“It gets better” is not enough


I am sure that the people who say “It gets better” mean well. I am sure that they want to keep children from killing themselves. But “it gets better” doesn’t help a kid who is being teased mercilessly by his/her peers. If you’re 14 years old, and all your classmates have turned on you, what good is it to hear that things will be better in a year or more? I heard that sort of crap a lot when I was a kid, and I don’t remember it helping me much.

When I was that kid being picked on, what I learned was that adults can’t help, mostly because they don’t know how. I don’t know how well that has advanced, but I suspect it hasn’t.

To those who say “it gets better,” I’m sorry for disparaging your message. It isn’t wrong, at least most of the time. I was rocked with three emotional crises over a short period of time, but two years after the first one, I was a lot better. High school was still a trial, but it was better than eighth grade, and I did manage to gather together a group of friends. But “it gets better” isn’t much to offer a kid who is hurting now. Why can’t we make it better for that kid now?

The only thing I know is that, more than anything in the world, I want to help that kid who had trouble dealing with the torment. It seems to me that school administrators could do more to make their schools emotionally safe places. But maybe they don’t know how.

Public Health Does Not Make Me Public Property


If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me with some form of “But.. but… HEALTH!!” message in response to my fat activism, I would be a very wealthy woman indeed.  I’ve heard it all when it comes to people trying to use health, either private or public, as a stick to beat fat people over the head with.  To me it just boils down to one thing… no matter what a person’s appearance, weight, shape, level of health or physical ability, every human being deserves to live their lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on their appearance, size, shape, body or health/physical ability.

Of course, to the essentialists out there who want to claim that fat activists are somehow anti-health, the idea of EVERYBODY deserving the same rights regardless of their appearance or physical state-of-being gets them into a right lather of outrage.  There is this attitude that “public health” must somehow trump basic human rights for some kind of greater good.  Of course, this is borne of decade after decade of big pharma, the media and the “beauty” industry carefully constructing a culture that equates health with attractiveness and thinness, and manoevering those measures of health to unattainable levels that very, very few people in the world actually come close to meeting, ie thin, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered, affluent, etc.

Fat activism, even those of us who actively call out healthism, is not an anti-health message by any means.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I believe that everyone, yes EVERYONE, deserves access to the same healthful resources.  Clean water.  Clean air.  Safe spaces to engage in physical activity that is enjoyable and inclusive.  Abundant, fresh, affordable, nutritious food.  Compassionate medical care.  Vaccinations against communicable diseases.  Fair pay and working conditions.  Comprehensive education for all.  Mental health care.  Accessible public spaces for all bodies.  Affordable housing.  Affordable and suitable clothing.  All of these things contribute to improving the general health and quality of life of all people.

What I do not support is the idea that public health renders some people’s bodies as public property.  Public health is important in our society, and I am all for universal health care (an imperfect version of which we are lucky to have in Australia).  I am all for public health ensuring that our water is clean, that everyone has access to the medication and treatment they need, that people are aware of the importance of vaccination, that all people are encouraged and enabled to get outside into a clean, safe environment and enjoy moving their bodies, that public funding goes into curing disease and providing those treatments to all human beings and so on.

What I do not support from public health is the marking of non-normative bodies as “diseased” or “defective”.  I do not support the removal of agency and self-advocacy from people with non-normative bodies.  I do not support intervention into our bodies and health by public health organisations.  I do not support the vilification of human beings based on their appearance.  I do not support public health being driven by the diet, beauty and pharmacy industries, or the mainstream media, all of which have financial gain to be made in the othering of people based on their appearance.  I do not support public health campaigns that mark some bodies as inferior, immoral or defective.  I do not support public health campaigns that encourage friends, family, schools or other groups to intervene in to other people’s health.  None of these things actually help improve individual health or quality of life, in fact they all impact both health and quality of life negatively.

Anything that renders human beings as vulnerable to any of the above is public shaming and public stigmatisation, not public health.

Part of living in a society is that we can all contribute to that society for the general betterment of all.  Some people will need different resources and levels of care to others, because like any other living species, human beings are diverse.  That does not make those people beholden to society in general to try to change themselves to meet the narrow band of “average” that is classed as “normal”.  Instead, the responsibility is on society as a whole to include all people, rather than just the lucky few that meet some ridiculous arbitrary standards.

Filed under: fat stigma, health, othering, prejudice, public health, shame, stigmatisation

Therapy for fat people and everybody else* now available via Skype


Exciting therapy news! I can now offer counselling/psychotherapy sessions via Skype and I have some spaces available for new clients.

Skype therapy is for people who are time-pressured, who may not be able to get to East London very easily, who may prefer an onscreen therapist rather than someone physically in the room with them. There may be other reasons you might choose Skype too. Having therapy via Skype is the same as having face-to-face therapy in some ways (the things you can talk about, my professional service), and different in others (sessions take place in your own space, for example).

Please get in touch with me if you are interested in working face-to-face or via Skype. We can have a preliminary chat by email, and if you want to book a session I will talk you through the steps needed to set things up. My office is in East London, and the Skype service is available to anybody anywhere in the UK, or British people living abroad.

I work with people from all kinds of backgrounds and specialise in working with issues relating to fat and bodies in general, sexuality and social justice. I am an experienced and qualified therapist as well as a Registered Member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Feel free to peruse the extensive Frequently Asked Questions section of my website, which gives plenty of background information, and drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.

* Yep.

The Fitbit


I’ve been seeing pedometers discussed a bit lately.  In some ways, they get a bad rap; we’ve seen them [mis-]used in “wellness” programs and that accuracy varies.  Although they can be amusing, as noted by one NY Times commenter:

Fitbit has a clip on model that I attach to the waistband of tights or to the center of my bra. I’ve had this one for a year and it’s gone through the laundry and still works…though it did count the washing and drying as 37 flights of stairs.

- comment from Karen in Chicago

Ana Mardoll, meanwhile, uses one to be sure she doesn’t walk too much.

As it happens, I’ve had a Fitbit Zip for about 6 months now.  What does it say?

Graph showing 6 months of data

Graph showing daily average steps for every 7 days

The above graph the daily average steps for each week.  There’s some variations, but it varies between 2400 and 5500 per day.

Daily average steps per month

Daily average steps per month

The daily average per month graph, however, shows a much smaller variation – from 2950 to 3400.  That’s a fairly narrow range.  On average, the Zip says I’m walking about the same as I did six months ago.

What has changed?

I have become more aware of how much I walk.  I thought I was more active on the weekends because I walk around the house more frequently than the office.  Wrong!  The house is more compact; I have to make an effort if I want to walk as much on the weekends as I do by just going to work.

I am more consistent in my walking routine.  I had noticed before I got the Zip that varying between “not walking much” and “going on a hike” would leave me with aching knees.  Now I have a higher “minimum” and I have a LOT fewer problems.

For the curious, the Fitbit Zip is pretty much a pedometer.  It doesn’t do flights of stairs or track my sleep, like other models do.  It uploads data to a website for long-term tracking.   The website can be used with or without one of the trackers, if you’re into manually entering things.  (Personally I just use the Zip.)

One gripe I’ve had about the “dashboard” is that it assumes I want to track my weight, calories, etc.  No, I don’t want to log food. I don’t want to track my weight. I don’t care how many calories you think I’ve used….

Snapshot of Fitbit dash

Bonus reminder my Fitbit doesn’t track stairs.

There’s also a beta for a new dashboard, which is better at letting me hide what I don’t care to see.

Example new dashboard.

Example new dashboard.

Personally I prefer the new one.

Overall, if you’re the sort of person who learned to disconnect from and distrust your body, this kind of tracker may be a useful tool.  But like many things, your mileage may vary.

Filed under: Anti-Obesity Programs, Exercise, Walking

Low Hanging Health Fruit


evil breadI’m often asked what I think the first steps are to pursue health.  First, to be clear, I don’t think that anyone is obligated to pursue health or healthy habits.  I think that the decision of how highly to prioritize health and the path to take is an intensely personal one.  I am also aware that, while there are things that are shown to help us play the odds when it comes to our health, there are never any guarantees.

Still, many fat people have been mislead to believe that dieting is the only path to health and that weight loss behaviors are the only type of healthy behaviors if you’re fat.  Once they learn that weight loss hardly ever works and, even when it does it isn’t shown to lead to better health, people can feel completely lost.  I remember being really scared in the time between learning the truth about dieting but before I learned about Health at Every Size that there was nothing I could do to help my health odds.  Even when I learned about HAES I wasn’t sure where to start.

I’ve noticed that with a diet mentality the focus is often on what we are going to give up (I’m giving up this type of food, this drink, this food group etc.),  and doing what we hate (Not a morning person?  You are now!  Not a runner?  You are now!)

I’ve seen people be much more successful doing the exact opposite – making it an additive process and going after the “low hanging fruit” first.

There are any number of things that have been shown to improve our health – more sleep, less stress, fruits and vegetables, movement, water, and that’s just a start.  We are never going to be able to do all of them all of the time.

So if you want to put more focus  on your health and you aren’t sure where to start, consider adding more of something that you already like.  If you love veggies, add a couple more servings in a day.  If you hate veggies, leave that alone for now and pick something you do like/can do – get an extra hour of sleep, do some movement that you like, drink some water, hit a pillow with a tennis racket to relieve some stress.  Consider laying off the sweeping declarations for now (I’m going to drink x ounces of water every day for the rest of my life! Five servings of fruits and vegetables each day or BUST!) and just make a decision in this moment to have some water or eat an apple. Celebrate every victory and have a ton of compassion for yourself.

Obviously this isn’t the only way, but for me part of rejecting the diet mentality was rejecting the idea that the path to health was paved with giving things up and doing things that I hated. I think there’s absolutely a better way and I think it’s worth it to find it.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

Fat Shamed by a 7 Yr Old


Kids are weird; they're trying so hard to figure out how to be themselves, and behave properly, and learn all this stuff about what it means to be a person and an adult and all the rest that I'm surprised their heads don't explode. I have two of them, ages 10 months and nearly 7 years old, and they equally delight and amaze, and horrify me, almost on a daily basis.

Case in point; last Sunday we were getting ready to go out to Goldstream Provincial Park for the afternoon and Gabe decided to see if he could get a rise out of me by commenting on what I was wearing. I was brushing my teeth or doing my hair, something in the bathroom infront of the mirror at any rate, and he comes in, stands beside me and the following happened:

Gabe: Mom, you look really fat in those pants.

Me: ... Well, I am fat, so I'm going to look that way no matter what I wear.

Gabe: You shouldn't wear those pants. They make you look really really fat.

Me: ... I'm ok with that. I'm not going to get changed, I like these pants.

Gabe: No, mom! You look ugly. Don't wear those!

He seemed to be more upset that I wasn't taking the bait and getting mad about what he was saying than actually disliking what I was wearing. I'm not about to be fat-shamed and fashion police-d by my own kid, so at this point he got a 10 minute time out for extreme rudeness. It's my hope that by keeping my cool and not reacting in a big way that he'll realize that being called fat isn't an insult and not do it to other people trying to hurt them.

About great achievements.


Sometime after I earned my first Master's degree in Education, I had a thought. Here I was achieving a graduate degree that only about 8 percent of the US population have done. My thought was I could achive this, so why can't I be thin? After all there only about an 8% chance of losing weight and keeping it off, why should it be harder than getting a master's degree?  

My first Masters had been difficult. I twice thought about dropping out. I got two low grades, I had second thoughts about going into teaching and later it turned out the thesis adviser was barely letting anyone graduate (She was eventually replaced and I finally finished.) Writing the thesis itself took all my free time and I lived in the library. 

But all I thought about after this incredible accomplishment is why I couldn't get thin. 

The first degree was a nightmare. I ended up never using it. I really didn't like teaching and I had trouble finding work. 

So I got another Master's degree this time in Library Science. Getting was much smoother than the first one. When it was time to do my thesis, I was ready. I found two partners who wanted to finish in one semester. We all worked full time. So every single weekend and some weekday nights the three of us would hole up in a study room at the library and work on our research for hours. Imagine that, having the discipline to give up weekends (at the time I was recently married) to finish this paper. 

During this degree, I was a "successful" dieter. I had being doing a low carb diet for almost a year, I had lost 40 pounds and kept it off.  Eventually I stopped losing and started gaining. But for a while I thought I had it all: the education, the husband, and the weight loss.  

Recently a visiting NYU professor tweetedDear obese PhD applicants: If you don't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation.

The tweet was taken down quickly but the damage was done. The "professor" had to quickly backtrack his words, probably fearful of losing his job. 

It's funny of all the unwarranted dieting advice he signalled out that fat people cannot stop eating carbs. Earlier tweets indicated he is a fan of the paleo diet fad (I can write an entire blog post about how incorrect it is and how our Paleo ancestors ate mostly vegetarian.) 

I have previously written that when  I gave up carbs completely, I got very ill. Even in the earlier low carb diets I did where the carb count was higher, I had heart palpitations, reflux disease, constant thoughts of food, dreams about cheating. I became pre-occupied with food, always thinking about the next meal. It turned out that low carb dieting is yet another low calorie diet. 

I have to wonder how I managed to find the strength and discipline after all this dieting to finish two masters degrees. 

And if you want to see more fabulous fat people with advanced degrees, click here. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Online Fat Hating


Keep CalmThose who have the audacity to suggest that fat people are human beings who deserve to be treated with basic human respect tend to be the recipients of  plenty o’ hatemail.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I often feel like my haters aren’t reaching their full potential, so I thought I’d help out.  Here are 5 quick and basic tips to improve your online fat hating:

1.  Lose and Loose – learn the difference.  Lose is a verb that means to suffer the loss of.  Loose is an adjective that means the opposite of tight or constrained.  They are not interchangeable.   Here’s a sentence to help you out:  If one more person e-mails to tell me I need to loose weight, I’m going to seriously lose my temper.

2.  Speaking of spelling, cunt is spelled C-U-N-T.  The number of times I’ve been called a fat cnut is absolutely staggering. Apparently I’m not the only one, Clever Pie covered this issue in their fabulous song ‘Thank You Hater.”  I’m just saying that if you’re going to use your precious, limited time on earth to send me an e-mail calling me names, at least take the extra three seconds to spell check that shit.

For the record I don’t feel any need to apply my grammar/spelling criticism consistently. I make plenty of grammar and spelling errors myself. If someone is trying to engage in actual conversation then I don’t care at all about their grammar and spelling.  If someone is writing me for the purpose of spreading hate or attempting to make me hate myself, then I reserve the right to be offended that they didn’t at least take the time to use the spelling and grammar check.

3.  Calling me a landwhale.  I don’t mind this per se, I’ve even seen some pretty decent photo shop combinations with my body and a whale’s head, I am always impressed that someone took that kind of time on me.  The thing is, there are fat animals that live on land and I feel like they’re not getting their due.   There is just no need to make up animals when you could call me an elephant, hippo, or rhino.  Or, go the extra mile and do some research (I mean, do you want to be just an adequate hater or do you want to really excel?)  Did you know that the Formicium giganteum was an ant that was HUGE by ant standards – larger than a hummingbird. So you could call me Formicium giganteum or, since we know that spelling isn’t your strong suit, just call me Formi!

4.  If you are going to make an impassioned and/or indignant assertion that you are just doing this to help me (incidentally I think that I’ll know when you’re being helpful because I’ll actually feel helped, but that’s a blog for another day), if you want to try to make the claim that you are somehow doing this for my own good, you might want to take a pass on mocking me for doing the very things you say I need to do – find a way to keep yourself from photo shopping a whale’s head onto a picture of me exercising, somehow find the restraint not to post videos of me dancing and then mock them.  I’m only telling you this for your own good, since otherwise people are going to assume that you are a massive jackass.

5.  Finally, the way that you are able to e-mail me and say “Ragen, You are a fat landwhale cnut who needs to loose weight,” attaching that picture you spent so much time photo shopping, is because I put my e-mail, picture, and name on this blog.  Even knowing that I’m going to suffer abuse from bigots, I put my name on what I write.  So if you’re going to sign that e-mail swolebro or whatever anonymous thing you use, then you are a coward.  You can fuck right the hell off, at the very least until you locate your guts.

So there it is, a little dose of fat hater community service from danceswithfat.  Those of you with your own haters know that there are many more areas for hater improvement, but I thought we’d start with the basics today and leave the rest for another time.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

the HAES® files: History of the Health At Every Size® Movement—the 1970s & 80s (Part 2)


by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW

In response to requests from our readers, the Health At Every Size Blog is honored to reprint 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 Two in a series.

The 1970s saw the building of feminism, iconoclasm, introspection, a peace movement regarding Vietnam, and mounting pressure on women to be thinner.

The social construction of weight concerns was examined in different ways by New York and London- based psychotherapist Susie Orbach, a group of women in Los Angeles, and a medical anthropologist in the San Francisco Bay area.

FIFI coverFor Orbach, white, middle-class women’s eating problems were the result of their subordinate status in society. These “compulsive eaters” would get caught up in a repeated diet/binge cycle, which Orbach attributed to their ambivalence. She explored these ideas in Fat Is a Feminist Issue. She and Carol Munter recommended stopping dieting and listening to one’s own hunger/fullness cues, as well learning to use one’s own voice (rather than the body) to express difficult feelings and ideas.

Fat feminists Vivian Mayer (also called Aldebaran) and Judy Freespirit, women in the Los Angeles chapter of NAAFA, presented the following to the women of the Los Angeles radical therapy collective:

  • Biology, not eating habits, is the main cause of fat
  • Health problems of fat people are not inherently due to fat, but the result of stress, self-hatred, and chronic dieting
  • Weight loss efforts damage health, almost never “succeed” except temporarily, and should not be used
  • Food binges are a natural response to chronic dieting
  • The role of a radical therapist is to help fat women feel good about themselves as fat women and stop trying to lose weight. To accomplish this, radical therapists should learn and teach accurate information about fat women’s health and nutrition. They should provide emotional support for women on binges to continue eating and stop feeling guilty (1)
Lynn McAfee

Lynn McAfee

Aldebaran subsequently published two articles about psychology, health, and fatness in radical therapy journals. The Fat Underground formed and included, among others, Lynn Mabel-Lois (subsequently called Lynn McAfee). They published a brochure, “Before You Go On a Diet, Read This.” They were validated by sociologist Natalie Allon and by psychologists Susan and O. Wayne Wooley, who published research incorporating fat feminist writings in professional journals.

Another academic, medical anthropologist Margaret MacKenzie, noted that in societies where larger women were accepted, such as Samoa, their blood pressure was normal.

The decade of the 1980s was characterized in part by Reagonomics and a “greed is good” business ethos; the burgeoning size of Americans along with a greater societal focus on physical fitness; women increasingly entering and competing in the workforce; the emergence of AIDS; the explosive rise of personal computing, and the end of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War.

Questions were being raised about dieting. Bob Schwartz’s 1982 book, Diets Don’t Work, was based on his program of the same name. Schwartz noticed how people ate who were not worried about food and weight, and taught what would be later called intuitive eating. Molly Groger wrote a book about her training program, Eating Awareness Training, which also helped people return to intuitive eating. Both Groger and Schwartz however, suggested that by following intuitive eating, people’s extra weight would melt off over time.

dieters dilemmaTwo other books raised major concerns about the ineffectiveness and harmfulness of weight-loss diets: The Dieter’s Dilemma by William Bennett, MD, and Joel Gurin, and Breaking the Diet Habit, by Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman. Bennett and Gurin posited that nearly all people had setpoints, which regulated each person’s body fat and weight. Dieting resulted in lowered metabolic rates and rebound weight gain, and was all but useless. Polivy and Herman discussed the “natural weight” range, which varied by individuals in a species, and recommended intuitive eating (not yet named as such) and accepting one’s natural size, as an alternative to struggling with dieting. They also reframed dieting as “restrained eating,” wherein one ignored body signals and instead responded to external cues, such as the time of day or the amount of food on a plate. Another of their concepts was the “what-the-hell effect,” in which restrained eaters overate in response to having come off their diets.

Bennett, in a 1982 speech to NAAFA, addressed the medicalization (for profit and prestige) of obesity, and proposed “preventive measures – the kind of effort everyone, fat, skinny, or whatever, should be doing to maintain and improve general health.”

obsession coverFeminist writers and thinkers like Kim Chernin (The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness) noted that as women increasingly competed with men in the work force, the societal imperative to be thin weighed ever more heavily on them, and there was a dramatic increase in eating disorders.

bi.summer89In 1984, Alice Ansfield began publishing Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women. Published quarterly for 16 years, “its purpose was to support women ‘all sizes of large’ in living proud, full, active lives, at whatever weight, with self-love and self-respect” (quoted from the website).

In 1985, the National Institutes of Health’s Consensus Development Conference on the Health Implications of Obesity, ignoring much of the evidence presented, declared, “The evidence is now overwhelming that obesity, defined as excessive storage of energy in the form of fat, has adverse effects on health and longevity,” and declared obesity a disease.

Researchers Paul Ernsberger and Paul Haskew wrote a very clear, well- documented monograph titled, “Rethinking Obesity: An alternative view of its health implications,” which was the Summer 1987 issue of The Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation. Among many tables in the article were a chronology of hazardous treatments for obesity and a long list of health benefits of obesity. Obesity was associated with lower incidences of cancer, many cardiovascular, gynecological, respiratory, bone, and obstetric diseases, and lower mortality from cancer and infectious diseases. The authors panned the 1985 NIH Consensus Development Conference on the Health Implications of Obesity as drawing from biased information, mostly from the insurance industry, and rejecting the vast majority of epidemiological evidence. They predicted many of the problems with its anti-fat bias, and stated, “It is no longer appropriate to consider obesity a disease if it has benefits as well as hazards.”

Australian psychobiologist Dale Atrens, in his 1988 book, Don’t Diet, wrote a similar book for the lay reader. Among his statements: “There is no good reason to consider the general increase in fatness an epidemic. People are becoming taller, too, but nobody talks about a height epidemic. Nor is there any good reason to consider fatness a disease. The people of the Western world are both fatter and healthier than ever before.” (p. 238)

In the Midwest, nutritionist Ellyn Satter was working with parents and children, clarifying that children were responsible for what and whether they ate, while parents were responsible for what food they provided and when it was provided.

Frances M. Berg

Francie Berg

Enraged at the way diet programs deceived and mistreated their customers, health writer and former home economics teacher Frances Berg began writing a weekly newspaper column, which would eventually become the Healthy Weight Journal. The journal – which evolved into the Healthy Weight Network – was dedicated to “exposing fraud and deception, and to reshaping society’s attitudes toward size and weight.”

transforming body imageIn the field of psychotherapy, New England psychologist Marcia Germaine Hutchinson recommended “learning to love the body you have” in her 1985 book, Transforming Body Image. Psychotherapists Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter viewed “compulsive overeating” as a soothing disorder, healed by legalizing all foods and tuning in to physical hunger, in their program and 1988 book, Overcoming Overeating.  Oregon psychologist Nancy Barron founded and ran Ample Opportunity, a size acceptance organization for women which promoted active living, and published Ample Information. Their motto was, “A good life is the best revenge.” Psychologists Esther Rothblum and Laura Brown published Overcoming Fear of Fat, originally published as Women & Therapy in 1989, and including a chapter by Barron. The publication targeted fat oppression, rather than fatness, as the problem.

great shape coverBudding psychologist Deb Burgard started a fitness program for larger women, called “We Dance,” in the early 1980s. Soon after, she met Pat Lyons, an RN and health educator who was researching fitness for larger women, and would go on to run the “Great Shape” fitness program for Kaiser Permanente. Lyons and Burgard published Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women in 1988.

Lynn Meletiche, RN, NAAFA’s medical advisor, wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Fat People in Health Care in 1988. It included the right “to refuse participation in weight loss programs of all kinds, including diets, surgery, aversive psychological conditioning, and chemical regimes, without jeopardizing access to other treatment and care.”

© Copyright 2009, Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.


(1) Shadow on a Tightrope. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute Book Company, 1983.

Atrens, D.M. (1988). Don’t Diet. New York: William Morrow and Company.

Bennett, W. and Gurin, J. (1982). The Dieter’s Dilemma. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Brown, L.S. & Rothblum, E.D. (1989). Overcoming Fear of Fat. Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press.

Ernsberger, P. & Haskew, P. (1987). Rethinking Obesity: An Alternative View of its Health Implications. The Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation, 6.

Groger, M. (1983). Eating Awareness Training. New York: Summit Books.

Hirschmann, J.R. & Munter, C.H. (1988). Overcoming Overeating. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley. Hutchinson, M.G. (1985). Transforming Body Image. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.

Lyons, P. & Burgard, D. (1990). Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women. Palo Alto: Bull Publishing.

Polivy, J. & Herman, C.P. (1983). Breaking the Diet Habit. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Schwartz, B. (1982). Diets Don’t Work! Houston: Breakthru Publishing.

Tagged: aldebaran, alice ansfield, ample opportunity, dale atrens, Deb Burgard, Ellyn Satter, esther rothblum, fat acceptance, fat is a feminist issue, fat underground, great shape, HAES, health, Health At Every Size, healthy weight journal, healthy weight network, Judy Freespirit, kim chernin, Lynn McAfee, NAAFA, nancy barron, national organization to advance fat acceptance, overcoming fear of fat, Pat Lyons, Paul Ernsberger, paul haskew, radiance, transforming body image, vivian mayer

Painting, Activism, Community and Fat Queer Feminists


Ruth Angel Edwards 2013
Ruth Angel Edwards has produced an extraordinary painting that features an image of me, my girlfriend and some friends and acquaintances from London's queer community. The painting shows a group of people (feminists, women, queers) constructing a space out of wood amidst a forest against some mountains.

I came to be in the painting in a very informal way. Last summer, my friend Ele Cockerill (the one with the bucket) sent me a text to say that Ruth was looking for subjects on which to base a painting. I'd seen Ruth playing in a band called Covergirl and another called Yola Fatoush, and she is part of a scene of young artists, queers and musicians that has supported my own band. I didn't know she was a painter. We arranged to meet up with some other people I know a bit, and she explained what she was looking for. This would be a large-scale painting that referenced women's communities, back-to-the-land lesbian separatism, the physicality of building something yourself. She took some photographs of a group of us looking as though we were working and making something. That was that.

Michigan Dykes by Lynn Levy, 1982
Andrews-Hunt, C. (1983) Images of Our Flesh, Seattle: The Fat Avengers.
When I thought about the painting, I imagined a big landscape with small figures within it, perhaps looking like busy elves beavering away on a structure. I imagined myself as a stick figure far in the background and very inconsequential. I was amazed to see how the painting actually turned out. Far from being a marginal figure, my representation is central to the work. I feel simultaneously thrilled and shy about this, it's both unsettling and exciting to see myself in this way. It brings to mind the archival research I did whilst working towards my doctorate and my interest in the emergence of fat activism through lesbian feminist communities of the 1970s and 80s. I came across many photographic images of community where fat dykes were central and here I am, also central to this picture.

detail by Ruth Angel Edwards
Ruth has painted me as I looked on the day, in my Piggly Wiggly t-shirt and Birkenstocks, with my hair scraped back. You can see one of my tattoos, the grey along my hairline, my rosacea. You can also see a strong gaze, confidence, a powerful attitude. It's really flattering! As my friend Rachel Berger says: "She really captured you". It feels fantastic to see myself in this painting, as someone who is also constituted by a community of action and imagination, and that elements of my real community are here with me in the image, not least my fat girlfriend too. I love that this is a painting of (presumably feminist) collective action. It's not the structure that is central to the image, it's the people. I'm not a painter, but a piece of this scale and scope is, to me, about work and dedication, as is the image itself. It pleases me no end to see 'work' so much a part of the piece; things don't just happen, there is always work behind it all, often women's work, no matter how hidden.

This painting references a feminist past, and a present compellingly. I am probably the oldest one in the picture, maybe the only one to have had first hand experience of second wave feminist land-based organising in the 1980s. Many of my politics and values were established in that period, but I am also critical of it; it was often a terrible time in feminism for queers like me, for trans people, for people of colour. The painting represents a lesbian feminist utopia in some ways, but I feel that my critical presence undermines that somewhat. My boyfriend is out of the frame, for example, but was there when the reference photographs were taken, and is also part of this social group. I hope the inclusion of me enables younger feminists to resist adopting the more problematic aspects of vintage fundamentalist feminism unchecked, and to develop more progressive politics.

Pinky by Sadie Lee
Ruth's painting has made me think about other queer representations of fat in modern painting (which, sadly, excludes Allyson Mitchell, queer fat artist par excellence). By queer I mean that either painter or sitter, or both, are queer, or where there is a queer sensibility infusing the work. Lucien Freud's celebrated paintings of Leigh Bowery and Big Sue spring to mind, but so too does Sadie Lee's paintings Pinky and Amy's Room. What's interesting to me is that the people painting them with love and attention are not fat. The same goes for Ruth. When you're fat it's often hard to imagine your physical presence being anything but abhorrent to someone else, especially thin people, and lord knows we encounter social messages like this every day. But these artists value fat people and our bodies, not as cute or pretty, or as the potential to be normal and nice, or in a traditionally socially sanctioned way, and far beyond a rhetoric of healthy/unhealthy, but as we are and as they see us. It is fabulous.