William J. Fabrey
When I first heard of the plans to
hold a "Million Pound March" by NAAFA (National Association to
Advance Fat Acceptance) at its convention in Los Angeles this past
summer, I thought it a noble concept. But I also feared that its name
might set us up for lots of tasteless jokes by late-night TV comedians.
Many people with whom I spoke had the same fear, and even the NAAFA
newsletter voiced concerns. Fortunately, there were few such jokes, and
the event itself, on August 15, 1998, was a resounding success. More a
rally than a march, it attracted about 250 enthusiastic people (a good
turnout for activism events in the size acceptance movement). Among
these were show business personalities Camryn
Fall 1998 cover story from ABC-TVs The Practice) and singer Carnie
Summer 1996 cover story), both of whom spoke to the crowd. Friends of
mine who were there called the gathering a "landmark" event—one
they will always remember as a high point in size-acceptance activism.
In addition to Manheim and Wilson,
several other speakers eloquently affirmed the right of fat people to
live peacefully in a society that usually acts as if we have no rights.
The event organizer, Jody Abrams, read statements of support from other
organizations, including the Council on Size & Weight
Discrimination, the Southern California Size Acceptance Coalition, Girth
and Mirth, the International Size Acceptance Association, and our own Radiance
magazine. Nineteen commercial sponsors of the march were thanked.
Soul-stirring songs lead by Jeanne Toombs were sung by a chorus and by
Media coverage was respectful, with TV
spots on CNN, ABC, Fox, and CBS. A great front-page story, by Alfred
Lubrano in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 16, 1998, was
widely disseminated by the Knight Ridder news syndicate. Other media
present at the march included Time magazine, TV’s Inside
Edition, and reporters from Australia and the U.K.
My congratulations go to all planners
and participants who made the Million Pound March so successful!
Let’s plunge right into health
issues: 1998 has been a busy year for weight-loss scams, despite the
increasing glare of adverse publicity. Is the fake fat Olestra a scam?
The Associated Press reported on the pros and cons of Olestra on April
25, 1998, including test results from several major cities. Most people,
even those favoring the use of the substance in potato chips, seem to
agree that it is not an effective means of losing weight. But if you
ignore the nasty side effects, including abdominal cramping and anal
leakage, Olestra can reduce your exposure to dietary fats somewhat,
especially for potato chip addicts. But foes include Dr. Michael
Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Dr.
Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, who says,
"Procter & Gamble has twisted logic and prudent public health
practices to say we should market this until there is proof that it’s
harmful, instead of proving it’s safe."
My advice: Watch out for bags of
potato chips made with Olean, P&G’s brand name for the bogus fat.
In some parts of the United States, they are marketed as Wow chips. Wow,
indeed. Some friends tested the chips. He liked ’em; she was up all
night. Why be a guinea pig again?
As far as I’m concerned, a bigger
scam is the one currently being perpetrated on the public by the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), which announced, on June 17, 1998,
a change in their definition of "overweight" from a Body Mass
Index (BMI) of 27 down to 25, as part of its "Obesity Treatment
Guidelines." (The BMI is defined as one’s weight in kilograms
divided by the square of one’s height in meters. Most readers of this
column have a BMI much higher than 27. A plus-size fashion model, at
five feet six inches, weighing 200 pounds, has a BMI of around 32.)
Activist Lynn McAfee, a director of
the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination (CSWD), spoke against
the change in government standards at a seminar at the NIH on June 4,
1998. She spoke of the problems of receiving sensitive health care that
a fat person encounters, the barriers to exercise, and the avoidance of
medical treatment by those who fear ridicule in the doctor’s office.
She made the telling point that there is no evidence that downgrading
the permissible BMI from 27 to 25 will affect the mortality of the
average citizen. But the NIH apparently have their own agenda.
Anticipating the upcoming announcement
by one day, Weight Watchers paid for a big ad in the New York Times
New York Times (June 16, 1998) on the same page as an
article by Jane Brody titled "Gaining Weight on Sugar-Free,
Fat-Free Diets." The article spoke of the importance of counting
calories and getting exercise. The Weight Watchers ad declared,
"New Government Findings Report More People Than Ever Are
Overweight, Which Carries Significant Health Risks."
I have read the full public statement
by the NIH (actually the NHLBI: National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute) and, optimist that I am, can find only two straws to grasp in
all the verbiage: "Overweight and obese patients who do not wish to
lose weight, or are otherwise not candidates for weight loss treatment,
should be counseled on strategies to avoid further weight gain."
Also, "the initial goal of treatment should be to reduce body
weight by about 10 percent . . . an amount that reduces obesity-related
Well, at least the people at the NIH
recognize that some people will (rightfully) decline to try the latest
weight-loss scheme and that such persons could focus on avoiding further
gain, and that it is not necessary to become "nonobese" to
reduce the risk factors. A 10 percent weight reduction, as hard as it is
to achieve, is more reasonable than the goals most fat people have when
they show up at Weight Watchers.
The best response to the new BMI
standards was, I think, that of humorist Dave Barry, who appears in
newspapers throughout the country for the Knight Ridder/Tribune
syndicate. His article, headlined "The Facts Are In: You’re
Fat!," lampooned the whole idea of millions of us waking up to
discover that, suddenly, we are officially fat. Barry wrote that
"most of us could never in a million years figure out our own Body
Mass Index, so it’s only a matter of time before the Internal Revenue
Service requires us to include it on our tax returns."
A political cartoon by Don Wright of
the Palm Beach Post, reprinted by the New York Times on July 5,
1998, trivialized the situation by portraying a fat man and a fat woman
trying, with difficulty, to reach guns in their holsters. The caption
read, "New research shows that as Americans get fatter, they’re
finding it much more difficult to get to their handguns." This
column has mentioned a previous cartoon in which Wright drew attention
to the health risks of Redux even before it was withdrawn from the
In a more serious vein, author Richard
Klein (Eat Fat) wrote, in the Wall Street Journal on June 9, 1998, that
the new official government guidelines were enthusiastically received by
the head of the Weight Watchers organization, and undoubtedly everyone
else in the $40 billion U.S. diet industry. In his article,
"Leaning On Those Who Aren’t Lean," Klein said that
"what makes these new guidelines worrisome" is that "they
will encourage some people to take extravagant and harmful dieting
measures" and "make doctors more willing to prescribe the
latest diet drugs for people whose goals are mainly cosmetic." The
guidelines, he said, "illustrate the coercive power of what has
been called public healthism, and are destined to be used as weapons in
the war against fat being waged by insurance companies, HMOs and the
I’m hoping that the derision
expressed by Dave Barry will prevail. The public’s mistrust of
government pronouncements and the shifting sands of what Washington
believes is good for us may, in the end, be our best defense. And, as a
practical matter, whether a healthy BMI is said officially to be 25, 27,
or even larger will have little effect on the life of a woman who is,
say, a size 18 or larger, because she already exceeds any of those BMIs!
By the way, most athletes exceed them, too.
As we already know, yo-yo dieting is
one of the probable culprits in the fattening of those in the United
States. And one of the biggest (and oldest) companies implicated in the
prevalence of yo-yo dieting is Weight Watchers International. I’ll
wager WWI has done business with 90 percent of larger Radiance
readers at one time or another. WWI may be, nutritionally, and at the
corporate level, a tad more responsible than other weight-loss companies—but
that’s not saying much.
Anyway, the news is that the person
who made it all possible was Albert Lippert, who died back on February
28, 1998, at the age of seventy-two. Both the New York Times and
National Public Radio did impressive obituaries on March 3. Lippert sold
his holding in WWI to the H.J. Heinz Company in 1978 for $15 million and
remained active as a WWI consultant until his death.
Mr. Lippert apparently believed in his
product, having lost weight permanently on his own program, and thought
others could do likewise. He was such a successful promoter of the
business that hundreds of thousands of people went through the Weight
Watchers program countless times in a fruitless attempt to become thin.
A fatter United States is probably one of the results.
Some good news: A Reuters news release
on May 28, 1998, quoted three researchers at Hoffman-La Roche (a
pharmaceutical company, of all things) as saying that "some obese
people may not be unhealthy at all." The researchers spoke in favor
of using "metabolic fitness" as a better measure of health
than BMI and stated that "the hope is that by using metabolic
fitness as a measure of success, health professionals can shift the
patient’s focus from unrealistic, culturally imposed goals (for
example, dress size or belt size) to the more appropriate and achievable
goal of better health."
The diet-conscious consumer has been
pursued by food manufacturers with various claims about low-fat or even
fat-free products, such as Nabisco’s Snackwell crackers and cookies.
But a May 1, 1998, New York Times story, "Fickle Finger of
Fat," revealed Nabisco’s decision to add more fat to their
Snackwell line because sales have slumped, five years after the brand
was introduced. "I thought [the products] tasted like sugary
straw," said Marion Nestle, head of nutrition and food studies at
New York University. I met Ms. Nestle at a government-sponsored obesity
conference a few years ago and found her to be as outspoken then as she
seems to be now.
A great article appeared in the
July/August 1998 "Nutrition Action Health Letter." This
publication serves as the voice of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest. The center is feared by both the food and the pharmaceutical
industries because of its opposition to inadequate food labeling,
premature introduction of untested drugs, and fake fats like Olestra and
diet drugs like Redux.
The story, called "The Pressure
to Eat—Why We’re Getting Fatter," consists of an interview with
Dr. Kelly Brownell, who
sometimes raises the hackles of size-acceptance
activists, but also does some work that they cheer. Dr. Brownell
believes that in the United States, we have a "toxic food
environment." Brownell points out that three new McDonald’s fast
food restaurants are opened every day, and that the entire food industry
stimulates us to consume more than is good for us. He does not say that
all fat people are fat because of overconsumption, but includes genetics
as a factor. His main points, with respect to our surge in fatness since
1980, are that our genes did not change in so short a time, and that
this increase should not be blamed on the individual being weak-willed
or gluttonous, but rather on the marketing of consumption. Dr. Brownell’s
conclusion? Efforts to turn up the pressure on fat people to lose weight
"will be counterproductive and make people even more obsessed with
what they eat. A good example is the Shape Up America! Program. . . .
Its basic message is that the American public should weigh less and
exercise more. Is there anyone in America who doesn’t know that?"
You may recall from my preceding two
columns a discussion about the extremely negative TV ad created by the
American Heart Association (AHA) about a kid snacking after school and
morphing into a fat kid, complete with oinking noises. Activists wrote
letters to the AHA, which may have helped, but initially drew little
reaction. Lynn McAfee of the CSWD decided to send videotapes of the ad
to ten leading authorities on childhood obesity and eating disorders,
and some of them wrote brilliant letters opposing the ad. Finally,
McAfee brought up the matter during a press conference at which the
president of the AHA was present. The AHA subsequently announced its
withdrawal of the ad for further study.
What caused this success? I believe
that many events that led up to the final one (the press conference)
helped enormously. Publicly embarrassing the AHA in front of obesity
experts may have been the last straw. We’ll never know. The lesson is,
keep writing your letters, activists!
I used to think, perhaps naively, that
Prevention magazine and the whole Rodale Press publishing empire based
in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, had some scruples regarding the health claims
they made and how far they would go to promote their products. Not
anymore. In May we received, by mail, their flier headlined "Escape
from Dieting Hell." I think everyone should escape from that place,
but not by using Prevention’s "obesity buster" (whatever
that may be) or by "thinking themselves thin"—even though
success is supposedly "100 percent guaranteed." The flier was
basically a catalog full of things to make you be or look thinner.
"Never, never buy the fat dress again" shouts the headline
above a slender model holding up what looks like a size 28 dress.
These are the same people whose August
1998 issue of Prevention had a cover story headlined "Lose your
belly and more! Even if you can’t lose weight!" Readers of my
past columns know that Prevention has a belly fixation: they hate
bellies! And they assume that all of us do, too. Strange: I
know people who love bellies.
BBW magazine has supposedly breathed
its last with its September 1998 issue (great cover photo of actress and
plus-size fashion designer Delta Burke). As of
this writing, word has it that publisher Larry Flynt has finally pulled
the plug on what he claims is a money-losing proposition. As you read
this, you may know otherwise—Flynt has reversed himself before, and
perhaps he will find a buyer for BBW.
Flynt’s Hustler magazine should have
been the one to go under! Whatever its defects were, BBW occupied a
useful place in size acceptance, boasted some good writers, and served
as a "point of entry" to self-esteem for millions of large
women. I hope that time proves me wrong, and that this obituary is
I sometimes receive copies of foreign
magazines with size-related news. FHM magazine, of the United Kingdom,
is geared for men—kind of a kinky version of GQ,
but not as explicit as Penthouse. Their August 1998 edition interviewed
me briefly on the subject of gadgets to help make the larger person’s
life easier, including some of the products carried by the Amplestuff
readers Tamar and Raphael Altman in the United Kingdom sent me coverage
of a peculiar situation in the July 15, 1998, Oxford Mail newspaper.
English nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow took the unusual step of
banning large women from his glitzy London club, Stringfellows.
According to him, "There’s no point in going to a nice place if
it’s not surrounded by nice people that you want to look at." The
newspaper interviewed Tamar, a size-acceptance activist, for her
opinions on the subject. She provided some good ones, such as,
"when Stringfellow opens his mouth and says something like that, it
encourages bullying. I think it’s a very serious issue and he is
causing pain to a lot of people. It’s outrageous. I say people can
look attractive whatever their size."
Ms. Altman, who weighs about 220
pounds, was joined by her husband, Raphael, who said "we have a
thirty-year-old romance because of the person Tamar is. There’s a
tyranny among men to conform to a particular taste." The newspaper
also interviewed antidiet compaigner Mary Evans Young, who founded the
Diet Breakers organization in the United Kingdom in 1992 and is credited
with being the founder of International No-Diet Day, celebrated by
Here’s some refreshing fashion news.
I generally find New York Times fashion coverage pretty snobbish and
intolerant of plus sizes and supersizes. However, its fashion section on
August 2, 1998, was illustrated with a photo of plus-size actress Mia
Tyler, who participated in a showing of Lane Bryant’s new label,
Venezia Jeans Clothing. Now that was a pleasure to behold.
Every now and then, I get to see some
mail from Richard Simmons. The CSWD received a personal invitation by
e-mail this past spring from Richard himself, inviting the council to
join his new Richard Simmons Club House web site. "By joining, you’ll
be able to reach out twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and
connect with someone who is dealing with the same bumps along the weight
loss road you’re experiencing!" The site promises chat rooms,
personals, live Q&A with Richard, and so on.
Why was the council so lucky as to
receive Richard’s personal invitation? Well, some other AOL recipients
were also listed on the e-mail, so I looked up everyone’s
"profile" (a short biographical sketch) in the AOL membership
directory. I discovered that everyone had the word diet somewhere
in their name or description. Now, the council runs a project called the
International No Diet Coalition, which caused Simmons’s computers to
assume that the council was interested in dieting! I think they failed
to notice the word No No before the word
On the brighter side of the Internet
is the fact that the AOL appointed a plus-size consultant, Susan L.
Weber, who runs the site www.grandstyle.com,
an on-line boutique for large women. She does a good job of it, and so
AOL has added a new plus-size department to its site for women at
www.elektra.com, under the "style" area. It is exciting when a
mainstream on-line service like AOL recognizes the need for sites for
large women. The Internet is a beehive of information and support
services for the large person. You could spend twenty-four hours a day
on-line, checking out bulletin boards, mailing lists, web sites, and so
If you listen to radio, watch out for
Susan Powter! She’s baaaaack—and telling everyone who will listen
that fat people need interventions. By interventions, she means walking
up to a fat person in the supermarket and telling her she shouldn’t be
buying a bag of potato chips! (Powter is out of control: For hints on
dealing with her and her devotees, see "Rude
Remarks and Right On Rejoinders," Summer 1998 Radiance.)
reader Julie Revell Benjamin sees Powter’s campaign as a step backward
for all of us. I agree: the size-acceptance movement has made some
progress in recent years, and it is scaring some fatphobic people.
Opportunists like Susan Powter and Michael Fumento are trying to
capitalize on this fear.
In late July 1998, the city of Denton,
Texas, decided to charge an additional $25 to anyone weighing more than
300 pounds who used the ambulance service. An article on July 26, 1998,
in the Dallas Morning News discussed the controversial fee and
the adverse media attention aimed at Denton, and reported that the city
council was reviewing the matter. (The fee was later rescinded.)
Although city officials stated that additional attendants were needed
for very large patients, one member of the city council, Mick Cochran,
was quoted as saying that he believed the fee to be "insulting and
discriminatory." Fire Chief Ross Chadwick stated that he still
feels it is a valid fee, but the "public relations gain" by
removing it "will far outweigh any financial loss." According
to the newspaper, some other Texas cities have such a fee, and have not
drawn fire about it.
An unusual series of news articles in
the Asbury Park Press (in New Jersey) appeared on May 17–19, 1998,
called "Fitting In: Obesity in a Thin World." Although the
focus was on intractable problems, especially the health problems faced
by some people, the articles showed some balance by giving more positive
coverage in the areas of support groups and resources available to large
readers. Author Regina McEnery, a health writer for the paper, concluded
by inviting readers to visit the paper’s web site to see the entire
The Philadelphia Inquirer
(not to be confused with the tabloid the National Enquirer)
published, on July 16, 1998, one of the best articles I have ever read
in the mainstream press about heterosexual male fat admirers (FAs).
Called "The Secret Life and Unstudied Passion of Men Who Like Their
Women Large" by Alfred Lubrano, this was a serious, balanced
article on the subject. Lubrano quoted FA artists Paul Delacroix and Ned
Sonntag; NAAFA’s Executive Director Sally E. Smith; medical experts
including Dr. Kelly Brownell and Dr. Albert J. Stunkard; Dimensions
magazine publishers Conrad Blickenstorfer and Ruby Greenwald; and
I was fascinated to read that Dr.
Brownell believes that being attracted to large women is "not
deviant or abnormal; it’s part of the natural course of things. Fat
admirers are small in number, but they still exist. Who knows what it
means to love large bodies? There’s not much scientific we can
say." I knew that about myself, but it’s nice to hear a famous
doctor say it. I am a bit sorry that the article didn’t include
heterosexual female fat admirers (FFAs), or lesbians or gays of either
gender who are also FAs, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I’d like to close the column this
time with an affirmative point of view from a reader named Alice
Johnson, whose letter to the editor appears elsewhere in this issue. In
the Summer 1998 Radiance,
in discussing the various levels of self-acceptance one can have, I
described a level that I felt could not be achieved by every woman, but
might be desirable nonetheless. Called decisive acceptance by Cheri
Erdman, Ed.D., it could entail not only accepting ourselves, but taking
pleasure and joy in our curves and abundance. Ms. Johnson wrote to say,
"Yes! I found myself having advanced to this stage just a little
while ago . . . What's wrong with us," she asks, "that we seem
to spend our whole lives, and most of our social energy, trying to find
someone else to tell us this, and not believing it when we hear it. Why
is it acceptable for someone else to like our bodies, but not us?"
Why, indeed, Ms. Johnson? She raises
an excellent point. I do believe that it is okay for us to like our own
bodies—fat or thin—or at least parts of them, if other parts are
giving us grief. They’re the bodies we have. It’s so much nicer to
like them, if you can. ©
FABREY helps run Amplestuff, a mail-order company. He founded
NAAFA in 1969 and currently is a director of the Council on Size &
Weight Discrimination. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 116, Bearsville,
NY 12409, or at WJFabrey@aol.com.