Public Speaking and Activism in Unsafe Spaces

Saturday Love Your Body Detroit attended an expo whose name I am going to omit because if you know me, you already know the name of the organization and you probably already know the events that occurred at this expo. We thought that we were entering a safe space; sadly enough this was not the case, which not only surprised us but also made us feel frustrated over the situations that took place.

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As a fat activist I know that the form of activism I do, that all people within the movement partake in is radical. To live in a fat body and think that it is ok no matter what scares people. To assume that all fat people will understand the message and not have a visceral hateful reaction to our movement is naïve, but in reality I am the type of person that thinks the best of all people until they prove me wrong.

The people who attended the event were fabulous; the panel I participated on was on point with a message that I think was important for everyone to hear. We had an impact that was positive even to the people who didn’t want to listen. Sadly we should have looked at the list of vendors before signing on to get a space ourselves, because the events that occurred happened when other vendors, who sold diet products, took issue with our message and instead of being professional as we tried to be they became confrontational, creating a hostile environment for us to be in.

Even with that I am happy that we went, not happy for the emotional toll it took on myself and the other activist with me, but happy for the people we reached out to and the ones who said that our message is good. I am happy for the women who bought the “I love my fat body” button, so that when she is ready she can wear it with pride.

Below is my speech from the conference.

Thank you so much for having me. While Love Your Body Detroit’s movement only began a year ago and I have spent the last 8 years working and learning more about the fat rights movement, but it is bigger than me, bigger than this room or city. Beginning in 1969, the formation of what is now known as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance set out as a civil rights organization dedicated to end size discrimination. It was in 1973 when Judy Freespirit, a member of the Fat Underground, wrote the Fat Liberation Manifesto.

In it she included, “WE demand equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life, as promised in the Constitution of the United States. We demand equal access to goods and services in the public domain, and an end to discrimination against us in the areas of employment, education, public facilities and health services.”

It is because of this revolution for fat liberation the movement has strengthened and evolved into what it is today. In the last two decades, with the birth of the online community, our voice has continued to grow louder and more demanding, fighting for our humanity, our rights and our dignity.
I am an advocate for body equality and this is as far reaching as oppression is deep. I actively live my life to change not only my own circumstances, but also the lives of those who will follow after me. We are taught to believe that it is our own fault our bodies are fat, due to a lack of control and neglect. Even though this type of stereotyping about fat people is not based in fact but prejudice. We must make our voices heard and speak out against fat prejudice in every facet of life. When I face weight bias in the doctor’s office, I address it. When a store doesn’t carry my clothing size, I let them know. And when I am verbally harassed in public, I respond.

What is often left in the dark or pushed aside as an afterthought are how our own bodies are political. How the clothes we wear, or don’t wear, send a distinct message to the world about how we view our body. We conform to society’s demands by the way we perform normality. We are taught from an early age our bodies have clothes that are either acceptable or unacceptable for them. When you live in a fat body it is easier to understand this concept, because the availability, accessibility and affordability of clothing is limited. It is harder to find a variety the larger you are. We are led to believe we should be ashamed of our bodies and must hide them; cover them from head to toe in clothes, in the hope they distract the world from our fatness. I am a fat activist all day, every day. When I walk out in the world wearing short skirts and sleeveless tops, I am making the statement that I refuse to hide behind the shame and stigma that society dictates I should feel because of my body.

With the continued growth of the plus size fashion industry and a larger selection of styles for fat women and men to choose from; how clothes can be a political form of activism gets muddled by the ways in which the fashion industry sells us clothing. Messages from clothing manufacturers often tell us we can use clothing to buy our own identity or sense of personal agency. Wearing things fat people are not suppose to wear does challenge people to think differently about fat bodies but you are still going to be subject to fat prejudice. So by believing you can change or hide your fatness through clothing ignores the overwhelming fat stigma people face on a daily basis. It also stops people from understanding the root cause of fat prejudice, which is not the appearance of fat people, but the deep seeded fat hatred ingrained in us from an early age.

The main reason plus size-clothing manufacturers exist in the first place is to make money. While they do try to fill in the gaps ‘straight’ size manufacturers ignore, almost all big names still try to please the masses who do not want to live in fat bodies and believe we all want to appear as thin as possible. With the tremendous number of products like body shapewear or panels in pants to hide bellies or “bad spots” imply there is something inherently wrong with living in a fat body without shame of any part of your body. While they carry these products due to demand, to truly encourage fat positive ideals, they should be pushing for their customers to live in their body with pride for their body, their whole body, not just parts of their body.

The Fat rights movement is the radical idea that your body is acceptable no matter what size or shape you are. No one has the right to dehumanize, stigmatize or discriminate against you because of it. There is so much more we can do and be. This movement is decades old, but there is still so much that needs to happen before we can stop fat prejudice. While having more access to clothing can be important for allowing fat people to assimilate into society, we have multiple concerns to address. These range from health care prejudice, inequitable hiring and promotional practices in the workplace, verbal and physical attacks on fat people, and the belief that fat people are inherently unhealthy. These issues need to be tackled for true liberation to become a reality.

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7 thoughts on “Public Speaking and Activism in Unsafe Spaces

  1. OMG, that’s the streets of Detroit in the historical museum, isn’t it? Missing my hometown…

    Anyway, great speech, and I’m so sorry to hear that you were harassed by diet mongers at an event that should have been size positive. That really sucks. But it’s good that you were there to provide at least a little bit of balance.

    • It is! You know your Detroit museums. If you ever want to visit let me know! We can have dinner.

  2. Wow, that is an amazing speech. You are really a fat acceptance warrior!

    Without knowing the details, my impression is that your mere presence, with your message, was so threatening as to feel like an attack on the other vendors there. How dare anyone question the belief that fat is bad? Their actions, which sound unconscionable, were driven by fear. Their tactics were those of bullies.
    I’m sorry for any toll it exacted on you, however, as you recover, know that you are among those whose (non-violent) warrior status also lead them into enemy territory where they were attacked.

    • Thanks. The more I move away from that day the better I feel about it. Things will never be perfect, I just think the reaction we had was because we thought it would be a safe space. All of the other activism we did this summer was not in body positive environments but they were more inviting and appreciative of our message. It was strange to be honest.

  3. That’s a great speech. I especially love your points about the retail clothing industry. I’m unaware of the expo and what happened at it. Can you point me to a link where I might find that information?

    • There isn’t a link I can send you that will explain what happened. Basically we were continually confronted by diet vendors while at our table for the whole 8 hours that the expo was running, at the end we were confronted by 4 people. At some point I might be more specific about what happened but right now I haven’t decided when.

  4. I’m sorry you were harassed by the diet vendors. I’m sure the reason they did that to you was because you threatened them. Imagine: if everyone listened to your message, the diet vendors would be out of business.

    Thank you for going. Just by being there you were a voice in the wilderness for those who don’t know there is another way to live other than with body hatred. You brought the news that dieting isn’t the way to end size opression; that ending the oppresion itself is the way to end size oppression.

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