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From Rookie to Revolutionary
Radiance editor Alice Ansfield tells the story
behind the magazine's success

By Joan Price

From Radiance Summer 1990

Alice Ansfield is the dreamer, creator, worker, mover and shaker who took one evening's glimmer of an Idea and lovingly, painstakingly turned it into Radiance magazine. And like many of Radiance's readers, Alice has her own story to tell about grabbing hold of dreams and shaping them into reality. Alice was a cute, curly-haired, inquisitive, shy little girl. In her family, body size seemed to be more of a major issue for her mom than for her dad. Her mother's childhood had been filled with a constant barrage from her father of "You're fat; you look awful." He died when Alice's mom was a girl, but his voice stayed with her always.

This negative attitude about body size crept into Alice's upbringing. "As a family, we were on the Weight Watchers diet about every other year. We got double messages about food all the time. On the one hand, we'd all be in the kitchen eating and snacking and laughing as my mom prepared the dinner. At the table, we'd be told we were too fat as we were handed second and third helpings. Then my mom would literally push us outside to walk off our dinner. Some mornings, I had to 'weigh in' before going to school. I'd have to pay a dollar for each pound I'd gained that week, or I'd get a dollar for each pound I'd lost. I often walked to school in tears." But she never really focused on her personal issue of body size until about ten years ago, when she wanted the pleasure of physical activity and looked for a movement class. She toured health clubs and fitness centers, but didn't feel that she belonged. "Everyone was thin and muscular. I felt unacknowledged in a really important way because of my "body size." Trying to exercise in this environment, she felt, would have been too depressing. She didn't want to do that to herself.

She finally discovered a dance class "for women over 200 pounds." "I saw large women moving and dancing like I'd never seen before, beautifully and gracefully. I felt like I had come home." That same week she also found a low-impact aerobics class also for large women, and after a few classes she said to the instructor, "I think I'd like to do a little newsletter for the women in this class." She envisioned telling them where to get wide shoes and where to shop. She'd ask a therapist to write an article on self-esteem, a nutritionist to discuss eating without guilt, and a large woman to share her personal struggle. The instructor was enthusiastic.

"I went home and my mind was clicking and buzzing with Ideas all night long. The next day I made some phone calls. Everyone I called was thrilled with this Idea and wanted to write an article." Throughout the week, an inner voice whispered to her each time she'd tell somebody about the publication, "This isn't a newsletter for the women in your exercise class; this is a magazine for women worldwide." "I knew I wanted to cover many aspects of a large woman's life-social and emotional and spiritual issues, fashion, community events, ads, everything. My newsletter grew from a little 4-page thing to 10, 15, and then 20 pages! I said, 'I've got to stop. I can't afford to print any more.'" A month went by, and Alice had material for a 20-page publication, but still no title. She went out for hot fudge sundaes one night after class with other exercisers and they brainstormed names together, but no name sparkled. "I went to sleep that night, and about 3 a.m. or so, I sat straight up in bed and said, 'Radiance!' It was perfect. To me it symbolized the natural beauty and power we all have within us. It was a name that could remind large women of who they are."

Alice planned it so that the first issue came out on her mother's birthday in October of 1984. Now, eight years later, Alice has to pinch herself to believe that she is responsible for the publication of an international magazine telling women all sizes of large that they can be beautiful, strong, powerful, and healthy, just as they are.

To date, more than one million people have found support, inspiration, and vital resources in its pages. It is estimated that more than thirty million women in America alone are plus-sized, who wear a size sixteen or over.

"Radiance's main goal is to encourage and support women to feel good about themselves now, whatever their body size," says editor Ansfield. "We want women to get off the dangerous cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain, band begin to live their lives as they would if they were thin. We promote the Idea that women can live healthy, satisfying lives now, whatever their body size, and that they need not postpone their lives, dreams, or ambitions, until they are 'thin enough.' Radiance gives women a greater vision and perspective for their lives. It shows them that women's bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and we need not judge our own or each others worth by our size. The unnecessary divisions and barriers that exist between women because of size differences and fear can begin to dissolve in a climate of greater acceptance, as promoted in Radiance."

Central to the Radiance vision is the belief that all women have the right to live with self-respect, regardless of body size, and that a positive state of health cannot be achieved while hating one's body. Radiance helps readers gain the strength and information they need to deal with antifat doctors, parents or spouses who badger them about their body size, and their own internalized feelings of fat oppression. Radiance and other groups in the "Size Acceptance Movement" help to empower women all sizes of large to stand tall in the face of daily discriminatory actions and comments. "Readers write in, telling of the almost continual abusive incidents with medical professionals and healthcare practitioners, where their body size is blamed for every problem or ailment they come in with," says Ansfield. "Readers tell of being stopped in grocery store lines or in the street with comments about their body. 'You have such a pretty face, why don't you try dieting?'" In the media, fat people are the last safe group to ridicule. Clothing stores for large women do not have the full gamut of styles available as in stores for "average-sized women". In addition, in the stores for large women, most of the fashions stop at size twenty-four.

Yet little regard is given to the current research showing that over sixty percent of fatness is caused by genetics, and that ninety-five percent of dieters gain back all the weight (and then some) within three years of the diet. "More than eighty-five percent of the women in this country hate their bodies. And women fear getting fat more than dying. How far does all this obsession with our body size have to go, how many more people have to 'die to be thin'?"

Radiance has been called "a breath of fresh air" and "a strong voice against size discrimination" by mental health professionals who repeatedly see and work with the women targeted by antifat messages in today's society. "I feel optimistic about the growth of the size acceptance message," says Ansfield. "It's more common now to read about the futility and dangers of dieting in mainstream publications and journals. And I'm seeing lots of new work being started by individuals, groups, and organizations in the U.S. and abroad about issues of weight and body size. Large women, themselves, are becoming empowered. They're speaking up more, demanding more in their lives, and feeling a stronger base of support on which to stand. Radiance is making a difference in people's lives."

Letters from readers reveal the effect Radiance has on people's lives. One letter came from a 55-year-old woman in Maine who had been staying in her house, unwilling to go out to social events because of how she looked. "Hurry up and send Radiance," she wrote. Another said, "This is the first time I've felt treated like a human being at my 280 pounds." A recent letter from a longtime subscriber included a photo and a powerful statement of new self-acceptance from a woman who had hidden from the world for most of her 40 years-and now teaches a movement class.

Not all the mail is ecstatic, however. Some describe Radiance as being too militant, or not militant enough, or not sufficiently fashion-oriented. The fashion industry has complained about the inclusion of supersize models and women who aren't "done up enough" in some of the magazine's feature stories. "The large woman doesn't want to see herself as she is," they have said. "She wants to see the fantasy of what she can be." These criticisms have made Alice grow stronger in her own convictions. "I want our readers to have fuller lives. I want to introduce them to women from all walks of life. I want to hold true to my Ideal of being inclusive, open to women of all life-styles, all ages, all sizes of large, all ethnic groups, and points of view. I want to show women as they really are. Whether the person is a celebrity or an artist or a mother or a nun, they're all feature stories in Radiance. I want each reader to see, 'I am a feature story. My life is just as important as anything I'm reading here.'"

Yet only about five percent of large women pick up Radiance. "Most large women still don't want to be Identified as large. They are still hooked into the diet mentality, or, if they're not dieting, they're feeling badly about themselves, and closing themselves off from relationships and work and social life. Or they may be denying part of themselves, the part that hurts."

Alice is awed by the power of Radiance. "It hits me again and again that Radiance has grown to be the most complete resource for connecting large women with the services and products available to them. Nobody else integrates cutting edge information on size acceptance, self-esteem, large-size fashion, health, and fitness. Nowhere else can you find a doctor, a comedian, a horticulturist, and an anthropologist all addressing themes of interest to large women. It won't stop now!"

JOAN PRICE is a regular contributor to Radiance http://fitnesslink.com/joanprice/


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