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F@ Lib: The Next Gen

November 4, 2013

Aging GracefullyYou don’t realize that you are old until you are old. There are many signs of the aging process, some more obvious than others: the wrinkles, the creaky knees, and the mysterious transformation that is exhibited when you would rather be snuggling in your bed watching television instead of going out to hear music or dance @ a club. Then there are the more subtle indicators: not being up on the latest lingo, no clue who any of the bands are being nominated for a Grammy, or feeling irritated that people are either not talking loudly enough or the ambient music is too loud.

There is nothing new about growing old. Generations of people have gone through the process before I did and scores more will follow. The realization of how replaceable we all are erases any narcissistic tendencies we may have about our exaggerated purpose in the world. I am not saying that people don’t leave unique footprints; we do, but the world keeps spinning and new people take on the challenges that need maintenance, or complete the ones we have not brought to fruition in our lifetime. This is both disconcerting and comforting. It is sad to think that I will miss out on future advancements that will hopefully take place in my absence and also reassuring to see that there is a new generation taking the faton that is being passed down by the old guard of the f@ liberation/f@ activist/Size Acceptance movement.

Recently, I made contact with many young newcomers to The Movement who seem excited and have the energy to advocate for creating a new paradigm where health and wellness, success and beauty are not connected to weight. Over the past year, I attended the Association for Size Diversity & Health (ASDAH) and National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) conferences and was elated to see a younger demographic among attendees and new members of both organizations. In my local Bay Area Health At Every Size® (HAES) think tank, we have several new participants who are young graduate students and entrepreneurs who are actively invested in not only increasing their understanding of HAES, but of finding ways to introduce and enlist their peers into the arena of Fat/Size Acceptance. I have been contacted by many high school, college, and graduate students this year who interviewed me for research studies, theses, surveys, and projects for school in the areas of nutrition, fat studies, women’s studies, and expressive arts therapies, all of whom are inspired to make tangible changes in the fatphobic fabric of our culture. And there have also been several people putting together timelines and histories of how the Fat Acceptance and HAES movements developed.

All of this is fantastic and I see it as an optimistic barometer reading that the fight for civil rights for people of all sizes is not going by the weigh-side as those of us who have been doing this work since at least the ’60s become less able to fight the good fight with the same verve, or for some, physical ability of our younger years. The expression “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” has new meaning for me as I find I can no longer tolerate the arduous demands of marches, getting pepper-sprayed, organizing phone banks. I find myself looking for more passive ways to stay involved and process the sadness that sometimes creeps into my heart as I redefine my role. I also have one request for the newbies: this may sound selfish or narcissistic, but my request is to be sure to remember those who came before you.

I recently attended a fantastic event called Crips Soiree and a film entitled Sins Invalid. One of the themes was body image, sexuality, and disability. The performers did a stunning job exploring the prejudice of society towards people with disabilities and unabashedly revealing the sexuality of bodies that at one point in our culture were subject to institutionalization and/or sterilization. Their passion and vehemence of the need for equality was powerful and, from what I could tell, mesmerized the audience. What was missing was any tribute or mention of the folks (pioneers if you will) of the movement. Although they addressed the history of eugenics and discrimination, it was as if they were the first people to demonstrate choreography in wheelchairs and trapeze work that was very reminiscent of The Axis Dance Company.  I spoke with several people from my age group (although we were the minority in an audience comprised primarily of 20-somethings) who felt forgotten and had hoped that there might have been a shout-out to Axis Dance, Judy Freespirit, or Wry Crips, even if it was in the Playbill. There was also no mention of Fabled Asp, a non-profit organization that put together a comprehensive archive of the history of disability activism. The production did a fantastic job addressing the intersectionality of disabled people, fat people, and the arts, but there was no mention of the groundbreaking, barrier-busting Fat Lip Theater.

I don’t want these comments to eclipse the predominantly positive experience I had or to dilute the impact of the important message being delivered by Sins Invalid, but I just feel the need to remind people that the work you are doing now is in some part an outgrowth of the work that came before you, just as your work will be an integral part of the work that will continue long after you have hung up your trapeze. And yes, I have a personal connection to this having been a co-author and co-actor of the play, Leftovers which was about Fat Acceptance. The show was the first of its kind in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and broke the mainstream theater barriers when we landed on the Off-Broadway Stage at the Astor Place Theater. It was revolutionary and challenged a multitude of paradigms. We offended many people, as evidenced by a critic from the New York Times when he expressed his distaste in, “seeing fat women parading about the stage in leotards and tights.” But we recruited others to the stop-dieting-and-love-your-body-as-it-is movement and received an award from NAAFA. We had never even heard of NAAFA at the time and had no idea the extent of our activism when we wrote the show, but in retrospect we paved the way for other Fat Acceptance theater pieces yet to come.

So I urge the wonderful young women and men fighting for Size Acceptance, Fat Acceptance, HAES, or whatever banner you choose to raise for your cause, to make the effort to learn about your forebears and to gain strength from knowing that now it is your turn to add your unique footprint to the dance of our movement.  As Emma Goldman said,

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”

Here are a few links to read more about the history of fat activism and HAES. If you know of any other sources, please share them in the comments section. It is a body of knowledge that is forever growing thanks to the vision and efforts of people like you.

Barbara Bruno The History of the Health at Every Size Movement
Ragen Chastain:  In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2013 6:23 am

    well done. wonderful reminders of history, aging, activism, progress, and pioneers.

  2. November 5, 2013 11:42 am

    I agree. Well done, well said. Just like women and men in the FA world need to think about this, I also think today’s women/girls need to be reminded not to take those (feminists) who blazed the trails before them for granted.
    It’s so easy to forget how different things were just several short decades ago than they are today- well, that is until you have extremist political and religious, or religious political leaders trying to shove us back 40-50 yrs!

  3. November 6, 2013 12:13 pm

    Great post, from one aging activist to another!

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