Oceans Aweigh (This is a cross post of my FFFinal Blog for the FFF website)
This is my FFFinal blog post for FFF, and needless to say it isn’t easy for me to say goodbye. So you may notice a bit of rambling in this post because I want to try and squeeeeeeeze in as much as possible!
My reasons for leaving are entirely due to time constraints. There are just not enough hours in the day/week/month for me to sustain my private practice, my own blog, monthly schmooze-letter, family obligations, and the volunteer work that comes from my involvement in several professional organizations. This is not a new dilemma for me … I have had a refrigerator magnet in my kitchen for years begging for someone to please,
But I have to take responsibility for my own actions and that means letting go of some of my commitments. What it doesn’t mean is letting go of the amazing community that has been created by all of the devoted volunteer bloggers and readers who make this website a safe, supportive, and unique place to learn and share knowledge, opinions, disagreements, and feelings related to body image and size acceptance.
If there is one thing I have learned from the years I have blogged under Atchka’s wonderful leadership, it’s how vital community is. The importance increases exponentially when you are a part of a community that is considered by many to be less than worthy compared to the more accepted popular societal groupings. The friendships that develop over the years manifest, at least for me, a sense of home. I know that I am with people who are not assessing my value based on weight; or my success based on the size of my pants! It’s comforting and, as I recently discovered, allows for precious interactions that reach far beyond the borders of North America.
This past summer I had the good fortune to travel to Europe and, as luck would have it, a person I met through the Fat Acceptance (FA) community at Bay Area Think Tank meetings was in Amsterdam at the same time! Paradoxically, it was easier to arrange a visit with each other all the way in The Netherlands than in The Bay Area, where our day-to-day schedules are more complicated. So there I was, sitting with Psychotherapist and Art Curator Nomi Dekel at a pancake house having a splendid time talking about body image, size acceptance, and art … yes ART! Because of my background in Art Therapy and Nomi’s company, VoluptuArt whose tagline is:VoluptuArt brings you art & gifts that will inspire you to celebrate your body. We all need images, that say YES, my body is beautiful and good no matter what size, shape, age, color or gender. I was excited to tell her about the artwork I had seen in Holland of big, beautiful, fabulous women (aka Dikke Dames). Not just an occasional Rubenesque tribute to curves, but a bunch of contemporary artists! (BTW, I have started to contact the artists and hope to post the interviews on my website in the near future.) But sitting there on that sunny, breezy day, the pancakes were awesome, the slagroom (whipped cream) yummy, but the company was the most scrumptious of all. Two women very far away from home and yet very much at home. Later on in the week, I had another wonderful meet up; this time in Malverne, a small town in England. I know many of you are
familiar with Angela Meadows as one of our FFF bloggers, but the work Angela is doing in the UK is amazing. I was humbled and grateful that Angela took a train and traveled many, many kilometers out of her way so we could spend a few hours together. Angela had just finished putting together a weight stigma conference. As we sat together in The Wood and talked about the conference, our personal and professional involvement in the FA community, and compared notes on the trials and tribulations of doctoral degrees in a subject that goes against the grain … well, it was truly a “without borders” experience.I left my visit with Ang feeling warm and fuzzy about how tight knit and far reaching our community is. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the work of so many others in Europe. Social media has introduced me to Fatima Parker, Gisela Enders, among so many others. But what Facebook et. al. does not do is put you in hugging proximity. Call me a mush (you wouldn’t be the first), but hugs, hand holding, and eye contact just brings things to a whole-nother-level!
When I returned home, my curiosity was piqued about the Body Acceptance and fat activism efforts going on in Europe. So with the goal of contributing even a tiny bit to letting folks know about our global community, I contacted Gisela Enders, Angela Meadows, and Fatima Parker and invited them to answer some questions about how we can support and learn from each other even though we are oceans away.
And if there were any questions that were specific to the person I was interacting with I also added those. For example, Gisela Enders is in Germany and I noticed that in Holland and Germany the word dicke, dikke or Dikke Dames is used when referring to big or fat women. So I asked Gisela about that. Here is what she had to say!
Gisela: Before I start answering these questions I have to make some remarks concerning Europe. We are not as unique as the US is. We have about 25 different languages and just as many different cultures. But I guess the language barrier is the biggest barrier, which makes it difficult for me to answer questions from a European perspective. I know that there are organizations in different countries, but I do not know very much in detail about them. And it takes a lot of time and guessing, to use internet-translators to understand websites and other material. But I do have lots of knowledge about the German FA movement and a little idea about other countries.
Dr. Deah: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and for clarifying that you are not speaking for all of Europe anymore than I could speak for all of America’s FA community. That being said, could you give us a brief timeline of the FA movement in Europe? For example when did it first arrive? Who were there people associated with starting the FA in Europe? What were the goals of the movement, etc.?
Gisela: In Germany the FA movement started around 1995. A first association was founded and grew rather fast. It was a pity that after about four years the organization died due to internal fights. The goals of this first association were to work for the acceptance of fat people and to fight against any form of stigmatization. I know that around that time also organizations were active in France and in the UK, but we didn’t really have contact.
Around 2008, new organizations started in Germany again. Mainly two: The Association against the Discrimination of Fat People and again Dicke e.V. I founded the latter and this time (to avoid fights) it was designed as an information platform, with offers for fat people as well as lobby work, but with no group structure or big goals concerning membership. The issues were the same as in the first organization in the 90s.
In 2012 and 2013, we had the first opportunity to invite organizations from Europe to meet in Berlin (it was even funded by the European Commission). This gave me a pretty good overview of active people in Europe. And it helped us to get to know each other. And then in 2013 and 2014 in the UK, Angela Meadows organized conferences about weight stigma.
Dr. Deah: Could you explain the word dikke and why it is used as part of the FA Europe message?
Gisela: “Dicke e.V.” means “Fat Association” and only works for Germany, since it is German.
Dr. Deah: How much influence or interaction is there between FA Europe and FA America?
Gisela: I can only talk for Dicke e.V … I do read a lot of blogs and internet pages and participate in conferences like the one Ragen [Chastain] organized last weekend. And we are trying to translate interesting articles and put them on our websites. I don’t know about any interaction the other way around, besides your questions right now. And we don’t have the time to translate all of our material into English to be noticed in the US.
Dr. Deah: What are the major obstacles you face in having your point of view publicized or understood?
Gisela: The general idea in Europe is similar to the US: only a thin body is a good body. So we do work against the mainstream. But still there seems to be interest in what we are saying and we are often interviewed by the media for example. Especially when it comes to Health at Every Size® (HAES) — many people tend to question the studies mentioned. It seems too “easy” if fat people could also be healthy. For the work in general, we face a big limitation due to money. It is not common in Germany to sponsor activities. Private funding is much better established in the US than in Europe. For activities done for kids, the environment, handicapped, or lots of others, you get money from the government. And it is no surprise that there is not a funding program for the acceptance of fat people (but a lot for weight loss).
Dr. Deah: Are there any books that are/were influential in FA Europe?
Gisela: Again, I can only talk for Germany and German books. I wrote two and, especially the first one, Dick das Leben Leben (Live a Fat Life) was very well acknowledged in the fat community. The second one was written for young women and it did not sell as well. Besides them, there are several others which were written by German authors. But most likely they will never be translated into English, that’s why I don’t think it makes sense to list them here.
Dr. Deah: How did you first become aware and interested in the issue of FA? People, books, movies, etc.?
Gisela: I personally became involved through a self-experiencing group in the early 90s. The issue was, “Living a fat life in our society.” Out of this group, the first Dicke e.V. was started. The main person starting the activity was Barbara Bahr.
Dr. Deah: Besides your Fat Acceptance Europe Facebook Page, are there other ways people in the States can find out more about what you are doing?
Gisela: Yes, we do have websites, but they are in the national languages. In Germany you can find us under www.dicker-verein.de and the Association Against Fat Discrimination under www.gewichtsdiskriminierung.de. The French organization, Allegro Fortissimo, also has a website: http://www.allegrofortissimo.com. The Danish organization can be found at http://www.befrielse.dk. And in Sweden: http://www.overvikt.se. There are some more. It is not only difficult for you to follow up, it is also difficult for ourselves. I only speak German and English, so I don’t understand the websites. But we don’t have the time, to translate everything into English. And to offer it only in English would not meet the needs of our readers.
Dr. Deah: How can we build more collaboration between FA America and Europe?
Gisela: What we would need in Europe is a network of national organizations active on Fat Acceptance in Europe. Since all organizations are rather small, nobody started the initiative yet, due to missing resources. It might develop in the future, but I will not promise too much.
Dr. Deah: Anything else you would like to say?
Gisela: Yes! Let’s stay in contact!
Which is the perfect way to for me to say goodbye to my role as a blogger for FFF. Staying in contact is what it is all about. After communicating with Gisela, a few things resonated powerfully in my brain and my heart. The first, how can I find the time and money to get my big old booty to Germany and meet this woman??? The second, you can feel the passion and determination in her desire to fight fat discrimination and stigmatization and THAT is familiar territory no matter where any particular Fat Activist may live. And third, weight loss funding always trumps financial support for body acceptance efforts.
It is frustrating that money, time, and language are such major barriers to spreading the word and unifying FA communities. But I found great solace in knowing we are out there doing what we can to fight what seems to be a cross-cultural disdain for the fat people in our towns, villages, and cities. For those of you who have read my latest book, Dr. Deah’s Calmanac, you may remember the part where I said that if I could choose one super power it would be to have the ability to speak every language in the world. Not as sexy as X-ray vision or the ability to fly, but something more precious to me: the key to communication, connection, and staying in contact.
I will continue to be in contact with the FFF community and, if you are so inclined, I would love for you to continue to follow some of my musings on body image and size acceptance … including my interviews with Fatima Parker, Angela Meadows and artists from Holland painting Dikke Dames. Please feel free to stop by and visit my website and/or sign up for my free monthly Schmooze-letter. And perhaps our paths will cross somewhere unexpected … it’s a Big Fat Small World After All!
Til next time,
P.S. Attention Bay Area Folks, join us for
A One-Day Event New Tools Old Oppression on Saturday, October 25, 2014: 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Please join us for a one-day event featuring:
- Sonya Renee Taylor, Performance Poet
- Keynote on Weight Stigma by Dr. Deb Burgard
- Diverse Experiences of Weight Stigma: A Panel moderated by Jessica Wilson
- Expressive Arts Activities led by Dr. Deah Schwartz
- Embodiment Explorations facilitated by Fall Ferguson
- A Fat Flash Mob Experience with Juicy D. Light
Location: James C. Irvine Foundation Conference Center, 353 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 *Registration deadline: Monday, Oct. 20, 2014*