Originally published August 15 in PQ Monthly.
By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
The heart of the fat positivity movement grew another size this year. NOLOSE, an activist organization originally called the National Organization for Lesbians of SizE, has shed an identity-based membership policy in favor of one that has room for everyone who supports the cause.
“We shifted from being open exclusively to women and male-identified trans people after seeing that our policies continued to exclude people and support body policing at the conference,” says North Portland resident and NOLOSE board co-chair Galadriel Mozee, 35. “The goal of this change is to create a larger more politically active organization that challenges participants to really explore their own privilege and desire for coalition building.”
This will be the first year men who don’t identify as transgender are welcome to join their fellow fat activists for NOLOSE 2012: Fat Strikes Back!, Sept. 7-9 in San Francisco. Organizers say the more-or-less annual conference will include DIY workshops, coalition building, skill sharing, pool time, and food.
The itinerary may seem like standard conference fodder, but its impact is greater than the sum of its parts.
“For a good part of my life I struggled with accepting and loving my body and seeing the beauty of other fat/of size people. It was a struggle that would sometimes lift and other times make life really difficult,” says Mozee, who first joined the NOLOSE board two years ago. “This shifted dramatically for me when I moved to Portland and was introduced to the NOLOSE community. There is a large and supportive fat positive community in Portland and I began to be able to see myself as valuable, beautiful, and just right.”
Despite the progress of social justice movements such as LGBTQ equality, people of size still face pervasive discrimination. Daily headlines attempt to link health with size while ads push an ideal body that is uniformly svelte. As a result, people of size may be denied adequate healthcare services and even be turned away completely, according to Mozee.
“It is a racial, socioeconomic and food justice issue for me,” Mozee says. “I see the constricts of body politics squeezing especially tight on people of color, poor people, and people without access to food options.”
While fat phobia — which, like homophobia, is more complex than simple fear — adds to the burden carried by already oppressed groups, Mozee says its not just fat folks who suffer.
“Fat phobia hurts people of size by telling them they are not of value, there is no place for them and they do not deserve respect, but it also hurts people whose bodies currently fall into society’s acceptable parameters by demonstrating to them that should their bodies stop being acceptable they will lose privilege and power,” Mozee says.
Fat positivity is likewise more nuanced that the name might suggest. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not about encouraging people to gain weight or eroticizing fat. Despite the fact that some folks identify as “SuperSize,” activists aren’t advocating for fast food binges. (Though they certainly wouldn’t shame a person for going on one.)
“The belief that fat people eat unhealthy is a huge tenant of fat phobia and internalized fat phobia. It is important for all people, including people of size, to have access to fresh, whole foods, not in order to lose weight, but because having a direct connection to our food demonstrates our place in the cycle of things,” say Mozee, who identifies as a radical gardener. “Knowing how to grow and/or prepare fresh foods allows us to be self-sufficient.”
In a world not built for people of size, fat activists are accustomed to doing it themselves. In Portland, that DIY spirit infuses fat-friendly businesses such as clothing resale shop Fat Fancy and designers Size Queen Clothing and Diesel Femme Wear & Wares as well as social events, including the size-positive swim party Chunky Dunk and dance night Jelly Roll.
Bit by bit, fat activists in Portland are creating space for people of size to live their lives free from shame.
Mozee describes her vision of a truly fat-positive world:
“I think it would look like there being enough space for people to be comfortable, images that reflect all body types to be readily accessible and portrayed positively in the media; there would be access to health care and food options for all people and there would be legal protections to prevent people from discriminating against others based on body size,” Mozee says. “I would be able to exist without walking hard unless I wanted to and my value would never be in question because my body is large. I think this will happen when all people fight against size oppression and refuse to accept the warped ideas of what bodies should look like in order to be worthy of respect.”
To learn more about NOLOSE, visit nolose.org.