Body Positivity & Fat Acceptance @ 2010 YA Lit Symposium


It’s me!  A wonderful, blurry picture of me, snapped by the fabulous Allen Zadoff at the beginning of my pre-conference.  (I didn’t take any pictures because I wasn’t really thinking …)

The YA Lit Symposium was a great time, especially once I survived my pre-conference!  I attended some really interesting and exciting sessions.  (and only one that I felt was really, really frustrating.)  I also had the chance to catch up with some of my fantastic librarian colleagues/friends (Wendy, Liz, Melissa, and Gretchen chief among them!) and network and feel the power of YALSA.  (I just think we’re the most fun.  I just think no one has more fun than us!)  There was A LOT of tweeting happening, which was a great way to both take notes and keep up with what was happening in other panels.

I’ll blog a little more about the symposium and the sessions I attended later this week, but in the meantime, I wanted to get all the information from my pre-conference up here for anyone who was looking.  This is all the material and links we covered at the session, you’re  free to use it in your programming or booklists as you see fit.  I’m not sure how much sense this will make to people who weren’t at the pre-conference, but definitely feel free to take a look either way.  And, OF COURSE, if you have any questions or want any more information, please let me know.

Two recaps of the session can be found at the YALSA blog (thanks Meredith!) and at Librarified. (thanks, Gretchen!)  If there’s any other reviews/wrap-ups out there, please let me know so I can link to them!

THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who attended the pre-conference: thanks for caring and paying extra to attend and being so attentive and interesting and fun to bounce ideas off of!  Thanks to the outstanding and talented authors Megan Frazer, Madeleine George, Susan Vaught, and Allen Zadoff, who agreed to talk about their excellent books and be part of the story.  Thanks to all of you for showing up and listening and inspiring me!   I really feel like we had a great session and, as I said, started a really important conversation.  I hope all of you will continue that conversation, and that work, with me here on the blog and in your libraries with your teen patrons!

The literature review in Powerpoint format. (through Slideshare … all those covers!)
The literature review as a Word doc. (through Google docs)

YouTube Videos
Fat Talk Free Week #1
Fat Talk Free Week #2
Operation Beautiful #1
Operation Beautiful #2
Joy Nash’s FAT RANT (we didn’t get to watch this in session, but it’s great and HIGHLY recommended for those who haven’t yet seen the awesomeness!)

Web Resources
Reflections: The Body Image Program
(Remember this program was started by a college sorority, Tri Delta, so some of these activities obviously need to be modified for use in a teen/library setting:
Activities, More Activities)
The Illustrated BMI Project
Operation Beautiful

And, of course, remember that any time you have questions, want to continue the conversation, or share ideas, you can contact me via e-mail, (fatgirlreading at sign gmail) through this site, or follow me on Twitter.

The pre-conference was truly an amazing experience.  Together, I hope we can make it just the beginning of something great.

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I Hope My Fat Body Isn’t Grossing You Out, World.

Well, there it is: my big, fat body.  I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of a luxurious vacation with a group of my closest friends, enjoying my life and my world and having a wonderful time with people who love me, but I can see as how this would gross you out.  What with me existing and everything.

On Monday, Marie Claire published an blog in their online Year of Living Flirtatiously column called “Should “Fatties” Get A Room?  (Even on TV?)” by Maura Kelly.  I’m not going to link to that article because (in my opinion) Marie Claire is currently loving all the page views and publicity.  But I first read about it on Jezebel, where there’s plenty of excerpts from the article and a link you can follow to it, if you’d like.

Anyhow, the article went viral, Kelly issued a completely awesome non-apology and it started a really good conversation about about if fat people, like, have a right to exist even if they make people like Maura Kelly upset “simply by walking across the room.”  Well, OK, there’s actually been much more conversation, commentary, and insight written about it and I’ve appreciated it, really, and I’ve appreciated that so many people spoke up and said, “This is offensive, this hurts me, this isn’t OK.”  That part is awesome.

But at the same time?  What in the holy hell?  There is no both sides.  There is no “let’s talk about Maura Kelly’s points!”  She doesn’t have any points.  She does not have an argument.  She wrote an offensive, hateful piece that isn’t well written or edited and isn’t really coherent.  This doesn’t mean “why bother responding?”  as most of you know, I *always* think it’s worth responding.  But … wow.  That this is what we’re responding to?  It’s almost shocking.

Almost, I say, because on the other hand, it’s not shocking at all.  It’s barely a surprise, I guess, to me as a fat person.  That’s what it means to be fat, after all, that people can “seriously” write things like this for a major national publication and get away with phrasing it like a question.  Should fat people be allowed to make out?

I wasn’t always aware of fat activism, part of it, you know.  I didn’t just spring into being this way.  Wading out in the Gulf of Mexico, the sand under my toes and the water deliciously cool on a hot day, I think that was maybe the first time in my adult life I was in a swimsuit without some sort of cover-up trying to hide my body.

It felt so good.

Understanding my body was not my enemy, understanding that people do not have an unalienable right to comment on and judge my body, that my body is not part of their conversation – that changed everything.   Maura Kelly, Marie Claire, that ridiculous blog, they deserve a response.  And that response is: shut the fuck up.

OK, fine, that’s simplifying it a bit.  What I mean to say is: my body is not yours for public discussion.  How I walk across a room, how I kiss a man, how I eat a pretzel, how I look in a swimsuit with clear blue water washing over my skin – that is not yours to feel repulsed by, to wonder about, to comment on at all.

That’s mine.

This is how my fat activism started: the awareness that my body was mine.  It grew from there, spurred on by conversations with a very smart person who knew about body politics and encouraged me to think about it, by my development as a feminist, and, oh yeah, by my reading.

In reading others stories, I saw my life and my struggles reflected back, and I knew that I wasn’t alone.  It is this connection that has always made reading so powerful, so important to me.

Over a year ago, I started planning a program for the 2010 YALSA YA Literature Symposium.  The idea?  To look at the many books published for young adults (in the last five years) dealing with fat issues, fat characters, and even fat acceptance.  These books (some good, some bad, some trying) that had characters that were learning to make peace with their bodies, to stand up for themselves, to figure out who they were – these books I thought could be a connection for so many teenagers.

One week from today, what began, over a year ago, as an idea for an author panel program will now be a half-day pre-conference.

I hope that this is just the beginning of the conversation, the first step in getting word out to librarians (and teens!) that there are books being published now that reflect a world full of different bodies and different sizes and these voices can help teenagers (can help anyone!) learn to stop apologizing for their bodies and start telling people like Maura Kelly that they’ll walk across the room without any shame and she doesn’t get the slightest bit say in it.

I hope you’ll join the conversation and spread the message.  It’s the most important thing we, as a community of librarians, reviewers, and writers, could ever say to Marie Claire or Maura Kelly.

It’s the best response we can give.

(additionally: if you’re coming to the symposium, please let me know, I’m super-excited about getting to meet up with as many people as possible!)

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The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF: the designated ugly fat friend.  The one girl in a group that’s just not “as pretty” as the others.  DUFF: it’s a “real” thing, you know.  You can look it up on Urban Dictionary, where it’s been an entry since 2003.  The DUFF, the girl in any group who’s just not as pretty, not as skinny, not as noticeable, not as special as the friends she’s with. And, regardless of the group, regardless of the situation, you already (and always) know who the DUFF is…don’t you?  She’s you.

“For a girl with such a fat ass, I felt pretty invisible.”

FINALLY, you are saying to yourself SHE’S GOING TO WRITE ABOUT A FAT BOOK (AS PROMISED) AT HER FAT BLOG.  IT’S ABOUT TIME!

Well, about that . . .

But!  But!  It says “fat” right there, in the title!  Yet one of the things that works about The DUFF is that we don’t really know if our protagonist, Bianca, is “actually” fat.  And one of the things that doesn’t just work but that makes The DUFF brilliant is that it still manages to be about the complicated and often painful politics of body image.  Bianca might be fat.  She might not be.  The DUFF challenges readers to ask: what does fat look like and what does fat mean anyway?

The DUFF starts one night out when Bianca is out with her friends.  She is approached by Wesley, school hottie and well-known player, who attempts to chat her up so her friends will like him.  Why would that work?  Because, as Wesley explains, Bianca is The Duff among her friends.  She knows it and they know it, he assures her.   If they see him talking to her, why, they’ll think he’s sensitive and kind for deigning to talk to her and probably make out with him.  Bianca, naturally insulted, throws her Cherry Coke in his face and stalks off.

Of course, you can probably guess where this is headed.

One of the things that works the best about this book is that though many plot developments seem inevitable and predictable (Bianca and Wesley’s hostility is also chemistry?  You don’t say!) Kiplinger still manages to give them an extra dimension, something just a little different than what you thought you guessed.

Like I said, we don’t know “how fat” Bianca is, but we do get to hear some of her thoughts on how fat she feels.  She refers to herself as having “big thighs” (p. 12), as being “chubby” (p.39),  and as having a “fat ass” (p. 139). But, again, Kiplinger knows that everyone feels that way sometimes, that feeling like that doesn’t always describe how we actually look.  Is this a book about a fat girl?  Kinda.  But it’s also a book about how society sometimes makes you feel like “a fat girl” by making you feel like “fat” is the worst of who you are.

Another nice touch: Bianca’s best friends, Casey and Jessica, also have insecurities about their looks.  Though Wesley opens by telling Bianca she’s the DUFF, Casey and Jessica are only human.  At one point, Casey protests SHE’S the DUFF.  Casey thinks she’s “Sasquatch” (p. 44) … but tall girls are all models, right?  They never have anything to worry about! Kiplinger knows that’s not true, and she knows that’s the heart of the DUFF.  One particularly nice, subtle moment comes when Bianca says something dismissive to Casey about the girls on the cheerleading squad, a squad Casey happens to be a member of:

“…He wouldn’t even date a girl on the Skinny Squad–“

“I really hate it when you call us that.” (p. 190)

Such a nice touch!  Slamming of the other cheerleaders who have “skinny” bodies doesn’t pass without comment.  Casey lets Bianca know that makes her uncomfortable, that the language is reductive and hurtful.  In less than 20 words and without beating you over the head with it, Kiplinger gets the point across, loud and clear.

So, Bianca finds herself pulled into a quickly escalating physical relationship with Wesley in an attempt to get through some rough personal times. (again, an refreshingly honest detail: sometimes, we use physical and sexual intimacy in a way that’s not always healthy or fair.  But it feels good and it makes us feel connected.)  They banter, bicker, have sex, and start to scratch each other’s surfaces.  But can they ever be more than just “enemies-with-benefits?”

(This is one of the book’s less believable parts: it’s so honest about sex that when the plot starts to veer off to “and the guy you have random hook-ups with could totally turn into awesome boyfriend material if you just stick it out and give him a shot!!!” it feels a little unrealistic.  Yeah, that happens, but, in my experience, not that often.  But this is, in many ways, a romance novel so it’s not entirely jarring or unexpected within the genre.)

The relationship between Bianca and Wesley is good, don’t get me wrong.  For one thing: their sexual relationship is sizzling and integral to their relationship as a whole. (This is one of very few YA book I can think of that discusses cunnilingus.  [maybe the only non-lesbian one?] And discusses it in a way that seems totally believable and real to a teenage girl’s mind.) No hand-holding here, Edward Cullen!  The way the book deals with sex is definitely for mature readers but it’s also good to see YA fiction moving beyond the billowing curtains.  And Bianca and Wesley’s banter is good too: natural, unforced, and kind of mean in all the best ways.  So are the moments when they start to really connect.  She stands up to him, calls him on bullshit, and doesn’t let him treat her like crap.  He likes her more because of that.  That’s believable, that works.

But, for me, what makes The DUFF really work is Bianca’s relationship with her girlfriends, some other girls at school, and herself.  This is a feminist book.  It’s a book about owning your identity, about not feeling bad for feeling good about sex, a book about rejecting “sexist” labels and words that tear girls down.  (yes, Kiplinger uses the word sexist!  HURRAH!)

Reading The DUFF and not knowing how ugly or fat Bianca “really” is doesn’t just show how subjective and individual measures like that are.  Keplinger knows it helps readers understand that everyone feels like the DUFF sometimes.  Perhaps that seems a little simplistic, but I think it’s a message teen readers NEED to hear.

Hell, I think it’s a message we ALL need to hear.

Recommended for: Language and sexual situations make this one for older teens only.  I recommend this as a first purchase for public libraries and for teens in grades 10-12.  I think this has the potential to be one of those books teen girls pass around from friend to friend.

A NOTE ABOUT THE COVER!

You’ll note that my post features two covers.  The one of the left is a picture I took the ARC cover.  The one one the right is the one that’s shown on Amazon, Kiplinger’s site, etc.  I IMPLORE YOU, POPPY, PLEASE USE THE ONE ON THE LEFT.  Not because the girl on the left is “fat” (maybe she is, maybe she isn’t…which fits the text!) but because the cover on the right seems all wrong for the book.  Funky eyeshadow?  Blowing a bubble with bubblegum? What does that have to do with anything?  It seems almost tween-ish.  AND THIS IS NOT A TWEEN BOOK.  That model looks almost flippant and uninterested.  The girl on the left is looking right at you: up close and unblinking.  I can practically see the smirk on her lips.  She’s Bianca.

Comment for a Chance to WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK!

I hope you can’t wait to read this book!  It doesn’t come out until September 7, but after ALA I ended up with two advance reading copies.  (thanks to Little & Brown!)  I knew that meant I had to give one away!  So, as I did with Some Girls Are, I’m going to use random.org to select a random winner from the comments.  It could be you!

All you have to do is leave a comment with your thoughts about the word DUFF and you’re entered. (details: contest is open until August 12, US entries only please, don’t forget to use an e-mail address when you comment so I can contact you.) And if you don’t win,  don’t forget to go into your local library and request they buy a copy.

In the meantime, I suggest everyone take a moment to embrace their inner DUFF, the first step in working towards letting go of any power a word like that might have over you.

We *are* all The DUFF.

And that’s OK.

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An Open Letter to the 2011 Quick Picks Committee

First, thanks to all the amazing responses on my last blog, being linked from Courtney Summers own blog definitely made my week!  Using random.org the winner of my copy of Some Girls Are is Claire, hooorah, who I have contacted via e-mail.  If I don’t hear back from her, I’ll try again.  Definitely keep reading for more reviews and giveaways.

I loved Some Girls Are SO MUCH I wanted to *make sure* it was nominated for both the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and the 2011 Quick Picks list, so I headed over to YALSA’s site to check out the current nominations list.

That’s where I saw one of the books nominated for a Quick Picks was the offensive and super problematic This is Why You’re Fat.  I really felt like I needed to write this open letter to the Quick Picks committee, trying to address some of the issues I think are worth discussing about this book and its possible inclusion on the final 2011 list.  I hope this gives people, both on the committee and in general, something to really think about and discuss!

Dear 2011 Quick Picks Committee:

First. let me thank all of you for your work on this committee.  Right now, I’m in the middle of my first term on a YALSA selection committee and I KNOW what hard and exciting work it is; how you start to think, for a few seconds, staring at a huge pile of books you have to read that maybe, just maybe, you might be getting sick of books right before a wave of euphoria at how many damn good books there are being published washes over you.  I know, too, the weight of the responsibility you feel: knowing these lists will be used by literally thousands of librarians and teachers across the entire country.

Because, of course, these selection lists mean something, it’s an honor to be on them, it helps sales, it gives authors traction, it’s something librarians can use when they are justifying purchases, it counts to be included.  That’s why I’d like all of you committee members to seriously think about what it means to include a book like This Is Why You’re Fat.

For those of you who don’t know This is Why You’re Fat is the book form of a blog.  Well, it was a tumblr, actually, and basically it was nothing more than pictures of “disgusting” food posted.  There was no witty commentary like there is at say, Cake Wrecks or Regretsy.  There was just pictures, thrown up on a tumblr dashboard, all under the moniker This is Why You’re Fat. You can’t see the blog/tumblr anymore because it’s been removed (by the creators)  but the pictures ranged from the infamous Krispee Kreme Hamburger to “giant” Oreos.

What this really was, though, was more of the continued fucked up messaging our culture gives about food, eating, and health.  See, we fatties get constantly told about how people are just trying to shame us because they care so much about our health. But if that’s the case, why wasn’t the tumblr called “This Is Why You’re Unhealthy” or, even, say, “This Is Why You Have Blocked Arteries!!!” Oh, right, because it wasn’t about that, it was about TEH FATZ!  The dreaded, disgusting, worst thing you could ever be: this, America, THIS IS WHY YOU’RE FAT!

I’d like to ask all of you who work with teens to take a moment to consider where a book like This Is Why You’re Fat fits in with teens who are suffering from disordered eating and looking for some thinspiration. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a word used within the pro-anorexia movement to describe tips, slogans, and, most especially, pictures that encourage continued weight loss and starvation.  And, yes, I just said pro-anorexia, otherwise known as the movement to promote anorexia as a “lifestyle choice” and not a disease.

You can Google thinspiration or thinspo or pro-ana, if you’d like.  Here’s some of what you’ll find: pictures of girls showing off their rib cages, posters sharing tips about how to go for long periods of time without eating, posts of “before and after” pictures of celebrities where you can see wrist bones and clavicles sticking out, and posters positively encouraging each other as they become sicker and sicker.  There’s even many YouTube videos to go with the pictures.  It’s not hard to find, it’s not inaccessible, the most you might ever have to do is register for a free forum or click a button PROMISING you are 18.  You can literally find dozens of examples in one Google search.  Just this week the American Journal of Public Health posted a comprehensive analysis of pro-ana and pro-mia websites, finding that 91% of these sites had public access.

And who is doing all that Googling?  Statistics show it’s mostly teenage girls.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Eating Disorders Association, and the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, one in five women has an eating disorder or disordered eating, and 90% of these women are aged 12 to 25. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.

And while it’s not pictures of models with their shoulder blades poking through their skin, a book like This Is Why You’re Fat is MADE for thinspiration.  It acts as motivation, inspiration, and a driving force to adolescents who are desperate for justification about their “lifestyle” choices and on the hunt for visual proof to keep them vigilant about not eating.  This is re-enforcement of the worst, most harmful kind of thinking: don’t eat cookies, donuts, bacon, ice cream, hamburgers, cheese, meat, bread: don’t  eat it because  this is why you’re fat! FOOD IS WHY YOU’RE FAT. This has real-life consequences.  (I know, I must have said that phrase about 20 million times on this blog, but it’s a really important context to put these things in, a frame, and it needs to be said and repeated.)

Am I taking this to the extreme?  Probably.  But that’s the entire premise of the book, isn’t it?  The thought process behind the pro-ana and pro-mia movements?  Dealing with extreme ends of the spectrum, thought taken to its most grotesque and overwhelming ends?  That’s how they end up being so perfectly, nightmarishly suited for each other, this book and thinspiration within the pro-ana and pro-mia world. Maybe only one in five teenagers might see this book and get “food is why you’re fat!” from it (although I would argue this is the not so thinly disguised premise from the start) but the point is: we know there’s that one in five teenager out there.  And that the one in five figure is probably a  modest estimate.   What are we saying to them?

Thousands of libraries across the country will purchase This Is Why You’re Fat if it is selected as a 2011 Quick Pick.  That means even more teenagers will have access to it, will see it on library shelves.  What messages will they be getting from it?  That they should try to live “more healthy lives” or that eating a burger is what has made them so disgustingly fat? Is that none of our concern as librarians?  Does that have nothing to do with the books we chose, from the thousands published every year, as worthy of this distinction and honor?

I see that selection criteria for Quick Picks informational titles includes “Accuracy” and “Objectivity.”  I know that you, as a committee, will be sitting down to discuss all these nominations during Annual.  As a fellow librarian who works with teens, a YALSA member, and a librarian who uses YALSA’s lists for collection development, I’d like to ask you to really consider and discuss if This IS Why You’re Fat is either accurate OR objective.

What we do matters, don’t you think?  I do, it’s why I do it, after all.  I don’t think that this book shouldn’t exist, that it should be pulled from all library shelves and bookstores.  But I think it’s worth questioning what purpose it serves, what audiences it is geared for, and what purpose we, as a librarians, would serve by selecting it as a 2011 Quick Pick.

Thanks for your time and hard work on the committee.  Like so many other librarians, I appreciate all your work and I do know, first hand, what a significant commitment it is.  I know you don’t take that commitment lightly and I thank you for taking the time to read and really consider my thoughts and point of view.

I hope to see you at Annual,

-Angie Manfredi

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Why I Use The F Word


You know … FAT.

The first time my teen patrons heard me refer to myself as “fat” they seemed unsure how to react. A group of teenage girls had gathered around a table in front of the desk I was working at and were discussing what might be considered typical adolescence topics: boys, hair, clothes, and their social lives. I heard one of them say, disgust in her voice, “I’m so fat today!” When I casually looked over to see who was speaking I saw a teenage girl who could not have weighed more than 110 pounds. I saw a teaching moment at hand, so I interjected, “You’re not fat. I’m fat.”

Conversation at the table came to a grinding halt as six heads swiveled as one to stare at me. They stared at me with confusion.  I was new in my job and this was one of the first times this group of girls had ever seen me. Their previous relationship with our library could have been classified as hostile, or at the very least, tense.  They stared at me now as if I were deliberately baiting them into making a nasty comment about me.

I smiled at them and they giggled nervously, some averting their eyes from my friendly gaze. This was one of my first verbal interactions with the high school crowd of girls who frequented my public library most weekdays, so I wanted it to be a positive one. I could tell the girls did not know how to react to this statement and could not tell what my intentions were, so I made sure my smile was extra warm.

“It’s true,” I continued, keeping my voice sociable and pleasant. “I am fat. It’s just a word, that’s all. It’s not an insult. It’s no different than saying I have brown hair.” I pointed to my hair at this point and smiled a little wider.

They giggled again and shifted nervously in their seats. “That’s why you shouldn’t call yourself fat,” I said, motioning vaguely to the girl who had spoken earlier. “It’s not because being fat is terrible or insulting, but because it’s not factually true.”

“Um, yeah,” one of the other girls said to the speaker. “That’s right, you’re, um, not fat, I guess.” There was a moment of silence, as the statement hung almost visibly in the air.  I wondered if this was the first time any of them had ventured to say this out-loud: you’re not fat, had been brave enough to not join in the chorus of body hate, the repeated mantra of “fat, fat, fat!” that so often surrounds so many of us.

There was no giggling this time; they just continued to stare at me as I smiled at them. I went back to my work and a few minutes later, I heard them return to their conversation. This was an icebreaker day in my relationship with these patrons, I like to think that from that day on they thought of me as a person who, at the very least, told the truth.

By the end of the year, I know they thought of me as an ally and an advocate, an adult who could (who would) speak up for them in a library setting.  I hope they also thought of me as a fat person because, as I told them that first day, that’s just what I am.

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John Green is NOT Fat

“Keep the humiliation coming in the comments, it motivates me.”

2014 UPDATE

Welcome, visitors from Your Fav is Problematic/anyone who got here by searching for “John Green”, I guess.  This is the very first post on my site and is now almost 4 years old.  Yet I still get hundreds of hits a week on this post, which is linked from the Your Fav is Problematic tumblr, so I wanted to make some updates to it.

First: you’ll note that the first comment on this post (the first comment ever on my blog, actually) is from John Green himself.  HE was thoughtful and appreciative of my post.  If you have come here to defend him to the death, to stan for him, to explain to me how I “don’t get” the joke, please do not waste your time.  John Green himself, as a thoughtful reader and ally, did not do this and you should take that as a lesson.

Second: I DO “get” the joke.  In fact, that is still the exact problem.  If you have come here to talk about how HE DIDN’T REALLY MEAN IT, you are still part of the problem.  This kind of shaming and humiliation is NEVER a joke and it NEVER happens in a vacuum. That was the entire reason I wrote this post – because I wanted John Green and nerdfighteria to consider that when they “know better” but still act like this they are feeding into the problem.

Third: I don’t retract one single thing of this because in the years that have passed Nerdfighteria and John Green have only CONTINUED to hammer away at the PIZZA things which is unavoidably about fat jokes.  They can spin it about being about something else , about being nothing else than just liking to eat pizza, friends!  But, as this post and that video and even Green’s apology makes clear – it’s NOT.  In the comments of the original post it STILL asks you to wear the Pizza John shirt “to remind me to slim down!” So why doesn’t the answer on his tumblr mention that?  Oh right, because that’s insulting and problematic! Pretending like that’s not the entire root of the meme doesn’t mean it’s NOT. It just means you know it’s problematic but still wanna make money off the joke.  And that’s fucking gross.

It’s a joke about how much pizza Green ate (that’s why he was so fat, giggles!)  That’s what it’s rooted in – John Green ate SO MUCH PIZZA and had a silly mustache and now it is the fandom in-joke that will not die and is still sold and promoted (it was a huge fundraiser effort at Christmas, just in case you weren’t tired of laughing yet – the 12 Days of Pizzamas – and yes, that’s a link to the still active JOHN GREEN IS FAT Facebook page, which as of July 2013 was asking people to pay attention to John’s “double chins” because hahaha!) there is simply no escaping that it has its roots in “parody” comments like “Gross, huge.  TOO MUCH FOOD!  You are disgusting!!!!!”  It’s not a parody when someone says that to you or when someone says that to fat teens.  It still hurts, it still means something deeply cruel, and it still says STOP EATING ALL THAT PIZZA AND MAYBE YOU WOULDN’T BE SO FAT, FATTY!

You don’t get to negate that because you say it’s a joke, because you say it means something else and your critics just don’t get the context you meant. YOU don’t get to dictate the terms of what makes a fat person feel insulted or belittled. People with privilege and power don’t get to dictate the terms of what “counts” as insult and harassment to marginalized people.   

You don’t get to negate fat hate because you are an ally, because you would never “really” be mean to someone about their weight, you don’t get to negate that by playing it off as “hipster” fat hate.  It’s not.  It’s just plain fat hate and when you pose with your oh-so-cute PIZZA JOHN shirt believe me, your message is coming across loud and clear.

I stand by that, and I stand by this post, all these years later.  I still think the question of who’s doing the laughing and what does that mean? is worth asking. Also worth asking, in this orgy of PIZZA JOHN merchandise: why does the JOHN GREEN IS FAT Facebook page still exist (4,700+ likes), is still endorsed by Green as “hilarious” in the comments of the original FAT video, and still make jokes about the food Green crams in his face?

I still think John Green is an important ally and, more than ever, I think that his voice carries weight.  I wish that he would more carefully consider the PIZZA JOHN meme and its sad history within his fandom.  And I hope that all you visitors from Your Fav is Problematic or casual searching or whatever will read this post, see my points and my links to research, and consider that same thing yourself.

At the end of February, John Green posted this vlog.  Watching it made my skin crawl, but the quick response of his Nerdfighter-fandom (creating the pizza shirt, several admins of one of his largest fansites posing wearing it their profile pics on said fansite, “hilarious” responses in the YouTube comments-section filled with “fake” insults like: “Keep your chins up, land whale.” and “You are sick!!!! Gross, huge. TOO MUCH FOOD! You are disgusting!!!!!”) made it even worse.

For my readers who may not be familiar: John Green is a ROCK STAR in YAlit.  (one of his friends, the author Maureen Johnson, told me that being out on tour with him was like being with “the nerdy Beatles.”  I can totally see this.) He won the most important award in the field (the Printz Award) for his first book when he was just 28 years old.  Besides the writing, he does the hugely successful vlogbrothers project and has a devoted fanbase known as nerdfighters.  And, also, he’s awesome.  Let me just state that right away.

I adore him.  I have all three of his books autographed, I think he’s an incredibly talented author, I think Looking for Alaska is a modern classic and will still be read and loved by teenagers in 20 years, I think he’s an ally and advocate for social justice and equality.  I have a poster of a quote from Looking for Alaska hanging up in the teen section of my library and I always will, because it’s powerful, meaningful text.  I have teared up when hearing him speak about his dedication to teenager’s inner lives and the importance literature can have in said inner lives.

And he completely, utterly, fucked up here.  It’s important to acknowledge this.  It’s important to say this.  It’s important to let our allies know when they have let us down.

When you search for this video, here are just a few of the sites that link to it: Gold Coast Personal Training, Weight Loss for Women Site, and No Chubby Hubby.  What ads do you see when you watch it?  What videos does YouTube suggest for you?  Are the they ones about diets that promise you can lose 40 pounds overnight?  That’s what *I* saw.  This isn’t ad spam, it isn’t random.

Watching this vlog, I knew he was joking, I knew he was being ironic.  I mean, gosh, can’t I take a joke?  Don’t I know better?  Don’t I understand when someone is just teasing?  Can’t I just give him the benefit of the doubt?   And yet.  I still felt a “hipster racism” vibe all over it.  (what’s hipster racism?  As A.J. Plaid, writing at Racialicious so eloquently puts it: “I define hipster racism (I’m borrowing the phrase from Carmen Van Kerckhove) as ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning “ironic” nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy.”) In short: John Green, because he “knows better” than to think humiliation ever actually works as motivation, is ironically laughing at the idea.

And yet this idea, that fat people can just be shamed into losing weight, that all they really need is some good old-fashioned public humiliation (don’t worry, this is actually for their own good!) is one of the oldest and most UN-ironic schools of thought.  And besides all that?   It’s just not true. (believe me, our culture does nothing but try to make fat people feel ashamed.  Ashamed to exist, to be walking around, to expect clothes that fit, to eat in public, ashamed!  If that’s all it took to lose weight, no one would be fat.) It’s not true and, here’s the key part: it has harmful, real-life consequences.

In February, a Cambridge University study found that half of the six year old girls surveyed (repeat: six years old) wished they were thinner.   Where are six year old children getting messaging like that from?  This messaging is part of our culture, is where.   It’s perpetuated by hilarious Facebook groups  (it’s all in good fun!) dedicated to telling a public figure how fat he is, dedicated to posting every picture they can find of said public figure eating food.  (gross, eating food.  That’s such a fat person thing to do!)  And when that same public figure joins the fray by encouraging this atmosphere by, indeed, saying that humiliation is welcome: it only makes it worse.

This, by the way, is all without scratching the surface of the fact that this public figure is also well-known and well-loved among teenagers, a demographic that  truly struggles with body image issues. (in 2008 the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology found that approximately 10 in 100 teenage girls suffer from an eating disorder.) When I watched that vlog, as a fat person, I felt that momentary prick of shame you always feel, even when you fight it, of someone vaguely humiliating/embarrassing you.  If I were more motivated, if I were more humiliated, I could lose 15 pounds like John Green.  He doesn’t seem to mind the teasing, he thinks it’s funny.  I guess it is kind of funny.  I’m probably just being too serious about it.  I shouldn’t mind, everyone is just trying to help me, why do I have to be so uptight about it? I couldn’t help but wonder what John Green’s fat teenage fans thought, what his fans who have complicated, disordered relationships with food and eating thought of the video, of the ritual humiliation he seems so delighted to take part in.

Just in case it’s not clear: I’m not trying to chase John Green out of town with pitchforks, I’m not swearing off everything he ever does and saying all anorexia is his fault and he wants fatties to cry.  What I am saying is: none of this takes place in a vacuum, all of this contributes to a negative climate.  If you don’t believe me, think of the last time you heard someone you know, a friend, a casual acquaintance, a co-worker, a family member, say something casually negative and hurtful about their weight:  I look so fat in this!  I’m such a pig!  I need to lose 10 pounds! If you work with teens, think of a time you heard a teenager say something like this to you.

John Green is not fat.  John Green was never fat. Nerdfighters out there, you want to “decrease suck” and “increase awesome”?  Well, this is how.  Fight this. Take off the PIZZA shirt and stop giggling behind your hands about this.  Pretending that “But John Green was never fat, hah!” is “part of the joke” is insulting to REAL LIFE fat people and it’s feeding into a culture that teaches us to hate our bodies and feel that if we are anything less than “perfect” we deserve to be humiliated and shamed.  After all, that’s good motivation, right?

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