Throughout history and in Africa, people have resorted to various methods to bring down regimes and also to effect change. Women in particular have had to use all manner of methods to force change in policies to their favor. And this is especially so when conventional methods have failed.
Currently, activists exasperated at the failure of diplomacy to apply pressure on Burma's military regime are resorting to a new means of protest against the regime's recent crackdown: sending female underwear to Burmese embassies.
Embassies in the UK, Thailand, Australia and Singapore have all been targeted by the "Panties for Peace" campaign, co-ordinated by an activist group based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The maneuver is a calculated insult to the junta and its leader, General Than Shwe. Superstitious junta members believe that any contact with female undergarments – clean or dirty – will sap them of their power, said Jackie Pollack, a member of the Lanna Action for Burma Committee.
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At the moment the issue of "panty power" that is targeted at all Burmese embassies is gaining strength and reminds me of what we in Africa have had to do to bring change. Some things that women have done make me support what is going on around the issue of bringing change in Myanmar.
In Africa, it is believed that if you see your mother naked, you may be cursed. When Kenya was going through a lot of turmoil, many women went on a hunger strike and stayed naked through out for days of the protest in attempt to make the then-government to release political prisoners. This alone in Kenya's case was enough to stop police from arresting the women who stripped naked to force the government to listen. There is a theory that this action is the reason that Kenya went through a stagnated economic growth and donor funding was withdrawn for ten years. So did the stripping work? Well, yes. The incident drew attention to the issue of political prisoners and most of them were released. Kenyans were able to know that the government had a torture chamber built especially for people who opposed the then government.
When Kenyan women were demanding for the enactment of sexual offenses bill and to drum up support for the process, there was talk of resorting to a "no sex" campaign until the bill is enacted. Luckily for the men in Kenya, we didn't have to resort to that.
The strategy worked and that's why when the need arises, as in Burma's case, I support the panty power campaign.
Will the panty power work? I think so. It has generated an interest and focus on what is going on in Burma. Soon, the panties will have an effect. Good luck Burma!
George Will is right. Throughout my life, my status as "survivor" has afforded me any number of privileges. For instance, the surgery that I needed a couple of years ago to fix the long-term consequences of the assault on my body was truly a privilege—it gave me the status of being temporarily unemployable.
Content note: This article contains a graphic description of sexual assault.
Recently, the Washington Post published a column called “Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism” by well-known conservative George Will. Based on the headline, it would be reasonable to expect that Will was going to counter progressive assertions that ballooning administrative costs have caused the price tag of college to go up astronomically or that education inflation has devalued undergraduate degrees.
But Will did not address anything truly related to higher education. Instead, he spent the entire column railing against efforts to curb rape on college campuses. He claims that such efforts make “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” are “excruciating” for colleges and universities, and as a result “victims proliferate.”
Like most publications of some repute, the Washington Post does not typically print opinion that is based on clearly fanciful representations of facts. For example, I highly doubt that they would publish a piece in which George Will opined that all extraterrestrial aliens should be required to wear pink in public. Even though that would be nothing more than an opinion, it is based on facts that are not in evidence: that extraterrestrial aliens walk among us and wear clothing.
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If you take away the guise of opinion, what you have in Will’s opening lines are propaganda statements that are absolutely contrary to the facts. For Will’s “opinion” to be worthy of printing, the Post had to believe that there is some truth in the following statements:
Women receive positive attention for being raped. Having a “coveted status that confers privilege” requires that someone else confer that status and those privileges. Someone must be giving the average survivor so much positive attention that we all want to have the label of survivor.
Women want to be raped. After all, anything that is both “coveted” and “confers privilege” is something that women must be dying to experience.
Rape is not the reason that rape “victims proliferate.”Will suggests that the reason we have high rape statistics on college is not because rapists rape—it’s because we have made being a rape victim something that is “coveted” and that “confers privileges.” In other words, the problem is not that rape happens. It is that progressives grant that women have the nerve to talk about it. And what will cure that pesky old rape problem is kicking those darn progressives out of university life.
Dealing with rape is so “excruciating” for colleges and universities that the pain of victims pales in comparison. Therefore, we must alleviate the suffering of college administrations even if that encourages rape and inflicts more pain on survivors.
Let’s be very clear about what happened here: Under the the guise of giving space to one man’s opinion, the Washington Post has told men that women want to be raped, that women get positive attention for it, and that the real problem is that women talk about it.
The Washington Post has just given young men permission, if not an incentive, to rape.
Will tries to support his amoral opinion by offering two pieces of evidence. The first are data that he willfully misinterprets. It must be a willful misinterpretation since I am fairly sure I could get a chimpanzee to understand why there might be a difference between rapes reported to campus security and what is reported to social scientists. But let me put it in the most simplistic terms I can: Police do not always file reports on rapes reported to them. And many women are afraid to even tell the police what happened to them because they know how horribly our justice system will treat them. So they are more likely to tell the truth in anonymous surveys than to the police.
Will’s other piece of evidence is a story of campus rape. He pulls selective quotes from transcripts and extrapolates that one story is representative of all date rape on college campuses. The smoking gun for him are the following facts: that the woman had a prior relationship with her rapist, that the woman was there of her own free will, and that she had engaged in foreplay with the man in question.
Since Will seems to think that one story can make a case, let me offer another story of a young woman in college who went to the house of a man she had known her whole life. In fact, they had grown up together. She went to this man’s house of her own free will, engaged in foreplay, took off her own clothing, and even agreed to engage in sex.
That excludes her from the category of a “legitimate” rape victim in Will’s eyes, does it not? And if she talks about it or files a complaint, she should be ignored, right? After all, she must be just looking to get that “coveted status” and the privilege that comes with it.
So here is the story: When I was 19, I decided to have sex with a man I had known my whole life. I went to his house in my favorite outfit—jeans and a trendy sweater. Under it were my favorite matching baby blue bra and panties. We made out on his sofa, and I followed willingly when he led me to his room.
By the time we got to his bed, I was naked from the waist up. I remember being ashamed of the tiny pooch of my belly, worrying that he would find an extra inch of flesh unacceptable. I shucked my own panties and jeans before I climbed into bed.
You will have to forgive me if I cannot offer a complete narrative of what happened after I entered the bed. I know how guys who excuse rape, like George Will, feel about women who pass out during sex—that they deserve whatever happens. So I know that some will mock me when I freely admit that between pain, shock, and blood-loss I lost consciousness several times.
The man who sexually assaulted me did it with such force that he tore my vagina from the opening through the cervix. I gushed blood, which he later licked up as if he were a vampire. He continued to pound me after he had torn me, banging my intestines for what felt like hours and spreading bacteria throughout my peritoneal cavity.
I drove myself to a friend’s house, and she took me to the hospital. By the time that I got there, I was in critical condition. I coded twice before they could get me stabilized. I saw the white light and had a near-death experience. Surgery and blood transfusions saved my life.
You’d think that with that kind of an injury, I’d definitely experience the status and privilege that George Will claims sexual assault victims are afforded. Everyone would believe my story, and no one would dare say that a woman who had been so brutalized wanted it or had it coming. Right?
But the police would not even file a report or record my statement. In so many words, they explained to me that no reasonable jury could believe that taking off my panties wasn’t a tacit agreement to having my vagina ripped and my intestines pounded and the exterior of my colon bathed in semen. As a single woman, I had entered the home of a single man, so it did not matter how much of his bedroom was bathed in my blood, or that there was a trail of it out of his door and in my car. I had engaged in foreplay with him, so whatever followed, even if it killed me, was fair game.
I’m sure the police’s decision to dismiss me without taking a report kept the crime statistics for our city and the campus at a minimum. This, I’m sure they thought, was for the best—since so many people knew about it, there was the risk of the story being picked up by the press. And it is more important to keep the reputation of a growing college healthy than to affirm that it is wrong to nearly kill a woman using your penis.
The “status” of being survivor was so overwhelming that I could barely breathe in the weeks following the sexual assault. I became so popular that everyone in our community knew and had an opinion as to whether I was a deserving slut or not. It was so much fun when women I barely knew asked me who had taken off my panties and used the answer to judge me as a lying whore. And without the “privilege” of having my intestines screwed, I am sure that I would never have married my ex-boyfriend a scant four months later just so that I could leave the area.
George Will is right. Throughout my life, my status as survivor has afforded me any number of privileges. For example, I had the privilege of having preterm labor and miscarriages because the assault compromised my cervix. I had the privilege of having my babies by cesarean section. And the surgery that I needed a couple of years ago to fix the long-term consequences of the assault on my body was truly a privilege—it gave me the status of being temporarily unemployable.
Who wouldn’t get in line for that?
There was also the privilege of having my attack brought into a custody hearing as evidence that I couldn’t possibly be stable. You see, the worse the assault, the less capable the survivor is of being a sane and judicious person.
And it was so helpful when I reported that a fellow teacher’s assistant was publicly rating the hotness of students in his classes. I was fortunate enough to have people in power who knew my history, so I was privileged to be informed that my history precluded me from seeing that a would-be professor needed to be given a pass for his early attempts at sexual harassment.
I cannot tell you how many jobs I’ve gotten thanks to my sexual assault; when I’ve needed to explain why I dropped out of college the first time, everyone has applauded me and shoved me to the front of the hiring line.
In truth, the times that I’ve lied, I’ve reeked of shame so badly that I’ve been forced to learn to tell my story even when it really, really hurts. It is because of the privilege of shame and fear that I have not applied for jobs because I knew someone in the administration knew about the sexual assault.
Contrary to Will’s assertions, I have never encountered a trigger warning in a college classroom, but I’m sure they must be present in some. I’m sure it must be a horrible inconvenience for a professor who has to insert a boilerplate line into a syllabus, and it must be annoying to read such a warning if you, as a student, have no such triggers. Surely that pain and annoyance outweighs the risk of a PTSD relapse for students who have been assaulted.
After all, an environmentally based disease like PTSD could not possibly require any accommodations. We should just tell survivors of wars, murder attempts, and rape to suck it up like the people who have to bounce their wheelchairs up and down steps. Oh, many buildings have ramps and other accessible features now, you say? But surely we shouldn’t offer comparable accommodations to people with mental illnesses, especially those caused by violence. I’m sure veteran’s groups would agree.
For more than a decade, I have been working or studying on college campuses. And I can say that, as George Will asserts, sexual assault victims who report being victimized get all sorts of privileges. They get special tutors who sit with them during tests. Their papers are practically written for them, and they barely have to show up to class.
Wait, sorry, those are athletes I’m thinking of.
I remember one class where we were discussing an issue related to sexual assault, and a woman was so rattled by the discussion that she confessed to having been the victim of a recent sexual assault. Let me tell you how many people lined up to escort her to a counselor, to make sure the assault was reported to campus police.
Nobody. That’s how many people did that.
But there must have been a huge payoff in the status she was afforded. Who doesn’t want to be known as a “crazy bomb” that could go off at any second?
Then there was the case of the sexual predator who worked in my high school. I remember that incident well since I was the one who finally reported his crimes, even though they had been going on for more than a decade. People in that community practically held a parade in honor of the bravery that the survivors showed in coming forward. And I cannot tell you how much my status improved as the person who ratted.
In reality, I have been humiliated, blamed, and faced with death threats.
A few years ago, I received a rape and death threat against my daughter so gruesome and personal that I have felt obligated to write under a pseudonym since.
The truth is that George Will is lying. There is no privilege or status granted to those who have been sexually assaulted. We are counted as liars or trouble-makers. We become the objects of gossip, attacks, and other people’s projected shame.
I am someone who has born witnessed to and been a victim of the kind of a sexual assault that Will tacitly condones. And without an ounce of sarcasm, I can say that it has given me “a coveted status that confers privileges”—so long as the status you covet is that of advocate, and the privilege you long for is to help others.
I can scarcely imagine what my life would be if I had not been sexually assaulted. I’m sure that I would not have been someone who gives other women and men a safe space to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. I probably would not have held the hands of women while they tentatively tried to tell someone in authority what happened to them. And as a result, it is unlikely that I would have had the opportunity to truly see and appreciate the resiliency and strength of my fellow survivors.
Most of all, being a survivor has given me the status of a person who gives a damn, and it has conferred on me the privilege of being a person who cannot ignore her conscience. I cannot stand by idly while people like George Will tell America that our real problem is that we are trying to make a safe place for women to talk about sexual assault, when I know that the real problem is that people like George Will have created a place in which sexual assault can happen.
Will lied, and with those lies he gave his tacit permission for college-aged men to rape. For this gross breach in the most basic rules of journalism, he deserves to be fired from any and all media-related jobs. And I, for one, will judge the ethics of media outlets by how they respond to his “opinion.”
Rewire recently spoke to Lindsey Averill and Viridiana Lieberman, who are crowdsourcing funds for Fattitude, their documentary about fat prejudice. The filmmakers discuss the core principles of Fattitude, the harassment they've experienced while making the film, and much more.
So often in pop culture, fat is used as a symbol of immorality.
From Colin Farrell’s fat-hating boss inHorrible Bosses to “Fat Monica” on Friends to Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, fat bodies frequently are a substitute for something disturbing, somethinglaughable, or something that’s villainous. Even if the fat-shaming is not overt, as in Lifetime’s series Drop Dead Diva, there is still an underlying message that fat equals impiety.
Yet, despite widespread acceptance that pop culture drives and defines how we feel about our bodies, there has yet to be much acknowledgement of how society is not only rife with fat discrimination, but is complacent about it.
That’s where Lindsey Averill and Viridiana Lieberman come in. Through their feature-length documentary, Fattitude, the Florida-based filmmakers and long-time friends are taking a concentrated look at the ubiquity of fat prejudice through media analyses and interviews with some well-known activists—like Marilyn Wann, author of Fat! So?, and Sony Renee Taylor, founder of global movement The Body is Not an Apology. They also plan to develop an educational activist campaign around the film, much like those related to the documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and Miss Representation, that centers on raising awareness of fat discrimination.
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“Our media tells a lot of lies about fat bodies and about the experience of living in fat bodies,” Averill told Rewire. The film project is “close to both of our hearts because we both have lived in bodies of changing sizes throughout our lives and we both battled how fat discrimination functions, how fat hatred functions, how fat-shaming functions.”
Fattitude is still in the production phase, though, and Averill and Lieberman have turned to the community to help fund their project through a Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Sunday, May 25. Funds raised through the drive will go toward travel costs for the crew and production team to shoot additional interviews, equipment purchases, revenue for an illustrator/animator and sound editor, and costs of film festival applications.
So far, their Kickstarter campaign has more than exceeded its goal, bringing in nearly $5,000 more than the original $38,050 they set out to raise. With only a few days left, the duo is now pushing for $50,000, hoping to raise enough for additional production items such as professional color correction, original music composition, and a fair use lawyer.
But the entire process has not gone smoothly. Earlier this year, Averill and Lieberman became the victims of a horrible online attack. Shortly after launching their Kickstarter, a YouTube user by the handle “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” posted the Fattitude trailer under the title “Cakes: The New Comedy Hit,” which Averill immediately reported for copyright infringement, and YouTube removed it. Apparently angry about being reported, the YouTube user began to harass Averill, Lieberman, and their supporters on Twitter, posting their contact information online—or “doxxing” them—and soliciting his followers to also stalk and abuse the filmmakers. In a matter of days, Averill and Lieberman were receiving rape and death threats, hate mail, and frightening phone calls. The abuse continues to this day. (The incidents were reported to local police, which subpoenaed Google, YouTube’s parent company, but the filmmakers have yet to hear back.)
While the experience has left both Averill and Lieberman shaken, they say it’s validated the importance of both the film and their work in exposing fat hatred. “I feel more aggressively determined that this is an absolutely necessary film,” Averill said.
Rewire recently spoke with the filmmakers about the core principles of Fattitude, the latest episode of Louie, the importance of featuring diverse voices, and more.
Rewire: Fattitude aims to educate about “the harsh and very real realities of fat shaming and fat hatred.” How so?
Lindsey Averill: We felt that there wasn’t a strong documentary that really looked at how popular culture intensifies fat discrimination in everyday life. For us, we believe representation plays a huge role in how we formulate our ideas about the culture we live in. What we did is really examine popular culture and say, “How is the everyday experience of media representing the fat body?” So our film [is] really delving into that. We’re saying, “In our culture, when we talk about fat bodies, it’s in a negative context, period.”
Viridiana Lieberman: And using pop culture as a lens is very accessible in conversation because everybody can relate or has seen one or all of the forms of media we’re discussing—whether it’s a show you really like or a story that you read about in the newspaper, or just reality television that is just in your ear all the time, even if you’re not watching it.
LA: For us, we feel that [the first step in] educating the populous about fat discrimination is opening people’s eyes to the reality of the fact that they already are complacent in fat discrimination because it’s so acceptable in the media that that message is imbedded in our lives. Our film is our first action item. It’s the first space in which we put forward, “Open your eyes. Realize that this is one of the invisible cultural assumptions that you’re not paying attention to, and you’re not realizing how cruel, how frugal, and how aggressive this assumption is when it plays out in everyday life.”
Rewire: You write on Fattitude‘s Kickstarter that, through this journey, a lot of your own views about fat prejudice and how it is to live in a fat body evolved. Can you talk about that?
LA: I became really conscious of where my failures of body acceptance were. Yes, I was already an activist saying everyone should love their bodies, but [being] in front of these people who so totally have taken on the reality of that, I realized I hadn’t yet. There were moments where even if I wasn’t saying something negative about my body, I was looking in the mirror and assessing it in my own mind. There were these very subconscious whispers that I was able to figure out how to dispel.
On top of that, an academic argument makes sense, but it’s very different seeing it crystalize in real life for you. A lot of the arguments I have seen people make, I hadn’t formulated my own opinions about, per se. Even with regards to “How do we manage this airplane [seat size] issue?” Through the process of listening to all these academics and talking with them, all of a sudden I was like, “No, no this is totally serious. The corporations need to be responsible for this. This is just flat-out discrimination.” Whereas I hadn’t thought deeply about it until I was listening to others really talking [about it].
VL: The pop culture reference we used to like to say [in women’s studies] is that you got unplugged from the matrix—the whole idea that all of a sudden you can see it everywhere, and in everything. That definitely happened to me right when we started working on the project with different aspects of fat activism. But the biggest thing for me, personally speaking, is when interviewing people, I remember walking out of those interviews and thinking, “How did they unplug [from the matrix]?”
I remember I used to wait to do things. I really gauged a lot of big moments in my life on the concept that I should wait until I reach a goal weight or I’m more fit or blah blah blah. And that was such a weird concept to sit back and be like, “Wait a minute, not only is this perhaps the way my body will be no matter what I do, but on top of that, you should never wait.”
What a terrible reason to wait to do things! [laughs]
I remember sitting back and I felt so much more free. [But I] also became very conscious of what people were saying around me from what they ingested in pop culture, and how they feel about their bodies—when we eat and they feel guilty.
LA: The other thing that was amazing to see was that a lot of the people we met [who] totally embraced body positivity and fat positivity have literally unplugged from popular culture. They said, “I’m no longer going to look at these images that tell me my body is not OK because that is totally detrimental to me.” And they had no television, didn’t see movies, just totally unplugged from the popular media because they felt popular media was constantly harassing and torturing them.
VL: We’d start rattling off the list of shows that we want to hear their input on, and they’ve never seen it. “Oh I’ve heard of that one, never seen it.” “I don’t own a television.” I mean every single person [laughs] and that was a huge revelation.
Rewire:In last week’s episode of Louie, the character Vanessa, played by Sarah Baker, made a speech about dating as a fat woman, which was praised by media outlets. Critics, however, like Willa Paskin at Slate, question the scene’s intent. How does that scene challenge or propagate the perception of fatness in pop culture?
LA: That moment on Louieis rife with both the good and the bad. For example, it is amazing to see someone on television acknowledge the fact that the way we lie about the reality of a person’s body size is insulting and demeaning. Regularly when I refer to my body as fat, people try to tell me it’s not. Obviously, they are lying to me because they believe that being fat is something to be ashamed of, something ugly, something awful. Of course, in reality being fat is just a fact. It doesn’t have to have moral or aesthetic resonance—and the attempt to “hide” me from my fat points out that they believe that if I know I’m fat then I can’t possibly like myself. So I think the fact that this character is on television pointing out the ugliness that is intrinsic in dismissing the reality of a person’s body size is amazing and also really unheard of in mainstream media.
That said, [the speech] also relies on popular cultural lies—like the idea that fat women are not desired or that men are “ashamed” to be seen with fat women—and it makes some really limited assumptions about the issues that fat women struggle with and in turn obscures the systemic reality of fat discrimination. I think the conversation about fat discrimination is more concerned with the reality that fat people make less money than their thin counter parts, that they often receive sub-par medical care, and that they are assumed to be lazy or stupid.
Arguably, this scene gives fat men an edge over fat women—which is debatable. It’s true that historic understandings of femininity have relegated women to the role of object and therefore “beauty,” and long-term relationships are understood as defining and significant factors in a woman’s life, but not a man’s. Of course this is an archaic idea, and yet popular culture still perpetuates these stereotypical gender concepts. That said, ultimately fat men and fat women suffer. We can’t sit around comparing oppressions. Instead we need to work on eliminating the causes of discrimination.
Rewire:What I find interesting, though, is that some outlets, like Flavorwire, are hailing it as this moment that’s given a voice to fat people, which seems dismissive of fat activists. How does that response play into what you’re discussing in Fattitude?
LA:One of the things we can always say is that on some level, anytime we’re having a conversation about fat discrimination—even if it’s problematic—we’re starting a conversation. I feel that the conversations are not being had enough in general, so while the conversation might be problematic, there’s a part of me that feels joy any time the conversation exists at all.
VL:I totally agree with that point.
LA: While there are activists on the ground, and there are amazing people out there saying amazing things, at the end of the day, the way our culture works—and the way it sort of worked for decades—is when you have someone famous as your spokesperson and you have someone famous start the conversation, the conversation is heard. Versus when you have activists having the conversation, it often gets relegated to, “Oh, those are activists talking. I don’t know if that’s important or not.”
And I say that with complete sarcasm, because while the activists are doing amazing and unbelievable things, they’re often shown as the far left or the far right. I’m saying that we can bring the conversation to center and enable it to happen.
VL: Right. You don’t need to mediate that, though. At the end of the day, if that person may have opened the door, it’s still giving access for people to finally be heard.
Rewire: As seen in Fattitude’s trailer, you feature a lot of diverse voices from cultural, wellness, and academic fields. How important was it to tackle this issue from those different viewpoints?
LA: We entered the sphere of making this film with the belief that diversity and diverse voices were extensively important, and one of the current flaws with the trailer—which will not be true of this film—is that it is all women’s voices. It is our goal, by the time we complete this film, that it is a film about fat men and fat women of every race, creed, sex, color, all of the above, because we believe only in that space can you truly have a conversation about what’s being experienced.
Rewire: Were there any issues that you were surprised to learned about as you conducted these interviews?
LA: The reality is that I was so well-informed before we even got to this because I am writing a dissertation of fat activist and fat-shaming. So most of the time, it was about the nuance of the argument, not that an argument popped that [we never thought about]. You look at an argument that you’ve defined for yourself, but then you start listening to [Fat! So? author] Marilynn Wann or [author and activist] Virgie Tovar explaining why they’ve come to the reasoning about a particular argument, and you think, “Oh, that’s incredible.” Then you talk to someone like [Seeking the Straight and Narrow author] Lynne Gerber, and you go, “Oh my God, holy, that’s incredible too.”
You knew it was wrong that someone on the airplane was being kicked off for their body size, but you didn’t take the step forward to realize that the corporation must fix that. The fact that people didn’t think [about it as], “We’re telling you you deserve to be punished. You deserve to be kicked off this plane because your body size is too big,” the fact that people aren’t recognizing that’s prejudice—that was the kind of nuance that became blatantly clear.
VL: That’s why we love that quote where [Gerber] says, “We can land a person on the moon, but we can’t figure out how to get airplane seats for a human being,” because it’s true. Even “thin” people complain about those seats being too small [laughs]. There’s no relevance, there’s no acceptance of any form of spectrum in body size in the human body. Like Lindsey said, it’s just thought to be absolutely OK, undeniably OK, to discriminate and make that assumption.
Rewire: In the process of promoting Fattitude, you’ve also experienced incredible anti-fat abuse and harassment on- and offline. Tell us about that.
LA: It definitely happened to both of us. I think my household experienced the brunt of it, but I was not alone. [“GODBLESSADOLFHITLER”]got very angry and started harassing me on Twitter, initially. My reaction to his harassment on Twitter was, “This is someone who is ridiculous,” and I blocked him. Then he proceeded to go from there to calling my house and sending things to us in the mail, calling my parents’ house, calling my husband’s business, sending Mormon missionaries, having other people send horrible letters that said frightening things, death threats, rape threats. Viri got very aggressive rape threats. We got pizzas delivered to our house. Two days ago, I got a cola. It’s ongoing. It doesn’t go away. It has an anti-Semitic [element], which I think is just part of his online persona, but most of it is “fat bitch cunt” kind of stuff. It’s really anti-woman. It’s really anti-fat. It’s anti-gay, absolutely.
Rewire: Are both of you OK?
LA: I think we’re OK. That’s the best I can say. Our alarm went off the other night, and you feel like cowering in a corner because for the first time in your life, it’s not your instinct to be like, “Oh, that’s our sensitive alarm [that goes off] all the time.” Instead, you’re like, “Oh my God, who’s outside my house?!” There’s definitely a certain level of paranoia I could do without.
VL: The day after my information got out on the Web, I remember getting really nervous, looking over my shoulder. Any time our phone buzzes when somebody would come to our apartment building, there was always a hesitation, even if it was our friends or someone randomly calling the wrong apartment. But it’s where your mind goes first, which is bad.
LA: You feel more cautious and more anxious. But we’re making this film for a reason. It’s an absolutely necessary conversation, because I have now not only experienced the bullying that was experienced by living in a fat body in the world, but I have also experienced this intense level of fat hatred in the culture that I haven’t felt. The reality is, activists like Amanda Levitt [of] Fat Body Politics get this kind of trolling on a regular basis. They get this kind of brutal ugliness coming at them as they try to fight this. I contacted all the people in our film right away when this started, and activist Substantia Jones was like, “Hey, this is my life. This happens to me all the time. We are human, we are strong, and we won’t be quieted.” There’s a huge part for me where I have to remind myself that the activists now, and who came before us, experienced this, and that’s a part of it. That’s what happens, because you’re striking a nerve and you’re having a conversation that is obviously compelling, but also important.
I think at the end of the day, are we OK? Yeah, we’re OK. Is it great? Not always, but we’re OK.
Rewire: What has this experience showed you about the work you’re doing with Fattitude?
LA: We’ve seen the ugliest version of fat discrimination. Fat discrimination is that someone thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to come up to me, and go, “Oh, I’m on this great new diet, I should tell you about it,” because that person is assuming that I want to know about a diet, that I’m interested, that I’m unhappy with my body as it is now. That’s a version of fat discrimination. And, obviously, so is someone sending me hate mail and threatening my life, and calling my documentary cancerous because I am trying to tell people it’s OK to live your life even if you’re fat.
That’s what it showed us: It’s not just something subtle. We know it’s systematic. But we just looked at the brutal version of the hatred.
VL: And the hatred that happens at a time of change.
Rewire: In the end, what is the number one thing we should know about Fattitude?
LA: That each person’s body belongs to them. One of the things we like to do in this world is to think we have the right to judge other’s choices, and that’s one of the ways we quickly justify body prejudice. Everyone’s body is their own, and everyone’s body deserves the right to live free, equally, and with love and acceptance in this world.
VL: I couldn’t have said it better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.