I'm grateful to the friend who asked me offline about the image description on one of last week's posts where I described myself as a fat white woman.
I think there were really three components to her question, 1) why write an image description?, 2) why are you describing yourself as fat?, and 3) why bring up race?
Also, lots of my thoughts on these questions below, also, I'm glad someone asked me these questions. I felt curiosity in them, and an acknowledgement of lack of familiarity. I know my friends list is filled with folks with a variety of experiences with these topics, including some people who are probably more qualified than me to discuss any one of these topics, including people with a variety of lived experiences. I hope in this post and others I'm creating space for these conversations.
I'll leave an in-depth exploration of image descriptions for another time, but an image description is meant to provide information about the content of an image so that someone using a screen reader has the appropriate context. I describe myself as fat because I feel its a descriptive label and I would rather use a simple word for my body shape and size than use less clear euphemisms that suggest I'm uncomfortable with myself. I'm deeply grateful for all my body does and for my body. I was raised in a white American culture where hatred of one's body was as standard as dance class or lazing by the pool or at the lake on a summer day. There's a lot more that could be said about this, but bottom line I love my body, the one I have now, for what it does for me, for keeping going, for the transportation of walking, for joy in the summer breeze or an infinity of other delights, for being able to communicate with others.
As for race, if I wrote that the photo showed a person with asymmetrical blonde hair and blue eyes I'd be both implying my race and inaccurate (the photo shows my migraine glasses which obscure my eye color). As for implying whiteness with those attributes I'd be erasing black and brown women who have blonde hair and blue eyes. When I worked in an equity and inclusion department color-blind racism was one of the most common denominators in our work. I notice color-blind racism often even now, color-blind racism holds that there is harm, there is racism in discussing race. Part of why I include my race in self-descriptions is to combat the idea that being white is the norm.
[Image description: A selfie of me, Alison, a white woman with asymmetrical blonde hair wearing red migraine glasses, a yellow top with a blue polka dot sweater in front of greenery and an old brick building.]
This is Selfitudes, a publication by artist Alison Bergblom Johnson. For the latest with Alison, please visit her Now page on her website. Alison is a multidisciplinary artist interested in joy, disability, and identity.
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