Masters student in Counselling, University of Calgary
Gender curious cis-ish femme woman
On the queer spectrum
White passing mixed race with all the privilege my assumed whiteness entails
Daughter, sister, aunt, lover
Canadian citizen by birth
Daughter of an immigrant
Two university educated parents
Lower middle class - middle middle class throughout childhood
Sexual assault survivor
And if you didn’t know, I’m fat.
Thank you to the traditional caretakers of this land for hosting us here on their traditional territories. I am also grateful to Dr. Monica Sesma who supported and encouraged this work and to the University of Calgary for a little bit of money (They made me say that). I also wouldn’t be here were it not for my radical, queer, fat, feminist mentors and pals.
If you are here because of the description in the program - sorry. I want to talk about something else. I am still going to talk about what Squish Squish is but I am feeling more inspired by this conference to talk about the ways in which therapists stigmatize fat people and some suggestions for how you can work towards creating a more inclusive practice for fat folks and work to situate it in family therapy.
Fourth: A Brief overview
Squish Squish is a survivor story!
Squish Squish is a six-session psychoeducational group designed exclusively for fat, queer women and femmes to develop the skills to reclaim desirability in their fat bodies; to learn to ask for what they want from lovers; and see themselves as worthy of love and loving. This is a first step in my call to radical counselling and radical tenderness within counselling.
Squish Squish is…
Born of a life in a body that seems to cause so much offense simply because it exists - desexualized and fetishized in the same breath
Born of a comfort in radical personal politics
Born of a culture that forgets that fat people have sex, like sex, want to have sex and sometimes, believe it or not, have sex with people who are not fat.
Using a combination of narrative therapy, self-compassion, and stigma theory all filtered through a queer, feminist, anti-oppressive, radically tender lens the goals of Squish Squish are chiefly concerned with creating a space for queer fat women and femmes to rewrite their self-narratives surrounding fat sex to provide empowerment, strength, sensual power and a reduction in felt stigma surrounding body size. Squish Squish will speak honestly and positively about sex and sexual activity, and will encourage the expression and fulfillment of desire for all participants through a trauma informed lens.
We will investigate the ways in which we construct the narratives of our bodies and the ways in which the structural mechanisms that surround us (the medical system, the diet industry, media) shape our self-story. Squish Squish will work toward a tangible rewriting of the self-story with an eye towards personal goal setting, fat visibility, and self-love practice.
We will work together to create strategies for overcoming some of the physical and emotional challenges of sex, create language for speaking to our partners about sex and the ways we like to fuck, and work towards an understanding that we are desirable and worthy of pleasure on our terms. We will talk about fucking through a queer, feminist, poly, kink and sex positive framework (Fahs, 2014) and what that looks like in practice outside of the group. Discussions will centre around both masturbation and partnered sex. The trajectory of sex talks will be group led to incorporate ace and aro identities as needed.
It is my hope that participants will celebrate the end of Squish Squish and walk into the world armed with power, confidence, fearless desire and the willingness to speak up for themselves and their pleasure.
I am going to read three quotes to you. This first one is from Chrisler and Barney in 2017.
“A number of large-scale, longitudinal studies conducted in several countries have demonstrated that there is no excess mortality risk associated with heavy weight. It has become known as the ‘obesity paradox.’ It is only a paradox, of course, because it surprised the medical researchers who had expected thin people to be the healthiest and live the longest”
And another for you to reflect on moving through the second half of the presentation.
“The only way to solve the weight problem is to stop making weight a problem—to stop judging ourselves and others by our size. Weight is not an effective measure of attractiveness, moral character, or health. The real enemy is weight stigma, for it is the stigmatization and fear of fat that causes the damage and deflects attention from true threats to our health and well-being” - That is Linda Bacon - the author of Health at Every Size in 2010.
So let’s play a game:
Stand or raise your hand if you are a student.
Stand or raise your hand if you are a registered psychologist
Stand or raise your hand if you are a psych nurse
Stand or raise your hand if you are a social worker
Stand or raise your hand if you are are psychiatrist
Stand or raise your hand if you are an MD
Stand or raise your hand if you are a mental health support worker not previously mentioned
Stand or raise your hand if if you have xray vision, are psychic, or able to determine someone’s health simply by looking at them.
None of us. So why do we look at our fat clients and make assumptions about their health and what brings them to our office?
Being fat is an inherently traumatized existence. Our bodies are 100% on display all the time and subjected to ‘concern’ that is always violent, often misogynistic, and almost always unsolicited. I struggle to conceptualize the violence that I am spared because I am white and cis-ish.
Strangers touch my hair, my arm and ask me if I have considered gastric bypass surgery.
Doctors are no better, I’m afraid. We are still hung up on BMI despite so much science to the contrary - Beyond the scope of my time here.
But mental health care providers should be better.
Every single one of my fat friends who has sought therapy in both an individual and family context has experienced fat stigma at the hands of their counsellor. Each and everyone, myself included, has been asked about our diet and exercise habits before disclosing why they are in therapy.
Each and every one has been told that their symptoms are due to body dissatisfaction when they have expressed nothing of the sort.
Each and every one who has had sexual issues has been told those issues are tied to body size.
Weight is pathologized and weight loss is praised and recommended in all circumstance. To fail at weight-loss is a reflection of poor moral character.
I can see in your faces, that you do not believe this to be you, and granted this is anecdotal because I could find no research where counsellors admit their anti-fat bias, but if most fat people are feeling pathologized about their size and we are not all seeing the same therapist then…
I have spent 2.5 days being challenged (in the best way) and thinking about the ways I exist as a counsellor but at a conference about relational social justice is it possible that I am the only person speaking explicitly about the size of bodies and the way fatness exists in the world? Yes. And yet here we fatties are, in this profession and in offices being concern trolled by the very people touting a relational social justice framework.
I encourage you consider your education around fat stigma and body positivity. I encourage you to reconceptualize health and if you want to talk to clients about health - and we should - talk about HEALTH. Ask the questions before assuming the answers. Understand that exercise can be a triggering and violent experience. Consider accessibility and access before you put it in a treatment plan. In a family context, consider the health of the system and of the individuals. Consider the structural and social implications about fatness within family as it intersects with race and socioeconomic status. Consider inequities around access to health care and the cost of foods deemed healthy. Consider ephemisms. When you say over weight consider who decides what weight we are over. Consider how it feels to hear, ‘you’re not fat, you’re beautiful’ - as if fatness and beauty are mutually exclusive.
Consider you office. Are you asking fat people to squeeze into tiny chairs with arms or do you offer an open and comfortable space. Consider how it might feel to be physically uncomfortable and embarrassed while being asked to be vulnerable. Consider what is on display in the art on your walls. When you socially locate yourself, consider the size of your body in relation to power and privilege. Consider capitalism and the money being made from pathologizing fatness. Consider how you talk about your body in relation to fatness.
Consider your fear.
Is the worst thing your body can be is to be like mine?
Over this weekend I have been reflecting on relationship and what it means in the context of fatness and fat bodies.
A friend of mine, Zoe Todd, is a fat Metis anthropologist and tenured instructor at Carlton University in Ottawa and she speaks so beautifully of relationship from an Indigenous and decolonized perspective. So beautifully in fact it would be a disservice to paraphrase.
Western epistemes and ontologies are always already ‘object oriented’ in that they privilege ‘things’ over beings and they privilege abstract things (like, say, money) over the labour of constituting and re-constituting relationships. Noun-based languages like English privilege the singularity of a thing over the action/responsibilities encompassed by a state of being (in relation). By extension, English facilitates and underscores forms of singular ownership over, and control of, things and beings and places. Without consent from these things/beings/places to submit to human hierarchies and ownership! What I learn from nehiyawewin and Michif is the importance of actions and verbs — the relationality of people, place, time, and being. To be in a state of relation is to be aware of one’s state of being, of the last/present/future and folds of time flowing like lava, and cordillera submitting to tectonic forces. One can never be a singular ‘relation’ in the western euro-American sense of claiming a title, one can only ever be _in_ relation.
We are, or should be, in relation to our clients, we co-construct that relationship with them - and we owe them the compassion that made us want to be helpers in the first place. We owe that to all our clients. Queer, trans, racialized, disabled, refugee, migrant, child… even when they are fat.