About a week ago my friend sent me a link to an article by Jennie Bristow that was published in Living Marxism when my book came out in 1998, you can read it below. My publisher at the time sent me a press packet of all the coverage my book generated, but this article wasn't in it so I never saw it. I'm glad that I didn't read it back then, the work had been a monumental struggle for me at a time when I was living a somewhat marginal life, and I would have been devastated.
I'm in a better position to talk about this stuff 13 years on. Bristow's vicious piece is callous in its response to Christina Corrigan's death, and disablist and racist to boot. Without ever having met me, she paints me as a miserable, whining wannabe victim intent on playing oppression olympics, when actually my book sets out the many ways in which fat activists resist and transform hatred, and why we do it. Bristow presents fat activism as dogmatic and American, which it certainly can be, but there's more to the picture than that. She posits the classic argument that fat is trivial compared to 'real' oppression, not least because fat is a choice. Weirdly, she demolishes me but agrees that fat hatred is real and has negative effects on people's lives – er, isn't that what I was saying? She also sets up a creepy and false bad fatty/good fatty division between me and the lovely Janice Bhend, who published my work in her magazine in the 90s. What would Bristow have made of the passages that my publisher refused to publish? The sections about fat and trans people, sex-positive feminism, SM? I imagine she would have blown a gasket. And what about my publisher's feminist censorship of those ideas? We'll never know what she would have made of that, if only she'd done her journalistic homework and spoken to me first. The best bit is where Bristow refers to "The Charlotte Coopers of this world," heheheh, yes, there are legions of us! All like me!
Bristow's article was not the first time that Living Marxism dismissed fat activism, in 1994 Ann Bradley went to town on Mary Evans Young's project of getting an anti-diet Early Day Motion read and supported in Parliament. I won't dwell on those pieces, or my book, both came out years ago and are done and done. Contexts have changed and I feel confident that Fat & Proud was a good piece of work because of the positive response I've had to it over the years.
What I do want to say is that both Bradley and Bristow's articles capture the British Left's failure to get on board with embodied liberation, including fat. This is also mirrored in some kinds of feminism (and it hasn't escaped me that both of these Living Marxism articles were authored by women). The legacy of the belittling of fat activism, and the feminist pathologising of fat within eating disorder paradigms is that the Left has a particularly muddled and weak relationship to this kind of political activity today. I see this as a wasted opportunity, a terrible shame. If the unions had supported Jane Meacham when she was sacked for being too fat in the late 1980s, we might very well have employment protection today. And how come it's left to the bloody Daily Mail to highlight dodgy goings on in the weight industry – notably a number of deaths of women who happened to be on the Lighterlife diet – whilst The Guardian continues to bleat on about the obesity epidemic long after anyone is interested?
Maybe Bristow has the answers. I wrote to her last week to see if she would like to re-engage with some of the things she said about my work in the light of how the world has since changed. As yet she hasn't responded.
Bradley, A. (1994). Fat's not a feminist issue. Living Marxism, 68, p.11
Bristow, J. (1998). The 'fat rights' lobby is out to lunch. Living Marxism, 109, p.30
PS. And I'm still pissed off that when Michael Moore solicited his TV audience for ideas, he never took up my suggestion that diet industries would be a good target for Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken! What, hold a grudge? Me?
And while I'm at it, have a look at Depicting fat and class too.