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09 June 2007 @ 09:28 am
[feminism] Fat, Ugly, and Pissed  
There's a cycle in superhero comics(1) which I am violently tired of seeing.

Step One: Someone (in this case, Misty Lee(2) in a podcast) says something along these lines, "usually, the strongest and loudest protest over sexy things come from ugly fat girls." Which is problematic and enfuriating for so many reasons.

Step Two: Someone (in this case, Tamora Pierce(4) in her blog(6)) responds in an articulate and often angry manner. Which is wonderful.

Step Three: Fans everywhere come out of the woodwork to prove that they are not "ugly fat girls" by showing pictures or mentioning their physical stats or whatever.

Hold up a minute.

How is that response any better than the original person calling them "ugly fat girls" in the first place?

Often people start calling for picture posts to prove they are not "ugly fat girls". This not only derails the argument into a discussion on whether or not the women in the pictures are ugly or fat or neither or both, but it also feeds into the idea that being ugly or fat is a bad thing.

Let me repeat that, because that's the point to this rant: When people make it a point to prove they are not "ugly fat girls" they are exacerbating the idea that being fat makes a woman ugly, or that being an ugly woman or a fat woman is bad.

Here are some of the responses I've seen to the statement that only "ugly fat girls" complain about the treatment and presentation of women in superhero comics. Yes, these are out of context and I haven't kept any names with them, for a reason. (Also, often they are paraphrased in order to keep the anonymity intact.)

+ post pictures so we can be our own "ugly fat girls" club (with deep and obvious sarcasm)
+ I'm (insert stats for socially acceptable beauty) and I'm a feminist
+ I'm no size four but my health stats are perfectly normal
+ so many pictures posted with some sort of statement like "See? I care and I'm not an ugly fat girl."
+ I get tired of being told that I'm ugly and fat just because I care.

So on and so forth.

Most of the time, I don't think people actually intend to come across like they must defend their true non-fat, non-ugly appearance, but that's how it does come across, especially when it happens so often and so close together. It just builds up and the overall statement I come away with is "So-and-so is wrong, we're not ugly fat girls, look at how beautiful we really are."

That's not the point, on so many different levels.

What does that say to the feminist fans who are "ugly fat girls"?(5) Are our opinions unwelcome because we can be used as proof in these smoke-screen arguments which detract from the actual problems?

Sometimes that's how it feels.

So while we're talking about how superhero comics (among other things) present a false image of female beauty, if we could stop buying into the idea that being fat and ugly, or even just being called fat and ugly, is a bad thing, that would be great. It would certainly do wonders for my temper.

Because damn it, I am fat, and I am ugly, and I am pissed.


(1) And in other areas of fandom, but this is one I'm seeing over and over again lately, so this is the one I mention.

(2) No relation. Sometimes I dislike having such a common last name.(3)

(3) Yes, okay, all you Smiths can tell me I have no idea.

(4) As a young, impressionable child, I fell in love with her Song of the Lioness Quartet and then The Protector of the Small and then, practically everything she's ever written. Finding her blog online has just cemented how much I hero worship her.

(5) Do not step in here and try to tell me how non-fat or non-ugly I am. Obviously ugly/non-ugly is a completely subjective argument, and I am fully aware that people look at me and see ugly and non-ugly, depending. There is no saying I'm not fat. I am fat. I'm happy to be fat. Most important, rushing to tell me I'm non-fat and non-ugly actually fits right into the problem here, which is, by telling me I'm not those things, it makes being those things something bad, something to avoid.

(6) Seriously, though, go read what Ms. Pierce has to say. I love her response.
(Deleted comment)
Carla M. Leecarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:18 am (UTC)
Either way, I've not heard very many male comic book fan complain about the unrealistic male bodies portrayed in comic books, and I have *never* heard a female comic fan complain about this, or even mention it.

A number of the people with whom I often discuss issues about the presentation of physical perfection in comic book characters are women who have discussed the unrealistic nature of male bodies as well as female bodies.

The thing is, there is already a societal pressure on women, especially (women here includes adult women as well as young, impressionable girls), to conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty. While men in comic books are often muscled beyond that of any but dedicated body builders, society doesn't demand that real life men look like that in order to be seen as successful.

I can talk all day about the presentation of female comic book characters because a) I love female comic book characters and b) I am female. It's a little more difficult for me to talk about how it is to be a man presented with the unrealistic masculine appearance of male comic book characters.

I think female comic readers are really grasping for a realistic heroine (or female hero; apparently there's a difference, though I haven't quite wrapped my head around what that is) in comics, more in terms of intelligence and strength of character than body type. As far as I know, that really doesn't exist.

It exists in some places, especially non-mainstream comic books, but since so many of us enjoy mainstream superhero comics, we are working, through various means, to change that so there are female heroes who are intelligent and strong and a variety of physical bodies.

I'm not familiar with Liberty Meadows at all; let me get back to you on that. What is it?

(no subject) - carlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elaynetoo on June 13th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - confusiontempst on August 29th, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
The Sybaritic Oracle: dirty shameomphalos on June 9th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
I couldn't agree more.

As an aside, it also enfuriates me how we have let misogynists corrupt 'feminism' into such an ugly, baggage-ridden word in the collective consciousness that even strong-minded, outspoken girls will deny any involvement with it, apparently not getting/caring that without feminism they would never be allowed to speak and act as they do. So it was nice to see you using the word here without apparent shame. Good stuff.
Mattie: older wiser pissedmattie on June 9th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
But Carla - haven't you realized yet that "fat, ugly" women have no right to use up valuable oxygen, let alone hold and express an opinion? You must prove that you are neither before you can be listened to! If you aren't willing to provide evidence to the contrary, you must be both. And as you already mentioned, your opinions are unwelcome because we can be used as proof in these smoke-screen arguments which detract from the actual problems.

< /sarcasm >

I despair for feminism in this country, I really do.
Carla M. Lee: anna feel the way I feelcarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)
Oh, right, I'll just shut up now. My poor, weak female brain couldn't remember those lessons.

I would despair more for feminism, except I received so many good responses to this, and I think the conversation is spreading.

Mattie, would you consider coming to WisCon next year? I think you would really enjoy it, and I know people would like to hear what you have to say. There is usually a BPAL station at the opening gatherings, if that will help tempt you.
(no subject) - mattie on June 12th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Rosepurr: Women Issuesrosepurr on June 9th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
Right there with ya, babe! On all counts from how hard Pierce rocks to the issues you bring up.
Carla M. Lee: anna bad reputationcarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:22 am (UTC)
Rock on! Thank you!
nil8 on June 9th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
It's immature lashing out. It's the same idea as any idiotic statement.
Getting annoyed and angry doesn't get far. Debunking their statement(which you did), doesn't help either. Stupid things come out of people's mouths constantly.
Like Ann Coulter.

Does this mean that you can't pick apart the ramblings of some fool? Not at all. It means you're time is worth more than that.
Ignore the ignorance and slowly, you see less of it. You will start to naturally filter it out of your mind.

The arguments about the nature of beauty and it's validiation do detract from this debate, but, as all of us smart little boys & girls know, beauty is subjective to anyone who is honest with themselves about what they want in someone else.

You should go do something you've been feeling like doing and haven't made the time for. It would make you feel better. Have a great day and don't let some dumb cunt foul it up for you. -Mk
Carla M. Lee: anna confrontationcarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:25 am (UTC)
The thing is, it isn't Ms. Lee's comments which upset me -- I'm used to stupidity like that, and while it does make me angry, I already know how to respond to it -- it is the response from my community which has been pissing me off right and left lately.

I won't ignore the ignorance, though. Talking about it, sharing my anger, making people think, those are the only ways I have available online to make a difference, to change the world.

Doing things like this, opening conversations which are spreading and which are making people I respect consider new sides of the subject, is one of the most worthwhile things I can do with my time.

I'm going to change the world, Mike.

I did go do something I loved, though, the ride with Dad and seeing you for a minute, so that was good. I'm glad you're thinking about me, bro.
Troubled Tribbleshilohmm on June 9th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
While I do get tired of being told I'm ugly or fat because I get ticked at the sexification of female characters once it gets to the point it invalidates their characterization (I wouldn't have minded the HfH cover half so much if Misty and Colleen had looked irritated or angry or ready to take on the bad guys instead of scared and pathetic), I think you've got a legitimate point here that taking on these insults "on their own terms" tends to (a) deflect the conversation and (b) make it sound like being fat or ugly are bad things.

To some extent, fat and ugly are genetically determined (two people may have identical lifestyles in terms of food consumed and amount of exercise; one can be fat and the other skinny), and to say they are bad things is to treat them as chosen characteristics, which is silly. Sometimes they are, sort of (sexually attacked women often gain or lose weight after, just as they often change their appearance in other ways), but even when chosen it's not a choice like the choice to do good or evil. Fat and ugly are aesthetic issues, not moral qualities.

But mostly the whole argument burns me because it's a classic example of an Ad Hominem - where someone who attacks their oppenent as a person instead of grappling with the opponent's position. Me, I see the "fat and ugly" argument and I point and laugh. People who use the ad hominem argument are either (a) lazy, (b) uneducated (because anyone with the least background in logic knows what they're doing and why it is a Bad Plan), or (c) convinced their position can't be logically defended so they'll throw anything they can think of out there in order to deflect attention from that uncomfortable fact.

In other words, using the ad hominem advertises the fact that you're lazy, stupid, or losing the argument. It's a dodge, and not a good one.

The ad hominem argument works because people react to personal attacks emotionally, and I understand why people take it personally and act to defend themselves against it, because the natural response to a personal insult is personal defense. The ad hominem exists because it works, at least initially, but it's not going to impress any thinking being in the long run because when the emotions fade logic reminds us that calling someone names is not actually proving your point. ;)

I'm irritated by the "fat and ugly" ad hominem because it is an ad hominem, but I also get frustrated by people falling for it for all the reasons you present. It's allowing the person playing the ad hominem card to dictate terms of discussion, and essentially accepting those terms - particularly ugly terms, in this case. So thanks for pointing that out. :)
booksforlunch: little redbooksforlunch on June 9th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)
First, not being included in the current beauty standards is nothing bad. Being overweight isn´t something bad ( but I think being really obese IS something bad, just as I think being too thin is bad. )

Second, what Mrs Lee has yet to prove, please, namely the protesters being "fat and ugly", isn´t even important. As long as your arguments can stand a logical testing and are valid, you can be Quasimodo´s obese little sister, for all I care. ( Or brother, since quite a chunk of the protestor´s seems to be in possesion of an Y - chromosome .)
What is her POINT, anyway ? It seems, that Mrs. Lee has, just like Hughes and Quesada, never really bothered to READ, what the protestors actually critisized. It´s one of those standard replies, suggesting that you, being offended, are either an uptight humourless bitch, or a fat and ugly chick not able to score with men and jealous of those "prettier " than you. I´m not saying that there aren´t poeple like that, there are black sheep everywhere. But reading the posts of the bloggers, you´ll see, that most of them don´t critisize the concept of "sexy". They critisize the often sick image of what is sexy in the comic book industry, how women are objectified, how narrowminded the marketing of the publisher´s is.
But it is way easier to hide behind your little prejudices instead of actually LISTEN to what people are trying to tell you. And that´s lame.
(no subject) - shehasathree on June 10th, 2007 02:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
Carla M. Leecarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:26 am (UTC)
You're welcome. I hope you liked what she had to say. It sounds like she's also going to respond to what I said in this post; I'm really looking forward to her take on this side of the issue.
Somebody elseedgar on June 10th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)
Bloody marvellous post.

/me rubs her pooky belly.
Carla M. Lee: edgar moment that i live forcarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 03:26 am (UTC)
Thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time to tell me.
nitf on June 10th, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)
Misty Lee's statement was no different than me saying "I heard Lou Dobbs say that immigrants are responsible for spreading loprosy to America. I don't necessarily agree with that." The only difference is that her sources were unnamed. Let me just say that I will be EXTREMELY pissed if I read a bunch of posts accusing me of believing immigrants spread leprosy.

a veteran pseudo-fictioneerskalja on June 11th, 2007 03:04 am (UTC)
False analogy. A better one would be a scenario in you had supposedly said, "I heard Lou Dobbs say that immigrants are responsible for spreading leprosy to America. I don't necessarily agree with that, but with the quality of healthcare in Mexico I can't imagine that illegal immigrants aren't spreading some kind of diseases into the good old USA, although I bet I'm going to get a lot of hate mail for saying that." In which case it would be largely irrelevant whether people were criticizing you for being racist one way or another way, as you'd still be spouting racist rhetoric either way.
(no subject) - nitf on June 11th, 2007 10:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - skalja on June 11th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - nitf on June 12th, 2007 02:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - skalja on June 12th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
lea_hazel on June 11th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
What does that say to the feminist fans who are "ugly fat girls"?

That the girls we knew in high school still think they'll reach that high-hanging self-esteem if they just step on our collective necks. And it would be so, so easy to respond in kind, but I want to be a better feminist -- and person -- than that. I want to say what I know to be true: there is nothing wrong with being thin, or busty, or blonde, or petite, or white, or straight, or a lipstick lesbian, or male. The problem is when tropes and stereotypes in fiction try to convince us that this is the only way to be. It's erasure, and it's damn bad storytelling.
Mattie: pensive mad beautiful henrymattie on June 12th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Carla M. Lee: empire of dirtcarlamlee on June 12th, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)
Of course you may link to the post. I look forward to your response. I actually quite liked what you had to say about Misty Lee's statement, in large part because I think many people have seen that kind of talk so often they automatically dismiss it as a nasty personal attack which brings nothing to the actual discussion of the presentation of women in comics. (Which is correct, of course.) However, in that dismissal, and in the response to it, I think there are more insidious world views.

Thank you for responding, and for your continual inspiration. Reading The Song of the Lioness quartet is a big reason I'm a feminist today.

Carla Lee
kadymaekadymae on June 12th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
if we could stop buying into the idea that being fat and ugly, or even just being called fat and ugly, is a bad thing, that would be great.

Which is what I was trying do with that whole Join the Fat Ugly Girl club thing ... reclaim those words, make them a point of pride. (From here on out, I'm taking those words as a sign I'm doing/saying something right, y'know?)

Amy Readsamyreading on June 13th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
Huzzah, Friend. And thanks for inspiring words.