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bignews.logo.gif (3316 bytes)William J. Fabrey

by WILLIAM J. FABREY

  From Radiance Spring 1999

m.gif any organizations, both local and national, are working for the size-acceptance, or nondieting, movement. No one organization can do it all.

Right now I'd like to focus on one remarkable individual and one well-established group concerned with eating disorders.

Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive eating) are said to be an epidemic, especially among young women, and they are occurring in younger and younger people. Those working to treat these women include some of the staunchest allies of size acceptance. One pioneer, Susan C. Wooley, Ph.D., who is on the Medical Advisory Board of NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) told me twenty years ago that "we who treat eating disorders know that if there were no size discrimination, these ailments would not exist." In the 1980s, some doctors considered Wooley to be a radical for her belief that weight-loss diets are counterproductive. Hers was one of the earliest voices in her profession to valiantly oppose dieting, which she did through her many journal articles and conference presentations. Today, her perspective is more in the mainstream. Now, as an emeritus professor of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Dr. Wooley can take pride in the fact that her work has influenced a whole new generation of healthy-weight specialists.

The group I'd like you to know about is the Eating Disorder Education Organization (EDEO) of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was founded eight years ago by its medical director, Carol Kostynuk, M.D. Dr. Kostynuk specializes in eating disorders and obesity, with an emphasis on nondieting therapy and improvement of overall physical and emotional health. A large woman herself, she knows only toowell the folly (for most people) of trying to coerce Mother Nature into permanently changing your body size. The EDEO advisory board's long list of professionals includes Moe Lerner, M.D. (who writes a health column for Dimensions magazine), Paul Ernsberger, Ph.D. (a well-known researcher who also serves as chair of NAAFA's medical advisory board), and even myself (to advise on organizational problems and solutions).

The organization enjoys considerable support from health professionals in Edmonton. It shares information on eating disorders and body acceptance; facilitates support groups for families and friends of those with eating disorders; sponsors projects such as outreach to the schools; puts on an annual conference; and publishes a newsletter, Behind the Mask. Most of its mission statement could have been written by any forward-thinking size-acceptance group. One brief excerpt: "Weight is not a measure of personal worth."

My congratulations go to its officers and other volunteers. The world is a better place because of this organization. It can be reached at EDEO, R Wing, Edmonton General Hospital, 11111 Jasper Ave., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5K 0L4. Telephone number: 780-944-2864.

The News

Weight-loss scam artists are as busy as ever. A friend of mine became spooked recently when she received a solicitation, disguised as a newspaper clipping sent by a friend, from Berry Trim Plus. A handwritten note accompanying the clipping read, "Patricia: Try it, it works!-J." She wondered which of her acquaintances with the initial J had maliciously sent it, and was only somewhat comforted when I told her of Berry Trim's mailings to millions of people since 1990. Berry Trim has a staff of part-time workers who pen more than two hundred thousand notes a week, always signing the initial J. I've written about Berry Trim and Berry Trim Plus in past columns (Summer 1990, and Spring 1998). Next time, I suppose I will be warning you about "Berry Trim Max."

g_big.gif (1642 bytes)ood coverage of weight-loss scams, as well as other important news, can be found in Healthy Weight Journal (Decker Periodicals: 800-568-7281 or 905-522-7017). Their July/August 1998 issue reported that "Slim America" netted about $9.5 million before it was closed down by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You may have seen Slim's ads in print a n d o n T V, showing the usual phony before-and-after photos. You can also find news about weight-loss con artists on the web site www. quackwatch.com/ 01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Phony Ads/slim/98.html, believe it or not!

Because the public is more skeptical than it used to be, crooks are beginning to target young people, whose scam detectors are not fully developed and who are often more desperate to lose weight than the rest of the population. The student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin has exposed weight-loss scams being promoted at the university:Herbalife ("Weight Loss Magic") and Calorad ("Lose Weight While You Sleep") are two of them. The slogan of still another promises, "We Will Pay You to Lose Weight." Such promotions wouldn't exist if they had no customers!

Dentists and other health care professionals are being pulled into schemes to sell the "Trim Max Herbal Energy and Weight Loss Program," offered by a company known as Oxyfresh Worldwide (which also peddles programs for smoking cessation, hygiene, and bad breath). They promise dentists that the Trim Max product can "add $25,000 to your dental practice's bottom line." Now I ask you: Would you accept your dentist's recommendation for a weight-loss product?

We know that most people cannot lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off for more than three years. One who couldn't was Dwayne Richardson. Mr. Richardson applied for a job as a New York City subway motorman and was turned down by the Transit Authority because of his weight. The New York Daily News front-page head-line of August 31, 1998, read: "Weigh to Go! 450-pound guy is a subway motorman after a six-year battle with TA."

It seems that Mr. Richardson did not pass a stress test, one that other applicants were not required to take. He passed all the other tests, including sitting in the motorman's chair. Finally, after a long court battle, a second appeal went in his favor. Said Richardson, "Let bygones be bygones . . . I get to operate a train, the TA gets a dedicated worker, and the riding public has a competent motorman." But one can't help wondering why it is necessary for one man to go to court three times to bring about this desirable state of affairs. One thing is sure: we need more big people like Richardson.

When people vigorously fight for their rights, they raise the consciousness of millions of people. (I was thrilled to learn recently that Mr. Richardson credits his victory, in part, to information provided to him by the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination [CSWD] relating to job discrimination and previous court cases. As he sees it, the mere fact that he was so prepared was a convincing argument to award him his new job.)

You never know when your size-positive attitude might be helping others. Take the case of Cynthia Kowa Basler, a high school guidance counselor in Dixon, Illinois. Ms. Basler became part of a front-page story in the New York Times on October 14, 1998. The story was about children from poor families who attend the same schools as those who are better off financially. Titled "When Money Is Everything, Except Hers," it discussed the life experiences of a thirteen-year-old girl who lived in a trailer park near a rich neighborhood in Dixon.

t.gif (1657 bytes)he story had nothing to do with fat, but it discussed how the guidance counselor was inspiring to the teen and to many others with self-esteem issues. Ms. Basler was described as a "dynamic woman who keeps close tabs on the children, especially girls who fret about their weight and suddenly stop eating lunch. 'I am large,' this school counselor tells the girls, 'and I have self-esteem.'" She holds sessions with groups of students to help increase their self- confidence. She offers the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," and she helps the children understand what these words mean. I don't know about you, but my high school desperately needed someone with the spirit and spunk of Cynthia Kowa Basler.

There has been an enormous surge of interest in the subject of fat children. Having long advocated outreach to children on the subject of body size and self-esteem, the CSWD was joined by the Radiance Kids Project of this magazine (have you read some of its great articles about kids of all ages both in the magazine and at the web site?) and, more recently,by NAAFA's Kids Project. This long overdue focus on kids by the size- acceptance community took so long to incubate, I suspect, because we were so busy with the problems of adults. A significant number of adults are never going to improve their attitude about their own size, no matter what, due to the brainwashing they have received since childhood. If we want to help the next generation, we need to start now.

A special on "fat kids" on TV's CNN on September 14, 1998, did nothing much but sound the alarm that the percentage of overweight children in this country has increased from 6 percent to 11 percent in only ten years. Maybe someone changed the definition of overweight, to create this perception of a crisis. Maybe kids are fatter (and shaming them won't make them thinner). Frankly, I am more worried about children all over the world who don't get enough to eat-and some of them live in the United States!

Nonetheless, on October 27, 1998, the U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a day-long event called Symposium on Childhood Obesity: Causes and Prevention. Other federal agencies, especially the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are also trying to figure out how to keep fat kids from getting fatter, short of yanking them out of their school playgrounds using Marine helicopters and forcing them to change their diets and exercise habits.

Let's talk about show business. One of TV's best moments this past September was when Camryn Manheim won an Emmy award for her outstanding work as a tough attorney on The Practice. She had already been getting raves from critics, but her trophy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series was even nicer recognition. Ms. Manheim accepted the award by raising it above her head and announcing, "This is for all the fat girls!" The Associated Press quoted her on September 14, 1998, and People magazine quoted her on September 28, 1998. Yeah, Camryn!

Camryn's winning the Emmy may have played a part in her being hired in another supporting role: On December 3, the well-known fashion designer Tamotsu announced that Ms. Manheim will be the celebrity model representing his plus-size line of clothes. The designer stated that "through her role . . . on The Practice, her commitment to charity work, and her dedication to talking about being large in a 'thin' society, she has become a role model for all women, not just those who wear large sizes. . . . It was a natural to ask her to represent our line. Especially since she wears Tamotsu on television, and in real life. We are thrilled to be working with her."

The October 1998 issue of InStyle magazine featured Kathy Kinney of The Drew Carey Show. InStyle's front cover carried the headline, "Body Proud: Why Size Shouldn't Matter." Kinney herself wrote the article, titled, "The Beauty of Living Large." She revealed that she became aware of her larger size at the age of four. She went through all the crash and yo-yo dieting, but stopped when she got to Hollywood, after she began a career as a stand-up comic. She was tired of "feeling like a failure" on all the diets. Kinney says that she now likes who she is, though she admits that if she had a choice, she'd be thin, because "life is easier when you are thin." Women come up to her and thank her for showing the world that women come in all shapes and sizes, and she thinks that's great. "But I don't look at myself as the poster child for large-size actors. I'm a woman who is deeply happy because I've found what I love to do in life."

In the world of the visual arts, you probably have seen the work of Fernando Botero, which is almost universally of fat men, women, children, and even animals. But did you know that his work is among the most frequently copied in the huge international forgeries market? In 1993, Christie's, the auction house, was forced to withdraw from sale a forged copy of Botero's painting The Dancers-probably the most internationally famous painting of a fat couple. The case was brought up again in the Wall Street Journal on July 10, 1998, and in the New York Times on October 6, 1998. The Wall Street Journal also pointed out that a color copy of the original-approved by Mr. Botero-was used in the Warner Brothers film The Perfect Murder to decorate the apartment of a Wall Street tycoon played by Michael Douglas. The production designer said that the painting caught his eye, because of the strong red of the dress worn by the woman, who is seen dancing with her back to the viewer, her long hair swaying sinuously behind her. Well! A supersize woman is seen as a sex symbol in Hollywood!

I.gif (1441 bytes)n the bizarro world of marketing and advertising, the good news is that Lane Bryant (referred to as LB in my household), which had long claimed that large models turn off the customer, is finally experimenting with plus-size models in their TV advertising. According to the Washington Post (July 20, 1998), the push by Lane Bryant (the stores, not the catalog, which is now a different company) to offer more fashionable styles for the plus-size market is coming from top management. Jill Dean, president of the eight hundred-store chain, was quoted as saying, "We really took a hard look at ourselves about three years ago. We were not growing." They began listening to customers, who perceived the company as believing that large women cannot really be attractive. As other companies pursued the plus-size market more aggressively, Lane Bryant decided to glamorize its image, with Chris Hanson, their vice president of marketing, in charge. According to Hanson, changing Lane Bryant "was like turning around the Queen Mary." The store's ultimate mission was cited as convincing the world that "big is beautiful." The first salvo in this battle was their introduction of Venezia jeans, using unmistakably sexy models and photography. In September, videos of plus-size women doing all kinds of things began to be shown in the stores. Some were said to be in the size 20 to 22 range. Progress!

We've noted the improved advertising for Kellogg's Special K, which used to be fatphobic, but now makes fun of our society's preoccupation with weight. The advertising column in the New York Times (September 25, 1998) discussed the Kellogg's "Reshape Your Attitude" campaign's award from Advertising Women of New York. The company had been criticized as recently as two years ago for their Special K campaign, which centered on a woman, perhaps a size 2, admiring herself in a mirror as she modeled a black dress. Toni Lee, a judge on the organization's awards committee, said that Kellogg's "complete advertising about-face is ample evidence that this leading advertiser not only 'gets it,' but also gets the fact that they didn't get it before." Karen Kafer, a Kellogg's spokesperson, said, "We have changed our advertising approach based on feedback from women." Is this good to hear, or what?

I.gif (1441 bytes)n cosmetics advertising, the good news is that Revlon has signed up the plus-size model Emme. Highlighted in the New York Times on October 8, 1998, she said, "This gig is a big deal. For so many years . . . women put themselves through hell thinking if they don't look like a sixteen-year-old, they're not beautiful. ...We're all included in beauty!"

Other good advertising news includes the "fun" Walmart commercials that in-variably show fat people and the K-Mart ads featuring Rosie O'Donnell. However, various degrees of fat bashing occur or have occurred in ads for Nintendo (chubby boy made to look like pig), Subway fast food (fat man waterskiing, too heavy for boat to pull), Winston cigarettes (large woman on Internet pretending to be of average size), Fallon HMO (implies that because of its free diet program, it has the most attractive members), and Shout laundry product (large woman portrayed as stupid and sloppy). These ads come and go quickly, but we must continue to voice our complaints.

Now to the strangest weight-related ad I've ever seen on television: the new ad for the diet drug Meridia, from Knoll Pharmaceutical Company, should get an award for mixed messages. On screen we see any number of fat people appearing attractive, happy, and contented, and living full lives. The announcer, meanwhile, tells us the benefits of Meridia-and the risks. (This is doubtless to avoid suffering the same fate as American Home Products, which is having to answer in court for their permissive, look-the-other-way attitude when their drug Redux was being heavily promoted without a sufficient emphasis on the possible risks.) Then, after the announcer has completed a list of risk factors that make it sound as if nobody should take their drug, a fat, attractive black woman comes on screen and says, "I'm ready!" Is this ad responsible, deceptive, or both? Legally, it is responsible. Morally, I'm not so sure. You know that desperate fat people will often choose to overlook the risks and try a drug anyway.

I'd like to finish this column with a size-positive affirmation. I know that many women accept their size only with reluctance, if at all. I also believe that taste is taste and cannot be explained. From an aesthetic point of view, I have always been an admirer of the large figure, and a colleague of mine named Ginger re-cently ex-pressed the same sentiment in an in-teresting way.

An admirer of large people herself, she was commenting on an awe-inspiring photo that in-cluded snow-capped mountains, huge ex-panses of rivers and valleys, and a big sky. She said, "The images in that picture are all wonderful and spectacular because they are big, and wouldn't be as wonderful, special, unique, or awe inspiring if they weren't. So, fat people are beautiful and wonderful because of their size, not in spite of it." (Bravo! I would only add that beauty comes in all sizes.)

Thanks for news tips for this issue go to readers Kristine Danowski, Harry Gossett, and many others, including unnamed Internet sources (when they can be independently confirmed).

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.


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

 

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