Dear NAAFA

I’ve been talking with a couple of other fat bloggers about NAAFA lately, and Sheana at Seeworthy just posted a bunch of the issues that are coming up in those discussions. Here’s my two cents, building on one of her points.

First, let me say I am so grateful that NAAFA exists, and that they’ve been working to combat fat hatred since before I was born. When I first started looking into fat acceptance, their website was a goldmine of information for me.

Problem is, the website looks almost exactly the same now as it did then. The top “news” item on their front page is from 2004. The first “recent article” farther down the page is from 2005. The most recent press release is from last year, and the basic facts about fat activism are presented in “information brochures” — as if printing those pages out for physical distribution would be the most effective use for them.

Dear NAAFA,

In 2007, the internet is how you disseminate information; it’s not just a storage space for outdated fliers.

You know what else? People are searching the web for new information on fat acceptance every single day, not every two or three years. I’ve only been blogging about fat on an almost daily basis for three months, and in that time, I’ve gone from about 75 page views a day to over 2,000. People are hungry for this kind of information — for facts, answers, and responses to haters; for solidarity; for resources; for hope. You are still the most visible public face of fat acceptance in this country, and you absolutely earned that position a thousand times over — but by failing to embrace the most effective and inexpensive form of mass communication in history, you’re letting down the people who seek the kind of information you’ve been fearlessly and tirelessly providing for almost 40 years. You’re alienating newcomers to the movement. You’re damaging your own credibility.

And you know what? I’m just gonna come right out and say it: you’re embarrassing the rest of us. “News” from 2004? In the top right-hand corner of your homepage? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

I know that maintaining a website involves money and hours of labor. But see, if you paid more attention to the internet, you’d discover that there are already dozens of us writing about the latest fat news at least several times a week, and doing it for free. For Pete’s sake, at least slap Notes from the Fatosphere on your website. I’m sure Fat Fu would be kind enough to tailor a clean version of it for you, if maintaining your status as a “safe site” is important to you; that’d rule out my blog, but there are plenty of people — have you met Sandy Szwarc? — writing important, meaty posts every day, without ever using the word “fuck.” So why the fuck aren’t they represented on your website? It would cost you absolutely nothing except 30 seconds of time to add the code, and then poof, you’d have new, relevant content daily.

The thing is, the worst problem is not that your website makes NAAFA look like a bunch of dinosaurs; it’s that it frustrates people who are looking for information. It’s hard for people who aren’t already tapped into the fat acceptance community to find out what’s happening with the Massachusetts anti-discrimination bill, or if anyone’s organizing to protest the new AMA guidelines on preventing childhood obesity, or how to find a fat-friendly health professional. The problem is that you’re still widely considered the definitive resource for information on fat health, acceptance, and politics, but your website — i.e., the very first place most people (including everyone from average fat folks to journalists) will go to look for that info these days — is a shockingly outdated and incomplete resource. And if the national organization that’s been out there fighting fat hatred since 1969 doesn’t seem to have any current information, why should those people bother looking anywhere else? Better information must not exist!

Once again, I have all the respect, admiration, and gratitude in the world for everything NAAFA’s accomplished. I would love to see y’all update your methods of communication and retain the place you’ve earned at the forefront of the movement. But if that’s not a priority for you? Then this is gonna be feminism (or any progressive movement) all over again. We newcomers are going to have to say hey, we sincerely appreciate all the work you’ve done; we recognize that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing if you hadn’t been there before we were born, and we also recognize that things have improved tremendously for fat people in the last 40 years, and we have you to thank for it — but times have changed. What you’re doing is not enough anymore, and you are not speaking the same language as the people who are the future of the movement.

For what it’s worth, I fully expect to eventually hear the same shit from a new crop of young’uns, who will equate blogging with carving their message onto stone tablets. (Hell, I’ve already been asked why I’m not podcasting or vlogging, and I just signed up at fucking Myspace like a week ago.) Part of me actually looks forward to that. Being a progressive means, by definition, welcoming progress. It means keeping up for as long as you can, and stepping aside when you can’t anymore.

I really want to believe NAAFA is still solidly in the keeping-up stage. But boy, your website doesn’t suggest that’s the case.

Love,

Kate

Posted in Fat

62 thoughts on “Dear NAAFA

  1. I very much agree with all the points you made here. I’ve been hearing/seeing a lot of bloggers mention the same things in the past, and I hope this time a post does something to make them realize they need to work harder! For some, fat acceptance is a joke; the NAAFA is definitely only helping to further the stereotype that fat people are too lazy to make any effort to do anything at all. Sometimes I wonder if we need some radicals out there-perhaps the Black Panther equivalent of the FA movement?-to really make a difference, which slightly scares me because I’m very much non-violent! I guess I just view those of us who belong to the movement to be too nice, because honestly, if you’re brainwashed into being a violent jerk, more than likely society has brainwashed them to want to be skinny violent jerks too. But that’s just me and perhaps I should save that rant for a blog post of my own :)

    Also, perhaps you already knew this and just added this to make a point, but in regards to your mention of Sandy, according to her introduction post on JS she is “[A] former Medical Advisory Board [member] of NAAFA.” So yes, I’m pretty certain they’ve heard of her ^__^

    Also also, I felt special to have the first comment on my recent post about my upcoming Six Flags trip to be from you because you’re probably, aside from Ms. Szwarc, the number one mentioned blogger in the FA movement today, from what I’ve seen! I searched for the Fatshionista post and found it, and it helped slightly. Everyone I’ve talked to though has told me that they’ve seen people far larger than me get on the rides with no problem, so I’m fairly confident I’ll be okay! :)

    -Ashley

  2. Ashley, thanks!

    And no, I actually wasn’t aware that Sandy had been on NAAFA’s advisory board — but I was pretty sure they’d heard of her all the same. :)

  3. NAAFA is still considered the definative source on fat acceptance for two reasons. No credible alternative has come upon, and some good people do still opperate under NAAFA’s banner. Frankly, though, I think NAAFA is beyond saving. NAAFA put fat acceptance at grave risk for a very long time by maintaining an association that would have completely destroyed the credibility of fat acceptance. Short of a hostile take-over, and I see no reason to think there is any interest in that, I just don’t think NAAFA can be repaired. Unfortunetly, as long as a lot of good people lend NAAFA relevance, it’ll remain on life support. I just wish those good people would either pull NAAFA into the place it needs to be or cut the cord. Because the current situation is failing fat acceptance.

  4. I just found the whole ‘fat acceptance’ movement a week ago. I have spent the week reading TONS of stuff on it, and blogs have totally saved the message: if it weren’t for blogs there’d be nothing useful at all.

    I am realizing I have a lot of sort of, culturally-inbred, accidental biases against fat (and myself as fat) that I didn’t even know I carried. It has made me ambivalent, but the point is, not everybody is going to walk into this movement totally one with every point of philosophy, sometimes it takes awhile for people to gradually educate themselves and do hard thinking about it and form a basis for change even within themselves.

    That’s the kind of thing that NAAFA could do.

    I visited their website. About 5 seconds resulted in my thinking, ‘wasteoftime’ and clicking away.

    So, thank god there were some great blogs available. (I really liked fat fu and the rotund as two examples.) The blogosphere has totally run with its own ball on this subject — since apparently the entropia of the people who’ve nominated themselves ‘leadership’ of the movement aren’t even moving… let alone leading.

  5. Fucking guts. Well said. Maybe this will be a wake-up call. I sometimes wonder if what BStu said is right…is NAAFA beyond repair? I sometimes think it’s grounded in such a place–read: heterosexism and socializing above political action–and peppered with such out-dated methods that there’s no hope for it.

    And that said, I had a “What am I saying?!?” moment over at Seeworthy just now. But it stands. I think we have all come to the very serious conclusion that….while we are ever indebted to NAAFA and they are doing some great things (co-conference with ASDH)… we either need to convince them of the changes we feel need to be made or we start collectively working toward something that will serve our needs. Are we willing to do that?

  6. Frankly, NAAFA doesn’t care what we have to say. That, the organization has long been clear about. “Outsiders” aren’t to be trusted or listened to. We won’t convince them. Change will only happen with NAAFA if some leading activists take a stand and pull NAAFA along with them. I don’t see it happening, but if anything happens, that would be it. There are good people there, but the internal politics and strife are probably far too poisoned for anything to come out of it.

    Of course, I’m biased on this point since NAAFA has repeatedly told me to go fuck myself. But, I suppose that’s the kind of bias that informs.

  7. Of course, I’m biased on this point since NAAFA has repeatedly told me to go fuck myself.

    Oh, now you can’t just dangle that out there! Do tell!

  8. I agree with Kate; I’m somewhat aghast at the thought that, literally or more subtly, NAAFA has told someone who wanted to make things better to go fuck themselves. Getting sick and tired of the bickering and in-fighting I’ve heard of and giving up, that’s one thing. But have they actually outright rejected your offers for help? Astonishing.

    And I agree. If they’re going to be viable, someone needs to step up from within and start making changes. In the meantime, it seems like the best thing possible is for all of us to focus our activism elsewhere, even if that results in activism as individually tailored as blogs – and heck, maybe that’s the best thing right now?

  9. Oh, it was both literally and subtly at different times. (okay, not literally “Go fuck yourself, Brian” but it sure seemed close enough) Its way too “inside” to be worth going into, and its not like I’ve ever been a productive activist, so I’m sure they didn’t think they were losing much, but yeah. NAAFA was very clear about making sure I knew I wasn’t welcome or wanted so no love lost from my end. Just be aware that I’ve got my own issues, is all.

  10. Thank you for this post. I was lucky to have first learned about fat acceptance through Big Fat Blog years ago, but I had the same reaction as PJ when I finally got around to visiting NAAFA’s website. It was a waste of time, and looked like most morons these days think fat people themselves are: dumb, lazy, and messy. A total embarrassment. And now to learn that they’ve rejected help from people and are apparently prejudiced themselves just puts the final nail in the coffin. I hope some enlightened person from NAAFA gets around to reading this. Maybe they can post it on their site in three or four years as “news.”

  11. Lest I seem too self-important, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I feel NAAFA had any meetings about me to develop an official position. I’m sure most people at NAAFA have no clue who I was, but enough people acting as agents of NAAFA managed to quite emphatically push me away over a course of several years. But I know I’m not the only person to feel alienated by NAAFA. A lot of activists have felt put off by NAAFA for a lot of different reasons.

  12. I long since gave up on NAAFA as an organization. It doesn’t represent me in politics nor style nor ______. I had hope for it about 8+ years ago, but through a series of personal experiences at NAAFA conventions and their website, I have consistently found they really aren’t “getting it”.

    While the leadership has changed, I still don’t think it represents what I see as important. Granted, how I see things isn’t necessarily how anyone else might see things. But I do know that poorly formulated reactionary politics really isn’t my bag. But, your mileage may vary.

    That being said, thank you for this post. I’m HOPING that someone may read it and be called to action. Unfortunately, when you have a volunteer committee, you often have 10 people with a thousand complaints/ideas and no one who will actually step up to do the work.

  13. Pingback: Seeworthy.org » Rumblings in the NAAFA-verse?

  14. Hi, Stacy! If I’d realized people would actually read it, I would have gotten off my fat ass and started blogging much earlier. :) As it is, I haven’t been at this long — so I’m really touched to be hearing from people like you!

  15. BTW, Marilyn Wann told me to go fuck myself, also for trying to make things better. Does this mean I still get the t-shirt?

  16. I joined the NAAFA board several years ago, inspired by a post from Paul McAleer at Big Fat Blog, in which he wrote a critique of NAAFA based on issues, not technology. Instead of agreeing and joining in the bash-fest, I joined the organization on a platform of doing my small part to make it suck less. I used those exact words in my in-person interview with the existing board. I said precisely why I thought NAAFA sucked and offered ideas about how my presence and efforts might shift things. These last few years has been frustrating, a process I describe as steering a cruise ship in mud. But the cruise ship does move and is heading in a totally different direction now…toward civil rights efforts, protecting fat children and their families, creating serious resources (like a list of accessible MRIs and health insurance workarounds) that fat people (not just NAAFA members) need.

    I am not someone who has the talent or time to update NAAFA’s website. Luckily, NAAFA board member Jason Docherty is contributing such talents and large amounts of time. The NAAFA website is in the midst of a redesign. I’m sure he’d love some help, from someone who is willing to work with him.

    I invite you, Kate, to join the NAAFA board if you have specific ideas of your own on how to make NAAFA suck less. (Only requirement, other than an application and interview, is that you have been a NAAFA member for at least one year.)

    At the very least, I hope everyone who reads this blog will plunk down the $15 to be a member of the nation’s oldest and leading civil rights organization that opposes weight-based discrimination. It’s sure as hell less than a Jenny Craig membership, less than a night out at the movies with popcorn. NAAFA doesn’t spend money paying web designers. We spend it on trying to get passage of a height/weight anti-discrimination law in Massachusetts, in trying to reunite fat children with their parents, in trying to keep NAAFA from going under during the “war on ‘obesity.'”

    I invite everyone here to join NAAFA and get involved. And you’re right, it’s not easy to get involved with NAAFA, because the handful of people who are making NAAFA happen don’t always have extra time to make a place for people. That sucks. I wish we had better infrastructure. Complain about how things are or work to make things different. That’s always the choice in social justice, isn’t it?

  17. Complain about how things are or work to make things different. That’s always the choice in social justice, isn’t it?
    It absolutely is, Marilyn. Thanks for bringing the NAAFA perspective over here. I was actually surprised that no one showed up sooner to defend NAAFA.

    I personally don’t have any web skills beyond writing and using WordPress’s idiot-proof platform, but if anyone here does and would like to offer Jason a hand, I’d encourage that.

    And I’m not eligible to join the NAAFA board, since I’m not a member — because of the issues I described in this post, among others — and I honestly don’t know at this point if I think my time would be better spent working to make NAAFA suck a little less or working to build something else from the ground up. But you can rest assured I will be working, as you will and NAAFA will, which is the important thing.

  18. Whoa, hey Marilyn! Welcome to los blogs!

    I can see what you’re saying, but I think the general sentiment is that NAAFA’s pretty beyond repair – it’s shown it even in this most recent (abysmal) conference schedule. And like I said at Seeworthy, it’s really great that you’re coming here to let us know, but… why can’t somebody update the NAAFA website itself to say as much? Heck, even saying a better website was on the way would elate tons of folks.

    Also, re: “Complain about how things are or work to make things different. That’s always the choice in social justice, isn’t it?” … Well, we are working to make things different. That’s what all this discussion is about, and what we talk about when we say we want to get mobilized and organized and otherwise ized. Blogs are a tool for activism, and we’re utilizing that tool. :D

  19. I’m with Sheana – we ARE working to make things different. We just aren’t doing so within the confines of NAAFA. I think that’s totally valid and valuable.

  20. Why I’ve not volunteering to master the NAAFA web site (even though I’m a pro webmaster) — I don’t want to waste my time on a project that I might ultimately find politically pointless or personally morally unacceptable. Short version: Second Wave (me) versus Third Wave (the NAAFA board?)

    For instance (one of many), I was more than a little put off by the photograph accompanying the Heather McAllister obit in the Spring 2007 newsletter. Short version: she’s falling out of her dress. It’s certainly appropriate for the McAllister obit to appear on a NAAFA site. Even if many fat activists disagree with her sexual ethics or even her style, it’s simply a matter of fat cultural literacy to know who she was. But, not all of us think of her as a “hero,” or endorse the sexual objectification of women she helped perpetuate. Having a picture of any woman falling out of her dress on what is supposed to be a site for a political action group sends the message that only pro-porn/Third Wavers are welcome in that universe. A standard head & shoulders photograph (with McAllister fully clothed) would have been appropriate, and not unnecessarily dissuaded possible support from people who are more sexually conservative. Other NAAFA “news” items these past few years have centered around childish, frivolous television-centered pseudo controversies involving talent shows or daytime talk shows. No thanks. There is a tiny letter alert regarding the MA legislation buried in a newsletter (linked well below the fold on the current site, and indexed by subject NOWHERE), but that’s it. Even that alert offers only an email address for an individual. There’s something about “challenging Metrowest” (an insurance company picking on fat kids), but no specifics on further action beyond letters.

    NAAFA needs to pick two or three SPECIFIC goals (i.e. getting the MA law passed, getting Alli recalled, changing a State’s insurance guidelines, providing ongoing support regarding job discrimination), and develop action plans related to those goals which involve the entire membership and potential supporters not yet members. With specific goals, people like me who are concerned about NAAFA’s Third Wave sexist tendancies and seeming concern with trivial matters can better decide whether or not we share enough of the same goals to work with other NAAFAns with whom we may otherwise diagree on other issues. With specific goals, the web site can be designed to address specific events and plans, instead of just being the “junk drawer” it currently is.

    In other words, I’m waiting for NAAFA’s board to say, in writing, that Items A, B, & C are what NAAFA’s working for, and to make a decision to show respect (i.e. by not posting sexually controversial photographs) for everyone working toward those same delineated goals regardless of their politics on other issues. Once I know what A, B, & C are, then I can make my decision.

  21. Wow, Kell, that’s weird… if anything, I’d call NAAFA second-wave, possibly first-wave (in that they don’t seem to have improved much in their forty years of existence). Third-wave movements seem to be pro-innovation, pro-feminist, pro-diversity – all stuff that doesn’t seem to be a concern for NAAFA.

    Additionally, I’m somewhat baffled that you say that Heather MacAllister participated in the sexual objectification of anyone. Do you understand the difference between object and subject? Heather was all about empowering the individual subject, getting folks to be liberated, sexually and any other way they wanted. Far from objectifying women, I’d say Heather did more to liberate women from fascist body standards than many second-wave feminists like Dworkin, MacKinnon, etc. And she was photographed… in costume. She was a burlesque performer. Why would their memorial picture of her need to be some stodgy, matronly covered-up look? Ick.

  22. “Third-wave movements seem to be pro-innovation, pro-feminist, pro-diversity – all stuff that doesn’t seem to be a concern for NAAFA.”

    IMO, third-wave movments are cowardly, reactionary, against taking a stand on anything or standing up to anyone (especially anyone male or who is seeking real power for women that doesn’t involve “shakin” anything), anti-woman, anti-feminist, and very, very much anti-diversity (especially anti-Christian, anti-Feminist, anti-sexually conservative, anti-economically conservative/moderate). For instance, calling anyone wearing normal, run-of-the-mill, mainstream clothing “matronly.” Thanks so much for demonstrating exactly how narrow your mind set it, and why anyone not pro-porn is not welcome in your dying, pathetic “movement.”

    Note to self: GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. If you want to create something else…AWESOME!

    I knew about NAAFA when I created something else. FAT!SO?. I think we need all possible somethings to make Body Lib revolution.

    If you don’t want to be a NAAFA member or get involved with NAAFA, no problem! But why waste time criticizing NAAFA? (Although, beleive me, listing NAAFA’s flaws and failings is an invigorating hobby…one I practice with other NAAFA folk all the time!)

    But really… If you’ve declared NAAFA dead, why keep kicking it?

    Or…If NAAFA is alive after all, and you just enjoy kicking NAAFA, but have no interest in improving NAAFA, admit that.

    Could it just possibily be that NAAFA is a big, easy target that’s internal to fat community and thus a less daunting target to attack than, say, The Man? (Didn’t Audre Lorde and bell hooks write about that?) And so, every once in a while, it’s NAAFA-bashing season among bloggers. Because really, other than me (designated bitch), no one from NAAFA is going to kick back.

  24. Marilyn, I’ll be totally honest: I put this up for two reasons.

    1. Because I really believe that the state of NAAFA’s web presence in 2007 is hurting the entire movement.

    2. Because I wanted to see how other people felt about it. I was fully prepared to be told I to FOAD — by representatives from NAAFA or just from other fat activists who thought I was off the mark. These were my impressions, so I threw them out there to start a discussion.

    And a LOT of discussion about doing something new has come directly from this post (and Sheana’s) in the last few days. Frankly, I wasn’t convinced NAAFA was a lost cause when I wrote this, but I’m swinging a lot more that way now that I’ve heard from lots of people — many I’d never heard from before — in response to this post.

    So, to my mind, criticizing NAAFA was absolutely not a waste of time. It started a bunch of really good conversations, here and other places, that I’m happy to be a part of.

    I’m not interested in kicking NAAFA for sport– and I don’t intend to spend time criticizing them in the future. No one at NAAFA needs to worry about that. Squabbling, especially with people who have paved the way for me to be here, is not my thing. But I’m relatively new to the movement and honestly didn’t know how other people out there felt; just that I personally feel embarrassed and frustrated that this is the public face of the movement. So I posted this, and I found out how some other people felt, and I’m involved in a bunch of invigorating conversations about it now. I mean, that’s kind of what blogging’s all about, to my mind.

    I stand by everything I said here — including the parts where I express admiration and gratitude for what NAAFA’s accomplished. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot from the response to this post. So honestly, I’m really glad I wrote it. My intention was not to hurt NAAFA or rally people against the organization — just to say hey, I really feel like this is a PR problem for us all. And I think the response (which goes well beyond what you see here) has actually been pretty productive.

  25. Marilyn, I think the point here is to encourage discourse about the fat acceptance movement as a whole – because we CAN start something new and we CAN make things happen but we will have to deal with the image of NAAFA just as much as we will have to deal with our own image. I think it’s great that the cruise ship of NAAFA is, according to you, changing direction. I’d love to see it become a thriving and RELEVANT organization. But right now? I don’t even link to it on my blog because the site has no relevant content. More than that, NAAFA doesn’t seem to DO anything.

    I think a vital part of a thriving activism movement is the critique and discussion of what is going wrong within the movement so we can a) work on fixing what is broken and/or b) come up with better solutions with new groups. I don’t want to see a new org in competition with NAAFA – I want to see a new org with a specific focus and stated goals that can work in concert with NAAFA where their goals overlap. I want to see this movement thrive and one org cannot meet the needs of all members.

    It feels like, when you say people who aren’t members are wasting their time criticizing it, that what you are really asking us to do is just shut up about it. And, you know, that’s a valid response and one that I would have expected from someone speaking as the official voice of NAAFA. But especially when/if a new org is in the works a discussion of NAAFA’s failings is essential to avoiding some of the same pitfalls.

    It’d be boring if we all had exactly the same failings, wouldn’t it?

  26. Kell, it sounds very much to me like you can’t stomach different schools of thought within the movement so you are just dismissing it as having any importance.

    Well, if the fat acceptance movement, flawed and imperfect and DIVERSE as it is wasn’t accomplishing anything, I don’t think any of us would be here as commenters and bloggers and fat people and fat admirers and fat allies. We’d still be sitting at home hating ourselves and those around us because we don’t conform to an arbitrary social ideal.

    Frankly, your comment seems just short of a flouncey tantrum. I don’t generally speak so plainly on this sort of thing because I have a deep and abiding fear of and distaste for conflict. But ZOMG, you seem to be intentionally stepping into what has been a respectful discussion – though we all certainly do not agree – and stirring the drama pot.

    For the record, I think, in the midst of your lambasting of third wave, you make an interesting and important point – more conservative feminists are absolutely not the focus of third wave-based movements. I think we interpret that in two entirely different ways. I don’t find it anti-Christian so much as not Christian-centric. No one assumes Christianity is a) the default and b) inherently a good thing. No one assumes that being a sexual conservative is automatically the best stance. No one assumes that being a fiscal conservative/moderate is automatically the best stance.

    These things are not privileged above other things. To someone used to privilege, it can read as being marginalized. Really, it’s just being moved out of the spotlight so that some other ideal can get a little face time with the audience as well.

    And, in practice, there ARE a lot of feminists and size activists and every other -ist out there who have a lot of trouble with people who are more conservative. It is sometimes assumed that conservative equals bad and that isn’t any more acceptable than assuming all fat people are bad. But rather than ask for inclusion, you seem to be insisting that your group is right and all other groups are wrong wrong wrong. That’s not going to help in a situation where we are already faced with “you are wrong wrong wrong” on every topic from fat to race to gender identity to sexual preference.

  27. NAAFA is about fat rights, period. It is not a sex mag, not a site for sex workers, not a lesbian support group. There is no reason whatsoever why NAAFA should have any opinion on the Heather McAllisters of the world. Posting a picture of her nearly topless pretty much says ONLY PRO-PORN PEOPLE WELCOME here. A neutral presentation would have been of a respectful head shot or of her wearing conventional clothing (i.e. suitable for wearing in public or in the workplace or any other shared public space). Alllowing for “diversity,” making a fat activist space open to all potential supporters, by definition means enforcing a code of conduct comparable to that in the workplace, or in schools, or in public generally. It means that people keep their clothes on. It means that the organizations involved don’t automatically assume everyone who contacts them is under 30 and pro-porn.

    Instead of responding to what I’m saying — that NAAFA and the movement in general is hostile to anyone who isn’t pro-porn and under 30 — we’re back talking about sex again. SEX HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS MOVEMENT. WE MIGHT AS WELL BE FIGHTING OVER THE NATIONAL DEBT. 20 years ago I knew a woman who proposed, with a straight face, that a fat activist group be limited to vegetarians only. Same mind set, kids. Imagine if every time you tried to fight for equal rights in employment or on campus, or tried to stop Meridian and Alli, everyone else in the discussion insisted on talking about Supreme Court appointments. SEX HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS MOVEMENT!!!!!!!!!!!! Fat activism must separate itself from all marginal issues and party-line assumptions, including teernager’s sex fads.

    Parents, in particular, should be contacting NAAFA in droves right now as their children are increasingly harassed, but when was that last time you saw anything from any fat activist source that even acknowledged the existence of marriage, let alone attempted to make parents feel welcome? Count up the times on any fat activist board you see the phrase “my children,” and then count up the times people mention strippers or thongs or other teenager sex-fad business. Not even close.

    Bottom line: so long as NAAFA and any other fat rights groups insist on embracing and endlessly discussing and promoting the teenager ain’t-porn-cool fads, the movement will remain dead. You can’t simultaneously say “everyone’s welcome here” while posting a vulgar picture of a half-nude woman. Most grown-ups, especially parents, will leave the site or the discussion immediately. And, whether you like it or not, we’re the people with the money and the job skills to make the movement work. WIthout us, you’ll be stuck discussing thongs forever while Rome burns.

  28. “Instead of responding to what I’m saying — that NAAFA and the movement in general is hostile to anyone who isn’t pro-porn and under 30 — we’re back talking about sex again.”

    Kell, throwing “and the movement in general” in there is a bit much. The movement includes fat bloggers, and if one spends less than 10 minutes looking around at other fat blogs one will see that they’re not promoting a “pro-porn” message and everyone isn’t under 30, either.

    “Count up the times on any fat activist board you see the phrase “my children,” and then count up the times people mention strippers or thongs or other teenager sex-fad business. Not even close.”

    I don’t disagree with your overall point (a fat org should work for parents of fat kids) but this example is paper-thin. I did a search on a popular fat acceptance site. “my children” comes up 30 times – scant, I agree, but 30. Just ‘children” comes up with well over 100 results. “stripper”? 4. “thong”? 5. That’s over a seven-year period.

    That’s a big brush you’re using to paint, and lumping “any fat activist” board (“board?”) into the mix paints a woefully inaccurate picture of what’s really going on in fat activism right now. You’re soaking in it.

  29. Kell, in addition to seconding everything Paul’s saying, I want to add that I believe sex has a LOT to do with this movement, so you and I just fundamentally disagree on that point. And I don’t think that has anything to do with being pro-porn.

    Fat bigotry is expressed more than any other way in the constant barrage of messages that fat people are unattractive. That no one wants to have sex with us, ergo we will never have loving relationships. THAT is the message, far more even than the “health” bullshit, that keeps people frightened into spending money on weight loss programs and surgery, and that keeps people mired in self-loathing for being fat.

    Asserting that fat people can be beautiful and indeed sexy, that we have loving relationships and fulfilling sex lives, that there are many people out there who prefer fat aesthetically — not as a kink, but just as a fact — that we are not all disgusting and smelly and broken, is a vitally important part of combating fat hatred. And I firmly believe that showing images of happy, comfortable, confident fat people owning their bodies and their sexuality (fully clothed or otherwise) is a vitally important part of that.

    It’s fine that you disagree, but, well… you’re not ever going to persuade me to agree with you on this point. So if NAAFA isn’t doing it for you and the fat bloggers aren’t either, feel free to round up other people who don’t think fat sexuality is a crucial component of the message we need to get out, and start an organization that reflects your values. We need all the organizations we can get. But you’re barking up the wrong tree in a big way on this blog.

    And for the record, I’m over 30, as are many of the other people around here, I’ve been around the block more than once, and if you read any of this blog, you’ll notice that discussing thongs isn’t a real big priority of mine.

  30. Pingback: Seeworthy.org » Fat and the Movement: What’s it all about?

  31. Kell, I firmly believe you are the one who is centering this discussion around sex and sexual presentation. And that’s fine and cool because it’s a valid and valuable discussion to have, but don’t pretend that we’re pushing sex sex sex on poor, unsuspecting conservative types who don’t want to see it.

    Heather’s performance was tied up in sexual responses. To say that her entire purpose as a performer is unsuitable for mention in a tribute to her after her death seems to be missing the point of a tribute. I get that you think it was in bad taste. I don’t get why you think the movement should be tailored to cushion people from seeing something that doesn’t mesh with their personal politics. My personal politics would have been offended if they HAD used a polished and professional headshot because that doesn’t represent any part of what she was accomplishing as a performer and it would feel like they were sanitizing her. So, who is more important? You or me?

    Also, I’m not sure why you paint the entire movement with NAAFA’s briush. As we’re all discussing here, NAAFA just doesn’t seem representative of the movement anymore. Also, also, I agree with Kate that part of this very much IS about sex and who gets to decide who is allowed to be sexual.

    Also, also, also – I think it’s totally valid to critique a movement or a part of a movement and that it can be totally valuable. I don’t think trying to convince people who are actively working for fat rights that the movement is valueless and dead is the most helpful tact to take.

  32. Also, since when are strippers and thongs solely teenager sex fads?

    Because, dude, I’ll be 30 in September (I am totally looking forward to it) and….

  33. Reading this thread, all I can do is shake my head and sigh, because I don’t think there’s a solution to this that’s going to make everyone happy.

    Either an organization assumes a “default” of its membership of Christian, married-with-kids, heterosexual, monogamous, able-bodied and anti-nudity…or it doesn’t. And no matter which path NAAFA chooses, someone’s gonna be drinking the haterade, it seems. Someone on one side is always going to be yelling, “There isn’t enough celebration of lesbian strippers,” and someone on the other side is always going to be yelling, “There aren’t enough G-rated activities I can take my 6-year-old to,” and the whole thing is just going to dissolve in a big gluey mass of fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou.

    Me, I’m neither fish nor foul. I’m straight and monogamous, but childless and not currently married. I’m not crazy about pornography or nudity, but I accept that as my own personal hangup and don’t foist it on other people. I’m neither Christian nor atheist. I think NOLOSE is a great idea, but I’m pretty sure they don’t want my hetero ass around there even though I’m far from anti-LGBT. And I’m over 40. In short, I’m probably exactly the sort of wishy-washy liberal NAAFA is made for. I would love it if there was a way for everyone to feel welcome there or anyone else. But I don’t suppose that’s possible.

    If nothing else, though, I do think NAAFA’s Web presence needs to be a lot more up-to-the-week, if not up-to-the-minute, if it’s going to be a viable organization of any kind. And I do agree with Marilyn that killing off NAAFA is just going to give comfort to the likes of M*M* R*t* (or the Anita Bryant of fat, as I like to call her).

  34. Just so I’m clear, Kate. You don’t want to join NAAFA and contribute $!5 to help get the website fixed. You don’t want to help fix the website yourself. BAsed on its website, you’re writing NAAFA off. Sheana, similarly, prefers not to be a member of the organization or to contribute personal effort to make NAAFA a better organization.

    I feel like a little red hen. Thanks so very much.

    I don’t enjoy globalizing statements. They don’t seem useful to me, just high in drama. So I’m quite happy to acknowledge and try to work on specific criticisms. But I have no interest when specific criticisms are used as a basis for globalizing about an entire organization or an entire movement’s viability.

    Other resistance movements develop numerous groups working toward civil rights. I think that’s healthy and fabulous. In my analysis, fat pride community is still pre-Stonewall. We have not yet had that flashpoint of anger that means when an individual fat person experiences oppression they have the consciousness of that as being oppression and the awareness of the option of fighting back; instead, the majority of fat people who have a shitty day turn to Jenny Craig or whatever. So, given that we’re all early adopters, and given that there are, in fact, fat feminists on the NAAFA board trying to makeover a decades-old and deeply flawed institution because it still is the oldest civil rights organization our community has, and given that everyone is free to create new and different Fat Lib/Body Lib institutions at any moment (i.e., NOLOSE, Fat Girl Speaks, ISAA, etc.), then I hope you’ll all also understand that I personally get tired rather than reinvigorated when I hear from fellow travelers that I’m not doing enough or doing it well enough or doing it to suit particular tastes and when the same people also have no interest helping me on this particular task. Kate, you’re new, this conversation isn’t. It’s a familiar mulberry bush that I don’t enjoy going around.

  35. Marilyn, if you are seriously implying that just because Kate doesn’t want to work with NAAFA that she is a “bad” fat activist, I think your analysis of the state of the movement is a bit off.

    Because a lot of us HAVE reached that flashpoint of anger. That is what you are seeing right now in the wellspring of fat activist bloggers.

    And what we, in our anger, are seeing that while NAAFA may be the best fats rights organization that we have… well, that just isn’t good enough.

    I’m not sure why you seem to be conflating our criticisms of NAAFA with criticisms of your personal effort. I think we all here have nothing but deep respect and admiration for your efforts and accomplishments. But you are not the face of NAAFA. You aren’t even, to my knowledge, here as an official representative of NAAFA. That speaks really well of you and not so much of the organization.

    And, really, if this is a conversation that keeps being had, maybe it’s time to do something other than go ’round – maybe it’s time to find a new mulberry bush.

  36. Kate, you’re new, this conversation isn’t. It’s a familiar mulberry bush that I don’t enjoy going around.

    Marilyn, I hear that. But there are new people coming on board every day, so this is never going to go away. I understand being tired, and I even understand refusing to go around again. I don’t understand going around the mulberry bush while saying, “I don’t want to go around the mulberry bush!”

    And right now I’m spending literally hours every day going around the basic-tenets-of-fat-acceptance mulberry bush with new people. I’m already sick of it, but I’m going to keep doing it until I can’t, because that’s my role here. That’s what the bloggers are doing, because people who can’t find what they need from NAAFA are coming to us.

    I didn’t expect to become any kind of authority when I’m this new to the movement. I just started blogging about fat, and people showed up. And now I’m sitting here arguing with the godmother of fat liberation, whom I happen to be a big fan of, and that was really not what I fucking intended when I started this. If you think I’m creating drama for the sake of it, I don’t even know what to tell you, except that you’re egregiously misreading me. And that this is taking time away from me going back around the mulberry bush with the asshats who keep showing up here and at Shakes to “educate” my fat ass (and the hundreds of readers here and thousands there) about diabetes and heart disease and how disgusting fat chicks are.

    No, I don’t want to be a member of NAAFA, for reasons other than the website thing, which I’m not going to go into here, because I just said I have no intention of spending more time criticizing NAAFA. But you know what? I just went to the website looking for a button to make a $15 donation towards fixing the website, on your suggestion, without becoming a member. Where it says “Support NAAFA,” THERE IS NO LINK. And if that doesn’t prove my point, I don’t know what does.

  37. I find the admonitions that people are unwilling to donate time and effort to improving NAAFA amusing. For years, qualified people have volunteered to improve the organization in various ways–including revamping the website–and have been rebuffed. Repeatedly. Why? Internal politics, rifts stemming from decades-old conflicts. I fear that until the organization is willing to accept new blood, it’s going to be so lamed by politics that it’s going to die out. The world has moved on, but NAAFA has not moved with it.

  38. Ick, my proofreading skills saaaahk. “Fish nor foul” = foul/fowl (well, maybe foul too). “Welcome there or anyone else” = anyone/anywhere. Bleh pitooey.

    Marilyn, if you’ve seen this elsewhere please excuse my redundancy, but certainly NAAFA could set up a MySpace page and/or a WordPress blog, both of which are free, and don’t require a lot of technical expertise to set up or update, while the “official” Web site bugs are being worked out. I don’t know if MySpace allows tip jars, but certainly one could be put on a WordPress blog that would allow donations to build a “bigger and better” site. (Comments can be disabled if you prefer.)

    And I certainly owe you a whole lotta grats for getting me into this movement in the first place. I think a lot of us can say you helped (re)shape the way we think about fat.

  39. Also, the fact that Joy Nash’s video has been viewed a million times and gotten major media attention strikes me as quite the watershed. That’s a pretty radical message gone mainstream.

    It ain’t Stonewall, but frankly, I’d rather not have another Stonewall, if we can help it.

  40. ***Disclaimer*** Although I am a co-coordinator of this year’s NAAFA convention, I am speaking as myself, NAAFA member and volunteer, not as an official representative of the organization. They have not vetted anything I have said.

    Some points of clarification and opinion:

    – There is a NAAFA MySpace page

    – Yes, the website is outdated. Nobody on the Board thinks it’s awesome. There is a grand plan, but lack of time and resources are impeding its progress.

    – Politics and bloody-mindedness have often gotten in the way of accepting people’s offers of help; so have the offerers’ insistence upon absolute control and/or being paid for their time (*so* not directed at you Sarah, my dearest).

    – Just because a member of NAAFA (even one in a position of authority) has told you to go fuck yourself (in so many words or not), it does not mean that NAAFA has told you to go fuck yourself. We are humans. Humans under stress, because all of those internal politics that you find too frustrating to deal with? We’re dealing with them, sometimes at great cost to our general sense of equilibrium. We have diverse opinions and agendas: if you want yours to get a hearing, you have to be the one to push it to the forefront.

    – NAAFA does care what you have to say. It’s just got some outdated ways of receiving those messages. On the Wednesday of the convention, anyone can offer any suggestions for change and offers for help at the Annual General Meeting. There has been talk of eventually making that a podcast, but no one has had the time to make that a reality.

    – I would prefer that things not devolve into a competition about who’s the better activist. Everyone has their own way of making change in the world, whether that be introducing newbies to fat acceptance through a blog, protesting at WLS recruitment events, or planning a more social event. We’re all putting our time and effort where our beliefs are, just choosing to do it in the way that is most natural and meaningful to us.

    – I had no idea this blog (or Seeworthy, or Kate Harding’s) existed until someone pointed out that the convention schedule I had busted my big fat ass to put together was being roundly criticized. I imagine I’ll be back, once the convention is over and I only have one full-time job. It’s fine to bat your ideas around in the echo chamber here, but don’t feel slighted if the people whose attention you want don’t respond if you haven’t put your comments in a place where they can see them. Like an email. Addressed to them. Most of us don’t have the time (and some don’t have the technical skill) to surf the web reading blogs. Sorry if you’re disappointed in the old farts (can we add ageism to the list of things to be sensitive to?).

    The only way I can see to bring NAAFA up to speed with technology and “New Media” methods is to have people with those skills volunteer. If you are willing to do that, you can have an enormous impact on the SA movement. If you’re willing to do that, but not for NAAFA, you can still have a huge impact on the SA movement, but the “NAAFA is outdated” problem will still be there. If you do want to start your own organization, more power to you! Depending on my commitments and your mission statement, I’d be interesting in joining. Just don’t fool yourself for a minute into thinking that there won’t be internal politics or squabbling between groups of varying agendas (e.g., first/second/third waves, pro/anti sex worker, LGBTTQQ/hetero, etc.). At least not until we can find a way to counteract the constant human struggle to simultaneously be a part of something larger than ourselves and carve out our own distinct and independent identity.

    And on a personal note, even though I know I should just let it slide… Sheana, I went to your FATA conference. Some speakers were good, others were boring. There were some mobility and accommodation issues that were not addressed. That’s the way it goes – nothing’s perfect. I would never refer to something you worked so hard on as “abysmal”. Please do me the same courtesy. Or at least show up to see what it’s actually like rather than what you’ve heard or think you know from reading the schedule.

    I do take the work I’ve done on the NAAFA convention personally. By this time 3 weeks from now, I will have given up literally hundreds of hours of my time, thousands of dollars in expenses, an untold number of hours of lost sleep, a shot at a promotion at work, and a significant amount of ego to make sure this convention happens. I don’t do this for self-aggrandizement or because I want to hook myself or anyone else up. I do this because going to my first NAAFA convention 7 years ago helped me meet a fabulous group of women that will be my friends for life. Because it started me on a path where I could walk down the street unashamed of my body, wear a sleeveless dress onstage singing in a choir (front row!), and splash around in a 2-piece swimsuit for the first time since I was five years old. Because I know what it was like in the shadows, and the sunshine is so much freer. And because I want to offer other women in the Western equivalent of burkas, both mentally and physically, the opportunity to have fun with other fatties and not worry who’s watching. Activism is important – I wish more people had offered to present activist-leaning workshops, but they didn’t. But it’s also important to take a breather every now and again, lay down our arms for a bit, recognize that we’re all really on the same side, and dance our asses off. One of the things I have always admired about Marilyn is that her righteous anger is mixed with joy. I emulate that because I don’t want the anger to eat me alive – and without the annual joy infusion I get from being surrounded by my sisters, I fear it would.

  41. My name is Peggy Howell, I volunteer my time to NAAFA as do all our Board Members and others who work with us. I am the one who responded to the first post on Seeworthy explaining a bit of what is happening right now with NAAFA. I am also the one who is suppose to be NAAFA’s PR Director. I have been reading this entire string of posts daily.

    I have been aware of NAAFA since the early 90’s and a member since 2001. While on my “round the country tour” in 2004 where I visited all sorts of size related events all over the country, I heard that NAAFA was really struggling. Since I care about size acceptance, I got in touch with a board member I had met, asked the nature of the problems and what I could do to help. She discussed the situation with me and suggested I join the Board. Because I have a background in advertising, I was asked to take on the job of PR.

    When I joined the NAAFA board in 2005, the website was the first thing I started harping about. I totally agree with the fact that our website is our greatest PR tool and have said so repeatedly. I am also embarrassed that it is so outdated. When I came on board, there was so much old/outdated information on the website, nothing current and we did appear dead. A committee was formed, I went through every page of the website making notes about what needed to be updated, even NAAFA’s mailing address and so much more. Paul from BFB, Bill Weitz and then a little later, Jason, all began correcting, updating and changing. The existing website is so convoluted that it’s a monstrous job, even for the most skillful webmaster.

    The decision was made that we should put our energy into creating a new website. Construction began and a grand
    unveiling date was set. It has been my own personal experience that “new” websites ALWAYS take way more time to build than originally estimated (whether done by volunteers or paid web engineers) which is the case here.

    One of the major problems with volunteers is that when one member of the committee fails to fulfill their promised part of a project, it has a domino affect and delays the entire process. There are people who have failed to follow through and we are now suffering the brunt of that.

    There can be many problems arise when an organization is made up entirely of volunteers. You can’t FORCE or COERCE volunteers to do anything and you have no recourse when they let you down and don’t do as they’ve promised. Another BIG problem is that there are two few of us who are reliable and put our money and time where our mouth is.

    I have taken some steps to try to “fill the gap” so to speak while others work on the website (I have no website
    building skills). I have inherited a group called NAAFANEws and although I don’t post there nearly as much as some may think I should, I post articles and studies of interest and “calls to action” when I see something people should really speak up about. You don’t have to be a NAAFA member to join this group. It’s at
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/naafanews/ This is a message only board but I personally receive all responses to
    postings.

    I am old, in fact I will be 60 this Saturday, and it has taken me a while to catch on, but as I looked for ways to reach out to people, especially younger people who can take my place, I finally took a look at My Space. Around the New Year my sister and I created personal spaces and after we had the feel of the land, in April we created the NAAFA My Space page which Sheana posted the link to earlier.

    If you take a look at Friday’s convention workshops you’ll find:
    Spreading the Message with YouTube
    The hottest thing on the internet right now is homespun video clips on YouTube, with “Fat Rant” by Joy Nash and
    “Remember Me” by 15-year-old Lizzie Palmer gaining the attention of mainstream media and garnering millions of
    views. What an incredible tool for passing our message of size acceptance to the world! Join Board members Jason
    Docherty and Peggy Howell as we brainstorm and create “Fat Minutes” from NAAFA. Bring your video cameras or cell
    phones with video capability and let’s get creative.

    There have been people on these two blogs say they have volunteered to help NAAFA but their help been refused. I can honestly say that I don’t know of anyone doing this in the last 2 1/2 yrs I’ve been involved. I also receive and respond to most of the coorespondence that comes in to NAAFA and I haven’t seen any letters of suggestion or criticism come from any of you besides Kell. If Google hadn’t alerted me about the first Seeworthy post about NAAFA, I probably still wouldn’t have heard of or from any of you.

    So now you know more than most of our members know. I have told you about things I plan to include in my speech for the annual meeting at the convention (which by the way, all board members pay full price to attend just like the other attendees). I’d like to leave you with one final thought: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem! I’m not implying by this that NAAFA is THE ONLY solution. If you believe that NAAFA isn’t big enough for you, then by all means start your own organization that will serve you. But if all you are doing is sitting in front of your computers criticizing other people and their efforts, you are the problem!

  42. “But if all you are doing is sitting in front of your computers criticizing other people and their efforts, you are the problem!”

    …But that’s not all we’re doing. This is but one thread on an excellent blog that deals with fat issues, amongst other things. And there are many many more blogs that are fat positive. That’s good!

    If this blog, or BFB, or any other was just “OMG NAAFA SUX” all the time we wouldn’t be getting anywhere. None of us are doing that to the best of my knowledge; it’s just that this topic comes up from time to time because people are, collectively, frustrated.

    But this time, honestly, it feels like something is happening that goes above and beyond that. People are starting to look around and say, hey, if NAAFA isn’t doing what we want/need… maybe we should just do it ourselves. I think there’s an incredible power in that, and it should be encouraged, big time. This is the first time in the seven years of doing BFB that I genuinely feel something bigger is going on.

    I think it’s great that NAAFA has a Myspace page as well as a Yahoo! Group; I (and I think everyone else) just wishes this stuff was more accessible. While you can post it here, and we all can post it on our blogs, really the NAAFA site needs to relay that information – not comment #82948928 on Kate’s blog (sorry, Kate.)

    “If Google hadn’t alerted me about the first Seeworthy post about NAAFA, I probably still wouldn’t have heard of or from any of you.”

    That’s unfortunate, indeed, but I’m not sure one can expect that all of the feedback will come in. Given the nature of the web, a lot of that feedback is sitting out on blogs – some signal, some noise – and it’s vital for organizations, businesses, and people to keep tabs on these things. And, blogging is nearly old hat for The Kids These Days.

    It’s not a matter of age whatsoever; it’s simply the way communication has evolved. Simply because people don’t write an email or a physical letter to NAAFA doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

  43. Is there a link on the main NAAFA page to the myspace page? Because if there is, I can’t find it. Is there a reason the Refund Policy page includes the name of Wal-Mart in the header? Y’all may have a grand plan, but the website -which seems to be the symbol we are using for our concerns with NAAFA as a whole, has sucked for ages.

    And I think that’s the issue that no one here from NAAFA is really addressing. What, when NAAFA appears both outmoded and irrelevant to the point that founding a new organization seems to be a good solution, is supposed to motivate us to turn around and join NAAFA and pour or efforts into that? Seriously. Are we supposed to feel honored that we are being asked to join just because of the age and track record of the org?

    I don’t join because, quite frankly, it feels like a sinking ship. I can either spend my time and energy patching an ever-growing hole, o I can find myself a life raft.

    You have all been very open about inviting us to work with you, under your terms and in whatever capacity you would wind up granting us. Let me turn that around – why don’t YOU come and help US.

  44. I might come and help you. What is your mission statement? What are your plans? If I feel like it aligns with my politics and I feel welcome, I might.

    That Wal-Mart thing is weird – I’ll track that down. The only thing I know about Wal-Mart and NAAFA is a NAAFA statement asking people to think carefully about spending their money at a place that has such awful employment policies.

    We addressed the website issue. It sucks. We know. We’re working on it. It’s taking some time. We need help. We’re looking for help.

    And Paul – “Simply because people don’t write an email or a physical letter to NAAFA doesn’t mean they should be ignored.” Seriously? It’s only “ignoring” if there’s some actual directed communication going on. Are Board members (in addition to everything else they are doing to keep NAAFA going) supposed to spend more time each day reading the blogs of people who are too conflicted about belonging to NAAFA to even be members? Yes, you understand the evolution of communication, but not everyone involved in NAAFA has made it to the 21st century. How committed to your opinions are you if you can’t even be bothered to email a link to your blog to share them with someone?

  45. Hi, Peggy and Carla. Thanks for dropping by.
    I’m really tired and can’t begin to address all your points just yet. But I want to address a couple of things right away.

    1. Carla, we’re in the process of drafting a mission statement. We will certainly let you know when it’s complete. And I am quite committed to my opinions; as I said upthread, I fully stand by everything I said in this post. As I also said, I posted it to start a discussion — mission accomplished, apparently — not because I was personally interested in either reforming or feuding with NAAFA.

    2. Peggy, with regard to this: “But if all you are doing is sitting in front of your computers criticizing other people and their efforts, you are the problem!”

    I am a writer — it’s what I’m trained in; it’s what I do best; it is my activism. Sitting in front of my computer allows me to speak to several thousand people every day, between here and Shakesville. In the near future, I’ll be guest posting at Hoyden About Town, Elastic Waist, and Feministing, which will give me access to many more readers — thousands more, I expect. None of those blogs are fat acceptance blogs; I’ve been invited to get on my fat soapbox at all of them because their editors have responded positively to what I’m doing here.

    There are 222 posts on this blog, and ONE of them criticizes NAAFA. The majority of the rest discuss fat rights, fat pride, self-acceptance, and health at every size from many different angles. The jumping off point for most of them is current news about “obesity” research and fat discrimination. I put in the hours of a full-time job at this, and I don’t get paid for it.

    But I get letters and comments every day from people thanking me because they’d never heard of fat acceptance before, because they’d never felt like they could like themselves as-is before, because they’ve finally realized they really can give up dieting, because they’ve finally realized there is nothing wrong with them — all from reading this blog and others like it.

    If that makes me “the problem,” I’m okay with that.

  46. Kate,
    I think what you’re doing is wonderful! I’m a technical writer by profession, so I especially appreciate well-written prose. As I said in my post, I was unaware of your blog until today, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen in what little poking around I’ve had time to do. I will be back in about…uh…three weeks.

    I know that you’re reaching a whole new audience that NAAFA isn’t, an audience for whom the first thought after a question pops into their mind is “Google it”. And you’re doing a lot of good in having information and discussion there waiting for them. That is first-rate activism. I also appreciate the balanced tone in your original post and am glad it sparked the discussion it did.

    I don’t doubt that you are commited to your opinions. My question was more about why you would write a Dear NAAFA letter, not send it to anyone in NAAFA (okay, the rhetorical device of an open letter, granted), but then wonder why it took three days for anyone to respond. I’m more surprised that any of us found you at all. Yes, it is 2007 and, yes, the internet is the method of disseminating information but, as you can tell from the website, most of NAAFA is not that tech savvy yet. There are exceptions, of course, but we still use snail mail for some members because they don’t have computers. If you want to be sure someone receives the information and opinions you’re putting out there, push technology beats pull technology every time. That’s if you’re interested in engaging people other than those who don’t already know about you or stumble upon you by accident. That’s one of the things that has been a weakness for NAAFA, and I’d hate to see it replicated in the new organization that’s blossoming out of this discussion. A new organization built around the network that you have here has tremendous potential for bringing lots of disparate elements of SA together. I look forward to seeing where this goes!

  47. Hi Peggy.

    “Are Board members (in addition to everything else they are doing to keep NAAFA going) supposed to spend more time each day reading the blogs of people who are too conflicted about belonging to NAAFA to even be members?”

    Not necessarily; board members *should* spend time reading fat blogs in general. Not just for pro- or anti-NAAFA sentiments but to keep up on what’s going on in the fat world.

    “Yes, you understand the evolution of communication, but not everyone involved in NAAFA has made it to the 21st century.”

    That’s fair.

    “How committed to your opinions are you if you can’t even be bothered to email a link to your blog to share them with someone?”

    This made me laugh a little, I must admit. I can’t imagine a world where everyone’s opinion about something posted on a blog needed to be emailed to the entry’s subject; that defeats the purpose of blogs. Technology has basically solved this problem with things like RSS feeds, customized Google News feeds, et al. If it’s a matter of not knowing the technology (and it seems like that’s the case, no?) then it’s unfortunate that there’s no one checking into it because there is a lot of potential and opportunity out “here”, as Kate has pointed out.

  48. I assume the NAAFA representatives are also going around to political blogs asking people why they don’t run for office instead of bitch-bitch-bitching all the time.

    Letters to various papers’ op-ed columnists are also in order.

  49. No problem, Paul. All us fat chicks look alike, no?
    (That was a joke. I do not think that all fat chicks look alike, nor am I implying that Paul can’t tell the difference. Nor, by co-opting the language traditionally associated with the African-American community am I in any way comparing the abomination of slavery with my own experiences as a fat woman. I thought I’d make that clear because my sense of humor doesn’t seem to be translating to text in a way that even a winky smiley can help.)

    Thank you for schooling me in the currently available technology. One still has to choose to accept an RSS feed, yes? (or subscribe, or whatever the kids are calling it these days) (Again, a joke. I am 37 and it amuses me that overnight I have apparently become a technological dinosaur, even though I document software development for a living.) It is very easy to do that from the blog itself, but not so easy to do when you don’t know it exists. If you live in Toledo, does it really matter that the information you want is available on any street corner in New York? Again, not a lot of tech savvy, not a lot of time.

    Google News feeds are indeed new to us. That is how Peggy came across Kate’s blog to begin with. Otherwise, none of this conversation would have happened. It’s not that we don’t want to know, it’s that for the most part, we don’t know it’s there. No matter how many times you tell grandma to set her VCR, it will keep blinking 12:00 until someone who knows how to work VCRs helps.

    And to respond to you, Jess, no, we are not. Because (other) political blogs have not posted a letter directly addressed to us opening up a conversation about how we need to fix our struggling organization. And because it’s a hell of a lot easier (and cheaper!) to volunteer to help NAAFA than to run for office, I don’t feel that the requests are analogous.

    A few years ago, I directed some of the same criticisms that you have to the Board. I got a similar response to the ones that some of you have. When told to “help fix it or shut up”, I chose to help fix it. Within a very short time, I was a Board member, and was one of the members who voted to pass the anti-feederism policy. That was change. I helped. I couldn’t keep up the time committment being on the Board requires (I am laughing at myself right now), so I switched the direction of my volunteer efforts to the convention, for reasons I addressed above. I made mistakes my first year. I took what I learned from them to make the next year’s better. That’s all I can do, is keep making incremental progress to the best of my ability. It’s not revolutionary, it’s not sexy, but it’s what I can do. The more people we have helping to make incremental change, the better. It’s a huge job, and everyone who is trying to impact public and personal opinion matters, whether they’re doing it on a blog or one-on-one in person.

  50. Kate, the mulberry bush I’m talking about is not the always-worthwhile project of educating and raising consciousness about Body Lib principles. The mulberry bush I’m talking about is the one where oppressed people do what Pat Lyons, RN, calls circling the wagons and shooting at each other.

    Just to clarify, Rotund, I am a board member of NAAFA. I speak for myself, not for the whole organization, but I think board members generally agree with me when I say this…

    1. We agree with criticisms here.
    2. We are trying to fix/improve things exactly in the directions the criticisms here would have us go.
    3. We would like your help, but if you’re not interested, that’s fine. We’re glad if you start something else. All efforts toward Body Liberation are needed!
    4. We get tired and sad when we say we’re doing what we can with resources available and that things are changing/improving and people continue to criticize and say it’s not enough.

    I imagine that it is probably a predictable byproduct of oppression that the resources oppressed people create to liberate ourselves from that oppression are not perfect, that they in fact replicate many of the dynamics that we so desperately desire to be free of, and that we must end up doing a kind of ongoing head-shaking process to see the stuff that’s in our own blind spots.

    I don’t really care to spend a lot of my own time and attention trying to figure out which is more devastating to the prospects of ending weight-based oppression, NAAFA’s outdated website/institutional structure or blog-based, public criticisms of the nation’s oldest fat civil rights organization. I don’t actually think that *either* phenomenon is so terribly devastating. I think stomach amputation is devastating. I think that fat children taken from their loving families by the courts is devastating. I think that every fat person who pre-excludes herself or himself from a job or a date or a cute outfit or a good day because they don’t feel they deserve it is devastating.

    I wish you all well. I wish I knew you all better. I wish our first acquaintance, in some cases, had been a topic that I could feel good about.

  51. Found the Wal-Mart issue, BTW. The header from the “rethink patronizing Wal-Mart” (although not encouraging a boycott, or we’d risk losing our 510c3 status – something to keep in mind if your new org-to-be is looking at registering as such) press release got replicated on last year’s refund policy page, which needs to come down anyway.

    Can’t say it’ll come down immediately, but will come down.

  52. My question was more about why you would write a Dear NAAFA letter, not send it to anyone in NAAFA (okay, the rhetorical device of an open letter, granted), but then wonder why it took three days for anyone to respond.

    Carla, you nailed it — rhetorical device. Like I said, I didn’t contact NAAFA directly because I was mostly interested in seeing how people felt about this subject in general. And when I said I was surprised not to see people defending NAAFA earlier, I didn’t mean I was surprised that no one from NAAFA had shown up — just that, among my readers, the response was overwhelmingly negative about NAAFA. I honestly didn’t expect that. (My language was unclear there, though, so I do totally understand why you thought I was saying I expected NAAFA reps to just magically know I’d posted this.)

    I absolutely do make sure people know I’m talking about them if it’s important to me that they know. In this case, I figured the nature of the internet might very well lead to NAAFA folks finding me, but I wasn’t counting on it — nor was it important to me whether you did, in the context of why I posted this. Again, open letter.

    But I really do appreciate your feedback and your willingness to engage in dialogue about new possibilities. Thanks also for acknowledging the balance in my post. My intention was neither to make enemies nor to dismiss all the excellent work that NAAFA has done.

    Oh, and awesome that you’ve figured out the Wal-Mart issue.

    Marilyn, I wish our first acquaintance hadn’t gone like this, too. I think I can speak for every one of the fat bloggers responding here in saying that you are an inspiration and a hero of ours. Alienating you was the last thing on our agenda, I assure you.

    And I did know which mulberry bush you were speaking of — I’ve experienced it working with feminist organizations, among other places. My point was, going around and around on things you’ve been over a billion times is just the shitty part of being a progressive. You need new people all the time, and every new person needs education. It’s exhausting, and I know you’ve been at this long enough to be especially tired of newcomers walking in and picking fights with the old guard, instead of recognizing that we’re all on the same side.

    But that’s really not what I was trying to do here. Again, I can understand how I created that perception with my words, but one blog post doesn’t really have enough room for all the nuance required to explain myself fully.

    And I think, as you point out, we’re in agreement on a lot more things than we’re in disagreement on — particularly regarding what is and is not devastating. That’s why, as I said earlier, this is only one post out of over 200, and hundreds more to come.

    But to you, Peggy, Carla, and anyone else listening, there’s one point I haven’t addressed yet, which I think is important (although I also don’t enjoy saying it, because I respect NAAFA members individually and particularly appreciate the dialogue going on here).

    I didn’t pick on NAAFA because it’s an easy target; I picked on NAAFA because it is, in fact, a difficult target. Because we bloggers all appreciate the history of NAAFA and the efforts of some fantastic people who have been associated with it; because it IS the nation’s oldest civil rights org for our movement, we were actually all loath to publicly criticize NAAFA.

    E-mails were flying before I posted this, among people who were all pretty much saying, “There’s a big problem here, but how do we acknowledge it without looking like ungrateful pissants?” I decided to go for it and take my ungrateful pissant lumps. And that triggered a cascade of responses, public and private, along the lines of, “I feel the same way, but I didn’t want to say anything.”

    And since what I’m focused on here is a PR problem that affects the movement as a whole, that’s really troubling to me. It seems to me that the mainstream media/culture is showing more willingness than ever (not that that’s saying much) to seriously consider the concept of fat acceptance, or at least HAES — the media coverage of Joy Nash and Gina Kolata comes to mind. And the fact that Joy’s video has been watched a million times, the fact that fat-blog readership is growing like crazy, the fact that thin progressive bloggers are saying, “Hey, I never thought about this before, but I see now that it’s a serious civil rights issue” … all that suggests that there are tons of people out there who want to hear this message, and are looking for it on the internet.

    When they look, they find that there’s an organized, longstanding group addressing these issues — awesome! Then they find that there’s apparently been no fat acceptance news in years.

    Not so awesome.

    That was the whole point of this post. NAAFA’s website undermines the message we’re all trying to get out — that there is an active movement, that our rights are being threatened in new ways every day, that we’re being sold a bunch of lies about “health” to market weight loss products and place a fig leaf over outright bigotry. When the country’s oldest civil rights org representing our movement is not providing updated information for people who want to find it, that hurts the movement. And I wanted to know what people intend to do — either from within NAAFA or from without — to address that serious PR problem.

    I know the board realizes the website needs work, and you’re on it. That’s fantastic. And the main reason I won’t offer my skills — as I said way upthread — is that I have none, when it comes to web stuff. I use a free, completely idiot-proof blogging service (www.wordpress.com) to publish this. All I do is type. (And many resources like that are out there if NAAFA wants to make an updated internet presence a priority.)

    I understand that no one is ever going to agree on what should be Job One — or Job Last, or how to rank all the jobs in between. Those of us in the fatosphere who are trying to work together already have plenty of internecine disagreements — and believe me, we’re well aware of how ANY non-profit inevitably suffers from that; the question is really how massive of a distraction it becomes. But the problem is, while NAAFA’s trying to juggle a zillion different balls and find agreement among different personalities, and actually get things done, the website is still out there telling the world, “The fat rights movement is disorganized and out of date.” And as I said, that really does affect everyone who’s joining this fight, in any capacity.

    Is it devastating? No. But it’s misleading and, more importantly, demoralizing to new fat acceptance activists and allies.

    That’s why I focused on that one thing. Is it more important than working to get anti-discrimination legislation passed? HELL no. But so many potential allies don’t know that anti-discrimination legislation is even in the works, because the information is not there at the first place people look. That’s without getting into the fact that there is no way to make a donation to NAAFA online without joining up, no current list of other web resources, or even recent books on the subject. There is nothing up-to-date for journalists who say, “Hmm, what’s this Joy Nash phenomenon about — does it represent something bigger?”

    And the thing is, since I posted this, I’ve heard from numerous people — not just those who have political or personal disagreements with the NAAFA board — that people have been saying this stuff, and offering volunteer labor to fix it for YEARS. I have heard from numerous people — some of whom I don’t know; some of whom I know, trust, and esteem — that they have tried to get involved with NAAFA in the past and found themselves rebuffed, excluded, condescended to, and frustrated to no end.

    So, despite the fact I’ve got 3 board members here having a respectful and useful discussion with me and inviting me to join up, I’m afraid the best information I have still suggests that NAAFA is simply broken — maybe beyond repair, maybe not.

    And I do NOT relish that thought. I do not wish you any ill. I do not want to compete with NAAFA. I do not want to see NAAFA go down. I definitely don’t want to feud with NAAFA, or boost my own profile by taking cheap shots.

    But as it stands, I still don’t want to be a member of NAAFA, either. Because my priority (not to mention what my personal skills are best suited to) is harnessing the growing momentum on the internet and getting information out to people who are looking for it. Joining NAAFA seems to be about the least efficient possible path toward that end. And, frankly, I just don’t want my name associated with an organization that, in 2007, can’t get a strong web presence together — even if I have all the respect in the world for its other accomplishments, which I do.

    That’s about as clear and honest as I can be on the matter. Again, I mean no disrespect, and I really appreciate you all coming by here to have this conversation. But that’s where I stand. Feel free to e-mail me if you want me to clarify or expand on anything I’ve said.

  53. It is completely inexplicable to me why people here hold me in high regard, when the FAT!SO? website has not changed since I first loaded it in 1995 or 1996. (People who have attempted to order FAT!SO? t-shirts of ‘zines based on its outdated info certainly have had legitimate gripes, as I accept no payments and fill no orders. For that function, see http://www.voluptuart.com.)

    NAAFA is in the contact system for all major media. NAAFA reps do a solid job of responding to media inquiries. The NAAFA convention serves as a meaningful family reunion for a community of people who have been showing up, in some cases, for decades. The NAAFA newsletter appears regularly and is available on the NAAFA website. NAAFA board members are first responders to dozens of requests for help (with insurance, with finding open MRIs, with handling job discrimination, with finding clothing, with regaining child custody, with passing civil rights legislation).

    I feel your pain regarding the NAAFA website.

    I would also like to suggest that a website may not always be the total (or primary) reality of any one person or project or organization.

    I’ve enjoyed all sorts of interactions since I came out as a fat person. Early on, I was what I now call an “armchair size accepter,” as opposed to what I am now, a public, out-n-proud fat rebel. I agree that people can access Body Lib concepts online quickly and that such encounters are revolutionary for each person who is touched by the concept of being at home in one’s own skin. However, based on my own experience, that realization only goes so far when it’s a text-based, screen-based interaction. I’ll never regret dragging and clicking for the revolution. I’ll also never regretted having been the first person (to my knowledge) to wear a thong bikini at a fat pride community pool party. Nothing I’ve ever done online can do what that big splash did for me. Just as meatspace can’t duplicate the ease and access of the internet.

  54. Marilyn, while it’s true that you haven’t “updated” the Fat!So? site, in a sense it is being “updated” all the time by the posts in the Gab Cafe, where fresh topics are brought up multiple times a day. So it’s a somewhat different situation from NAAFA’s.

  55. Hi

    Most people that I speak to are in no position to attend a NAAFA Convention, so isn’t all the effort put into the Convention wasted on the few while the many have to make due with the Website?

    William (NAAFA member)

  56. Pingback: Something to “Bitch” About « fat fu

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