About 12 months ago I found a photo on the internet that really inspired me. It was a photo of a fat lady in a tutu and she looked beautiful – really beautiful.
“Wow!” I thought. “Could I wear a tutu?”
I always wanted one – ever since I was a tiny little girl. But now, at Size 24, was it possible I could wear one and not look like a right dork?
I was so nervous about it, I took the photo of the lady in the tutu and photoshopped my head on to it. Could I? Could I?
I decided to take the plunge. I ordered a virtual truckload of black tulle from America, and, armed with a YouTube instruction video I began threading lengths of tulle on to an elastic waistband.
When it was finished, I was thrilled. I felt fluffy and feminine and flirty – something which is rather hard to achieve once you’ve reached the extreme end of ‘Plus Size’.
My tutu got its first outing at my friend, Vicki’s, 50th birthday party. It was an 80s theme so I dressed it up with Madonna-style net gloves and an overload of jewellery. I felt fairly confident that, in the context of a costume party I wouldn’t look silly but, there was a catch. To get to the river cruiser Vicki’s husband had booked for the party, I first had to stuff myself and my many metres of tulle into the back of a taxi and then, then, I had to walk about 300 metres through the South Bank Parklands on full display to that dreaded beast – teh General Public.
As I stepped out of the cab, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “You can do this – don’t let them see you’re nervous”. Then I sashayed along the river walk in a fair approximation of Naomi Campbell on a Paris catwalk, and, you know, I don’t think one person even gave me a sideways glance.
Feeling a combination of relief and affront, I arrived at the appointed pier where my tutu was met with many compliments from my fellow party-goers. It was going to be a great night!
As we chugged up the river with 80s music thumping out of the sound system, I laughed, I sang, and I actually danced so hard that I’m still suffering the foot injury 12 months later! I had a ball and I felt like Cinderella in my lovely, fluffy black tutu.
Almost floating on air, I disembarked from the boat at the end of the cruise, happily anticipating some after-party drinks at a nearby pub. The crew greeted us as we left, murmuring parting greetings such as, “Goodnight!” “Hope you had a good night!” “Did you have fun?”
And then, as I reached the bottom of the gangplank to be greeted by the smiling crew, a female crew member said to me, “Are you going on from here?”
“Yes!” I said, “We’re going up to the Plough Inn.”
“You’re not going to wear THAT are you?” she said, looking pointedly at my tutu.
It was as if someone had taken a knife and stabbed me through the heart. If I had been a balloon, you would have heard the bang in Blackbutt.
Fighting back tears, I decided I wasn’t going to be a silent victim. I complained to the captain of the boat. I explained that I’d had a great night but his crew member’s cruel jibe had just ruined it.
I did go to the pub afterwards and I didn’t take off my tutu and again, I don’t think anyone on the walk through the Parklands or in the pub could have given a toss about what I was wearing, but it didn’t take the sting out of that one, nasty jibe.
And now, I was faced with a dilemma. I planned to wear the tutu to another event – not a costume party this time but a gala dinner. Was I just putting myself up for ridicule? I tried, in vain, to find an alternative outfit but everything I looked at in my size was unflattering, boring and had no ‘character’ at all. I sent photos of myself in my tutu to some trusted friends. Should I wear it? Would I look ridiculous? Was I kidding myself? I’m 54, size 24 and I want to wear a fucking tutu to a REALLY BIG EVENT – who am I fucking kidding?
Eventually, I decided to wear it. As I got dressed I was so nervous I was almost physically ill. I can’t tell you the effort it took to walk into that crowd of people in my tutu and I can’t tell you how gobsmacked I was when the response was neither the non-commital ‘meh’ of the passers-by at the South Bank Parklands or the sneering taunt of the tactless crew member. It was, universally, “Wow! You look a-MAZING!” Even people I didn’t know were coming up to me just to tell me they loved the tutu.
My friend, Gregory, actually demanded that I remove a piece of the tulle and bequeath him with a souvenir. It has since been affixed to his mascot, Shadforth Wilbury Sheep. I feel deeply honoured.
Now, of course, there may have been a lot of people at the function who didn’t notice the tutu at all. There may have been lots who took one look at the big girl in the phoofy dress and had a little snort of laughter to themselves. But, I didn’t feel embarrassed at all. I just felt like I’d worn an outfit that reflected how I felt about myself and that people had responded well to that – and perhaps admired the teensy little bit of bravery that it took to wear it.
The tutu has had another outing since then. I wore it recently to an marriage equality rally. And really, if you can’t wear a tutu to a gay rights rally, where the hell can you wear it? I felt I’d brought my own little bit of Mardi Gras to Toowoomba and, once again, the tutu was accepted in the spirit in which it was worn.
And, all this stemmed from a woman who I didn’t know putting up a photo of herself on the internet.
After I made the tutu I tracked down her blog and sent her a note to let her know how she’d inspired me. Later, I sent her a photo of myself at the gala dinner. We became ‘Twitter’ friends and, as it turns out, she lives in south-east Queensland, so I had planned, at some time, to get to know her in person.
The lady in the tutu, I discovered, is a ‘fat activist’. As an activist, myself, I admired her for taking on what is possibly the Western world’s last acceptable form of discrimination and saying, “This is not right!”
It’s an uphill battle. I’ve found even members of the skeptical community – who would have a fit if someone made a racist, sexist or homophobic comment – will happily post photos of fat women on their Facebook page so that their friends can join in a fat-shaming-fest.
From time to time, I’ve taken them on. But, I’m just one woman with only so much time and ‘religion and politics’ is my chosen area of activism, so I don’t blog or write a lot on the discrimination suffered by many people who don’t conform with society’s idea of ‘acceptably svelte’. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an important issue. It’s just that I can’t fight every injustice in the world. However, I was happy to network with and support a person who had, apparently, taken this on as her chosen crusade.
Mercifully, I suffer very little discrimination because of my weight. My friends and family love me as I am and if people stare, point and whisper about me when I’m out in public, I have to say I’ve never noticed it. And it’s not as if I dress to be ignored. I am the atheist ‘bling queen’ – there is no subtlety in my fashion choices. I like to stand out in a crowd. I like to be noticed. If I saw someone doing a double-take as I walked past them, I’d generally assume it was just because I looked FABULOUS! That’s not to deny the experience of others, but for me, the cruel barb from the crew member was the exception, not the norm.
The only other overt insult I can recall is a disgruntled neighbour who once shouted across the back fence, “Fat bitch! You’ve never done a day’s work in your life!” Ah, if only that were true! If others have had similar uncharitable thoughts about me, they’ve been kind enough to keep them to themselves.
I guess one’s romantic life tends to suffer when your belly ceases to be flat and your boobs head south, but then by the time the weight had reached “Big Girls’ Department’ proportions, I’d really lost as much interest in men as they had in me. There were a couple of dopes along the way who had problems with my expanding waistline. The first, a multi-millionaire from Western Queensland, murmured in my ear, “What happened to you? You used to be so beautiful.”
I replied that I still was beautiful and sent both him and his millions packing. Mother was devastated!
The second suitor, not exactly a sylph-like figure himself, decided that my figure just didn’t ‘do’ it for him, so I returned to Queensland and left him to his one true love – the bottle.
So, although I’ve got off lightly in the fat-discrimination stakes, I’m not completely oblivious to the indignities suffered by larger women (and, I expect, men). Having befriended a self-confessed ‘fat activist’ it seemed natural to share examples of ‘fat’ abuse when I came across them. After all, this is how my activism works. I depend on my network to keep me informed. Many of the things I write or campaign about come from readers of this blog, or from Facebook or Twitter contacts saying, “Hey, Chrys! Have you seen this?”
Of course, just because someone sends me a link to something, it doesn’t mean I feel compelled to act on it. If I did, I’d be working 442,023 hours a day. In most cases, I take a look. If it’s interesting, I might share it with my network. If I find myself really ticked off, I might write about it or take some other positive action. If I don’t have the time, I may send it off to someone else in my network and ask if they can respond. I certainly can’t act on every ‘tip off’ and I don’t think my network expects me to.
So, when I recently sent my ’fat activist’ friend a link to an article which castigated Elton John for hiring – gasp! – overweight nannies for his children and appended it with the acronym “WTF?” it wasn’t with any particular expectation that she would take up the cudgel on my behalf. I wasn’t delegating a task to her. I just thought that, as a fat activist (her words, not mine) she would be interested in the subject matter.
Apparently not. I later noticed that she had unfollowed me on Twitter. “Strange,” I thought. It wasn’t a big deal, but I hadn’t fallen out with her and I wondered why. I checked her account – it had been made private. I’d done that once when I was being bullied and I worried that she might have had a similar problem. When I dropped off the internet a couple of years ago, I was sustained by the number of people who actually noticed and took the time to contact me privately to ask why. So, I emailed her and said, “RU OK?”
“… just thought I’d check to see that everything’s OK with you – and between us. Have you been bullied? Anything I can help with?” I said.
I was stunned to receive a very terse response telling me that it was ‘unacceptable’ to send her a link to an article about fat hate; that she was ‘sick of people sending me links to articles about fat hate and expecting me to be their bullhorn, to take on the issue or to be the voice of fat activism with absolutely no thought how that fat hate may affect me’.
When I had retrieved my jaw from the carpet, I went back and checked her blog. And yes, it was still there. And yes, her “About” blurb still said, “My name is … and I’m a fat activist”.
I read her latest blog. It was about a fat-hate issue she’d been alerted to due to a number of retweets and shares on the internet. Was I missing something?
I wrote back to her saying I was sorry I had upset her by sharing the link, but I felt she was sending mixed messages. How can you style yourself as an ‘activist’ and then castigate people for sharing information about the very issue you claim to be campaigning about?
Apparently, I was supposed to know that she doesn’t want to be an activist 24/7 – just when it suits her.
Boy, can I relate to that!
When I’ve sat up until 2am writing a blog post or article and someone notices I’m still online and sends me an email or Facebook message saying, “By the way, can you look at this?” or “Should my school be able to do this?” or “Can you write an article about this?” I sometimes think – “Give me a break! Do you know what time it is?”
But then, I realise that I chose this. I chose to be a public commentator. I chose to be an activist. I chose to put my shingle up on the internet. Nobody forced me into it!
And, if, having styled myself as an activist, people treat me that way, I have no call to complain. Having established my areas of interest as religion and politics, skeptical issues and alt-med, it would seem pretty churlish to start unfollowing people who wanted to share information on those subjects with me!
From time to time, there has been the odd person who has demanded that I should write about a particular subject. “Why don’t you attack Muslims?” is the most common complaint; to which I reply, “Why don’t you do it and send me the link – I’ll promote your work.” No-one’s ever taken me up on it!
But ultimately, this is the thing. You’re either an activist or you’re not. You can’t be an activist on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am until 3pm and then expect people not to bother you outside of those hours. You’re either in it boots and all, or you should really take down your shingle.
And I’m not against that, either. I’ve taken mine down before when it all got too hard. This is a voluntary job for the most part and it does wear you down after a while. But the responsibility rests on you to take yourself away from it. You can’t say, “I don’t know how many times I’ve told people not to …” This is the internet. We all deal with a surfeit of information. Most of the time people don’t read what you’ve written. Indeed, I was shocked to discover recently that not everyone I know reads everything I write! They might be equally shocked to discover I don’t read every tweet in my timeline!
The internet gives you the tools to control input from others – you really can’t expect others to filter their activities according to your whims.
So, today, I’ve lost a friend – or at least, a potential friend – because I had the temerity to send her a link to an article on the subject of her activism. Apparently, I should have known it was unwelcome. How, I’m not quite sure. It makes no sense to me.
I can only say that, it seems to me that if you style yourself as an activist, you implicitly invite others to send you information relevant to that cause.
I guess it’s akin to wearing a tutu. You are implicitly – or perhaps explicitly – saying, “Look at me! Notice me!”
There is no subtlety in a tutu and there is no subtlety in being an online activist.
In life, you have two choices. You can fly below the radar, or you can bling up and say, “Here I am world! Look at me!” And whether you do that by being an activist, by dying your hair a shocking pink, by wearing outrageously large earrings, or by looking absolutely fabulous in a tutu – you’d better be prepared for the world to respond to your invitation.
It’s always sad to lose the friendship of someone you admire. But I will always be grateful that I found the photo of that gorgeous, large lady in a tutu on the internet. She inspired me. She made me brave. She helped me reconnect with my femininity. She has substantially influenced my subsequent fashion choices. I feel better for having known her. There are very few people who ‘change your life’ – but I think that she really did change mine.