The Million Pound March
by Sally E. Smith

On August 15, 1998, a momentous event occurred in Santa Monica, California. On a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, 200 fat people and allies gathered to claim their space and proclaim their fat pride at the Million Pound March. The event, sponsored by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, was a turning point for the size acceptance movement.

The Million Pound March was the first major public event where representatives of different size acceptance organizations came together to proclaim the unity of the movement in fighting discrimination and empowering fat people. It was the first major public event that drew celebrity support. It was the first major public event that garnered financial support from corporations that don't usually involve themselves in the movement. And it was the first major public event in the movement where the shock jocks left us alone and the top media outlets in the country clamored to get credentialling.

But that wasn't the best part of the Million Pound March. The best part was the event itself. I've been at NAAFA's helm for close to eleven years now, and up to this point thought that the 1994 White House Demonstration was the pinnacle of our achievement. Not anymore. Because the Million Pound March was the most inspiring, moving, spiritual, heartrending, unifying event that I've ever attended.

I've never been more proud to be a fat woman than I was on that day. I've never been more proud to be a leader of the size acceptance movement. I've never been more proud to be a part of this wonderful community of ours. It was as though, at that one place, at that moment in time, the spirit and energy of the fat brotherhood and sisterhood reverberated throughout the universe. Yes, it was that incredible.

Despite all kinds of logistical challenges (everything from difficulty in obtaining a city permit to the sound equipment showing up not being delivered until the last possible moment) and financial challenges (through sheer force of will, Activism Chair and March Organizer Jody Abrams managed to solicit donations to cover its costs), the Million Pound March was more perfect than I ever dreamed it could be.

The Million Pound March was an historic event. And we are rightfully proud of our role in making the event happen. Everyone involved in it, from the organizer, Jody Abrams, to the Million Pound March Choir Director Jeanne Toombs, to our generous sponsors, to every person who participated, exhibited an extraordinary amount of courage and commitment.

And the courage to take risks is necessary if we are to take the steps to make extraordinary strides both as a movement and in our personal lives.

Not everyone was comfortable with the name of the event. Some even took a public stand against it. In the last issue of Dimensions, Glen Sommers, in a thinly-veiled reference to the Million Pound March, referred to us organizers as "zealots," and wrote, "While y'all are raisin' cane, don't forget what your target audience is and the fundamental purpose should be. While you're out there slippin' in personal agendas and thumbin' noses, people are forming lasting opinions. When you're putting together size marches and making the title theme a parody, the majority may be taking note but odds are it won't be for the right reasons. We should never apologize for our message, but we have every reason to apologize for its presentation if it falls flat on its face..."

Ya' kno' what? The Million Pound March didn't fall on its face, and we have nothing to apologize for; on the contrary, perhaps the naysayers should apologize. The Washington Post flew a reporter out to cover it, as did the Philadelphia Inquirer. CNN was there, as was the Australian version of "Dateline." Even though the reporter was fatphobic, Time magazine felt it was a newsworthy event. "ABC Morning News" even promoted the event a few days beforehand.

People did form lasting opinions, and they were positive ones. Like the couple who had seen an L.A. newscast, came to the march, and followed the group back to the hotel in an attempt to heal from the death of the woman's sister, who had sacrificed her life as a result of taking diet drugs.

While some folks took public potshots at the march in print, others in the movement stayed quietly on the sidelines, not wanting to lend their support until they saw that the event was going to be a success. While these groups were holding great internal debates as to whether they should send a simple letter of support, entertainer Nell Carter immediately backed the event, as did Emmy-winning ("This is for all the fat girls") Camryn Manheim. Singer and former talk show host Carnie Wilson came to the march, and brought "Mama" Cass Elliot's daughter with her. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a letter of support, as did Attorney General Dan Lungren, President Bill Clinton, and California Assemblymember Scott Wildman.

So, while leaders within the movement were hemming and hawing, supporting the Million Pound March was a no-brainer for some very influential people.

The truth is, many of us had initial trepidations about the name of the event; we talked a lot about it and worked through our feelings in private. At NAAFA's convention (in conjunction with which the march was held), we provided safe space for people to talk about their fears of participating. The bottom line was about having the courage to take the risk to be very public about our size and our movement; to know that many of our fat brothers and sisters outside the movement are sacrificing their health and their self-esteem every day, and that these people needed to see us proclaim our pounds publicly.

We have to take risks in order to survive and thrive. Personally, it's a risk every time we make our needs known, every time we challenge a fat joke, every time we tell a family member to back off and stop commenting on our size.

As a movement, we take a risk every time we appear in the media, every time we give a presentation to diet doctors, every time we take a public stand against size discrimination. But because we, as individuals and as a movement, have the courage to take a stand, we help inspire others to do the same. And that's the only way were going to make progress.

I don't begrudge those who weren't able to take the risk to attend the march; each of us is at a different point in the size acceptance/self-acceptance continuum and not everyone is ready to be public. But I do resent those whose cowardice led them to take a public position against the march, and those who are leaders in the movement but who didn't lend their support, either financially or with their attendance.

That said, for those of you who missed the march for whatever reason, you were in our hearts as we raised our voices to the sky and sang (to the tune of "Battle Hymn") the words that Jeanne Toombs wrote:

Were here together celebrating our diversity. Come join with us in song, for there is strength in unity.

Declare your self-acceptance and demand equality.

Were proud in every size!

(refrain)

We are marching for diversity, We are marching for equality,

We are marching for our dignity, Were proud in every size!

Were learning to accept ourselves, were learning to be wise.

Our bodies come in different shapes, we don't apologize.

Everyone is beautiful and worthy in our eyes, Were proud in every size!

(refrain)

Our call will now go out to every corner of the earth:

Let people large and small have the respect that they deserve.

Your size is not a measure of your character or worth.

Were proud in every size!

(refrain)



Raw footage of the Million Pound March is available on VHS format by sending $19.95 plus $3.00 postage and handling to NAAFA, P0 Box 188620, Sacramento, CA 95818. Visa/MC, check, money order accepted. ß