Where does the size acceptance community stand?
by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Ph.D.

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Has it ever happened to you that you stop to assess a situation-- perhaps a relationship, or your job--just to find that you're really not sure whether it has improved or not, or where you stand at all? There is nothing more unsettling than this realization that you just don't know. Maybe you have changed, maybe the world has changed, maybe both. All you know is that the time you spent pondering over the situation hasn't yielded a clear answer. Things could be worse, and they certainly could be better. They're not bad enough to dispair and start over, but not good enough to feel a sense of satisfaction.

This is how I have been feeling every time I sit back and think where the size acceptance movement stands these days. Have we made progress or lost ground? Every time I end up with a long mental list of things that went right, but an equally long list of things that went wrong. At the end of each such session I find myself frustrated, because I just don't know if things are better than they used to be, or if those of us who have been in the movement for a long time can feel that their time was well spent.

Here are some of my impressions and how I feel they have impacted the movement.

Infighting--For the past several years, there has been an ongoing "balkanization" of the movement. Balkanization is a term used to describe how a relatively small group of people, or a relatively small region, splits up in ever smaller splinter groups, some of which start turning on each other. Balkanization is perhaps the single most damaging thing that has occurred in the movement and it happens at virtually every level. While no movement or organization is immune to internal strive, the size acceptance movement has been afflicted by it to an extraordinarily damaging degree. Groups fight groups, chapters fight chapters, individuals fight individuals. Hardly a week goes by without some group engaging in a bitter, public fight with another. There are no winners in such contests of egos. Most of the small splinter groups fall, people leave in disgust, and every time that happens, the movement loses experience and momentum.

NAAFA--if there has been one constant in the movement, it has to be NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. NAAFA has been fighting size discrimination for almost 30 years and the organization has achieved a lot. Yet, for one reason or another, it never managed to translate its often high visibility into a commensurate level of membership support. Often the victim of periodic infighting, NAAFA has historically spent far too much of its time just trying to survive. Still, it's probably fair to say that a lot of whatever gains the movement has made has its origins in NAAFA and NAAFA's work. Volumes have been written on why NAAFA hasn't succeeded on a broader level, and most insiders have their own theories. NAAFA is a prime example of one of these situations I mentioned in my opening paragraph.

Publications: how are we doing with size acceptance publications? The situation is much the same as with the movement in general--much of what is out there is the result of the dogged determination of a few individuals. This is particularly true for the smaller publications, such as Radiance and Dimensions. Alice Ansfield at Radiance and yours truly at Dimensions have struggled for years to present a quality product every other month or so, but neither of us ever succeeded in taking it to the next level. BBW Magazine did quite well for a while, primarily due to the mercurial personality of founder Carole Shaw. There were several promising starts (Its Me!, Magna, Plus Woman, etc.), but they came and went. Mode, the latest entry is chuck full of high class ads, which either means that their advertising reps have a true Midas touch, or that Mode has corporate backers with very deep pockets. By far the best part of Mode is that it has admirably managed to "mainstream" size. Its a splashy, trendy fashion magazine that has the look and feel of success. The fact that the models are a bit larger seems almost like an afterthought. The flipside is that Mode only addresses the very low end of the size acceptance movement. Fat women may like the magazine, but they really cannot identify with the Mode models much more than with those in one of the other fashion magazines.

Politics--There is no doubt that the movements work resulted in somewhat greater awareness of the plight of fat people at some levels of government. The problem is that those levels are few and far between. A committee chair and a school board member here, an assistant deputy and a council member there, not enough to make a difference once these individuals are gone. The long fight for legal protection that began so promisingly when Michigan outlawed size discrimination almost 20 years ago fizzled and seems now on life-support at best. The fact that the movement has lost one of its strongest political supporters--one of its strongest political supporters--former assembly member Dan Feldman who lost his bid to get elected to Congress--is a particularly hard blow.

Media--The media always loves a good story and that's why the media loves fat issues. Yet, that sort of media attention is a mixed blessing. In the days before talk shows sank into the gutter, appearances on nationally syndicated shows attracted a lot of attention to size acceptance issues (and NAAFA's membership soared as a result), but it's become increasingly harder to trust the media. The scandalously shallow and insulting Time Magazine coverage of the recent Million Pound March was a sad reminder that even magazines like Time still see fat people as nothing more than an opportunity for fat jokes, in Time's case apparently with full editorial support as the magazine rarely misses an opportunity to insult fat people.

You get the drift. Yet we need to go on. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this issue of Dimensions Magazine.


Editor at Large