As U.S. citizens continue to be assaulted by messages sellingAtkins diet products, low-carb Ben and Jerry’s ice cream,weight-loss pills and gym memberships, many activists feel that onething is becoming blatantly clear within mainstream U.S. society:being fat is not okay.
The issues of unhealthy body image and eating disorders are notnew to the American public, however it seems that current mediamessages imply that the average consumer has been consuming toomuch. Suddenly, Kellogg commercials are encouraging viewers to”respect” themselves in the morning by not eating pastries, and7-11 is urging commuters to “join the low-carb revolution.”
These messages can have detrimental consequences on countlesspsyches, according to Stacy Bias, founder of FatGirl Speaks. Sizeoppression, often referred to as “fatphobia” by activists,perpetuates unhealthy body ideals, cycles of shame andself-loathing and pumps billions of dollars into the diet industry,she claimed.
“Fatphobia is the application of negative connotations todiversity – specifically, body diversity,” Bias said. “It’s justone of a thousand phobias and the one we’ve chosen to tackle withFatGirl Speaks.”
Tomorrow night’s FatGirl Speaks is described as “a celebrationof size, self and sexuality,” and was created in hopes of spreadingawareness of fatphobia, and to encourage individuals to examine thedominant attitudes about weight.
“I just woke up one morning and thought ‘hey, this sucks!’ Idid, I’m not kidding,” she said. “I thought, we should do somethingabout this, sent out some emails and FatGirl Speaks happened.”
This year marks the second the event has been held, andorganizers are expecting to host another sold-out show. Hosted atthe Hollywood Theater last year, an estimated 530 FatGirl Speakstickets sold within an hour of the show’s start. Event staffreportedly had to turn away between 100 and 150 people before theevening was over.
The demand was greater than Bias and other organizers hadanticipated, however this year they hope to be better prepared.FatGirl Speaks 2004 will be held in Roseland Theater, not onlyallowing planners to prepare for nearly double the attendance(there are 850 tickets available), but the facility allows for anew addition to the event: the afterparty. This year attendees willhave the opportunity to party long into the night with an abundanceof large, lovely ladies after the main event.
Pre-event workshops will cover topics ranging from fatacceptance to big-girl burlesque, and will feature a diverse arrayof speakers from across the realm of anti-size oppressionactivism.
More than anything else, though, planners hope that those whoattend will leave assured that they can love themselves and theirbodies no matter what they look like.
“Basically, it’s a place where people are able to say, ‘I’mokay, you’re okay,'” Marie Fleischmann, FatGirl Speaks organizer,said. “[It’s] a place where fat women are first instead oflast.”
Fleischmann is not stranger to issues of fatphobia. Having grownup with an overweight mother, she explained that she spent thefirst half of her life accepting the common ideology that fatnecessarily means unhealthy.
However, after she started to experience some weight gain, shehad to make a decision.
“I started to look like my mother, and I had to decide if I wasgoing to be a happy fat person or listen to what society said,” shesaid.
“You’re supposed to wear a muu muu and be sad if you’re fat, butthese are the same people giving us this information who helped getthe current president into office. No matter what I do, I do itfrom a core value system from inside myself… my mother listenedto them and she’s a very unhappy person,” Fleischmann said. “Idon’t what to be like that.”
Domi Shoemaker, another FatGirl Speaks organizer, stressed thefutility of guilt and shame, explaining that those emotions onlyserve to further oppress both those with and without body imageissues.
“I look at people who drive big SUV’s and big cars,” Shoemakersaid. “Where’s the guilt in that? But when I self-indulge, I feelguilty. Everyone has the right to live their life without guilt.It’s time to throw away the guilt and party.”
Though FatGirl Speaks focuses on women, Fleischmann said peopleneed to realize fatphobia affects all individuals, regardless ofgender, and that anyone can experience skewed body image.
“Fatphobia is dangerous because of the spiraling self-loathing,”Fleischmann explained. “People are spiraling into drastic measuresto alter the body. It’s not just women who suffer. Yes, we arefocusing on women, but as soon as women start to benefit, so domen. Men are silent fat masses; for them it’s not OK to talk about[it].”
Though FatGirl Speaks was first created as an annual event, Biasis currently working to expand the groups’ reach and role in theanti-size-oppression activist community. Her vision is toeventually sponsor more community-oriented events and help otherorganizations receive grants and funding.
“We’d like to serve as a professional face to fund and create agathering spot for all different organizations,” she explained.”Right now there’s not one place for people to come together andfind out what all the groups are up to.”
Despite the success and growth of FatGirl Speaks over the lastyear, the core group has attempted to keep the spirit of the eventintact. As Bias put it, the event all started because she was angryand didn’t want to be, and thought, “We should have a party.”
“And now it’s transformed from party into an institution,”Shoemaker explained.
Dieting is stupid
One of the obvious signs of fatphobia is the emphasis on dieting inmainstream culture. Many people in this country hold the beliefthat in order to lose weight,they must diet. However, severalorganizations and medical professionals are attempting to spreadthe word that there may be more effective means to sheddingunwanted pounds than dangerously reducing one’s caloric intake.
Consider the following facts:
* Dieting rarely works. 95% of all dieters regain their lost weightand more within 1 to 5 years.
* “Yo-yo” dieting (repetitive cycles of gaining, losing, ®aining weight) has been shown to have negative health effects,including increased risk of heart disease, long-lasting negativeimpacts on metabolism, etc.
* Dieting forces your body into starvation mode. It responds byslowing down many of its normal functions to conserve energy. Thismeans your natural metabolism actually slows down.
* Dieters often experience physical consequences such as loss ofmuscular strength and endurance, decreased oxygen utilization,thinning hair, loss of coordination, dehydration, fainting,weakness, and slowed heart rates.
* Medical studies indicate that people on diets have slowerreaction times and a lesser ability to concentrate than people noton a diet.
* All of the stress and anxiety about food and weight thatpreoccupy dieters actually can consume a portion of a dieters’working memory capacity.
* Numerous studies link chronic dieting with feelings ofdepression, low-self-esteem and increased stress.
* Many studies and many health professionals note that patientswith eating disorders were dieting at the time of the developmentof their eating disorder. Dieting may not cause an eating disorder,but the constant concern about body weight and shape, fat grams andcalories can start a vicious cycle of body dissatisfaction andobsession that can lead all too quickly to an eating disorder.
|A revolution of queen-sizedproportions
A local activist group has been battling fatphobia in the Portlandcommunity since 2002. Queen Size Revolution, a Portland-basedactivist group, hosts local workshops, leads attendees indiscussions about fat-acceptance, self-acceptance, fatphobia andmisinformation in U.S. society about obesity.
“The most important thing for us to do is to outwardly say,proudly, ‘I’m fat,'” Chelsea Lincoln, co-founder of the group, saidat a 2003 FatGirl Speaks workshop. “If other people hear you say,’I’m fat,’ and not in a negative context, then hopefully they’llrealize: they’re fat, that’s OK.”
Though most people don’t realize it, much of the medicalinformation surrounding obesity is questionable at best, Lincolnexplained. Many studies focus on correlative, not causal research,and rarely take lifestyle, diet or environment into account, shesaid.
“Do your research,” she said. “It’s important to know where thisinformation is coming from.”
Lincoln also explained that when patients are overweight, manydoctors blame symptoms on their obesity without actually lookinginto whatever other health problems they might be experiencing.Misdiagnosis also occurs when doctors are unable to accommodatelarger patients. If a patient’s blood pressure is taken with a cuffthat is too small, they will be diagnosed with high blood pressurewhether they have it or not, she said.
Due to such misinformation, members of Queen Size Revolutionquestion the validity of many recent studies, and instead suggestthe need to examine the link between obesity and stress withinsociety, Lincoln said.
“Living day after day under such intense societal pressure, stresshas horrible effects on the body,” she said. “It causes heartproblems, hypertension. Doctors say health problems are due toobesity, but it could be stress. They’re said to cause the samediseases, same conditions.”
At this point, it is important for all size-positive people tocombat fat-oppression and fatphobia whenever they can, said ShiloGeorge, co-founder of Queen Size Revolution.
“Our thinner counterparts are key to the Queen Size Revolution, andquite frankly, we need them,” she said. “If we can all startcalling people on their crap, they’ll get the message and know,hey, this isn’t OK anymore.”