When Fatphobia Follows Us to the Grave

Angry FrustratedColleen McCullough created the department of neurophysiology at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, she served as head of the department for five years.  She worked at the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street. She taught neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neurological electronics at Yale. She wrote the best selling novels Tim and The Thorn Birds and 23 other books including cookbooks, a biography, romance, family history, crime and seven-book Roman series.  She was awarded the Scanno Prize for literature and several of her books have been made into films.

These are all things that you would have learned from her obituary in The Australian, but you wouldn’t have read them until after you read this:

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.

This appears in bold at the very front of her obituary. Before the fact that she was an accomplished scientist, or any details about her bestselling books, The Australian wanted to make sure that if people only read the bold print, they are aware that she was fat, and that they seem think it’s somehow surprising that she is also witty and warm (didn’t we just talk about this?), that she was not attractive based on the obituary author’s “standards” (which is such a ridiculous statement that I can’t believe I had to type it) and that she was able to attract men.

After being immediately criticized by, well, almost everyone,  the magazine claims that the obituary was written years ago by a writer who has since died, and that it was published without proper proofreading.  The magazine has also put an offer in on some beautiful ocean front property in Arizona where they plan to build a mansion for the Yeti and Abominable snowman currently living in their basement.

The statement not only appeared in the article, but appeared as the first paragraph, and in bold.  If they actually knew better than to lead the obituary of an accomplished woman with a critique of her looks, then they have a serious breakdown in the copy editing department.  Also, I note that I’m reading it online fourteen hours later and they haven’t changed it.

I’m already aware that, because of our fatphobic society, if I die at 112 years old because a aliens drop a space piano on my head from their mothership, people will still blame my death on my body size, so I won’t be surprised if my obituary tries to cast the body I love in a negative light, but it’s a damn shame. Lewis’s Law (coined by Helen Lewis) says that “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”. Perhaps we need a corollary – the obituary of a fat women in the Australian justifies fat activism and feminism.

RIP Colleen McCullough, you deserved better and you will be missed.

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Published in: on January 31, 2015 at 1:34 pm  Comments (22)  

22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I saw this story in the newspaper… Disgusting. Your post was superb…

  2. I just wrote about this on my blog. I was also disturbed by the obituary. An obituary really is a person’s “last hurrah” in this world – a summary of what they did in their lives. And while most news stories are critical of their subjects, there is usually a tradition that obituaries paint the deceased in the best possible light.

    The sad part is, I actually did enjoy Colleen’s quote that came after the stupid “plain of feature” nonsense. Apparently at some point in her life, she must have given an interview about looks, body size, how to persevere despite society’s unfair perceptions of what a successful person should look like. Hell, I complain all the time – “If I only I looked like Ben Affleck!!!!” But the obituary was the wrong place to put it.

    Lead off with her being a doctor, or a famous writer, or how amazing it was that she had two successful careers while many people never even have one. But to start out with a line that might as well have been, “Hey everyone! This fat lady was successful even though she was fat! Isn’t that amazing? I just thought fat people ate ice cream all day and never did anything else!” Just very stupid on the newspaper’s part.

  3. Reblogged this on FunkyBlueDandelion and commented:
    I wanted to say something about this but Dances With Fat does it better than I ever could. Bravo.

  4. So true, I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Insults about what a person looked like in life do not ever belong in their obituaries.

    As for the laughable idea that the obituary of such an important person has not been updated or looked at for years after the author’s death, anyone who knows anything about these matters knows better. Yes, these obituaries are written well in advance. But of necessity they are updated regularly and revised so that when the time comes, they are not only ready but accurate and complete.

    RIP, Dr. McCullough. Your manifold talents will be sorely missed.

    • “Insults about what a person looked like in life do not ever belong in their obituaries.”

      This is so true. Just imagine if an obituary started, “Although he was an extremely ugly person with a startlingly unappealing face, Mr. So and So nevertheless was a successful engineer and a loving father.” Or, “although her ears were too large and stuck out, Ms. X succeeded in her chosen career path.” Or “His family loved him even though his features resembled five miles of bad road.”

      I mean, come ON. What on earth does it ever matter what someone looks like, but to mention it in a OBITUARY?????

      • Because women are for boners, duh.

        Ick, now I need a shower.

        • Yes, God, yes! Even when we are DEAD, it is our duty to give some random asshole a boner! It is the only reason exist. How stupid of us women to forget that!

          • If a man gets a boner from a corpse, something is really wrong.

  6. This is awful. Between this obituary for the author of The Thorn Birds, the quote about Christie’s girth “obscuring his talent,” and finding out that JKR meme is something she said after someone approached her at an awards ceremony to congratulate her *for losing weight,* it is official. We live in a society that will accept no “contribution” from a human being but a thin body. Anything you actually *do,* no matter how many people it helps or what kind of impact it has, will be considered a garnish to flavor your thin, and if you are NOT thin, forget it. This society doesn’t want your art, your science, your political work (unless they can hide you behind a curtain and give the public credit to a thin person). It will not even let you forget how fully it rejects you in your grave.

  7. I was not aware that Colleen McCullough, my favorite author, had died. As a Roman history buff, I loved her 7-volume set, “The Masters of Rome,” more than I can say. It was well and warmly written, and painstakingly researched.
    So, for the ‘Australian’ to emphasize (using bold type in the first paragraph) what she looked like as well as her unaccountable ability to attract men–in spite of not being classically beautiful–over her remarkable accomplishments infuriates me.
    When we lose Stephen Hawking, will the benighted media lead HIS obituary with the information that he wasn’t matinee idol handsome?

    • I too love here Rome series. I haven’t read them all, but parts. It’s more accurate historical fiction than most others.

      • Agree on the Masters of Rome series. They got me through A-level Cicero and I still enjoyed them.

  8. Heaven forbid anyone ever feature the accomplishments, personality, and just plain awesomeness of a woman without first performing a critique of her appearance.

  9. Once again women are put in their place, which is that their prime function is to meet the current standards of pretty. No matter what your accomplishments, if you are “overweight” and “plain of feature,” nothing else counts. It’s like when you put dressing on your salad and then the nutrients all turn to fat (Ragen reference, if you haven’t read it yet). Now, if she’d been a scientist, a prolific writer, well-dressed AND conventionally pretty, then we’d give her a nod.

    AAAAAAAUUUUUURRRRHHGHHHH!

  10. I have seen a couple photos of her in the past few days, and I just googled her image, and I have to say it is a sad and stunted person who can look at that woman and not see beauty. I don’t think it’s all that hard to see the beauty in most people, and this woman is easier than most, she has a warmth and a glow that shines through.

  11. Even though he had a Captain Hook-ish moustache that you could mop the floor with, he managed to control a vast Eurasian empire in the early 20th century.

    Who am I?
    ———

    It’s like a guessing game with these obits.

  12. My first thoughts upon reading this Obituary were:
    Oh for fuck’s sake!
    followed by
    What was written for Alfred Hitchcock’s Obit?
    http://the.hitchcock.zone/wiki/The_Times_%2830/Apr/1980%29_-_Obituary:_Alfred_Hitchcock
    Hmmm, where did it say he was a fat man other than a total hunk?

  13. Holy shit. I thought we women were living in the 21st century but I guess not.

  14. No, we are apparently stuck in the Ming dynasty. I am looking down in shock that my feet are not bound.

    She apparently died January 29th at age 77 after a long illness, which I will venture was NOT caused by fat, &, in fact, if it was a long illness, her fat probably extended her life.

    Thanks for everything you gave the world & for your very special, unique beauty, Colleen. Too bad the world did not give you the respect you so richly deserved.

    • Some of us did, Patsy. Some of us felt deep respect, maybe even awe regarding her accomplishments. I know I did when I found out she was a lot more than an excellent writer!

      I don’t know about Australia, but here in the U.S. women are 50.9 percent of the population. I wish that meant that we women were united in treasuring our sisters, especially when they *deserve* so much of our respect!

  15. Other ways fat phobia follows us into death:
    1. Ambulances not equipped for larger citizens.
    2. Hospitals not equipped for larger patients.
    3. Mortuaries & crematoriums not equipped for larger persons.
    4. Medical schools don’t accept larger bodies for study.

    I’m sure the list could go on…and on.


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