Actually, anti-"obesity" experts fail to understand tons of stuff. This is the first of many things I wish they would comprehend.
by Marilyn Wann
[Content warning: eating disorders, bariatric surgery.]
In a weight-hating society, there will always be a fattest person and we will always know who that person is.
Keith Martin lived with that label. Today, there are news report of his death, which happened last March.
Mainstream media like to ask whether the fattest person alive will stay fat and die or lose weight and live. As if those are the only possibilities.
Here's a brief chronology of Keith Martin's life, compiled from media reports, but without the usual weight-shaming and blaming…
Keith Martin's mother died from pneumonia when he was 16. Afterward, he suffered with untreated depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and a severe binge eating disorder. He didn't leave the house for 10 years and lost mobility. Both Keith and the medical professionals he consulted focused on his weight. There is no mention of treatment for his mental illness or his eating disorder. He was the subject of a tv documentary. He lost a large amount of weight through calorie restriction and then underwent so-called weight-loss surgery. He checked himself out of the hospital early, a week after the surgery, but soon developed sepsis and dehydration (common complications of bariatric surgeries) and had to return. Later, he developed pneumonia and was in the hospital for four months. Just one month after his release, he died from pneumonia. He was 44 years old.
Reports of his death tend to begin by describing how much he ate during a binge. Photos of him show him either completely naked or wearing only a sheet. In some, he is holding an array of food packages.
This is not the way we treat someone we care about.
The surgeon who clamped off a healthy internal organ in Keith Martin and who calls his death from pneumonia "unlucky," is asking for taxes on fast food and more funding for stomach squeezing and stomach slicing and stomach amputation surgeries.
That's not what I want for fat people or for any of us, but especially not for the fattest of us. (How excruciatingly painful must it be to not only face intense negativity about one's weight but also to be used as the ultimate example to inspire fears about weight in everyone else?) What I want for all of us is first that we're welcome to participate in all aspects of society. If fat people are not welcome to exist, there is simply no point in talking about our health. I want people of all sizes to have friends, family, lovers, social support, community, and a sense of our own worth and purpose in life. I want none of these things to depend on weight. I want all of us to enjoy our embodiment however we like. I want us all to think of health-enhancing behaviors without once thinking of weight or weight-loss goals. I want people with mental illness and eating disorders to get support and treatment, free from stigma. I want our ideas of health and our healthcare system and our mental health system to be free from a focus on weight or weight loss and to have social justice as a first priority. I don't believe there's a weight limit for this sort of Health At Every Size® approach. I think it can benefit everyone.
And then, if we do happen to notice that someone is the fattest person alive, that label might not itself be so damaging and possibly deadly.
Biggest Data: we're all winners!
by Marilyn Wann
I recently heard about Experiment.com, a fundraising website for scientific research, and I realized…we have everything we need to collect bigger, better data than the anti-"obesity" hatemongers.
I challenge us all to make Biggest Data happen.
Here's how: Body-positive researchers and scholars post their long-dreamed-of projects on a fundraising website like Experiment. If you're like me, you long for more data to support your weight diversity worldview. We donate some money to our favorite projects and spread the word. Instead of rewards, we get updates on the project and info about the results. (Experiment.com charges an 8% fee for projects that fully fund, similar to other fundraising websites.) If researchers seek study subjects, we could also become participants and spread the word for others to join in, too. Everyone with a blog or a website or a social network can make a difference.
Researchers and scholars who don't want weight negativity in their work often face barriers in getting funding. What if body positive community could offer them (and us) a big boost of momentum?
What if we had the Biggest data on...
What if weight-related data didn't mainly come from anti-"obesity" researchers and from institutions with a mission to "prevent" fat people? (Yale's Rudd Center, et al.) What if research studies didn't have to conclude, "But people should still try to lose weight," when the data don't support that?
What if Health At Every Size® research and fat studies scholarship, which is already brilliant, could flourish hugely?
Would it mean the end of weight prejudice and discrimination?
I'll be full of joy when the same-old weight-loss researchers (with their millions in backing from big Pharma and the diet industry) try to say that crowdfunded, weight-neutral research has some kind of bias…
by Marilyn Wann
[Content Warning: Fat-bashing, racism, sexism, rape.]
I was delighted to receive a piece of classic fat-hate email this morning…
It comes complete with misogyny jimmies and an attempt to dehumanize via one of the 5 Official Fat Animals!
A while back, someone changed a Wikipedia mention of me from Marilyn Wann to Marilyn Whale. I invited people on social media to join me in claiming our fat family names. People came up with some awesome ones. K.R. Roberto (whose first name is Keller) went with Killer Whale Roberto. Someone else rhymed Lea Manateea.
I sent the people at fatfuck.org the classic response…
Bigots are the opposite of innovative. Here are some vintage fat-hate emails, the oldest ones in my collection. They sound a lot like the one that arrived today…
Bonus points for mentioning 4 out of 5 top-ranking weight stereotypes…
The vintage fat-hate email below demonstrates the intense connections between different kinds of prejudice. Here, someone mixes fat hate with racism, sexism, and rape culture. Intersecting oppressions don't just add up, they can magnify each other.
I admit that I send angry emails too, from time to time.
Sometimes, when I receive an email that is especially fat-hating and that attempts to justify its cruelty by saying fatties are soooooo unhealthy we just need to be attacked — the old hate-you-for-your-own-good switcheroo — I forward it to Rebecca Puhl. I congratulate her that her message has spread so effectively in the general public. (I wish I could find one of these emails. They really are breathtaking.)
Why send them to Puhl? She's a leader at the only institution in the world that gets ongoing funding to document what they call weight stigma. As a researcher at Yale's Rudd Center, she's published a lot of data on weight discrimination, which should be super useful. Except… Puhl and her institution constantly and aggressively promote the stigmatizing and disriminatory belief that fat people are necessarily unhealthy.
For example, Puhl and the Rudd Center recently announced that one of the biggest problems with weight stigma is that it's linked with weight gain. (So, saying that fat is bad is bad because fat is bad?) Also, all of that unpleasant oppression fat people experience is nothing compared to the possibility of gaining a few pounds. Can they really be proud of their headline for the report? "Weight Bias Hinders Obesity Solutions." Obesity solutions? Two words that perfectly epitomize weight stigma in its creepiest, most eugenics-y form.
At this historical moment, when fat hate still prevails and weight lib is still gathering momentum, it's unsurprising that money and power would seek to co-opt the idea of fighting weight prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, oppression or — stated more meekly — stigma, and then use this otherwise anti-oppression idea to promote, well…weight prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, oppression, and stigma.
That's what weight-loss profiteers are doing right now, via an astroturf organization called the Obesity Action Coalition. They say they're "dedicated to giving a voice to the individual affected by the disease of obesity." As if fat activists haven't been speaking up for ourselves for more than 40 years! As if we're isolated individuals who haven't built a vibrant, expanding, grassroots community of our own. They're upset about major injustices, like…insurers who don't want to pay for stomach amputation and…people not fully understanding that "when it comes to health, Your Weight Matters." (It's capitalized; it must be true!) What? Five bjillion fearmongering media reports about fat being deadly aren't enough of a marketing push? They say they're ready to fight weight bias and discrimination. Their plan is…1. define every fat person as diseased and 2. encourage fatties to report to the nearest weight-loss profiteer's office. (Where we'll be billed — with all possible respect, I'm sure! — for anti-fat services.)
Pronouncements from self-styled stigma-fighting institutions like the Rudd Center and OAC don't seem to me all that different from the fat-hate email I get. Different vocabulary expressing the same worldview.
by Marilyn Wann
This spam message arrived in my email inbox just in time for Weight Stigma Awareness Week. I can't imagine a better example of stigmatizing wrongness…
* * *
Not for serious consumption!
* * *
What's next? Fat people breathe too much air?
Ruby Bowen brilliantly retorts: "That's because they weren't drinking DIET water."
Stigma dehumanizes. It can reverse polarity. In this case, because fat people are involved, the stuff of life becomes malign.
Stigma can also make people believe contradictions: fat people drink too much — and too little — water. Remember the diet-mentality tip to drink eight glasses of water daily for that feeling of fullness? (A debunked, yet persistent bit of advice.) In fact, if you gain weight from from drinking water, that's a sign of serious kidney disease, as Diane McRae, a fat community member with expertise in this subject, points out.
Stigma can also subvert science. Fat community member Andreae tells this story:
"A little while ago, a family member quite earnestly and sincerely explained to me that drinking ice water when you eat will 'congeal' all the fats you consume, causing you to gain weight, but that drinking hot water after a meal will 'flush the fat' out of your system, preventing weight gain. I'm pretty sure being a mammal with a stable core temperature trumps that theory. And that maybe she had 'consuming foods with fat in them' confused with 'pouring bacon fat down the kitchen sink.' In which case, yes, hot water will fix that. Because a kitchen sink is not a mammal."
People also believe the opposite, that drinking cold water will cause weight loss because the body must work harder to heat it to 98.6 degrees.
Such beliefs always remind me of the Magic Bean from fairy tales. Confronted with a big, scary thing like weight-based social hierarchy, people crave a simple way to zoom to the top of the pile. (Preferably involving secret tips about inexpensive household items.) They aren't nearly as eager to do the work of chopping down the oppressive system at its source.
When I posted about the ridiculousness of this less-water weight-loss claim on social media, someone couldn't resist bragging about their recent weight loss, all while trying to claim they think people of all sizes are great. Stigma is pervasive and it saturates. Even a little bit of it, even where it's not at all welcome, gets all over everything around it.
I'm all for raising awareness about stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. I'm even more interested in putting an end to them.
Who's your body confidence hero?
by Marilyn Wann
Fabulous fat activist and fashion genius Jill Andrew is organizing the second annual Body Confidence Canada Awards. I'm delighted they used the furry Yay! Scale® in the event logo!
Do you know people who are "actively fighting against stereotypes, judgments, policies, and discrimination that attempt to label marginalized bodies (i.e. fat, racialized, dis/abled etc.) as unhealthy, uninspired, or underachieving"? Nominate them! (Deadline's tomorrow!)
The awards ceremony happens Sept. 9, which is also International Day of Beauty (created by the International Committee of Aesthetics and Cosmetology adopted by the World Congress in 1995).
This image is part of a series of quotes about body confidence, created to publicize the awards. I'm honored to be included. I believe body confidence is partly about personal attitude but also very much about what kind of society we live in. If we lived in a society that welcomes every body, would we need body confidence awards? Or would that just be a minimum standard everyone enjoyed?
by Marilyn Wann
A ton of awesome weight liberators — including me! — will be presenting some serious wisdom online August 22 to 24, during the first-ever Fat Activism Conference. Subtitled: Tools for the Revolution!
This is an incredible chance to hear from Ragen Chastain, Tigress Osborn, Virgie Tovar, Jes Baker, Juicey D. Light, and so many people who do life-changing, world-changing stuff on weight. All for a super low price of $39 or pay-what-you-can. Don't miss 30 hours of awesomeness. (Listen live or later.) Sign up here…
What will I be talking about?
Here's the talk description: Have you avoided activism because it sounds like a lot of unpleasant sign-waving on street corners? What if you got together with a bunch of friends for the kind of fun and frolic that immediately enhances your life and makes the world seem like a better place? This hour will include some tips and stories about having a good time while doing good.
Check out the whole lineup! I hope you'll join me and enjoy!
by Marilyn Wann
What a total delight last night to meet Jes Baker creator of The Militant Baker blog and founder of the Body Love Conference. (Next year in Tucson! In April.)
Jes gave her empowering, reassuring, smart, historically analytical, and fun presentation at Chrystal Bougon's Curvy Girl Lingerie shop in San Jose. (Where shoppers can sample a menthol-based clitoral cream during restroom visits, which gives new meaning to self-serve awesome sauce.) Chrystal is a genius at finding garments that fit and look great. For example, thigh-highs that actually stay up and don't pinch! Before you start shopping, here's an online version of Jes's talk, a serious must-see…
In addition to hearing Jes's presentation and writing my very own body-love affirmation Post-It note ("Bingo wings. Fly free!"), I learned that Jes and I both started very public fat pride projects at about the same age. I thought back to how I felt and everything I was doing, after the first year of publishing the FAT!SO? 'zine, how exciting it was to meet people in fat community, to share our outrage and liberation. It's incredibly heartening to see Jes (and so many awesome people) speaking out, being creative, expressing outrage, liberating themselves and others, and having a good time doing it. I know that the anti-fat institutions are entrenched and powerful, but they're also just so very stupid and mean and wrong that I don't see how they can last.
I love a main point that Jes makes: how we feel about our bodies affects how we participate in the world. The personal is political.
Some people find it easier to focus on the personal side, on setting aside the weight negativity we've all been taught to carry. Other people are more interested in changing the world. I think we need both modes of engagement. If we only look at the personal level, what happens when we leave the house? Standing up for oneself in the world can solidify one's personal resolve. And if we only work to change the world, we'll likely still carry around (and repeat) our internalized weight negativity — counterproductive. Personal realizations help envision a better world.
I was also honored when Jes used the Yay! Scale™ as an example of rewiring negative thoughts in positive directions, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Instead of numbers, Yay! scales give compliments. You find out what you Yay!. Which seems much more important and meaningful than whatever you happen to weigh.
There's another pairing that goes great together: being militant and being mirthful. I'm so glad to have photos with Jes that show us in these two transformative modes. We're throwing the sign of the donut, a secret (Shh!) of the Chubster Gang, founded by UK fat activist and scholar Charlotte Cooper. Almost exactly 10 years ago, the Associated Press reported on fat community rejecting the weight-loss industry and called me a "militant member." (I love it!) A fat convention was happening at the time. I remember getting on the elevator with Deb Malkin, founder of Re/Dress, and asking her, "If I'm so militant, where's my army?" Deb said, "I'll be your army!" We laughed and the other person in the elevator spoke up. He was a tall, thin, middle-aged white guy who would have been a much better person to play Dos Equis's Most Interesting Man in the World. He was wearing a double-breasted, navy blue jacket with gold buttons. He said, "I won't be your army, but can I be your navy?"
Here's to militant mirth rocking the personal political world!
Thank you, weight bigot!
Dear Weight Bigot:
Thanks for writing such a classic piece of hate-mongering this week! I appreciate that you took time away from your important work (telling readers of the Daily Mail whether older women should have long hair) to chide young fat women for enjoying their vacation. Which — gasp! — included wearing clothes suitable for summer weather.
You did a thorough job of parroting all the oldies:
Why are today's young people so unashamed about being fat? Because, Weight Bigot, rad fatty community is fighting you…and you're helping us win.
Without ugly rants like yours, Weight Bigot, fat activism and weight diversity resources would still be desperately needed…just not quite as obviously so. If you weren't such a turn-off for readers of all sizes, they might not find Ragen Chastain's excellent "Unapologetically Fat" or Melissa McEwan's on-point analysis, or my little thank you note instead. Just think, a human resources manager or a campus events coordinator or an eating disorders conference planner might this very moment be reading your screed and feel inspired to Google for a weight diversity speaker. The next time you stop by the Weight Bigots Clubhouse, would you please let the other members know how very much I appreciate it when you remove the smiley-face masks and show your hate faces? It makes my work go faster. Thanks!
Love - Marilyn Wann, fat girl
I'm quoted in Oprah Magazine!
by Marilyn Wann
I remember the moment this quote came to me. I had just published the first issue of the FAT!SO? 'zine. I was designing a postcard to ask indie bookstores to sell copies on consignment. Why should they? Because…
It was the summer of 1994, almost exactly 20 years ago.
Since then, everything I've done as a fat activist has been a variation on this quote. In the hope that all of us — all sizes of us — can get on with our lives, free of pointless and prejudicial weight limits.
I've tried all sorts of stuff, much of it delightfully absurd:
It's been a wonderful 20 years. Thanks so much to everyone I've met! Belly bumps all around… )(
Fat activism, media appearances, weight diversity talks, and other news from Marilyn Wann.