Never have so many done so little
to defend their own rights

by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Ph.D.

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Sometimes I think it's a miracle we are getting anything accomplished at all in the size acceptance movement. On the surface, it looks easy: depending on the definition, there are about 40-60 million fat people in the US, plus a significant number of fat admirers. Together we should make a truly formidable voting block, an economic and political force to be reckoned with, one more powerful than the NRA or any other minority group.

Sadly, the "fat vote" has never been a factor in anything because fat people do not identify with each other. The ideals of multiculturalism-to be proud of who and what we are-have never been embraced by fat people most of whom do not even support the size acceptance movement because it reminds them that they are fat, a condition not tolerated in today's society. Fat people may be the only minority group in this country which never acts as one, the only group of people which is completely disenfranchised. Fat people in the US represent little more than an enormously lucrative market for a ruthless and depressingly successful diet industry.

For decades, fat people have been exploited by the diet industry which, aided by the medical community, has been on a systematic ridiculing and scare campaign. There are no hard numbers, but I venture to guess that the diet industry and its lackeys have probably killed hundreds of thousands of people by driving them into weight loss surgery, life-threatening fasts, anorexia and bulimia. In addition, one can only guess how many millions of lives have been diminished by the destruction of self esteem and the joy of live by the evil diet industry empire. The saddest part is that the brainwashing is so complete that millions of fat people eagerly snap up every new snake oil diet thrown at them, that young women lie to their doctors and make themselves ill just to get weight loss surgery, which, incidentally, costs insurance companies an estimated one thousand million dollars per year.

The extent of this socio-economic travesty is mindboggling: apart from mild congressional finger wagging, the diet industry remains virtually unregulated; an irresponsible media continues to depict impossibly slender waifs as the female ideal; a newly formed national task force for the prevention of obesity doesn't include one single member from the size acceptance movement; former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton declare war on 40 million of their own people with their "Shape Up America!" campaign which is controlled and heavily financed by the diet industry; and everyone joins in applause when researchers at the Rockefeller Institute announce they have found a "fat gene" (with the implicit message that we'll soon be able to engineer fat people right out of existence).

Why do we let all of this happen? Who is to blame? The diet industry, as despicable and loathful as their behavior is, is just a business going after easy profits. The medical community ought to be judged by a harsher scale; as far as I'm concerned, every physician who for one reason or another fails to provide adequate health care to a fat patient is in violation of his or her oath. Every business or agency that refuses to hire or promote fat people is in violation of the very principles this country was built on. I am not generally in favor of more laws and regulations, but if an entire segment of the population is denied economic opportunity, it's time for legislative action to stop that discrimination. Michigan's experience has shown such a law works perfectly for both employers and employees.

None of this exploitation could happen if fat people acted as a block. If fat people stopped buying diet products, the diet industry would be out of business in three months. Anti-discrimination laws would be passed all around the country. Sizism would come to be seen as every bit as reprehensible as racism and the media would quickly stop negative portrayal of fat people. The outrageous exclusion of fat people by insurance companies would be outlawed, and lipophobic physicians would be disciplined and lose patients in droves.

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to happen anytime soon because fat people see themselves as either victims or perpetrators, or both, and will not act in unison. The fear of fat is so ingrained that I sometimes think fat people, as a whole, would vote for their own termination.

Those of us who are fat admirers are no better. Though we all share a permanent, built-in preference for fat friends, lovers, partners, and spouses, too many of us are ashamed to even admit to this preference. That's too bad because there is nothing wrong with making a sexual preference the foundation of a political belief. The gay and lesbian community has shown us that a long time ago. By remaining in the closet, we only add to the feelings of self-loathing and the general oppression of fat people.

If I'm painting a pretty stark picture, it is because the situation is serious. You could say that never have so many done so little to defend their own rights. That's why it's so important to support the size acceptance movement in any which way we can. This is one instance where our destiny is clearly in our hands.

(First published as editorial in Dimensions April 1995 issue)

Editor at Large