Stef (firecat) wrote,

Wiscon 39 panel report: Size Acceptance 201

Wiscon 39 panel report: Size Acceptance 201

I almost didn't go to this panel, because I was worried that there would be a lot of talk about (from the quote in the panel description) "considering weight loss surgery" and/or "when you think there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear". Although I can see why people considering weight loss surgery might want to be part of a size acceptance movement, talk about weight loss surgery upsets me; and talk about "clothes that fat people shouldn't wear" does not seem to have anything remotely to do with a size acceptance discussion. (Talking about clothing that you don't personally want to wear is fine.) Fortunately for me, there were no discussions of either of those things at the panel.

[My notes aren't a complete transcription and may represent my own language rather than the actual words of the panelists. I welcome corrections. I did not identify all audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]

Description: What would Size Acceptance 201 even look like? Cary Webb writes that the endless focus on SA 101 begins to seem oppressive "when you can’t afford to eat healthy, when you gain/lose weight for any reason, when you have had or are considering weight loss surgery, when you have chronic health conditions or are not able-bodied, when you think there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear, or when all those people/artistic endeavors who are lauded look nothing like you or represent ideas you think are flawed. It seems like there is in fact a wrong way to have a body." We need a conversation that prioritizes fatties who are POC, LGBTQ, disabled, men, and masculine of center. Bring your demands, desires, and ideas for a better, bigger Size Acceptance movement.

Kate Carey
Debbie Notkin
Marianne Kirby (The Rotund)
Maria Johnson

The panelists introduced themselves thus:

Kate Carey — newish to wiscon, old hand at being fat, large child adopted into thin family, needed to learn self acceptance in her 20s–30s. 

Debbie Notkin — part of fat acceptance movement since early 80s, co-writer with Laurie Toby Edison and publisher of Women en Large: Images of Fat Nudes, blogs with Laurie at Body Impolitic.

Marianne Kirby (The Rotund) — used to have a blog, currently writes for, has sold a novel about a "queer fat zombie killing girl", called Feral Season, which comes out in 2016. Has done a lot of fat media stuff, e.g., Dr. Phil show and radio. Considers herself a "semi pro fat person".

Maria Johnson — co-owner of Writes for Podcasts with Nerdgasm Noire Network.

DN:  Where is size acceptance now? 

MK: Mainstream consumerism is coopting it. Fat acceptance movement hasn't been responsive to that, has gotten less radical, more focused on "it's all about loving your body". Fat acceptance needs to be radical. We need doctor acceptance, gender acceptance. Fat acceptance must accommodate intersectional oppression, disability, race, class. i'm tired of Tess the new plus size model. ( We can't just rest now. 

KC: I have a peeve about being fat and needing medical help. I almost died. Also, we need to get beyond "healthy fat." I like Health at Every Size but I'm tired of people justifying their fatness by saying "I'm overweight but I'm healthy." My food, my choice." "You should be healthy" is almost as oppressive as "You should be thin." It implies a value judgement. It means "I am following a strict set of food guidelines of food."

DN: There is an eating disorder called orthorexia, which literally means "eating to rule." Doctors like it [when fat people are orthorexic].

MK: Health is not a moral issue.

MJ: We focus on a certain shape, a certain shade. We need more diversity in the fat bodies that are shown. When you begin to see yourself, maybe you can relax and stop feeling radical. On Tumblr there are a lot of fat fashionable people — but wait, I don't look like these people; I still feel isolated. Need more variety. 

DN: Speaking as myself, not as the moderator, the description of the panel threw me off guard. The fat/size acceptance movement originates in the American lesbian community with the book Shadow on a Tightrope, published in 1983. So when the panel description says "we need to prioritize LGBT," I think, "um, but that's where we started." Women en Large has all the diversity we're talking about. "What size acceptance movement are they talking about?" Well, when something gets commoditized, all the work of the people on the margins is erased. We need to think not about how to bring those people in, but bring them back in and keep them in.

One person is in both Women en Large and the later book by Debbie and Laurie, Familiar Men, because he transitioned.

DN: How do you bring a message to the mainstream?

MK: The Fat Underground existed before Shadow on a Tightrope. This panel description was based on Cary Webb's writings, which are very accessible. But she didn't know about the panel. I talked to her and got some quotes from her. We need to credit the people whose work we're building on. Webb says she doesn't want any group to be prioritzed. We need to center voices in different conversations. At , in my editorial capacity, I recruit and promote voices that are less commonly heard. The commenter base is not fat accepting, but there are also people who haven't heard of fat acceptance before. Visibility is powerful and dangerous. One strategy is to find your safety zone, and when you do more radical stuff, you need community in place, you need to build community that is welcoming, and not let people just drift in.

KC: I owe my fat acceptance to two communities — women of color and lesbians. In college I was dating straight men who liked me in spite of my weight, but women were dating me because I was sexy, smart, etc. My clothing style comes from large black women who sent me bra shopping, took me to their community — large women from large families, celebrated and honored. This was a revelation to me. I'd never thought of my size as anything other than something to be hidden. One woman gave me a bright red coat, my first colorful piece of clothing since I was a girl. It saved me. On Facebook I saw someone say, talking about weight loss, how can we expect people, if we hate their bodies, to be healthy people. I didn't go to job interviews for a year because I couldn't fit into chairs with arms. Finally I decided I'm good at what I do, so everyone has to just deal.

MJ: My workplace isso different from rest of my life. There's so much food conversation. Group dieting, pressure to participate. I don't reply to the invitations to do group dieting, but I was kept on list.
KC: My workplace had a United Way "get healthy challenge." People pledged for every pound they lost. I cried every day.
DN: Women in my lunchroom constantly say "I can't eat that, I'm so sinful." I'm always in the position of deciding "what do i want to say and when?" When would it be constructive? Insurance coverage is moving toward being dependent on a health score. I told smokers "don't fill out the health questionaire". They asked why. I told them "because they're going to raise your health care costs."

MK: my workplace knows better. Fashion is the intro to fat acceptance that a lot of ppl have.

KC: My Facebook and LiveJournal description have "I am fat, forty, and frumpy." Frumpy isn't bad. It's less work and comfortable. 

DN: The most radical appearance thing I do is not to shave my chin hair. Kids talk to me about it and their parents are embarrassed.

Topic: health

KC: I have a disease not related to being fat: scleroderma. I also have pulmonary hypertension. I went to the leading pulmonologist in the Twin Cities. He looked at me and said "I can't do anything unless you lose weight." I was in tears and I said "but six months ago I weighed the same and I could walk." He said "well it's cumulative." I went to another doc, who said "losing weight will help, but i'll treat your disease first." Since then I have accidentally lost 200 lbs. 100 lbs was retained fluid. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks and I lost 60 lbs just by peeing. Why didn't other docs think of this?

Resource for finding fat accepting doctors. You can also add your doctors to it: (Stef's disclaimer: this is my site. The only benefit I gain from it is access to the resources other people add, the satisfaction of helping people).

MJ: I had a health issue and no insurance. I was told it was low iron and I was referred to a clinic. They wanted to test me for everything and check for diabetes "just in case" even though I don't have symptoms for that. The test comes back: no diabetes. "Huh. I guess we'll test you again." I've had to body block the door so i could ask the doctor my questions. They always bring up my weight. I had a sinus infection. 

KC: It's like they expect you to say "I had no idea I was fat!"

MK: We need to build tools for each other. We also need to work on a way to teach each other how to advocate in health care system and how to avoid nonconsensual medical situations. Your doctor works for you. Not everyone can do it without help, especially without insurance. My stump as fat acceptance activist: I am an archivist. We need someone to keep our history. We keep having the 101 conversation because that's not happening. Can someone teach me? We could have evidence of inclusiveness once again.

DN: An archive would be great. Another health conversation we need: the big world health conversation. Not the one between me and my doctor, but the one where, if you open a paper or web site, you see "in just a few short years obesity will surpass smoking as a cause of cancer." We know obesity doesn't cause cancer, correlation does not equal causation. But doctors are inundated with this crap too. We need to educate doctors, learn each other's strategies. Doctors in some ways are worse off than we are.

MK: I'm glad there are different kinds of activists. Some are OK with advocating outside the fat acceptance community, but I'm not.

KC: Whenever I'm hospitalized, I teach residents and interns. I volunteer to be examined. I say "my fat did not cause my sinus infection." I give them feedback. I figure, "get 'em young." 

Audience comment: I'm pissed off that weight loss things are always going on somewhere in the workplace. As for doctors - my wife had plantar fasciitis. We walk 8 blocks each way to work. She went to doctor, who said "Exercise more. Try running." No, that's the worst thing for plantar fasciitis!

Audience comment: I've been in fat acceptance since 1982, and I'm really ready for 201. I've had have diabetes since 28, i am 53. I have a club foot, and my weight does affect my feet. This chronic disability that is related to my weight has no bearing on what i find attractive. I just want to live and that's healthy. At a fat feminist caucus, women with health conditions who talked about losing weight were vilified. I've been afraid to talk in fat community about how to manage my diabetes. I'm signed up to weight watchers. I don't want to go back on insulin.

DN: This is one of the big failures of the movement. Everyone needs size acceptance, not just "fatties". Who are you and what is size acceptance in your body? It doesn't have to be the same as size acceptance in my body.

MK: We all have body autonomy. It's important for fat acceptance to continue to focus on fat people, but others can join. I don't want to prioritize thin people in fat acceptance. Fat acceptance needs to address intersections of disability and fatness. Some work in fat acceptance classifies all fatness as disability, but that's not true. We need tools for those who identify as both. Fat acceptance shouldn't go the way of white mainstream feminism. We shouldn't be afraid to have that conversation.

KC: Many people think I'm disabled because I'm fat. I just said that I "accidentally" lost 200 pounds. I realized i sounded apologetic, but I'm not. I'm glad I regained the ability to roll over in bed. 

RT: You identified it as your problem. I squirm, because it's not a problem.

KC: Being ashamed of losing weight is my problem.

Audience comment: Fashionable fat is mostly femme. I'd like to see butch fat women in fatshion.

Terms to erase: obesity epidemic, childhood obesity epidemic

Audience comment: Shakesville has the phrase "you fight something when you have the spoons, we each take a teaspoon of the battle on." [Stef's note: The original post seems to be here: This quote: "All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon....I promise to keep working my teaspoon, even when my arms are tired. Every day."]

MK: The concept of spoons originated in the chronic disability community. Google for it.

[Stef's note: See]

Audience comment: I'm a latecomer to fat acceptance. I've been fat all my life. It was empowering when I went to the doctor for an eye infection and I said "don't weigh me." How do we balance conversations about eating healthy, in terms of what kinds of food you eat, against doctors who promote behavior similar to that of people who have anorexia. (To officially count as having anorexia, you have to be underweight, but doctors promote the same behaviors in fat people.)

MK: There is intuitive eating. Although it doesn't work for everybody. But you don't have to eat punishment salad. I had to relearn how to eat intuitively. We're divorced from our hunger cues.

MJ: Sometimes I get busy and don't have time to eat and I think it's great that I'm not eating. But it's OK, I can stop and eat.
KC: When i got my illness, they did tests on me, and discovered I had malnutrition. I learned that for me to heal I had to eat food. I've decided now that I have permission. I decided, because I have a limited life expectancy, that I wasn't going to eat aything I didn't like. I also decided it's ok to leave food on my plate. I used to be a Coke addict, but suddenly Coke started tasting terrible. It never occurred to me that a fat person can have malnutrition. A nurse said that what causes unhealthy fatness is usually malnutrition. 

DN: Not for everybody. 

Audience comment: I'm new to fat acceptance. My obstacle is accepting myself. What are some resources and blogs? How do I connect with community?

MK: Follow individuals. The fatosphere was a network of fat acceptance blogs but it's no longer around. There's a lot of fat acceptance on Tumblr. There are diverse bodies on Instagram but trolls in the tags. I like the tag #deathfat. There is a LiveJournal community, fatshionista. It used to be very political.
Audience comment: The #ok2befat tag on Twitter [Edited to add: Someone suggested that this might be intended to refer to the Twitter handle [ profile] ok2befat.]

MK: You can also follow fat people who are doing things.

KC: Once some people from a fat-acceptance Facebook community had a party and took over a hotel pool. Someone complained to front desk about us. They were having a kids birthday party and were offended by fat women in bikinis. They said we were showing too much skin. I handled it and I said to the hotel staff "we're showing 'too much' skin because we have more skin."

Audience comment: Speaking about the muscular fat person, I was an athlete. I spent 20 years hating myself and dieting since the age of 7. People told me "you're not really fat." I didn't understand because I thought athletes are supposed to look a certain way. But then I saw Cheryl Haworth.

Image of Cheryl Haworth, an Olympic weight-lifter:

How do the people with one foot in the fat acceptance movement create another parallel movement?

DN: Part of the issue with social movements is that anything you center, you marginalize something else.

Audience comment: I'm uncomfortable being marginalized and want to build a movement for me and be a better ally.

Audience comment: Can we have the healthy food conversation. Who can access it? Wisconsin regulate food stamps. I want that conversation w/o judging.

MK: The imperative is that if you know about healthy eating of course you'll do it. That's condescending and a class issue. Fat acceptance needs to supports class/accessibility issues. Everyone deserves access to veggies. Sometimes people in the fat acceptance movement need to take suppport roles in certain other movements. We have to make room. There should be no food deserts. 

DN: There are exciting food justice things happening in oakland that are run by oppressed people.

So yeah, I felt like we discussed a lot of things that weren't particularly 201-level. That's OK. It might be worth proposing some panels on more specific aspects of size acceptance 201. *ponders*

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