24 June 2016

Roots of fat activism #14: Fat Feminist Activist Working Meeting

Image from the proceedings of the
First Feminist Fat Activists' Working Meeting
Edited, thanks to Karen Stimson's invaluable comments and clarifications.

During 18-20 April 1980 the First Fat Feminist Activist Working Meeting took place in New Haven, Connecticut. This was the first ever fat feminist conference.

It attracted 17 participants. A number of fat feminists lived fairly locally including Karen Stimson, Judith Stein and Aldebaran. Some had set themselves up as the New Haven Fat Liberation Front. There was fat community forming in the Boston area. Others came to visit, including Judy Freespirit. There were workshops, talks and fat women's cultural entertainment in the evening.

The event piggybacked on a women's health conference that was also taking place concurrently. The following day there was a keynote panel about fat feminism with the title F.A.T. (Fat Activists Together). It was another first, the first time a feminist gathering had placed fat politics at its centre. From this gathering F.A.T. (Fat Activists Together) became the first national US coalition of fat feminist activists. Their work helped to establish a constituency for fat feminism and was pivotal in getting Shadow on a Tightrope published.

Stimson made audio recordings of the conference and another woman, active in feminist radio, recorded the keynote panel. Stimson used the recordings to make a radio documentary called Nothing to Lose, which was broadcast locally. Material from the proceedings was collated and disseminated. In the comments below Stimson says that the recordings and the papers formed part of an evidence base to persuade the collective who produced the women's health book Our Bodies, Ourselves to include fat feminism. I have seen copies of this work in various archives. I have a digital copy of it but I can't remember where it came from!

The Largesse online archive is invaluable here, Stimson's archival gifts to fat feminist activism are visionary. She offers a full personal account of the gathering and uploaded Stein's recordings as digital audio files. There are also sound files of the evening's entertainment. I defy you to listen without feeling delighted and moved.

Largesse is no longer live, but you can still listen to and download the talks via the WayBack Machine. Remixers, here is where you come in: these talks need to be sampled, set to a deep bass and danced to by fat feminists everywhere.

WayBack Machine: From the Largesse Archives: Voices of Fat Liberation MP3 Audio Files

WayBack Machine: Fat Feminist Herstory, 1969-1993: A Personal Memoir by Karen W. Stimson

New Haven Fat Liberation Front 1978


William said...

Living in CT, I have always been proud of the early Fat Activists from my State. Reading their works, I always thought that they had found a balance between Feminism and Fat Acceptance.

Their message was supportive for all Fat People, not just people who were operating with a Fat-Feminist mindset. Today if a person does not agree 100% with the Feminist approach to Fat Acceptance in too many Fat Acceptance area they will be treated like the enemy.

Karen said...

Charlotte, a couple of corrections:
1. Sharon Bas Hannah/Sharon Robinson was not present during the weekend. She was living in the Boston area at the time and was somewhat involved in the Boston Fat Dykes group, which comprised the majority of women who participated in F.A.T. and the health weekend, but decided to not come to the even.
2. Judith Stein didn't make the recordings, I did. I still have most of the original cassettes somewhere, although haven't tried to listen to them in years so don't know if they will still play. Aldebaran, who had been, along with me, a co-member of the New Haven Fat Liberation Front, told me that she was negotiating with local area feminists to have fat feminist participating in an upcoming women's health fair and asked me to represent the fat feminist community at their organizational meetings, which I did. Aldebaran also told me that Judith Stein of the Boston Fat Dykes wanted someone to audiotape the proceedings so she could take the tapes back to the Boston Healthbook Collective (not sure this is the correct name)to convince them to include accurate information on fat women and fat feminism in an upcoming revision of Our Bodies, Ourselves. I was active in community radio and had access to professional-quality equipment and studios at 2 local community radio stations, so Aldebaran asked if I would do the taping. I brought recording equipment and cassette tapes to the F.A.T. gathering and recorded all the events, and also recorded all the F.A.T. workshops at the health fair. I did not record the keynote panel, that was done by a woman named Gail (can't remember her last name, sorry)who had a feminist radio show on one of the community radio stations I volunteered at and who was a non-fat ally. She made a really professional recording of the panel. I edited my audio documentary Nothing to Lose at the studio where she worked and she aired at least 2 programs on the event and fat feminism, and she also aired my docu. I also used the station's studios to make copies of my audiotapes of the weekend and sent them to Judith, who said that they were very helpful in her work with the healthbook collective.
BTW, I have the printed proceedings of the F.A.T. conference and the rest of the zines produced by the group over a period of a couple years or so. They aren't included in the Largesse online archives, unfortunately.
--Karen Stimson

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

William, thanks for taking the time to comment. I don't agree with you, however.

Karen! My apologies for my mistakes. The perils of using secondary sources, so much gets lost and misinterpreted in the hands of a clumsy and eager person, ie me. Thanks for your clarifications, thanks for being there and continuing to share the histories. I have edited the post.

Sharon Lia Robinson said...

Dear Charlotte, I have a small correction here. I was involved in a wonderful fat women's support group in Cambridge, Massachusetts which was inclusive of all fat women. However, I was never involved in the Boston Fat Dykes group I was also working with movement and dance and have made a video poem of the poem that was read at the Fat Feminist Activist Working Meeting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYbBWdQC-Ow

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks for the clarification and apolgies for the oversight. I have amended the entry.

Karen said...

I have just re-read this post after hearing from Sharon Robinson, and would like to state that she was not part of the Fat Dykes group. At the time of the conference, I assumed she was in the group based on comments by Aldebaran, but clearly my assumption was incorrect.
Another minor point I have noticed upon re-reading is the matter of the group's name. As I recall the workshops and talks at the women's health weekend were presented by a group of fat women speaking about fat oppression, without any group name being mentioned. The name was chosen during the group's resource-sharing session, when we were making plans for how to stay in touch and where to go from there, publishing of some kind of newsletter, etc. It is my recollection that someone said we should choose the acronym "FAT", and I offered "Fat Activists Together"; the group agreed and the name stuck.

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

I appreciate these clarifications, thank you.

Sharon Lia Robinson said...

Thank you, Charlotte Cooper and Karen Stimson, for these posts. Your years of dedication, your elegant presentations and your insights, support and knowledge of fat activist history are most admired. I am very grateful to have my work noted by both of you. I am inspired and uplifted through knowing you, Karen. You are one of the dedicated people in my life and a wonderful friend through the years. www.sharonrobinson.org

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

Glad to hear it!