Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big Fat Yoga

With all the work to make Christmas gifts, I've been spending a lot of time sitting at the sewing machine. I can really tell the difference when I'm not active. Granted, I'm not a gym rat in the best of times, but being sedentary combined with the holiday stress has really slowed me down. Normally I'm pretty comfortable in my skin. I'm relatively flexible, strong, and can keep up with my friends if we go walking all day without really thinking about it. Of course, I'm still (barely) under 30, so that might change :-)

Yesterday I was feeling stagnant and stiff, so I broke out the Yoga videos that have been collecting dust since I bought them during my "dieting years". My last encounter with Yoga involved someone telling me to do a shoulder stand, at which point I gave them the evil eye and said "My fat ass is NOT going up in the air like that. You guys have fun." Probably for the best, since it's pretty likely I'd come out of it with a neck injury.

This was a Yoga for beginner's DVD, and instead of just diving in full-bore like I would have a few years ago (gotta get my heart rate up, feel the burn, it doesn't work if it doesn't hurt, etc.) I started out with the pose guide and just concentrated on them one at a time. I watched the pose as the tiny superflex-chick on the video did it, then I paid attention to my body and adapted the pose to something I could do without excessive strain. I tried for what they described as the purpose of the pose (elongating the spine, stretching through the arm or leg, etc.) and worked on internal cues to accomplish the same thing in adaptation. Sure, my feet weren't three feet apart in the triangle pose, and my hand was on a rest instead of the floor, but I still stretched from the spine and expanded the rib cage. Isn't that really the point?

At any rate, my usual cycle was throwing myself into a new activity one day, then hurting so much the next day that I was discouraged and tried something else. This time I can feel the difference. I feel stronger and more balanced. My body remembers the good posture I had before I got caught up in the holidays, and I'm aware that the muscles are still there where I left them, if a little dormant :-)

The question is, of course, since I know there's a lot of people in the fatosphere that do Yoga, is there something I'm doing specifically wrong by adapting the poses? Is the end result more important than the precise pose, or is there something about a pose that I could miss entirely by changing it? Of course, the goal is to eventually work my way to the pose as depicted as I regain flexibility, but I'm assuming it isn't important enough to risk damaging something.

Any advice?

Friday, December 28, 2007

"She was healthy twenty pounds ago"

I find it ironic that I hardly ever watch television, but the few times I've turned it on lately I've always managed to catch something meaningful to FA. Are the concepts really trickling in to popular media/entertainment, or is it good old fashioned Jungian synchronicity?

At any rate, I took a break from my mid-winter deep-cleaning of the house blitz and flipped on the TV at random. I was just in time to catch Grey's Anatomy. It was one of my favorite shows for the first couple of seasons, but I'm thinking it got a little soap-opera lately. Anyway, in the midst of all the "who slept with who" drama, a patient comes in with a broken ankle.

She said she fell off her stair stepper and thought she'd sprained it. When they did x-rays, they found that it wasn't just sprained, it was crushed. Her bones had become so frail and brittle that they had started to crumble. The twist? This wasn't some elderly but health-conscious woman. This was a 23 year old girl on a diet.

Wait, it gets better!

It comes out that she's on her low-calorie diet and extreme exercise routine because she and her boyfriend "agreed" that she'd lose 40 pounds before they moved in together. The doctors' eyes pin the boyfriend to the wall, and he tries to defend himself by trotting out the usual:

"She wanted to lose weight, I was just helping her stay motivated."

The girl agrees, and seems proud, even though she's facing six months with her leg bones bolted together and has to take ibuprofen every day to overcome the pain of brittle bones and wasting muscle because her body isn't getting adequate nutrition. The really interesting part is that the reaction from the other characters makes it clear that this girl will get no praise or accolades for her actions. They clearly think it's stupid, unhealthy, and dangerous. She's thin, but she doesn't look healthy, she looks pale and wasted.

And, of course, the cynic in me raises it's ugly head and wonders if they would portray it the same way if the girl was really fat, instead of just going from a healthy average to nearly underweight?

At any rate, the girl's ulcers from her ibuprofen habit hemorrhage and she starts coughing up blood. Because her low-calorie diet and over-training has caused her body to burn up muscle mass, her heart is not strong enough to survive the surgery and she dies.

The boyfriend is out in front smoking a cigarette when he's confronted by a Doctor Torres in a full snorting fire kind of rage, and the dialogue at that point really stuck in my mind like few things on television do:

Boyfriend: She wanted to lose the weight, I was just helping her. I just wanted her to be healthy!
Dr. Torres: Bullshit! She was healthy twenty pounds ago, you just wanted her to be hot! You wanted your ego stroked by being seen with her and couldn't face moving in unless she could make you look good!

She very nearly swings at his sorry, lying, self-justifying face.

Ok, for those of you who really don't care about television, my apologies for the recap. But I have a point. We've heard a lot about dieting lately in the FA blogosphere (and TV, and ads-nauseum). Maybe this episode was aired specifically because of the post-holiday dieting spike, or maybe it was just coincidence, but I've never seen the dieting issue treated in such an anti-mainstream way. Never once did they mention eating disorders, they just presented dieting as something unhealthy entirely on it's own, even if it wasn't pointedly related to or symptomatic of an ED in this particular case. This should speak to the millions of dieters who don't know that you don't have to be anorexic to damage your health with a diet.

Also, it speaks to the often unstated correlation between the body image/weight loss issue and feminism. After we debunk the noble motivation of health, we are left only with the motivation of being told that we are not attractive as fat people. Rather than call them on this bullshit, many people simply choose to change their bodies to please others, without objecting.

This is evidence of the greatest soft-sell advertising in the history of production. The fact that the diet industry can take people who would be outraged if their partner asked them to change their lifestyle (i.e. be a stay-at-home mom or dad, only wear clothing the person likes, only talk to friends their partner chooses, etc.) simply because it pleases the partner rather than themselves, and convince them that it's appropriate to radically change their body and destroy their health for the same reason, is incredible. It's brilliant, from the sleazy political marketing point of view. Decades of struggle for equality and independence, and yet even people who claim to be feminists (like those at majikthise) can fool themselves into supporting dieting simply for the purpose of fitting an unrealistic ideal of their gender as dictated by popular culture.

It's that insidious kind of bigotry and sexism (both male and female) that represents the last stand of any kind of equal rights. Fighting it is fighting a target that cloaks itself in respectability.

We don't like fat because it's unhealthy, it has nothing to do with appearance. I'm not a fat bigot.

We don't want to live in that neighborhood because it looks dangerous, not because black/hispanic people live there. I'm not racist!

We didn't hire her because we didn't think she'd fit in with other employees. It's for her own good, not because she doesn't share my religion!

We don't want to rent to him because we think he'll be disruptive and upset the other tenants. We're not homophobic!

We don't want to hire her because she will cost us more money for health insurance, not because we don't want to work with a fat person!

and on, and on, and on. Yeah, I know the racism/homophobia/fat hatred comparison is a button issue for people, and I'm not making a judgement call as to which one is or isn't more serious, institutionalized and damaging. That's a whole other debate, and one that tends to divide the FA community. There are those of every race and sexuality on both sides of the issue, so it really comes down to personal experience. I personally see similarities in the treatment, legislation and expression of racism, homophobia, and fat hatred. I also see the differences. I'll save details for another blog.

The point is the fear of what's different, and hiding the fear reaction behind respectability to justify hate. Whatever the target of that hate. It is also the fact that so often the targets of the hate actually accept it as truth and believe they are deserving of it. That is what I fight.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Norfolk Clinic Offers WLS for Children

A University hospital in Norfolk, UK is submitting plans to health officials to carry out Weight Loss Surgery on children who cannot lose weight by other methods.

Story from the Norwich Evening News

"the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is to submit a plan to county health chiefs to carry out surgery on the most severe cases, although only involving children."

But wait, didn't the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK say that WLS surgery for children was not recommended? Of course. But, as we know,

"“We are putting the case forward because of a rise in childhood obesity and illnesses associated with it."

It's for the good of the children, right? Talk about buzzword bingo. Honestly, what all this adds up to? Cha-ching. Children are the last untapped market for a world already saturated with diet fads and drive-through bariatric clinics.

"Hey Maureen, want to get some lunch?"
"No thanks, Claire, I think I'll head downtown and get my stomach stapled this afternoon. After all, I have to look like a perfect sex toy for my husband or else Dan Savage will tell him to leave me."

On this side of the pond, doctors are also considering an increase in childhood weight loss surgery, despite an increased complication rate and death rate of 1 in 50.

From the Washington Post:

"A group of four hospitals, led by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, are starting a large-scale study this spring examining how children respond to various types of weight-loss surgery, including the gastric bypass, in which a pouch is stapled off from the rest of the stomach and connected to the small intestine."

That article tries very hard to make it clear that the WLS is an absolute last resort. Their definition of a last resort?

"Children are only considered candidates for surgery after they have spent six months trying to lose weight through conventional methods under hospital supervision."

Really. Six whole months? Well fiddle-de-dee, if we can't make those kids slim in a few lousy months then it's under the knife for them! Talk about the art of medicine by Sweeny Todd.

Now, to be fair, the Post does go into some of the grisly details:

"The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released a study in July that said four in 10 weight-loss surgery patients develop complications within six months. Among adults, mortality rates among gastric bypass patients remain at between 1 in 100 and 1 in 200 patients."


"Of the patients who participated in the NYU study, two needed a second operation to adjust a slipping band; two developed hernias; five got an infection; five suffered mild hair loss and four had iron deficiencies related to their new diet. After the study was complete, one patient asked to have her band removed because of discomfort, said Evan Nadler, a pediatric surgeon and co-author of the study."

Hmm...that sounds pretty bad, doesn't it Doc? Well yes, concerned parent, it certainly is, but isn't it worth it? After all, if your child doesn't have the surgery, they're at risk of becoming...dare I say it?

A fat adult!

*gasp, cue scary organ music* (pun intended)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Belief, Exhausted

Everything's harder when you're tired. Especially belief.

Sleep is something of a foreign concept to me lately, probably due to the usual holiday stress and SAD. Why do we do this to ourselves? I suppose I should rephrase that question to why do I do this to myself? But removing yourself from a cultural conspiracy is a difficult proposition.
I could say that I'm talking about FA, or the idea of holiday gift-giving expectations, or body image, or the expectation to always live up to some potential ingrained in the image of you that others insist on holding. The answer I pick wouldn't confirm or detract from the truth of any other. The wonderful thing about truth is that it is so seldom based in fact. If there even is such a creature.

But when I'm tired, the insidious creeping hate masked as common sense seems to drown out and cut deeper than the truth. Maybe because negativity has always played better to my cynicism. I should say our cynicism, because backstabbing political ads wouldn't still be airing if they didn't work. Or maybe it's because a few months of Fat Acceptance hasn't erased the 28 years of being programmed to believe that what others direct at me is somehow my fault, and something I deserve for daring to be built the way I am. I really should avoid Quixotic windmill-tilting opportunities like the Majikthise fat-hate thread, but it's like driving by a traffic accident. In this particular case, it's like recognizing the driver as someone you know. At any rate, it makes me realize that if wounds can be opened so easily by total strangers then perhaps they're not healing as completely as I thought.

I have a friend with the philosophy of "what other people think of me is none of my business." Of course it's a difficult thing to live up to and he often doesn't, but that doesn't mean it isn't a laudable ideal. It's something like Ruiz's second agreement. The Four Agreements may be newagey, and I may disagree with the workability or advisability of a lot of it, but there is some good amongst the silly. One good out-of-context quote is: "Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream." In other words, when someone reacts negatively to us, their reaction is not necessarily an objective commentary on us, but more an expression of them. A weight-bigot is expressing their self-loathing, a rude person is expressing their despair, a cocky ass-hat is expressing their insecurities, and a kind person is expressing their love. None of it has anything to do with your own value, worth, humanity, or any other moral measurement. If a person pays you a compliment, they may be doing so to make themselves feel better, or because they feel good and wish to maintain it. The same person after a bad day may criticize what they complimented. That doesn't mean your value has changed, it means their own paradigm has shifted. In effect, you don't have to take anything, compliment or criticism, personally. Or, "what other people think of you is none of your business."

Like I said, it's an imperfect ideal. If you follow it exactly then you have no mirror to hold up to the fixable imperfections. Sure, if someone else thinks I have a character flaw then I have to consider the source. If my imperfections are part of many different paradigms, however, then I have a basis for self-examination to see if there may be some truth in it. I respect the opinions of those I respect, even if I don't take them as absolute truth. That is the line between respect and pedestal-building. The latter will always fail. Complete insularization is as dangerous as allowing others to dictate your self definition. There is always a middle way. But in the meantime I'll keep reminding myself that what other people think of me is none of my business...unless I choose to make it so.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wanderlust, Woman on the Road

Posts will probably be sketchy through Wednesday as I'll be spending every waking moment on sewing last-minute presents before I head out to Detroit to spend Christmas with the family. We'll have our traditional Christmas dinner of gumbo and bread pudding, open the presents, and then there'll be the post-holiday let down. All the work poured into making gifts, worrying about who I'm forgetting, worrying about whether or not people like it, resenting the obligation of saving presents for a certain day when my friends and I give each other gifts throughout the year for no reason at all. When it's done and over with and things are exchanged, I'm left with the neglected house full of dust and dishes and dirty clothes I didn't have time to wash in the rush.

I know then that the "flight" will hit me. An overwhelming urge to run, escape, drive until I run out of landmarks. I'll wake up one morning, grab a change of clothes, turn off my cell phone and hit the road. Luckily, I've managed to keep the presence of mind to get back before I have to work. Last year I started driving north on a sunny warmer-than-usual weekend and ended up in the Michigan UP. I was aiming vaguely for Marquette, but a blizzard caught me somewhere up highway 94.

It was already dark in the way only an area without cities and street lights can be, when the snow started flying so hard that I could barely see beyond the hood of my car. Of course I didn't have warm clothes, boots, gloves or snow chains with me. I crept along at 15 miles per hour, cursing the stupidity of getting caught on a January night in a place where even the major hotel chains shut down in the off-season. I was running out of gas, and there wasn't a spot to pull off where I couldn't be sure I wouldn't find myself buried in a drift by morning. I finally reached a cheap, open motel on the outskirts of Munising with a parking lot full of snowmobiles. After a brief struggle to get unstuck when I pulled into the parking lot with its drifting foot or so of snow, I holed up for the night and listened to the snowmobiles race through the parking lot outside. In the winter, in the UP, the biker gangs still ride. They just switch their Harleys for sleds. I barely slept, and about 5am, woke up for good. I debated, while waiting for the motel office to open so I could check out, whether to turn around or to keep driving. I knew I couldn't make Marquette, but I needed a destination to mark, an apex to touch before climbing back down to the reality of my every day life. I headed for Lake Superior. I fishtailed up an unplowed trail to Pictured Rocks and watched the sun rise over Superior from the top of the cliffs. The silence was almost absolute, but I could hear the water washing against the shore below me. I felt the rightness of this as the end of my trail, and pulled out the leather travel journal I keep in my glove compartment.

In my group of friends we call it automatic writing, but I believe the more educated have labeled it prose poetry. It's a form of meditation where you simply write without thinking or editing, even if the result is nonsense. It often reveals instincts and trains of thought you weren't aware of having. You start with a thought and tangent into others by way of words that trigger and images that inspire, all without the conscious censor that wonders how it will be received.

Cleaned up a bit, this is what I ended up with:

"I am a woman on the road alone. A mean dream in my hippie skirt and lace, and multi-colored fingernails; my bulk tucked tight behind the wheel of a glorified station wagon with delusions of SUV. I don't think these yoopers in half-tied boots quite know what to make of me. Thoreau meets Kesey, maybe, in an off-kilter distillation of the same American Dream. A fling of spontaneity on this day of days of ice and snow and the same old, same old. The Flight hits me like clawing at walls on a cellular level until my fingers bleed and my brain dies a little down inside. I hit the road without anything but forty stolen stories of punk in alphabetical order from Arctic Monkeys to Violent Femmes, and a pair of summer keds in camouflage to hide me from recognition as another person's definition. The chipper country desk clerk looks concerned as I ask for a room for one. She thought I was a convict, a fool, another victim waiting to happen. But I was just a mean dream in a hippie skirt heading north into "ain't from aroon' here," where the men are men and the women are too, and long dark winter nights plant seeds of crazy in the mind to be fertilized by endless black and white until they sprout and spore one long grey February day and they reach for the axe…but I am not afraid. For I am a tough chick, nobody's gonna fuck with. Even though I am a woman on the road alone. "

I did manage to get home, even though I found out they don't actually plow the roads in the U.P. They dump sand on them for traction, but people can generally get around by snowmobile or cross-country skis more easily than driving. So my balding tires and I made our careful way back south to the frustration of the 4x4 trucks with snow tires that came barreling up behind me on occasion.

I don't regret it, because it's often the trips where something goes wrong that stand out in the mind and provide the best stories down the road. I will probably hesitate to head north again (or at least check the weather first, even if that takes some of the spontaneity out), but I dreamed last night of being in a car full of people, saying "I think we can make the Smokey Mountains before dark." When I picked up one of my friends a few weeks back to hang out on a Friday night, I greeted him with "You know, if we started now we could be in Chicago by midnight..."

I think the flight is back, and its claws are beginning to dig.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Making a Dress Dummy to Fit You

I'm a sewer. I'm not one of those impressive Haute Couture sewers that create full Victorian regalia for ren-faires, but I regularly make my own Halloween costumes, skirts, tops and simple dresses when I can't find anything I really like. The problem is that commercial sewing patterns aren't really designed to fit fat people well, so I have to take a pattern, make it out of cheap material, check it for fit, pin it, cut it, put it back together, mark the changes and darts, then take it completely apart and use it as a pattern for the real piece of clothing. Usually, it's not worth the effort. I've looked at dress dummies, but the "plus size" dummies generally only go to a size 18 (which is about a real-world 10/12), and instead of actually being reflective of the plus size body they tend to just be the size 8 dress dummy with an extra panel to make a larger waist. The "breasts" are about a B cup at most. how the hell is anyone supposed to use one of these things to sew something for a real person!?

Oh, that's right. I forgot. Anyone over a size 12 should be wearing mu-mus to hide the dreaded fat. Since we're not allowed to wear fitted things, it doesn't matter how accurate the mannequin is. Heck, we could use a box. Or a roll of carpet. Same difference, right?

It seems ironic to me that fat people are so neglected in this area since so many of us DO make our own things, for want of anything good on the store racks. The big three pattern companies (McCall's, Buttericks, Simplicity) do carry plus size patterns, some even go to a size 32 (dress size about a 26) but many seem to be just blown-up versions of smaller patterns without the extra darting and shape required to really fit. There are a few independent sewers who sell their patterns online, but it's a chore to find the ones that aren't basic and shapeless (or horribly expensive). So generally a lot of patterns for fat people just end up looking pretty home-made. It's an education, really, since it makes me learn through trial-and-error about how to shape the fabric. The problem is that while thin people learn this, they have a dress dummy to practice on. I have to stand in front of a mirror and try not to stab myself with pins.

I've given up on a plus-size dress dummy that actually LOOKS like a real fat person (you know, like with actual breasts and hips?) and am playing around with ideas for making my own. My first thought was to get/make a sort of bodysuit that fit me snugly and stuff it, but the logistics are pretty crazy. I also thought of paper mache' or plaster, but as we all know, fat moves. My shape lying down waiting for the plaster to dry is NOT my shape standing up. Half of me migrates.

Damn you, gravity! I should have voted for velcro.

What didn't occur to me, until I thought to consult the great oracle of Google, was the magical and all-fixing powers of duct tape.

Then I found this site: Clone Yourself a Fitting Assistant

It has instructions on creating two different versions of a dress dummy out of duct tape that would serve as basically an exact replica of your body. Instead of shelling out $100 for a badly made barrel-like dress dummy, you can make a $20 one. If your weight fluctuates quite a bit, you can make several to represent each stage of your normal weight cycle. I have a friend I sew for regularly, and I can't WAIT to have a taping party with her so I can finally make stuff that fits her well.

One addition to the instructions on the website I'm going to try is that instead of stuffing the dummy with actual stuffing, I'll buy maybe three cans of Great Stuff expanding insulation foam from the hardware store. It's fairly cheap, expands to conform to the space, and dries pretty rigid. The instructions for the duct tape dummy state that it doesn't last forever with just stuffing. Since the bustline or breast outline is more horizontal, it doesn't stand up well to the pressure and starts to collapse. By filling it with rigid foam, I'm theorizing that it will stand up much longer. Not to mention reinforcing the somewhat horizontal areas of the Buddha belly.

I'm excited to try this, and will probably get together with friends after the holidays to work on it. Three girls, a pitcher of margaritas, and twelve rolls of duct tape. The guys will be so jealous :-)

According to the instructions you can use a heavy duty cardboard tube and set it in a christmas tree stand to make the mannequin upright. I think instead I'll get one of the big bamboo poles from Hobby Lobby and cut it down. It'll be more sturdy than cardboard. That way I can even make the dummy the right height as well as circumference. Holy crap on a cracker, I'll actually be able to make floor length skirts with even hems, so I can stop buying the dowdy ones in stores that hit me mid-calf!

It is a little frustrating getting geeked on a new project when I have no time to work on it. I have to make two kimono and a quilted wall hanging before Sunday. I have to sacrifice every other project. Including my dishes and laundry. Boy won't that be fun to come home to!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Don't hate the (dieting!) fatties

Thanks to Red No. 3 who pointed out this article about a man who thinks he's a former fat-hater, but has "changed his ways". Problem is, only so far as to say that the world should pity the fat dieters because they have such a hard time losing weight: Article

I think this is a good opportunity to spread some info, since the guy obviously has an open enough mind to get this far. I'll bet with a little gentle excism of ignorant assumptions instead of insults, we could bring him around and have another Size-positive reporter/columnist on our side.

I've sent the first comment to that end, anyone else want to chime in?

The How: Be a Knower

Last week I posted a list of specific ways individuals can get involved with Fat Acceptance, depending on their strengths and inclinations. (Follow up: The How) As I expand each section into more specifics, I'll post them as individual blogs. Today's entry in "The How" series is:

Know the Facts and FAQ's

The Recap:

Sometimes simply knowing what to say in response to stereotyping is an important and positive way of defeating ignorance. Actually studying fat as you would any other topic for school prepares you for difficult conversations and confrontations in the real world. Be able to quote facts and studies. If you're good at percentages, that's a perk. Most of us could get by with simple things like "you know, a study was done that proved you can't make a naturally thin person permanently fat or a naturally fat person permanently thin?" Read the FAQ's on FA blogs and organization websites, and be prepared when questions come up.

Pro's: When the topic comes up in conversation, that may be your only opportunity to refute stereotypes. Once that moment has passed it's often awkward to bring it up again. Be able to answer questions, refute common stereotypes, etc. on the spot and you will be able to be a spokesperson without coming across as a fanatic.

Con's: Some people just don't have a head for facts, and aren't comfortable putting themselves out in a conversation. That's why different approaches work for different people. Just being able to calmly point out general ideas, and maybe knowing a few websites like Shapely Prose and Junkfood Science would allow you to refer people and let others do the speaking.

The Details:

Many Size Acceptance organizations have FAQ lists that would be a great jumping off point in your studies, as they literally address the most frequently asked questions you'll encounter. Here are a few to get you started:
Fashion-specific FAQ (regarding plus size clothing and fashion):
HAES emphasis:

Along with the FAQ's, some organizations have brochures and handouts that explain positions in more detail:
HAES specific:

Another obvious resource for learning the facts and figures for SA and FA are books. Unfortunately, most libraries and local bookstores don't offer shelf space to this particular topic. One option would be to request that the bookstore stock the titles or order them through the store so that they are aware of a potential market. Most are available through or even e-bay and other used book resources. For libraries, request a list of SA books to be included in the next round of purchases. Another alternative would be to purchase multiple copies of a good book when you order it online and donate one copy to the library so that it is available to others.

I actually helped work on NAAFA's new recommended reading list, which is now up on their website:

When I know that I'm buying a book that I'll want to loan out to others, I usually get two copies. One is entirely mine, and I often use highlighters, post-its, and scribbled margin notes to make that clear. Since that makes it really annoying to someone else trying to read it, I keep a "loaner" copy with clean pages.

Finally, a great resource to truly know and understand the facts of size acceptance so that you can respond to questions and criticism with confidence is other fat activists. Blogs, Yahoo Groups, Newsgroups, forums, etc. are all excellent methods of gathering information and getting responses to your own questions.

What to do with it:

Now that you have the information, the next step is to use it. It sounds cheezy, but an excellent method is to practice on another person. The mirror would work as well, but a person could help you critique things you might miss, like body language and tone. Have the person ask a question, or even drop a typical conversational trigger, then try to respond. Once you've responded, try to analyze your response. Did you quote a fact if it was appropriate? Did you sound outraged and/or extremist, which might make the people you talk to uncomfortable? Did the conversation flow or did you just drop a dead angry skunk into an otherwise pleasant discussion? Like I said, you may feel silly, but I've often found myself fuming after a chance to say something had passed me by, flipping through what "I should have said" at the moment. You will still have those moments, unless you're impossibly witty. On the other hand, having basic facts readily in mind has kept me afloat in online and real-life debates on a few occasions.

This method has a low broadcast rate. You can maybe expect to help remove certain assumptions held by a single person in a single conversation. On the other hand, who knows how many minds that person will change, and so forth? Knowing this information will not only allow you to challenge status quo when given the opportunity, but will also help you compose effective letters to editors, businesses, and media when responding to bias or junk science on a larger scale.

Here are some sample questions/conversations/scenarios you might use as ideas to help you practice organizing your thoughts and responding in a positive way that promotes knowledge instead of prejudice. I've tried to use questions and scenarios that I've either been in or heard about.


1. "Isn't being fat bad for you?"

2. "Don't you feel handicapped by being fat?"

3. "I exercise every day and I'm not fat"

4. "Have you tried not eating fast food?"

5. "Don't fat people just eat too much and not exercise?"

6. "But fat people can change if they just learned self-discipline!"

7. "If you don't lose weight, aren't you afraid of getting diabetes?"

8. "Why should we pay for fat peoples' health care when they're such a drain on the system?"

9. "What about the obesity epidemic?"

10. "You're not going to eat that, are you?"


1. A co-worker is standing by your desk moaning about the weight she's gained and how hungry she is. How do you respond?

2. A friend/co-worker/family member (try each one) keeps asking about your health, specifically if you've been tested for diabetes or hypothyroid, or hypertension, as if it's only a matter of time.

3. At a party, a girl you don't (or barely) know sees you at the snack table with a pretzel stick and asks you if you've tried cutting out carbs.

4. Your boss asks you if you've tried to lose weight, and tells you you're giving the business a bad reputation by "letting yourself go".

5. Your local paper publishes an editorial saying that fat people should be put into concentration camps until they are within the normal BMI range.

6. A stranger near you on the bus mutters "why don't you try walking there, fatass?" within earshot.

7. A group of teenagers gets really silent as you walk by in a store, then bursts into giggles and whispers about you.

8. A friend/loved one/co-worker gets you exercise tapes or a weight-loss book for your birthday (assuming you didn't ask for one).

9. A friend/family member/co-worker is talking about a very-low-calorie diet she's on.

10. A friend/family member/co-worker is talking about having WLS

11. You hear a mother at the table next to you in a family restaurant tell her large pre-teen son that he can only order a salad because he's been "porking out" lately. Do you say anything?

See, despite the fact that I've given a lot of speeches in my life, I'm actually quite shy. Some of the scenarios above are actually way outside my comfort zone. I'd be much more comfortable writing a letter to the editor than, say, holding a loud fake cell phone conversation about fat acceptance within earshot of a bigoted mother. Everyone has their box, and while it's good to step out of it and make it bigger, it really isn't fair to expect everyone to jump into direct activism with both feet. Everyone can do a little bit, though. If you don't want to confront your co-workers, try just commenting on online articles that support or denigrate SA, or challenge fat hate in a chat room. Maybe you're ok confronting family and friends, but not strangers. That's ok because every individual will contribute a moment and a word to something that grows beyond them and fills every moment, somewhere. We all do what we can, when we can. Somewhere in the world right this second, someone is challenging weight bias. Maybe it's you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fat 50 update!

The fat 50 project has the framework up and needs volunteers to research fat rights and legislation for various states, Canadian provinces, and countries (right now they have Australia). The basic framework for each state/province/country is:

1. is weight discrimination legal in this state/country/province? (y/n)

2. legislation regarding weight

3. local issues (specific cities/counties/regions with their own legislation regarding weight)

If you would like to contribute, please visit

If it is your first visit you'll have to register for a username and password to participate, but it only takes a minute. For more information, visit

Recipe Box: Avocado Pecan Bleu Salad with Blackened Chicken

This salad is one they sell at Culver's. I'm a big fan of it, but anything can be made better! Obviously for veg/vegan, just leave out the chicken.

The Salad:

2-3 cups Baby lettuce mix, something mild and sweet in flavor. The spring mix doesn't work as well with these flavors since it involves more bitter/peppery greens.

1 ripe avocado, peeled, depitted, sliced and/or chunked

1/4 cup blue cheese (Gorgonzola works well, or whatever variety you prefer)

1/4 cup toasted pecans (if you have raw pecans, you can toast them in your oven's broiler or a dry cast iron stove-top pan if you stir constantly)

Diced red onions (optional)

diced tomatos (optional)

1 Tbsp chopped green onion (optional)

The Chicken:

1 small chicken breast
1 small lime or 1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbsp finely-diced cilantro
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt

Pre-heat a skillet to approx 400 degrees F (medium-high)

Mix the spices, oil and lime juice well together (will form a paste)

Dredge the chicken in the ingredients/coat with paste

cook in hot skillet until a little blackened on one side, turn and blacken on the other (6-8 minutes or until meat is cooked through)

Julienne (slice into strips) and add to salad

To Serve:

Culver's serves this with a cherry vinaigrette, but I don't think it goes well with the avocado. I've seen lime vinaigrette with the gourmet dressings in supermarkets but I haven't tried it. I'd actually recommend hitting the chips and salsa aisle or the Mexican section of the international food aisle and trying to find mango salsa to use instead of dressing. I believe it would really work well with all the ingredients. Otherwise you could try a white-wine vinaigrette, or even just something homemade:

1 peeled, pitted and chopped ripe Mango
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (preferably seasoned)
1 cup light oil (olive, etc.)
1 lime's worth of grated zest and juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and white pepper to taste (can substitute black pepper if needed)

Put all but the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Add the oil a little at a time while the blender/processor is running. This dressing can also be stored for a couple weeks in the fridge.

If you have an aversion to yummy stinky cheeses you could substitute a mild mozzarella or queso fresco.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The How: Get Out the Science

Last week I posted a list of specific ways individuals can get involved with Fat Acceptance, depending on their strengths and inclinations. (Follow up: The How) As I expand each section into more specifics, I'll post them as individual blogs. I may jump around, but I'll at least begin at the beginning.

1. Get out the Science

The Recap:

Speaking as a geek, science is our greatest tool against myth. It's difficult in SA, however, to separate the junk science sponsored by the pharmaceutical and diet industry from the truly objective study. When a study does come out, it's often ignored or misinterpreted by the press. That's why it's important to broadcast objective studies as widely as possible. This may involve blogging to spread the study to other Size Activists, but from there it needs to go wider. Send studies to your local paper, especially if one of the reporters has a history of fat-friendly coverage. Send studies to national news organizations such as NPR or BBC, Time, Newsweek, or even traditionally fat-negative publications like Reader's Digest. Keep an address book group in e-mail, or a snail-mail address list for these contacts, and send the information every time a new study comes out. If the study data is fat positive but the summary isn't, include a note re-interpreting the data or pointing out discrepancies in the conclusion. This is a hands-on but not a face-to-face confrontational method of spreading information."

The Details:

Those connected to the blogosphere, especially to the fatosphere, will often read about new studies which challenge traditional understandings of fat and weight. Often the question is, "why isn't everyone talking about this?" The answer is generally that they don't know about it. There are so many conflicting studies, many with the advertising clout of the pharmaceutical industries behind them, that real science tends to fall into the cracks. To bring it back out into the light where it belongs so that it can be judged alongside the popular pseudoscience involves some effort by those who would benefit most.

News reporters, contrary to belief, don't choose their stories by tossing the Reuters feed into a sac and drawing a release at random. They often follow up on a story because a reader sends them a tip or brings a problem to light. That being said, they are also often overwhelmed by information and the more help you can give them, by way of a summary of primary points in a study, the more appealing it might seem as a subject.

1. Find the science: Monitor blogs and do an occasional google search to see what people are talking about. When a new study is released, you will often be able to find a link to it, or to a Reuters feed of it, or to coverage on a respectable blog such as Junkfood Science. If you are submitting the story online, be sure to include these links so that the reporter does not have to search it out themselves.

2. Summarize: Don't simply cut/paste/print blog posts unless you get permission from the blog owner and credit them. Some may be willing to let you do so since it will be for a good cause. Some may prefer that you summarize, possibly with the occasional quote. Remember that you don't have to write the article FOR the reporter, but a few main points may provide them with a starting point. I'll use the recent study by Blair in the JAMA as an example:

  • Intro: (name/position): "I think you may be interested in the following study for a future article/report, it's generating a lot of discussion online and your readers/listeners may be interested in knowing about it:"
  • Begin with the main point of the study: "Fitness may be a better indicator of health than fat"
  • Follow with a very brief (1-2 sentences) summary: "A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that fitness levels were a better predictor of longevity than an individuals weight or body fat. Even obese individuals who were fit were shown to be in better health than sedentary people of average weight." Ok, I used the "obese" buzzword because it has a good chance of catching the reporter's attention. You may prefer "people with a high percentage of body fat" or some other less-loaded terminology, but at this stage it may be more important to catch their eye than to be precisely PC.
  • Provide a link to the study or summary if possible:
  • Include links to some of the blogs where the study is being discussed. Try to choose those with low "hater" to rational debate ratios.
  • follow each link with a brief quote from the blog to show the conclusions people are drawing from it: "...The study does indicate that body fat itself is not as dangerous as a sedentary lifestyle. Also, because a large percentage of the heaviest patients were physically fit according to the fitness test, it's clear that you cannot judge a person's health or fitness by their weight...." Try to use quotes that show rational analysis, not emotionally charged responses that could smack of extremism.
  • End by thanking the reporter for her/his time (especially if sending a paper letter): "Thank you for your time, and I hope that this study proves to be an interesting topic for you and your readers to explore."
  • If you are willing, follow with something like "If you would like help in selecting professionals to contact for additional information I would be happy to help." or even "If you would like additional information on this topic, I'd recommend the following people who have been involved in similar research: " and include names like Glen Gaesser. A few organizations are assembling Media Guides with contact information for Fat Acceptance contacts. These will be excellent resources for lists of fat-friendly contacts for the reporter to get a fair evaluation of the study.
  • Sign your name and e-mail address. Your real name. Anonymous tips look shady and are often taken less seriously than if you were willing to sign your name. If you're concerned, open a new e-mail address through a free provider specifically for this purpose, so that you can delete it if you begin to get negative mail.

3. Keep records: Make a copy of the letter, either electronic or paper, and track who you've sent it to (publication, department, name, date). If you get a response, note whether it is a form letter or personal response and whether it is positive or negative. If they publish an article or present a report from the study, note the date, and whether the article treats the subject positively, negatively, or objectively. This helps you keep track of who you've contacted and gives you a template for future contacts. It also helps you decide if you want to contact that publication in the future, how you may want to re-word the letter next time, or if you want to try a different reporter. Not to mention you then have a physical, measurable record of the difference you've made as an individual!

4. Keep a list of addresses: It can be electronic, or even a paper address book from the dollar store. Keep track of the publication, the contact person, the mailing and e-mail addresses or website for electronic tip submissions, and maybe a few notes on the types of articles they run.

5. Share your success: If you blog, let others know what you've sent and where. Others might be inspired to follow suit, and multiple tips on the same study might help it stand out from other potential stories that week.

To get started:

National Public Radio(U.S.): (to pitch an idea or even submit a freelance article)

BBC news story tip:

251 W. 57th St.
New York, NY 10019

Senior Editor and Science Columnist Sharon Begley
Anne Underwood, Reporter (specializes in health, medicine, science and fitness)
(more staff writers at:

USA Today:
7950 Jones Branch Drive
McLean, VA 22108-0605

New York Times:
News Department
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
Want to contact someone specific at The New York Times or Send a blank message to for an automated response containing the e-mail addresses of New York Times staff members who have made them available to the public.

That's only a partial list of course. Don't neglect your local or state papers, they're usually interested in stories that interest you as a local reader!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Newsweek calls for "health triumph" essays

Newsweek's website features a special section called "My Turn" where they call for 850-900 word essays from people about their own lives. This week, the topic is health:

Health Triumphs: Tell Us How You Survived a Health Crisis Tell us how you met your greatest health challenge. Did you overcome an illness? Did you finally lose the weight you always wanted to lose? Did you start exercising after years of inactivity? Did you train for a marathon or quit smoking? Did you start eating right and stay with it? What did you learn about your physical and emotional strengths?

What a perfect opportunity for people in Size Acceptance to speak out about their own personal triumph of overcoming social pressure to be a certain size, eat a certain type of food, and otherwise conform to stereotypes of health and beauty! Please consider participating in this great chance to get SA voices out there for people to hear.

Essays can be submitted at:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recipe Box: Tiramisu

Desserts are my shtick, really. I love to make them, make them better, and make them pretty. I especially love the look on people's faces when I pull a recipe off the way I wanted to; it's like I've created actual happiness out of sugar and cream. I wonder if that's what an artist feels when they finally get the canvas to match the image in their head. The difference is that desserts are more of a momentary triumph: they're only really successful when they've been eaten. Very zen, now that I think about it.

Yes, there was a point where dessert was the enemy, but then I found that while something really luscious usually has more calories and fat, it almost always takes less of it to satisfy. I asked myself if I'd rather have a truffle than an entire bar of cheap baking chocolate, and the answer is definitely yes. From there I moved into the first glimmers of my fat acceptance journey, where I'm trying to teach myself that if I crave something, a substitute is probably not going to ease that craving. I'm learning to eat intuitively. Part of that, I believe is a matter of quality. If I can eat anything I want without guilt, there's no reason to eat anything that doesn't taste as good as it can. If I'm craving a salad, I'm not craving iceberg lettuce and Colby-jack, I'm craving field greens with Gorgonzola and pecans. If I try to satisfy that craving with iceberg lettuce and Colby-jack, I'll keep eating and grazing on things I don't want, past the point of fullness, trying to drown out the craving I should have satisfied in the first place. Maybe that's just my understanding of it, and since it's a new concept to me, I'm sure it'll evolve as I learn more.

That being said, here's my Tiramisu recipe. I don't use the raw eggs of the traditional recipe, because that's a good way to die :-) This recipe makes about a square baking pan (8"x8") but can be doubled or more to serve a bigger crowd.



4 extra large egg yolks (or 5 large egg yolks)
1/3 cup fine (not confectioner's) cane sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup brandy (or frangelico)
1/4 cup coffee liquor (kahlua)
1 cup espresso (about 6 shots from the coffee shop)
1 pound (16oz) Mascarpone Cheese
16 oz heavy whipping cream
Approx 30 toasted ladyfingers, or 30 savoiardi cookies
1/2 bar gourmet white baking chocolate (Ghiradelli)
1/2 bar gourmet dark baking chocolate (Ghiradelli - I use the 60% cacao but you can go darker)
Dark Cocoa powder (I use Hershey's "Special Dark" cocoa powder)
2 teaspoons vanilla


*serving dish(es) (see notes below)
**double boiler, makeshift or otherwise
wire whisk
grater for chocolate (the "fine grate" area on a cheese grater works well)
Mixer (hand or stand)
fine strainer or mesh sieve (cheesecloth works in a pinch)
The usual collection of mixing bowls, spoons, etc.


*For a fancier presentation you can use an 8" or 9" round springform pan with the sides lightly dusted with cocoa powder. If the Tiramisu sets up firmly you can remove the springform and it looks terrific. If something goes wrong, like the custard or cream doesn't set up right, or the world just hates you that day, you run the risk of the whole thing "oozing" out on you and being ruined. "You pays your penny and you takes your choice" :-)

Another option is to use individual serving dishes, or even large wine glasses, which looks impressive and elegant. I haven't measured out the recipe for that but you could probably get at least 10 wineglass size servings out of this recipe, probably more.

**Until someone notices me looking yearningly at the double boilers at Ikea and takes pity upon me, I use a steel or ceramic pot (not Teflon, it will be scratched by the whisk) set in a slightly larger pot that has about 3 inches of simmering water at the bottom.


Place beaters and the mixing bowl you'll be using for the cream in the freezer to chill.

Fill the sink or a large glass or metal bowl 1/2 way with cold water and ice.


bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a simmer.

In the top of the double boiler, add egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.

Start whisking the moment the yolks touch the pan and don't stop for 8-10 minutes.
The mix should ideally turn the color of ivory and thicken to pudding/custard consistency.

Remove top of double boiler from heat and dip the bottom 1/2 of pan in cold water to stop the cooking. continue to whisk for a minute.

Pour mixture through mesh strainer into another bowl (pref. glass or metal) to sort out any bits of cooked egg that escaped your whisk.

Cover and place in refrigerator to chill.

While the custard is cooling, you can prep other aspects of the Tiramisu:

dust the serving dish with a light layer of cocoa powder (you can skip this step if using clear individual serving dishes as the cocoa gets smeared when you add the cream and will spoil the look.)

grate the chocolate and mix the gratings together evenly. the chocolate may be easier to work with if you chill it first.

Coffee mix:

Combine the espresso, brandy, coffee liquor, and 1 Tbs sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Once the custard is chilled, gently stir the Mascarpone cheese until smooth to even out any settling from the package.

Add the Mascarpone cheese to the custard and stir (don't whisk) until smooth and even. Place in refrigerator.

Wash the mesh sieve, as you'll need it later (unless you have two)


Retrieve the cold bowl and beaters from the freezer.

Use an electric mixer to beat the whipping cream and 1tsp vanilla until just after the soft peak stage.

gently fold the mascarpone/custard mix into the whipped cream until even.


give the coffee mixture a stir in case it's separating

dip half the ladyfingers/savoiardi in coffee mixture (they should be moist but not soaked) and arrange in a layer on the bottom of the serving dish.

Add 1/2 the filling mixture

Add 1/2 the grated chocolate mix

Repeat: dip the other half of the ladyfingers/savoiardi in the coffee mixture and arrange in a second layer.

Add the other half of the filling mixture

Using a mesh sieve, dust the top lightly with cocoa powder (not too thick), then lightly sprinkle the other 1/2 of the grated chocolate over all. If you have a lot of grated chocolate, it's ok to have some left over, you don't want a thick layer of it or it will be overwhelming.

Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

If you have a high sided pan you can do three layers for a more dramatic effect, using 1/3 of the ingredients in each layer. If you're doing individual servings you might want to make it a single layer, but go with your instincts to do whatever looks right.

A garnish sets this off well. I'd recommend some arrangement of a few strawberry slices, candied orange zest, or chocolate-covered espresso beans.

That's good Zen :-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Counting Calories in the OTHER direction

An interesting opinion piece from a mother who keeps track of her daughter's calories, but in this case, to make sure she eats enough.

The article, "Counting Calories, but Not to Shed Pounds" by Harriet Brown first appeared in the New York Times. It begins with a woman hunting through the ice cream case for the one with the highest calories. Her daughter is a recovering anorexic with a fast metabolism, as well as an athlete. Brown talks about how it's a struggle for her daughter to get enough calories in a day.

"Part of being in recovery from an eating disorder is eating well. In Kitty’s case, this means eating fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish and eggs, breads and pasta. It also means eating ice cream, potato chips, bagels, cream cheese and other calorie-dense foods that have acquired the taint of mortal sin in our fat-phobic culture."

And then, in a classic "AHA!" she points out what is so obvious to us and so alien to other members of our culture...that dieting actually does make a person gain weight:

"I grew up in a household where food was divided into two categories: good (celery, carrots, diet soda) and bad (cookies, pasta, anything with fat). No surprise, then, that most of the women in my family struggle with weight, in part because of a familial culture that promoted cycles of dieting and binging."

I was really pleasantly surprised to see such a controversial view in a major newspaper stated so casually, as if it were just something everyone knows. I wonder if this is a glimpse into what it would be like if the fat-phobia went away, and we got to reminisce about the bad-old-days when people thought dieting actually worked. I wonder if we would still have eating disorders?

"Kitty’s illness and recovery have taught me that there is no such thing as good and bad foods — that all food has its value and place in the diet, whether you’re skinny or fat, a recovering anorexic or struggling to lose weight."

YES! Well-put. But I wonder, it seems that the same sentence from a fat activist would never make it to the page. Is that me just being cynical?

When Brown finally finds an ice-cream with sufficient calories to help keep her active daughter healthy, she faces head-on the public's belief that they have the right to pass judgement on what we put in our mouths, regardless of whether it has an effect on them:

"A young mother with her baby asleep in a stroller stood behind us, tsk-tsking. A trim older woman holding a container of low-fat frozen yogurt scowled disapprovingly.

When two teenage girls, as skinny as greyhounds, whispered and pointed, my heart sank. How would Kitty take this? Would it underscore her differences and set off a wave of eating-disordered feelings? Would it upset her?"

If the whisperers and pointers knew the girl's history and the effect their judgement might have, would it make a difference? I like to think so. But I also believe that it doesn't matter, because no one should have to justify their eating habits to a stranger. Actually, no one should have to justify their eating habits to anyone! The people sitting around shocked that a mother would dare give her daughter actual ice cream should, in the words of the folks at Shapely Prose, STFU. When did our culture become so fond of judgement, or is it just the new and disimproved generation of Mrs. Grudy? Are reality shows giving us the impression that everyone's private lives are on display for their consumption?

Anyway, let me try an experiment. I'm not trying to deinigrate the struggle of those who are recovering from eating disorders, but let's take the same article and replace the characters with a woman with a fat daughter. The daughter is still a competitive cyclist, so she's very fit, but as it is for all people, you can't tell that by a person's weight or eating habits. Do you think the opinion piece would have been published without a corresponding "disclaimer" about the dangers of being overweight? Do you think the reactions of the people in the store might have been more extreme, more vocal, even physical? Do you think the reasoned, logical statements about every food having a purpose, or about how dieting pressure added to her family's weight would be as well received?

It's possible that the example above is just sour grapes. Of course it's possible. I'm not in any way criticizing the article itself, it's a good one, a positive one that shows strength in the face of public ignorance. I'm just wondering.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Sometimes it's hard to not let the haters get you down. Even when there's a lot of love and pride out there in the blogosphere, it seems like sometimes a single negative comment can hurt enough to overwhelm the empowering messages out there. Maybe it's because I'm too new to this. Recently healed wounds re-open fairly easy. Maybe I just need to hang around long enough to develop good scar tissue against fatphobics. Maybe my SAD is just kicking up with a vengeance in the face of the gray skies and ice storms. Or, maybe I need to get more sleep so I don't get all crotchety in the mornings before coffee :-)

Whatever the cause of my current blah's, I know that the best way to combat them is with something positive. In searching for inspiration, I've put together a Youtube playlist of fat and size-positive videos, from Joy Nash to Velvet D'amour. So on this dreary, icy (at least here) Monday morning, I give you my affirmations playlist. The player below should play them in order (there's 15, some quite short). If you want to pick and choose, just follow the link. If you have a suggestion of one to add, please comment with a link!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Follow Up: The How

On Wednesday I posted a blog talking about how the popular assumption that fat is a choice is our primary obstacle to Size Acceptance. In the comments, Shade asked a really good question. How do we work to destroy that assumption? It's all well and good to analyze a problem, but what about solutions? I didn't respond in the comments because I could tell the answer would be long enough that it would need its own post. Oh boy did it. Sorry to put out such a long post when I'm finally out on the Fatosphere feed, but hopefully it's at least something that will prove useful. You might want to read the original post for reference.

From what I've seen since my recent belly-dive into SA, everyone would/does have a unique idea about how this could be solved. Of course, being actual complex and diverse human beings instead of just mass-produced representatives of a cause, each idea will work for one segment of fat activists, but not so well for another. That's why there's so many different organizations out there. If we were all cookie-cutter replicas of one physical, political, philosophical, religious, racial and socio-economic mold, we could all join one international Size Acceptance organization, throw ourselves behind a single message and be done with it.

We're not.

So that being said, the question of "How" in response to any problem cannot be answered with a single solution. Each person will have different capabilities, time restrictions and comfort levels. Expecting each and every supporter of Size Acceptance to drop everything in their lives to march on Washington waving a sign is unrealistic. It is as counter-productive to try and convert them to your own brand of activism as it would be to try and convert them to your particular concept of divinity.

It is the responsibility of any individual to determine what they are able and willing to do in response to any problem. Taking on that responsibility begins with finding a single cause or action you can agree with and feel strongly about, then do what you can to gather the tools you need to fight it within your capabilities. Not everyone can form a national organization. In truth, if everyone tried to do so the playing field would be so cluttered that fighting for supporters and resources amongst the organizations would eclipse the purpose they began with. There's enough fight for everyone to take a piece. There are a few approaches that are only mutually exclusive if those choosing a particular approach try and force their choice on others. If we all remind ourselves that effective activism cannot be single-minded without becoming dogmatic, we many find that the paths others walk happen to also lead to our own destination.

That being said, I've seen the following theories that may work for those seeking to start tackling actual solutions. The approaches, pros and cons are entirely my subjective interpretation, so I'm certain there are things I'm overlooking. These are also generalities. I'll expand them into specific examples in future blogs.

1. Get out the Science

Speaking as a geek, science is our greatest tool against myth. It's difficult in SA, however, to separate the junk science sponsored by the pharmaceutical and diet industry from the truly objective study. When a study does come out, it's often ignored or misinterpreted by the press. That's why it's important to broadcast objective studies as widely as possible. This may involve blogging to spread the study to other Size Activists, but from there it needs to go wider. Send studies to your local paper, especially if one of the reporters has a history of fat-friendly coverage. Send studies to national news organizations such as NPR or BBC, Time, Newsweek, or even traditionally fat-negative publications like Reader's Digest. Keep an address book group in e-mail, or a snail-mail address list for these contacts, and send the information every time a new study comes out. If the study data is fat positive but the summary isn't, include a note re-interpreting the data or pointing out discrepancies in the conclusion. This is a hands-on but not a face-to-face confrontational method of spreading information.

Pros: A good return on time investment. If you take an hour each time a new study makes the rounds of SA blogs you can have a far-reaching effect. If several people send the same study to a publication they'll be more likely to actually take interest in it, so your efforts are multiplied.

Cons: You may get responses, sometimes even negative ones from the publications. It's important to realize that not everyone is going to be immediately convinced, so it may require some ability to brush off ignorant people. You may want to experiment with which reporter you contact, so that you can find the most objective or fat-friendly one.

I go into more detail at: The How: Get Out the Science

2. Know the Facts and FAQ's

Sometimes simply knowing what to say in response to stereotyping is an important and positive way of defeating ignorance. Actually studying fat as you would any other topic for school prepares you for difficult conversations and confrontations in the real world. Be able to quote facts and studies. If you're good at percentages, that's a perk. Most of us could get by with simple things like "you know, a study was done that proved you can't make a naturally thin person permanently fat or a naturally fat person permanently thin?" Read the FAQ's on FA blogs and organization websites, and be prepared when questions come up.

Pro's: When the topic comes up in conversation, that may be your only opportunity to refute stereotypes. Once that moment has passed it's often awkward to bring it up again. Be able to answer questions, refute common stereotypes, etc. on the spot and you will be able to be a spokesperson without coming across as a fanatic.

Con's: Some people just don't have a head for facts, and aren't comfortable putting themselves out in a conversation. That's why different approaches work for different people. Just being able to calmly point out general ideas, and maybe knowing a few websites like Shapely Prose and Junkfood Science would allow you to refer people and let others do the speaking.

More Details at: The How: Be a Knower

3. Be an Example

If fat people are fit and eat well, they are able to serve as walking examples of how a healthy diet and exercise will not reduce adipose tissue beyond the natural "set-point" of a person's body, even if that set-point still falls under the arbitrary definition of "obese". If fat people are always well dressed, made-up and coiffed, it challenges stereotypes. If fat people are busy and productive, it destroys bias. This particular solution is for those who would rather serve as an example than take a more confrontational approach to activism.

Pro's: People respond well to different forms of evidence, and the kind of person who will write off every statistic and scientific study you can throw at them may only be convinced by an actual person you can point to and say, "see, that person, that group of people defy every assumption behind your theory that fat people only need to exercise and eat well." The people who interact with you will take away a certain impression of a fat person that will serve as a buffer against hate.

Con's: The biggest objection to focusing on examples is that there's a danger of dividing people into "good" and "bad" fatties. Those who cannot exercise regularly for reasons of mobility and pain often feel marginalized by those insisting that fat people must keep themselves in peak fitness just to prove someone wrong. There is also the risk of only half a battle won; where fat people who don't exercise or eat healthy are still treated as subhuman by the rest of the world. Personally, I don't think every solution has to be "all or nothing," and there is such a thing as a foot in the door. I do think it's important to make HAES part of a greater whole instead of the primary focus, but I also think it's a very positive form of activism for those who choose to adopt the HAES lifestyle. As far as the personal appearance approach goes, some would say that forcing themselves to an ideal of artificial beauty through fancy clothes and make-up just to avoid resembling a stereotype is dehumanizing in its own right, and living your life deliberately to avoid resembling a stereotype is still allowing a stereotype to control your life. This issue is complicated, but either side has excellent arguments as to why it works or doesn't work for them.

4. Don't Accept Negative Portrayals

One of the tried-and-true methods of activism is the letter writing. If you see a negative ad, product, media story, movie, etc., it is important to realize that they cannot feel your hurt and anger from the corporate office. Oftentimes they're not even aware that their portrayal or coverage of fat issues was negative, they might simply not know any better. Or they might. Either way, letting them know how you feel is a positive step for Size Acceptance, regardless of how it's received. Write the company (e-mail if you have to, but paper letters have greater impact). Let them know what you are specifically objecting to or felt insulted by. Give them some facts that show them why their actions or words were unacceptable (NAAFA and other organizations have downloadable brochures on their website so you can keep the letter simple and include information separately) and ask them to be more considerate in the future. Be calm and rational. Many organizations have tips on writing an effective protest letter.

Pros: This is a method for those who are good with words and able to organize their thoughts clearly. It is most effective when several people write, so be sure to get the word out via blogs and forums when you do send a letter so that others can respond as well.

Cons: This can be somewhat time consuming, but having a few standard letters (i.e. a "media" response letter, an "ad" response letter, etc.) and editing them to be pertinent to the situation will cut down on that time. You may get negative responses from time to time, so be prepared to keep your spirits up.

5. Boycott

Companies, TV shows, movies, etc. are all effective targets for boycott if their product or practices are offensive. There's a difference between "just not shopping there anymore" and an actual boycott. In the latter, you inform the company (both the branch and parent company) that you are boycotting them. You give your reasons for doing so, and present a list of things they can fix in order to regain your business (i.e. larger sizes in the store, no more fat jokes in the episodes, no more diet ads in the magazine, etc.). Then you spread the word to encourage others to do the same.

Pros: This is an effective method because you hit them in the wallet instead of the social conscious (often a much smaller target). It also teaches businesses how to better serve their fat clientele overall.

Cons: This may involve sacrifice of clothes or products that you like. It's a matter of priorities and some people may not have enough alternative options if they have to boycott their only good clothing source, for example.

6. Don't Accept Bad Behavior

This means that when someone on the bus behind you cracks a fat joke, you turn around and confront them (calmly). When your co-workers criticize someone for their weight, you try to educate them. When a family member pressures you to diet, you tell them why you won't. This is an every single day commitment to fight prejudice wherever you encounter it. It's important to do so in a way that changes their mind instead of reinforcing their stereotypes, so you may want to practice encounters on friends or family so you know your words and can speak them with authority. It requires you to remain calm even in the face of hate, and to risk confrontation with strangers.

Pros: This puts the activism where it needs to be, in the every-day thinking of the average person. When it's effective it is incredibly empowering, and you know that you were responsible for changing a single mind, which may ripple out to change others.

Cons: It takes incredible courage to confront a stranger on his/her assumptions, especially when they're being hateful. It may take more to confront a friend, family member, doctor or teacher when they display sizist thinking. Clear thinking, study to know what to say, a very calm temper and a certain amount of human psychology is needed, but small changes can be made every day as you are comfortable.

7. Use Your Creativity

Poetry, fiction, art, photography, theater and other creative ventures provide a way for the audience to connect to and identify with fat on a deep-rooted level that no scientific study could possibly reach. If you have a creative streak, think about how you can use it to promote positive images of Size Acceptance and size diversity.

Pros: People receive information in different ways, so this provides more diversity in how size acceptance messages are transmitted to the public. A picture or poem may say more about the subject than an essay could ever hope to cover.

Cons: Obviously not everyone has creative talent, so this may not be an option for everyone.

8. Get Political

Projects like Cofra's Fat 50 initiative are helping to gain ground in achieving legal protection for people of size. Currently only Michigan and a few cities in California have weight as part of their non-discrimination policy. Contact your municipal, county, or state government to try to add "weight" (Michigan includes "height and weight") to the legal non-discrimination policy. Organize others in the same area to combine efforts.

Pros: Legal protection without being classified as disabled will help provide a legal foundation to fight medical, employment, accessibility and other barriers to Size Acceptance.

Cons: This may involve you to be a very visible activist to be effective. You should probably be (or have someone in the group that is) comfortable talking to the press, calling supporters and political representatives on the phone or speaking to them in person.

9. Get Local

Fight sizism where it counts: in your backyard. Does your local library carry size-acceptance books, like Paul Campos and Marilyn Wann? How about your local middle and high-schools' libraries? Is the gym at your community center size friendly? What kind of message does your local school give children as far as health and weight? Could you talk to your PTA or school board about size acceptance, especially concerning gym and health classes? Is there a local scout troop that could benefit from learning about size acceptance? How does your paper treat people of size? Approaches could range from letter writing, fundraising to buy books for schools, teachers, libraries and scout leaders by SA authors, to public speaking and workshops.

Pros: Local action allows you to do something meaningful where your actions produce faster results than at the national level. It also affects you personally, as it helps create an accepting environment where you live.

Cons: It involves direct activism where you live, so many people will balk at being known in their own town as a fat activist. It may also involve being a somewhat public figure, speaking skills, and depending on how visible you become, being interviewed. Those who won't be willing to give up their fatphobia may make life uncomfortable for you since they live in the same town.

10. Get Organized

On a national level, there's really not a lot of reasons why anything would need to be started from scratch in the U.S. There's a lot of organizations with projects in the works to cover a lot of different issues through different methods. World-wide, on the other hand, I see a lot of posts from people lamenting the lack of national organizations to join. A group lends the power of numbers to any message, so while individual efforts are important, it is equally important for there to be collective action on a larger scale. I'll go into more detail when I do a separate post on this, but one thing I have to point out. The one thing all organizations have in common is that someone actually started it. Someone, or a small group, decided they wanted something done, that an organization could be formed to accomplish it, and just started it. Every giant multinational organization probably started with a small group or a single person with an idea and a willingness to do the work to accomplish it. It really doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

Pros: Starting an organization or joining an existing one means that your voice is combined with many others to greater effect. There is some of the work shared (although the leaders really should expect to do the majority of the work) and provides encouragement through others with similar goals and experiences.

Cons: Organizations = Politics. When humans gather, they will automatically begin to pass bylaws, disagree, splinter and faction. I've never heard of an organization that could remain permanently utopic. Prepare for it, understand that you will never be in complete agreement with all members of the organization, and try to recognize/deal with/excise interpersonal drama before it interferes with the group's purpose.

So this ended up longer than I thought and I'm still only in the generalities. I'll make a point of future posts expanding the concepts in this one and applying activism suggestions specifically back to eliminating the "fat as choice" myth, amongst others. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, please feel free to comment!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Recipe Box: The Perfect Pot Roast

It's Friday, I haven't slept in three nights because of constant drama with an ancient furnace that wakes me up shivering three times a night so that I have to trudge out to the garage and reset the pilot. I'm cranky, exhausted, and want a cigarette so badly I'm ready to chew my own thumb off. So no deep thoughts today hmmmkay? :-)

so really, this is what's known as shameless filler because a pot roast sounds really good to me right now. I've done a lot of experimenting with it, since it's one of those dishes that can be stretched over weeks of meals for a single person, or feed a lot of friends. This is the recipe that's evolved through trial and error. I use the oven. A crock pot will technically work but I find it does change the flavor enough to matter.

Jo's Perfect Pot Roast and Beer-tatoes

1 beef roast (duh)
1 pan 2-3 times larger than the roast, with lid
3-5 large potatoes or twice that many baby potatoes (the little red ones are perfect) cut into 1" chunks
1 large yellow onion (vidalia if you can get them) cut into slices or 1" chunks and separated.
2 carrots or 1 cup baby carrots, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large zucchini or summer squash, sliced
1 red bell pepper or 2 Chile peppers (optional)
3 cubes or 3T beef bullion
4 cubes or 1/4 cup tomato bullion (Hooray for Mexican stores! Yes, you can use tomato paste as a substitute but it isn't quite as good. Look for Tomato bullion in the ethnic section of your grocery store or sometimes with the other bullion in the soup aisle)
1-2 tsp (to taste) ground peppercorns (black or multi)
1 T sweet basil or 2 shredded fresh basil leaves
1 T dried oregano or 1 tsp fresh
2 tsp or 1 clove fresh garlic
2-3 bottles of HoneyBrown or other semi-sweet beer (Bell's has a Cherry Stout that works well) plus, of course, however much you drink while cooking :-)

Place meat in pan (no need to defrost it first), surround/cover with as many veggies as will fit and still allow you to get the lid on.

Add bullion and spices to top and pour beer over all until the pan is 1/2 full.

Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 350F for 4 hours.

Check every hour to see if more liquid (i.e. beer) needs to be added (if the meat is looking dry or there's less than an inch of liquid in the pan) or taken away (if the juicy roast has released it's own and is about to overflow). Either situation is pretty dependent on the quality of the meat you buy, but I can tell you that even the cheapest meat gets tender after cooking in beer for this long!

After 4 hours, remove the lid/foil, baste with pan juices (can be done with a spoon if you don't have a squeegie) or more beer. Check the meat with a fork for tenderness. If it doesn't pull apart easily, add another hour.

When the meat is tender, crank it up to 400F. cook until top is brown, usually another 1/2 hour.

Remove the meat and veggies to separate bowls. You can use the pan drippings for gravy, freeze it for soup stock, or discard.

The alcohol does cook off, for those who think I sound like a complete boozer :-) This freezes well, tastes as good or better as leftovers, and is easy to separate out into tupperware-size servings for hot lunches.

So that's my filler of the day. Now I need coffee.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fat as Luxury: 1977 Letter From the Fat Underground

I first came across this letter via a post at Red. 3. It is a 1977 letter from one of the first Fat Activism groups in the U.S. to a fictional therapist created as an amalgation of the "radical therapists" they were trying to involve in Size Acceptance. It strikes me that now, 30 years later, the essential facts and points of the letter are not only just as true, but may not even be any less radical in the face of accepted public policy and social assumptions. Why is that? The letter might contain the answer:

"I know that you consider support for liberation movements to be a basic part of your work as a radical therapist. That is why I left our last conversation feeling hurt and angry, sensing that you consider fat liberation to be some sort of "luxury" we fat people can't really afford."

The concept that being fat or thin is an actual conscious choice, rather than a biological reality, is probably the largest obstacle to FA and Size Acceptance. When the concept that one has no more choice in their body's natural size than those born tall, short or olive-skinned manages to seep into public consciousness, then and only then will we have a fighting chance for acceptance, equal access, and humanization. The myth of choice may the hardest hurdle to cross, even for those of us who realize its essential fallacy. Often even our allies against Sizism will, somewhere in their paradigm, still see fatness as a "luxury" or "lifestyle choice" to be "tolerated" rather than a state of being to be accepted.

Kate Harding did an excellent piece on The Fantasy of Being Thin, talking about the magical thinking surrounding thinness and the pseudo-religious belief that being thin would not only solve all your problems, but magically transform you into a better, more likable person. This belief is certainly not limited to the fat person's own feelings of self worth, but is echoed by teachers, doctors, therapists, friends, family, and all the well-meaning people who's only advice for a myriad of conditions, from depression to loneliness, is to lose weight.

The venemous fat-haters and trolls are easy to ignore by simply reminding yourself that they are just lashing out from their own self-loathing, projecting their inferiority complex on the object of their fear, or simply being ignorant ass-hats who never learned any better. Harder to ignore are the people who honestly care (or think they do) about your well being. Their lack is that of real information. They do manage to seperate the fat from the person inhabiting it, but they are often as deeply entrenched in their fear and hatred of that fat as their crueler counterparts. They'll tell you to be happy with who you are, but in a way that implies you should do so to somehow compensate for the "negatives" of fatness, or in the hope that a positive attitude will help you stick to a weight-loss plan. They'll try to compliment you by asking if you've lost weight, but with the implication that doing so should be intrinsically tied to beauty or your own happiness. These people are harder to fight, because they really do think they're being kind. They often subscribe to the idea that fat is a disease that can be treated, with all of life's ills as symptoms. They believe that treatment for the "disease" is a matter of choice, and therefore, so is fat.

Even many who are supportive of Fat Acceptance are secretly in the "fat as luxury" paradigm. They say they believe you have the right to be accepted no matter what you look like, but in the same tone as they would defend dress, hairstyle, or brand of vehicle. Their true belief, if you dig down far enough, is most likely the right to choose whatever lifestyle you prefer. Unfortunately they never get rid of the idea that fat is a lifestyle choice, rather than a genetic and biological reality. Perhaps they were never fat themselves, and can't help the hypnotic implant of thousands of ads and pharmaceutical company sponsored research. Perhaps they still have some lingering self-loathing that they have never managed to shake. As long as someone is fat and healthy they are willing to stand with them and fight for their rights. Their support is helpful and welcome in that they do lend a voice to improve conditions for fat people. If the fat person becomes unhealthy, however, whether it be joint problems or some disorder inherited from their parents, the advocate is likely to turn one day and say something along the lines of "enough is enough now. It's been fun, but you can't afford the luxury of indulging in this lifestyle of being fat any more."

This concept of fatness being an indulgence hovers behind every act of discrimination, every negative media story, every discussion over whether schools should have a coke machine. Behind the smoke and mirrors of pseudoscience, humiliation, isolation, assumed health risks and attractiveness lies the foundation of believing "fat is a choice." From that is extrapolated the questions as to why we would "choose to be fat," and excuses any and all dangerous and dehumanizing methods to make us change our minds. That is the first domino to tip in the fight to be treated as equals in the world. All the data showing that fat isn't necessarily unhealthy, all the pieces that show fat isn't necessarily unattractive, and all the fights against specific stereotypes of fat people must start with the refutation of fat as a choice. We must first prove without a doubt (and the proof is out there in many forms!) that one is fat because of unavoidable natural factors that cannot be corrected. That proof must be made a part of public consciousness through constant repetition and informational campaigns, not just accessible by those whose minds are already changed. Until that is done, all other evidence and arguments can be misinterpreted by fat-phobics as attempts to justify or defend a "choice". Once that first domino is tipped, the rest (being treated as human beings, removing stereotypes, equal access to medical and legal care, etc.) can't help but follow. I'm not suggesting that all other efforts be put on hold, however. Violations of human decency such as adoption denials, children taken from the home, pressure to have organs amputated through WLS, and denial of health insurance, are real here-and-now issues that demand a response, but once the stigma of choice is removed, I believe the other battles will become easier.

As far as us fatties, we (ask Kate Harding explained) need to let go of magical thin thinking. Most of us will never be thin, but some will still kill themselves one pound at a time for the Holy Grail of thinness. We will waste time, money, life and health seeking that cooler, sleeker, sexier, smarter, and beloved imaginary person we think is hiding somewhere behind the fat cells. We need to let that person go. We need to realize what we are capable of as humans (which is a LOT) and understand that the ideal person inside us doesn't need to claw it's way out through the adipose tissue. It's a state of mind, a release of fear, and the realization that the "thin person waiting to get out" may actually be a fat person waiting for you to recognize and accept him or her as part of you.