Of the social vs. political struggle,
sandbox wars, and hidden promise

by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Ph.D.

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An issue that's been on my mind almost as far back as I can remember is the curious mix of social events and political activities in the size acceptance movement. This has been the source for a lot of grief. Many activists are not interested in any social activities and look at the social goings-on with disgust. Others enjoy the social events as a source of building the personal strength and self-confidence to become an activist in the first place. Yet others really don't care about sign wielding and letter writing; they want to find a partner or have a good time, and there's nothing wrong with that. If we're honest, only very few of us have an exclusive interest in either one or the other aspect. Why is it, then, that the discussion over social events versus political activities has been a source of never-ending debate (and worse) over the years?

One frustrating aspect is that from a size-rights organizational point of view, the two aspects are very much intertwined. Pursuing an activist agenda requires a good deal of planning and organization, the funding of which has generally come from social activities. At times people are appalled at this and call social events overpriced rip-offs. One should remember, however, that lots of non-profit public benefit and political activities are supported and financed by such social things as bake sales, bingo parlors, fundraising dinners, and so on. It'd be great if activism paid for itself (and there may indeed be some ways of raising funds through activism itself), but by and large, it's quite common for the social side of a cause to financially support the activist side. Some organizations may have been able to procure grants and sponsorships that cover most or all of their operating costs. This alleviates the need for social fundraising, but it presents other threats, such as the sudden loss of a major grant or sponsor with no reliable stream of social activity income as a backup.

The way I see it, many organizations have been able to thrive and blossom with their political and social activities peacefully co-existing side by side, each acknowledging the benefits of the other. On the other hand, the two sides can also split into angry factions, each accusing the other and trying to steer an organization in a certain direction.

An organization where the political faction looks down upon their less activist-oriented brethren may anger and discourage those who enjoy personal interaction and socializing as a first step to becoming liberated. If those same political factions start criticizing and undermining the social fabric and funding mechanisms of the organization-really biting the hand that feeds them-then there's trouble. Similarly, if the purely social faction takes over and rejects any plea for even the most minimal political involvement, then the mission of the organization is in danger as well.

Unfortunately, this is what's happening to an extraordinary degree in the size acceptance movement. In an editorial a few issues ago I pointed out that if all people of size banded together and voted as a block, size-related discrimination would be politically eradicated in a matter of months. Laws would be enacted, education programs started, funding channeled into the proper directions, and we'd see fat role models everywhere.

Unfortunately, fat people do not identify with each other; they often see each other as their worst nightmare, a constant reminder of all the insults hurled at them: no control, unhealthy, ugly, unattractive. We could achieve so much so quickly if we helped each other and stuck together. And with all the internal conflicts in the movement, it's all to easy to shrug one's shoulders and turn away in disgust, or splinter into ever smaller factions and fractions (each launched, no doubt, with the best of intentions).

Personally, I think that the size acceptance movement is comprised of an especially challenged group of people. Many of us FAs have experienced so much peer pressure and disapproval over our preference that we never developed adequate social skills, tend to act in the shadows, and often behave like total jerks.

Many fat people, on the other hand, have a lifelong history of self-hatred created by discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and hurt of all kind. The vast majority of fat people internalize this message that they're worthless and weak-willed, and simply go from one diet to the next. The strongest, smartest often see the light and join size rights groups. For some this is a boon, and they become dedicated supporters. Others are already so bitter and angry that when finding a place where they are welcomed with open arms, they quickly turn on their allies in fruitless power struggles, sniping, and criticism from the sidelines. Those folks are, admittedly, few and far between, but they can gunk up the works for everyone, and in our movement-alas-we have a disproportionate number of them.

All in all, maybe it's just human nature at work, this fascinating fabric of new and old, of different opinions and priorities, of rapidly advancing technologies that make new ways of human interaction possible. Maybe we must see the value of our movement, of any movement, only partially in whether or not it succeeds in fulfilling its officially stated mission, but also in what sort of interpersonal dynamics it offers to those who become involved. While I very much believe in the old StarTrek adage that "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few and the one," perhaps the rapid growth of the Internet, the Web, bulletin boards, and other electronic communications facilities will jar enough fat people and their admirers into personal growth and action beyond boot camp wars so that the movement profits from it, and we'll all be better off. ß

Editor at Large