Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Why I Resigned As A NEDA Ambassador

I’ve been an Official Ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association since January of 2019. While I will continue to work to make sure NEDA makes good on their commitments to intersectional justice within Eating Disorders community, I’m very sad to say that based on their current actions I cannot in good faith continue as an Official Ambassador. Before I write more about that, I want to thank the staff I worked with who are genuinely committed to intersectional justice and are left without the support they need and deserve…Thank you for all you do, I’ll miss working with you.

Below are the resignation letter I sent to the leadership of the organization on Monday, as well as a video of my talk at the NEDA virtual walk on Saturday.

If you want to give feedback to NEDA (for example asking that they reinstate Chevese Turner and that they provide a detailed outline of specifically how NEDA will create systemic internal changes so that they can truly serve the entire diverse eating disorders community) you can send it to Susan Vibbert (susanvibbert at gmail dot com) She is a board member I met at the NEDA Gala last year and she has agreed to forward these communications to the NEDA board. You are also welcome to leave comments below and/or e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and I’ll get your feedback to her.

My Resignation Letter

I write to you today with a heavy heart. For nearly two years, I have been honored to serve as an Official NEDA Ambassador, donating my time, writing and speaking, online spaces, and funds to support what I believed was a renewed mission of supporting all individuals and families affected by eating disorders.

The abrupt firing of Chevese Turner without any transparency was deeply concerning to me and to many members of the eating disorders community. The absence of any messaging coming from NEDA about the situation continues to raise even more concerns. The failure over the past two weeks to respond to hundreds of public requests, for both transparency around the decision and clear commitments to continue the work that she was leading for intersectionality within the community, adds to the issues. Allowing people who claim to have “inside info” about the situation to act as the de facto voice of NEDA, posting racist and fatphobic screeds on your own Facebook page is inexcusable.

Many of us watched for years as NEDA centered the voices, stories, and needs of thin, cis, white, younger women to the near exclusion of all others, ignoring those of us asking for change. In fact, my first involvement with NEDA happened when they partnered with an “anti-obesity” organization and then defended their choice to me as a “compromise.” (I started a petition and letter writing campaign, and a few days later they ended the partnership, but it was clear to me that it was about optics and not harm reduction.)

Your merger with BEDA and Chevese was a second chance that I, and many other people, were giving NEDA to do the right thing. Chevese being fired with no transparency and no communication about ongoing commitments to intersectionality has been a clear message that NEDA is actively failing to become the inclusive, intersectional organization we know it could be, and that the community needs it to be.

Choosing to move forward with Weight Stigma Awareness Week is especially troubling. That you would take ownership of a fat woman’s project, fire the fat woman abruptly with no comment, and then claim credit for raising awareness of weight stigma as if nothing happened, is truly beyond the pale. Sadly NEDA has given me no reason to believe that you aren’t abandoning the pursuit of intersectional justice within eating disorders treatment and advocacy in everything but appearances, perhaps hoping to ride out the backlash and settle back into the comfort of focusing on the thin, white, cis, girls and young women while giving only lip service to others in the community.

While I am committed to doing whatever I can to help NEDA pursue a mission that includes all individuals and families affected by eating disorders, I am heartbroken to say that I can no longer be an official ambassador for NEDA. I can’t and won’t lend my face, body, labor, or reputation as an ambassador since it indicates a tacit approval of the current situation, and an inclusivity that isn’t currently being practiced, while holding a position that doesn’t have any authority to create change.

I am resigning as an Official NEDA Ambassador effective immediately, and I ask that I be removed from the Ambassador page of the website.

If I may offer one piece of advice, in our conversation Claire said that perhaps NEDA’s PR in this situation had been “a little too much by the book.” I don’t know what PR book you’re using, but I would recommend burning it, because this strategy is nothing short of disastrous. If the hope is that you can ride out the backlash and go back to business as usual, then I would urge you to reconsider. The backlash will be loud and it will be sustained, because people’s lives hang in the balance.

I implore NEDA to do better – reinstate Chevese, recommit clearly and publicly to centering the voices, stories, and needs of People of Color, Trans and Non-Binary people, Higher Weight people, and other marginalized populations, and then prove those commitments in your actions, and the allocation of your resources.

I continue to hope that NEDA becomes the organization that the diverse community of people who are affected by eating disorders desperately needs it to be, and I will continue to work toward that goal.

Sincerely,

Ragen Chastain

Talk from the virtual NEDA walk:

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