Title (as given to the record by the creator): A speech delivered at the speak-out Resisting Fat Hatred
Date(s) of creation: March 4, 2000
Creator / author / publisher: Susan Stinson
Location: Northampton, MA, US
Physical description: PDF of archived website page
Links: [ PDF ] [ Other items from this event ]
A speech delivered at the speak-out Resisting Fat Hatred
March 4, 2000, Northampton, MA
By Susan Stinson
A couple of weeks after an essay I wrote was published in a local paper, I received at my home the following letter, hand-addressed in purple ink.
December 19th, 1999
Section B page 1
Weightier Issues Than Diet Await the New Century by Susan Stinson
You attempt to justify your size through your knowledge of art history. You are beyond the size of a Peter Paul Ruben’s (sic.) nude, he painted rounded, plump women – you are morbidly obese. It takes dedication of eating with reckless abandon to be the size that you are.
You have a belief that environmental pollution or some other societal ill will kill you so why not eat yourself to death. What you do not address in your article are the consequences of obesity such as sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension, emphysema, amputation, joint deterioration, incontinence, inability to perform proper hygiene, skin rashes and sores and the inability to fit into theater, restaurant and airplane seats.
In the end when you become permanently disabled and unable to support yourself, you then become one more of societies charges supported by us – the tax payers. For now though, how about examining why and how you abuse food.”
It ended with the names of two women, their address and phone number.
Though the tone here is slightly more formal, this letter evokes same feelings as the hate words that have been used against me on the street all my life, so I want to read a poem that uses some of that rough language and traces it back to the beauty of the body.
So and so fat so fat fat so fat
So so so so fat so fat so so fat
Fat fat so fat so fat so so so fat
So fat fat fat fat fat
As lard as ass ass as lard as as lard
Lard ass ass lard ass lard ass
As lard as ass ass lard as lard
Ass ass ass
The mouth the belly the thighs the chin
The upper arms the feet the knees the feet the toes
The feet the spine the nose the
Heart the thumbs the nails the roots the
Lips the hair the eyes the hips hips the hips
The ovaries skin whistle skin stomp skin
Crackle skin rattle skin mouth it skin hips feet
Here is a gracious slice of bread
Here are folds, near-liquid love
Here are shocks of flesh
Fat oppression is hatred and discrimination against fat people based solely on body size. It is the equation of fat with laziness, ugliness, deep psychological problems or lack of will power. This is a sexist ideology that works particularly well to keep women in competition with each other and obsessed with what they eat and what they weigh. It affects most of us whose lives have been touched by white western culture, but the more fat we are, the more intense the discrimination. You may hear words very similar to that again today, because it’s a slight variation of a definition of fat oppression I learned from fat activist Judith Stein maybe fifteen years ago. It’s also influenced by a definition I read in Overcoming Fear of Fat, edited by Laura Brown and Esther Rothblum.
It’s true. My body has this shape. The question is, what does it mean? Does it mean that I indulge my every desire with wanton abandon, the degree of which can be calculated, roughly, as a multiple of how many pounds more than you I weigh? Well, maybe. That might be true of me, since I have a pretty good time in life, but it would be a dangerous and inaccurate assumption to make about every fat person you see.
Does it mean illness and death? Yes it does. Human bodies of every shape grow ill and need care. Human bodies of every shape die. I think one thing that makes the hostility towards fat people so intense is that, simply grocery shopping or having a meal or sitting in an airplane or walking down the street, we carry a large share of the burden of our culture’s fears about illness and death. It doesn’t matter to most people that an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that “… the data linking overweight and death, as well as the data showing the beneficial effects of weight loss, are limited, fragmentary, and often ambiguous.” It doesn’t matter that the director of the Michigan Center for Preventive Medicine says, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, body weight is neither an appropriate nor valid measure of human health or self-worth.” Fat equals illness and death in the popular imagination.
I’m not a weight researcher, although I’m very happy to have Greg Kline from the Umass School of Public Health joining us today. My own belief is that concerns about health are never a justification for hatred, prejudice, discrimination or cruelty, against fat people or anyone else.
My answer, learned from activists, to problems of accessibility in public accommodations such as theater, restaurant and airplane seats is to change the seats, not people’s bodies.
As for being one more of society’s charges supported by the tax payers, I have a commitment to solidarity with people with disabilities, poor people, single mothers, children, people of color, and everybody else who has been attacked on the grounds that our lives are economically inconvenient. I believe that our society is capable of making care and respect for human beings a central organizing principle, but it won’t happen without struggles.
One part of this struggle has been with the advertising department of the Springfield Union News/Sunday Republican. Although the paper invited the original essay, are covering this event, and ran the open letter against fat hatred as a letter to the editor with 2 names, the advertising department refused to accept our full page ad, which now has more than 550 names, and refused to say why.
There have been amazing acts of courage around the organizing of this event. In the course of gathering the names, many people spoke about fat hatred for the first time to their friends, families, lovers, co-workers, allies on other kinds of social justice work. One woman sent the open letter against fat hatred to her whole softball team. Another sent it out to her belly dance troupe. People responded over the internet from Canada, New Zealand, England and South America. Twenty-five nutritionists, part of a very active movement known as Health At Any Size, added their names. If you look at the list of names we have hung on the wall, you’ll notice a lot of “RDs” – that stands for Registered Dietician. What they’ve been telling me over the internet is that they’ve gotten tired of putting people on diets which simply don’t work, and they’re trying a different approach. The Healthy Weight Journal, which bridges research on weight and practical applications, is reprinting my essay, and it’s already being used in workshops and university courses. I’ve gotten hundreds of email messages of support from all over the country (You’ll see 20 or so of them hanging on the walls.) I did not receive even one negative message. (Editor’s note: Sadly, that is no longer the case.)
Since I’m a novelist and poet, one of my own struggles has been with the loss of precious time for writing over the past two months as I’ve worked with other women on responses to the fat-hating letter. Here’s a paragraph from How to Ride a Bus, my novel in progress:
I thought of Lilian practicing for the poetry slam the night before she left. She had been sitting on the edge of our bed, saying her poem over and over. I had stroked my palm across her surfaces, listening. The flesh of her back had two folds: one where her belly met her thighs, and one under the shoulder blades with a swell where her breasts began. Her hips were textured with soft modulations. When she read her work in public, I found it hard to concentrate. I was distracted by the waves of her body under her clothes, and by wondering if others saw them, if so much motion were safe.
When I first got the letter, I felt isolated, hurt, and definitely not safe. The fact that you are here to protest fat hatred with me transforms that experience. I feel powerful and more clear about resisting lies and shame about my body that I ever have in my life.
The working committee for this event was Mary Mombardier, Lynne Gerber, Sally Bellerose, Rene Andersen, Elaine Pourinski and Cate Carulli. They’ve been absolutely amazing. 3 of them offered to do this work during the course of one walk through downtown Northampton. When I ran into each of them on the street, they said, “Hi how are you?” I said, “I got a fat hate letter” and we took it from there.
Almitra Stanley, CJ Jennings, James Heintz, Ann Downes, Cate Carulli, Judith Stein, Miriam Berg, Linda Stout, Dot Turnier, Barb Tobias, Elaine Keach, Greg Kline, Alice Ansfield, Max Airborne, Esther Rothblum and many others have all made contributions to this event. Thanks to all of them, and to all of you, I feel embraced and strengthened by community. I feel anything but alone.