31 July 2009

Conference Report: NAAFA 2009 - day one

This post refers to the annual NAAFA and ASDAH conventions, which are taking place in Dulles, Virginia right now.

We're about halfway through the first day and I want to get some thoughts down before they fly out of my head.

Firstly, highlights: Kelly Bliss' early morning workout was worth crawling out of bed for. How much do I love this woman? Answer: a lot. She is glamorous, expert, encouraging and compassionate, has great taste in music, and she made space for everyone. The session was one of those lovely fat community moments, beautifully embodied, and fun with it. Yes!

I'm excited by the people who are here, it's great to see so many Power Fatties, it's like a Who's Who of fat culture and history. I've heard many newbie accounts of NAAFA gatherings over the years, clearly the organisation is important to people who are starting to figure themselves out in terms of fat, but I want to acknowledge the breadth of experience too, many of these delegates really know the score.

Co-chair Jason Docherty's presentation this morning at the Annual Meeting prompted some questions in me. Whilst I acknowledge that NAAFA is a national organisation, it also has an international following and I'm not sure how that works. Being in Washington DC is fine by me, albeit expensive, but part of the conference involves lobbying government representatives and, as a British person, that's not so relevant to my context. Likewise, I live in a country that already has, allegedly, universal healthcare. Jason said that they were open to creative international alliances but I'm left wondering how this could play out in practical terms?

Meanwhile, if there are any delegates reading this who want to know more about what's happening in the UK, I have hot off the press copies of the Fat Studies in the UK book for sale, and flyers for HAES UK. Come and ask me about them.

I'm also struck by the contrast between last night's slideshow of NAAFA's forty-year history, and today's presentation, which also included historical elements. Indisputable is the fact that NAAFA needs strong leadership and management in order to face the challenges of Obesity EpidemicTM scaremongering. It's not enough that NAAFA exists, it must become a powerful advocate for social change. It seems that the organisation is in transition at the moment, moving from a somewhat homey set-up into something with more teeth to it, and even though it's an older organisation it feels as though it's just starting out. It’s funny but I keep thinking about The Great Oz; NAAFA reminds me of the man behind the curtain, it's a powerful idea surrounded by mythology that in reality is held together with string and sellotape. I'm surprised, but I guess this is true of many activist organisations that need to make themselves heard with minimal resources. Anyway, I welcome the current transition, and the attempts to create transparency, and hope that there are no casualties during the metamorphosis.

I think it's essential that the old be a part of the new, and vice versa. Having been around for a while, I'm painfully aware that a lot of recent fat activists have little idea of the movement's history, and there's a sense that each of us must start from scratch when we become activists, there's a big feeling of isolation a lot of the time. The photographs of beaming, happy folk in Deborah Albright's beautiful presentation last night reinforced how NAAFA is its people, that we are the organisation's capital. As the photographs showed, these people and their stories can disappear so easily, and subsequent generations are none the wiser. I appreciate Deborah's concerns about protecting people as a basis for not making these images public, but it's painful to think that this wonderful resource might be hidden from activists and allies who could get a lot out of it. I'm wondering if there are any volunteer fat-friendly archivists in the house who might want to consider making themselves known! Any oral historians besides myself? The material and history is so rich, it's crying out for preservation.

ASDAH kicks off later on today. I had a small conversation with Linda Bacon about how British Health At Every Size proponents include fat perspectives, and we shared some thoughts about conservatism within HAES in terms of reluctance to engage with fat people. It will be interesting to see if or how that plays out.


withoutscene said...

I am excited to hear about your experiences and your take on NAAFA. Keep it coming!

SharonC said...

Thanks for the report!

Are you going to be writing a book about the history of fat activism?

Charlotte Cooper said...

Sharon, maybe one day! Meanwhile I have a chapter coming out in the autumn that includes some of the history of the movement. More details will come when it's published.