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

by William J. Fabrey

From Radiance Summer 1999

The Internet plays an ever-expanding role in how people receive their news and how I obtain much of the news for this column. The Internet’s only drawback is its few legal and ethical restrictions; therefore, I must attempt to independently verify the accuracy of the size-related news I find there. For example, when I reported a fatphobic remark attributed (falsely) to pop singer Mariah Carey in this column a few issues ago, I had to issue an apology. The print media, from which I got the quote, had been duped by a false rumor on the Internet.

Because you, too, may be on-line, I am adding the web address relating to news items in this column when I have one, so that you can look up the original source if you like. (This might even lead you to an exchange with a newsmaker herself, which happened to me recently.)

The News

The public is beginning to question size snobbery in the fashion industry. On December 15, 1998, after National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast the speech of famed designer Oleg Cassini, someone asked why the industry employed models who were stick thin and extremely tall, and therefore not representative of American women.

Mr. Cassini delivered a stock answer in defense of using thin models, but went on to say that, like many designers, he creates plus-size fashions and features them in different collections using larger runway models. According to Radiance reader Alice Johnson, Cassini designs off-the-rack wedding dresses up to size 26. Hey, when I was a lad, there were no designers who could imagine that a size 26 woman might actually have the opportunity to get married!

As long as we’re talking about radio, have you heard of the "Fabulous Sports Babe" Nanci Donnellan, the only female host of a nationally syndicated sports talk show? Broadcast in 187 cities (nearly everywhere except New York, where it originates), the show features sports celebrities and the irreverent rough-and-tumble wit of Ms. Donnellan. A supersize woman, Donnellan was described in the New York Times (July 6, 1998) as being "in both intellect and proportion . . . the antitheses of an empty-headed anorexic bimbo." Two photos of "the Babe," one of them full-length in front of her tour bus, illustrate the degree to which she does not remotely qualify as anorexic. Historically, the sports world can be hard on persons of size. My hat goes off to Donnellan.

Size bigot Susan Powter’s syndicated radio talk show, in which she had been lately advocating that people should "intervene" in the lives of large people in public places (snatching their ice cream cones, that kind of thing), has been canceled. Gee, what a shame!

t.gif (1492 bytes)he TV show Fashion Emergency on the E! cable channel received a glowing review by Christopher Noxon in the New York Times TV section for December 6–12, 1998. The show’s anchor, full-figured supermodel Emme, was quoted as saying, "Most people think fashion is only accessible to the rich, thin, and elite. We show how fashion can work for anyone." Well, it’s about time! Among the makeovers done on the show was a 350-pound man with an 81-inch waist. They fitted him out in a new suit. I know a few female FAs (fat admirers) who are sorry they missed the show.

What’s this going on at TV’s Baywatch?! Years ago, this kind of program used to be called a "jiggle show" due to the frequency with which young blonde actresses clad in skimpy bathing suits run around on beaches. But now, says John Arlidge of the London Observer (syndicated to the Oakland [California] Tribune on January 12, 1999), "The world’s most popular TV show is reported to be looking for a ‘large’ actress to appear in a swimsuit alongside the show’s lineup of beach babes."

How large is "large" going to be? Arlidge doesn’t say, but he reports that the show’s writers are reacting to a trend that "big can now be beautiful." Exemplified by full-bodied women such as Camryn Manheim, Kirstie Ally, Rosie O’Donnell, Roseanne Barr, and the (slightly) zaftig Kate Winslet (Titanic), he claims that the "status quo" (only thin is beautiful) has been given a "swift kick in the pants." We’ll see who they come up with. Compared with the actresses now on Baywatch, even a size 12 would be fleshier.

The PBS show Frontline (November 4, 1998) did a nice size-positive piece called "Fat and Fit." The show dared to ask the question, "Can one be healthy, fit, beautiful—and fat?" The answer was yes, although they had to give some airtime to the "fat-is-your-own-fault" advocates. Its web site at: http//www.pbs.org—click on the show on "fat"!—gives our own Radiance magazine as a resource.

Longtime readers of this column may have figured out that the print media is really where my heart is. Yep, my TV set and radio are turned off most of the time. I am a reader by nature, especially when the subject is Rosie O’Donnell, who graced the cover of the February 1999 Ladies’ Home Journal. (Now, there’s a quaint name: a journal for ladies! It didn’t sound quaint fifty years ago.) In what is billed as "her most honest interview ever," our Rosie discusses her thoughts about her body and her eating habits, now that she is the biggest that she has ever been (something around 208 pounds). She does say that she would like to be smaller—but she does not intend to diet to get there. In any case, she doesn’t want to hide her full attributes. In fact, Mattel plans to make a doll patterned after O’Donnell. She says she consented to the deal only when Mattel agreed to keep her double chin and ample waist in the doll’s design and to give some of the sales profits to her For All Kids Foundation.

In contrast with all this, the Globe tabloid put a gorgeous photo of Rosie on its January 26, 1999, cover with the headline, "Rosie: I’m too FAT!—The secret she’s hiding from her fans." In reading the article, I never did find any secret she’s been hiding from her fans—only a refreshing candor about her weight.

Actually, one secret that Rosie may have that I can’t fathom is the reason for her Rosie O’Donnell Chub Club, in which her fat viewers are encouraged to form local groups of several people each, who want to eat less, exercise more, and become fitter. They are encouraged to weigh themselves as a group on freight scales, and take before and after picture. Yet the purpose of the club, she says, does not necessarily include weight loss. On the surface, of course, it is hard to argue with a fitness program that encourages physical activity and healthier eating habits.

However, as reader Martha Mestl, normally a Rosie fan, points out, "If she’s not promoting weight loss, then why the weigh-in, photographs, and so-called experts coming on the show to give tips about becoming slimmer? These mixed messages will most likely confuse children and everyone else. Rosie talks about her struggles with the exercise/eating program, making both positive and negative comments regularly. Sometimes I like what she says, and then minutes later, I cringe."

I, too, love Rosie’s show whenever I see it, and her size-positive attitude is refreshing. But it sounds as if the Chub Club may be a well-intentioned but flawed way of helping persons of size. Late this past winter, she was heard by one fan to say that she is "not feeling inspired anymore" about the concept. Stay tuned for further updates on the Chub Club!

A great article appeared in Long Island’s Newsday titled "Big . . . and Bodacious" on November 2, 1998. Written by Debbie Geiger, it was subtitled "The full-figured find new acceptance as the country lightens up about weight." Personalities interviewed included Nancy Summer of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination (CSWD), Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., author of Big Fat Lies, and Lynn Meletiche of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).

t.gif (1492 bytes)he saga of a 460-pound female reporter who has embarked on a journey to better health and lower weight is being reported in the Denver Post and other newspapers. The series has been running for more than a year, and its author, an excellent writer named Kerri Smith, has shown an insight and a fairness in her reporting that is rare. Smith, who says that she is familiar with Radiance and this column, is continuing the series on a monthly basis. The current and past installments in the series can be read on the newspaper’s web site at http://www. denverpost.com, under "Kerri’s Story."

Can this be true? On January 25, 1999, writer Greg Morago of the Hartford Courant newspaper gave an overtly fat-positive review of the January 24 Golden Globes, where Camryn Manheim walked off with honors, this time tying with Faye Dunaway for best supporting actress in a series, miniseries, or movie made for TV. Commenting on celebrities’ fashions, Morago wrote, "Manheim—her hair a study of pretty tangles and her neck dripping in diamonds—stole the fashion show with her gray goddess dress that fit her fabulous figure to a T. Big is beautiful and sexy."

Mr. Morago should get an award himself! Yes, the principal reviewer for the principal newspaper of a midsize American city went out on a limb by referring to Manheim’s "fabulous figure" and insisting "Big is beautiful and sexy." Is this radical reporting, or what? I’ve never seen anything like it before in the history of size acceptance. Camryn, if you are reading this, how does it feel for a mainstream newspaper to print these statements about you?

More great Manheim exposure: a large color photo of her dominating the front page of the Arts section of the New York Times on February 1, 1999, with an article headlined "Not Model-thin, but a Role Model on TV." The article, which describes her years of learning her craft and of also learning, slowly, to accept her body as it is, hypothesized that her role on ABC television’s The Practice may actually change how large actresses are viewed by casting directors. According to David E. Kelley, creator of the show, there will be a serious romance for her in some future episodes—something Manheim has been hoping for.

Also deserving an award, this one for honesty, is the November 1998 edition of Glamour for its cover story, "Magazines and Skinny Models—we tell the truth." In this perceptive article, illustrated by a number of sexy plus-size models, author Marcia Menter describes designers’ resistance to providing samples of new garments in large sizes, advertisers’ resistance to using large models, the prevailing industry opinion that plus-size customers don’t want to see real-size clothes (but rather the sizes they aspire to), and, finally, the reactions of slender magazine readers to the plus-size models. Menter adopts the tone, subtly, that these things are wrong-headed but terrible obstacles for a publisher. She tells of how Glamour set up focus groups—small groups of various-size readers in different cities—and asked for reactions to potential Glamour covers featuring size-16 models. The groups rejected all the covers. But Menter concludes with the good news that tastes are gradually evolving toward the larger sizes.

m.gif (1526 bytes)y opinion, as extreme as it might sound, is that one day we will open our newspapers (if we still read newspapers) on a Monday morning and discover that fat will again be in fashion, after being out of style for much of the twentieth century. The return of fat chic could occur along with all the Y2K mishaps being predicted for January 1, 2000. Or it may take another twenty years or so to come true—after existing designers, executives, and marketing types die off or retire to Boca Raton. I see it in my crystal ball.

Is it good that fat will be in fashion, and thin will be out? No. Beauty comes in all sizes. But will we have any way of convincing the fashion industry or its consumers of such a radical idea? No. Therapists: Be prepared for an onslaught of medium-size girls and women distraught because they can’t gain weight and be fat like the leading models, plus an onslaught of doctors seeking therapy because they can’t convince anyone to lose weight anymore.

I knew by its cover story, "I gained 75 pounds (and I’ve never been happier)" that the November 1998 Marie Claire was must-reading. The article, in the "Body Image" department, included interviews with four models, all formerly size 4 or 6, who had gained weight and become plus-size models (sizes 12 and 14). Each model had an interesting story to tell. The one who gained the most, Christine Alt, weighed 110 pounds at five-feet-ten-and-one-half-inches and wore a size 4, and then gained 75 pounds, moving to a size 14. She went from regular modeling to plus-size modeling. The magazine presented these stories without editorial comment, but with a very positive, uplifting tone.

New Zealand has an outstanding size-positive magazine called Bella. Looking at my two review copies, I would say that Bella is comparable to a combination of Radiance and BBW, but with its own flavor and an emphasis on its own country’s culture and resources. I wish Bella the best of luck, and hope that the resistance it is encountering from mainstream advertisers reluctant to be seen in a "fat" magazine will not kill the venture. Bella can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 37421, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand.

One of the most important magazine news items regards the temporarily defunct BBW magazine, terminated by its publisher, the infamous Larry Flynt. Flynt, stating that the magazine was losing money and advertisers to Mode, has now sold BBW to a new group, Aeon Publishing, which intends to continue the magazine as a bimonthly. Its first new issue is due out in April, long before you read this.

a_purple.gif (1382 bytes) co-owner of Aeon, Conrad Blick-enstorfer, is well known for publishing the magazine Dimensions, which offers features for men who admire large women. Blickenstorfer also served for several years as chair of NAAFA’s board of directors. Aeon hired Sally E. Smith, former executive director of NAAFA, as its new editor-in-chief.Smith brings many years of experience in the size-acceptance movement to the job and has been mentioned in this column many times as a newsmaker. BBW’s contributing fashion editor is Sandi Sabo, publisher of Sandi’s Clothesline (a good resource directory for big folks) and a newsmaker in her own right.

In its news release on December 18, 1998, announcing the purchase, Aeon stated that the relaunched magazine will feature information and resources, as has been BBW’s trademark for two decades, for women all sizes of large—a phrase we at Radiance certainly endorse and have used many times. Models in the old BBW were, for the most part, limited to the plus sizes with the exception of the column "Life above 26W," written by Janey Milstead, BBW’s former editor. Despite her column, most women larger than, say, size 18, tended to feel underrepresented. It will be interesting to see to what degree this might change and to what extent political activism, one of Sally Smith’s strongest areas of experience, will be reflected in BBW’s new editorial policies. BBW’s new web site is at http://bbwmagazine.com.

You might ask how I feel about the specter of competition in the plus-size magazine business. Well, I believe there isn’t likely to be any for a long time. Each of us (Radiance, BBW, Belle, Mode, and Bella) has our own flavor, editorial priorities, writers, and potential market. And in the United States alone, there are probably 30 million or so women who would benefit from reading at least one of these publications; yet not one of these magazines can boast a readership of more than 2 percent of that population. The field is wide open. Most large women don’t know these magazines, except perhaps for Mode, which pours million of dollars into promotion and a favored position on newsstand display racks. Its target audience, however, is "smaller" large women: those who wear up to size 16 or so.

m.gif (1526 bytes)eanwhile, the NAAFA organization shuffled some officers and directors in January 1999, and hired a successor to Ms. Smith: Mr. Chaz Martinez. Martinez has a background in medical activism, which is certainly one serious focus of the organization. As an old NAAFA war-horse who was active prior to 1991, I have wished him the best of luck in his new job, and hope he receives the support he will need from the officers and members.

Here’s some plus-size and supersize news for those who make their own clothes. The magazine Sew News devoted their entire April 1999 issue to large-size garments. Named the "Sew Plus" issue, it discusses plus-size pattern companies, cutting new fashions for large sizes, and special size-related projects. Frankly, I find their attitude refreshing. In looking over some past issues, I noticed that Sew News refrains from telling readers how nice they will look when they get smaller, and instead tells how to make garments that fit attractively on a large body. Those who would like to order the special April issue can send $6 to Sew News/Sew Plus, Dept. R, 741 Corporate Circle, Suite A, Golden, CO 80401. For more information, look up their web site at http://www.sewnews.com or call them at 888-475-4985.

You know, I put sports in the entertainment category, and I follow it to the extent that size enters into the picture. In sumo wrestling, size is an important asset, and on December 7, 1998, the Associated Press syndicated a large photo of Emanuel Yarborough of the United States wrestling with a Polish competitor. It ran in my local newspaper, the Kingston Freeman (New York). What distinguishes Mr. Yarborough is his size: 660 pounds. A giant of a man, he is tall, fat, muscular—everything. One gets the impression from the photo that his opponent was having great difficulty even budging Mr. Yarborough from where he stood.

I’m not a performing artist or practiced in the fine arts (unless you count tuba playing in high school, and some photography now and then). However, from the age of twelve, I have followed the careers and work of any number of artists who are fat or whose work portrays fat people in a complimentary light. I received an A+ on my Classical Art 101 course exam at Cornell with an essay on Peter Paul Rubens, I want you to know! The course lecturer did note that my concept of Ruben’s zaftig female nudes as beautiful was a little behind the times, but, fortunately, so was the lecturer.

Artist Paul Delacroix, well known in the size-acceptance community for his gifted portrayals of large women (and people of all sizes) has become one of my favorite contemporary artists. Mr. Delacroix lives in Texas, and his work appears frequently in a variety of movement publications, including Radiance (Summer 1997). He was the guest speaker at the Big as Texas size-positive event at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Marriott on March 12–14, 1999.

Want to get on more mailing lists for diet products or plus-size catalogs? Try registering your new Panasonic (or any other name brand) product or sending in for one of those $10 rebate deals on an appliance. Nowadays, the form usually includes a marketing survey "to help us serve your needs better." The survey usually asks about your interests and activities. In the past year, the category "dieting/weight control" has been added to many manufacturers’ questions. Unless you wish to be inundated with mailings related to your activities (and your size) from companies who rent the use of your name and address, you would be better off to leave all those answers blank.

You might think that weight-loss scam artists had tried about everything to filch dollars out of the pockets of gullible fat people. Not so. Here’s a remarkably creative one. In a variation on the Berry Trim Plus scam described in my Spring 1999 column, somebody faxed me what appears to be a fax cover sheet sent "in error." A personal note on the sheet from a "Susan Green, D.D.S." is addressed to "Cathy" from "Tracy." In very legible handwriting, she says, "Cathy—Here’s the product I used to win our weight bet and lose 25 lbs.! Dr. Green turned me on to this after she met Dr. Branson at a conference. The product is on sale right now, definitely give them a call.—Tracy."

What appears to be a newspaper clipping is included on the bottom of the cover sheet titled "Health News" by Dr. Nancy Branson—implying that she is a columnist of some kind. The column extols the benefits of the weight-loss product called Blast-Off, which combines the well- known benefits of "Fat Absorber" and "Pyru-Lean" into one product. The inevitable toll-free number is given. My guess is that after you call and place an order, they ship your supply of Blast-Off via UPS. Postal inspectors are getting downright cranky about frauds of the type this appears to be, so these scam artists avoid using the mails entirely!

Dr. Pietr Hitzig, a Baltimore diet doctor, decided that the Internet was an even better way to promote himself and the diet products he sold—and he became internationally famous for doing so. The Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance accused him, on December 8, 1998, of selling pills indiscriminately, having sex with patients, and flouting standards of medical conduct while socializing with those he treated. According to the Baltimore Sun (December 9, 1998), federal drug agents have been investigating Dr. Hitzig for "running a controversial telemedicine practice online" to patients that he never physically examined. He also promoted himself as the "father of fen-phen." Stay tuned for the results on this one: Hitzig proclaims his innocence and will be given an opportunity to defend himself.

Now on to the topic of weight and health. By the time you read this, a remarkable conference will have been held on April 9, 1999, at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts: "The Big Picture: A Critical Conference on Weight and Health in 1999." Cosponsored by the University of Massachusetts and a number of other organizations, it is the brainchild of Gregory Kline, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Kline felt the need for such a conference to continue the work started by the Association for the Health Enrichment of Large People (AHELP), a group for health professionals that has been dormant for about a year.

The conference is to feature well-known authors and lecturers on nondiet therapies, including Drs. Glenn Gaesser and Cheri Erdman, and other health and counseling professionals and medical activists, such as Pat Lyons, Lisa Pearl, Carrie Hemenway, Lynn McAfee, Kelly Bliss, and Jeanne Toombs. I could not resist signing up for this conference, and will be able in my next column to give you a personal report of what new and startling things I learned there.

a_purple.gif (1382 bytes)t past AHELP meetings, I have experienced the synergistic effect of so many professionals and lay experts from so many different disciplines coming together at one conference to deal with nondieting therapies for helping larger persons be healthier. These experts need the mutual support such events offer because most of them represent a minority in their own professions, where traditionally, only dieting has been considered the acceptable way to treat a fat patient or client.

The November/December 1998 issue of The Weight Control Digest carried the cover story "Health Care Providers’ Unhealthy Attitudes Toward Obese People," written by Patrick Mahlen O’Neil, Ph.D., and Rebecca Rogers, Ph.D., both of the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. O’Neil is a clinical psychologist in charge of the Weight Management Center at the university. Dr. Roberts is a postdoctoral fellow and research associate in clinical psychology at the same university. The authors’ basic premise is a good one: the health care of fat people can be seriously compromised by prejudice and a lack of understanding and compassion on the part of medical personnel. A number of case histories are described (some contributed by Lynn McAfee of the CSWD) and studies are cited. The article concludes with an excellent chart of points titled "What You Can Do If You Work with Obese Patients" and another, "What You Can Do as a Patient." The authors mention that at their institution, "efforts are under way in the medical student diversity-training program to recognize overweight people as individuals who experience prejudice and discrimination." News like this is really exciting. We can only hope that this example will lead more medical schools to offer programs to counter such prejudice. Copies of the issue containing the article mentioned and subscriptions can be obtained from The Weight Control Digest, P.O. Box 610430, Dept. 30, Dallas, TX 75261-0430. For more information, call 800-736-7323 or e-mail TheDigest@Learn Education.com.

The Winter 1999 issue of the National NOW Times reported on the first national Love Your Body Day, which took place on September 25, 1998. The event was sponsored by the NOW (National Organization for Women) Foundation’s Women’s Health Project. What particularly struck me about the coverage was the high percentage of weight issues mentioned by participants (women, of course) and the fact that a lot of them are really "getting it" that round bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. This is especially refreshing considering that many in the early feminist movement were in denial on the topic of weight issues. Few made the connection between the oppression of women and size bigotry.

In the 1970s and even the 1980s, many feminist organizers bought into society’s prevailing attitude that, unlike your other attributes as a woman, weight was a negative trait you could do something about if you only tried hard enough. Women of size were often bypassed as spokespersons for the movement. All that has changed, thank goodness.

I’m going to close out the health news for this column by telling you about a most unusual interview, published in the January/February 1999 issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, a generally respected publication put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. For the piece, Bonnie Liebman interviewed Dr. Steven Blair, Director of Research and Epidemiology and Clinical Applications at the Cooper Institute of Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Blair discusses recent new studies showing that the risk of developing diabetes and other health problems, including cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure and its complications, is tremendously reduced in individuals—even those who are obese and stay that way—who are physically active and have what is termed cardiovascular fitness. Dr. Blair and his colleagues made the startling discovery that a fat man who exercises and has cardiovascular fitness has less than half the chance of dying of a heart attack or related vascular disease than does a man of average weight who is a couch potato. Such fitness comes primarily from physical activity, either planned activity in an exercise program or increases in general physical activity (for example, parking some distance from a store and walking farther from your car to your destination—something I do all the time).

The studies conducted by Blair’s group were on men, but Dr. Blair believes they will hold true for women as well. He cites a Canadian blood pressure study by Dr. Claude Bouchard at Laval University in Quebec that seems to point to similar conclusions in women. With increased physical activity, the women’s cardiovascular fitness increased and their health improved, although they remained fat.

a_purple.gif (1382 bytes)ll this is good news for persons of size, but only if we make use of the conclusions in our own lives. For those who can’t increase physical activity by walking or other means due to knee or hip joint problems, there are exercises that can be done while seated.

For example, some people use the chair dancing series of exercise videos. You’d be surprised how much exercise you can get sitting down. The Chair Dancing and the Chair Dancing Around the World videos are good for aerobic exercise, and the Sit Down & Tone Up is best for strength training. Prices are $19.95 or less, plus shipping. Information about the tapes and how to order them can be obtained from Chair Dancing International at 800-551-4386 or 619-793-1177, or by writing to 2658 Del Mar Heights Rd., Del Mar, CA 92014. Also, see their web site: http://www.chairdancing.com. The videos are also in the Amplestuff catalog.

Finally, here’s a correction of an error I made in this column in the Winter 1999 issue. The Internet address where the plus-size consultant to America Online, Susan L. Weber, can be found is http://www.electra.com.   Check the "Style" section on the electra homepage for "Plus Sizes." Weber also has her own site at http://www.grandstyle.com,   which I believe is more completely devoted to plus sizes.

Thanks for news tips this issue to those already mentioned, plus Marlene Belz, Thais Carr, Kristine Danowski, Nina Feldman, Harry Gossett, Jan Herrick, Neil Osbourn, as well as many others.

 

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.


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