Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Conversation

During a lunch meeting with my editor a couple of years ago, we were discussing topics related to book publishing, including my love of writing. She told me that it's important to pay attention to "the conversation," as I consider what I might write about in the future - "what are the topics that everyone's starting to talk about?" she asked me.

Part of being an author is that after the thrilling news that your book is accepted for publication, and then the excitement of seeing your book come to life, you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get the word out there. I'm happy to say that several years after the release of The Diet Survivor's Handbook, I am truly part of the conversation in a way I would never have expected!

On Friday, I got a "google alert" that lets me know my name has come up somewhere. It turns out that the LA Times has a column called Cocktail talking points for the weekend. This list highlights what is front and center in the news, with a sentence to start a conversation when you're at your favorite weekend social event.

As someone who doesn't have the easiest time making conversation at cocktail parties, I sure got a kick out of seeing a quote of mine from an LA Times story, that had appeared a week earlier, in Deborah Netburn's list for the weekend of October 17.
Here's what she wrote:

2. Fat activists: It's a complicated issue, fat activism. Not all obese people are unhealthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are. Still, does that give us a right to judge? Here's a quote from our story: "Size tolerance, fat-acceptance activists say, should be right up there with religious tolerance, ethnic tolerance and gay tolerance. 'It's the culture that has to change,' says Judith Matz, director of the Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating."

Conversation starter: I'm size tolerant; are you?

So here I am - right in the middle of the conversation - and very glad to be there!

I'd like to continue the conversation that Ms. Netburn refers to when she says, "Not all obese people are unhealthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are." I would add that, "Not all thin people are healthy, it turns out, although certainly many of them are!" My point is that there are fat people who are healthy and fat people who aren't, just as there are thin people who are healthy and thin people who aren't. Whether you call it fat acceptance, size diversity, or even this new term of size tolerance, the goal is to become weight neutral: get rid of assumptions based on body size.

When I do workshops where people are exploring their own attitudes about weight, I sometimes brainstorm a list, asking participants, "what do you think about when you think of someone who is thin and someone who is fat?" Here are some typical responses:

happy lazy
successful stupid
sexy inactive
attractive unhappy
active unhealthy
healthy ugly

Next, it's helpful to take these words, and think about the real people you know in your life. If you're like most of us, there are people you know who are thin, but do not necessarily have the perfect life suggested by the associated words. Likewise, you can surely point to some people you know who are fat - friends, relatives and/or colleagues - who you would not characterize by the words listed in the fat column.

What's going on here is stereotyping. It has happened to every group that's in the minority - Jews, Italians, African-Americans, homosexuals - to name a few, and it happens everyday to people who are fat. At this point in our history, while it is no longer acceptable to stereotype most of the groups who fall outside of the mainstream, weightism continues to permeate our culture. The acceptability of stereotyping fat people as unhealthy, for example, can be seen in the healthcare debate that often blames those who are larger for growing health care costs, even in an administration that is particularly sensitive to the needs of minority groups.

The series of LA Times articles that originally quoted me were exploring fat as "the new normal." As more and more attention focuses on issues of quitting diets, size acceptance and Health At Every Size, we can hope to move to a future that is weight neutral. Each person can foster wellness by embracing behaviors that promote physical and emotional well-being, and wherever their body size lands - thin, fat, and anywhere between - is where they are entitled to live their lives, free from the shame and discrimination that so often rears its ugly head.

This conversation is here to stay for now. With all of the attention on the "obesity crisis," those fighting for the rights of people at any size are becoming well-organized; The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH, held it's annual conference in Washington D.C. in August organizing visits to Capitol Hill to educate legislators about Health At Every Size; Fat Studies is receiving greater attention as an academic focus, and with the release of the new Fat Studies Reader, Amy Farrell was on the popular Colbert Report (, bringing humor and awareness to a nationwide audience.

And for diet survivors everywhere, stories like the recent LA Times, Dieting? Not for these folks validates the courageous decision to let go of dieting and develop a healthy relationship with food through attuned/intuitive eating. Given the billions of dollars people have spent over the past decades to get thin, if diets really worked, we wouldn't be needing to have this conversation.

If you'd like to read the LA Times series, here are the links.

Eat well! Live well! Be well!

1 comment:

Debbie Gross, LCSW said...

Great points in this blog! It's funny how, even in the article trying to get weight acceptance, that there is still reference to fat=unhealthy at some level. Glad you are working to set the record straight, one conversation at a time!