Last Friday’s 30th Anniversary Blog Carnival event celebrating Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression was a great success! Fat activists came together and shared their thoughts about and experiences with Shadow on a Tightrope, reflecting on how far fat activism has come and how much work still needs to be done. With humor and admirable honesty, Bell discussed how the book has been a continual reminder for her to practice self-love and self-care. In a powerful piece as heartwrenching as it was fierce, Friedman spoke to how reading Shadow on a Tightrope was a final revelation that envisioning a world free from body shaming is not wrong, but righteous in so many ways. Notkin reminisced on how she first began “flirting with fat activism in the early 1980s,” but somberly noted that in spite of gains made, we still have prominent figures in the media buying into the childhood obesity narrative (such as Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign). In a poignant meditation on fat acceptance, Thomas adamantly pushes for a society that moves away from stigmatization and towards a liberatory praxis she calls social empathy. These are just a few memorable examples from the discursive jamboree we were privileged to host.
Already feeling nostalgic about the radical blog ride you went on last week? Take a stroll down Memory Tightrope by clicking the links below to reread and savor your favorite pieces.
Sharon Robinson (Find out how Shadow on a Tightrope got its name!)
We also have honorary blog entries from activists Marilyn Wann and Lynn McAfee posted here for your reading pleasure. If you haven’t yet, check out their amazing pieces below!
“Remembering the Fat Underground” by Lynn McAfee (Lynn Mabel-Lois):
The first time I heard about the Fat Underground was in November 1973. I was sitting in my rented room in Hawthorne, CA, listening to an ancient radio and feeling very alone. I stopped turning the dial when I hit a talk show with minimum static, having given up on finding any decent music station. Suddenly, there was Aldebaran and the Fat Underground and my life’s work began.
On the radio that day, I heard for the first time that there were others who knew about the failure rate of dieting, and who also knew we didn’t deserve the discrimination we received on a daily basis. Aldebaran talked about sexism and weight, health and weight, body pride, and she was saying everything I had come to believe. She had even started a group of people who also believed – the Fat Underground. The thought that there could be other people who believed in these things was fabulous, wonderful, and enough to give me hope that maybe someday I would not feel like an outcast and a crazy person because I chose to face the facts about dieting.
At my very first Fat Underground meeting we decided to write “position papers”; Aldebaran and I did the first one, “Fat Women and Women’s Fear of Fat”. I was terrified of writing and felt quite intimidated by Al’s brilliance and sociopolitical knowledge. But Al taught me how to work together in harmony and get the best out of both of our ideas. We spent many hours together learning about each other’s lives and experiences because we firmly believed, and I still believe, that “the personal is political”.
Writing those position papers was a way of discovering and refining our political positions, and often a catharsis for the individual author and secondarily for many in the group. The joy and pain we experienced from writing as activism brought us closer, and the Fat Underground became a family for me. The relief and pride I felt when Aunt Lute published the book ten years later was tremendous. All our work of those years, all the sacrifices and pain and joy, had been saved and would live on for others to experience and think about and use to make change. That’s all any of us ever really wanted.
Marilyn Wann’s piece:
I moved to San Francisco right after college, as did some of my friends. We were all working first jobs and trying to fill our new lives. In that mode, I followed the suggestion of a college friend’s roommate, Susan Arthur, and volunteered at a first-annual San Francisco book festival in 1992 and got assigned to walk Susan Faludi to her talk. At the end of my shift, I was walking quickly along one of the aisles between booths, when a book cover sparkled in my vision. (There’s probably a physics experiment one could do, to find the speed at which the grey-and-white-striped cover of Shadow on a Tightrope produces that optical illusion.) I went over to investigate and reading the title — “writings by women on fat oppression” — was enough. I bought it, rushed home, read long passages as I flipped through it, in one big swoop.
I finally had a word for the alienation and anger and outsiderness I’d felt all my life. Martha Courtot’s essay on weight stigma, especially, served as a lightning rod for my new rage and new consciousness. I signed up for every resource in the book’s back pages. I joined NAAFA, read a newsletter from Portland called Ample-Something, and attended one of the by-then-rare shows of Fat Lip Readers Theater. I started talking to select friends about the societal hierarchies based on weight. With them, I connected weight politics to the feminism and queer politics we were engaged in.
I think of this time as my armchair size-accepter phase, a necessary preparation. When I had what I call my Really Bad Day (a double whammy of social and institutional exclusion), I was ready to come out publicly and proudly as a fat activist. I started the print FAT!SO? ‘zine the next day, something I’m sure I would never have thought to do if I had not read the crucial political analysis in Shadow on a Tightrope or had its powerful example.
The FAT!SO? ‘zine (and then the FAT!SO? book) have given me a great excuse to have all sorts of adventures, for decades now, that I wouldn’t have pursued if I’d been concerned only with my personal experience and self-image. But the political pursuit has, in the process, brought me so much personal growth, strength, and liberation. It’s been a precious and humbling experience to hear from people that my fat lib efforts have sparked and supported them in their liberation, too. I’m forever grateful to everyone who contributed to Shadow on a Tightrope and who keeps it in print!
I see a lot of similarities between the struggle that people in the Fat Underground engaged in (and wrote about in Shadow) and the struggles that people are still engaging in with fat activism, with the Health At Every Size® approach, and with academic work in fat studies. We’ve had all sorts of victories in these 30 years since Shadow was first published, while the weight-negative institutions and social attitudes have also grown stronger. I don’t dismay at this linear tug of war — I believe things change in great shifts in attitude after lots of inchings back and forth. That shift, when weight hate and weight-based health beliefs become obviously unacceptable, seems inevitable to me. What gives me huge hope is how many more of us are in the mix now and how many viewpoints we express. People are bringing their crucial experiences and stories and analysis of how weight oppression connects to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, healthism, ableism, classism, and more. I don’t know what we’ll accomplish in the next 30 years, but I know it will be fabulous!
In the wake of this fat liberation high, be sure to continue celebrating the book’s legacy by ordering your own copy of this pioneering work. Of course, it has to be said that none of this would be possible without the onslaught of enthusiasm and support we have received. To that end, we give our warmest, most heartfelt thanks to Marilyn Wann and everyone else who participated in this wonderful online celebration of one of our most treasured works. Aunt Lute is honored to be a platform for marginalized voices to be heard, and we hope that with your help, we can continue to do so, one revolutionary book at a time.