Eleanor, A Fat White Woman.

Posted by Eleanor Burke on

Well hello there! It is I! Who owns the shop, used to talk to you a lot and then disappeared because Casper is capable. I am back! I am on ADHD drugs! First day! Feeling competent! Let's see how long it lasts! 

I've had this concept floating around in my head for some time - more as a gnawing thought than anything productive, but today, probably as a result of the drugs it occurred to me to write a bloody blog! Firstly, I need you to know, if you're one of the people I'm talking about here, I know that you come from a good place and I genuinely appreciate the good vibes sent in my direction. I talk often about how the positivity that I receive feels absolutely outsized compared to what I offer the world but I see it and I feel it and I am absolutely awestruck by you lot so often I cannot tell you. So thanks. 

A couple of years ago we started doing image descriptions on our social media posts (and on here although we're not so consistent on here to our shame). Image descriptions are there for people who have sight loss who use social media with an app that speaks the captions out loud - it allows them to understand what's in the photo. Some apps allow a sort of background description which doesn't show up on the actual image caption but the description apps can still recognise and use. We don't use those because, firstly, I find them to be a faff (which is a problem in itself, accessibility should be easy and second-nature) and secondly I made the choice to do what I can to normalise the description. I also enjoy reading other people's descriptions - and as somebody who is neuro-diverse (DID I MENTION I HAVE ADHD!!?!!?!?!?!) I sometimes pick stuff up from those descriptions about people's intentions or feelings that I wouldn't just by looking at the photos and as I don't have the description app set up I'd miss that if they weren't out in the caption. 

Image descriptions should be to the point, no jokes really, just a good description of what's going on in the photo. You don't have to talk about the details in particular, as in every ball of wool on the shelf, but you might say that the shelves look full and a bit messy. Let me show you what I mean: 

ID: Eleanor, a fat, white, woman, with short reddish brown hair stands in a wool shop with a smile on her face. She's stood at a jaunty angle to show off her golden boots. She wears a denim dress and a purple cardigan. The shop looks full and colourful but a bit messed up after a busy day. 

There's lots of information about this aspect of accessibility on the internet if you want to google more. It's fascinating and exciting that it's coming to the forefront of more people's brains I think and I love to learn more and implement when I have, it's truly one of the joys of owning a small business. 

So now we get to what I actually wanted to talk about. I describe myself as a fat, white, woman whenever I post a photo of myself and Casper has followed suit. It's always happened, but recently it's happening more, than I'm getting a lot of messages that I am not fat or that people don't see me as fat, they see me as 'lovely' or 'successful' or something else equally nice. And honestly, it just hits a bit wrong and I'll try and put that into words for you. 

Firstly, I am fat. Like undeniably fat. I weigh over 20 stone, sometimes I struggle to fit into chairs (IKEA weight testing of their chairs stops at around 14 stone, did you know that?), there's one shop on the high street that I can reliably find clothes, any time I present to the doctor for any problem I am told to lose weight. I am fit as anything, I'm sure you all know I cycle, I hike, I weightlift, yoga, wild swim and over the last few years my body shape has changed but I am fully, absolutely, totally fat with rolls and chub rub and stretch marks to suit. I am also attractive, I am confident and I dress like I know these two things about myself. I think we're very used to fat people shrinking themselves, literally and metaphorically and I think that goes some way to explaining why people don't think I'm fat but just because I look good doesn't mean I'm not fat. 

I got to this wonderful point - where I genuinely love and like my body and use it like I do - almost exclusively through following fat people living their lives on social media and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that. I know social media gets a bad rap but it's been incredible for me and my body positivity journey. There is no way a magazine would feature some of the super and infinifat people that I look up to - well, maybe they would now, but only because these brave people went out and carved a space for their fat bodies. The fat representation when I was younger? Ricki Lake - still love her. Oprah - always on a diet... Mama Cass and the hideous glee with which people talked about her death. Divine - loved him and his weirdness. The Dursleys, awful people but of course, because they're fat. It's amazing how just seeing people like you, living, breathing and enjoying life can change what you think is possible and I intend to be part of that for whoever I can inspire. I'm not an influencer, my goodness, but I am living a good, fat, life and I am proof that it's available to you if you want it. 

So I won't shrink away from the label 'fat'. I am fat and that's okay. And whilst we're at it - although nobody's said this to me for a while - I do 'have fat' like I 'have fingernails' but I am also fat because it undeniably affects how I live my life. It might work for smaller people to think of themselves as not 'being' fat but 'having' fat instead but it doesn't work when you can't find clothes, seats or access healthcare if you know what I mean. I would also implore thin people who are so desperate not to 'be' fat to question why that's such a terrible thing. 

I've done all of the things I've done in my fat body. I've set up the shop, won the awards, learned to love exercise and not fear food, encouraged people, made countless garments, stood up for myself, made friends, got married, taken lovers, comforted people, travelled, eaten alone, persevered through severe mental illness, been a teacher, a leader, a manager, nursed a dying relative, decorated my house and my business, been on tv and radio, showed up online, taken courses. All whilst fat. So you might see somebody successful and happy and lovely or whatever you see but it's important to me, and to other fat people, that you know it's a fat person doing these things because that is not represented through the mainstream media. They'd have you believe we're all lonely, sweaty, crying into our fried chicken (and honestly, that's me sometimes too, haha). 

These descriptions are a way of presenting what we feel is important to the world. My fatness is important to me, but Casper uses them as a way of presenting his gender to the world. He might be a wonderful, colourful, queer, unicorn, alien type but he's a bloke and his pronouns are he/they and the descriptors are one way to reassert those pronouns so that people can get used to them. Another aspect of this is my use of the word 'white' - so often, whiteness is presented as the norm, so much so that it's not even commented on because it's assumed. So I use the word to pinpoint that it isn't 'the norm', it's simply a description like my reddish hair or my fatness - not good or bad but a fact. 

The descriptions are supposed to represent what's in the photo too, so whilst I am successful and all of those lovely other things, I am genuinely just a fat, white woman in a photo. 

I'm sure I've missed some of the stuff I wanted to talk about but I hope, especially if you're thin, that this feels like a little insight and I hope, if you're fat, that you know I see you and I will always do my best to represent you. 

Love Eleanor. xxx

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  • Just proud x

    jennilin on
  • Deffo fat too but you help me to be ok with that

    Laura-Jo on
  • Hi Eleanor
    I too am a fat white woman of 73. I’ve worked in various fields., retail, education and office; I’ve had 4 children and 1 still birth, been married to the same bloke for over 40 years. I’m me and that’s ok. Xx

    Evelyn Holdstock on
  • Thank you Eleanor. I too am a fat, white woman. I’m also very short! I’ve been through times where I feel like I take up too much space whilst also noticing that I’m pretty much invisible to some people (that might be the shortness – many people literally do not see me because I’m not in their eyeliner). I’ve done all the stuff I’ve done whilst looking this way so I guess I’ve never let it stop me. As a business person and, more to the point, competent human, do you have any tips on how to challenge people’s preconceptions from just looking at me? I read once that it takes mere seconds for lasting opinions to be formed based on appearance. In my case there might be a few seconds before that when people don’t notice I’m there but…

    Sarah on
  • What an inspirational blog, I loved reading this. I hate writing, blogs especially. not something I’m very good at and I always need a lot of help before pressing that go live button. Thank you for sharing how you build your image descriptions. I tried to copy them this year, I think they add a lot to the post, but mine failed miserably so I gave up. I’ll be trying to revisit these. So continuing to send good vibes in your direction btw- Caspers posts are awesome as well.

    Schuggie on

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