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Unnatural Allies —

January 27, 2012
by

Over a year ago, Marilyn Wann and I had a falling out over the role dieters should play in Fat Acceptance. I said and did some things I regret and, as a result, she unfriended me on Facebook.

I was devastated. I shattered her faith and trust in me, and now the Mother of modern Fat Acceptance had cut me off.

In the video I did about Strong4Life, I mention at the beginning that I had been bullied for my weight, among other things, and at the bottom of the screen scrolls a list of the personality traits that made me a difficult friend and an easy target. The list reads weirdness, buck teeth, butt cut, talked too much, perpetually disruptive, annoying, ADD before ADD was ADD, poor impulse control, socially awkward and no internal censor.

All of these things are still true today (even the buck teeth and butt cut), but I have grown to accept that for most people, I’m not worth their time or energy. I’m like a sanity watchers vacuum.

As a highly-opinionated fuck-up with poor impulse control, I’m accustomed to people either really liking me (the few) or really disliking me (the many). Since I’m firmly in the former camp and like myself unconditionally, I don’t worry too much about the haters.

But when I began daily blogging in opposition to Strong4Life, I wanted to get as many Fat Activists as possible to join us. Over the past year, I have sent Marilyn sporadic messages on various issues in hopes of getting a second chance to work with her, which, in spite if myself, she always responded to courteously and respectfully.

This time, when I asked if she would like to join forces against Strong4Life she enthusiastically accepted, to my surprise, and the rest, as they say, is history.

She could have told me, in the immortal words of Vesta, eat shit and bark at the moon, and she would have been completely justified. Yet she set aside our rocky past in order to unite against a common enemy: corporate-sponsored bullying.

Since then, I have had the unique pleasure and honor of working shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the most inexhaustibly brilliant fat activists ever. The day she refriended me on Facebook well always stand out as a key moment of solidarity and unity in a movement chock full of disparate, passionate individuals.

Marilyn and I still don’t necessarily agree on the role of dieters in Fat Acceptance, but on this issue we are in total lockstep in our sole purpose of ending the shame campaign in Georgia.

The reason I bring this up is that yesterday on the blog, Jackie commented on our inclusion of Alton Brown, a man who has said horrible, hateful things about fat people, and continues to do so, as I noted at the bottom of the Call to Action.

While I do not deny that Brown’s opinions on fat people are terrible and that we should never cease to criticize those who belittle people for the size of their bodies, I will still happily accept Alton Brown as an ally.

Why?

Because if Alton Brown, a man with such a repugnant, vocal disdain for fat people, will speak out against Strong4Life’s fat shaming billboards, then it will clearly be an easy sell to convince the rest of the world that shame and stigma are harmful, reckless weapons in the War on Fat.

Alton Brown’s condemnation of Strong4Life is just further confirmation that Strong4Life must, and will, end Phase 1 of this campaign.

Once that happens, once the billboards come down, Alton Brown can also eat shit and bark at the moon, and I will waste no time calling him out for fat-hating nonsense. The other thing we must consider is that as activists, one of our jobs is to convince the Alton Browns of the world that Health at Every Size® is a viable, evidence-based alternative to weight loss, and that fat people do not deserve to be treated like petulant children in need of a paternalistic douchebag.

If we are lure the Alton Browns of the world to the Fat Side, then we cannot treat them like enemies, but like misguided fools in need of reform. Accepting Alton Brown’s endorsement is not so much a scrapping of our principles as it is an admission that Brown is possibly just 95% misguided. By engaging with him, we hope to lower his misguided defenses a bit more, but for now, that’s enough for me.

Because right now we have an opportunity to take a stand as a community and send a message to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the world, that we will not tolerate the bullying and degradation of fat people.

For many political bloggers, we spend the vast majority of our time in our own little worlds, promoting our own little versions of the activism we believe in. We spend that time honing our opinions and crafting our viewpoints to persuade others to support our viewpoints.

In this mode of activism, it is vital that we draw boundaries and call out those who we believe have strayed from the core principles of our belief systems. I have done so myself, and will continue to do so.

But in this moment, right now, as we stand toe-to-toe with a $50 million hate campaign, we cannot afford litmus tests and purity pledges; we cannot demand fealty and submission to our positions; we cannot waste a single moment in deciding whether we will accept or reject Person X for their past transgressions.

My position on this may be totally misguided and far too idealistic for many, but I believe it is a necessary position if we are to achieve our goal of shutting down Strong4Life.

I don’t care if MeMe Roth herself decided that Strong4Life needed to end, I would still accept her inclusion into our organization. Does that preclude me from criticizing her past statements or telling her that she’s a completely clueless moron on 99% of her views? Absolutely not. But I am willing to lay down arms in order to add to this burgeoning chorus that bullying fat kids is just wrong.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    January 27, 2012 12:31 pm

    Sorta kinda like the enemy of my enemy is my ally, even if it is just temporary. I totally agree that we can’t afford to turn away any voice that agrees with us that bullying fat kids (or kids who even think they’re fat) is wrong, even if they don’t like fat people per se. And if those voices are famous voices and willing to ally with us in this, so much the better. I see it as opening a chink in their fat-hating armor – if they can see that it’s not okay to bully fat kids, maybe, just maybe, we can convince them that bullying fat people of all ages is wrong. If we can get them to stop the bullying, that’s a step on their long road to acceptance of HAES for all.

  2. Fab@54 permalink
    January 27, 2012 10:17 pm

    What Vesta said… x’s two. 🙂

  3. January 31, 2012 4:19 pm

    Honestly, the fact that Marilyn Wann booted you off her Facebook merely for disagreeing with a bulletin point is disturbing. I am not sure I would be eager to be in her good graces again. Sometimes I feel like that woman is the size acceptance “controller” who makes sure that everyone passes prescribed ideological tests to be allowed in the door. LOL, I know I’ll never be on the same page with her.

    I really do not expect much of the celebs, honestly, you seem more hopeful. Food Network, is a place of very mixed messages, so not sure what Alton Brown could bring to the table. I thought he looked like he was in better health before he lost weight and at the time wondered if we were going to get the news he had cancer or something.

    The Strong4Life stuff is awful, I took a look at the posters recently, all it does is give bullies more of a starting point to mock the fat kids and others to harangue them more.

    • January 31, 2012 4:25 pm

      Marilyn was completely justified in booting me from Facebook. And I’ve never gotten the impression that she controls anything. She’s an extremely likable, extremely popular activist who has opinions on the movement she loves, just as I or you or anyone else does. Just because her voice is louder doesn’t mean she’s interested in controlling anything. Marilyn and I don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on 95% of the issues we are passionate about (see what I did there?). I’m thrilled that we have had this opportunity to work together and I’ve been supremely impressed by her ingenuity, energy and spirit throughout this project. There’s a reason people listen to her and it’s because she’s a natural born leader.

      Don’t paint all celebs with the same brush. Some couldn’t care less, some just haven’t heard us. Give it some time.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  4. February 1, 2012 11:56 am

    Well our opinions will probably differ on her. I believe she promotes harmful answers, and ignores the health results of obesity and has helped to disenfranchise those over a certain size in size acceptance. I just do not understand what some see in her frankly. She may be able to gather attention and get herself in the media spotlight, but what about the message “fat is good”? You know people get overly impressed by celebs and “big names” and just go marching off. I stand by this claim, I wrote some time ago:

    “Years ago, I got in a conversation with Marilyn Wann or someone claiming to be her online but it was her message board so believed it was her, I think at the time I was near my peak weight and probably about to die, wish I could remember the exact year but it was at least 10 years ago if not more. I told her, “Please go to a nursing home that specializes in bariatrics to see what obesity really does to people and how it ravages lives”. She was actually quite offended by this. Even one of my friends who had lost weight but had grown more ill from another condition, was in a nursing home where she saw a score of people too overweight to function in their 30s, and 40s and beyond. Marilyn Wann probably would be in shock that I am even still alive to this day. This was around the time right before I lost weight down from near 700lbs and got involved in my last communy. I described my life at the time to her. I felt absolutely no empathy whatsoever, and was condemned for not being “fat positive”. She seems to be another “community organizer” and “social engineer” type that cares nothing about normal fat people, just there to influence minds and opinions for the powers that be throwing up distraction. For someone like this, I am sure it’s a good money-making gig but not much more then that, but she doesn’t speak for me.”

    I am not fooled by her in other words.

    http://fivehundredpoundpeeps.blogspot.com/search/label/Marilyn%20Wann

    I find myself thinking I’d rather those poor fat kids be left alone by her and the fat hating organization TOO. Ever notice everything is always a REACTION to the fat haters. How come no one is dealing with the MAIN REASONS the kids are growing fatter, our toxic lifestyle, the poverty-declining American economy–she is totally out of touch there, the bad food, the neighborhoods where parents do not feel safe in letting their kids play freely outdoors, I used to ride my bike for miles at the age of 9-10. Sure I do not want the kids treated this way either, but they need real answers not just what amounts to more pats on the head. Well don’t worry that you are now 300lbs and 12 years old. What kind of response is that? One thing I am noticing, the kids are far fatter then I was when I was young, and I have hit the stratosphere weights, what is going to happen to these children? I do not condone blame or shame for anyone, but sometimes I feel like these little size acceptance battle-thons with the fat bigots, just basically shoves all the REAL ISSUES under the carpet.

    • Mulberry permalink
      February 1, 2012 10:45 pm

      Marilyn Wann is not some despotic tyrant, anyone of us who can gather the support is free to become, or try to become, a leader. She comes up with some clever ideas, and people follow her because being united can get us further.
      Alos, I am curious where you draw the line here at healthy amount of fat and unhealthy amount. Extremes of most bodily characteristics are not considered healthy in general, but how about the moderate amounts? How many 12 year olds are 300 pounds? And when you find one, how do you get him/her to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off without causing other problems?
      How toxic is our life-style compared to say, 50 or 100 years ago? Statistics, anyone? This ubiquitous bad food – is it a choice between bad food and none at all?
      Your own weight gain was not caused by insufficient childhood exercise or an unsafe neighborhood. Do you think most people in the bariatric nursing homes got to their current weights through the toxic environments you talk about?
      Do you think that people at extreme weights would be treated better if people at the more common weights were not treated like fearsome freaks to be got rid of at all costs?
      I don’t know the answers to these questions. But to say obesity is necessarily bad because some people suffer from an extreme amount of it doesn’t make sense to me either. I’m curious to hear your opinions on this.

    • February 2, 2012 9:37 am

      The issues you raise are real, but I object to your definition of “normal.” People with a BMI over 50 are exceedingly rare (less than half of one percent of the population). But from the research I have read, the heaviest people are also the people who have spent the most amount of time dieting and regaining, dieting and regaining. Our obsession with weight loss began at the EXACT SAME TIME as obesity rates began to climb. Our culture and environment was also changing, and many advances have contributed to an increase in average weight (7-9 pounds since the 1970s, I believe).

      Marilyn Wann is not only about being fat positive. If you have read Fat?So! you would know that she’s a vociferous advocate of healthy lifestyles. She is committed to educating people of all sizes that health is not something you have to get thin to achieve. She’s teaching people how to get healthy now in the body they have now and with the goal of achieving long-term health, rather than setting some arbitrary weight loss goal and giving up when you can’t achieve it.

      And part of health is mental health. Hating yourself and being hated by others harms a person’s health. So, fighting fat bigots and attempting to detoxifying our culture’s fat-hating ways is a vital step in making the world safe for fat people to pursue health. Just ask any fat person who has tried going for a walk down a major road and been yelled at. Hatred limits us, and Marilyn Wann has been tirelessly fighting that hatred for decades.

      Maybe you find her personality difficult, and when I was at odds with her I felt that same way, but I’m a difficult person too, as you too, I would bet. Just because you don’t get along with someone’s personality doesn’t mean they aren’t doing valuable, vital work for the community. I hope you will give her another look because everyone deserves a second chance.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  5. February 10, 2012 9:21 pm

    Sorry I am getting back so late in response here. I don’t really consider her a tyrant, she probably has the money, means and connections to get more notice out there. Even with leaders, we should ask where are they leading us too? I tend to more of an independent sort. I don’t need to draw a line regarding unhealthy fat vs, healthy fat, I have lived both and unhealthy fat is a nightmare. I almost died at near 700lbs and life today in the 500s can be a marathon. I do not question that some midsized people can live healthy active lives, but you can’t walk around and tell people that fat is healthy while ignoring it’s extremes or health can happen at all sizes with a straight face because is simply not true.

    I think toxic environments ARE affecting fat people, this message is all over my blog. The unsafe neighborhoods and forms of chronic rather then acute long lessing stress heightens cortisol even barring any Cushings disorders. I believe many people who get fat enough to be in bariactric nursing homes, either are suffering from severe eating disorders, or other medical problems many which remain undiscovered and untreated while they fall in between the cracks of the diet or else or be fat and happy crowd.I am against fat discrimination and hatred, but do not believe ending either, should be at the expense of truth, and that truth is, that at its extreme obesity can be part of a disease process. You simply cannot tell people obesity is great, when people suffer so much in its extremes.

    And to the next poster, even if people in my size category are supposedly rare, should our realities be totally ignored? Are you telling me Marilyn Wann has never run across anyone in my size? Has she never seen a fat woman so heavy, she huffed and puffed just to walk across a room or was relegated to a scooter? I believe dieting can drop down metabolisms, so we have no arguments there.

    I used to read Fat?so! when it was still a zine and pink and being sold at a feminist bookstore. I have read her book. I think her points being against discrimination are just fine, but the be happy and fat stuff is not true for those who suffer from obesity in it’s extreme form. I feel like the social programming lies to me, one side says, be hated for what you are, the other tells me to plaster a smile on face and live in dreamland like in a fat disney world ignoring the fact that being ultra-obese brings incredible pain and suffering to a life. As far as I know Marilyn Wann has not visted a bariactric nursing home. I almost ended up in one, and still would be a candidate except I have some caretaking through a husband. What about all the people failing to get healthy?

    I think telling the truth comes out of self-love and standing up confidently for my beliefs. I am not going to lie to please the social programmers but will tell people what my real life is like and question some of the holes in the logic. While questioning the fat hatred, why do we have to lie to prove ourselves to the fat bigots? There within, I would say my position has far more strength.

    As for her personality, and politics, we differ completely but I have friends who do not agree with me on those sort of things. What bothers me, is her refusal to even examine what some have to say and the help in turning size acceptance into basically a movement of ideologues that suppress independent thought. I don’t mind giving people a second chance. Probably on the worldview point I and her would remain in different places. Maybe one day, she and others can see what I am talking about and put themselves in the shoes of another one day, and at least think about what being 500lbs is really truly like. I’ve been her weight, she’s never been mine.

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