Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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The fat acceptance movement, also the fat liberation movement, is a grassroots effort to change societal attitudes towards individuals who are fat. The movement consists today of a diverse group of people, who have different beliefs about how best to address the perceived widespread prejudice and discrimination against fat people in contemporary Western societies.
Generally dated to the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the increase in activist organizations, publications, and conferences. However, the contemporary movement sees negative societal attitudes as remaining, based upon the idea that fat people pursue affirmative, voluntary practices to maintain their body size and that these practices reflect negative character traits.

The history of this movement is difficult to chart because of its grassroots nature, although it originated in the late 1960s and 1970s. Like other social movements from this time period, the fat acceptance movement, initially known as "Fat Pride," "Fat Power," or "Fat Liberation," often consisted of people acting in an impromptu fashion. To offer one example, a "Fat-in" was staged in New York's Central Park in 1967. The book consists of some activist position papers, initially distributed by the Fat Underground, as well as collections of poems and essays from other writers.

Sizeism History
Fat liberation has been addressed as well in a number of zines, many representing activist communities. Among them are Marilyn Wann's Fat!So? beginning in 1993, Nomy Lamm's I'm So Fucking Beautiful, and the collectively produced 'zine "FaT GiRL -- the 'zine for fat dykes and the women who want them." More Recently, Sabrina Darling has collaborated with other members of the new generation of fat liberation to release the zine Two By Four, Krissy Durden has produced the zine Figure 8 since 2001 and Max Airborne and Cherry Midnight have produced "Size Queen: For Queen-size Queers and Our Loyal Subjects."
In addition to zines, there has recently been a steady stream of books with a fat activist agenda including Wann's book of the same title as her zine (1998), Sondra Solovay's "Tipping the Scales of Justice: Fighting Weight-Based Discrimination" (2000);'Largely Happy -- changing your mind about your body' by Lynda Finn; 'Don't Diet' by Professor Dale Atrens and a collection of short stories by fat people (What Are You Looking At? 2003). Beginning in the earlier literature, there were criticisms of the prevailing scientific view that fat is unhealthy. A number of writers and activists have attacked this viewpoint, including more recently Paul Campos in his 'The Obesity Myth' (2004) republished as 'The Diet Myth', and Sandy Szwarc's in-depth examination of obesity research in the online magazine "Tech Central Station."
In recent years, there is an emerging body of fat political and sociological studies, some with a fat activist agenda, developing within the academy. The American Popular Culture Association has an area in fat studies and regularly includes panels on the subject. In addition, student groups with a fat activist agenda have emerged in a number of colleges including Hampshire, Smith, and Antioch colleges.
Susan Stinson's novels and poetry such as Belly Songs (1993) and Venus of Chalk (2004) have integrated the insights of fat liberation into literature. Several collections of short writing on fat have been published in recent years, including 'What Are You Looking At?: The First Fat Fiction Anthology' (2003); Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology' (2005); and Susan Koppelman's Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe and other stories of women and fatness (2003).
Recently, fat performance art has made an impact in the fight against sizeism. Groups like The Padded Lillies, Big Burlesque and the Fat Bottom Revue and radical cheerleading groups like F.A.T.A.S.S pdx and The Bod Squad have received significant attention, as have drag troups like the Royal Renegades: The Philadelphia Drag Kings, who feature a variety of body types in their shows.
Finally and most recently, there has been a flourishing of national conferences devoted to the subject of fat activism, including NOLOSE, the conference of the former National Organization for Lesbians of SizE (now just known as NOLOSE); NAAFA's annual convention held alternately on the west and east coasts; and the largest conference, Stacy Bias's FatGirl Speaks in Portland, Oregon.

The movement today
As it has expanded, the fat acceptance movement has faced internal issues.
One point of contention in the movement is found between those fat people who are attempting to lose weight and those who are not. Opponents of weight loss attempts cite the high failure rate of all permanent weight loss attempts (95-98%), and the many dangers of "yoyo weight fluctuations" and weight loss surgeries. These people maintain that fat people who exercise regularly and practice sound nutrition are as healthy as or healthier than sedentary people. (There are many citations, starting with Sandy Szwarc's list of links at [1], as well as books by William Bennett, Joel Gurin, Paul Campos, etc. as delineated below. A USDA discussion of the recent U.C. Davis study suggesting that fat acceptance maintains and improves health more than dieting may be found at [2].)
Due to intrinsic linguistic misunderstandings and differing definitions of the word "acceptance," some "fat activists" believe the phrase refers to any fat person fighting for equal rights and opportunities, regardless of whether or not that person believes that the pursuit of reduction in a person's body mass is feasible. Other "fat activists" define "fat acceptance" more strictly, applying that phrase only to fat people who are not pursuing a reduction in their body mass, and use phrases such as "fat activist" to describe fat people and "allies" working more generally on civil rights issues pertaining to fat people.
An additional issue with regard to language is that many in the fat acceptance movement find the terms "obese" and "overweight" offensive, as they are often used to make overtly prejudiced statements seem more clinical or scientific. The word "fat" is generally preferred.
In practice, the only way to know the position of any particular individual member of the group on weight loss attempts is to ask, or read specific position papers on the issue.

Issues within the movement
Fat acceptance advocates' positions have sparked criticism and mockery. Some critics, while acknowledging that fat and obese individuals are subject to inappropriate discrimination or pressure, contend that fat acceptance advocates' goal of unconditional acceptance of obesity is itself unhealthy. They contend that accepting fattness will make people fatter, although no scientific data exists to substantiate this claim. Critics use the charistic of body size as short hand for poor eating habits and sedentry lifestyle, and then contend that large body size causes medical problems. Public health officials regard widespread obesity as posing significant costs to society. Despite advocates' claims to the contrary, some studies show that fat people are more likely than others to be in poor health, at a time when health care costs are rising: in 2006, the CDC estimated that 10 percent of current health care costs are due to obesity [3]. Additionally, the common fat acceptance mantra that "diets don't work" is considered by some critics to be an oversimplification that may discourage even responsible and potentially beneficial changes in eating habits. [4]
In the United Kingdom there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not obese individuals should either pay for their healthcare, or take a back seat in queues for the National Health Service for obesity related illnesses, which are on the rise. Furthermore, they are often required to lose weight so that they can cope with the demands of massive surgery, which undoubtedly puts increased demands on the body, which exceptionally obese persons may physically struggle to recover from. The characteristic of body size is often viewed as a behavior much like smoking or alcohol overuse.


Jo Morley, founder of Big People UK [London, UK]
Stacy Bias, founder of FatGirl Speaks [Portland, ORE]
Paul Campos, author of books such as The Obesity Myth
Charlotte Cooper: London-based writer [5]
Candye Kane, singer, former BBW porn star
Nomy Lamm, performance artist and writer of I'm So Fucking Beautiful
Judy Sullivan, author of Size Wise
Sandy Szwarc, author of Junk Food Science blog and articles challenging widely-held beliefs on fat and health[6]
Pattie Thomas, Ph.D., co-author of Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life Sociological memoir about the stigma faced by fat people (written in collaboration with Carl Wilkerson, M.B.A.)blog
Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO? and Activism Chair of NAAFA

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