One of the things that struck me the most about my time at NAAFA 2009 was the work people people within and without fat acceptance were doing to form alliances.
There were mixed results. A guy came to do an interview about fat rights for the BBC World Service, he seemed to think he was onto a scoop and told us that no-one had covered this side of the story before! The interview was going okay, though with questions that I thought were unimaginative, until he signed off with a description of a workshop that would "help people look slimmer in photographs." There were reasons he might have thought that NAAFA might have held such a workshop, but his interpretation showed that he was pretty lost with the subject. I don’t need people like this to mediate between me, my movement, and the world. It reminded me of why I’m so committed to DIY culture.
Someone who had done his homework more thoroughly was Brandon Macsata, the President of the Association of Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR), a consumer pressure group that he founded. Brandon was explicit in the connection of prejudice and discrimination he faces as an out gay man in a mixed-race relationship, and as someone who is HIV+. As a normative-sized guy he could see that there are crossovers between his world and ours. His interest in air passengers rights is of potential benefit to fat people, who face obstacles in terms of travel, and there is mutual benefit in fat people enriching his campaign. I am skeptical in some ways because of the environmental issues related to air travel, and Brandon’s smooth patter made me wonder about his sincerity, but at the same time I thought this strategic alliance could be a very good one, if managed sensitively. His presence inspired me to think of strategic alliances that could strengthen fat activism elsewhere.
The strongest ally at NAAFA 2009 was Linda Bacon. It’s strange thinking of her as an ally because she is central to the movement, not just at NAAFA but also at ASDAH. If anyone is an honourary fatty it is her, she gives good belly bump. But she isn’t fat, she is pretty small, and she spoke with integrity and powerful self-reflection about what that difference means. Her speech was about thin privilege, what she and other thin people have gained from it, and what has been lost. She spoke about ASDAH’s decision to invite Susie Orbach to speak in terms of thin privilege, stating that the war on obesity is often led by well-meaning professionals with unexamined thin privilege, and she wondered if the value of the dialogue with her justified the cost of it. Want to know more? Read Reflections on Fat Acceptance: Lessons Learned from Privilege (.pdf, 128kb), an essay based on a keynote speech delivered at the conference of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance August 1, 2009
It was interesting to see thinner people at NAAFA 2009. Some were Fat Admirers, of course, and there are certainly issues around their presence though I did not find them as intrusive as I had expected to find them. But there were others with seemingly no overt connection to fat. I wondered what would motivate them to come. Theoretically I support the belief that fatphobia hurts us all, but does this really translate into real life? Are thinner people that altruistic? I wondered how the presence of thinner people altered the balance of NAAFA as a safe space, a crucial part of its appeal to newbies and older members alike.
Personally I am for mixing things up, which stems from my frustration of segregated space in queer communities. I think safe space can be created amongst people who are ostensibly different to one another, you only have to look at Linda’s contribution to the gathering to see that in practise. I think mixtures of diverse people create a dynamic and progressive atmosphere where the appreciation of difference and intersections can flourish.
But I am wary of creating alliances that are not, or do not have the potential to be, deep and sincere. Fat people face ostracism so often that any kind of attention can make us pathetically grateful. I think alliances are central to creating social change that recognizes the significance of body size, fat people have a lot to teach the world about shame and self-acceptance, negotiating embodied difference, the effects of body type social stratification, discrimination and, what Deb Burgard puts beautifully: life force. But this teaching cannot happen at our expense.