"May you live in interesting times," goes an ancient Chinese saying, and thanks to the electronic communications revolution, as large people and their admirers, we certainly do live in interesting times.
Between America Online (or America Offline, as many people call it), the World Wide Web, and numerous mailing lists and newsgroups, getting in contact with likeminded people and finding just about any kind of information you want has become easy and convenient. The biggest problem you may encounter is not an information shortage, but information overload.
In the olden days, before Personal Computer and the electronic communications revolution, getting information about size acceptance was a tedious and frustrating exercise. Perhaps someone sent you a newspaper clipping with NAAFA's address, or you read a size-positive letter to the editor in a magazine, or--if you were lucky--you came across an article discussing size or size preferences.
Even though I have been an admirer of the large figure for my entire life, finding information to satisfy my interests used to be difficult, or almost impossible. Every now and then I'd stumble upon an "adult" magazine showing fat women (usually as a joke), and the Penthouse Forum occasionally ran letters from men who preferred fat women. Eventually, in 1979, I came across NAAFA's address and immediately wrote for information. It took three months or so to get a membership application, and then more waiting for all the size-related books and brochures I had ordered to arrive. I joined NAAFA-Date, which back in 1980 was probably the only dating service in the nation (or perhaps the world) that catered to fat people and their admirers. Well, getting that information registered and disseminated again took a few months. Then I received and answered letters, and that took several more months. You get the message: having a special interest used to take a lot of time. Getting information on a special interest used to mean either relying on your luck to accidentally find what you were looking for, or a trip to the local library where you could thumb through stacks of 3x5 cards and perhaps find a book or two, unless it was taken out and not expected back for several weeks, of course.
Things have changed dramatically. If the statistics are to be believed, a full one third of all American households now have PCs. A majority of them have modems. And millions upon millions have an account with an online service like America Online, Prodigy, or CompuServe. With those online services came electronic mail, which made almost instantaneous personal communication available (and dirt cheap) to every account holder. Then came "chat rooms" where likeminded people can "talk" to each other by typing into a window and having others respond. Everyone connected to a room-usually up to 25 or so-can see what everyone else writes, and if someone triggers your fancy, hey, just shoot off a private message. If the recipient is amenable you can then "chat" in private. All by sitting behind your computer in the privacy of your own room. People used to dismiss "chatting" as a passing fad, but that was before people started to "meet" each other that way, before they started organizing get-togethers in chat rooms, and before they started getting engaged online and married when they met for real. Times have changed, and finding a date will never be the same again.
And then there is the World Wide Web. Only two or three years ago, hardly anyone knew about the web. But it took off like a rocket and now millions use it every day for everything from work and research to entertainment and pleasure. And even though tens of thousands of computers are now serving information onto the web, finding just what you want is easier than ever, thanks to at least half dozen "search engines," powerful computer systems that tirelessly catalog almost all information on the web. They are called "Lycos", "Alta Vista", "Excite", etc., and allow you to find whatever you're looking for in seconds, for free. Enter "size acceptance" and the Alta Vista search engine almost instantly returns over 300 references, sorted in order of relevance. Enter "large size clothing", and Alta Vista spits out 67 sources. And since this is the web, checking out a source requires no more than clicking on it with your mouse or pen. Within seconds the information appears on your computer screen whether the document is located across the street or in New Zealand.
If you're reading this column, you have seen Dimensions' own website where we're featuring a wealth of educational and entertaining stuff (and, of course, hope to get more people to subscribe to our magazine), among them "LinkMANIA" that contains the top 200 size related links in a dozen different categories, what we think may be the best BBW/FA events calendar on the web, a story archive, a fashion section, a bulletin board, and tons of other things. Since last summer, our main page has been contacted over half a million times.
It's also interesting to see how differently people react to web and online offerings. They expect them to be free (though that probably cannot continue for much longer), they provide much more feedback (since dashing off an email is so easy), and there seems to be much more tolerance (probably because you don't have to "click" on something you don't like, whereas in the magazine it stares you in the face).
No matter what it is that you want to know, learn, find out, experience, you can find it on the web. People can be alerted to interesting news instantly via mailing lists. In discussions, looks or size don't matter. Intelligence, charm, and eloquence do. (What a concept). Interesting times indeed, and this is just the beginning. The electronic communications revolution is changing everything, and that includes size acceptance and how we ought to go about it. But more about that next time.
This column first appeared in the April 1997 issue of Dimensions Magazine Editor at Large