From Rookie to
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
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
"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
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
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
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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