In Our Own Damn Words

Plus size model Heather from Used with permission.

Heather is a plus size model – that picture to the left, that’s her.  Earlier this week a Facebook page called “Fit for Fertility” posted this picture with the text “Everyone has to start somewhere.”

To be clear, Heather is not a beginning exerciser – the person who runs the page had no permission to use the picture, and no knowledge of the fitness level of the model, she just assumed fat=beginner and put it up on her page (her page that she uses to sell her multilevel marketing diet products.)

People started sharing the picture, either because they were comfortable with blatantly stereotyping someone based on their body size, or because they assumed that the person who posted the picture actually knew something about the person in the picture and hadn’t simply stolen it and applied a cheap stereotype for her own purposes.

The picture started to get lots of hits and the owner of the page, Jaime Milano Smith, bragged on her personal page that the picture (that, remember, she had stolen) had gone viral “Is it dorky that I’m super excited because a picture I posted on my like page went viral? This is fun!”  To which someone replied “Congrats the exposure will be great for your business!! Keep up the great work.”

Heather found out and asked Jaime to take the picture down.  Jaime refused.  Heather’s friends, including the Rolls Not Trolls community, went to work leaving comments explaining that the picture wasn’t her property, that the person pictured wasn’t a beginner exerciser, and that she wanted it taken down.  Jaime chose to delete the comments, block the people, and leave the picture up.  Heather filled out a request with Facebook and they finally forced Jaime to take the picture down.

Jaime then took to Heather’s Facebook page and wrote, repeatedly,

Heather, you talk about bullies but that’s what you and your ignorant friends have been doing to me. You’re all hypocrites. I’ve reported all of your nasty, harassing messages and did you know bullying is illegal? I found that picture on Facebook, in fact it’s all over Facebook still. I’m wondering why you haven’t harassed those other pages that I actually got the picture from? It was a positive statement that was made. I’m not “fat shaming” how ridiculous?…

So let’s take stock of the things that Jaime feels she knows better than Heather:

  • Who owns the copyright on Heather’s picture
  • How long Heather has been exercising
  • Whether Heather feels bullied by having her image used as an “inspirational” “before” picture
  • Whether or not Heather has been fat shamed

This is one of the most frustrating things to me as a fat person -that we are constantly told that we are not the best witnesses to our experience and that thin people, who are all experts on weight and better than us by virtue of their thinness, should be allowed to speak for us – telling us who we are, how we think, and how we should feel.  A good example of this is the credence given to reports by thin people who wear fat suits of what it’s like to be fat, when in fact we have plenty of credible reports by fat people of what it’s like to be fat that are doubted or ignored (ie:  “I’m not “fat shaming” how ridiculous?”) EDIT:  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that every thin person does this on purpose, my point is that our fat prejudiced society elevates the voices of thin people and devalues the voices of fat people, whether we want it to or not.

I think that it is vital to the fat rights movement that we stand up to people who do try to substitute their idea of what it’s like to be us for our actual experience, and fight to be seen as the best witnesses to our experience and have our voices heard as Heather and the people who supported her did. To that end, I wanted to let you know about one of the two blog projects I’m super excited to be starting this summer:

Fat Activism History Project

This one has been in the works for almost two years.  I’ve been contacting many of the people who were part of the beginning of the fat rights movement. I’m going to be doing in-person interviews with them about their experiences, then posting those interviews on a dedicated YouTube channel where everyone can watch them for free.

My goal is to move forward through time interviewing as many activists as I can to build a non-academic verbal history specifically about fat rights activism in our own words that is accessible to as many people as possible (which is why I’m going with YouTube instead of a traditional documentary format)  I’ll also be looking into other uses including compiling a documentary style DVD to be used by school and workplace diversity offices to discuss the history of the Fat Rights Movement. I’ll be starting fundraising on this in a couple days, for now if you want to get involved you can:

Support the project by clicking here

Connect:  Help me connect with people who were involved in the early years, I’m especially interested in those who were part of The Fat Underground and authors from Shadow on a Tightrope as well as activists of color, queer, trans* and disabled activists and fat men.

In the meantime, I want to say thanks to Heather and those who got involved to help for their work on behalf of everyone who wants to be able to put photographic representations of our fat bodies into the world without having them usurped and used for the exact opposite purpose.  For the record I got Heather’s permission to blog about this and use the picture, and you can read her blog about it here and you can find her on facebook at

If you want to let Jaime know how you feel, you can e-mail her at

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Dance Classes: Get 3 classes on DVD or download individual classes  Click here for details

45 thoughts on “In Our Own Damn Words

  1. There are so many disturbing issues raised here, particularly the one about not allowing people to be witness to their own experience. Fat, uniquely, functions as a silencer. Anybody who has anything else – ripped abs, cancer, diabetes, perfect features – is allowed to speak about what it’s like to be in possession of those. But not fat.

    That the woman claimed she was being bullied also reveals a lot. Is the word bullying losing meaning? Does it now mean “people saying things I don’t want to hear?”

    For me as a writer, the one that gets me where it hurts is the ripping off of images and words, with no understanding that intellectual property is just that – someone’s property. Or that stealing for commercial gain, as this person has done, is even worse. I’ve had my articles stolen and republished and when I’ve complained, people are amazed. They even have the gall to tell me that they’ve graciously given me this magic thing called ‘exposure’ that I must want.

    1. “That the woman claimed she was being bullied also reveals a lot. Is the word bullying losing meaning? Does it now mean ‘people saying things I don’t want to hear?'”

      Ooooooooooh, THIS. I’ve noticed that attitude since we started labeling certain things as hate crimes and protecting various classes of people. Over the last couple of years it’s been getting out of hand.

      1. People will do this with anything. If I discuss women’s rights, I’m a “man-hating feminazi”. If I discuss prejudice, I’m being “judgmental” towards others. What Jaime did was clearly wrong but instead of owning up to it, she called Heather a “bully”. It’s a silencing tactic.

        1. Yes, often the people throwing around the word “bully” are the bullies, themselves. Not always, but a lot of the time. It is a silencing tactic.

    2. So true about denying the experience of fat people. No one believed that I was being horribly bullied about being fat until I lost the weight. They just told me to suck it up and develop better social skills.

      As a thin person relating stories of being bullied, my words are accepted. People believe me now. Then they say I don’t have to worry about that any more and my story has a happy ending.

      Um. No. Because now, I live in fear that if I gain any weight, I go right back to where I was, bullied horribly and then dismissed when I complain about it.

    3. Totally agree re the word ‘bullying’ losing its meaning. However, it’s not true that fat is unique as something that means that people can’t speak the truth about their own bodies. Especially when we’re talking about chronic illness.

  2. Holy crap, that “Fit for Fertility” page is the most trigger-y thing I’ve come across in a really long time. Being held accountable for stealing someone else’s intellectual property and slandering them makes her feel like she’s being bullied… cry me a @#$ing river.

    Thank you for linking to Heather’s blog — I’m so happy to have another gorgeous, courageous woman to get to know!

  3. As someone who has battled (and lost to) infertility, I found this whole thing extremely offensive and horrifying. Jamie Milano is capitalizing on one of the most desperate demographics in the world… women who desperately want to become mothers and who will try nearly anything, no matter the risks or likelihood of success, to make it happen. It makes me absolutely sick.

    As for names… Embodied Fat: The Faces Of Fat Activism comes to mind. Because, as you’ve mentioned and as we all know, the media loves to chop our heads off our bodies.

  4. Good Lord, I wish I was already done with law school. Jamie needs to get hit with a lawsuit, quickly.

  5. I like the name Fat Overground. Our Place At the Table is good, too, but I’d be a little concerned that clueless people would assume it’s all about food. Or maybe something simple like “The Fat Story,” as opposed to a “short story” or a “tall tale,” subtly referencing the idea that fat is just a term of description. …I don’t know; I’m just making it up as I go along.

    One of the most important people to me in my introduction to and discovery of size acceptance is Wendy Shanker, who wrote “The Fat Girl’s Guide To Life,” my personal fat acceptance ‘bible.’ I discovered Wendy in 1999 when she was a columnist for feminist periodical, BUST magazine. Her columns were hilarious, but with a valid point, and often brought up the idea of size acceptance. It was the first time I’d seen anyone write openly about size acceptance and I loved it. (I was unaware of NAAFA and other size acceptance groups at the time.) In 2003, Wendy’s first book, “The Fat Girl’s Guide To Life,” was published, and it opened my eyes and changed my way of thinking about fat. I started seeking out other size acceptance resources and groups, started being more vocal about size acceptance, and eventually took the steps needed to work on my own size- and self-acceptance. I’d guess this is true for a lot of other people out there, too, especially women in my peer group (35-45) who started reading BUST magazine in early 2000-01. Shanker was the first introduction to size acceptance for a lot of us. If it hasn’t been suggested already, or you haven’t added her to your list yourself, I’d recommend adding Wendy Shanker as a potential interviewee. Plus, she’s damn funny.

  6. There was once a website called, “A Place at the Table”. It was a memorial for people who had died as a result of either weight loss surgery or abuse for being fat. I don’t find it now, so likely it is gone, which is a shame. I see that “A Place at the Table” is now the name of a documentary about children going to bed hungry, so that may be an issue.

  7. Jaime is a classic bully who whines like the sniveling tittybaby she is when her victim fights back.She probably figured the person in the photo would be too embarrassed to stand up for herself, because being fat is, like, so humiliating. I’m glad this sleazy scumbag is getting the smackdown she deserves. Karma is a harsh mistress and Jaime should be worried, considering her thievery and the way she preys on others’ difficulties for her little pyramid scheme.

  8. Now Jamie is on Heather’s page saying that people are sending her messages threatening to rape her. It doesn’t sound plausible to me… does anyone think the FA community would actually do that?

    1. No, but the saga will be highly visible and I have no trouble at all believing that some snivelling little snotwipe would get his microscopic rocks off making an anonymous threat like that to a woman, safe in the knowledge that he would never be traced, like the big hard man he fantasises about being. This is the internet.

  9. Even Heather’s blog post about this is getting completely off-topic weight-loss commentary. It doesn’t even matter how clear people make that this sort of thing is unwelcome, does it?


  10. Thank you for supplying Jaime’s email address. I just sent her the following:

    Ms. Milano,

    I am starting a web-based business in an effort to bring attention to the problem of illiteracy. Right now my focus is on promotion and advertising, and I have a workable idea for the banner on my homepage.

    I’d like to use a photo of you, stolen from your Facebook profile without your permission. (I’d prefer a photo of you holding a simple, preschool-targeted children’s book, but I can always photoshop that in later.) The caption, in large, bold letters right below your face, will read: ILLITERACY: EVERYONE HAS TO START SOMEWHERE.

    Would that be okay with you? I have no idea how that would make you feel because it’s never happened to me, but let me tell you (from my unproven experience) that you should not feel any shame or take any offense whatsoever. Afterall, I’m just trying to help people who can’t read with my method (again, unproven) of shouting at them that they are illiterate and should do something (what, I’m not sure, just anything because hello, illiteracy is gross) about it.

    Please let me know if this brilliant idea of mine appeals to you.

    (Someone who really cares!)

    1. Love your response

      My thoughts are below:

      The woman who runs the “Fit for Fertility” facebook page sounds like a real bitch. She steals (possibly unknowingly) a picture of another woman; uses the photo to promote her business; ignores removal requests from the woman whose picture was used; deletes messages asking for the photo to be removed. When Facebook forces her to remove the photo, she complains that she was bullied. That is not the behaviour of civil or caring person. It is the behaviour of selfish bitch that comes from the “I’m entitled segment of society”. Unfortunately that is also a growing segment.

      A classy move would have been to apologize for using the image, remove the picture, and if possible advise where the image was obtained.

  11. I find it hard to drum up sympathy for someone who is getting mean messages because she stole a photo and used it in a way that the photo’s legitimate owner found offensive.

  12. Originally I liked Our place at the table, but it’s been pointed out that it has several other connotations and also similar names with other uses.

    I’m appalled that anyone would have to go through that over an image. First, copyright laws. Her property. I realize that I run into this time and time again in other professional forums (huge thread because someone got a Getty letter–and are complaining about harassment when they clearly used a Getty image without permission). Why does everyone think that photographers just want all their images circulating? Don’t they get that artists have to eat to?

    Further, this isn’t just Heather’s photo, this is Heather’s image. She has a right to refuse to have her face associated with anything she doesn’t like. That’s also a legality which is why professional photographers have model releases.

    So I’m really angry and I haven’t even gotten to the weight bias yet. I need to calm down before I go THERE.

  13. I love Heather and have followed her blog for a long time. That she was used in this way makes me rabidly angry! The thief obviously hasn’t read the million other blog posts on bloggers who get caught “borrowing” photos and being contact by lawyers! Can we collect money for a legal fund and take action?!

  14. I can’t believe that Jamie thinks she has a right to use Heather’s picture without her permission! It is ridiculous that she is acting like a victim and that Heather should be grateful for exposure?? SMH

    Regarding the “how it feels to be us” thing. When these people put a fat suit on, are they expecting to feel anything other than human? Last I looked, that is exactly what we are. We are mothers, friends, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, lovers, wives, professionals, artists, etc. How in the world does being fat negate this in any way? Does my fat make me less than human?

  15. Thanks for this, Ragen. Excellent points raised. I find it infuriating that the photo was abused this way and that the abuser then cried foul and claimed she was a victom of bullying? The outrage…… good grief.

    By the way, my favourite name is — Our Place At the Table – Fat Rights Activists in Our Own Words

  16. I let her know how I felt , I am in a super positive mood today so it was probably way too nice .I think it is horrifying what she did ,and the fact that she has been continuously posting on Heather’s page . Its sad that there seems to be no safe place to just be fat . oh and here is a link to another girl who had her picture posted as —*Trigger and Profanity Warning* —“Thinspiration ”

  17. It’d be great if you could combine the interviews from your upcoming project into a documentary. Even better if you could have it streaming on Netflix or Amazon Instant Viewing, it would really make it easy for people to hear our voices.

  18. I am very glad she had that post using her picture removed. I saw it and it pissed me off. not fat-shaming my ass.

  19. “This is one of the most frustrating things to me as a fat person -that we are constantly told that we are not the best witnesses to our experience and that thin people, who are all experts on weight and better than us by virtue of their thinness, should be allowed to speak for us – telling us who we are, how we think, and how we should feel.”

    Exactly. EXACTLY. …and what we should eat, how we should dress, what kind of medical care we should get, and on and on.

    And it especially drives me nuts when I report my experience and people tell me I’m lying because what happened couldn’t possibly be true.

  20. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    This Jaime is a clueless individual who was all about the picture of “Hers” (not) “going viral!” Yay! Go Jaime!
    Not really. Jaime should have respected Heather’s wishes. Instead, Heather is a horrible, horrible fat bully because she wanted Jaime to take down the picture that she owned the rights to. Boo freaking hoo.
    Actually, Heather is a very awesome person. I’ve never seen her bully anybody. She takes a lot of crap for being a fat model. Privileged Jaime needs a nice hot steaming cup of STFU.

  21. I wonder if this woman knows about this study: Anyone want to post it to her Facebook page?

    Plump Women have More Children, Driving Human Evolution
    Posted by: “metabopharm” metabopharm
    Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:52 am (PDT)

    Meet future woman: shorter, plumper, more fertile
    20:00 19 October 2009 by Bob Holmes
    Magazine issue 2731. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
    For similar stories, visit the Evolution and Human Evolution Topic Guides

    Women of the future are likely to be slightly shorter and plumper, have healthier hearts and longer reproductive windows. These changes are predicted by the strongest proof to date that humans are still evolving.

    Medical advances mean that many people who once would have died young now live to a ripe old age. This has led to a belief that natural selection no longer affects humans and, therefore, that we have stopped evolving.

    “That’s just plain false,” says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University. He says although differences in survival may no longer select “fitter” humans and their genes, differences in reproduction still can. The question is whether women who have more children have distinguishing traits which they pass on to their offspring.

    To find out, Stearns and his colleagues turned to data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the medical histories of more than 14,000 residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948 – spanning three generations in some families.

    Pass it on

    The team studied 2238 women who had passed menopause and so completed their reproductive lives. For this group, Stearns’s team tested whether a woman’s height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or other traits correlated with the number of children she had borne. They controlled for changes due to social and cultural factors to calculate how strongly natural selection is shaping these traits.

    Quite a lot, it turns out. Shorter, heavier women tended to have more children, on average, than taller, lighter ones. Women with lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels likewise reared more children, and – not surprisingly – so did women who had their first child at a younger age or who entered menopause later. Strikingly, these traits were passed on to their daughters, who in turn also had more children.

    If these trends continue for 10 generations, Stearns calculates, the average woman in 2409 will be 2 centimetres shorter and 1 kilogram heavier than she is today. She will bear her first child about 5 months earlier and enter menopause 10 months later (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906199106).

    Decoding culture

    It’s hard to say what is selecting for these traits, and to discern whether they are being passed down through the women’s genes, but because Stearns controlled for many social and cultural factors, it is likely that his results document genetic, rather than cultural evolution at work.

    It is not the first study to conclude that natural selection is operating on humans today; the difference is that much of the earlier work has drawn that conclusion from geographic differences in gene frequencies, rather than from direct measurements of reproductive success. That leaves Stearns’s study as perhaps the most detailed measure of evolution in humans today.

    “It’s interesting that the underlying biological framework is still detectable beneath the culture,” he says. Analyses of other long-term medical data sets could shed more light on the interplay between genetics and culture.

  22. HI, Fat bullying aside, I think it’s a awful when people steal other people’s photos… especially when the offender believes he/she is being complementary. Obviously this woman wasn’t being complementary, she was being patronizing and made here self-interest known when she stated she was pleased about the photo going viral. It’s crazy to think that she thought it was okay to steal a photo and glorify herself in the process. Good for you for contacting this woman and setting things straight.
    I think your fat activism project is fantastic. And youtube is a great platform. I myself really enjoy youtube because it is a cornucopia of all kinds of information.

    I wish you all the best,


  23. I usually go through most of the days of my life without feeling judged because I am heavy. Amazingly so, considering how ignorant, rude, and entitled some people are/feel to point out my apparent shortcomings. They would never believe that I’ve never had a surgery and had never been hospitalized in my entire life for any reason until this past December when I got a really bad stomach bug that had nothing to do with my weight. In fact, I’m healthier, exercise more, and eat much better than many of the thin people I know. However, this week, I was judged three times in two days. I share because #1 I refuse to let ignorant, bigoted people get me down and #2. I can empower others dealing with these things through my sharing.

    Day 1: Health “coach” from our insurance calls (as they do each month) to basically harass you and make you repeat the answers to the same questions they ask you each month in hopes that you will miss a month so they can deny you the lower premiums promised if you jump through all the hoops. She asks several new invasive questions this time, including, “Do you plan to become pregnant?” and “Have you tried to lose weight?” and “What is your height and weight?” To which I answer, “Yes, all my life…what about you? I think a better question would be, ‘Do you try to stay as healthy as possible?’ And you already have my height and weight on the screen in front of you, don’t you?” She says, “Yes, but I just wanted you to say it.” As if this will somehow shame my bad genes into allowing me to drop 20 lbs.

    Day 2: In line to buy fresh shrimp at the seafood counter to go with the the fresh spinach, strawberries, and vinaigrette in my cart for dinner. The not-so-thin herself woman beside me looks into my cart at the box of reduced fat whole grain Cheez-Its in my cart, points, and exclaims, “You don’t need that! Put those back!” To which I look at the butter, whole fat cream cheese, and eggs in her cart, point, and say, “You don’t need those! Put those back!” She then says something like, “Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you.” I said, “Of course not. It’s always nice to have someone I don’t know critique me.”

    Also on Day 2: Go to my doctor’s office to get a mandatory form filled out for above-mentioned insurance “coach.” Before I leave, I notice that they wrote in my weight wrong…a number 40 lbs. heavier than I’ve ever been in my life! I point this out to them, and one of the nurses is really empathetic and nice about fixing it. However, I have to wonder, would they have accidentally and inaccurately added 40 lbs. to the weight of a thin person? With me, they didn’t even think twice, and then had to look it up again before they would take my word on the matter.

    Finally, I want to say a big thank you to Ragan for sharing her experiences in her blog. We need more people like her to stand up, speak out, and help others learn how they, too, can respond positively in the face of negative stereotypes and ongoing size bullying.

  24. I am so excited for your new blog! I love histories/biographies anyway, so…yeah. Also, I fall into the category of “people who were fat but aren’t anymore.” My body found a set point, after I found HAES and let go of crazy borderline ED dieting, and it’s not what would be considered “fat” by our society. (Not “skinny”, either.) It’s a weird place to be in all of this, a kind of limbo-place, and I am absorbing stories like a sponge right now because the FA movement is still relatively new to me (maybe 8 months since I became aware of it). I feel a huge personal investment in it even if my natural body size is not fat at this point in my life. It has helped me love myself and I know that if/when my size changes again through age or circumstance, I won’t lose that. That’s huge, because before FA I had that very common anxiety “what if I get fat again?” I am so glad not to have that fear anymore and to have tools to fight this particular culture war. I have posted links to this blog and others on Facebook and had friends comment with thank-yous, that this has helped them so much with how they feel about themselves.

    Also, I found This video this morning on my friend’s facebook. I had never seen it before. I am not sure if this kind of teaching still happens at the elementary level, but I think we need more of it. (Probably not, since you can’t measure it on a standardized test. : | )

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