The media's allure of painting
size acceptance as an extreme issue

by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Ph.D.

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In its March 1996 issue, Allure magazine published a feature entitled "They're Here, They're Huge, and They're Not Happy-Fat Women Speak Out". Some of you may have read the article and formed your own conclusions. As far as media coverage goes, the Allure feature was probably one of the better ones, but I still feel like we've been had once again.

According to a survey, the average member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), for example, weighs a bit less than 300 pounds, yet Allure exclusively zeroed in on the largest sizes and generally portrayed them as miserable, unhappy people. The pictures illustrating Allure's feature show supersize fat women looking almost uniformly grim and somber , as if they were miserable and any happiness they may claim just a facade. Not too surprisingly, when the Allure piece was discussed on the online NAAFA discussion list, several of the models related horror stories of the photo shoots. They had basically been duped into doing poses they didn't want to . They had also been asked to look grim and dejected. One of the models was cajoled into posing in an unflattering way and promised that the pictures would not be used. She then found out that the magazine did not intend to keep that promise. The same woman was then told by the photographer, "I want you to go to my diet doctor. You are too sharp and too special to be fat" (see Inside column by Haley Hertz on page 15). Groan!

While the tone of the article is reasonably positive at times, most Allure readers will probably just remember those bleak, grim faces of the fat women. The clear impression that's conveyed is that NAAFA is an organization exclusively for the extremely fat, and that such people are unhappy, miserable, and pitiful. At one point, the author bemoans "the placid acceptance of myriad health problems that might be preventable not by conforming to the aesthetics of conventional society but by, say, weighing a mere 300 pounds instead of 400 or 500." Well, duh.., as if it was so easy for a 500 pound person to lose 200 pounds, or as if supersize people recklessly ate themselves into oblivion and a state of poor health.

Once again, fatphobia, preconceived notions, and the selection of pictures for shock value won out over genuine concern for the fate of millions of fat Americans. In this respect, the Allure feature was no better than those sensationalist features on ugly fat Americans foreign magazines are so fond of. Allure thus abused the faith of those who agreed to be photographed and interviewed. Just like a slick talkshow host promising all they want to do is a fat-positive show on the size acceptance movement.Yes, the Allure piece could have been much worse. But it also could have been a whole lot better.

In my opinion, the Allure article highlights a fatal problem in the size acceptance movement. We're generally being portrayed as an extremist group with extreme opinions, and consisting only of extremely fat people. This takes away attention from the fact that some 60 million Americans are considered fat. The extremist image also alienates those who are only moderately fat, which is the vast majority of those 60 million. The fact is that a 140 pound flight attendant who loses her job because of her weight is just as much a victim of size discrimination as the 240 pound secretary or the 440 pound delivery truck driver. They all need help, yet our extremist image precludes us from connecting with the majority of all fat people. It's as if the media and the diet industry, in a sinister plot, decided to divide and conquer us by painting the size acceptance movement as one for and by extremists. This way, we're deemed unacceptable by the mainstream, and kept from having a chance to recruit moderately fat people into our ranks.

But it's not all the media's fault. We're to blame as well. Within the movement, any suggestions to mold our approach into one that's psychologically more acceptable is met by angry protest from the hardliners who thus maintain the extremist image. To remain pure is one thing, to be stubborn another. What we need is a much more inclusionary movement that is able to appeal to anyone who suffers from size discrimination. Until that happens, we'll continue to be seen as a small group of angry extremists and we can't claim to represent more than just a small portion of all fat people, nor will we succeed in expanding our support base beyond that portion.

Switching gears, for the technically inclined here's an update on the production end of Dimensions. A few months ago we moved into our new offices in Rancho Cordova, California, in a completely pre-wired and networked building. The rent includes a gigabyte and a half of space on a SUN SPARCserver and 24-hour a day unlimited direct Internet access, currently at 56kb speed but soon to be T1. This way we don't need modems at all and can monitor email and the web all day long. We can also print out files directly on our landlord's high resolution imagesetters (they are a prepress bureau).

We've also spent quite a bit of time setting up the Dimensions World Wide Web site (and that of our other publication, Pen Computing Magazine). Initially we started out writing our own HTML code, but then we discovered how much easier it is to maintain a large web site with Adobe PageMill and SiteMill. We've also opened a First Virtual account so that visitors to our site can buy things right on the spot in secure transactions. Soon you'll be able to subscribe or renew directly through the web without ever having to mail a check. Word of the Dimensions web site is getting around. As of this writing, the main page of the Dimensions web site was accessed over 2,000 times per week. ß

Editor at Large