Putting it in Print
by Sally E. Smith

In order to stand up against the $33 billion diet industry, the size acceptance movement must put its accomplishments in print so that people can learn about them. Here's where to look for the latest information.

If you're reading this issue of Dimensions, you're one of the lucky fat people or Fat Admirers who have discovered the size acceptance movement and the fat subculture. Unfortunately, we are in the minority; for every one of us who has picked up a size acceptance-related publication, there are thousands for whom the notion of an organized movement for accepting one's fatness or one's attraction to fat partners is completely foreign or unthinkable.

The size acceptance movement has been around for over a quarter of a century, and fat people have certainly been around for much longer. The question that begs to be asked is why the movement hasn't attracted more supporters. Considering the statistics which claim that between 43-54% (depending on the study) of Americans are "obese", and anecdotal evidence that between 5-10% of American men are FAs, it's astounding that the movement as a whole is comprised of (optimistically) 50,000 people.

Clearly, the force at work which keeps fat people hating themselves and FAs in the closet has many elements, including the "chic heroin" look that Madison Avenue extols, the $33 billion per year diet industry, and a culture which moralizes body size. All of these factors contribute to the public's lack of exposure to the political theory, scientific research, support, and social aspects of the size acceptance movement.

One of the most effective ways to publicize the work (and play!) of the size acceptance movement is through the media. We have worked hard to legitimize size issues in the eyes of the media, and in fact the mainstream press and broadcast media (for the most) do take us seriously. There are many experts within the anti-diet and size acceptance movements who are called upon by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the "NBC Nightly News" to comment on findings or to promote the movement's agenda.

Historically, however, most of the supporters of the size acceptance movement have come to know us through our appearances on talk shows. As someone who's been on the talk show circuit in the past, I can attest to the fact that it was often a challenge to turn a show around and promote the movement's agenda, rather than that of the talk show host. Unfortunately, as we all know, over the past couple of years the talk shows have brought new meaning to "freak of the week" topics, and most of the spokespeople I know (including myself) refuse to any longer make referrals to those shows.

Another way to familiarize people with the concept of size acceptance is to advertise. Unfortunately, the cost of paid advertising--particularly in mainstream publications--is beyond the reach of most of the organizations and publications in the movement.

Another way of promulgating the facts about fatness, health, discrimination, and social stigma against fatness is through the publication of scientific research. But prominent researchers who have tried to publish studies which could support the political theories of the size acceptance movement in the experience of fat people have found that they've been all but shut out of the scientific journals. While headlines scream that fat people die at twice the rate of thin people (based on a flawed study which showed that two in 10,000 fat people dies as opposed to one in 10,000 thin people), other research never gets in print, or is overlooked by the mainstream media.

Dr. Esther Rothblum, the preeminent researcher on weight and social stigma, has said that it was extremely difficult to get published when she first began studying this topic. She said that she was glad that her research on women and lesbians had been welcomed for journal publication, or she would have thought it was her, rather than weight-related research, that the journals were avoiding.

Likewise, there are many other prominent researchers who have war stories to tell of articles sent out for peer-review and been positively received, only to have the editor of the journal seek out other opinions from those who were biased against the topic, and thus have ammunition with which to reject the research.

So if folks can't get size acceptance-related information from the media, from advertising, or from scientific circles, how do people ever manage to, if not embrace the size acceptance community, at least begin traveling down the path of accepting either their size or their preference?

For many people today, the answer is no further than their neighborhood Barnes & Noble. There has been an explosion of size acceptance-related books published in the last two years. While diet books still outnumber self-acceptance looks 100 to one (at least), this trend puts the word out where just about anyone can pick it up.

Prior to 1994, to say there was a dearth of acceptance- related material available would be a vast understatement. The dawn of the size acceptance movement came with the publication in 1970 of Fat Power: Thin May Be In, But Fat's Where It's At by Llewellyn Louderback (Hawthorn Books). This, combined with the 1983 publication of Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by women on fat oppression, a collection of writings presenting fat liberation theory and its connection to feminism, are together viewed as the bibles of the size acceptance movement.

While there were books published between 1970 and 1990, many of the authors, who had valuable things to say about size acceptance, were hard-pressed to find mainstream publishers who would print their writings. Many of the authors ended up self-publishing (Harry Gossett's 1986 book, Fat Chance!, is a good example), or, in the case of the Fat Underground writings, xeroxing them and advertising their existence in feminist publications.

In my "generation" of fat acceptance supporters (my first exposure to the movement was around 1980, and I joined NAAFA in 1986 after reading about the organization in "Dear Abby"), the books published by the mainstream press that we were exposed to were 1978's Fat is a Feminist Issue, by Susie Orbach, and 1980's Such a Pretty Face, by Marcia Millman. Looking back, I can see that Orbach's book was a non-dieting diet (that is, stop dieting and you'll lose weight), though it's clear that she's now found greener pastures as Princess Di's confidante. Reading Millman's book was a profound experience for me, as it so clearly conveyed the pain that fat people endure in a society that tells us we're less than human-but at the same time communicating a pervasive hopelessness about the fat experience.

By 1994, however, the publishing world was starting to open up to writers who were communicating size acceptance messages, with the publication of such books as Journeys to Self-Acceptance: Fat Women Speak (Crossing Press), Edison and Notkin's Women En Large--Images of Fat Nudes (Books in Focus), and Susan Stinson's Fat Girl Dances with Rocks (Spinsters Ink). And by 1995, the big publishers started to take notice, with Doubleday's publication of Carol Johnson's Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes, and HarperCollins' publication of Cheri Erdman's Nothing to Lose: A Guide to Sane Living in a Larger Body. In 1996, HarperCollins published Erdman's second book, and Simon & Schuster published Carolyn Hillman's Love Your Looks: How to Stop Criticizing and Start Appreciating Your Appearance. In that same year, Fawcett Columbine published Glenn Gaesser's Big Fat Lies, which received (and is still getting) tremendous media attention. And although 1997 is still young, there have already been three size acceptance-related books published, including Laura Fraser's expose of the diet industry, Losing It (Dutton).

Why this sudden wave of size-related publishing? Many of the books published in the last few years have elements of personal stories or are in some way instructional, and publishers have been publishing both self-help and "confessional" books by the truckload. But more importantly, the publication of all these books may signal that the message that diets don't work has truly been mainstreamed. It appears that many of the book contracts were signed following the National Institute of Health's proclamation that diets don't work, and the Federal Trade Commission's crackdown on the commercial weight loss industry, but before the current mania about diet drugs began. It seems appropriate that the acceptance of these texts by mainstream publishers resulted in part from the efforts of the size acceptance movement.

Of course, another reason may be that, after more than a quarter of a century, there are more people who have been exposed to the teachings of the movement, and more good writers out there who can both expound and expand upon the tenets of the size acceptance movement.

Even with the publication of all these new books, there are two size-related topics that continue to have very little written about them. While there is certainly room for more books of every size-related topic, many of the books recently published have to do with self-esteem and body image. While the 1997 publication of Dee Hakala's Thin is Just a Four-Letter Word marked the second major book covering exercise for fat people, 1990's Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women (Lyons and Burgard, Bull Publishing) truly stands alone. More books on fitness and exercise for large women are definitely needed.

Likewise, Ken Mayer's 1993 book Real Women Don't Diet (Bartleby Press) is the only major book written by an FA, for FAs and fat women. Given that his book has received mixed reviews from FAs, it seems that the market is wide open for other books covering this topic.

Hopefully, those in the size acceptance movement will embrace the books that have been published recently, showing publishers that it is in their economic interest to publish more size acceptance-related books. And perhaps more talented writers will come forward with their ideas, research, and experience to give us all a greater understanding of the fat and FA experiences. We can only hope that, in the end, more of the general public - fat and thin alike - will come to see that size acceptance benefits everyone. ß

* All of the books mentioned in this column are available through the NAAFA Book Service *