01 July 2011

Fat lib consciousness raising in the archive

Dianne Rubinstein wrote a Fat Consciousness Raising Outline in 1981 and, I believe, circulated it via NAAFA. In the guide, Rubinstein offers a rationale for consciousness raising, which was one of the key organising and politicising methods of Western feminism from the 1960s to the early 1980s, broadly speaking. She offers a format for going about fat consciousness raising, which includes lists of questions and instructions on how to listen and respond. I've never been a part of a consciousness raising group, I'm a bit too young for that, so it is fascinating to see its process spelled out in such detail.

I was interested in the last set of questions Rubinstein asks, titled The Liberated Fat Person. Firstly, the language jumped out at me, especially the use of the definite article, and the past tense for 'Liberated' which imply that liberation is a fixed state that can be attained, maybe an ideal state. This contrasts current alternative thinking about fat activism or fat acceptance which is that they are ongoing, open.

Secondly, the list of questions offers an idea of what fat liberation looked like at that point in time, within a US context of feminism and rights-based organising. Some of these ideas endure, suggesting the slow moving ideology of fat politics. Again, the concepts are fairly fixed, there's not much room for ambiguity, the use of 'our' and the undefined categorisation of people as fat and thin are problematic. The language of 'Fat Liberation', presumably rooted in Women's Liberation, looks very dated now, and has been largely taken over by the term 'fat acceptance' or 'size acceptance' which I think are politically much weaker, or 'fat activism', which often implies something else.

Thirdly, it strikes me how rare it still is to come across work which is written from the standpoint of a fat libber, or fat activist. I'm talking about work which directly references these concepts and which illustrates the values and worldviews of people engaged with these pursuits.

Lastly, I like that the questions might elicit different responses over time and place. It might be fun to have a consciousness raising session in 2011, to have a go at answering them together.

The Liberated Fat Person


1. What strengths do fat people have?
2. What is a liberated fat person?
3. What are some of the problems/pressures of the liberated fat person?
4. What is the best way to deal with a fat person who is antagonistic to the fat liberation movement?
5. How do you deal with a thin person who is antagonistic to the fat liberation movement?
6. Can a fat person with 'a raised consciousness' still relate to thin people?
7. What is equality? Is that our goal?
8. What are the goals of the fat liberation movement?
9. What are the goals of your group?
10. Is c/r a political action? Is it enough?
11. What is 'closet fat'? To what extent are you?
12. What is 'closet f.a.'?
13. What have you gotten from this group? Is it what you expected?

Rubinstein, D. (1981). Fat Consciousness Raising Outline. Bellerose, NY: NAAFA.

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