No babies for fatties

A British organization that sets guidelines for fertility treatments has decided to ban fertility treatments for fat mothers. Though this is not a legally enforced guideline, it is widely followed and it can be fair to assume that fat women in the UK will have access to IVF treatments severely limited. The article notes this is 25% of women in the UK.

Even a weight loss expert found this to be discriminatory. Not that surprising, actually, as there has long been a thread of anti-fat crusading that masks its intentions by claiming to be fighting for the rights of fat people. The "until they lose weight" is always added in hushed tones right after. Here, its the "National Obesity Forum", which evidently gets a lot of funds from the pharmacutical industry to promote weight loss drugs. Gosh, I wonder if their handlers might also not want to limit access to fertility drugs for some reason. Couldn't be that a front for the drug companies might have another motive to promote access to drugs, could it?

As always, "balance" in a story about fat is two sides who want to promote weight loss arguing over who promotes weight loss better. I'm reminded of a story I just read about fat discrimination in the workplace. A statistic from NAAFA about fat discrimination was a launching point for a story about why we should lose weight to avoid workplace discrimination. Even when they quote fat acceptance, the media pretends we don't exist.


Blogging the Big Toy Book: Jumbo Lounging Elmo

Probably neither here nor there, but the Big Toy Book prominently promotes what I guess is this year's big Elmo product: Jumbo Lounging Elmo. Instead of doing chicken dances or being tortured with tickles, this Elmo is just extra large and lays there. As soon as I saw it, I wondered how long would it take for someone to suggest this is promoting "obesity" by encouraging kids to lounge around like their hero Elmo. Just hoping I'm wrong on that one.


Blogging the Big Toy Book: Gender Roles

Toys have long reinforced gender roles. The line between "boys toys" and "girls toys" is stark and there is pressure on kids to not cross into the toys for the other gender. That's not really news. A few small gains have happened. Educational toys aren't as gender dominating. Neither are music toys. To their credit, Toys "R" Us also doesn't define a boys category or girls category on their website, even if there is a really clear division in their stores.

Still, its important to examine what we take for granted. A lot of the gender defined toys reinforce beauty ideals and expectations. For instances, sports equipment was exclusively advertised with boy models. We're not talking about footballs here. Bikes, scooters, moon shoes, even air hockey and ping pong. Boys are supposed to be athletic, but we wouldn't want girls to go sweating or anything.

I guess I'm being a little unfair. See, there are some physical activity toys for girls, but they weren't sports related. They were branded dance games. Put on a blonde wig and dance your way into looking like Hannah Montana! (Edit: Fine, so the blonde wig is from the show, too) If they are younger, though, they can get their princess training video and mat. Not sure why princess training needs a mat, but that's what this Barbie branded toy has. It brags that it "teaches girls how to act, dress and dance like a princess".

The Barbie section also offers a styling head and a vanity, in case we weren't sure that being a princess meant being "beautiful." Disney agrees, too, as they also offer a vanity. Theirs has more mirrors than the Barbie, one, too. Count on Disney to get to business. Even Dora gets in on the act, though her vanity isn't princess themed. Does come with a creepy half-body styling head seemingly trapped in the table, though.

We're not all about hair, though. Gotta tell girls they need to wear make-up, too. The "Girl Gear" section offers a make-up vanity and a "Glitz & Glam" Cosmetic case. It also offered the Monopoly Pink Boutique Edition. Don't want girls thinking they can be real estate moguls. No, pink Monopoly has a "fabulous mall makeover". No make-up, but the game case does double as jewelry box. Honestly, the product description reads like a parody of gender belittling toys. Its all revamped with shopping sprees and cell phone bills and text messaging.

Since some people cannot figure this out for themselves, I'm not saying you can't like pink, or you can't wear make-up, or enjoy fashion. The issue here is how dominating these things are in the options for girls, and likewise in the sports toys and construction training toys for boys. I mean, would it be so hard to advertise roll play toys together? Play kitchens with play tool sets? I've known boys who liked playing kitchen and girls who liked playing for toy power tolls. But in the book, those two things are very clearly stratified as being for boys or girls.

With the beauty toys, this doesn't simply reinforce professional gender roles for kids, but reinforces beauty ideals. Girls are supposed to be pretty princesses. They are supposed to be made-up, with flowing blonde hair. And you don't see fat princesses. Maybe if you did, these toys wouldn't be as stifling, as oppressive with regards to identity and objectification. Maybe they would. But we know that the ideal of beauty being reinforced doesn't allow room for fat children. Its not like you'll see any playing with the toys in catalogs or commercials, after all.

Blogging the Big Toy Book: Dora

This is what started me on my Toy Book examination. Above you can see a picture of Dora the Explorer, the cartoon character, and Dora the Explorer, the doll. Notice anything a bit different between these two images?

Dora, the animated character, looks like a child. She's not fat, she just looks like a kid. I guess that's not enough, though, so for this toy, she was elongated into something much taller and much thinner. Its a fashion doll with Dora's head plopped on top.

The problem is, kids know what Dora looks like. They aren't just making a skinny fashion doll. They are remaking a beloved character as one. What is that telling children? That Dora isn't thin enough? What kind of a message is that supposed to be?

We know about Barbie's inhuman proportions. There has even been some attention to proportional difficulties in boy's action figures. The problem is still going on, though, with kids still being trained to adopt fat negative ideals.


Blogging the Big Toy Book: Diversity

Ever notice how catalogs like this seem to have an enforced diversity? Ever wonder how that lines up with reality? Well, I went through the 72 pages of Toys R Us Big Toy Book and counted all the child models, keeping track of race, gender, and body size/ability. Here they are, with a comparison to the real world population make-up.

Now, I know that race isn't an easy thing to catalog like this. I don't know for certain much of this. Even with gender, there were a couple I wasn't sure of. The important thing here, though, IS perception. This is about what the reader/customer will perceive, so I figure my perception is as fair as anyone else's. Just understand that it IS a perception.

GENDER Big Toy Book
Boys: 51% (77)
Girls: 49% (74)

American Population
Boys: 51.2%
Girls: 48.8%

So, girls are very slightly overrepresented, but this is actually pretty on target with the demographics.

RACE Big Toy Book
White: 55.6% (84)
African-American: 17.9% (27)
Latino: 15.2% (23)
Asian: 11.3% (17)

American Population
White: 69.1%
African-American: 12.1%
Latino: 12.5%
Asian: 3.6%

Not bad representation here, either. Whites are technically underrepresented and non-whites are technically overrepresented, but its important to remember a lot of states in the US have demographics that vary widely from that full country. None of these isn't accurate somewhere.


Big Toy Book
Wheelchair Using: 0.7% (1)
Fat: 0% (0)
Thin: 100% (151)

American Population
Wheelchair Using: 0.1%
Fat: 17.5%
Thin: 82.5%

So, the one child using a wheelchair was technically overrepresented. Obviously, though, it was well within reason considering a laudable desire to portray a differently able child. Also, its worth noting that Toys "R" Us has an entire section of their website dedicated to toys for differently able children.

But, um, where are the fat children? We're an epidemic, right? So where are the 17.5% of children who are fat? When will they take their place in the Big Toy Book?

Exclusion is the cornerstone of oppression. Others before us recognized the harm done by treating their group as invisible in media like this. The results can be seen in the demographics I described. Models aren't all white. They represent the diversity of the population. They even acknowledge differently abled kids, as well they should. Not fat kids, though. Not yet. They are still invisible, non-existent. It teaches fat children that they might as well not-exist. It reinforces the otherness of fatness to other children. It may seem inconsequential, but this is part of a collective cultural alignment against fat people.

Blogging the Big Toy Book: Introduction

Oppression asserts itself in a lot of ways. Fat people aren't reminded of our second class status just by all of the breathless news reports declaring us a threat to national security. These are direct and disempowering. They also empower fat bashers who think we have no place thinking diets are wrong and want to shout us into submission. Nevertheless, they also provide an easy basis of response. If we're not really going to drop dead any second now, that challenges these attacks. If diets don't work, that challenges these attacks.

What do we do about the ways we are made invisible, though? Fat people are only "seen" through these attacks. We can try to refute them, but there often isn't a fall-back position in our culture. Fat people are either sight gags of a walking epidemic. Beyond that, we simply don't exist. We are excluded and denied any identity.

This often seems meaningless. What does it matter if fat people aren't characters on some Fox melodrama? What does it matter if you don't see fat people in ads?

It does matter, though. It reinforces cultural disgust of fat people. When you don't see fat people, it reinforces the notion that fat people shouldn't be seen. It "justifies" discrimination of fat people who want to work in public situations. No, no. We have to be behind the back, out of sight. I mean, do you see fat people working on TV or in magazines or in movies?

It matters because of the subtle ways people are coached to value thinness and devalue fatness from an early age. Through their toys and cartoons and books. Fat people are either jokes, villains, or simply not there. The value of beauty and thinness is reinforced to girls and boys alike.

So, for the next few posts, I'm going to examine the Toys "R" Us Big Toy Book with an eye to its implications on fat people. How does something as innocuous as a toy catalog reflect and reinforce cultural standards of beauty and body size? What kinds of messages is it sending? We'll see a few things coming up.


Dude. Misrepresentation is still lying.

Have I said anything about "newbies"? Or, am I just being lumped in with someone else's impatience with "newbies" because its convenient. Because in spite of publicly disagreeing with someone, I didn't sufficiently condemn them to escape being blamed for whatever they do. Seems to be a recurring issue, lately, and is pretty much the crux of my disillusionment right now. I was taking things I didn't like in stride, but smearing me and someone else for something we didn't remotely do simply because we didn't condemn someone who did in the right way is WHY I feel there is a hostile environment against fat activists right now. Doing more of it isn't exactly disproving my point.

But just to disprove the points being ascribed to me, I have no objection to engaging with people who are just learning about fat acceptance. As I've said repeatedly in the past, OBVIOUSLY we need to do that. But we need to set the tone of that discussion. We should lay out the ground rules. When engaging people who want to learn, we need to demand their respect, not respect the disrespect some will return back to us.

There is a spectrum of responses to fat acceptance for people coming upon it. We need to acknowledge that spectrum instead of just saying anything goes. We need to respond differently to different people. We need to draw our own lines instead of having them drawn for us. One-size-fits all doesn't work and it just excludes the people who really need to be here.

You have the people who really want to learn and will genuinely respect us whether they decide to agree with us not. These people are great. They aren't everyone, but they do exhibit the behaviors we want to encourage and foster. They show us why everyone isn't the same, and they aren't exactly rare, either. I'd actually say they are the rule, rather than the exception. They just get drowned out and overshadowed by other "newbies".

Then you'll have the well-meaning folks who don't get "it". "But, you don't want to lose weight? I mean, what if it was totally safe and possible? You would then, right?" They don't hate us and they may have the capacity to respect and maybe even agree with us. So sure, a soft approach is valid with those folks, but there needs to be a limit. If they keep asking us to justify ourselves, if they keep not getting it, then they show us that they aren't so well-meaning.

See, another class of people will spend all their time insisting that we justify ourselves. When long-timers expression frustration with "newbies", these are probably the people being talked about. See, at first they seem like they could be well-meaning. In an effort to be welcoming, they'll be cut some slack at first. But what's often happened is that when it becomes obvious that they don't get "it" because they don't care to, they'll seem established, entrenched, and criticizing them unseemly. As they increasingly show active disrespect, the retain a critical mass of supporters who shout down any efforts to point out their behavior and its effects. They just "disagree" they'll say. But what is that disagreement achieving? How is it constructive? There needs to be a willingness to say enough is enough. To say that constant nit-picking and demands that we justify our beliefs for the 1,000th time are having a negative impact on the community. Yes, some are too quick with the trigger in dealing with this, but I see far more who are disastrously too slow and this has repeatedly been the downfall of fat acceptance communities I've seen. See, because in spite of ingratiating themselves to people who probably do believe in fat acceptance, this group never has any qualms siding with, encouraging, and protecting a more destructive group.

Not all trolls just march in and say "fatty, fatty, fatty!" Disrespect isn't always so easy to identify and indeed is most dangerous when it doesn't flash its credentials like that. A lot of people are aghast at fat acceptance. A lot of articulate, non-mouth foaming people regard us with a scorn and derision that is a lot like the "fatty, fatty, fatty" crowed. They just won't say it like that. Instead, they'll go on about how we don't know what we are talking about. About how we are ignorant, oversensitive, overreacting, or ill-informed. And they'll take it upon themselves to educate us by telling us nothing we haven't heard before with more than a subtle note of condescension. They count on people misreading belittlement as respect. Sometimes, they let their colors show. They'll denounce us as gluttons, or mock us for thinking of ourselves as beautiful. But at all times, their disrespect will be there for us to see. Just like the more base trolls, its all a game to these folks. Belittling us is a hobby, of sorts.

And then we have the base trolls. The "fatty, fatty, fatty!" types. They are easy to spot, but they still can be revealing. See, the last two groups I described never seem to object to them. For all their self-appointed respectability and even-handedness, they've nothing to say when obvious trolls show up to viciously insult us. Its a silence that really is deafening.

This is a generalization, of course. There are layers of complexity beyond this. The issue is, though, that there is this complexity. And treating anyone who shows up at our doorstep the same won't cut it. When someone shows up and calls us retarded, we're right to be offended. Not just because of the disrespect to the developmentally disabled, but the disrespect to US. When someone suggests that fat acceptance is about stuffing ourselves with food, we're right to be offended. Those aren't close calls, yet those are precise examples where I'm told that this is reasonable discourse we need to foster.

Its not. I don't think we should ban anyone who isn't a card-carrying activist, but I don't think we should welcome everyone who isn't, either. There needs to be limits to the disagreement that will be tolerated in our proverbial house. There needs to be a line. I don't get why it has to be either or. Either we engage people new to fat acceptance AND people mocking and belittling it, or we engage no one. Either we become completely insular or let people run roughshod all over us.

Both of those choices suck and I'm not going to feel very motivated to participate in either. We're not even trying to find a balance. I'm going to get bashed by some for being too forgiving, and others for being too hard-line. One will misrepresent me as attacking newbies, the other as selling out fat acceptance. I'm sick of that. I'm kinda bemused right now that I've got two sides condemning me for being too close to the other side. Both doing exactly the same thing. Only kinda, though. Mostly I'm just disillusioned and disinterested.

One side says I see things in black and white. The other says I see things in shades of gray. Well, you can do both. If all you see is gray, you don't have the context to distinguish between the grays. If all you see is black and white, then you miss the subtleties that lie between. Neither approach works on its own lets you see the full spectrum that's out there.