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Big News.gif (19900 bytes)William J. Fabrey

by William J. Fabrey

From Radiance Fall 1999

 

f you are a large person, do you realize that your size is no reflection of your worth as a human being? That it is not a good indicator of your health and fitness or lack thereof? That as a fat person you can be beautiful in your own way?  Well, because you are reading this column, chances are that you can honestly answer yes to one or more of the above questions. But was there a time when you could not have answered yes? And if so, can you remember one important person or event that made the difference, that got you on the road to changing your answer? Perhaps a book, magazine article, TV or radio show, or even a counselor helped change your attitude about yourself.

I asked several close friends these questions and got an interesting variety of answers. One said that after she had failed on yet another starvation diet and regained 150 pounds, she began to feel that perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Later, a speech given at a NAAFA convention in the 1970s by eating disorders pioneer Dr. Susan Wooley confirmed my friend’s suspicion that her body is simply meant to be fat.

Another friend was "converted" while attending a women’s group therapy session to help herself lose weight. When she talked about "how big my thighs are," the therapist leading the group realized that my friend commented about her thighs with some wonderment, and not with total disgust. The therapist remarked, "With that attitude, you’ll never lose weight!" At that moment, my friend could see that the therapist was trying to train her to hate her body. She left the group, abandoning weight loss and body hatred as productive goals.

Someone else was able to move beyond self-hatred for the first time when a man she was dating saw her size as a virtue. She discovered others like him when she joined NAAFA, which sponsored a dating service at the time, and when she read early issues of BBW magazine, which published personals. Now, years later, she still enjoys hearing a partner say that she is beautiful, but she says that her self-esteem comes from within and that she can answer yes to all the questions I posed at the beginning of this article.

I hear from lots of readers who credit Radiance magazine with helping them come to terms with their size. Then there’s a friend who, in 1984, read an advertising circular in the guise of a magazine for girls. Called Young Woman, it was handed out in high schools to help promote Kimberly-Clark and its feminine hygiene products. A forward-thinking article titled "Who’s Fat?" by Nancy Friedman was the first thing my friend had ever seen in print that made her feel okay about her extra curves. The chair of the private company (13-30 Corporation) that produced this handout for Kimberly-Clark was Christopher Whittle, famed for his notions about communication with young people.

Think about what defining events or influences have helped you improve your attitude about yourself—and perhaps how the same sort of influence might help someone else who struggles with these questions.

The News

The drug Orlistat, trademarked by Hoffmann-LaRoche as the brand name Xenical, was approved on April 26, 1999, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Xenical’s approval was a front-page story in USA Today on April 27, and by May 11, 1999, the New York Times carried its own front-page story, "Almost Anyone Can Easily Get Pill Meant for the Truly Obese."

Xenical works by blocking an enzyme that the gut needs to digest fat, so the fat in the food that is eaten is excreted, resulting in lower calorie intake. But Xenical blocks absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and betacarotene as well. And its side effects can be nasty: intestinal gas, oily stool, diarrhea, and fecal spotting and incontinence. Xenical is not an appetite suppressant and does not seem to pose the same risks as fen-phen, but experts are worried about as yet unknown side effects, use of the drug by those with eating disorders, and the new, untested drug combinations that some doctors and patients are already trying, for example, cocktails of Xenical with phentermine, the half of fen-phen that is still available. The New York Times quotes Lynn McAfee of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, who says she fears misuse of Xenical because "there is so much money to be made out there and so much desperation." Time and time again, we see damage from new drugs show up later. "My advice to consumers," McAfee says, "is if they don’t have a desperate . . . need, don’t buy a diet drug or a new car in the first model year."

Dr. Jules Hirsch, an obesity expert at the Rockefeller University in New York, is one of those on the FDA advisory panel who voted against the drug’s approval. He cited both the drug’s limited effectiveness (patients taking Xenical for a year, in combination with reduced-calorie diets, lost only 5 to 10 percent of their weight) and the dangers of previous diet drugs.

n all, the New York Times piece reads like an exposé on the mass merchandising of another "magic pill" to the gullible and the desperate. Consumers can buy Xenical on the Internet without a medical exam (companies report thousands of sales already), and unscrupulous doctors whose diet mills closed when phen-fen was taken off the market are aggressively starting up again. My choice for the quote of the day from the New York Times: "Just as there is a lifelong search for the fountain of youth, there is a lifelong search for an easy way to lose weight." This quote comes not from a physician or other scientist, but from Ira Loss, a securities analyst, on the popularity of Xenical. In the end, it is all about money.

On February 11, 1999, the Associated Press reported that plaintiffs who are suing American Home Products, former manufacturers of fenfluramine, are claiming that the pharmaceutical company "withheld information about instances of potentially fatal side effects and delayed stronger warning labels until it had rolled out another weight-loss drug."

Still on the topic of the oh-too-lucrative weight-loss business, I recently got a fax for the "Revolutionary Weight Loss Patch—as seen on TV," whose success is based on "liposomal transport technology." Well, I’m afraid the only thing that will get transported is the money of the desperate office workers who cough up (can you believe this?) $299 for the program’s twelve-week starter kit. The first one thousand people who sign up win a free eight-day vacation in sunny Orlando, Florida—which must be where the liposomes come in. They’re going to transport some to Florida! Now that seems like a much friendlier way to treat fat!

This past spring, two conferences put improving the health of fat people using nondieting methods at the top of their agendas. Dietitians and other health and fitness professionals, under the auspices of a special group of the American Dietetic Association, met in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 26 to 28, 1999. The group is called SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionists), and this was their sixteenth conference.

Dr. Susan Wooley, Ph.D., eating disorders pioneer and professor emeritus of the University of Cincinnati, spoke on the topic "Obesity Sciences: The Myth of Objectivity." The list of keynote speakers also included Pat Lyons, R.N., M.A. founder and director of CONNECTIONS Women’s Health Consulting Network and coauthor of Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women, and Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, who wrote Big Fat Lies. Workshops were given by other trailblazers in the nondiet approach, which is becoming increasingly popular, even among dietitians!

A conference called "The Big Picture: Overcoming Weight Prejudice and Promoting Health for People of All Sizes" was held on April 9, 1999, at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. I attended this exciting conference, which was presented by the School of Public Health and Health Sciences of the University of Massachusetts and chaired by Greg Kline of that university. The keynote speakers, who were brilliant, included Pat Lyons, Dr. Gaesser, and Cheri Erdman, Ed.D., of the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, author of Nothing to Lose and Live Large!

Workshop presenters included size-acceptance experts, some of whom had been active in the currently dormant AHELP organization (Association for the Health Enrichment of Large People). Attendees came from a wide variety of disciplines, including dietetics, nutrition, exercise physiology, psychotherapy, sports medicine, and fat rights advocacy.

According to Pat Lyons, who attended both conferences and travels all over the country to such events, the antidiet, size-acceptance message is becoming increasingly mainstream. Health professionals everywhere are beginning to challenge the outdated notions that slender equals healthy and fat equals unhealthy, and that dieting should be used to make fat persons slender. The well-attended conference in Massachusetts was funded with state money and cosponsored by a long list of responsible agencies, both state and private, which increased the meeting’s credibility in the eyes of skeptics. Its audience of dietitians gave Ms. Lyons and Marilyn Wann—author of Fat!So? (the book and the ’zine)—a standing ovation for their conference presentation. Isn’t that an encouraging indication that the times, they are a-changing?

t the Massachusetts conference I saw Living in a Healthy Body: A New Look at Health and Weight, the patient education pamphlet that Lyons, along with some other health professionals at Kaiser Permanente in California, helped create. It brought tears to my eyes to see this sixteen-page illustrated booklet with artists’ renderings of real, ordinary, and (yes) fat people exercising and doing other healthy activities, promoting size acceptance, rejecting diets, and offering real-world advice on how to be healthier and happier. To receive a free copy of this ground-breaking pamphlet, call 800-333-3032, or write to Krames Communications, 1100 Grundy Lane, San Bruno, CA 94066.

A German study, published on April 28, 1999, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that the risk of death associated with obesity declines as you get older, at all levels of obesity. The italics are mine, because some past studies with optimistic findings about the relationship between weight and health excluded very fat people from their investigations. The German study followed 6193 fat men and women for more than fourteen years.

The study was widely reported by the news media, including Reuters and the Associated Press, mainly because its conclusions sounded so unorthodox. Predictably, the study was belittled by hardliners, such as Dr. Joanne Manson, codirector of the infamous nurses’ study several years ago. On the other hand, Dr. Dean Edell, a San Francisco–based M.D. known for his books and radio and TV shows, was enthusiastic about the study. Dr. Edell is the author of a startling new book titled Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (published by HarperCollins, 1999). He pointed out on his May 1, 1999, radio show that even "major obesity" can, in some cases, actually reduce your risk of death.

This same doctor, on March 8, 1999, pointed out on his web site (www.healthcentral.com) that "making fun of overweight people is cultural racism, pure and simple. Isn’t it time we value people for who they are instead of how much they weigh?" I wonder if my HMO will pay for me to fly to San Francisco for the services of this Dr. Edell?

As you know, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) changed its definition of "overweight" in 1998, putting more than half of those in the United States in that category. Editor Frances M. Berg, in the March/April 1999 issue of the Healthy Weight Journal (www.healthyweightnetwork.com), wrote a blistering editorial against that decision, citing the many problems that she feels will be created or made worse by the NIH change. Ms. Berg’s bottom line: "Health professionals, educators, community leaders, and those who care about people will do well to ignore the NIH guidelines. Those who follow them and urge weight loss will only promote failure once again."

These are strong words, coming from the editor of a journal that includes among its subscribers a number of weight-loss counselors who must be puzzled about how to proceed: push weight loss on clients or emphasize health instead?

I’ve said for years that someday fat will be back in fashion. Even though we know that beauty comes in all sizes, the fashion world feels a pressing need to single out a group and declare them "in fashion" and everyone else "out." Well, it is starting to happen—if you trust the headline of the March 30, 1999, Globe supermarket tabloid. (I know, these are the people who publish photos of Bill Clinton shaking hands with space aliens—or is that the specialty of the World Weekly News?) Anyway, the story headlined "Why Big Is Beautiful Again" credited former White House intern Monica Lewinsky with bringing a "new sensuality to being heavy." The article included pictures of show business personalities Kirstie Alley, Camryn Manheim, Alicia Silverstone, Queen Latifah, and Kate Winslet. It closed with a New York clinical psychologist identified as Dr. Jamie Turndorf saying that "females on the fleshy side are the wave of the future."

No, I haven’t yet independently verified that Dr. Turndorf said that, or even that she actually exists. What I find significant is that Globe Communications Corporation, a "big gun" in supermarket publication sales, actually paid writers and editors to put this idea in print. Saying that a trend exists may even, in the long run, help it to be so.

Okay, so you don’t pay any attention to the Globe. But on May 3, 1999, the Wall Street Journal printed an article stating that plus-size models have more modeling work these days than thin ones, and thin models who put on fifty pounds are suddenly getting more assignments. According to the story, thin models are sometimes padding themselves to get work, much to the annoyance of real plus-size models!

-lus-size model Mia Tyler likes to tell people that they should throw away their bathroom scales and, in a USA Weekend interview (February 26, 1999), she said that "all my guy friends, they love plumper women." She was interviewed by "Straight Talk" columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, who is also an advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Mr. Zaslow has come a long way from the days when NAAFA’s Chicago chapter had to start an education program with Zaslow as its primary target. I must admit that there was no hint of his previously bad attitude in this piece about Ms. Tyler. Currently Tyler is best known as a model for Lane Bryant.

In its March 29, 1999, issue, Advertising Age reported the trend among diet companies to downplay dieting and promote wellness and fitness. Some have even come out with lines of plus-size exercise wear, vitamin supplements, and so on. According to John LaRosa, president of Marketdata, which tracks the diet industry, "This has been a very troubled industry, under siege by consumers and the Federal Trade Commission." Thank goodness! The same issue of Advertising Age also wrote about mass merchandisers’ increasing regard for plus-size fashions.

I’ve noticed that a number of catalog retailers of women’s clothes are suddenly adding plus sizes and even supersizes to their product lines. And proud of it, too, they are. It’s as if the entire fashion industry, overnight, has discovered that there are fat people right here in River City. Not that the fashion magazines have kept up with the times. Most of them are still using extremely slender models, and, as we know, the consequences can be dire, especially for young people.

A front-page "special report" appeared in the April 12, 1999, issue of People magazine, titled "Wasting Away—Eating Disorders on Campus." This hard-hitting piece, considerably more substantial than the usual People fare, is must reading for anyone active in the battle against eating disorders. It emphasizes that if the nation were not obsessed with thinness and physical appearance, especially in women, there would be far fewer people with disordered eating.

A study published in the March 1999 issue of Pediatrics found that many girls mistakenly think they are overweight because they are getting the wrong idea of the perfect body from fashion magazines. The study’s lead author, Alison E. Field, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, concluded that "we certainly have a problem with overweight [in the United States] but the answer is not to make everyone overly concerned with their weight." Most of the girls surveyed (67 percent) said they wanted to lose weight. One-third of those girls were in elementary school. The majority read magazines such as Seventeen, Glamour, Jet, or Sassy (now defunct), and many reported feeling inadequate compared with models in those magazines and that they had resolved to lose weight in response.

Some editors of those magazines defended themselves by saying that the actual models on fashion runways are almost always thin (Associated Press report in the Baltimore Sun, March 2, 1999). But they also agreed that they needed to use more plus-size models in their fashion spreads, and most have started to do so, occasionally.

Thank goodness for people like teen advice columnist Cherie Bennett, whose novel Life in the Fat Lane has been named to the list of "Best Books for Young Adults" by the American Library Association. This honor will help the book get into more libraries and into the hands of more young female readers. (Both Cherie and her book were described in the article "A New Voice for Plus-Size Teens" in the Spring 1999 Radiance.)

ids can get their negative attitudes about fat only from adults—such as the owners of a San Francisco health club called the 24 Hour Fitness Center. They put up a billboard in February 1999 that depicted a hungry space alien, with text that read, "When they come, they will eat the fat ones first." Not seeing this as the good-natured humor the company says it intended to convey, a contingent of West Coast fat activists appeared outside the offending club and demonstrated (Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1999). The demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as "Fat and Fit." Some even conducted aerobic exercises, right on the sidewalk! Now, that was an opportunity for kids, and a lot of other people, to pick up some positive attitudes.

On March 8, 1999, a protest rally was held in San Diego, outside another member of that chain of health clubs. Demonstrators included members of NAAFA based in Sacramento and members of the Southern California Size Acceptance Coalition (SCSAC) of San Diego. These protests piqued media interest in other size-acceptance organizations. The Council on Size & Weight Discrimination (CSWD), as well as many other groups, received inquiries from reporters around the country seeking opinions and more information about size discrimination.

Looking back at the questions I posed in my opening paragraph, I think I can honestly say that I try in this column to provide the information and anecdotes to help my readers to answer yes. Among those people with the power to inspire us as individuals and chip away at society’s prejudices are those of the entertainment world.

In the performing arts, I always keep an eye open for large-size opera stars, actors, and even dancers. You say you haven’t heard of any fat dancers? Then you don’t know about 350-pound Lawrence Goldhuber. He appears with his partner, Heidi Latsky, who weighs 100 pounds. In a review in the New York Times (April 20, 1999), Jennifer Dunning mentioned the size of Mr. Goldhuber (just as she did in a previous profile of his work on October 1, 1998, titled "When a Dancer’s Shape Surprises the Audience.") Ms. Dunning says Goldhuber moves "fast and lightly."

inger Angelina Reaux, famous as an interpreter of the theater songs by modernist German composer Kurt Weill, was reviewed by Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times (February 3, 1999). Tommasini described the performance as "teasingly sexy" and the singer as a "wistful beauty." A photo with the article did a good job of revealing Reaux’s midsize figure. It does my heart good to see reviews like this one.

Van Morrison earned kudos for his new CD, named album of the week by People magazine on April 12. The review made no mention of the once-thin Morrison’s new generous size.

Remember singer Peggy Lee, famous in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? A star who struggled with a "few extra pounds" all her life, Ms. Lee was known best for her cabaret songs and glamorous style that appealed to lots of audiences. There she was, looking out at me from the cover of the February 1999 Modern Maturity. (Okay, so I’m older than fifty-five: you knew that!) The article doesn’t mention her weight as a problem.

Hugh Downs, cohost of ABC-TV’s 20/20 has been doing the show for twenty-one years, and at the age of seventy-eight will retire from broadcasting in October 1999. A number of his shows have given good coverage to size-related issues, but I remember him best as the first national network anchor who interviewed me (and my first wife, the late Joyce Fabrey) on NBC-TV’s Today Show, in 1971, about the NAAFA organization and more particularly, about my controversial views about size and beauty. After the show, Joyce and I walked out of the NBC studios in New York’s Rockefeller Center amazed at how well we had been treated by Downs (despite the studio crew’s lottery about the weight of my wife: 300 pounds? 400?). Downs helped make that interview a positive experience.

he topic of good people on TV leads me, with pleasure, to Camryn the Great. I am referring, of course, to the talented, beautiful actress (and two-time Radiance cover girl!) who is probably the most outspoken, unambivalent supporter of size-positive goals in show business today: Emmy award–winning Camryn Manheim, of TV’s The Practice. A knockout cover story with great photos in TV Guide ("Camryn the Great!," May 8–14, 1999) included excerpts from Camryn’s recently published book, Wake Up, I’m Fat! (Broadway Books, a division of Random House). Thank you, TV Guide!

Camryn’s spring tour of talk shows, bookstores, and interviews created a media blitz for her book and for size-acceptance awareness. When you pick up her book, turn to page 119. There you will see a photo of our own Radiance magazine, the Fall 1998 issue, with Camryn’s glowing face on the cover!

It is hard to recall any size-acceptance book getting this much play. Camryn’s authorial success has won continued media coverage. People magazine’s cover photo and story on May 24, 1999, told of Camryn’s rise in show business, her awards, and her work for size acceptance (starting with her own).

Equally gratifying was a story in the June 1999 InStyle magazine, which generally has a pretty elitist attitude about matters of weight and beauty. There was Camryn on the cover, one of the loveliest photos yet, with the headline "At Home with Camryn Manheim in New York." The very complimentary article included photos and the following quote: Said she, "I never wanted to carry the torch for fat acceptance, but now that I’ve got that torch, I’m going to hold it up high." Hooray for Camryn!

Thanks for news tips this issue go to Miriam Berg, Kristine Danowski, Brenda Fackler, Nina Feldman, and Jenny Masché. ©

 

WILLIAM J. FABREY helps run Amplestuff, a mail-order company. He founded NAAFA in 1969, and has been a director of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination since 1990. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 116, Bearsville, NY 12409, or at WJFabrey@aol.com.

 

CORRECTION: Oops! In my last column, in news of plus-size model Christine Alt, I mentioned the death of her famous sister, the model and actress Carol Alt. Fortunately, Ms. Alt is alive and well, acting in lots of films these days, and can be seen on her web site at http://www.carolalt.net.


Remember, this is only a taste of what's inside the printed version of the magazine!

 

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