I got fat-papped* for the Daily Mail

Mike Lawn's picture of us
I co-produced an event at the weekend called The Fattylympics. I've given an account of what this work entailed elsewhere.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to keep them out, the event took place in an open space and was gate-crashed by some journalists who refused to respect our clearly-stated request that they stay away. This is ordinary behaviour in the UK, where unethical practise is endemic within the profession. One of the journalists was a photographer called Mike Lawn (possibly a pseudonym, the URL has the name Graham and files attributed to that name), who provides work for the Daily Mail, a right-wing tabloid. Lawn sneaked around all day, failing to disclose that he was a professional photographer, he took pictures of people without their consent and sold them for publication to a newspaper that probably everyone featured in it hates. I was one of the people, someone else was featured and mis-named as me (maybe because inter-departmental communication at the Mail is terrible, maybe because all fatties look the same to the normals, or could it even have been a strategy for covering their arses legally if they didn't actually name us correctly in the photographs?!).

I'm interested in the idea of fat people as objects of fascination. We are objects of fascination in medicine, and in research. I hadn't been able to articulate it until now but we are also photographic objects of fascination. Headless fatties make this clear. And being an object of fascination brings with it forms of symbolic violence; we are dehumanised and belittled in that gaze. Perhaps the quality of the fascination in each field varies, but it's a fascination nevertheless, people really want to look at us, especially when they are sure that we won't stare back or look at them. No one looked back at Mike Lawn, he's as forgettable as they come, but he was looking at all of us keenly on Saturday.

It is ludicrous to think of myself as a pappable object, an object of fascination. At the moment I spend most days at home, working on my thesis. I lead a fairly quiet life, with moments of exuberance like the Fattylympics dotted around it. I live on a small amount of money, I don't pursue fame or draw attention to myself through my appearance, although I am opinionated and like to share my thoughts where I can. I am mostly very obscure and unknown. It's unbelievable that my picture would help to sell newspapers, especially all red-faced at the end of a sweaty day, with my hair all dishevelled, and topped with a preposterous Fattylympics towelling headband. I was wearing Birkenstocks too.

I remember the moment it happened. Kay and I went to fetch the Fattylympics medals from the back of the car. This was the first time we had been alone together since the event started, and it was the last push before it was time to end. We were chatting intimately as we walked with the pole full of medals towards the venue. A guy hopped out from nowhere and took pictures of us without asking. I remember his weird, hunched over stance which I now understand was the stance of a photographer. He didn't have a showy camera. I foolishly assumed that because we were having a private moment we were immune to any intrusion. I thought it was weird he'd want to take our picture in that moment and asked him to send us his pictures. "I will," he said. Reader, he didn't. The reason he didn't is that the pictures he took are worth money to him and won't be thrown away on Facebook, or given to anyone. Maybe he'll sell them, and others he took, elsewhere.

Going through the photographs that other people shared, I see Mike Lawn more clearly. It's chilling to see him appear in other people's pictures, seeing him getting in there, taking pictures of trusting, unsuspecting people. This may be legal but it is abusive. Mike, you are probably reading this, what do you say? How much money did you earn from taking our pictures? How are you going to make this better?

I have regrets about how this played out on Saturday. We could not stop the media from gate-crashing, we confronted some people and did the best we could to keep an eye open for intrusive and unwanted behaviour, but these people are sneaky liars and they did their job under those terms. On the other hand, we could have been clearer about warning people that photographers and journalists may have been present. Because of these experiences I will probably never again produce a fat activist event in an open space. Thanks Mike.

Until fat people stop being dehumanised objects of fascination, we will continue to be money-makers for exploitative journalists and photographers. This means that fat activists, especially those in the UK, or any place where the media is feral, might think about building media strategies that protect participants, especially during public actions. This is a big job. It entails building media literacy, building enough self-esteem in people to be able to say no to all forms of exploitative journalism, to develop practical strategies for keeping people safe from media intrusion.

There are small consolations from the experience. A picture of two fat dykes carrying a pole of home-made medals appeared in a high-circulation newspaper. Hello, we exist. And Kay was wearing a t-shirt that I got her at the Allied Media Conference, for a fantastic project called All of Us or None, which fights discrimination against prisoners and supports prisoner rights. I am glad the image of a golden fist and the slogan All of Us or None got reproduced far and wide. It would have been better had we given our consent, however.

*papped = to have your picture taken by a paparazzo. Fat-papped = to have your picture taken and sold without your consent because you are fat.