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Fat acceptance movement

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The fat acceptance movement, also the fat liberation movement, is a grassroots effort to change societal attitudes towards individuals who are fat. The movement consists today of a diverse group of people, who have different beliefs about how best to address the perceived widespread prejudice and discrimination against fat people in contemporary Western societies.

Generally dated to the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the increase in activist organizations, publications, and conferences. However, the contemporary movement sees negative societal attitudes as remaining, based upon the idea that fat people pursue affirmative, voluntary practices to maintain their body size and that these practices reflect negative character traits.



Fat activism covers several fronts but generally can be described as attempting to change societal, internal, and medical attitudes about fat people.

The movement argues that fat people are targets of hatred and discrimination, with fat women in particular subject to more social pressure. Hatred is seen in multiple places including media outlets, where fat people are often ridiculed or held up as objects of pity. Discrimination comes in the form of lack of equal accessibility to transportation and employment.

The movement also argues that people of all shapes and sizes should accept themselves as they are, at any size. Thus, it promotes "health at every size," which aims to place one's mental and physical health before physical appearance and size.

Through the works of authors such as Paul Campos and Sandy Szwarc, the fat acceptance movement has argued that doctors should treat health problems of people of all sizes, recognizing that health issues are not defined by weight and are shared by people of all sizes, fat and thin. Some in the movement have argued that the health risks of fatness and obesity have been greatly exaggerated, and used as cover for cultural and aesthetic prejudices against fat.

Fat activism faces challenges. Organizations such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and the International Size Acceptance Association (ISAA) are small in number, and people interested in the movement tend to be clustered in larger cities and spread across medium- to small-sized web communities. NAAFA changed leadership around the turn of the century.


The history of this movement is difficult to chart because of its grassroots nature, although it originated in the late 1960s and 1970s. Like other social movements from this time period, the fat acceptance movement, initially known as "Fat Pride," "Fat Power," or "Fat Liberation," often consisted of people acting in an impromptu fashion. To offer one example, a "Fat-in" was staged in New York's Central Park in 1967.[1] Called by a radio personality, Steve Post, the "Fat-in" consisted of a group of 500 people, eating, carrying signs and photographs of Sophia Loren (an actress famous for her figure), and burning diet books.

Several groups were formed in this period that promoted a fat acceptance agenda. The "Fat Pride" group, NAAFA, initially called the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, subsequently renamed the National Association for Advancement of Fat Acceptance, was begun in 1969 by William Fabrey. This group was at its inception more of a social club. A more radical group, the Fat Underground, was founded in 1973. The group had begun as a chapter of NAAFA, but had quickly developed an activist philosophy more radical than the group. To be more specific, they were inspired by the philosophy of the Radical Therapy Collective, a feminist collective that believed that many psychological problems were caused by oppressive social institutions and practices. The group consisted of a number of members including the founding members Sara Fishman (then going by Aldebaran) and Judy Freespirit, and subsequently Lynn McAffee. They quickly developed into a group that took issue with the developing science against obesity. One of their central sayings, "A diet is a cure that doesn't work for a disease that doesn't exist," reflects their dedication to fat acceptance as well as fat activism.[2]

Shortly afterwards, Fishman moved to New Haven, CT, where she, along with Karen Scott-Jones, founded the New Haven Fat Liberation Front, an organization similar to the Fat Underground in its scope and focus. In 1983, they collaborated to publish a germinal book in the field of Fat Activism, Shadow on a Tightrope.[3] The book consists of some activist position papers, initially distributed by the Fat Underground, as well as collections of poems and essays from other writers.

The movement today

Fat liberation has been addressed as well in a number of zines, many representing activist communities. Among them are Marilyn Wann's Fat!So? beginning in 1993, Nomy Lamm's I'm So Fucking Beautiful, and the collectively produced 'zine "FaT GiRL -- the 'zine for fat dykes and the women who want them." More Recently, Sabrina Darling has collaborated with other members of the new generation of fat liberation to release the zine Two By Four, Krissy Durden has produced the zine Figure 8 since 2001 and Max Airborne and Cherry Midnight have produced "Size Queen: For Queen-size Queers and Our Loyal Subjects."

In addition to zines, there has recently been a steady stream of books with a fat activist agenda including Wann's book of the same title as her zine (1998), Sondra Solovay's "Tipping the Scales of Justice: Fighting Weight-Based Discrimination" (2000);'Largely Happy -- changing your mind about your body' by Lynda Finn; 'Don't Diet' by Professor Dale Atrens and a collection of short stories by fat people (What Are You Looking At? 2003). Beginning in the earlier literature, there were criticisms of the prevailing scientific view that fat is unhealthy. A number of writers and activists have attacked this viewpoint, including more recently Paul Campos in his 'The Obesity Myth' (2004) republished as 'The Diet Myth', and Sandy Szwarc's in-depth examination of obesity research in the online magazine "Tech Central Station."[4]

In recent years, there is an emerging body of fat political and sociological studies, some with a fat activist agenda, developing within the academy. The American Popular Culture Association has an area in fat studies and regularly includes panels on the subject. In addition, student groups with a fat activist agenda have emerged in a number of colleges including Hampshire, Smith, and Antioch colleges.

Susan Stinson's novels and poetry such as Belly Songs (1993) and Venus of Chalk (2004) have integrated the insights of fat liberation into literature. Several collections of short writing on fat have been published in recent years, including 'What Are You Looking At?: The First Fat Fiction Anthology' (2003); Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology' (2005); and Susan Koppelman's Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe and other stories of women and fatness (2003).

Recently, fat performance art has made an impact in the fight against sizeism. Groups like The Padded Lillies, Big Burlesque and the Fat Bottom Revue and radical cheerleading groups like F.A.T.A.S.S pdx and The Bod Squad have received significant attention, as have drag troups like the Royal Renegades: The Philadelphia Drag Kings, who feature a variety of body types in their shows.

Finally, there has been a flourishing of national conferences devoted to the subject of fat activism, including NOLOSE, the conference of the former National Organization for Lesbians of SizE (now just known as NOLOSE); NAAFA's annual convention held alternately on the west and east coasts; and the largest conference, Stacy Bias's FatGirl Speaks in Portland, Oregon.

Issues within the movement

As it has expanded, the fat acceptance movement has faced internal issues.

One point of contention in the movement is found between those fat people who are attempting to lose weight and those who are not. Opponents of weight loss attempts cite the high failure rate of all permanent weight loss attempts (95-98%), and the many dangers of "yoyo weight fluctuations" and weight loss surgeries. These people maintain that fat people who exercise regularly and practice sound nutrition are as healthy as or healthier than sedentary people. (There are many citations, starting with Sandy Szwarc's list of links at [1], as well as books by William Bennett, Joel Gurin, Paul Campos, etc. as delineated below. A USDA discussion of the recent U.C. Davis study suggesting that fat acceptance maintains and improves health more than dieting may be found at [2].)

Due to intrinsic linguistic misunderstandings and differing definitions of the word "acceptance," some "fat activists" believe the phrase refers to any fat person fighting for equal rights and opportunities, regardless of whether or not that person believes that the pursuit of reduction in a person's body mass is feasible. Other "fat activists" define "fat acceptance" more strictly, applying that phrase only to fat people who are not pursuing a reduction in their body mass, and use phrases such as "fat activist" to describe fat people and "allies" working more generally on civil rights issues pertaining to fat people.

An additional issue with regard to language is that many in the fat acceptance movement find the terms "obese" and "overweight" offensive, as they are often used to make overtly prejudiced statements seem more clinical or scientific. The word "fat" is generally preferred.

In practice, the only way to know the position of any particular individual member of the group on weight loss attempts is to ask, or read specific position papers on the issue.


Fat acceptance advocates' positions have sparked criticism and mockery. Some critics, while acknowledging that fat and obese individuals are subject to inappropriate discrimination or pressure, contend that fat acceptance advocates' goal of unconditional acceptance of obesity is itself unhealthy. They contend that accepting fatness will make people less likely to aspire to achieve a so-called "healthy weight". Other criticisms state that obesity causes medical problems. Public health officials regard widespread obesity as posing significant costs to society. Despite advocates' claims to the contrary, some studies show that fat people are more likely than others to be in poor health, at a time when health care costs are rising: In 2006, the CDC estimated that 10 percent of current health care costs are due to obesity [3]. Additionally, the common fat acceptance mantra that "diets don't work" is considered by some critics to be an oversimplification that may discourage even responsible and potentially beneficial changes in eating habits. [4]

Notable advocates

  • Jo Morley, founder of Big People UK [London, UK]
  • Stacy Bias, founder of FatGirl Speaks [Portland, ORE]
  • Paul Campos, author of books such as The Obesity Myth
  • Charlotte Cooper: London-based writer [5]
  • Laurie Toby Edison, photographer, published the book Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes
  • Nomy Lamm, performance artist and writer of I'm So Fucking Beautiful
  • Debbie Notkin, writer of the texts for Women En Large and the body image blog Body Impolitic
  • Judy Sullivan, author of Size Wise
  • Sandy Szwarc, author of Junk Food Science blog and articles challenging widely-held beliefs on fat and health[6]
  • Pattie Thomas, Ph.D., co-author of Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life Sociological memoir about the stigma faced by fat people (written in collaboration with Carl Wilkerson, M.B.A.)blog
  • Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO? and Activism Chair of NAAFA

See also

  • Hanne Blank- notable author of Big Big Love and Zaftig, erotic works of fiction for people of size is also considered a size acceptance advocate, even though she recently came under fire for her attempts in fat reduction, which she documents in her blog The Fickle Finger Of Fat
  • For visual resources of people diverse in size, shape, race, etc., try Laurie Toby Edison's work:
    • Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes
    • Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes


  1. ^ "Curves Have Their Day in Park; 500 at a 'Fat-in' Call for Obesity," New York Times. June 5, 1967, pg. 54
  2. ^
  3. ^ Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, eds. Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser. Iowa City, IA: Aunt Lute Books, 1983
  4. ^

Further reading

Saguy, Abigail C. and Kevin W. Riley. 2005. “Weighing Both Sides: Morality, Mortality and Framing Contests over Obesity.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. 30:5, pp. 869-921.[7]

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fat_acceptance_movement". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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