Imogen talks body positivity and tells us why being a "fat, Queer, Disabled person is exhausting". — Scope | Disability forum
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Imogen talks body positivity and tells us why being a "fat, Queer, Disabled person is exhausting".

Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,400 Scope online community team

Our community is a space of support and empowerment, so we were delighted when Imogen from the fabulous ‘The Feeding of the Fox’ blog agreed to speak to us.  

Our interview covers a range of topics from body image, to dieting and disabled people’s exclusion from the body positive movement.  So, sit back with a cup of tea and read on as Imogen tells us why compassion is key to combatting low self-esteem.

TW: Mention of eating disorders.

Hello Imogen, could you introduce yourself to Scope’s online community?

Hello! I’m Imogen. I’m 37 and I’ve lived as a Disabled person all my life. I work in Disability Rights, anti-diet and body liberation, mostly using the platform Instagram. 

Imogen wearing a bright red coat and a beaming smiling while standing with a walking stick

In your blog you describe previously having had a “loathing for my body”.  Why do you think that was?

Honestly, living as a fat, Queer, Disabled person is exhausting. Having a body that requires ‘work’ to keep it safe and functioning, having to be involved in medical care in order to remain well, being in pain, exhausted, in and out of hospital, it can feel impossible to have a kind and gentle connection with your body. Over and above that, I’ve spent decades of my life hearing other people’s opinions on how my body doesn’t function like it should, how I am deformed and faulty. Words like normal and a-typical start to infiltrate your internal monologue. And even if you do manage to make it through all of those situations unscathed, you’re still living in a world that doesn’t value us, doesn’t make services accessible, that writes about how we are a drain on resources, makes programs about our bodies like we’re still part of the freak shows and refuses to give us the support we need in order to thrive. I dare anyone to experience all of this for any length of time and not feel profoundly altered. 

When you first worked on improving your relationship with your body, you developed some disordered eating habits.  For our community, how did this present itself?

One in three people who go on a diet will develop an eating disorder. I would personally argue that almost everyone on a diet develops disordered eating habits and ultimately only further damages their relationship with food, rather than healing it. I think the additional issues of living as a fat, Queer, Disabled person, existing within all the spaces I’d mentioned above, the feeling of being ‘too much’ for this world was overwhelming. It’s no great shock to me that my desire to shrink myself, shrink my needs, reduce all the things that felt unbearable to live with was quickly tied up with food and ultimately an eating disorder. Harder still is that we live in a profoundly fat phobic society, that I was and others will be praised for losing weight, that health is often considered visible - dictated by someone’s body size rather than their actual health status. 

There are so many additional pressures on Disabled people to remain socially accessible in terms of their body size, especially if they’re already considered ‘other’ due to being obviously impaired. We are often blamed for our health status, shamed for being fat, anxious that PAs or people who provide care might struggle to manage, talked about like we’re ‘difficult’ or ‘trouble’ because we need extra on top of our existing extra. The media tells us consistently what’s beautiful, what’s sexy, what’s feminine and masculine, what’s ‘healthy’, what we should be proud of in our lives and what we should feel shame around. I didn’t fail at dieting, I didn’t fail at anything, I was bullied, pressured, educated through shame and fear, all until I couldn’t think anything other than about what my body had to be and what I needed to do to make that happen. 

After being introduced to the body positivity community your mindset about your body changed.  Can you remember the moment this clicked for you?  

I don’t think there was a specific event within the Body Liberation space that changed everything for me. It stated with the realisation that in all my effort to alter my body for the better, I’d left myself dangerously unwell, both physically and mentally. I remember posting a photo to my timeline, expressing disgust at my inability to stop binge-eating. A fellow Bristolian commented suggesting that I followed another Bristol local who had been helping her come to terms with the feelings she’d had about her body. That was the start for me, within a few days I had totally transformed my timeline and I was busy reading all about Health at Every Size, Anti Diet and the Fat Liberation movement. 

Having grown up as a big part of the Disability rights community, attending demo’s with the Direct Action Network, I already had a good understanding of the political nature of bodies. It wasn’t until I started to read about the politics of diet and health that it dawned on me; it was all the same thing. Quickly I felt angry and frustrated that I’d been hoodwinked into believing all these things about myself. That’s when my politics moved online, and I started writing outspoken posts against all forms of oppression. 

As an active Instagram user, do you ever experience negative comments from strangers?  If so, how do you deal with it?

Actually, I think I’m pretty lucky. I used to get quite a lot of photos from people exposing themselves but that seems to have subsided in more recent times. The occasional comment feels hurtful, but mostly I feel sad for these people who are so caught up in self loathing that they can’t see the beauty and worth in other bodies. Compassion is the key to education, in my eyes. 

Imogen smiling wearing a bright green cardigan and surrounded by sunflowers and plants

On Instagram you talk about disabled bodies being historically overlooked by the body positive moment.  Why do you think that’s been the case?

Body Positivity was started by Fat Black women in the 80s, over time, white women have co-opted the movement. Now it is painfully white washed. Body Positivity has become yet another movement that started out radical but has become mainstream, leaving those who grew it from their pain on the fringes, yet again. Disabled people aren’t the only oppressed group left out of the movement, it is notoriously poor at inclusion simply because white women don’t understand privilege or intersectionality. 

Alongside this issue, I think we have to be open about how Disabled bodies are considered ugly. Whilst it is untrue, we can’t shy away from the fact that many of our bodies leak, bend awkwardly, look obviously different and stand out. With the existence of societal standards of beauty perpetuated both by the media and those who insist on buying into them, Disabled people are always going to fall short. 

For me, the idea that there is a baseline for beauty is the issue here and not how Disabled bodies look. That doesn’t mean though that there shouldn’t be a conversation about the shame many of us feel about our bodies. It is a risk to post images of impairment and difference, the vulnerability that takes and the possible responses to it make it seem profoundly unsafe. This is a snowball effect, the fewer people willing to share those ugly aspects of their bodies, the fewer people have a chance to see the rich tapestry bodies make up and the less likely Disabled people are to feel connected through their magnificence. 

What would your advice be to our disabled community members who might be feeling insecure about their bodies?

Kindness. Always. We live in a harsh and painful world made significantly worse by the environments we are expected to live within. The barbaric medical systems, the pitiful care system, inaccessible capitalist market and the explicit ableism within society. How we feel about ourselves and our bodies is the end result of having to survive this.

With ultimate kindness and compassion for the way in which we are punished and oppressed by these situations, they are not our fault, we did not cause them and it is painfully unfair that we carry the scars and traumas from them within us. Life is challenging enough already, we don’t need any additional pain, learning to breathe through the awful moments and recognise that we deserve softness, not another harsh, critical voice that ultimately harms us.

A special thank you to Imogen for her willingness to be so open with us about these typically taboo topics.

You can follow Imogen on Instagram at the_feeding_of_the_fox or visit her blog at The Feeding of the fox.

If you have any thoughts about the interview, messages for Imogen or personal stories you'd like to share then please drop a comment below ?   

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