environment for fat people. This is just two examples that impact the lives of fat people. Living in a marginalized body means never getting a break from this bias so rampant in our culture.

Body shaming is always wrong. I know there are awful stories of thin people experiencing harassment because of their size as well. The ultimate goal of fat liberation includes acceptance of all bodies. Fat people are disproportionately affected from systemic oppression from a culture that celebrates thinness. Thin privilege exists. Thin people can fly in an airplane without worrying about fitting in the seat or having to pay extra, get proper health insurance coverage, have clothing availability with more stylish options, have medical issues treated directly, don’t have assumptions about their eating or activity habits, not see copious amounts of weight loss messaging telling them their bodies are considered unacceptable, and not being told you are a bad example of a vegan. Trying to say that thin and fat discrimination is the same diminishes the stigma fat people experience.

Back to the clothing swap story! So, another attendee also noticed this change in sizing. Well, I reached out to her to see if I was remembering correctly. Then she saw the ignorant comment and also got upset. She ended up commenting that the swap was already not inclusive enough of larger sizes and how it was frustrating for the sizing of the swap to be changed. I can’t quote exactly what she said because, guess what? Her comment was deleted!

So the organizer felt a comment about not having a swap for smaller sizes and called it reverse discrimination was okay, but a fat woman calling out this change in sizing was deleted without discussion. You know what that is? It’s fatphobia. I am sure the organizer did not set to treat the fat woman differently, but she did. She treated her comment as out of line, or unnecessary, or inappropriate. But a thin woman creating an unsafe space by calling the swap discrimination simply because it didn’t include her smaller body size that most clothing swaps are inclusive of, was okay.

I commented. I pointed out this fact. The organizer just said she was trying and creating the event is difficult and she can’t please everyone. Completely missing the point. She ended up saying she will learn and do better next time. I replied that she could delete the ignorant comment now, there is no need to wait.

Then the entire event disappeared! I did not set out to cancel this event, nor is it something I would have wanted. Asking for fat women to be treated fairly should not cancel an event, but if the organizer can’t handle that, then I guess it’s not an event people should be supporting.

Fragility is real and it hurts social justice. If we cannot discuss issues that affect our communities, we cannot make change. Even though I was angry, I was civil and respectful in my comments. No one should stay silent because an organizer is incapable of treating people equally. I know it is hard to be called out, or called in, but the truth is we all make mistakes and are unaware of the biases we carry. We need to be able to take criticism in order to progress our awareness and equality for marginalized voices. Otherwise, we are not truly creating an inclusive and trusting community.

 

Please note: I will also state that the clothing swap name was already not inclusive since there are many people who do not identify as a woman or femme who could have been interested in the clothing and have this clothing to trade. Also, anyone over the size of 3X are usually excluded from clothing swaps, even in fat communities, which is also something that is problematic and needs to be addressed. The amount of fat bias a person experience increases considerably with their body size. While I may be fat, I still have some privilege compared to my friends who self identify as super fat, for example.

My Fat Vegan Voice

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Swimming with my grandma while visiting her and my grandpa in Texas. I had a love/hate relationship with that pool since I loved to swim, but I didn’t love being in a swimsuit.

It’s sort of ironic that I want to tell my story, because I have a horrible memory. I don’t recall the first time I was called fat, or even the first time as a vegan I was targeted for being fat. But I do recall my whole life feeling ashamed and silenced for being fat. I do recall not fitting in because of my size. And I do remember experiences of fatphobia throughout my life. One of my earliest memories came back to me when I was looking back at childhood photos awhile back. It was a picture of me in a navy polka dot bathing suit enjoying a swim in my grandparent’s pool one summer in Texas.

In the picture I looked so happy. I was smiling, obvious laughing. I always loved being in the pool since it was such a freeing feeling. The lack of gravity of my body felt so good! That must have been the real before picture.

My grandma asked me to get out of the pool, so I did. She asked me to stand sideways and as a good granddaughter I did what I was asked. She then asked me to suck in my belly, tuck in my butt, and stick out my chest. So I did. It was a polaroid camera so after a few minutes she showed me the photos. One next to the other.

“Look how much better you look in this one” she explained. So proud to show me a version of myself that looked thinner. I didn’t fully comprehend at the time what she was trying to say, but I did know she was telling me that I was not good enough as I was. I did know that she wanted me to change. I did know I was a disappointment.

In vegan circles we talk a lot about compassion. My grandmother did not show me any. I was not accepted as who I was and it hurt. I think one reason why I was so open to veganism is because I knew what it felt like to not be understood or feel loved just as I was. It caused me to think about others differently. I knew compassion towards others was important, since the lack of it towards me was so challenging.

There are so many little and big ways that veganism and fatness connect in my world. There are also a lot of ways that they combat with each other, since fatness is so often heavily attacked in vegan communities and in fat acceptance communities, veganism is rightfully seen as not accepting body diversity (or any diversity for that matter). I hope to combat that.

This is just the beginning of my story, my voice. Do you have a voice you want to share? I would like to hear from other fat vegans! Please email me at fatveganvoice@gmail.com.