I have a tee-shirt that says RIOT NOT DIET in big black letters across the front and it is my favourite tee shirt to wear when all my Miss Crabb dresses are at the dry cleaners. Lol. (I’m only half joking – I may have an unhealthy obsession with NZ’s queen of the silky sack.)
I love wearing my tee shirt because it causes two very different reactions from people pretty much without fail. Older people – older than me because I’m still not forty and as far as I’m concerned that means I’m youngish – get all ‘Ooooh are you trying to incite a riot?’ and ‘Hey don’t you work for the man hur hur’ and are generally uncomfortable and make lame jokes. Or they make self deprecating jokes about how they actually do need to go on a diet and, almost apologetically, go in to great detail about how much weight they are trying to lose and what they are denying themselves in order to achieve this. The diet-describers are %100 women.
It’s a great tee-shirt because the girls I teach ask about it – where did you get it Ms? (Feminist Apparel FYI – it’s not great quality – the print on my tee shirt won’t last long with regular washing – but it didn’t cost an arm and a leg so who cares?). And we have really good conversations about how what comes out of their heads and their opinions on the world that they live in and how their political activism is SO much more important than their waist size. And what’s even more great is that the girls – particularly my big girls – the year 13’s – totally get it. They are the girls who asked if they could leave Prefect camp to go and protest the TPPA. They are the girls who make up the Human rights group at AGGS and the Global Citizenship group and Youth Parliament and are going off to Uni and to the workforce, and they are the girls who are the leaders of tomorrow.
I have made a conscious effort, since November last year when I commented on a friends weight loss ‘Oh my god you look amazing! how did you do it?!’ to not comment on peoples appearances since. Because my friend responded that actually she had been quite sick, was on daily medication and was struggling to maintain a healthy weight. This really brought home to me this dangerous and damaging idea of smaller being more important than healthy, of skinny being more valuable than happy and the idea that womens bodies (in particular) are constantly being consumed and judged by the world at large. This is not news to you.
But I see it at school too – the girls who take up space, literally take up space because they are TALL and STRONG and some of them are fat BUT (and crucially) unapologetic and they expect to be allowed to take up space – THESE are the girls who I get constant complaints about. Some of these girls are genetically pre-disposed to be taller and stronger and larger in hair and volume and general mass than the rest of our school’s population and all of these things mean they are considered less than.
Because girls are meant to be small, and quiet and compliant right?
Because girls and women are taught that the smaller they can get themselves the better they are doing and somehow they have ‘won’ and shown us that they are worthy of being listened to and respected and taken seriously. Because statistically we know that thinner women are paid more and given the ‘good’ jobs and this is because they have shown us that they can control the biggest danger there is to modern civilisation – the female body.
And every day girls are taught that their waist size is a better judge of their worth than their minds and their thoughts and their politics. That to be quiet and make themsleves take up less space somehow they’ll get in to less trouble at school.
And every day I receive a complaint in my inbox about one of my bigger girls ‘showing too much skin’ or wearing inappropriate clothes for school (shorts in this heat) or generally taking up space somewhere – and damnit they looked like they didn’t care what any body thought. All sitting around, smiling and laughing and looking happy to be there. That’s what galls the complainants the most. The girls aren’t tyring to minimise themselves.
And in the staff meeting when I was asked what I was going to do about getting a dress code enforced with my cohort (only the year 13’s can wear Mufti and I’m year 13 Dean this year) and I said that I didn’t feel comfortable telling them how to dress when it really wasn’t my business (and it felt tantamount to slut-shaming) and I really pissed some people off who felt like I wasn’t doing my job.
And essentially, all of this is a lesson for me. Because every day I get up and go to school and tell my grrls that I’ll support them no matter what they look like as long as they are kind, thoughtful, critical thinkers. And I am struggling to do the same thing for myself.
Ironic? Probably not actually – ask the GD he is quick to point out when something isn’t actually ironic.
I wear the tee shirt for me too when I am focussing too much on minimising myself and not enough on the potential my job affords me and the wonderful people in my life and their radical ideas.