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Welcome to week 3 of a 4-week Body Positive University special series on fatphobia. Last week we looked at the 3 dimensions of fatphobia: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal. Here's an overview of what you can expect for the remaining weeks in the series:
This week, we'll be looking at people who were interested in fighting fatphobia on Level 3 - the societal level - and learning an abridged version of the history of fat activism.
Let's start with the year 1967.
That year, the New York Times published a piece about a 500-person gathering in Central Park. It was called a "Fat In." Attendees held protest signs decrying weight-based discrimination and burned diet books.
The same year, an article titled "More People Should Be FAT" came out in the Saturday Evening Post. Written by Lew Louderbach, the piece detailed fatphobia at work and at the doctor.
A man named Bill Fabrey read the piece, and was inspired by it. Though Fabrey wasn't fat himself, his wife - Joyce - was and he'd witnessed her experience with weight discrimination. In 1969, he founded the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) in Rochester, New York.
Later the name of the organization was changed to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.
As the name suggests, NAAFA's goal was to foster acceptance for fat people. Some critics of acceptance movements argue that these movements maintain preexisting power dynamic (instead of interrupting them): with marginalized people seeking approval from the dominant group. A group of such critics began to form in California. They had originally been members of a local chapter of NAAFA, but decided to branch off and start their own movement.
They called their more radical offshoot The Fat Underground.
In 1973, two of its members - Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran - wrote and published the Fat Liberation Manifesto. Here's an excerpt from it:
The Fat Underground was influenced by second wave feminism (including lesbian feminism) and the Black Power Movement. Their demand for liberation - not acceptance - seems inspired, in part, by the fact that Fat Underground members experienced multiple marginalizations and were therefore less interested in a single-issue politic. What do I mean? Well, if someone is both a queer person and a fat person, for example, agitating exclusively against weight discrimination will only help with one identity, but will not help to end societal homophobia. This is often how intersectional political movements begin.
If you have time, watch this archival footage of the Fat Underground.
Though the Fat Underground has dissolved, its aesthetics and values have lived on in current fat activist spaces. NAAFA still exists, and has put forth a number of important policy statements related to the ethical treatment of fat people, including a healthcare bill of rights, a policy on adoption and child custody discrimination, as well as one on weight loss surgery.
Historic and contemporary fat activism could fill an entire volume. In fact, there's a book called Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement by Charlotte Cooper if you want to learn more. In short, fat activism fights for the civil and human rights of fat people. Weight discrimination is still legal in 49 states, and the literature describing weight discrimination from the 60s could have been written in 2021. There is still a long way to go, but the people and organizations - like NAAFA and the Fat Underground - have created useful frameworks and demands that will continue to shape fat futures. Mre on fat fat futures next week!
In case you missed it, here's an article on reclaiming the word "fat."
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