Size Activism in the Upper Left Corner
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 99 18:00:56 -0700
Subject: Size Activism in the Upper Left Corner
? SeaFATtle is doing an interesting project called: A PLACE AT THE TABLE:
A Memorial to Victims of Fatphobia and Size Prejudice
Q. What is "A Place at the Table" all about?
A. As fat people, we have been denied a place at the table, both
literally and figuratively.
Every day we are told that we mustn't eat what we want, that we shouldn't
enjoy our food, that whatever we're eating must be more than we should have,
that we're entitled to only the most minimally adequate meals. Most fat
people have heard this message again and again, sometimes in ways that are
callous and cruel, and sometimes in ways that are meant as kindness -- but
all of them are hurtful.
We've been harassed and ridiculed by family members about every bite we eat.
We've had restaurant menus snatched from our hands by our "friends." We've
had complete strangers come up and criticize what we put in our grocery
carts. The message comes through loud and clear: we don't belong there at
the table with everyone else, not until we've atoned for the sin of being
fat -- and the only way to do that is to get thin, by whatever means
Moreover, fat people are refused some of the most basic rights and the
respect due any member of the human family. We're fair game for ridicule
and insulting, ignorant stereotypes in the media. We can legally be
discriminated against in forty-nine U.S. states and virtually every country.
Public accommodations -- from theatre and airplane seats to essential
medical equipment -- often aren't accessible to people of size. Amazingly,
we are blamed for our own lack, since many see it as our responsibility to
abuse ourselves into a smaller body size, rather than the responsibility of
providers of public spaces to accommodate a wider range of sizes; we are
treated with contempt if we demand better treatment.
Medical practitioners are often quick to blame our weight for everything
that goes wrong with our bodies. Some refuse to treat us until we've lost
weight, effectively putting adequate care out of reach for many of us. They
continue to prescribe diets (a treatment with a 95% failure rate), and blame
us when this treatment fails yet again -- often pressuring us to try
something far more dangerous, like weight-loss surgery or risky and
questionably-effective drugs like "fen/phen."
Fat people aren't allowed to take their place at the table and enjoy basic
rights and privileges that others take for granted -- all because our
culture has the idea that fat people are somehow less than human, and
therefore shouldn't share the simple human right of fair and decent
While most people seem to think this is a trivial problem, some people have
paid the ultimate price for this injustice: their lives. People are dying
from size discrimination and fatphobia. "A Place at the Table" is an effort
to remember those we've lost, and to make sure they haven't died
unremembered and in vain. Inspired by the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt
and the Clothesline Project bearing witness to violence against women, we
hope "A Place at the Table" will serve both as a memorial and as a means of
increasing public awareness.
Q. What will "A Place at the Table" look like?
A. Memorials in "A Place at the Table" take the form of placemats. They
represent the access and acceptance that the people commemorated were denied
during their lifetime. A cover letter about the person should accompany the
placemat; these letters will be archived and will be part of the display
when the collection is displayed.
Ideally, the memorials will be displayed along a table that is set with
candles, flowers and other accoutrements of an elegant meal. They may also
be hung along a wall, gallery-style, or placed in a display case.
SeaFATtle will display "A Place at the Table" at events that promote size
acceptance and educate the public about issues of concern to fat people.
The memorials will also be loaned to other organizations in the size
acceptance community and displayed at events consistent with the goals and
purpose of SeaFATtle and "A Place at the Table," at the discretion and
decision of SeaFATtle.
Q. Who is represented in "A Place at the Table"?
A. "A Place at the Table" honors the memory of people whose lives were
needlessly shortened by size prejudice, discrimination based on weight, or
fear of fat, and whose deaths were caused (or significantly contributed to)
by such factors. Some of these people include:
- those who have died as a result of weight-loss dieting, including
the immediate effects of crash diets, as well as the long-term harm
caused by yo-yo dieting;
- those who have died from side effects and complications from
weight-loss drugs like "fen/phen";
- those who have died from weight-loss surgery and its complications,
after having their health ruined and their lives shortened by its
- those who have died from eating disorders, which happen as a direct
consequence of this culture's phobia about fat and the resulting
pressure to be thin at any cost;
- those who have been misdiagnosed, or received misguided or inadequate
medical care, by practitioners and insurance companies who couldn't
(or wouldn't) see beyond their size and treat the real problem in time;
- those who had been so mistreated and abused by the medical profession
because of their weight that they lost all faith in it, and so failed
to go for diagnosis and treatment for a problem until it was too late;
- those who were refused medical insurance because of their weight, or
were denied jobs because of the size prejudice of potential employers,
and were therefore unable to afford necessary medical treatment that
could have prolonged or saved their lives;
- those who died in abusive relationships, whose abusers focused on
their weight or used it as an excuse to continue their battering;
- those who, in moments of pain and despair when the fatphobic ridicule
and rejection became too much to bear, have taken their own lives.
Q. People don't have to be dead to have suffered from fatphobia. What
about the survivors?
A. Everyone is hurt by size prejudice. Fat people may have suffered
more than most, but anyone who has ever "felt fat," or worried about getting
fat, has been oppressed by fatphobia. We all pay the price of size
discrimination that wastes the talents and productivity of fat people who
don't get hired or promoted because they don't "look the part."
We don't intend to ignore or minimize the harm that fatphobia has
done to anyone. Still, we believe that by focusing attention on people who
have died from it, we can best bring home the magnitude of the problem. We
want to raise public awareness of how ingrained these prejudices are in the
fabric of our culture, how serious the consequences can be, and how essential
it is to change them.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, the American labor activist, urged us to "Pray
for the dead and fight like hell for the living!" Through "A Place at the
Table," we aim to do both.
For more information on contributing a memorial, exhibiting the project, or
any other questions, see the SeaFATtle webpage at
http://www.wolfenet.com/~marymc/seafattle.htm, or contact SeaFATtle in the
care of either:
Marty Hale-Evans Mary McGhee
22831 92nd Avenue S, P-203 - OR - 10026 51st Avenue SW
Kent, WA 98031-2472 Seattle, WA 98146
© 1999 Peter Langston