Heart Attack Grill – Yay or Nay?

I read this here article today and had myself some mixed feelings about the restaurant in question.

On the one hand, while I can’t even imagine what an 8,000 calorie hamburger looks like, I’m pretty sure any self-respecting carnivore would at least want to take a whack at it. And the idea of an equivalent Yay Scale in the middle of a mainstream restaurant tickles and delights me, as does the idea of a non-queer-specific, non-political venue where people can go on reprieve from the puritanical requirements of health, productivity and good citizenship.

In addition, I can’t see any perceived failing that this restaurant has that is more pronounced than any pub/bar, smoke/cigar shop, confectionery, casino, etc. These are all consumer models based entirely on hedonism and excess. And in addition to that, if someone wants to eat/not-eat/drink/smoke/exercise/whatever-themselves to death, it’s no one’s business but their own and they’re likely to do it regardless of any venue provided to aid in their pursuit. Body autonomy is a messy business and it is one without exception.

On the other hand, I had the same reaction to reading about this restaurant as I did to Mauritanian fat camps. Whether the subjective ideal is feather light or heavy duty, it is just that. Subjective. If the goal (and it is my goal) is to truly bring that joyful sense of body autonomy to the general public then it stands to reason that the public glorification, or villainization, of any specific aspect of a human body is ultimately counterproductive.

Where the restaurant loses me is is in the celebration of those who are 350#+ whilst simultaneously upholding the sexist parlance of thin, scantily-clad, Hooters-style waitresses. Each one of those things is problematic on their own but the combination of the two is downright infuriating.

Also, I’m trying to imagine a way in which offering free meals to those above a specific weight could be done well. The closest I can think of is as an honoring rite for those who move through the world with the least amount of privilege. But given the TGIF (Thank God it’s Fatties?) ambiance, I’m guessing that making nuanced political distinctions with their messaging isn’t #1 on their priority list.

I’m not so much interested in opinions on the article itself as it’s, largely, the same old excess vs. frugality bullshit that I grew weary of years ago, but I’m wildly interested in other Rad Fatty opinions on this restaurant and/or wild imaginings on what kind of place could exist in the world that did what this restaurant is trying to do without any of the failings!

NOLOSE 2011 – The Very Fat People are Coming

Bridge to Fatlandia - NOLOSE 2011I’ll admit it. As I packed up and headed out to NOLOSE this year, I thoroughly anticipated severe social anxiety and feelings of isolation throughout the weekend. This has been my overall experience of the last few months and I saw no reason it should be different there (and in fact, I feared it may be worse.)

Imagine my surprise when, no sooner had I parked the car and dumped my suitcase, my heart just broke open. Deep in the muck and mire of me, my joy got all scrappy about it, grabbed fistfuls of hair, dug her muddy toes into the backs and shoulders of my fears, clambered up to the surface and took roost just behind my eyes, waiting for all the goodness that was coming. There was nothing for it but to be excited.

As I walked through what would soon become Fatlandia that first night, I saw in the faces of those who had arrived carrying those same fears. I saw the clumps of comfortable familiars and the shy ones skirting the edges. I saw the boundaries as false – the ones inside me, those perceived around others. We made room. We forced scootings. We added chairs. We sat. We ate. We shared bites. We talked. We invited. We laughed. I felt fearless and connected.

The feeling at NOLOSE this year, for me, was Abundance. So many people, some familiar, some not. Even those I already know and love I had precious few moments with. There were so many possible trajectories and at the end of each lay some manner of joy. It was hard to stay focused.

The workshops were each powerful in their own right. The pool was a shimmering pile of silly and sweet. Everywhere I looked, people were connecting, though I did see some who weren’t, or couldn’t. I know what that’s like, too. Abundance can be overwhelming and it can be easy to stick to what you know. Even in my joy this year, I only ventured slightly outside the familiar. For those who are brave enough to come alone or with fewer built-in connections, especially those who may be shy or in a rough emotional space, the instinct to be passive about interaction can be hard to break through. I was glad to hear that there was a NOLOSE “buddy” program this year that hooked up first-timers with old-hatters but perhaps there should be a broader buddy program for those who generally find it harder to meet folks/make connections. A Shy Caucus?

My favorite moments of the conference were…well, it would actually be easier to list the moments I didn’t like since there were so few of them but I’m feeling too happy to bother with it. The keynote was challenging in a very good way, the salon performances were heartbreaking and hilarious, the workshops were insightful and inspirational, the flirting was fun and funny, the open-hearted abundance of hugs and affection were much-needed and healing, the fashion was breathtaking, the conversation was political and mindful and also dorky and delightful. Most importantly — the conference felt different than I’d ever felt before. The board was a new kind of presence. Their connection with one another was obvious and affirming. Their unity and commitment to the direction of NOLOSE was apparent. The conference felt IMPORTANT again. It was equal parts rest and reminder of the path that still lies ahead. I felt nurtured and challenged and like I’d been given the tools I’d need to see the work through. I’ve never felt that before at NOLOSE, even though my experiences have been powerful. There was something different about this year. Something stronger, deeper, more passionate, more loving and more profound.

I’m tired and haven’t been in the world much in the 24 hours I’ve been home but the little I have has felt different. I am moving through it with less fear and a more critical and more open mind. I am feeling stronger at my core. I have been reminded of my power and I have been reminded how to use it. I couldn’t ask for anything better, especially as this may be my last NOLOSE for a while.

Thank you, Fatlandians. And to those I met this year for the first time, I am so glad to have the chance to know you.

Fatty Goes to London

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am moving to London in August to begin an Undergrad in Anthropology & Media and, ideally, an eventual Master’s course in Visual Anthropology. It’s my hope to mix anthropology and new media in my activism, though I remain open to the idea that this experience might alter my future direction entirely. The possibilities are infinite and I’m excited to see what will come of this adventure.

Because moving to London is a BIG DEAL for me personally and because not all parts of it will be related to size or activism, I’ve decided to separate posts of a more personal nature from those on this main site. If you’d like to follow along on this adventure, you can bookmark the secondary blog here:


The RSS feed is here: http://pdx2ldn.stacybias.net/?feed=rss

If any of you are in London and want to meet up or if you know rad fatties or just generally awesome people there, I’d welcome both!

Things I Keep Telling Myself, Volume 1: It’s OK to be irrelevant.

It’s easy to get in a huff over things. Little slights. Big rejections. It’s easy to beat ourselves up over our perceived flaws or failures. It’s also easy to over-congratulate ourselves on our success and good fortune. Over and over I see power struggles, battles of ego and intelligence, marked like graffiti on the walls of social media. Over and over, self-appointed experts are challenged and react defensively, posting long diatribes discrediting any who dare disagree with them. Over and over, facts and figures are spouted as if they have merit when we all know deep down that truth is exactly as transient as the next thing we learn — and we’re always learning something. We struggle and fight for the limited resources of visibility, credit and congratulations, but what we do not know yet is infinite. What we haven’t yet thought to say is immeasurable. There is enough. There is enough truth for all of us, even the truths that contradict. The trick is holding that space when others cannot. And when I need to hold that space and fear I will be unable, this is what I tell myself: (this can also be applied on days when you feel like everyone is staring at/judging you – and I find that quite a lot harder to put into practice. It’s great when it works, though!)

Sometimes there is relief in knowing exactly how irrelevant you are. No matter how much you achieve – or do not – you are a speck of a speck of dust in the infinity of the universe. However much you know, there is infinitely more to know. However great your loss, there is infinitely more sorrow. However much you are hailed or exalted, however much you fail or are slighted – take solace in the vastness around you. There is freedom in anonymity. There is release in insignificance. We’re here. And then we’re not. Live.

Top 5 awesome things about being fat


5) Wrinkle-free!

I’m 36 and a few months ago I was sitting in front of a cafe and a sweet but misguided (on a number of levels) woman tried to set me up with her 18 year old son. I still get carded for booze and smokes. Botox Schmotox. I mean, f*ck ageism and all, but stick that in your syringe and inject it, Hollywood!

4) You get your own seat on public transit!

Let’s face it – given the choice between the fatty or the drunken hipster with a personal vendetta against antiperspirant, most folks will sit with the hipster. I used to take this personally. I would tuck in as much of my flab as possible and will myself smaller — light as a feather/stiff as a board-style — in hopes of receiving the pointless validation of having a total stranger choose to sit with me. In retrospect — why the hell would I ever DO THAT? Truth is, having your own seat on a smelly bus or an overheated subway is just plain awesome. A little passive rejection for a little extra leg room is a fair trade to me!

3) You are your own pool noodle!

I fly a lot and I have to admit to a slight amount of smug self-satisfaction each time they talk about flotation devices and the unlikely event of a water landing. There are approximately eleventy-bajillion things that would suck about a water landing but having to tread water until I’m too exhausted to continue is probably not one of them. Knock on wood and all that but I’d last a helluva lot longer than Kate Moss.

2) Built-in drunken frat boy protection!

House party. 2am. Jake, Steve and Brody are sloppy drunk and sloshing their misogyny (and their beer) all over bored and irritated co-eds in hopes that one of them is blitzed or approval-seeking enough to fall for it. You, on the other hand, are probably either making out with your sexy, intelligent and not-an-asshole date, dancing it out with your friends, or having an only partially-slurred conversation with someone who hasn’t been completely lobotomized by a beer bong. Not to say you won’t still get hit on, because it’s a party and you’re hot. But until the “norm” shifts to include the rest of us, you have a small layer of protection against robotic, shallow, vapid, selfish meatheads . Enjoy it while it lasts!

1) Community!

Ok, so the whole world is “community” for the folks in the aesthetic norm, but there is something deliciously warm about the shared experience of subculture. Bonding about Chub Rub? Hilarious. FatGirl clothing exchanges? Amazing. Big Butt Bike Rides? Chunky Dunks? Body-positive dance parties? Places where everyone in the room isn’t neurotically obsessed with counting every single calorie, obsessing over stretch marks or methodically listing off every single real or perceived flaw with their body? Priceless.

(Disclaimer: you don’t have to be fat to take part in the above, and being fat certainly doesn’t automatically release you from body neurosis — but loving yourself does!)

What do you think is awesome about being fat? Comment and we’ll create a joint Top 10!

Thinky Thursday Recap – Your Responses

Thanks for giving your thoughtful responses to last Thursday’s question! I’ll post my own response, and then your responses below it. The question was as follows:

The definition of self-care is often dictated to us by family tradition, by the marketplace or by our peers. Things that fall outside socially acceptable definitions of self-care are often dismissed as unhealthy or indulgent. What are some ways that you care for yourself that might fall outside the status quo? Do you judge yourself for them? Have you learned not to judge yourself for them?

My Response: I have a busy head. It’s always been so, but lately it’s taken a turn for the extreme as I’ve chosen a new path that means moving to a different country, selling 75% of my belongings and a huge shift in career path. My head is a series of loose, frayed and tangled ends. The only way I seem to have any peace is to zone out to the television. This is perhaps not the most ideal way to relax, but it works for me. It calms and comforts me, lets the dust settle to the floor of my head before I start the twirling frenzy again. TV has always calmed me – it was my babysitter growing up, my friend as an ostracized teen and my companion in the silence of loss as an adult. I suspect my relationship with TV will change over time, but for now, it is often my only source of respite.

Your responses

Elizabeth writes: For myself, I find having a night alone does wonder for my health and wellbeing. I need one night alone at least once a week, and thankfully, I am in a position where I can do that right now. It allows me to process what has happened during the week, relax and enjoy not talking for once. I used to think that actually wanting to be by myself was really strange and feared being labelled a “loner,” but now I really couldn’t care less because it makes me feel so good!

Rebecca writes: The greatest thing that I can do for my well-being every day is to have a large breakfast full of fat and carbs in the form of fried eggs, cream cheese, bread, and sweet things. I have fried eggs and toast for breakfast as often as I can because it starts me off on the right foot every time. I find that I have more energy, I feel satisfied, and I don’t find myself getting hungry before i can get another meal. My mom kind of gasps in astonishment when I tell her what I eat for breakfast most days – that’s a lot of fat! – but it’s absolutely good for me.

Renee Writes: Quiet time with a book, looking out on the creek. I have always used this as retreat. Books and water.

Aoife Writes: Oh my, self-care. I’ve been thinking a lot about this one in the past couple of weeks, especially with winter really setting in. I’m not good with winter, always had a bit of the SAD, and Jan and Feb are the worst. It takes a whole lot of work just to keep functioning, to keep myself reasonably okay, and to make sure I don’t do anything self-destructive. And some days that’s just too damn much, and I need to give myself time to just plain be depressed, to not force myself out of bed and into the real world, to not drag myself out to get some exercise to try and get myself a bit of energy, to not push myself into feeling okay, but to just plain be miserable, to stay with that and live in it and be in it, to let myself experience all the awfulness and apathy and crappiness and hopelessness of it all. If I don’t do that sometimes, I’ll end up burning out long before the evenings stretch out again in March and things don’t need to be forced to feel okay. So, yeah. For me, sometimes letting go of all my hard-learned self-care habits is the best thing I can do.

Thinky Thursday: Non-Traditional Self-Care

The first Thinky Thursday of 2011! This sounds like a grand accomplishment until you consider that there was actually only one in 2010 as well. ;) But neveryoumind that – let’s just get on with it!

Thinky Thursday Question – Thursday, 1/07/11:

The definition of self-care is often dictated to us by family tradition, by the marketplace or by our peers. Things that fall outside socially acceptable definitions of self-care are often dismissed as unhealthy or indulgent. What are some ways that you care for yourself that might fall outside the status quo? Do you judge yourself for them? Have you learned not to judge yourself for them?

Post your responses in the comments and I’ll publish a post soon with a few selected responses. Thanks for sharing!

Permission Slip for the Psyche

I have been thinking these last several months about how critical I am of myself. I believe this was brought on by an experience at NOLOSE this summer, the re-emergence of some past trauma and by my posting some reactions to this publicly. This was both helpful and excruciating. The excruciating part came with the crippling judgment/shame that I placed on myself for the decision to share such personal, intimate details publicly. This started a really intense shame-spiral that I’ve been dealing with ever since.

This is exacerbated by my impending move to England, where stereotypes of stoicism, independence, privacy and reserved emotionality are seemingly at a premium. Leaving the warm bubble of the woo-woo NW, where a tender community, sweet connection and open sharing are my mainstays, I fear I will be thought strange, judged and excluded. I have been telling myself stories of getting a ‘thicker skin’ and ‘sucking it up’ and becoming more emotionally independent — as if this is the most proper course of action, to change to fit in, as if it would be better for me anyway. The truth of the matter is, for the most part (if I were able to stop judging myself so harshly) I actually quite like who I am. All the better qualities within myself are those I seek out in others. I’m no walk in the park — no one is — but for the most part, I think I’m a good egg. I try my best.

Below is something I’ve been working on for a while. It’s sort of a permission slip for my psyche. I wrote it up to call upon it when I need reminding. Perhaps some of you feel similarly and will, at times, need reminding yourselves. In that spirit, I share it here.

1) It’s OK to believe in something.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I have formed the belief that a cold, steely refusal to believe in any ‘woo-woo nonsense’ is somehow a more evolved or intelligent mindset. People who believe in nothing and who regard any religion or spiritual beliefs as weak or lacking in critical thought have always been able to twist me in on myself. It occurred to me recently, however, that NOT believing is just as polarized a belief as anything else. To staunchly believe in nothing is just as seemingly ridiculous as believing uncritically in everything. We all base our beliefs on the knowledge we’ve got — which is barely a fraction of the knowledge that’s possible. The assumption that we know anything about our origins ‘for sure’ is, to my mind, over-confident.

My personal spirituality has largely settled as “take what you want and leave the rest.” I believe that much is implausible, but anything is possible — and what matters, regardless, is being kind, maintaining compassion and empathy, doing what you can to move things toward joy and away from suffering. I believe that ritual sets intention, and intention – whether for mystical reasons or no – positions us as more likely to achieve our goals simply by keeping us mindful of and focused on them. I believe that Tarot and astrological readings, whether mystical or no, help us divine our own subconscious for answers — how we interpret the cards, what we read into the readings — these things help us know ourselves. They are tools – like therapy is a tool, like academic study is a tool. I believe there is so much we don’t yet know, and so much we never will. Staying open to the possibility of more is fun. Binaries are limiting – in all capacities.

2) It’s OK to be “sensitive”, to feel things deeply – and to speak it out loud.

Much like I have consistently deferred to the spiritually-reserved, I have also tended to defer to the emotionally self-sufficient. Those who live closer to the cuff, who hold back their emotions for ‘appropriate’ times, or who don’t share their personal details publicly. I’ve always been in awe of people whose opinion of themselves are enough — who don’t ask for feedback, or require input on decision-making. I have often regarded my own desire for input and involvement in my life from friends and community as somehow weak, narcissistic, self-indulgent. I have often regarded my tendency to be emotionally impacted by the circumstances in my life, and to talk about that publicly, as the same.

I remember sitting on the stage at NOLOSE this year and saying something out loud for the first time in my life — something that had carried with it so much shame, so much disappointment in myself (and from others) — and breaking down for what felt like an eternity in front of so many people. I was unable to collect myself and in that moment, rather than simply accepting the love and support of that community, which I truly believe was being offered, in my mind there was a flashing banner of judgment scrolling “classic american overshare” in neon letters. I was judging myself for taking up space with my ‘issues’, for taking myself too seriously, and for being weak and vulnerable in public. I turned the friendly faces of my loving community into judging eye-rolls, rib jabs, yawns of boredom, and quietly whispered “get it togethers.” It’s an ugly face I put on my community — one that sees vulnerability as weakness, who sees a desire for inclusion and connection as need, and need as weakness, one that bullies and judges and seeks dominance for its own amusement.

Nevermind the teary-eyed confessions of those who came up aftewards, thanking me for saying things aloud that they could identify with — asking for connection and discussion, wanting to speak about this themselves. None of those sweet moments of positive feedback could dissuade my own internal dialogue of self-shaming. I isolated myself in judgment, letting the few who said nothing speak more loudly than those who reached to engage me. No more of this.

My tenderness is one of the most beautiful parts of me – it keeps me open, loving and capable of great joy. It keeps me aware, compassionate and capable of empathy. I have fought through scenarios I actually won’t speak about publicly to keep it. Being reserved, collected and outwardly unemotional is not better or more evolved than being earnest, vulnerable and openly heartfelt. These are coping mechanisms, both – learned behaviors, reinforced by life experience and the people who influenced us along the way. What works for one does not work for all and neither is better or worse. Again, the only errant belief is the one that assumes it knows best.

3) It’s OK to be unsure of yourself.

Of all the parts of myself that I tend to judge, my lack of self-assurance ranks most highly. This gets meta, to say the least. Not only do I judge myself, but I judge myself for judging myself. Exhausting. I was raised in an extreme, dichotomous household with one half tyrannical dominance and one half apologetic submission. As a result, I am constantly struggling to find the middle ground within my own self. By virtue of my upbringing, my fight-or-flight instinct causes me to reflexively defer to aggressive confidence (or to emotional bullying.) This is not weakness. This is a self-loving habit of survival that has ultimately outgrown its usefulness.

Confidence and self-love are journeys. Some start at a deficit, some don’t. By virtue of my youth, my personal journey starts well underground and, for all my climbing, I am only just now beginning to see the light of day. In the end, we are all products of our environment and those who have been able to garner self-confidence from their life experience should be grateful and acknowledge and utilize that privilege rather than using it to judge and oppress those who haven’t had as much support, as many opportunities or as much time to heal. Do not bully the under-confident. And for those who share my struggles with self-assurance, do not be bullied and most of all, do not bully yourself. You are brave. You’ll continue your progress. Don’t forget.

4) It’s OK to care what people think.

We are pack animals by nature. We all inherently want to belong somewhere – whether it’s enough to fit in with just one person, or whether we need an entire community – by in large, all humans need *some* sense of connection. For this reason, we all care on some level what people think of us and of our actions. Some are more selective about whose opinion they choose to consider and some are more open to the larger whims of society. This is not static, either. That ratio varies wildly over a lifetime. And sometimes we choose our identities in order to maximize the chance of finding what we need, and sometimes our identities do the dictating themselves.

What’s important to remember is that there is no norm. There is only access and opportunity. Each group finds itself by chance and each group is convinced of its own value by virtue of peer reinforcement within the group. No one is wrong. No one is right. We all simply are. Being punk rock, DIY, a self-professed freak – these identities have no greater value than being a republican, middle-class, or a self-professed ‘jesus freak.’ Whatever you are, be it because it makes you joyful. Whatever you aren’t, acknowledge that it brings joy to those who occupy it. Joy is not unilateral. We are all as misguided and mislead as everyone else in our own ways. But that’s OK. We’re finding each other as best we can. It’s OK to need one another. Being overly-independent is no more evolved than being overly-dependent. The truth is most often in the middle. Don’t judge yourself for wanting to belong. We all do.

ESRC Fat Studies Conference – Building community through activism

fat communityI spoke this week in London at an ESRC-funded Fat Studies conference organized by the fantastic Bethan Evans and Charlotte Cooper. This was a largely academic seminar, but several DIY activists were also invited to speak. This made for a wonderful mix of theory and action and the radical nature of the Fat Studies topics gave me a great deal to chew on for the next few months. I was especially struck by a talk on the “Perverse practice of Social Inclusion” as well as Sondra Solovay’s keynote which described four very intense cases around fat, families and discrimination. We still have so much work to do, but sitting in a room with all of these great academics and activists, I felt hopeful and inspired.

I thought I’d share my little presentation here as well in case it’s helpful. I’ve talked a lot about building community, but I’ve never really talked at depth about why it’s important, what principles I keep in mind when doing so and whether or not there’s a method to my organizing madness. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t, and sometimes there is but I don’t know it until long after. ;)


The importance of community in personal empowerment

The human animal is soft-wired towards empathy and hard-wired towards the desire to belong. While empathy can be knocked out of our natures via social conditioning/abuse/peer pressure, the desire to fit in remains a cornerstone. Empathy combined with the desire to belong to something bigger is a beautiful reality — this is the mad rush to help in times of crisis, volunteerism and activism. But when the biological need for acceptance overrides our more malleable empathic natures, this creates judgment, shaming, oppression and exclusion.

Most individuals, if not given the tools to see this for what it is, will simply accept and internalize these experiences of shaming and exclusion. This creates self-loathing, compulsion, shame and depression. Creating community that affirms, supports and welcomes marginalized individuals is one step towards aiding them in regaining the strength and empowerment required to reject these arbitrary judgments and begin to heal.

Focused community creates the opportunity for topical conversation and bonding. It is in these conversations that individuals begin to recognize shared experiences. While common sense may seem to dictate that no experience is truly unique, we all know that logic is rarely at the forefront in our emotional selves. For this reason, it is common for people to believe that they are alone in some of their most painful circumstances. Social isolation only reinforces this fiction. When people have the opportunity to hear that others share their same struggles, this is an unburdening experience. Shared experience reduces shame and aids in combatting the reflex to internalize oppression.

I took a two month road trip in 2006 and interviewed 42 fat women about their experiences in the world, from childhood to present-day. There were many common themes that emerged, but one of the most valuable was this: Around the age of 7 or 8, when children begin noticing and assigning values to their differences, more intensive teasing/bullying begins. For the children who felt loved and supported at home, often the bullying was met with questioning — “Why are they so angry? Why are they so mean? Is that person having a bad day today?” Children who were affirmed did not immediately experience shame, whereas those without support had no reflex to fight it and simply accepted the judgments of others as truth. With nothing to combat it, this reflex becomes habit and self-loathing can become a slow, steady undercurrent in someone’s life. Through building fat-positive community, we have the ability to provide that long-overdue affirmation for one another and to help each other begin to ask those important questions now.

The distinction between radicalizing the already-political and introducing introducing Fat Activism to those who may be skeptical.

I have been torn on and off throughout my activist career regarding direction. I am queer and, as any of you who are also queer likely know, coming out is an inherently political process. Starting out as a queer activist and then moving into fat activism from there gave me a much more radicalized approach than someone who had not been politicized in this way may have had. I was already familiar with questioning the basic assumptions of the larger society. I was already familiar with the internal debates inside queer culture regarding wanting to ‘fit in’ to garner faster acceptance vs. being loudly and proudly different and demanding acceptance anyway. I was also already familiar with the concept of reclaiming words to remove their power to harm. For all of these reasons, I gave the finger to the middle ground, avoided pandering euphemisms and went straight for the F word — FAT — in the title of my first large-scale event, FatGirl Speaks.

Thankfully, a steady stream of press coverage and interviews gave me a chance to explain that choice, and our audience was far larger and more mixed than it would have been otherwise. However, in some senses, by using a wince-inducing word like Fat in the title, I immediately placed a barrier between the event and a large percentage of the folks who could have benefited from it. This attracted an audience which, while vast, was largely queer and highly political. That wasn’t a bad thing, but it did find me pondering the gap between mainstream “body image” activism and more radical “fat activism” and wondering what a bridge between the two would look like.

The Dove Beauty campaign, for example, reaches professional women, housewives, church ladies; all the women who likely would have been put off by our more aggressively named event. It raises awareness and begins to plant seeds of skepticism about what the range of ‘normal’ bodies actually is and also takes issue with marketing practices which dig holes in women’s self-esteem in order to sell product. However, it is produced by a beauty company, and thus is commercial by nature. As well, the range of so-called normalcy within less radical body image activism is still very slim, is marred by troublesome healthist, racist and ableist tenets and only marginally addresses and disrupts the underlying assumptions of the status quo.

I like to think of activism as non-linear – meaning, an activist’s path can take them back and forth between radicalized and non-radicalized groups. However, the progression of the target individual towards greater empowerment is naturally more linear and, for that reason, events at all empowerment levels are important in order to both provide multiple entrance points into fat activism and to help those already involved to continue to move forward. It’s not, of course, the job of each individual activist to provide resources at all levels, but staying mindful of who we’re not reaching is as important as focusing on who we are. This helps to aid in collaboration across movements and, ideally, to avoid gaps in accessibility.

It’s Not About You, or The importance of ongoing, interaction-based events to establish peer support community.

The loudest feedback we received after the first FatGirl Speaks was that audience members felt excited and inspired by the event, but felt they had nowhere to put that energy once the event was over. Many had never been in a room where fat was a focus in such a positive way before, had never been with so many fat people at the same time before, and had never felt so at home or accepted. That was certainly true of me, as the event organizer. I remember standing in the back of the venue, watching a crowd of 400 fatties and allies scream themselves hoarse as a bevvy of fat performers danced, sang, spoke, stripped and took up space unapologetically. There were so many people in the venue that we reached capacity and had to turn 100 away at the door. The joy in the room was palpable. This was a celebration, and a surprise. None of us expected everyone else to be there. We were crazed with it, and we all wanted more.

Activating a crowd like that is a wonderful experience, but in not anticipating that momentum and providing an ongoing way for those excited folks to stay connected with one another, we missed an opportunity to create community. This realization was key in the formation of some of our “in-between” events. We held a monthly dance party called Cupcake, we started a seasonal group-swim called the Chunky Dunk (which is still happening today and is in the process of expanding to other cities) and we held large clothing exchanges called FatGirl Frock Swaps — the last of which raised over 800lbs of plus-sized clothing to be donated to Hurricane Katrina victims, some of whom were being forced to wear garbage bags due to lack of clothing in their size.

From the connections people made with one another at these events, we watched the formation of a vibrant fat-positive community in Portland, especially strong within queer culture. New leadership sprung up. Folks started their own events, started new businesses catering to fat folks and started to share resources like fat-friendly healthcare providers, restaurants and venues with comfortable seating and more.

Creating ongoing, interactivity-focused events (like dances, or group swims – where the focus is not on the stage, but on the other participants) also creates community, and community supports empowerment. It’s one thing to be excited by an event, it’s entirely another to have a group of peers to walk through the world with and to continue to reinforce the positive messages within Fat Activism so that folks don’t go right back to internalizing all that shame.

Safer space as springboard and oasis vs. coddling and shielding.

As the self-confessed bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I have a bit of a hard time with the concept of ‘safer space’ as, by nature, it requires the exclusion of others in order to exist. As an activist, my ideal is an integrated but un-homogenized global society where everyone is welcome and no one is oppressed and kittens and unicorns frolic together in fields of organic cauliflower.

That said, we’re a far cry from ‘there yet’ and I haven’t decided yet if I’m too cynical to believe we ever will be. But whatever the effect on the grander scale, I’ve not yet lost faith that we can impact our own little corners of the world in positive ways. To do that, we need to begin by asking each other and ourselves hard questions. To do that we need to feel safer than we generally do going about our daily lives.

Creating focused community, and focused space, is both powerful and – without counterbalance – mildly dangerous. Safer space can increase the quality of life for those inside of it, but it also creates the process of ‘re-entry’ — back into the general world where those warm, cozy feelings rapidly dissipate against the daily barrage of consumer messages, peer pressure, inequity in pay and access to medical care. It can be tempting to isolate into fat-positive community, or to only take those steps toward empowerment within the confines of safer space.

For this reason, I like to mix safer events (like chunky dunks or dance parties) with more public events like “Beauty in Action” (a free-hugs style guerrilla takeover of a public corner where we made body-positive signs and offered non-sexualized affection to passers-by) or a “Fat Kiss-In” in New York in response to Marie Claire’s recent fat-hating article. Events like the ChunkyDunk give folks a chance to try something daunting, like putting on a swimsuit in public, and remember that it’s OK — ideally with the end result of feeling bolstered to do it in their daily lives. Events like “Beauty in Action” or the Fat Kiss-In allow folks to be rebellious and proud, to push back the boundaries of acceptability in positive ways, or to simply let off some well-deserved steam.

I believe it’s imperative that we are mindful of balancing safer space with opportunities to take that empowerment and put it into action in the larger world.

Joint events to create compassion/empathy/awareness of intersecting communities.

Many forms of activism have obvious and not-so-obvious overlaps, but bridges between activist communities are often tenuous. Partly this is due to inevitable squabbling over limited resources or public attention, part is due to the exhausting nature of activism — nearly always unpaid, often emotionally intensive — leaving little time or energy left to expand focus. However, exploring these overlaps and building bridges between movements is a powerful way to move both forward and to begin creating that more idealized integrated culture.

In example, we noticed that many trans-folk and allies were coming to our Chunky Dunks during the summer months. Creating that non-judgmental space had the welcome result of appealing to folks who were struggling with facets of their bodies unrelated to shape or size. Some were fat, some were not, but all were happily co-existing in that body-positive space.

Happy about this unexpected result, we reached out to a local trans organization and put together a joint event this summer, benefiting Portland’s Gender FreeForAll organization. This same group went on to organize a monthly Trans & Ally hot tub soak at a local wellness center and, riding the tails of their success, we are in the process of advocating for a body-positive monthly soak at the same organization.

Recognizing these overlaps allowed us to support and move forward both as separate entities and in collaboration.

In Summary:

Community building is a powerful tool in activism, and event organizing is one of the most effective ways to do so. Mindfulness of the wide variety of people at various points on their personal journey can help create a suite of resources that allow individuals to enter body positivity, release shame and progress towards empowerment at their own pace. Keeping an eye out for obvious intersections and joining forces can also be a wonderful way to pool resources and create connections that extend beyond your own communities.