Just in case you hadn't heard, the other two UCLA talks are up on YouTube.
First, we have Katherine Flegal. Haven't watched this one yet.
Then we have the infamous Marilyn Wann. Not any arguments unfamiliar to most of us, but totally fun. And I want her boots.
This is the question posed in the Nightline debate linked to in withoutscene's posting below. The way I see it, when we ask "is it okay to be fat?", we're really asking a bunch of other questions:
- Is a person allowed to have and maintain a body that is larger than average?
- Is being fat a health problem?
- Is a person with a health problem allowed to choose to not treat that problem?
- Is fat caused by lifestyle choices?
- Is a person in a group health plan allowed to make choices that might cause them to need more health care in the future?
When you break it down to what we're really talking about, I don't see how any rational person could conclude that it is not okay to be fat. What are your thoughts?
So unless you're living under a rock somewhere, you've likely heard something about Kevin Smith getting thrown off of a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank because he was too fat. Here's a report on the issue from Shapely Prose as well as coverage from ABC's Nightline. I have some conflicting thoughts surrounding this incident (for instance, I'm thrilled that someone is finally paying attention to complaints about the way fat people are treated on airplanes, but I'm frustrated that it took a celebrity to make them pay attention and I'm not altogether convinced it will change anything anyway) but I'd like to hear what you guys think.
We at BFB want to start a regular post about grassroots and/or individual activism, which highlights local efforts to make a difference.
Let's start small. I have two questions for you.
1) What is something you or someone you know is doing to make a difference in the name of fat acceptance and fat rights? This can be anything, no matter how small or how insignificant it might seem to some.
2) What are your favorite local activism ideas?
Marilyn Wann announced today that there will be another hearing for a height/weight anti-discrimination bill in Massachusetts! The hearing will be on January 27th. Marilyn says:
Let's flood the legislative inbox! Email Tracy.Choi@state.ma.us. Please copy me: email@example.com. Forward this! -- What to write: That you support H.1850. Your ht./wt. discrimination story (esp. at work, school, doctor, housing, seating) and why you care about this law. THANKS!
Please take the time to send an e-mail in support of this bill. If you are interested in testifying in person, please contact Marilyn at the above e-mail. Getting this bill passed would be a huge win for everyone everywhere.
Byron Rushing of Massachusetts tried two years ago to get a similar bill into law and from what I remember--although the bill didn't go through--things went pretty well. It would be fantastic if we could make this happen this year.
PS--Check out Marilyn's words regarding Rep. Rushing and her experiences with this bill below in the comments.
PPS--I failed to see Rep. Rushing speak the one time I was in Boston. I now may never forgive myself.
Those of you in NYC, get in there! I wish I could go...
Published by NYU Press, The Fat Studies Reader is a milestone achievement,
bringing together fifty-three diverse voices to explore a wide range of
topics related to body weight. From the historical construction of fatness
to public health policy, from job discrimination to social class
disparities, from chick-lit to airline seats, this collection covers it
Edited by two leaders in the field, Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay,
foreword by Marilyn Wann, The Fat Studies Reader is an invaluable resource
that provides a historical overview of fat studies, an in-depth examination
of the movement’s fundamental concerns, and an up-to-date look at its
Our reading will include 4 essays from the reader.
There will be time for mingling, book signing and a Q & A.
Lara Frater - Fat Heroines in Chick-Lit: The Gateway to Acceptance in the
Kathleen LeBesco, PhD - Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, The Gay Gene and
the New Eugenics
Elena Andrea Escalera, PhD - Stigma Threat and the Fat Professor: Reducing
Student Prejudice in the Classroom
Heather MacAllister - Embodying Fat Liberation (read by Kelli Dunham)
We will have books on hand to purchase.
Hope to see you at this event celebrating this important contribution
to academia and the exploration of body liberation.
Date: Friday, December 4, 2009
Time: 8:00pm - 11:00pm
Location: Re/Dress NYC
Street: 109 Boerum Place
City/Town: Brooklyn, NY
I know this letter is long and that's now how you're supposed to do protest letters, but I'm long-winded, people.
Your bit with the fat suit on Monday’s show (September 14th,
2009) was distasteful, less than amusing, lazy, and sorely problematic. I know
what you were trying to do. People called you all lazy for taking three weeks
off; and since fatness is the ultimate symbol of being lazy, you got in a fat
suit. And since Jon Oliver had joked on his radio show about eating two whole
cheese steaks (or so I hear), you threw that in. Since you have a playful
relationship with Brian Williams, you took the opportunity to incorporate him.
I get that you were taunting your naysayers.
I also get that for you it (likely) wasn’t about fat people
at all—but that’s part of the problem because it was on our backs. I know it seems initially an outlandish notion, but
you being in a fat suit and TDS using stereotypes and images of fat people the
way you did affects my every day life. I’m not saying you hate fat people or
that you are responsible for all of the derision and discrimination fat people
face—certainly not. But you are responsible for what you do, the messages you
spread, and your complicity, especially when so many people regard you as
someone well-reasoned, critically-minded, and progressive, someone who engages
in smart, sharp (if silly) comedy. Hang with me a second.
See, I am a fat person, and every day I deal with people
judging me as just some lazy fatass who doesn’t deserve a god-damn thing (aside
from a good fat-shaming, for my own good).
Fat discrimination, according to a recent study,
is as prevalent as race and gender discrimination in this country. I’m not just
talking about how people judge me on the street or how there is no room for
bodies like mine on TV. Fat discrimination and weight bias are prevalent in
health care, education, and employment. It affects real living, breathing
people. For instance, it affects the quality and thoroughness of care we
receive from medical professionals, and we suffer and some of us die because of
But what does this have to do with you in a fat suit? Fat suits have
been compared to blackface. Now, that’s not a historically equivalent
comparison in any way, but the the function is similar. You can put
on a fat suit and laugh with everyone else at the fat representation of you and
how gross and disgusting and wrong it is. TDS can further dehumanize fat
people by using a picture of a (faceless) bed-ridden fat person with Williams
face Photoshopped on—participating in what Charlotte Cooper calls the parade of
headless fatties—to drive home how disgusting it is to be fat.  And
in the process you and TDS can metaphorically masturbate stereotypes that perpetuate
the bias and discrimination we face in our every day lives—all for your joke
that really isn’t about fat people, which just means you have no regard for us
in the process. And then you can take
that suit off and you don’t have to deal with the consequences.
Your promotion of fat stereotypes and dehumanization of fat people is part of a greater system of bias, discrimination, and dehumanization which directly affects my quality of life. It helps give people the idea that it's perfectly okay not to have any regard for us. After all, if we didn't like it, and if we had any dignity, we'd just put down the sandwich, right? If you had any sense, you might not assume fat people give up their dignity by virtue of being fat. For more a more
nuanced critique of “Fat on Film” you can visit the recent Newsweek slideshow of the same name: http://www.newsweek.com/id/213419.
This is why I’m disappointed in you and the TDS writers. I
expect better. And frankly, the best way to show your audience you haven’t
gotten lazy isn’t by telling lazy
There are three things you can do to help fat people and
our work toward social justice. First, educate yourself on this issue. Do not
take what you think you know about fat people for granted. Put some critical
thinking into it and be willing to challenge your own assumptions. Second,
bring critical fat studies scholars or fat activists onto your show. Open a
conversation. Linda Bacon (yes, bacon, haha) is a preeminent scholar of Health
at Every Size, who has found that fat people who don’t diet and don’t lose weight can be healthier than
ones who do. She has
just published a book on the subject. Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby also have
a book out called “Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere.” Recently, scholars in the UK
have published a book called “Fat Studies in the UK” and soon the long-awaited
“Fat Studies Reader” will be out. Finally, we don’t care if you make fat jokes,
just make them funny. Make sure that you aren’t merely reinscribing harmful
stereotypes, and make sure they are the same critical quality as the rest of
Fat Human Being, Fat Activist, and Doctoral
Student in Sociology and Women's Studies
RM., T. Andreyeva, and KD Brownell. 2008. “Perceptions of weight
discrimination: prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in
America.” International Journal of
Obesity 32: 992–1000.
 See the blog
“First, Do No Harm: Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care”: http://fathealth.wordpress.com/ and
also the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity website: www.yaleruddcenter.org/what_we_do.aspx?id=10
 For the record, I know
TDS uses Photoshop to do much more ‘horrible’ things to people’s images—but
there is a particular history of fat people’s faceless bodies being debased and
dehumanized in the media, as your colleague, Colbert, has even pointed out.
Charlotte Cooper’s piece on Headless Fatties can be found here: http://www.charlottecooper.net/docs/fat/headless_fatties.htm
*Apparently being upset about something so trivial is just silly. And after all "The joke was funny--I'm a fat person and I thought so." And "It wasn't about fat people. C'mon, they make fun of EVERYBODY on that show." "Being angry about it isn't going to solve anything." "You shouldn't let words upset you so much--we should be showing people that words can't hurt us." And, of course, "Don't we [fat people] have bigger fish to fry?"
(These are paraphrases of claims made to me from people who identify as fat-positive, size-accepting, fat-accepting individuals. Claims that I hope to have arbitrated in this here letter.)
Edited to note: I know the racial comparisons I make are problematic. I hate to rely on comparisons to racial discrimination and bias to highlight fat discrimination and bias. I am open to finding new ways to make our cause seem serious and our claims seem legitimate without using analogies to other oppressions. I try not to. But in some cases, I just haven't quite figured out how to really put things in perspective for people without using comparisons. Even if I know it is problematic.
Rose tipped me off to some fat discrimination going on over in North Carolina. According to this policy document, the North Carolina State Health Plan (for teachers and state employees) will soon be divided into two sections: one for the "good" folks who don't smoke and have BMIs under 40 and one for the "naughty" smokers or people with BMIs 40 or above. Of course the good folks will receive more coverage at less expense than the naughty ones. Participants in the health plan are required to fill out a form every year that attests that they fit into the good group and they also agree to be subjected to mandatory random screenings for smoking and for BMI.
I am both appalled and terrified by this idea and the precedent it creates. First of all, does this mean that an NCSU employee is subject to being weighed and measured at work whenever HR deems it necessary? What about personal privacy? What about a person's body being their own property and not for their employer to judge? What about an employee being compensated on their performance and NOT their body size? Because no matter how this policy was initially intended, this ends up being another way to pay fat people less for doing the same job, as if that weren't happening enough already.
I hate the idea of the smoking thing as well on the grounds that what I do in my off time shouldn't be any of my employer's business, but at least that's a behavior that can be stopped. A fat person can't just stop being fat, despite the world's erroneous belief that all you have to do is just try a little harder to eat less and exercise more and the pounds will magically melt off. No one has been able to find a method of weight loss that works permanently for more than the tiniest percentages of people, which means that fat people are likely going to stay fat no matter how many crunches they do.
Let's not forget that the mainstream jury is still out on fat and health anyway...even Newsweek isn't sure whether fat=unhealthy anymore. Even if it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that fat people are definitely going to get sick, the whole point of a group health plan is that some people are going to get sick and some aren't. By buying into it you acknowledge that you are going to pay the same amount whether you get sick or not and whether other people get sick or not. If we're going to just weed out the people we think are going to get sick, what's the point of group health then anyway?
On TOP of that, what this plan is doing is funneling the people who are (supposedly) the most likely to get sick into a group that gets less coverage! Those who will likely need health care the most are all of a sudden going to get the least amount of assistance from their health insurance company! If this doesn't prove clearly how much more interested health insurance companies are in profits over actually providing health care, then I don't know what will.
This segment is definitely worth a look. Kate does a great job of presenting a cool and logical argument against the war on obesity. What kills me about the concept is that the doc they had on to discuss the anti-fat side espoused a lot of good HAES principles. How can you get HAES and not get that the war should be on crappy food and sedentary lifestyles, not body size? How can you still be comparing fatness with smoking when smoking is a behavior and fat is a characteristic?
Also, does anyone have any sources for data on whether the rates of fat-correlated disease have actually risen as sharply as fatness is claimed to have increased? Because really, if one in three people is now overweight but fewer than one in three people has a heart problem or the diabetes, doesn't that prove the point right there that there are plenty of non-sick fat people out there and that the government should leave us the heck alone?
So I was asked to give a comment yesterday on United Airlines' new policy to charge fat people double to fly on their planes. When the article came out the thing that struck me the most was how my response, which I had thought of as calm and rational, was being portrayed as "anger" and that I was "hitting out" against United. My first thought was "But wait...I'm not angry!" The more I thought about it though, the more I realized maybe I should be.
What United is doing here (and what the rest of the airlines have already done) is basically scapegoating fat people for the fact that there's no room in their tiny airplane seats. Air travel for most people is not a very comfortable or cheap way to go and if they can get us all focused on the specter of a fat person's fat encroaching on the armrest then we won't even think about how seventeen inches isn't really enough personal space for us to be comfortable sitting next to any stranger, even a thin one. Not to mention that by making the seats so small, the airlines are guaranteeing that a higher percentage of their passengers will not be able to fit into them and will then have to pay for two seats. It's like the BMI effect when a bajillion people became overweight overnight. These terrible fat people wouldn't be such a problem if the seats were at least made to fit average-sized adults.
So okay, maybe it's not realistic to expect airlines to rip out all of the tiny seats and put in a bunch of average-sized seats. But would it be too much to ask them to put in a couple of rows of larger seats for larger folks? Sure, maybe they could even charge a little more for them, but there should be coach fare seats that fat people can fit into, no? Not everyone can afford two seats or first class seats. By putting in a row or two of plus sized seats, they can not only ensure that fat people are accomodated comfortably, they could also make sure no thin people ever have to put up with sitting next to them (egads!).
Anyway, back to the scapegoating. Is it really logical and/or possible that fat people on planes are that much of a problem for United? According to their own press release, they got 700 complaints last year about fat people encroaching on thin peoples' space. 700...that sounds like quite a few complaints until you look at the other number in the article: 3000 flights a day. A DAY. Even if we take a seriously conservative estimate and say there are only 50 people on each flight, that means that 150,000 folks fly United every day. That's 54,750,000 people a year. So 700 of those people, or 0.00001% of the people who flew last year, had a complaint about fat people. I wonder how many people complained about delays or ticket prices. I wonder how many had something to say about lack of leg room or the terrible airline food. I'm willing to bet that any one of these things scored more than 700 complaints from United's customers, but to change them would cost the company money. Announcing a fat people policy, on the other hand, gets them free publicity, goodwill from the fat-hating public, and some extra fares paid by fat folks who now have no choice.
And United, don't give me that crap about how your industry is struggling and these evil fat people are putting such a strain on your resources by taking up two seats and not paying extra for them. First of all, didn't you just get a giant government bailout? What exactly did you do with that money? I know you didn't improve your planes because they're just as uncomfortable as they have always been. I know you didn't lower ticket prices because it still costs an arm and a leg to fly anywhere. I know you didn't use it to continue to pay your valuable employees because you're still laying people off. So what the hell? Isn't it time to examine why you keep running out of cash instead of blaming and double-charging your passengers?
So yes, I'm a little angry. I'm tired of the airline industry and the fashion industry and the media telling me that the problem is me and my body and that I should just change and everything will be okay. My body is not the problem! Your complete denial that there is any body type other than model-thin is the problem. Your focus on doing things more and more cheaply so you can make more money is the problem. I am not an anomaly. I am not "other". I am a valid member of the human race and I don't deserve to be excluded or asked to pay more for the same goods and services as thin people. I and the millions like me deserve to be considered when you're building a new airplane or designing a new clothing line for the masses. We are the masses! Stop acting like we don't or shouldn't exist. We're here, baby. One way or another, you're going to have to deal with us.
That is all.
I want to talk to you about something for a minute, and that something is activism. No don't close the window. This is going to be good.
Over the years I have talked to many people who were deeply involved in the fat rights movement and enacting all sorts of change and when I mentioned activism to them they drew back in horror and insisted "well I'm no activist!" And I kind of understand that, because for a long time when I heard the word 'activism' I would think of hordes of folks marching on Washington, burning bras, shouting and holding signs, and that is not me. Not that I don't love a good march as much as the next person, because I do, and I certainly have a few bras I wouldn't mind burning, but most days I'm just not a shouting, sign-waving kind of a lady.
The thing is, you can be a fat rights activist without ever picking up a sign or shouting an epithet or taking one step towards the capitol. In a way, fat activism starts much closer to home. Imagine, if you will, a cluster of shouting sign-waving anti-fat activists in your head. They think horrible things about you, they judge every move you make, they insist that you don't deserve the same rights and privileges as thin people. Someone needs to shut them up, you know? And you're the only one around. So you paint your own mental signs that say "correlation is not causation" and "fat is beautiful" and "fat rights now" and every day you stand across from the haters and shout your own messages of fat love. You just became an activist, my friend.
Sure, it's in your own head, so it seems like you're not making that much of a difference, but this is just where it starts. Next thing you know, you find yourself talking to someone at a party who launches into diet talk around the canapé table and suddenly you're no longer just nodding and going along. New things start to come out of your mouth, like "Oh I don't diet anymore. Diets don't work and life is just too short to put yourself through that kind of deprivation and guilt over and over." And maybe you come up against a ton of opposition, but maybe there is also a quiet, self-hating dieter in the corner who heard your words and is now beginning to think "Is that true? Am I putting myself through this hell for nothing?" That's activism.
Maybe now you're thinking, "but Carrie, that's just one person. I want to make more of a difference than that." I hear you. So maybe you come to this site. Maybe you read about a project like Dare to Show Your Face or The BMI Project or The Fat Experience Project and you think "Well, I'm fat, and I guess my experience counts. Maybe I'll participate in this project." Maybe your contribution is viewed by folks of all sizes with various opinions on fat and some of them start to get the message that fat people are people just like everyone else. Activism!
Here are other things you may already be doing that fall under the activist umbrella:
1. Staying informed on fat rights issues via this site and others on the fatosphere
2. Refusing to let society tell you what fat people should or shouldn't be doing, wearing, eating, thinking, etc
3. Speaking up when someone tells fat jokes
4. Emailing government officials to express your interest in fat positive laws
5. Joining an organization like NAAFA, ISAA, or The Fat Rights Coalition
6. Sending a donation or volunteering time for any of these or other fat positive groups
7. Raising your children to love their bodies and the variations in bodies of others
8. Having a frank conversation with your doctor about Health at Every Size
9. Throwing out your scale and refusing to diet ever again
10. 'Coming out' as a fat activist to your friends and family and talking about fat issues with them as frankly and openly as you would anything else.
So you see? You may already be an activist. But what if you're not? What if all of this talk of activism makes you seize up and want to run for the hills? First, take a deep breath. Nobody is going to make you do anything you don't want to do. Then, maybe start really small. In your head, sit down with a piece of posterboard and a marker and make yourself a sign. Maybe you're not ready for something as radical as "fat is beautiful" or "fat doesn't equal unhealthy". Fine. How about a sign that says "I'm a person, just like any other person"? There's no denying that, is there? Now take your sign and stand up in front of the haters. That's all. Just give them a little opposition. They might even quiet down a tiny bit. When you're ready, maybe shout a little something. How about "I deserve rights"? Because you do. I bet at some point, some of your mental haters will give up, put down their signs, and go home because they finally get it. And that, my friend, is activism.
Inspired by this post at The Pursuit of Harpyness
For those of you who have been looking for an opportunity to advance the fat rights cause, now is your chance! NAAFA members in Nevada have been working to get a bill drafted and voted on that would "help to eliminate discrimination based on physical appearance which is defined to include weight and height" Please read the letter below and take a moment to email the committee members listed, even if you're not a NAAFA member. Our voices can make a difference but only if we say something!
For forty years, NAAFA members have been writing letters to legislators working to improve the lives of people of size. Since those humble beginnings we have seen one state (Michigan) and a handful of cities change their anti-discrimination laws to include height and weight or physical appearance.
The most recent was just last year when Binghamton, NY changed their laws to protect people of size. They modeled their anti-discrimination laws after the laws in San Francisco. This is a proud day for those of you involved in that work in San Francisco. We never know the far-reaching effect our work will have!
It is to this end that members of NAAFA in Nevada have been working to see that their laws are changed as well. A bill has been drafted and is now awaiting review by the Commerce and Labor Committee before it can be passed along and voted into law. AB 166 modernizes Nevada's anti-discrimination laws and would help to eliminate discrimination based on physical appearance which is defined to include weight and height. The latest word from my assemblyman is that the committee chairman does not want to give this bill a hearing.
We're asking NAAFA members to step up to the plate and start writing letters again. Whether you are a Nevada resident or a visitor to Nevada, we need your help to insure that this bill will be passed into law. For residents, it would affect hiring processes, employment, housing and public accommodations. Why would you as a non-resident have any impact at all in this situation? The economy of the state of Nevada is heavily reliant on tourism. We need visitors in order to survive. As a visitor to Nevada, this change would affect "public accommodation."
What "public accommodation" includes for you as a visitor to Nevada is hotel stays, restaurants, theaters, clubs, etc. This law is about how you are treated while you are here. This change to our laws would mean that you could not be discriminated against because of your weight, height or a physical characteristic beyond your control. This is why this change is important to you and why we need your help!
Please write to the following committee members and tell them that it is VERY important that this bill become law:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
PLEASE take a few moments of your time and write today. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, simply tell them in your own words that you support the passage of AB 166. We REALLY need you to act on this. Change only comes in society when we make it happen! Speak out today and take a stand for your rights. It's for your future and for the future of those you love. We need all of you to write in support of AB 166. People come in all sizes and it's time to support one another!