Friday 30 June 2017

the HAES® files: Healthcare Providers Get Our Marching Orders for the War on Fat People

by Deb Burgard, PhD

My brilliant friend Jessica Wilson has taught me so much. She is fond of asking, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”

The question is burning in my mind after reading a recently released Washington DC think tank publication called “Provider Competencies for the Prevention and Management of Obesity”

Go take a look at this 8-page document that attempts to dictate how healthcare providers should carry out its vision, complete with a whopping 8 citations.

Back? Perhaps you noticed the 27 organizations on p.2, including the Academy for Eating Disorders, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics – organizations that many of us ASDAH members also belong to. Perhaps you noticed the utter lack of any organizations or groups from the fat community. Perhaps you noticed the instructions to have a more polite conversation (competency #6) with higher weight patients as you designate their bodies as diseased (competency #1). Or the definition of being a competent provider that hinges on prescribing weight loss (competency #5 – even as competency #9 piously advocates the use of evidence-based care.

So can we take a moment and ask:

  1. What is the problem we are trying to solve?

 Are we trying to police the bodies of a diverse population with an aim to make everyone the same size?  Or are we trying to support the health of a diverse population who face many barriers to competent and complete health care, only one of which is weight stigma?

Are we trying to fight a war with fat cells or are we trying to impact a health disparity?  Are we fighting for weight normativity, or weight inclusivity?

  1. Who has input into defining and then solving the problem?

 At this point it appears to be a wide variety of entities with a financial interest in policing body weight, but notably, not a single grass-roots organization representing fat people, the purported population that will be most affected by these guidelines.

It is infuriating that people who call themselves obesity experts are claiming the authority to act upon our lives and bodies when their source of information about our lives is research that is methodologically among the worst in our history. Obesity Experts are experts on a failed model of how to view and treat a problem that they have created out of the weight stigma we are all raised with. We should be humble about the vast amounts we do not know – not just in general from medical training that is steeped in weight bias, but also from medical research that rarely elucidates how to care for the actual medical issues of people who are stigmatized and face oppression.  What we do know is that the most consequential factors in health by far –  the social determinants of health – are almost never the target of intervention.  And the sources of the information, communities of actual fat people, are almost never partners in research and as far as I know, have never directed the agenda.

This has to stop.  

While you do not have to have the lived experience yourself to be knowledgeable, you do have to learn from the people who are living it, rather than the people who are stereotyping and oppressing them.  US history is littered with examples: kidnapping indigenous children to “civilize them,” white psychologists claiming blacks have “inferior IQ,” men claiming expertise about “female hysteria,” straight people claiming expertise in “the homosexual personality,” cis people deciding whether transgender people are “real,” nondisabled people designing ramps that are only reachable by a set of stairs, etc., etc.

It is almost always the actions of the targeted people who make change for the better, and now that people with non-conforming weights are more than 2/3 of the population (thank you for gerrymandering that district in our favor, thin people!) and supposedly GROWING with every breathless press release, the time is now to center the expertise of people who can teach us about the oppressions in their lives, the role we healthcare providers are playing, their resilience and skills and solutions, and how to support their well-being at every stage of change.

  1. What is the motivation for the Stakeholders?

The entities at the table producing these guidelines are indeed experts in how to make money by pathologizing a body size.  We don’t need more people to be trained to be this kind of “expert.” They call themselves “stakeholders.” They have a stake in keeping the money coming. They keep the money coming by setting up part of human diversity as a target for elimination.  Ironically, the failure to eliminate diversity is the engine driving the money – if you actually eliminate diversity, the money goes away.  So you have to keep the hate, and keep attacking the bodies that don’t conform, and keep coming up with the next big intervention that will quietly fail to make the bodies conform, after making millions.  And of course, meanwhile, the people whose bodies you are targeting are paying the price.

Monetizing the bodies of marginalized people as pathological is the blueprint.  This is how cash-strapped police departments make money with racially-biased traffic stops. How the prison-industrial system makes money by selectively enforcing a “war on crime” and a “war on drugs” by incarcerating poor, black, and brown people. How the insurance industry makes money by creating justifications for not covering sick people. How the drug industry changes cutoffs for defining disease so that they can expand their markets by labeling people sick or “at risk of being sick.”  How the data industry is building seemingly innocuous monitors to capture and sell your personal trail of identifying information to those very industries so they can add your body to the algorithm unless you have so much discretionary income that you can pay them not to.

For organizations claiming to exist for health and well-being to participate in this is despicable.  

This week we are facing the possible demise of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans are attempting to monetize the bodies of Medicaid beneficiaries on behalf of wealthy taxpayers. I am feeling the contradiction of trying to condemn a toxic aspect of the healthcare system while I am also desperately hoping we can defend it. A bit like the joke in the movie Annie Hall where one woman is complaining about the food and her friend says, “Yes, and such small portions!”  But the deeper problem is really the same, which is the corporate DNA that is amoral, which out of convenience preys upon the least powerful.  It comes back to money.  There are just some enterprises where our values must trump the imperative to make money. The imperative to grow the money is something that will always threaten every fence we build around what we value. And when we are taught, by ignorance or cunning, that some bodies have less value, we fail to protect.

Here are some skills I have learned from the labor of oppressed people:  Question every idea that assigns greater or lesser worth to certain human bodies. Question every process that claims expertise that fails to center the voices of the people living those lives. Question the motives of people – mindlessly or deliberately – carrying out the imperatives of the corporate DNA to monetize bodies. 

And for those of us facing these forces, in whatever way we do, we are the resistance. We are standing on the shoulders of our mostly anonymous ancestors in an ancient tradition that has brought us to this moment. At times it feels like we are engaged in a hopeless attempt to show up through the fog of the stereotypes and the engine of the machine, to let our lights shine and beckon our fellow humans to come back to their values. I know that they are not the problem – the problem is the problem.  The problem is the problem and the problem can be solved.


Deb Burgard, PhD, FAED, is a psychologist and activist, and one of the founders of the HAES model. She has been working on expanding the livable space for people in all kinds of bodies for the past 35 years.


via healthateverysizeblog

Spirit Airlines Screws Over Fat Passenger

WTFPreparing for a trip from Las Vegas to Denver on Spirit Airlines and knowing how terribly most airlines treat fat people, Joey Cordova went to the trouble and expense of purchasing two seats and calling ahead to make sure that they would have a seatbelt extender for him.

Unfortunately, Spirit oversold Mr. Cordova’s flight and, apparently to accommodate one more thin person, they kicked him off the flight.

Let’s look at all the ways that this is screwed up:

First, he should never have had to purchase two seats.  The airline is in the business of transporting people from one destination to another, and that should include a seat that accommodates them. Plane manufacturers knew that fat people existed when they built those planes, and airlines knew that fat people existed when they bought them. To blatantly exclude fat people and then try to make that our problem — asking us to pay twice as much as thin people for the exact same service — is simply indefensible.

And don’t buy into the BS that it’s not financially feasible. Canada has had a “one person, one fare” rule since 2008, and the airline industry is doing fine. In the U.S., Southwest Airlines offers a free second (and third) seat to those who need one, and they are making record profits.

Second, he should never have been thrown off the plane so that two thin people could fly. When a person needs two seats, then those two seats should be treated as one seat — which means that they should be kept together. (Harrowing stories of fat people who had to fight the airlines to put the two seats they purchased next to each other abound.) And they should not be viewed as an opportunity to seat an additional thin person should one materialize.

So if the airlines find that their choice to sell more seats than they actually have is blowing up in their face, then the proper course is to use a volunteer system offering greater amounts of money and perks to passengers who are willing to take a later flight. It is not to throw the nearest fat person off the plane and call it a day.

Read my full piece about this here!

Want to help create a world where fat people get the same experience as thin people when we fly?

Click Here to Register for the Fat Activism Conference!   

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!



via Dances With Fat

Thursday 29 June 2017

Delicious Mango Michelada Recipe

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. The following content is intended for readers who are 21 or older. #MyMicheladaMatch Hi...

Read more here!

via Skinned Knees

Girl Scouts Lead In Size Acceptance

Think of the childrenThe Girls Scouts have created a guide for what to do when your daughter calls herself fat.  I want to start with the good stuff because there’s a lot of it:

According to studies, a whopping 80 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Why? Because they’re constantly surrounded by both subtle and direct messages that curvier or heavier girls aren’t as well liked, aren’t as likely to succeed in business, and in general, aren’t going to have as much fun or happiness in their lives. Think about it: many of the animated heroines they idolize have unrealistically thin bodies, gossip magazines and websites are quick to call scandal on even an ounce of celebrity cellulite, and so called, “fat jokes”—despite their inherent offensiveness—remain completely acceptable in many circles as well as in movies and TV shows. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Thank you!  There’s nothing wrong fat bodies, but there’s plenty wrong with a society that disparages fat bodies so much that 10 year olds have completely bought into it.

by telling her that she’s not fat, she’s pretty, you’re reinforcing the idea that fatter, rounder, curvier or heavier bodies aren’t beautiful—which simply isn’t true. There are endless ways to be beautiful, and your daughter will grow up with a much healthier relationship to her body if you teach her that in a genuine way from a young age.

Yes – the idea that fat and pretty/beautiful/attractive etc. are mutually exclusive is absolutely fat shaming, not to mention total crap.

If she says she thinks her legs are bigger or her tummy is rounder than those of her friends, those may actually be correct observations—and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. “Your daughter should never be ashamed of the realities of her own body,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, “

Yup, yup, yup.  Teach kids early and often to appreciate and respect the diversity of body sizes.

Make sure she has positive body-image role models. Both the red carpet and the boardroom are becoming more diverse in terms of body size and shape, but girls might not see that reflected in the magazine aisle or on her favorite websites—so go the extra mile to compensate for some of the less-healthy messages your daughter may be getting from other sources. For younger girls, it might be helpful to show her some beautiful images of a women with very different body types, and tell her all about what they’ve accomplished, and what they’re best known for—their brains, their talents, their speed, their sense of humor. She needs to know you don’t have to be a certain size or shape to make it big in life.

The importance of having role models who look like you cannot be overstated – whether it’s people of color, people of size, disabled people/people with disabilities, queer and trans folks, or those with other marginalized identities. It’s also important that kids who aren’t part of marginalized groups) have examples role models who DON’T look like them.

Another reason your girl might call herself fat is because she’s heard you do the same to yourself. Your daughter listens to everything you say—and if you’re picking yourself apart in front of the mirror or complaining about your weight, there’s a good chance that she’ll follow in your self-disparaging footsteps. So do everyone a favor and be a little kinder to yourself. Identify parts of your body that serve you well and make note of the things you really do love about the way you look. Healthy habits like eating right and exercise are good for everyone, and should be a daily part of your routine, but fixating on your body and how it could or should be different isn’t healthy for anyone.

This is how internalized fatphobia reproduces itself – adults who have been beaten down and have crap self esteem are trying to raise kids with high self-esteem and that’s difficult to do because kids believe what they overhear more than what they’re told. So if you’re constantly engaging in negative body talk, but then try to turn around and tell a kid (including, say, a kid who may look like you do to being your genetic off-spring) that their body is perfect, they are going to smell the BS from a mile away. This isn’t the fault of parents and other adults, it’s the fault of a culture where we are encouraged (often by those with a profit interest!) to hate our bodies early, often, and out loud.  One of the ways that we can help kids break this cycle is by finding ways to break it within ourselves.

Sadly, there’s no instant fix to society’s fat-shaming problem and the limiting depictions of beauty that are held up as standards for girls and women. But there are things you can do at home with your daughter, and in your daily life in general, to help fight against this culture and create a better one where all are celebrated as wonderful and worthy.

This is the world that I want to live in.

So there’s a LOT of great stuff in this guide, unfortunately the first paragraph says:

“I’m fat.” Those are just two little words, five letters in total, but coming from your daughter, they’re enough to make your heart totally sink. How could a girl who’s typically so kind and accepting of others be so disparaging of herself?

Um…no. The idea that someone calling themselves “fat” is “disparaging” is the exact opposite of basically everything else this guide says which I felt I needed to mention, but only in the context of all the amazing things that they did. Overall I’m thrilled with the work that the Girl Scouts are doing to end fatphobia.

Want to help create a better world where all are celebrated as wonderful and worthy? Then:

Click Here to Register for the Fat Activism Conference!   

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!



via Dances With Fat

Monday 26 June 2017

Estimating Fetal Weight Increases Risk for Cesarean

Think twice about doing ultrasounds to estimate fetal weight before birth.

In this very large, multi-center study, just the act of estimating fetal weight raised the cesarean rate if the baby was predicted to be big, even when controlling for actual fetal size. It doubled the risk for cesarean in non-diabetic mothers who were thought to be carrying large babies.

Most women predicted to have a large baby will not actually have a large baby, yet fear of a large baby lowers the surgical threshold for many providers, resulting in unnecessary cesareans. Despite limited evidence of improved outcomes, estimating fetal weight is a very common intervention in most obstetric practices, particularly for women of size who tend to have larger babies on average. It is likely a major driver of the high cesarean rate in "obese" women.

Providers need to stop doing so many fetal weight estimates and over-managing the labors of suspected big babies. This is especially important in women of size.


Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Sep;128(3):487-94. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000001571. Association of Recorded Estimated Fetal Weight and Cesarean Delivery in Attempted Vaginal Delivery at Term. Froehlich RJ1, Sandoval G, Bailit JL, Grobman WA, Reddy UM, Wapner RJ, Varner MW, Thorp JM Jr, Prasad M, Tita AT, Saade G, Sorokin Y, Blackwell SC, Tolosa JE; MSCE, for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network. PMID: 27500344
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the association between documentation of estimated fetal weight, and its value, with cesarean delivery. METHODS: This was a secondary analysis of a multicenter observational cohort of 115,502 deliveries from 2008 to 2011. Data were abstracted by trained and certified study personnel. We included women at 37 weeks of gestation or greater attempting vaginal delivery with live, nonanomalous, singleton, vertex fetuses and no history of cesarean delivery. Rates and odds ratios (ORs) were calculated for women with ultrasonography or clinical estimated fetal weight compared with women without documentation of estimated fetal weight. Further subgroup analyses were performed for estimated fetal weight categories (less than 3,500, 3,500-3,999, and 4,000 g or greater) stratified by diabetic status. Multivariable analyses were performed to adjust for important potential confounding variables. RESULTS: We included 64,030 women. Cesarean delivery rates were 18.5% in the ultrasound estimated fetal weight group, 13.4% in the clinical estimated fetal weight group, and 11.7% in the no documented estimated fetal weight group (P<.001). After adjustment (including for birth weight), the adjusted OR of cesarean delivery was 1.44 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.31-1.58, P<.001) for women with ultrasound estimated fetal weight and 1.08 for clinical estimated fetal weight (95% CI 1.01-1.15, P=.017) compared with women with no documented estimated fetal weight (referent). The highest estimates of fetal weight conveyed the greatest odds of cesarean delivery. When ultrasound estimated fetal weight was 4,000 g or greater, the adjusted OR was 2.15 (95% CI 1.55-2.98, P<.001) in women without diabetes and 9.00 (95% CI 3.65-22.17, P<.001) in women with diabetes compared to those with estimated fetal weight less than 3,500 g. CONCLUSION: In this contemporary cohort of women attempting vaginal delivery at term, documentation of estimated fetal weight (obtained clinically or, particularly, by ultrasonography) was associated with increased odds of cesarean delivery. This relationship was strongest at higher fetal weight estimates, even after controlling for the effects of birth weight and other factors associated with increased cesarean delivery risk.

via The Well-Rounded Mama

Fat Is Not A Feeling

facepalmIn a recent piece in People Magazine called “Ashley Graham Opens Up About Confidence: ‘There Are Some Days I Feel Fat,’” the author claims, “No one does confidence like Ashley Graham,” and then calls her a “supermodel” who has “changed the fashion game when it comes to inclusion and acceptance of different body types in campaigns and on runways, and helped many real women embrace their own shapes.”

Ashley Graham was asked about confidence and responded: “There are some days I feel fat. I’m not convinced there’s going to be a moment where every woman in the world wakes up and feels like a million dollars. So, what I want to do is give women the tools that will help when those moments come up. Sometimes it can be as easy as telling yourself that you are beautiful.”

I don’t even know where to start with this mess.  Let’s start with making it clear why this is a mess.

In Graham’s quote, she is suggesting that being fat is a feeling, that being fat is what happens when you wake up and don’t feel like a million dollars.

That being fat is something that comes and goes in “moments” that are to be dealt with using “tools” like telling yourself that you are beautiful.

Except that this is total crap.

You can read my full piece about this here!

If you’re interested in making the world better for fat people,

Click Here to Registerfor the Fat Activism Conference!   

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!



via Dances With Fat

Sunday 25 June 2017

Religion at Pride and Conflicting Access Needs

The relationship between sexual orientation is complex, conflicted, and messy as hell.  At most Pride parades, you’ll run into both religious queer people marching with their churches and assholes with megaphones using God as an excuse to browbeat people.

There’s a good Twitter conversation here about the role of straight, religious allies:

I did like that other people were suggesting the same thing I mentioned here, the idea that Christian allies can help by distracting the haters quietly and politely and getting them to put their megaphones down.

But @IrishAtheist pointed out that an awful lot of LGBTQ people are victims of spiritual abuse and don’t want to be anybody’s mission field, no matter how affirming they are.

It’s complicated because religion can either be a huge positive or a huge negative, depending on your own experiences. At my first Pride, one of the things that was the most meaningful for me was seeing a big rainbow flag on the church near where the parade started, and all the affirming church groups marching.

But I’m a little unusual as ex-fundamentalists go, having never experienced direct spiritual abuse. I absorbed a lot of toxic and harmful theology, but I attended those churches on my own, rather than being taken to church by my parents. That made walking away from fundamentalism, if not easy, at least a lot less complicated, and it meant I never really considered walking away from Christianity all together.

But queer atheists and agnostics are a minority in multiple ways, and too much religious expression can make them feel unwelcome, particularly if they’ve experienced spiritual abuse about their orientation.

For talking about this issue, I really like The Unit of Caring‘s concept of competing access needs, which I found out about from Brute Reason. Here’s the basic idea as the Unit of Caring explains it:

Or (and here’s the example I am scared to share) I’m gay. And sometimes I wonder, ‘would the world be a better place if gay people didn’t exist?’ Telling me ‘wtf is wrong with you’ is really not helpful for enabling me to work through that question. And if I ask it in my campus LGBT center, or on tumblr, it is likely that my need to have that conversation is going to have a big painful collision with someone else’s need not to hear questions like that entertained seriously.

I need people who will think about my question and give me honest answers, to the best of their ability. I won’t be able to get over this question until someone reaches out to me with a genuine spirit of respect and curiosity so we can talk about the answer.

On the other hand, the needs of other people to not be around serious conversations about whether they deserve to exist is really valid and really important. There should be safe spaces where my question is prohibited. There should be lots and lots of spaces where my question is prohibited, actually. Everyone in the world should have access to spaces where my question is prohibited.

But if my question is prohibited everywhere – if it is a universal norm that no decent human being will have a conversation with me about this – then it will keep lurking in the back of my head, unanswered. Or, even worse, I’ll turn for answers to the people who are willing to ignore this universal norm, the people who don’t care about being regarded as decent human beings, and I’ll internalize the things they are saying because no one else is in that space countering them.

And if a ‘safe space for asking really weird hypothetical questions without being judged’ exists, I can go there and ask, and people will take me seriously and I’ll know that they’re trying to give honest answers.

People can have valid and completely incompatible needs. It doesn’t make either person bad or wrong for having those needs. It doesn’t even mean they can’t be friends or should never interact; it just means that they need *separate* places to have those needs met.

My need to have my identity as a bi Christian affirmed and supported is real and valid. So is the need of LGBTQ victims of spiritual abuse to have queer-friendly spaces where they won’t have *anything* religious pushed on them. We’re not going to get those needs met in the same spaces, but that’s okay. Ideally, a large city’s Pride would have multiple events with multiple different focuses.  Maybe there’s a queer atheist/agnostic/secular humanist meet-up, and there’s also a queer interfaith religious ceremony, and those things are nowhere near each other.

via Kelly Thinks Too Much

Friday 23 June 2017

Roxane Gay, Mamamia, and Fat Exclusionary Radical Feminism

What Will you DefendThe problem of some women excluding other women from their feminism is not new: you need look no further than SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). I object both to the practice of excluding sex workers and trans folks, and to characterizing any feminist who does so as “radical” unless we’re saying that it’s radically terrible behavior. Although not given an acronym, racism has also been and still is a huge problem in feminism.

There’s another common exclusion of these so-called “radical” feminists, and that’s fat women. The exclusion of fat women works differently than that of trans women and sex workers in that it’s less direct…more subtle. It comes in forms like concern trolling of fat women (ie: responding to demands for respect and accommodation with unrequested non sequitur hand-wringing about our health), lack of representation of fat women, diet and weight loss messages that suggest that a thinner body is a better body in feminist spaces, and push-back against feminist spaces that don’t allow diet and weight loss talk.

And, in the recent failure by Mamamia in its interview of Roxane Gay, the refusal to accommodate fat women, and the failure to treat us with respect.

Read my full piece about this here!

Want to talk about fat activism from an intersectional perspective?

Click Here to Registerfor the Fat Activism Conference!   

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!


via Dances With Fat

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Solstice Cycle

Long stems lie in the grass as dead soldiers in battle. Tiny moths flutter gamely away from my roaring machine of whirling death while toads scramble madly in too tall grass.

Too tall for whom? And why?

The clover huddles low, sweet clumps of flowers shorn away and when the bees come they will go hungry. Smiling daisies are slaughtered before they can bring their light to the world and unacceptable weeds are ripped from the earth.

Bright paintbrushes that dot the forest floor are safe from me behind a wall of slender birches but the closer I get the more I am warned away by slender sisters with probing mouths. They will take my blood as I take theirs.

It is right, if not completely fair for I am far larger than they. Still, I am driven off by their persistence and am secretly grateful. Later, after rain and sun and moon, I will return. And so will they.

via Fat and Not Afraid

Friday 16 June 2017

the HAES® files: History of the Health At Every Size® Movement – Early 21st Century (Part 6)

by Barbara Altman Bruno, PhD, LCSW

In response to requests from our readers, the Health At Every Size Blog is honored to print Barbara Altman Bruno’s history of the HAES movement. Most of the installments of this history have been previously published in ASDAH member newsletters. This post is Part Six in a series.

The HAES movement and the war against obesity responded increasingly to each other by the 21st century. The war against obesity ramped up to what sociologist Abigail Saguy referred to as a moral panic, from the late 1990s on. It was abetted by biased research, which influenced publications and guidelines from the U.S. government, largely fueled by Morgan Downey. Downey, former Executive Vice President of the Obesity Society and Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the American Obesity Association, “dedicated more than 10 years to driving awareness, support and actionable change to policies affecting obesity in America.”

Among Downey’s many accomplishments were his successful efforts to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration recognize obesity as a disease, and his work to have obesity elevated in both Democratic and Republican Party platforms. This ultimately resulted in both political parties holding forums on future obesity policy, at their respective 2008 national conventions.

Other accomplishments include Downey’s success in changing Internal Revenue Service policies to allow taxpayers to deduct costs of obesity treatments as a medical deduction and in expanding National Institutes of Health research funding on obesity. He created the first series of conferences on obesity and public policy, collaborated with the Federal Trade Commission Partnership for Healthy Weight Management on efforts to control weight-loss fraud, and led efforts to create ‘The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001’.

According to, “Mr. Downey also served as the director of the Washington office of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, where he organized major expansions of Medicare coverage of bariatric surgery in National Coverage Determination…

“He consults with several organizations on obesity issues including Allergan Inc., Amylin Pharmaeuticals Inc., Arena Pharmaceuticals, Orexigen Therapeutics.”

Psychologist Bonnie Bernell published Bountiful Women in 2000. In her review of the book, psychologist Deb Burgard said, “Bernell’s gift is to make visible the everyday heroines all around us, the large women who prove through their courage, humor, and sheer heart that you do not have to be rich and thin to have a satisfying life.”

Fatima Parker, Activism Vice President of the International Size Acceptance Association, began appearing in British, French, and Middle Eastern/North African media in 2000, promoting size acceptance and the Health at Every Size paradigm.

Deb Burgard started the Showmethedata (SMTD) listserv in 2001. SMTD is a private association of research-oriented consumers and professionals who are working within the Health at Every Size model. The purpose of the listserv is to “promote responsible and accurately-reported research on weight-related issues, and ‘scientific literacy’ and critical thinking skills for the public.” Burgard started “Body Positive,” a website aiming to help boost body image at any weight. She had worked with the healthiest fat women and the sickest thin women, and found it impossible to prescribe for fat people, behaviors and intentions that harmed people with eating disorders.

Investigative reporter Alicia Mundy’s book, Dispensing with the Truth, appeared in 2001. It revealed the workings of drug companies, the diet drugs Redux and fen-phen, and some of their victims. It also named the new industry—combining drug companies, researchers, and obesity experts–”Obesity, Inc.”

In 2002, Dr. William Klish told the Houston Chronicle: “If we don’t get this epidemic [of childhood obesity] in check, for the first time in a century children will be looking forward to a shorter life expectancy than their parents.” The journalist of the Chronicle went on to explain the effect. “Since then, Klish’s statement has entered the lexicon of obesity scaremongers…without so much as a shred of credible research to back it up. Klish himself told the Center for Consumer Freedom that while he is the originator of this pessimistic prognostication, his claim does not come from ‘evidence-based research.’ Rather, he explained, ‘It’s based on intuition.’

Inspired by a Bruno activism workshop in AHELP, psychologist Claudia Clark of Bowling Green State University began participating in health fairs and observing No Diet Day at the university. She then created a size acceptance group on campus, and organized women’s body image retreats. Her college hosted an organizational meeting of the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) on May 16, 2003. Cheri Erdman and Paul Ernsberger presented at that one-day meeting to about 30 attendees. Approximately 14 people continued on later that afternoon to brainstorm potential organizational structure, mission and goals, membership criteria and fees, etc. Clark headed up ASDAH, Miriam Berg was the Newsletter Editor, Roki Abakoui was membership chair (followed by Anne Kaplan) and Dana Schuster took on Conference planning. The original group working as a ‘steering committee’ included: Donna Pittman, Roki Abakoui, Dana Schuster, Paul Ernsberger, Catherine Shufelt, Veronica Cook-Euell, Judy Miller, Lisa Breisch, Francie Astrom, Miriam Berg, Renee Schultz, Darshana Pandya, Judy Borcherdt, Joanne Ikeda, and Ellen Shuman. Miriam Berg and Dana Schuster were charged with the task to take all of the discussion and ideas and draft a mission statement and goals for ASDAH. It is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization, whose members and leaders are committed to Health at Every Size principles. LynnEllen Marcus started the ASDAH Yahoo listserv group in 2006.

Psychologist Peggy Elam started Pearlsong Press in the autumn of 2003. According to their website, “Pearlsong Press endorses Health At Every Size®, and promises that every book and product we publish or offer for sale…celebrates size diversity or at least does not contradict it.”

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former Editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), noted in 2004: “On the question of obesity, physicians have been extensively involved with the pharmaceutical industry, especially opinion leaders and in the high ranks of academia. The involvement was in many instances quite deep. It involved consulting, service on speakers’ bureaus, and service on advisory boards. And at the same time some of these financially conflicted individuals were producing biased obesity materials, biased obesity lectures, and biased obesity articles in major journals.”

Colorado law professor Paul Campos wrote The Obesity Myth in 2004, which was subsequently republished as The Diet Myth. He continued exposing anti-obesity public health messages in newspaper and magazine columns, blogs, and debates, and recommended giving up the war on obesity.

Fat activist Marilyn Wann, author of Fat!So?, began the fat studies listserv in 2004, having been inspired by an exhibit on the fat body by Columbia University graduate student Lori Don Levan. Wann shares, “It was a weekend conference and a fat-positive art show at the school’s art gallery in the end of February 2004…I was a keynote speaker and so were Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin from Women En Large. Kate LeBesco gave a great talk. During Lori’s conference, I stayed with a friend, Anahid Kassabian…Anahid suggested that, ‘Someone needs to start the field of fat studies and it should be you.’”

Wann “realized I could invite every academic person I knew to join an email list and see what happened. I invited 50 or 60 people and many of them joined. I knew academic people with interest in weight-related topics because I had been going around giving talks on college campuses for 7 or 8 years.”

Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, entangled herself in politicized fat-fear mongering. “If you looked at any epidemic—whether it’s influenza or plague from the Middle Ages—they are not as serious as the epidemic of obesity in the terms of the health impact on our country and our society,” said Gerberding in 2004. Gerberding requested $6.9 billion for the CDC’s 2005 budget by claiming 400,000 deaths per year due to obesity.

A study by CDC researchers and others was published in Obesity Research, claiming that obesity-related medical expenditures in 2003 cost $75 billion, half financed by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid. In January 2005, the CDC published an erratum in JAMA, lowering the estimate of deaths attributable to excess weight to 365,000/year. (See Center for Consumer Freedom.)

Social workers and sisters Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel published Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Therapist’s Guide to Treating Compulsive Eating, in 2004. It was followed in 2006 by The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care. Their website is Matz published “Recipe for Life” in Psychotherapy Networker, Jan.-Feb. 2011.

In their 2004 book, The Spirit and Science of Holistic Health, health educators Karen Carrier and Jon Robison contrast traditional, Cartesian views about weight with holism, including Health at Every Size. Says David Sobel, MD, author of Healthy Pleasures, “Holistic health promotion replaces disease with joy, fear with meaning, and external control with inner trust.”

Published to the HAES Blog with permission from Barbara Altman Bruno. Copyright © 2017 Barbara Bruno. All rights reserved.

Readers can access previous installments of this history here:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5

Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., DCSW has been a clinical social worker, size acceptance activist, and HAES pioneer.  She has presented at clinical conferences, appeared in television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and demonstrations, and has written many articles, including well-being columns for larger people, guidelines for therapists who treat fat clients, a brief history of HAES, and a book, Worth Your Weight (what you CAN do about a weight problem).  She is former co-chair of education for ASDAH and is on the Advisory Boards of NAAFA and The Fat Studies Journal.

via healthateverysizeblog

Hashtag Highlights Early Body Shaming Experiences

ShamelessA heartbreaking new hashtag is trending. People are using #TheySaid to tell their stories of experiencing body shaming. The hashtag was started on May 25th by Sally Bergesen, who kicked things off by talking about her own memory of body shaming.

This kind of crap needs to stop, like, yesterday. If you tell kids they should hate their bodies — they’ll believe you. If you tell them it’s OK to hate kids who are bigger than they are, then they’ll believe you and they’ll create the next generation of stories for #TheySaid.

Sally Bergesen, the woman who started the hashtag, is also the CEO of Oiselle, a sports apparel brand. As an athlete who wants to support people who are doing the right thing when it comes to Size Acceptance, I immediately headed to her website. Sadly, what I found was pretty disappointing.

You can read my entire piece about this here!

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If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

via Dances With Fat

Thursday 15 June 2017

Fatshion: Living that Crop Top Life

Hi friends! I’m so excited to share these amazing photos that one of my partners, Mayra Cortez, took of me. She’s this great photographer living in Los Angeles. She’s self-taught...

Read more here!

via Skinned Knees

#TBT Meeting Your Idols, Finding Body Acceptance

Golda and Joan Osborne Back in 2007, I went to a now-defunct Barnes & Noble to meet one of my favorite artists and songwriters of all time, Joan Osborne. Her music had meant so much to me for so many years, and I was so excited to get to meet her.

I remember that moment really vividly, both because I got to meet someone I idolized and because it was one of those moments that made me reevaluate my endless quest for thinness.

Those if you who have seen my TEDx talk may remember me talking about “diet shakes that gave me the shakes” and back in 2007 I was using those as a dinner substitute when weight watchers stopped working for me. They were recommended by a fitness instructor I was working with to help get my weight loss “back on track.” I can’t remember if they did anything for me other than make me feel horrible, shaky, and sweaty. It was likely low blood sugar but I don’t actually know.

I waited in line for what seems like ages to meet Joan. I had had my dinner shake back at the office and as I waited I felt woozy and agitated. I tried to think of what I would say to pretty much my favorite artist of all time, whose songs had meant so much to me for so many years and whose singing voice I always seemed to emulate.

Finally I get to meet her and I felt like I sounded incoherent. I said something to her about her being a goddess, which sounded great in my mind but was mildly weird when actually said aloud. She signed my CD and I quickly asked the guy in line behind me to snap this picture.

I felt dejected as I walked down to the subway. My interaction with Joan was weird, and I was hungry but knew that when I got home I “couldn’t” have dinner. In my mind, the two were connected. Like, if I could have just had a normal meal that day I would have felt less all over the place and could have had a reasonable interaction with this person whose music meant so much to me. This wasn’t the nail in the coffin on my dieting life, but perhaps it was the moment when I considered buying the coffin in the first place.

Golda’s debut album, “A Little Luck” is available everywhere now. For more info, go to

#TBT Meeting Your Idols, Finding Body Acceptance originally appeared on Body Love Wellness ( on June 15, 2017.

via Body Love Wellness

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Exactly How Not To Fight nazis

This meme is making the rounds and we need to talk about it:

How not to protest Nazis

As activists one of the things that we always have to be careful about is that we don’t add to the marginalization of other groups with our activism.  In this case, the person who created this meme is trying to fight nazis through the use of fat shaming.  And that’s just crap.

Even if you are someone who purposefully engages in fatshaming (aka: an asshole) this is still a terrible idea – nazis are legitimately horrible, dangerous, and need to be stopped, and making this about how he looks massively minimizes the issue.  What would the makers and sharers of this meme do when presented with someone who did fit the current stereotype of attractiveness – say “Well, I guess he has a point”?

In order to fight nazis and white supremacists we must reject the entire ridiculous premise of their argument.  Making it about whether or not each individual meets some definition of “genetically superior” accepts the premise which means that the argument has already been lost. Fat shaming is wrong no matter how horrible the subject is, because the subject’s body size has nothing to do with it.

So let’s take another stab at this:

Fight nazis without fat shaming by learning more about Intersectional Fat Activism! Register for the Fat Activism Conference and get tools, skills, and community:

Click Here to Register!   Earlybird registration ends June 15th!

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

In training for an IRONMAN triathlon.  If you’re interested, you can find my training blog here

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

via Dances With Fat

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Engaging with the fundies at Pride?

Last year’s Baltimore Pride was my first Pride event.  As I’ve mentioned before, it was *awesome.* Also as I’ve mentioned before, I was, shall we say, emotionally unprepared for the fundamentalist jerk-weasels with the bullhorns, and may have overreacted a small bit to their presence. (That is, I got into a shouting match about how God is love and they’re the ones who need to go read their Bibles.)  This was less than helpful, both because it stressed me right the hell out and because it kept them lingering at our part of the parade, rather than moving on to bother someone else.

It occurred to me afterwards that an absolutely wonderful thing allies could do to show their support would be to divert and distract these folks. Not by yelling at them or making a big scene, but just by quietly asking them some questions. Basically play the role of someone who’s interested in what they have to say, and see if you can get them to engage with you, one on one, quietly.  Because every minute they spend looking up some passage in Leviticus for you and answering your oh-so-sincere questions is a minute they’re not yelling hellfire and damnation at someone who’s hurt by it.

The giant downside of course, is that you’ve taught them that yelling hate gets them the kind of attention they want. And they will, of course, spin the story such that you were a person suffering from same-sex attraction, conned by the liberal media, who they rescued from the flames of hell. But, then, lying liars who lie will claim that they used to be gay and God fixed them, or whatever they need to claim to try to convince people that their hate is a holy cause. So, I’d be wary of saying things that agree with them or sound like you’re convinced by their cherry-picked passages.

This is just an idea I’m tossing around in my head.  It seems like it might be worth attempting, to make Pride events a little safer for people who’ve come out of (or are still in) oppressive religious environments and just need one day to be who they are. I’m not sure if giving the haters even that much validation is a good thing, though.

via Kelly Thinks Too Much

Monday 12 June 2017

Stereotypes, Sizeism, and Ableism

LiesAs my regular readers know, I have another blog dedicated to my journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon. Today I got a comment (that I did not approve, for reasons that will become obvious) that said “None of this is true, nobody who weighs as much as you can walk around the block let alone complete the training you are claiming to complete.”

This kind of comment is really tricky to deal with because it invokes a tangled mess of intersectional oppression, stereotypes, and weight loss myths.

On one hand, it’s not ok for people to attempt to replace the lived experiences of fat people with their stereotypes, or to erase the existence of fat athletes, or to call us liars based on the fact that we don’t fit their stereotypes. On the other, if we’re not careful challenging stereotypes such as this can end up adding to the oppression of fat people who are dealing with disability/mobility challenges etc. by engaging in the completely bullshit Good Fatty/Bad Fatty dichotomy.

The truth is that fat people and our mobility/athleticism have nothing to do with this – fat people have different levels of mobility and athleticism, just like thin people do. The problem here is the stereotyping of fat people, the constant suggestion that we should blame everything on our fat, and the oppressional intersections of sizeism and ableism.

The oppression that lies at the intersection of sizeism and ableism is absolutely staggering and it leads to horrific treatment of disabled fat people/fat people with disabilities. And, in a way that is similar to how those who have (however temporarily) manipulated their bodies to be smaller are used to shame fat people, often fat athletes are used (by the same fatphobes who bully and harass us in other forums) as a way to further the oppression of fat people who aren’t athletes. The goal being to pit fat people against each other, convincing some to throw others under the bus in an attempt to get a modicum of respect from people whose opinions we shouldn’t care about at all.

Then there is the suggestion that we should blame our body size for literally anything and everything that we aren’t happy with in our lives. This includes everything from the assumption that any mobility limitation is because of we are fat (ignoring the fact that thin people can have the same limitations) as well as the tendency to give weight loss the credit for gains in mobility or athleticism such that if a fat person starts a fitness regimen that sees them gain strength, stamina and/or flexibility, as well as (at least in the short term) weight loss, our fatphobic society encourages us to  credit the weight loss and not the fitness routine for any gains in fitness.

This also leads to discrepancies in healthcare, when thin people with mobility limitations that can be rehabbed (of course, not all can, and those that can are under no obligation to do so) are given tons of options for building strength, stamina, flexibility, and mobility, while fat people in the same situation are typically just given diets whose most common outcome is weight regain.

So to review:

  • Stereotypes are bullshit. Sizeism is bullshit. Ableism is bullshit.
  • Participating in movement/fitness/exercise is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness and fat people who participate are not better than, nor should they be “held up as examples” to (or against), fat people who don’t participate.
  • There should be no shame or blame when it comes to disabilities or mobility limitations ever.  The discussion should revolve around increasing accessibility and eliminating oppression.
  • Stereotypes are bullshit. Sizeism is bullshit. Ableism is bullshit.

Want learn more about Intersectional Fat Activism? Register for the Fat Activism Conference and get the tools, skills, and community you need

Click Here to Register!   Earlybird registration ends June 15th!

If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a member or making a contribution.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

In training for an IRONMAN triathlon.  If you’re interested, you can find my training blog here

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

via Dances With Fat

Sunday 11 June 2017


For the first time ever, my local area had a Pride march!  We had a small rally with three speakers who represented a range of ages and experiences, and then we marched a short loop.  I carried the bi pride flag, which made me ridiculously happy.  We had at least 50 or 60 people, a pretty good turnout for the first year, especially when a lot of people went up to Capital Pride instead.

After the ugly reception that a prior Pride event had gotten (people felt the need to tear down flyers and to put up anti-LGBT religious signs in their cars near the event), I was worried we’d be catching some kind of flak from the religious haters.  Particularly as motivated as they were to cause a stink about library sex ed because (gasp!) the teacher was queer.  But, there was no pushback that I saw.

For me, the best moment was when one of the speakers, a genderqueer teen, talked about the depression he’d* gone through as a kid. He mentioned how part of accepting himself was accepting being fat as a good thing and reclaiming that word.  I applauded, he pointed at me and grinned, and it turned into a round of applause.  I was really happy to be able to kick off an outpouring of support for a fat teen, that yes, it is okay to be fat, your body is awesome, and you are awesome.

*He was introduced by someone who knows him personally using he/him pronouns, but he didn’t actually say those were his pronouns. I’m going with he/him/his based on the info I have. So, awesome genderqueer teen, if you happen to be reading this and you go, “Wow, that’s me…but those aren’t my pronouns!” please let me know & I’ll make corrections.

via Kelly Thinks Too Much

Friday 9 June 2017

Pride Month is HERE

Pride week questionnaire, stolen from a friend.

Sexuality: I'm bi; I am attracted to people from both (main?) genders. This doesn't change because I'm married to a man, it just makes things more fun.

Pronouns: She/her.

Gender identity: Cisgender, which means I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth.

Relationship status: Gleefully, ridiculously, happily, married.

Celebrity crush: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Queen Latifah.

Crush: I tend to be affectionate and crush-like towards friends I'm closest too. Noone has complained.

Best Friend: Other than Ryan? That'd be Erin, who's known me since junior kindergarten.

When you came out? Sometime in late highschool. My first serious girl crush was an exchange student from Berlin named Stephanie. We were in the concert band together and I just thought she was such a wonderful person. She wasn't interested in me that way, but we wrote letters back and forth for a few years. Unfortunately have lost touch, even with Facebook.

I'm still not all the way out of the closet with most of my family, as I don't feel like I'd get 100% support. My parents are fairly conservative and while I love my inlaws to death, they are too in some ways. I don't want to hear how I need to pick a team, or have them worrying I'll up and leave my family some day for a hot lady friend.

HI FAMILY IF YOU'RE READING THIS! You probably already guessed it but didn't say anything, but hi! I'm bisexual!

First person you came out to: Myself. It was a long slow realization that liking girls AND boys from an early age was Weird and I Should Not Mention It, so I passed it off as kids being kids and just being curious about Adult Things. Eventually I said to myself: Self, you like girls. They are sparkly and beautiful, amazing people. Also, you like guys. They are warm and solid, amazing people. This is OK.

First gf/bf: Ryan was my first boyfriend, awaaaaaay back in grade 7. He was the shyest, sweetest guy. Still is, though he's not shy, he's an introvert. I still have the little valentine he gave me when he asked me out.

First heart break: My first BIG heartbreak came from an asshole named Mike. I found out through friends that he was cheating on me and he confirmed it the next time we spoke on the phone. I cried so hard and I kinda still despise him to this day.

Ever had a crush on a straight person? Um yes? Lots of times. I even married one!

Fallen for a friend? Yes.

Cool straight friend: Erin is damn cool.

Best LGBTQ+ friend: I've known Will since way back in highschool and we've been good friends a long time.

Person that made you doubt your sexuality: Once I realized what bisexuality is I latched onto the term wholeheartedly. Noone has been able to shake that.

Are you proud of your sexuality?: Yes? That's a weird way of putting it. It's not an accomplishment. It's not like I woke up and said to myself "I'm going to train myself really hard and become bi!" like I did for my running. That was something I'm still proud of. I'm just me. I'm fairly out and open about it, but it's not like it comes up very much. Being married to a man gives me straight passing privilege like whoa and erases my bisexuality. That's not something I'm proud of.

Are you comfortable with your sexuality? Definitely. What's not to like? I get the best of both worlds, 100%.

Describe yourself: Eco-feminist hippie Pagan, smasher of the patriarchy, protector of the innocent and helpless.

LGBTQ+ hero: Queen Latifah.

  Favourite part of being LGBTQ+?: Aaaaall the rainbow things.

via Fat and Not Afraid

Wednesday 7 June 2017

100 Fat Activists #32: Political Shifts in the 1990s

A classic spread from the second Pretty Big catalogue
198?/199? That's Audrey with the trombone
I've written here that 1989 was a big year for fat activism in the UK, with The London Fat Women's Group gaining a lot of visibility and their successful conference. I've heard it said that the values of one decade don't really kick in until much later. Although the 1980s is often associated, in the West at least, with the spread of neoliberalism through Thatcher and Reagan, fat feminism of that period was pretty radical and reflected lesbian feminist ethics, community and culture. It wasn't until the 1990s that that spirit of early fat feminism was pushed aside in fat activism and the movement took a turn towards conservatism.

This turn was, intentional or not, an attempt to appeal to an idea of what mainstream women wanted and needed. Feminism was seen as alienating, so some of the more prominent proponents and interventions at the time distanced themselves from it even as they benefitted directly from the earlier work of fat lesbians.

This went as far as erasure. For example Sue Dyson quoted the fat dykes statement directly in her book. This was a series of statements developed at the Fat Women's Conference, and which may have had roots in earlier fat feminist community activism (I saw a version of it in Judy Freespirit's archives). Yes Dyson never mentions this, the words 'fat dyke' have been removed.

There was also a shift in language at this time. Fat was seen as too abrasive, so euphemisms like 'size,' 'large,' 'big' and so on became commonplace. In my view this pandered to people's fears about fat and marginalised those of us who use the word freely to describe ourselves.

Shelly Bovey's work rightly attacked what sometimes came across as banality in cheerleading fat activism but my feeling is that she ended up universalising her own pain in being fat and foreclosed a possibility of finding power and strength in fatness. She produced a series of books that gradually eroded a message of fat feminist liberation: first shifting her language to a more euphemistic set of terms and then publishing a weight loss book with the feminist publisher who had published my own Fat & Proud. I have found the latter enlightening regarding the labour involved in maintaining weight loss, but I still regard it as a sad conclusion to a trilogy that was so promising when it began. Her books seem to exemplify the petering out of the earlier ideas and energy which, perhaps, could not be sustained by everybody.

Another shift occurred through the rise of consumerism and the emergence of charismatic leadership, which was less collective in its approach to community-building. Pretty Big magazine is a good example of this shift. It was produced independently by Audrey Winkler, a really dynamic community-minded ex-magistrate and entrepreneur from the Yorkshire Dales. She'd been involved with the knitwear industry for a while and was interested in selling large-sized clothes. Captivating and persuasive, with pink hair, she found that her shop was developing a community and so she started publishing the magazine. Oh yes, and it was through this magazine that I found myself in a hotel in Troon one day, having made it to the final of the Pretty Big modelling competition! Ack, what happened to those pictures?!

Pretty Big Aims & Intentions

Pretty Big
...acts as a club for all women who are size 16+
...promotes a positive self-image for all bigger women
...believes being big is not a sin and should not be a handicap
...speaks out on behalf of bigger women everywhere
...concentrates on healthy living
...shows "dieting" the door
...includes profiles of successful big women
...seeks out information on large sizes fashion and who is making them
...conducts shopping surveys and tells you who stocks larger sizes
...presents the PRETTY BIG SHOPS AWARD to shops nominated by readers for outstanding service to bigger women
...acts as a forum where you can air your views, share your thoughts, or ask for help and advice
...responds sympathetically to your problems

Pretty Big was pretty great and reflected the energy and tenacity of its owner, but it was a world away from the earlier fat feminisms and activisms that had laid the groundwork for such an endeavour. What continues to sit uneasily with me is the reinvention that took place in fat activism, one which rather arrogantly assumed that little of value had come before, that the movement's founders could never have been fat feminist lesbians, and that each new intervention was an improvement on the last. There was a troubling amnesia in place which obscured the radical work that had happened previously. This remains a problem today.

Bovey, S. (1989) Being Fat is Not a Sin, London: Pandora

Bovey, S. (1994) The Forbidden Body: why being fat is not a sin, London: Pandora.

Bovey, S. (2001) What Have You Got to Lose? The Great Weight Debate and How to Diet Successfully, London: The Women's Press.

Dyson, S. (1991) A weight off your mind: how to stop worrying about your body size, London: Sheldon Press.

via Obesity Timebomb

100 Fat Activists #31: Let It All Hang Out

In recent weeks Virgie Tovar reminded me of Let It All Hang Out, a fat dyke gathering which took place in San Francisco in 1989, 1990 and 1991.

I'm wondering if these parties sprang from the Robust and Rowdy potluck dances that took place in Oakland around 1987 or so, perhaps commenters can clarify. Anyway, Robust and Rowdy, Let It All Hang Out, what excellent sentiments! I understand that LIAHO was part of the annual Pride parade at that time but it also reminds me of the spirit of the Fat-In.

I'm including here a fantastic flyer that I found in Judy Freespirit's archive, and an exuberant photo from Sinister Wisdom #49. LIAHO certainly looked like the place to be!

via Obesity Timebomb

100 Fat Activists #30: Fat Poets

Two collections of poetry stand out for me as classic fat feminist texts of the 1980s. These are The Fat Black Woman's Poems by Grace Nichols and The Fat Woman Measures Up by CM Donald. The former appeared in 1884 and had a good number of reprints, the latter in 1986. I wonder if both books went on to influence a collective of US fat poets who produced an anthology in 2009, referenced below.

My preference of the two volumes has tended to be towards CM Donald's work. The pieces are angry, vulnerable, piss-taking, spiky, and I like that a lot. I identify with the speaker where they are written in the first person. I understand that this is likely because she is a white dyke like me.

When I first read The Fat Black Woman's Poems I was put off by an earlier cover to that pictured here, and what to me then looked like a cutesy rendering of fat black embodiment. One stanza, often quoted when people referenced the collection, reinforced this view of black women's fatness:

Fat is a darling
A dumpling
A squeeze
Fat is cuddles
Up a baby's sleeve

Contrast this with CM Donald's work:
    To those women
Who find me cuddly
Who like fat women
And want to hug them all;

I am not your mother
Your baby or your shelter
And I am not your blasted teddy bear

The fat black woman of Grace Nichols' poems is powerful, irreverent and sassy and I couldn't see through the strong black woman stereotype to enjoy the poetry at that time. I felt that the figure of a fat black woman who is larger than life let everyone off the hook about fatphobia, racism and sexism. I wondered if this was about the poets' respective standpoints in relation to fat, were they fat? Did this affect what they wrote? I still don't know.

But revisiting them both now, my feelings have changed. I still adore CM Donald's work and often wonder what happened to her. I have grown to appreciate The Fat Black Woman's Poems for the richness of their imagery, their sexuality, their rendering of fat black women who are so often made invisible in fat activism. Perhaps back in the day they were reduced to a stereotype because many white readers like me could not understand the world that the poet was describing. When I return to them now, I see that they are subtle pieces and that politics, death, survival, rebirth, nature and resistance are also very present. They are the work of a wonderful poet.

Barron, K., Kaplan, A. S., Makris, C., Owen, L. J. and Zellman, F. (2009) Fat Poets Speak: Voices of The Fat Poets Society, Nashville TN: Pearlsong Press.

Donald, C. M. (1986) The fat woman measures up, Charlottetown, P.E.I: Ragweed.

Nichols, G. (1984) The Fat Black Woman's Poems, London: Virago.

via Obesity Timebomb

100 Fat Activists #29: Susan Stinson's Scrapbooks

During the research period for my book I was lucky to spend time with the author Susan Stinson, who showed me some of her scrapbooks. As I write and reflect now, I keep coming back to the essential activist acts of keeping, remembering, generating and sharing personal archives. I demonstrate in my research that fat activism is often an activism of conversation, talking and sharing stories about activist ephemera is a very powerful act.

Here are two images from her scrapbooks, one referencing a Fat Dykes Extravaganza, which sounds really fab, where Susan read; the other a song by Helen Weber called 'Put That Diet Cola Down'.

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Tuesday 6 June 2017

100 Fat Activists #28: Stein and Lawrence

There are posts elsewhere on this blog that feature Judith Stein and Meridith Lawrence, key figures in the development of fat feminist activism. I just want to reiterate and include them here because they deserve a lot more attention from those interested in fat activist cultures and histories.

Fat lesbian feminists share archive recordings

100 Fat Activists #19: Stein and Freespirit

100 Fat Activists #20: The Fatluck

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100 Fat Activists #27: We Dance

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that I love to dance and that in recent years I have been finding my feet as a dancer. My work could not have been possible without the fat dancers who came before me. I am especially indebted to Deb Burgard, who started We Dance in the Bay Area in 1983.

Deb Burgard, nothing short of a powerhouse in fat activism, a founding presence in Health At Every Size, had been studying West African dance in Cambridge Massachusetts. In the early 1980s there were the beginnings of fat-friendly fitness proponents and classes, including Rozella Canty Letsome, who was also teaching around then, and the fat swim. The time was ripe for some moving and shaking.

Deb started We Dance, a fat feminist community dance class that ran for six years. She'd been inspired by the African-American women she'd been dancing with, where being fat was not a hindrance to dancing well or expressively. We Dance was not a weight loss space. Deb told me that the class became a meeting of different communities: lesbian, fat, local and middle class Oakland women.

Burgard went on to co-author Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women with Pat Lyons. This was the book of the class, with We Dance regulars appearing in the photos and illustrations. Warm, welcoming, full of thoughtful advice and encouragement, intersectional and accessible, the book remains the gold standard for fat fitness resources. My favourite image continues to be "Carol Squires dazzles her We Dance friends" on page 34, an extraordinary picture of a fat woman gleefully doing the splits. How I longed to know these people and dance along with them! (Ok, full disclosure, eventually I did).

Lyons, P. and Burgard, D. (1990) Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women, Authors Guild ed., Palo Alto, CA: Bull Publishing Company.

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