A while ago I discussed NAAFA (the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance)’s discussion about changing their name to eliminate the word fat. I recently came across an interview about this with NAAFA’s board chair in which he said something that I found to be highly problematic:
The reason the word ‘fat’ was kept in the structure of our communications was it was an attempt to reclaim the word so it wasn’t seen as a bad word. Unfortunately, that part of the media war has been lost.
I think that this is a big deal because it’s someone representing himself as a leader of our community saying in national media that his organization is giving up identifying as “fat” because the “media war is lost” for the entire movement. I understand that NAAFA is a struggling organization looking for a new direction, I know that they’ve done a lot of great work in the past and that they can do a lot of great work in the future. Things change and that’s ok – when the NAAFA constitution was written it included the passage
We choose to use the word fat to describe ourselves in order to remove the negative connotations normally associated with larger-than-average body size.
I understand if they no longer feel that they can lead that fight, I don’t disagree. But I don’t think the fact that they haven’t gotten it done yet and no longer want to keep trying means that “the media war has been lost.” I think it’s just time for others to pick up the mantle, thank NAAFA for the great work they’ve done, and start moving it forward from here.
I think that there is actually a lot of momentum in this area. This year alone Time, CNN, NPR, and Yahoo Shine, among others, have published articles using fat as a neutral descriptor. A piece I wrote for the Ms. Fit magazine called “Hail the Fathletes
” has received almost 18,000 hits in four days – the most in the history of the magazine. Awesome writers like Marilyn Wann
, Leslie Kinzel, Nudemuse
and Virgie Tovar
(and plenty who I’m forgetting at 4am) write using fat as a neutral/positive descriptor. Almost all of my work for NBC’s iVillage
uses the word fat in this way and my editor never bats an eye. Golda Poretsky was invited to do a fabulous TEDx talk called Why It’s Ok to be Fat
NAAFA’s past work deserves part of the credit for this progress and I really appreciate them for that. It sounds like they don’t think it’s their path anymore and that is ok. There is plenty of work to do and there is no shame in backing down from one fight and picking another one, I’m just not ok with their leader taking to the media to say that the “war is over” because the NAAFA board doesn’t want to fight it anymore.
I think that reclaiming terms are important. My personal use of the word fat is one of the ways that I tell the bullies of my past that they can’t have my lunch money anymore, and that I get to choose the words that describe me – so for me this is a big deal.
The media war around the word fat is far from over. In fact, I would suggest that – however slowly, however painfully – we are winning. I wish NAAFA’s board the best of luck with whatever name and direction they choose. Nobody is required to self-identify as fat and it’s totally ok if organizations or individuals don’t want to take up the “fat fight” for any reason. But let’s be clear that lots of people are still fighting it, I’m one of them, and if this is important to you then I hope to see you on the battlefield!