On Fat Shaming

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I’ve had a few posts roll through my Facebook newsfeed today about plus-size models and beauty at all sizes. Every single time I read the comments they are full of fat-shamers putting in their opinions about how ‘unacceptable’ the pictured women are.

Now, as a person who is what is deemed a ‘healthy weight’ it is easy for me to spout phrases like ‘all bodies are beautiful’ and ‘size is not an indication of health’. But I grew up in a family where the number on the scales was an ever-present spectre and everybody talked about ‘when I lose the weight’ or ‘when I get skinny’. All sorts of diets were tried and weight came and went. But the body image issues were constant.

Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world. In some countries, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor diet have been linked to many life-threatening health problems. Governments and food companies must take a fair whack of the blame for their misleading marketing of processed foods as ‘healthy’ and the laws that allow this. Drug companies are invested in treating the illnesses caused by poor diet. It is a hard battle to fight on a personal level when the whole system is invested in making you fat.

I might not be an overweight person, but I am not a healthy person. I have an extensive history of heart problems, and mental health difficulties on top of that. I eat with the goal of prolonging my life. But there have been times when, due to medications, my weight has threatened to spiral out of control.

The last time I tried antidepressant medication, I got to a point where no matter how I tried, my weight was climbing by about half a kilogram every week. I was probably eating half of what I am now, and exercising, but my weight kept rising. I counted calories obsessively, and even tried going all fruit and vegetables one week. Nothing worked. Until I went off the medication.

So yeah, I can sympathise with people who try everything they can think of but struggle to lose weight. I can also sympathise with people who have great difficulty eating the way they are told they ‘should’ in order to lose weight.

One thing all those fat-shamers lean on is that promoting body acceptance is the same as promoting obesity, and since obesity is unhealthy then promoting body acceptance is socially irresponsible. Think of the children, they say, growing up in a world where they are encouraged to be unhealthy because being fat is okay. They pretend that the reason they want everyone to be slim is because they want them to be healthy.

This is a load of crap. The reason fat-shamers want people to be slim is because they want them to be decorative, and we live in a world with stringently-enforced beauty standards. A world where people who don’t fit that standard are expected to cover up, change their appearance, and hate themselves if they don’t comply.

And what good does that do?

We all want to be healthy. It is easier for some people than for others. We all want to like our bodies and like ourselves. We all have ‘imperfections’. We have rolls and wrinkles and scars and stretch marks and none of these things make us less of a human being.

Even women who are not overweight are encouraged to hate their bodies. We are given a set of Rules that we must adhere to. Don’t be too tall. Don’t be too hairy. Don’t be too old. Don’t be too fat. Spend ages making yourself look good enough, but make sure you look natural. Unless you can follow all the Rules, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself. And even if you do follow the Rules, don’t get too cocky, you’re not that hot…

The idea of women in particular being decorative above all else should be stomped on, crushed and criticised every time we see it. You might see plus-sized models promoted as ‘real women’, but they too are a marketing trick. You don’t see models with cellulite or hairy legs or blemished skin.

We are all allowed to be comfortable in our own skin and happy with how we look. Whether we are old, sick, fat, disabled, hairy or scarred. We do not have to conform to beauty standards. We are good enough. We are valuable. We are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because whatever ‘imperfections’ you may have, the person who would shame you for your appearance has a bigger problem. They are probably a self-righteous jerk.

Overweight people exist. In the western world there are a lot of them. Yes, being overweight has been linked to health problems, but does that mean that every overweight person is expected to hate how they look, and if they don’t hate how they look then everyone else is allowed to do that hating for them? What does that achieve? If being slim was easy, everyone would do it, but a huge proportion of the population find it very difficult. The issue is complex. The solution is elusive. But if shaming overweight people made them healthier, we would have no overweight people. All it does is make people feel bad about themselves. People who look after their health are people who feel that they are worth it. Your weight is does not always directly correlate with your health or wellness. And none of these things represent your value as a person.

Oh, and here’s me at the beach recently in a bikini. Old, white, hairy, scarred. I don’t care. I think I look great.

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SilkieDome – An Integrated Poultry and Vegetable System

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When people ask me for advice on growing vegetables, my first point is always start small and try a few different things. Preferably things you would happily eat. Then learn from your experience and expand as you go.

A vegetable garden can come out of nowhere, and the best way to learn is to experiment. I see many proud beginner gardeners with packets of seeds or punnets of seedlings planted in neat rows. Often these uniform seedlings, planted side-by-side, have completely different growing patterns. Rosemary and parsley might start out the same size when you buy them and plant them in your new herb garden, but that rosemary is going to turn into a great big shrub and drown out your parsley.

The climate requirements of different plants are not always compatible either. I always grimace when I see basil and tomato seedlings for sale in chain stores as early as August. These are started in climate-controlled greenhouses. When you plant them in your chilly Ballarat garden they are not going to last long.

Over the years you learn which plants will naturalise, which will die off in the first frost, which will just refuse to grow in certain soils and which are pretty much unkillable. Eventually you will figure out how to grow the plants you like best.

Sometimes you will stumble upon something that completely revolutionises your garden. For me, that something is SilkieDome.

I was introduced to the concept of the integrated garden and poultry system during a site visit as part of the Introduction to Permaculture weekend I attended last year. This impressive mandala garden had a pond in the middle and a series of circular garden beds around it. Atop one of these garden beds was a round poultry tractor, whose residents were cheerfully digging up the spent garden plants and fertilising the bed as they went.

So when setting up the food garden at the new house, I was determined to try this method of gardening. I had hung on to the kids’ old trampoline frame for two years with the intent of doing something useful with it. Finally it has become SilkieDome.

I considered Silkies as ideal residents for the garden. They are small, quiet and don’t need a great deal of space. And my Silkie rooster, Malcolm, has been more than happy to move away from the main farmyard where he had to compete with the big Rhode Island Red rooster, Russell Crow.

The Silkie Family

The Silkie Family

The Silkie family is made up of my white hen Quartz, Malcolm the black rooster, and three of their daughters who hatched in November.

As for the garden itself, we are on to the third bed.

The mandala garden in progress.

The mandala garden in progress.

Now, the real beauty of this system is that it encourages staggered plantings and maintaining season-suitable growth of different vegetables. When you have square, stationery beds, you tend to (or at least, I tend to) plant one block of something and that is it for the season. You grow it, you harvest it, you eat it, and that is it. But with the need to regularly move onto the next bed, you can add a late planting of a warm weather favourite, or put in some plants to harvest in Autumn.

With each move of the SilkieDome there is an opportunity to try something new, or have another go with something that has already worked.

I have plans to put a gravel path between the beds, and in the centre plant something decorative that will attract bees and other beneficial insects to the area.

Each bed is grazed out by the Silkies before I put down a load of garden mix and top it with straw from the main poultry night pen. Since I am basically starting out on what was once a driveway, the garden mix (a combination of mushroom compost, manure and topsoil) will give each bed a head start and allow the plants, and later the Silkies, to make inroads into improving the soil underneath. The thick layer of straw mulch with poultry manure keeps the moisture in the bed, at the roots of the plants where it is needed most.

I have static garden beds, as well as the dynamic ones. I plan to put an area for blueberries behind the greenhouse to take advantage of the afternoon shade. The front boundary of the garden will eventually be filled with rows of berry canes. There is a bed that I put in next to the greenhouse to get me started which will be used for self-seeders and perennials, as well as climbing peas and beans on the climbing frame.

Static bed with climbing frame.

Static bed with climbing frame.

The greenhouse has been so successful for growing tomatoes and capsicums that I don’t think I will bother trying to grow them outside in future.

Tomatoes and capsicums growing like crazy in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes and capsicums growing like crazy in the greenhouse.

It will be interesting to see how the SilkieDome project pans out, and how the winter plantings will go. Will the rotations work out well for the Silkies and the plants? Will I be able to grow anything actually edible through winter?

It is all about experimenting, trying different things, figuring out what works and growing more of what we like to eat.

Just like when I first started out.

Giving Up Shampoo – 12 Months In

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no shampoo

So my hair now looks like this.

If I didn’t tell you, you would never know that I don’t wash it daily with shampoo and condition it.

In fact, I wash it about every four to five days. This seems to make it happiest. It makes showering a lot quicker too. Thick hair takes ages to dry.

The regime I settled on was using goat milk soap to wash, and apple cider vinegar to condition. I saw a recipe for goat milk soap with tomato that was said to be good for hair, in particular to brighten your colour. So I made some, and it is great.

The ends don’t split. It doesn’t get static and flyaway. I haven’t coloured it in months.

I would call this project a success.

What’s For Dinner? – Feminism in the Kitchen

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Poor Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. She is copping a lot of flak for her comment in an interview that she isn’t a feminist because she likes to cook for her husband. How do you know when you are wrong on the internet? Don’t worry, the whole world will tell you.

Anyway, the idea that there is an unbreakable set of commandments that you must adhere to in order to be a feminist (perhaps, thou shalt burn thy expensive bras, thou shalt not enjoy cooking, thou shalt not shave thy legs, etc… I could go on, this is kind of fun…) is basically a tactic to try to disassociate women from feminism. But feminism is more of a basic idea with many theories attached. You don’t have to adhere to all the ‘commandments’.

It’s pretty obvious that I am a feminist who loves to cook. But until I read this article in response to the Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting’s comments I didn’t understand that there is more than one way to be a woman in the kitchen.

While making the transition from house slave to free, independent human being, I have struggled with some concepts. But cooking is something I seamlessly embraced in my new life. In the past I was regularly greeted with ‘what’s for dinner?’ and my cooking was ruthlessly criticised. I was even put on a schedule of what meals I was to cook on which days. My attempts to grow food at home were dismissed as ‘pointless’.

‘What’s for dinner?’ has got to be the most entitled question anyone can ask of someone else in their household. It is no different to ‘make me a sandwich’. ‘What’s for dinner?’ basically translates to ‘I’m hungry, your job is to cook for me, and it has to be something I like’. There are no other three words that get my hackles up in quite the same way. Nobody says it to me any more.

Equality doesn’t mean everything has to be split down the middle. My partner is capable of working long hours and rotating shifts, but, to be honest, my 11-year-old is more capable of cooking a basic meal. I could never work such a grueling job, but I am capable of cooking lots of healthy and home-grown food.

When I was single, it didn’t take long for my Saturday nights to become cooking parties for one. I would spend ages making cheese, or designer ravioli, using all the appliances with the music turned up. I made one-off soups and stews without a recipe. I grew salad vegetables for my lunch. Partly it was to save money, but it was also for the sheer joy of being able to make as much mess as I wanted and not have anyone breathing down my neck about it.

Cooking became my thing. I even began to consider myself a fairly good cook. I became more confident and started to expand my repertoire and use more and more home-grown ingredients. And while my kids will sometimes ask me what’s for dinner (although never with that exact phrasing, and to be fair, I chose to have kids so it is my job to feed them), Matt’s attitude is basically that whatever I cook will be good, so it doesn’t matter. And if sometimes I can’t be bothered, he can take on the hunter-gatherer role with some help from his wallet. Or everyone can have leftovers or eggs on toast.

Feminism is a concept, not a recipe. You don’t have to follow a set of directions in order to do it right. You can leave things out if you don’t like them, add some stealth vegetables, go completely vegetarian or dial a pizza. Just stick to the basic concept; that men and women deserve equal rights and representation, and that the status of women must be raised in order to achieve this.

I will sing and dance freely in my kitchen, wear the stripy apron my Nanna gave me with pride, and create culinary delights and healthy treats. And I will do it safe in the knowledge that I have a choice, that I don’t have to if I don’t want to. Because the beauty of being a feminist is that you can choose to cook all the dinners, or have a full-on time-consuming career or wear sparkly nail polish or get your hair cut short. In the end it is about having the right and the power to make the decisions that affect your own life.

Guided Tour

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I’ve been off air for a while, and somehow I have landed myself an afternoon where I do not have a hundred things to do. I have made some yogurt, done some washing and done the couple of little fencing jobs I needed to do. Matt mowed the lawns yesterday, so I don’t need to do that, I have no coconut oil so I can’t make soap, no hard cheese culture so I can’t make cheese. I’ve got a freezer full of bread, the garden supply place is closed so I can’t build another garden. I literally have actual free time.

So it is probably time to walk you all through this fabulous place I now get to call home. The house itself is smaller than the old one, but much better laid out, and the two side-by-side double garages more than make up for any space the house may lack.

The setup of the house is basically open plan living and dining with the rest of it set up in a semicircle around the main lounge area. The grown-ups’ TV room and master bedroom are at one end, kitchen, laundry and main bathroom along the back and kids rooms at the other end. The kids have opted to sleep in one room and have the other as their play room. This gets around my ban on TVs in bedrooms and means they still have their own space to hang out in.

The boys on their new couch in the playroom.

The boys on their new couch in the playroom.

Outside is where things really get interesting, of course. The previous owners had left the entire 20 acres intact, with no internal fencing. They had created a 3-hole golf course among the park-like gardens.

golf course

I have mentioned before how private the property is. I really am awestruck by the amount of work that must have gone into creating the garden. From the house you can’t see the front gate, as you come in the driveway you go around a corner and the outside world disappears.

View from just inside the front gate.

View from just inside the front gate.

House and garage

House and garage

These next couple were taken from the front porch.

front yard 1 front yard 2

With a clean slate in regards to internal fencing, we kept things basic. Geoff Ross – The Hotwire Man did the fencing for us, with two strands of electric stand-off on the goat paddocks and heavy-duty chicken wire to keep the poultry away from the dogs. We basically cut the back 10 acres off into a big paddock for the does, put a couple of smaller paddocks down the western side for the bucks and put a yard around the machinery shed to make a farmyard. There is only one gate from the house yard to the animal areas, with the other paddocks all accessed via the farmyard. This means there is only one way in and out, only one weak point to manage, and only one gate to remember to close.

The farmyard.

The farmyard.

Six bays of machinery shed have been turned into a dairy, feed room, feeding pen and chook enclosure, with a couple of spare bays to become more goat pens down the track. A stand of flowering gums shades the shed in the afternoon.

paddock

A drain leads down the paddock to a dam, which is just behind the row of cypress trees. There are several stands of native trees and a wide variety of pasture and weed species to keep a herd of browsing goats occupied.

orchard

The orchard appears to have been mainly ornamental, but there are plum, apple, pear and cherry plum trees, as well as something that could be a nut tree of some sort. They have been let to grow way too big, and most have dropped nearly all of their fruit. Hopefully once they have had a fairly drastic prune in winter they will yield well next year. One of the pear trees has managed to hang onto its crop, as has the cherry plum, so we may yet get something useful this season.

Beside the farmyard is a forest of dill that has naturalised, there are dozens of huge plants. In one garden bed there is a great, rambling rosemary bush which came in handy for seasoning the roast lamb at Christmas.

Of course, all this garden with barely any existing food plants is not really my specialty. We brought the greenhouse from the old place, and it now forms the centre of the new vegetable garden. I have started on a mandala garden for annual edible plants, complete with integrated poultry system, aka the Silkiedome. The idea is that the Silkies will move around the circular garden, cleaning up and turning over harvested beds while eating the leftovers and adding fresh manure. The rectangular fixed garden beds beside the greenhouse will be used to grow self-seeding crops like silverbeet and longer-lasting plants like berries.

Epic Vegie Garden - a work in progress

Epic Vegie Garden – a work in progress

And lastly, this is the rose I brought along from the old house. The horse ate all the buds off when she was meant to be tidying the lawn before we moved. The unearthed and transported rose has just started to flower again beside the front door.

front door

There are so many little things that make this place great. The kitchen is amazing. The huge 900mm oven with gas cooktop allows me to bake four loaves of bread in one go. Not only do the trays fit, I can put two pizza trays in it side-by-side. There is an appliance cupboard for all my gadgets. And if the fridge hole was way too small for my awesome new fridge (which we bought about a fortnight before we bought the house, replacing my old fridge which died), it is the perfect size for the cheese fridge with the microwave on top. I spend so much time in the kitchen, so it needs to be practical and durable. This one certainly fits the bill, and looks good doing it.

The back deck adds roofline for collecting rainwater and also provides a great place for humans and dogs alike to hang out in summer. They put laserlite above all the windows along the deck, to let the light in while keeping the sun off, and there is a rainforest garden bed along the wall. The main water tanks are surrounded by a six-foot mesh fence, which makes a great yard to secure the dogs in when there is nobody home to keep an eye on them.

When we first inspected the place I noted the lack of cooling in the house. Between the blinds, the brick veneer, the verandah and deck and the excellent blinds on the windows, I don’t think we will need additional cooling. I guess we will put it to the test with these upcoming hot days.

The house came with four TVs mounted to the walls and a surround sound system in the second living room. So far two of the TVs have been taken down, we have given one of our existing TVs away and there are four of them in the garage. The kids have one in their play room and there is one in the grown-ups TV room. The master bedroom and main living area TVs have been removed.

The washing machine slot in the laundry was incompatible with our existing top-loader, so we now also have a brand new front loader. The laundry here is an actual room, with loads of storage, so things like the animal first aid supplies and my soap making equipment are stored in there. The milking gear now lives in the laundry instead of cluttering up the kitchen sink, the dog food, shoes and vacuum cleaner are kept out of sight, reducing the general clutter.

There are actual working fans and ceiling heaters in both bathrooms, and even a real bath.

Everything is so peaceful, there is plenty of space, the animals are happy and thriving. There are no rats in the shed (yet), no crows stealing eggs or flying off with baby goslings, no gorse, no car-swallowing potholes in the driveway. We have moved to a smaller house on a smaller block, spent a small fortune and ended up with something much greater, much more valuable. And after only a few weeks, it already feels like home.

No Retreat, No Surrender.

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As most of you already know, I have recently moved house. The reasons for the move were many, varied and complex, the move itself was horrendously stressful. But now we are here, and it is paradise. Behind the big cypress hedge, the rest of the world just disappears. We have no close neighbours, only cow paddocks on three sides and across the road. The previous owners completely surrounded the house with shrubs, medium height trees and towering gums, creating a calm oasis on the windy creek flats.

It took me a few weeks to coax the ducks down to the dam, but this morning I sat for an hour watching my Muscovy duck with her six Pekin and Appleyard ducklings, along with Derek the Pekin drake and his mixed group of girls, enjoying the new-found water. They splashed and bobbed and preened, the ducklings attempting to flap their stubby down-covered wings.

As I sat on the dam bank, at the start of a new year, I thought, why can’t it always be like this? Why can’t I hide from the world and just be oblivious to everything that goes on? Why can’t I take a year off from being a feminist?

It is tempting to shut off the world and ignore all the terrible things that people do to those who are vulnerable. Plenty of people manage to do that perfectly well, I suppose, otherwise there would be more outrage and more done to prevent it. But the only way to completely insulate myself from it would be to never leave the property, never communicate with the outside world, never turn on my computer or watch a movie or read the news.

For me, to participate in society means I will see things that I need to speak up about. I have been kept silent and obedient in the past, and I won’t do it any more. I have not only survived, I have succeeded. And for me, to hide from what I have learned and ignore what I know is to betray every vulnerable person who suffers still.

It is only ever a matter of time before I read another news article about a ‘nice, ordinary’ man who has slaughtered his family, or a politician who thinks women can’t be trusted to make their own reproductive choices. Or a celebrity who thinks she can’t be a feminist because she likes to cook dinner for her husband. Or how men being able to access free porn at all times is more important than the health and safety of the people who make it. Or read a post from a woman who thinks she is clever for hiding a purchase from her husband so that she doesn’t get in trouble for spending money.

So I will continue to speak up. I will speak for those who have been silenced. For the women who have been taught to hate their bodies for not looking like supermodels or porn stars. For the women in abusive relationships who know all too well why they don’t ‘just leave’. For the one woman every week who will be killed in Australia by her current or former intimate partner. For the rape survivors who know that preventing rape is not just a matter of getting up and leaving if you don’t like how things are going. For the children who are at the mercy of the adults in their lives, for better or for worse.

It is a part of who I am, as much as the cooking, the animals, the soap. I will continue to inform and to challenge my circle in the hope of a ripple effect that might help make a change. I will continue to expose the harmful effects of the patriarchy and its toxic gender binary on all people. And I will continue to point out why that thing that you don’t think is a big deal is a symptom of a deeper, more troubling issue.

Happy New Year, everyone.