Title (as given to the record by the creator): Resisting Fat Hatred
Date(s) of creation: April, 2000
Creator / author / publisher: Susan Stinson
Location: Northampton, MA, US
Physical description: PDF of an archived webpage
Reference #: Resisting-Fat-Hatred
Links: [ PDF ] [ Other items from this event ]
Resisting Fat Hatred
By Susan Stinson
In December, 1999, I was invited by a local paper to write an essay about the twentieth century. Since I am a novelist and poet whose work centers on the lives of fat women, I wrote an article challenging discrimination against fat people and the societal obsession with weight loss. On December 19, 1999, the Springfield, Massachusetts Union News/Sunday Republican newspaper ran my article, entitled “Weightier Issues Than Diet Await the New Century” (click here to read the article).
After the article appeared, I received a letter at my home. Signed by two women I did not know, it was full of statements such as, “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.”
Using personal attacks to counter unpopular political or intellectual positions is a familiar tactic of hatred, but that was no comfort when I first received the letter. It shook me up, touching old pain and shame. I had a few days of crying and shaking and not wanting to leave the house, since I had such a fresh script for the fat-hating things people would be thinking as they looked at me. I was shocked by the intensity of my own reaction, especially since I have been a fat activist for more than fifteen years.
A group of women of various sizes began meeting to plan a response. Lynne Gerber, with input from others, drafted an open letter against fat hatred. More than 550 people added their names. It was originally intended to be printed as an advertisement in the local paper, but it was rejected by the advertising department. Although the paper invited the original essay, printed the open letter as a letter to the editor, and covered the event, no information was provided about why the ad was rejected.
Instead, the open letter and names were displayed during a speak-out against fat hatred, which was held March 4, 2000 in Northampton, MA, where I live. The purpose of the event was to oppose the hatred this society directs towards fat people and to support women in their struggle for acceptance of their bodies. It was an amazing day. In the front of the room hung a body-art banner (an idea we got from Marilyn Wann’s body art workshop at the Boston NAAFA conference. Northampton artist CJ Jennings gave us paint, expertise and spectacular assistance), and a huge version of the open letter against fat hatred with more than 550 names at the back. On another wall, we hung 20 excerpts from the hundreds of beautiful email messages of support we received from all over the country (see below), as well as from New Zealand, England, and Canada. Roughly 100 people came (about 90% of the crowd were women).
Later, women kept telling me that they cried and laughed throughout the whole thing. I’m usually not at a loss for words, but I found the emotions nearly indescribable. There was Lynne Gerber, an organizer of the event, reading aloud the letter against fat hatred, which she wrote, with input from a few others. I read the fat-hating letter to the crowd, then a poem, then talked about what I thought of it, and the waves of outrage, support, courage and strength that kept sweeping back to me from this gathering of people opposed to fat hatred coming together in the town where I live, they drenched me and washed me and lifted me like something as necessary, as powerful, as water (click here to read my speech).
Miriam Berg of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination gave an incisive summary of the range of discrimination fat people face, with an emphasis on recent health research on weight (click here to read Miriam Berg’s speech). Greg Kline from the UMass School of Public Health, who in April 1999 organized a conference called “The Big Picture: Ending Prejudice and Promoting Health for People of All Sizes,” gave information and analysis on recent research, and was quoted in the Northampton Daily Hampshire Gazette as calling dieting “a tragic waste of human potential” (click here to read Greg Kline’s speech). Linda Stout, author of Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing and long-time activist organizing against class oppression and other forms of oppression, founder of Spirit in Action, spoke very movingly about her path to fat politics. Judith Stein, a long-time lesbian-feminist fat activist and writer, combined an examination of the myths about fat with an exploration of the importance of home to fat women (and what happens when it’s violated by something like a fat-hating letter), and a consideration of the words luscious and delicious (click here to read Judith Stein’s speech). Others spoke and read spontaneously, and said stunning, important things. Dot Turnier of NoLose videotaped the event. I did interviews with the local public radio station, WFCR, and also WBUR, the public station in Boston. The Daily Hampshire Gazette ran a sympathetic story, “Speakers demand understanding for ‘our fat sisters,’” with two pictures of Miriam Berg. The Union News/Sunday Republican (which is the paper that ran my original article and refused our ad), ran a gorgeous photo of Lynne and me clapping and shouting (see below).
[image description: a newspaper photo of two fat white women clapping and shouting.] Caption: Size Protest. Lynne Gerber of Boston, left, and Susan Stinson of Northampton joined about 100 other “people of all sizes” in the Northampton Unitarian Society’s Great Hall yesterday to protest hate mail leveled against Stinson after she published an article in the Sunday Republican on Dec. 19. She is the author of a book, “Fat Girl Dances with Rocks.”
Crucial and much-appreciated support for the event came from NoLose, BBBB (Bold Beautiful Bodacious Babes), the Fund for Women Artists, NAAFA’s Fat Feminist Caucus (PO Box 29614, Oakland, CA 94604-9614), NEC-NAAFA, Largesse, the Network for Size Esteem, and great individual donors.
I’ve turned back to writing, but I do it, as I said at the speakout, feeling more powerful and more clear about resisting lies and shame about my body than I ever have in my life. Doing this work has helped to transform a painful experience into a powerful one.
Joy in the body,
author of Fat Girl Dances With Rocks, Martha Moody, and Belly Songs