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1 3rd May 15:57
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Default Article-Life in the Fat Underground


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Life In The Fat Underground
by Sara Golda Bracha Fishman

- From Radiance Winter 1998

Southern Californians have a reputation for going to extremes, and
for getting there before anyone else. It is no accident that
Hollywood, purveyor to the world (via cinema) of the thesis that only
the slender deserve respect, also produced its first radical
antithesis: the Fat Underground.

The Fat Underground was active in Los Angeles throughout the decade
of the 1970s. Feminist in perspective, it asserted that American
culture fears fat because it fears powerful women, particularly their
sensuality and their ***uality. The Fat Underground employed slashing
rhetoric: Doctors are the enemy. Weight loss is genocide. Friends in
the mainstream-sympathetic academics and others in the early fat
rights movement-urged them to tone it down, but ultimately came to
adopt much of the Fat Underground's underlying logic as their own.


Members of the Fat Underground reunited recently in Oakland, CA, at a
Fat Feminest conference. Clockwise from upper left: Sara Fishman,
Ariana Manow, Sheri Fram, Judy Freespirit, Gudrun Fonfa, Lynn McAfee


Precursors

Radical means "root." Radical liberation movements rarely try to
change discriminatory laws. Rather, they demand change at the level
of fundamental social values, which are seen as the root cause of all
human laws. These values not only shape legislation, they also affect
the way people view one another and treat one another in day-to-day
interactions. These values influence the individual's self-image,
fostering self-hating attitudes and self-defeating behaviors in
members of groups that society considers "inferior." This insight was
the driving force behind the Radical Therapy movement, a major
precursor to the Fat Underground. Radical Therapy developed in the
early 1970s as an in-your-face rebuke to the mainstream mental health
profession. Conventional psychotherapy places the burden of change on
the "maladjusted" individual; radical therapists condemned this as a
"blame-the-victim" approach. "Change society, not ourselves," they
urged. Practitioners of Radical Therapy (or Radical Psychiatry, as
some called it) prided themselves on having no professional
credentials. The "problem-solving groups" wherein they conducted
therapy were also training grounds for social activism.

A major concept of Radical Therapy is that oppression goes
unchallenged if it is "mystified." That is, its true nature is
concealed. The oppressors do not say to the victims, "We will torture
you until you submit to our will." Rather, they say (and often
believe), "This treatment may seem painful or unfair, but it is for
your own good." An example would be the practice of "protecting"
women from ***ual harassment by denying them access to education or
employment in predominantly male fields. The Fat Underground viewed
medical weight-loss treatments as a form of mystified oppression.

The other major precursor to the Fat Underground was the Fat Pride
movement. This had begun in 1969 with the founding of NAAFA, the
National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. (In those days it was
called, more ambiguously, the National Association to Aid Fat
Americans.) Then, as now, NAAFA's goal was full social equality and
acceptance for fat people, within existing society.

Among the fat pride literature available in the early 1970s was the
book Fat Power (Hawthorne Books, 1970) by Llewellyn Louderback. This
groundbreaking work do***ented the rise of fat discrimination
alongside the rise of the diet industry. Both of these, Louderback
argued, relied more upon prejudice than upon medical truth or
efficacy.

Prehistory

In 1972, a group of women from Los Angeles contacted the Berkeley,
California, Radical Psychiatry Center, asking to be trained as
radical therapists. Soon afterward, they formed a Radical Therapy
collective and began problem-solving groups for women in Los Angeles.
Among them were two founders of the Fat Underground, Judy Freespirit
and myself.

The theory of fat then taught by Berkeley's radical psychiatrists
followed that of mainstream America, with a touch of rhetoric added
for flavor: You're fat because you eat too much, and you eat too much
because you're oppressed. Presumably, anyone truly living the life of
a social revolutionary must be slim. By that criterion, Judy and I
lagged somewhat behind the other radical therapists. No one
criticized us for this openly. However, the issue was destined to
arise.

It arose on the occasion of an invitation to our collective to speak
about Radical Therapy at a local college. We worked in pairs. But
when Judy and I both volunteered for this particular invitation, the
collective balked. After a brief, embarrassed silence, one member
summoned up the courage to say what was wrong: "You're both
overweight." Unspoken, but understood by all, was that to be
represented only by fat women would damage our group's credibility.

To their credit, the collective moved beyond this fear and authorized
us to go together to speak. We decided to use the audience's
anticipated negative reaction as the springboard for discussing how
***ist standards of beauty oppress women.

Feminist theory aside, the experience with the collective was
humiliating. I decided to try once again to lose weight. A trip to
the Hollywood Public Library yielded the usual diet books, and also
Fat Power. I found Louderback's history of antifat attitudes
interesting, but his medical and nutritional claims stunning.
Ultimately, they would become the core of the Fat Underground's
medical arguments, so I will summarize them here.

First, fat people on the average eat no more than slim people on the
average. Second, the long-term success rate of reducing diets, even
the most "sensible," doctor-supervised regimens, is extremely small:
barely 1 or 2 percent. Third, fat people who live in nonjudgmental
environments are free from at least one of the diseases (heart
attack) most commonly associated with being fat.

the sources, and indeed the sources backed up his statements. Nor
were his sources obscure research papers. No, they were from public
health do***ents summarizing years of published research, accessible
to anyone with a library card. Most important, their findings
resonated with the experience of one woman (myself) who had dieted
almost continuously since the age of twelve, and was still fat.

Fat Power lacked a political ****ysis: Radical Therapy provided one.
The belief that fat people are just thin people with bad eating
habits now could be seen as part of a system of mystified oppression.
With Judy's encouragement, I presented this Idea to the Radical
Therapy Collective. The response was mixed, but basically supportive.
Judy and I contacted NAAFA and formed a chapter in Los Angeles. We
recruited about six active members, both women and men.

- From the start, our small NAAFA chapter took a confrontational stance
with regard to the health professions. We accused them-doctors,
psychologists, and public health officials-of concealing and
distorting the facts about fat that were contained in their own
professional research journals. In doing so, they betrayed us and
played into the hands of the multibillion dollar weight-loss
industry, which exploits fear of fat and contempt toward fat people
as a means to make more money. We asserted that most fat people are
fat because of biology, not eating behavior, and that the
"cure"-dieting-actually causes diseases, ranging from heart attack to
eating disorders. We rejected weight loss as a solution to fat
people's problems.

At first we relied upon the sources quoted in Fat Power to support
our attack on the medical profession. About a year later, Lynn
McAffee (Lynn Mabel-Lois), who had worked in a medical library,
joined our group. She taught us how to gain access to medical
libraries and to find information in the research journals
themselves. Thus we became able to quote primary sources and advance
scientific arguments in support of fat liberation. This won support
for fat liberation among some mainstream health professionals.

In those days before the Internet, one important way to spread a
message was to gain the support of existing groups that had access to
the various media. Toward that end, we wrote position papers and
lobbied leftist and academic health organizations to listen to us.
Also, we contacted radio and television networks ourselves. Being in
Los Angeles, we had access to the national television network offices
and participated in several television specials about fat and weight
loss in the United States. These experiences were always frustrating.
The networks used doctors to present medical facts about the dangers
of being fat. We "unrepentant fatties" were featured only for human
interest. As soon as we attempted to present our own medical facts,
filming would stop and the next guest would replace us on the
recording stage.

Our confrontational stance eventually drew the attention of NAAFA's
main office. Although some of the leadership privately applauded us,
officially we were told to tone down our delivery, and also to be
more cir***spect about our feminist Ideology, which most NAAFA
members were not yet ready for.

In response, we quit NAAFA. The name of our new group, the Fat
Underground, was suggested by Judy Freespirit; its initials expressed
our sentiments. We numbered one man (who soon left) and four women.
Judy and I wrote the Fat Liberation Manifesto late in 1973. In it, we
expressed the Fat Underground's alliance with the radical left and
our intention to battle the diet industry. But as it turned out, we
first had to battle a much more personal enemy: our "spoiled"
feminine Identity.

What, Me Beautiful?

Early on a Sunday morning, one member, Ariana, phoned the others,
saying, "We must meet, immediately! I have something to discuss." She
had been reading sociologist Erving Goffman on how people who are
negatively stereotyped develop personality traits and behaviors that
enable them to cope with their "spoiled Identities." We quickly
assembled in Ariana's little stucco house. There she put forth her
questions: Why do we not view one another as ***ual beings? Why
aren't we ***ually active? Why don't we even talk about ***? It was
true. In the ***-drenched environment of the 1970s, where ***y was a
synonym for good (as in "That's really ***y typing paper"), we still
fulfilled the stereotype of the "***less fat girl": everyone's best
friend, no one's lover.

So we started to talk. I don't remember whether we touched on any
profound truths that day. I do remember that we made some very good
jokes. But bringing up the subject led to a thicket of related
issues, which we managed to expose to sunlight throughout the next
year.

Ariana had access to a cabin in a secluded mountain forest, about an
hour's drive from Los Angeles. There we went for occasional weekend
retreats. We sunbathed in the clearing in front of the cabin. We
talked or slept or read all day. We cooked the meals that we had
fantasized about while on diets and ate double and triple portions,
and then dessert, without shame.

The seclusion, the absence of men, and the abundance of simple
physical comfort brought into focus our shared habit of seeing
ourselves only "from the neck up." We'd all been told that we had "a
pretty face." We decided that from then on, we were also beautiful
from the neck down. But such a change required a new aesthetic. We
learned about the ancient goddess images, such as the round little
Venus of Willendorf, whose long, oval breasts d****d over a perfectly
spherical belly. We talked about learning to belly dance. We
redefined flab in terms that could have come from the biblical "Song
of Songs." In Lynn's words, "Your belly is like marble. Your arms are
like the ocean." We replaced the Amazon warriors of feminism with our
own image of enormous, soft earth mothers.

A Broader Base of Support

By this time, Radical Therapy had become an important force in the
local radical feminist community. The Radical Feminist Therapy
Collective (RFTC) operated out of the Women's Liberation Center. Judy
and I were active in the RFTC, and Fat Liberation benefited by
association.

Around us had grown up a small group of fat women who, although they
did not feel bold enough to join the Fat Underground, recognized that
Fat Liberation had something valuable to say to them, and they wanted
to be connected with it. For them, the RFTC started the Fat Women's
Problem-Solving Group. The goals of this group were to help members
stop dieting and build self-esteem.

In August 1974, the Los Angeles feminist community held a celebration
of Women's Equality Day, filling a local park with placards and
booths. Thousands of women milled about, enjoying the sun, the
crowds, and the atmosphere of sisterhood. The Fat Underground had a
booth there, among the scores of others.

Several weeks earlier, the rock singer Cass Elliot, of the Mamas and
Papas, had died. She was only thirty-three years old. Cass had become
a star-an icon, even -to our generation, despite being very fat.
Predictably, the press vilified her memory: a widely circulated
report was that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich. In fact,
Cass had been dieting at the time of her death, and we felt sure that
her death was due to complications of the dieting.

The Women's Equality Day celebration included an open microphone and
stage. When our turn came, members of the Fat Underground, members of
the Fat Women's Problem-Solving Group, and some of our friends moved
onto the stage. We carried candles and wore black arm bands, in a
symbolic funeral procession. Lynn spoke. She began by describing the
inspiration Cass Elliot had represented to us, as a fat woman who had
refused to hide her beauty. She ended by accusing the medical
establishment of murdering Cass, and (because they promote weight
loss despite its known dangers) of committing genocide against fat
women.

For the next few weeks, we were local heroines. The Los Angeles
feminist news paper Sister devoted a full page in its next issue to
Fat Liberation, with a photo of our Women's Equality Day
demonstration on the cover. Publicly, at least, local radical
feminists began to acknowledge fat women's oppression as a problem
they would have to take seriously.

Membership in the Fat Underground increased briefly as new members
joined; then, just as quickly, new and old members dropped out.
Ideology, personality, priorities, and cold feet all played a role in
the exodus. One founding member who left explained, "It will take too
long to change society's Ideas about fat, and I want to put my
efforts where I'll see success in my lifetime." She joined other
feminist groups and continues to promote Fat Liberation from within
these. In the fall of 1974, the Fat Underground once again numbered
only four members: Lynn, Gudrun Fonfa, Reanne Fagan, and myself.

We continued to give workshops and to study medical literature. We
built coalitions with other feminist groups to plan citywide
activities and to make sure that fat women's concerns would be
acknowledged in them. The Radical Feminist Therapy Collective formed
a second fat women's Radical Therapy group.

Around 1975, we began a new type of activity: harassing local
weight-loss institutions. In a typical action, we would attend a
"free introductory lecture," pretending to be shopping for a diet
cure. But when the lecturer would ask for questions, we would attack
the program's medical theory and success rate. Our goal was to shake
the lecturer's confidence and turn away customers.

Once, we disrupted a large behavior modification seminar at a
prestigious university. For this occasion, we enlisted the help of
all of our fat friends. As usual, a few of us sat in the audience,
ready to ask questions that would attack the validity of behavior
modification theory for weight loss. This was plan B, in case the
main event failed. But plan A went off perfectly. Right in the middle
of the program, Lynn led twenty supersize women onto the stage. She
pulled the microphone from the hands of the astonished speaker and
gave a one-minute speech of her own. Then, as quickly as they had
appeared, the women left. From the audience, I saw what happened
next. The moderator, her voice shaking at first, broke the stunned
silence with a joke: "Look how much exercise they got! They walked
all the way down the auditorium, and all the way up the stage steps,
and all the way back!" A high point of these years: In 1975, Lynn
Mabel-Lois was a featured speaker at a citywide women's rally
protesting crimes against women. She denounced weight-loss surgery as
mystified oppression. Procedures such as intestinal bypass and
jaw-wiring are considered healing rather than barbaric and dangerous
mutilations, Lynn argued, only because fat is seen as a women's
problem.

A low point of these years: In 1976, dozens of fat women and friends
picketed a major television network, because, in our opinion, it
misrepresented the Fat Underground in a news feature on weight loss.
However, this historical "first" went virtually unnoticed. Despite
heavy prepicket publicity to both mainstream and alternative media,
only one reporter covered the event. She was there because she was a
friend of ours.

The "New" Fat Underground

In the summer of 1976, a major policy disagreement split the RFTC
apart. The issue involved was not directly related to Fat Liberation.
However, because the RFTC and the Fat Underground were so
intertwined, the split hit the Fat Underground hard. All of the core
members except Reanne soon moved out of state. As I am one of the
ones who left, I now rely upon the recollections of Sheri Fram, who
was new to the Fat Underground at the time, to complete the story.

By 1976, the Fat Underground had become recognized locally as a
legitimate voice in Women's Liberation. Feminist groups now invited
them to speak. An especially fruitful relationship with the Women's
Studies Program at California State University at Long Beach led to
the Fat Underground's being invited to testify before the California
State Board of Medical Quality Assurance on the abuses involved in
prescribing amphetamines for weight loss. The confrontational style
of previous years was dropped. However, the sense of urgency
continued as before. In Sheri's words, "Each event, each possibility
of being heard, felt like an opportunity we could not afford to
miss." Throughout the next few years, members came and went. Sheri
and Reanne remained the group's anchors, speaking wherever they
could. Meanwhile, news of Fat Women's Liberation groups forming in
other cities brought encouragement and support. A network developed
that eventually became today's size-acceptance movement.

In June 1982, Reanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later,
another tumor was found. She died in November 1983. The Fat
Underground died with her.

While preparing this article, I asked several of the surviving
members of the Fat Underground, "What did we accomplish?" Here are
excerpts from their answers:

Judy Freespirit: "In the beginning, people giggled when we talked
about Fat Liberation. Now . . . there are hundreds of thousands of
fat activists and allies all over the world."
Ariana: "We learned to reshape our minds and lives, not our bodies,
in the face of tremendous pressure to do just the opposite."
Sheri Fram: "We created a crack in the monolithic diet and
weight-loss industry, and started a slowly growing revolution."
Gudrun Fonfa: "By refuting the dogma of the diet industry and
rejecting the aesthetics of the patriarchal culture, [we made]
activists out of each individual fat woman who liberated herself from
a lifetime of humiliation."
Lynn Mabel-Lois: "We were audacious enough to understand what a
failure rate means, and to criticize the medical profession. We
expressed our rage and fought back."

SARA GOLDA BRACHA FISHMAN was a founder of the Fat Underground in the
early 1970s and distributed Fat Liberator publications later in that
decade. She has gone by several names, including Aldebaran and Vivian
F. Mayer. Sara now teaches and writes about science and Jewish
spirituality in Worcester, Massachusetts.

LV

Lady Veteran
- -----------------------------------
"I rode a tank and held a general's rank
when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank..."
- -Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil
- ------------------------------------------------
Support bacteria - they're the only culture
some people have." -Stephen Wright
- -------------------------------------------
I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only
make them think - Socrates
- --------------------------------------------
The real Lady Veteran does not use anonymous
remailers.
- -----------------------------------------------
Any male who calls a strong woman a ******* or
a dyke is himself impotent and insecure in his
manhood. Freud would say they have been
symbolically castrated. - The real Lady Veteran
- ----------------------------------------------


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2 5th June 15:08
lady veteran
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Default Article-Life in the Fat Underground (breast cancer psychotherapy weight-loss personality psychiatry)


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Life In The Fat Underground
by Sara Golda Bracha Fishman

- From Radiance Winter 1998

Southern Californians have a reputation for going to extremes, and
for getting there before anyone else. It is no accident that
Hollywood, purveyor to the world (via cinema) of the thesis that only
the slender deserve respect, also produced its first radical
antithesis: the Fat Underground.

The Fat Underground was active in Los Angeles throughout the decade
of the 1970s. Feminist in perspective, it asserted that American
culture fears fat because it fears powerful women, particularly their
sensuality and their ***uality. The Fat Underground employed slashing
rhetoric: Doctors are the enemy. Weight loss is genocide. Friends in
the mainstream-sympathetic academics and others in the early fat
rights movement-urged them to tone it down, but ultimately came to
adopt much of the Fat Underground's underlying logic as their own.


Members of the Fat Underground reunited recently in Oakland, CA, at a
Fat Feminest conference. Clockwise from upper left: Sara Fishman,
Ariana Manow, Sheri Fram, Judy Freespirit, Gudrun Fonfa, Lynn McAfee


Precursors

Radical means "root." Radical liberation movements rarely try to
change discriminatory laws. Rather, they demand change at the level
of fundamental social values, which are seen as the root cause of all
human laws. These values not only shape legislation, they also affect
the way people view one another and treat one another in day-to-day
interactions. These values influence the individual's self-image,
fostering self-hating attitudes and self-defeating behaviors in
members of groups that society considers "inferior." This insight was
the driving force behind the Radical Therapy movement, a major
precursor to the Fat Underground. Radical Therapy developed in the
early 1970s as an in-your-face rebuke to the mainstream mental health
profession. Conventional psychotherapy places the burden of change on
the "maladjusted" individual; radical therapists condemned this as a
"blame-the-victim" approach. "Change society, not ourselves," they
urged. Practitioners of Radical Therapy (or Radical Psychiatry, as
some called it) prided themselves on having no professional
credentials. The "problem-solving groups" wherein they conducted
therapy were also training grounds for social activism.

A major concept of Radical Therapy is that oppression goes
unchallenged if it is "mystified." That is, its true nature is
concealed. The oppressors do not say to the victims, "We will torture
you until you submit to our will." Rather, they say (and often
believe), "This treatment may seem painful or unfair, but it is for
your own good." An example would be the practice of "protecting"
women from ***ual harassment by denying them access to education or
employment in predominantly male fields. The Fat Underground viewed
medical weight-loss treatments as a form of mystified oppression.

The other major precursor to the Fat Underground was the Fat Pride
movement. This had begun in 1969 with the founding of NAAFA, the
National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. (In those days it was
called, more ambiguously, the National Association to Aid Fat
Americans.) Then, as now, NAAFA's goal was full social equality and
acceptance for fat people, within existing society.

Among the fat pride literature available in the early 1970s was the
book Fat Power (Hawthorne Books, 1970) by Llewellyn Louderback. This
groundbreaking work do***ented the rise of fat discrimination
alongside the rise of the diet industry. Both of these, Louderback
argued, relied more upon prejudice than upon medical truth or
efficacy.

Prehistory

In 1972, a group of women from Los Angeles contacted the Berkeley,
California, Radical Psychiatry Center, asking to be trained as
radical therapists. Soon afterward, they formed a Radical Therapy
collective and began problem-solving groups for women in Los Angeles.
Among them were two founders of the Fat Underground, Judy Freespirit
and myself.

The theory of fat then taught by Berkeley's radical psychiatrists
followed that of mainstream America, with a touch of rhetoric added
for flavor: You're fat because you eat too much, and you eat too much
because you're oppressed. Presumably, anyone truly living the life of
a social revolutionary must be slim. By that criterion, Judy and I
lagged somewhat behind the other radical therapists. No one
criticized us for this openly. However, the issue was destined to
arise.

It arose on the occasion of an invitation to our collective to speak
about Radical Therapy at a local college. We worked in pairs. But
when Judy and I both volunteered for this particular invitation, the
collective balked. After a brief, embarrassed silence, one member
summoned up the courage to say what was wrong: "You're both
overweight." Unspoken, but understood by all, was that to be
represented only by fat women would damage our group's credibility.

To their credit, the collective moved beyond this fear and authorized
us to go together to speak. We decided to use the audience's
anticipated negative reaction as the springboard for discussing how
***ist standards of beauty oppress women.

Feminist theory aside, the experience with the collective was
humiliating. I decided to try once again to lose weight. A trip to
the Hollywood Public Library yielded the usual diet books, and also
Fat Power. I found Louderback's history of antifat attitudes
interesting, but his medical and nutritional claims stunning.
Ultimately, they would become the core of the Fat Underground's
medical arguments, so I will summarize them here.

First, fat people on the average eat no more than slim people on the
average. Second, the long-term success rate of reducing diets, even
the most "sensible," doctor-supervised regimens, is extremely small:
barely 1 or 2 percent. Third, fat people who live in nonjudgmental
environments are free from at least one of the diseases (heart
attack) most commonly associated with being fat.

the sources, and indeed the sources backed up his statements. Nor
were his sources obscure research papers. No, they were from public
health do***ents summarizing years of published research, accessible
to anyone with a library card. Most important, their findings
resonated with the experience of one woman (myself) who had dieted
almost continuously since the age of twelve, and was still fat.

Fat Power lacked a political ****ysis: Radical Therapy provided one.
The belief that fat people are just thin people with bad eating
habits now could be seen as part of a system of mystified oppression.
With Judy's encouragement, I presented this Idea to the Radical
Therapy Collective. The response was mixed, but basically supportive.
Judy and I contacted NAAFA and formed a chapter in Los Angeles. We
recruited about six active members, both women and men.

- From the start, our small NAAFA chapter took a confrontational stance
with regard to the health professions. We accused them-doctors,
psychologists, and public health officials-of concealing and
distorting the facts about fat that were contained in their own
professional research journals. In doing so, they betrayed us and
played into the hands of the multibillion dollar weight-loss
industry, which exploits fear of fat and contempt toward fat people
as a means to make more money. We asserted that most fat people are
fat because of biology, not eating behavior, and that the
"cure"-dieting-actually causes diseases, ranging from heart attack to
eating disorders. We rejected weight loss as a solution to fat
people's problems.

At first we relied upon the sources quoted in Fat Power to support
our attack on the medical profession. About a year later, Lynn
McAffee (Lynn Mabel-Lois), who had worked in a medical library,
joined our group. She taught us how to gain access to medical
libraries and to find information in the research journals
themselves. Thus we became able to quote primary sources and advance
scientific arguments in support of fat liberation. This won support
for fat liberation among some mainstream health professionals.

In those days before the Internet, one important way to spread a
message was to gain the support of existing groups that had access to
the various media. Toward that end, we wrote position papers and
lobbied leftist and academic health organizations to listen to us.
Also, we contacted radio and television networks ourselves. Being in
Los Angeles, we had access to the national television network offices
and participated in several television specials about fat and weight
loss in the United States. These experiences were always frustrating.
The networks used doctors to present medical facts about the dangers
of being fat. We "unrepentant fatties" were featured only for human
interest. As soon as we attempted to present our own medical facts,
filming would stop and the next guest would replace us on the
recording stage.

Our confrontational stance eventually drew the attention of NAAFA's
main office. Although some of the leadership privately applauded us,
officially we were told to tone down our delivery, and also to be
more cir***spect about our feminist Ideology, which most NAAFA
members were not yet ready for.

In response, we quit NAAFA. The name of our new group, the Fat
Underground, was suggested by Judy Freespirit; its initials expressed
our sentiments. We numbered one man (who soon left) and four women.
Judy and I wrote the Fat Liberation Manifesto late in 1973. In it, we
expressed the Fat Underground's alliance with the radical left and
our intention to battle the diet industry. But as it turned out, we
first had to battle a much more personal enemy: our "spoiled"
feminine Identity.

What, Me Beautiful?

Early on a Sunday morning, one member, Ariana, phoned the others,
saying, "We must meet, immediately! I have something to discuss." She
had been reading sociologist Erving Goffman on how people who are
negatively stereotyped develop personality traits and behaviors that
enable them to cope with their "spoiled Identities." We quickly
assembled in Ariana's little stucco house. There she put forth her
questions: Why do we not view one another as ***ual beings? Why
aren't we ***ually active? Why don't we even talk about ***? It was
true. In the ***-drenched environment of the 1970s, where ***y was a
synonym for good (as in "That's really ***y typing paper"), we still
fulfilled the stereotype of the "***less fat girl": everyone's best
friend, no one's lover.

So we started to talk. I don't remember whether we touched on any
profound truths that day. I do remember that we made some very good
jokes. But bringing up the subject led to a thicket of related
issues, which we managed to expose to sunlight throughout the next
year.

Ariana had access to a cabin in a secluded mountain forest, about an
hour's drive from Los Angeles. There we went for occasional weekend
retreats. We sunbathed in the clearing in front of the cabin. We
talked or slept or read all day. We cooked the meals that we had
fantasized about while on diets and ate double and triple portions,
and then dessert, without shame.

The seclusion, the absence of men, and the abundance of simple
physical comfort brought into focus our shared habit of seeing
ourselves only "from the neck up." We'd all been told that we had "a
pretty face." We decided that from then on, we were also beautiful
from the neck down. But such a change required a new aesthetic. We
learned about the ancient goddess images, such as the round little
Venus of Willendorf, whose long, oval breasts d****d over a perfectly
spherical belly. We talked about learning to belly dance. We
redefined flab in terms that could have come from the biblical "Song
of Songs." In Lynn's words, "Your belly is like marble. Your arms are
like the ocean." We replaced the Amazon warriors of feminism with our
own image of enormous, soft earth mothers.

A Broader Base of Support

By this time, Radical Therapy had become an important force in the
local radical feminist community. The Radical Feminist Therapy
Collective (RFTC) operated out of the Women's Liberation Center. Judy
and I were active in the RFTC, and Fat Liberation benefited by
association.

Around us had grown up a small group of fat women who, although they
did not feel bold enough to join the Fat Underground, recognized that
Fat Liberation had something valuable to say to them, and they wanted
to be connected with it. For them, the RFTC started the Fat Women's
Problem-Solving Group. The goals of this group were to help members
stop dieting and build self-esteem.

In August 1974, the Los Angeles feminist community held a celebration
of Women's Equality Day, filling a local park with placards and
booths. Thousands of women milled about, enjoying the sun, the
crowds, and the atmosphere of sisterhood. The Fat Underground had a
booth there, among the scores of others.

Several weeks earlier, the rock singer Cass Elliot, of the Mamas and
Papas, had died. She was only thirty-three years old. Cass had become
a star-an icon, even -to our generation, despite being very fat.
Predictably, the press vilified her memory: a widely circulated
report was that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich. In fact,
Cass had been dieting at the time of her death, and we felt sure that
her death was due to complications of the dieting.

The Women's Equality Day celebration included an open microphone and
stage. When our turn came, members of the Fat Underground, members of
the Fat Women's Problem-Solving Group, and some of our friends moved
onto the stage. We carried candles and wore black arm bands, in a
symbolic funeral procession. Lynn spoke. She began by describing the
inspiration Cass Elliot had represented to us, as a fat woman who had
refused to hide her beauty. She ended by accusing the medical
establishment of murdering Cass, and (because they promote weight
loss despite its known dangers) of committing genocide against fat
women.

For the next few weeks, we were local heroines. The Los Angeles
feminist news paper Sister devoted a full page in its next issue to
Fat Liberation, with a photo of our Women's Equality Day
demonstration on the cover. Publicly, at least, local radical
feminists began to acknowledge fat women's oppression as a problem
they would have to take seriously.

Membership in the Fat Underground increased briefly as new members
joined; then, just as quickly, new and old members dropped out.
Ideology, personality, priorities, and cold feet all played a role in
the exodus. One founding member who left explained, "It will take too
long to change society's Ideas about fat, and I want to put my
efforts where I'll see success in my lifetime." She joined other
feminist groups and continues to promote Fat Liberation from within
these. In the fall of 1974, the Fat Underground once again numbered
only four members: Lynn, Gudrun Fonfa, Reanne Fagan, and myself.

We continued to give workshops and to study medical literature. We
built coalitions with other feminist groups to plan citywide
activities and to make sure that fat women's concerns would be
acknowledged in them. The Radical Feminist Therapy Collective formed
a second fat women's Radical Therapy group.

Around 1975, we began a new type of activity: harassing local
weight-loss institutions. In a typical action, we would attend a
"free introductory lecture," pretending to be shopping for a diet
cure. But when the lecturer would ask for questions, we would attack
the program's medical theory and success rate. Our goal was to shake
the lecturer's confidence and turn away customers.

Once, we disrupted a large behavior modification seminar at a
prestigious university. For this occasion, we enlisted the help of
all of our fat friends. As usual, a few of us sat in the audience,
ready to ask questions that would attack the validity of behavior
modification theory for weight loss. This was plan B, in case the
main event failed. But plan A went off perfectly. Right in the middle
of the program, Lynn led twenty supersize women onto the stage. She
pulled the microphone from the hands of the astonished speaker and
gave a one-minute speech of her own. Then, as quickly as they had
appeared, the women left. From the audience, I saw what happened
next. The moderator, her voice shaking at first, broke the stunned
silence with a joke: "Look how much exercise they got! They walked
all the way down the auditorium, and all the way up the stage steps,
and all the way back!" A high point of these years: In 1975, Lynn
Mabel-Lois was a featured speaker at a citywide women's rally
protesting crimes against women. She denounced weight-loss surgery as
mystified oppression. Procedures such as intestinal bypass and
jaw-wiring are considered healing rather than barbaric and dangerous
mutilations, Lynn argued, only because fat is seen as a women's
problem.

A low point of these years: In 1976, dozens of fat women and friends
picketed a major television network, because, in our opinion, it
misrepresented the Fat Underground in a news feature on weight loss.
However, this historical "first" went virtually unnoticed. Despite
heavy prepicket publicity to both mainstream and alternative media,
only one reporter covered the event. She was there because she was a
friend of ours.

The "New" Fat Underground

In the summer of 1976, a major policy disagreement split the RFTC
apart. The issue involved was not directly related to Fat Liberation.
However, because the RFTC and the Fat Underground were so
intertwined, the split hit the Fat Underground hard. All of the core
members except Reanne soon moved out of state. As I am one of the
ones who left, I now rely upon the recollections of Sheri Fram, who
was new to the Fat Underground at the time, to complete the story.

By 1976, the Fat Underground had become recognized locally as a
legitimate voice in Women's Liberation. Feminist groups now invited
them to speak. An especially fruitful relationship with the Women's
Studies Program at California State University at Long Beach led to
the Fat Underground's being invited to testify before the California
State Board of Medical Quality Assurance on the abuses involved in
prescribing amphetamines for weight loss. The confrontational style
of previous years was dropped. However, the sense of urgency
continued as before. In Sheri's words, "Each event, each possibility
of being heard, felt like an opportunity we could not afford to
miss." Throughout the next few years, members came and went. Sheri
and Reanne remained the group's anchors, speaking wherever they
could. Meanwhile, news of Fat Women's Liberation groups forming in
other cities brought encouragement and support. A network developed
that eventually became today's size-acceptance movement.

In June 1982, Reanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later,
another tumor was found. She died in November 1983. The Fat
Underground died with her.

While preparing this article, I asked several of the surviving
members of the Fat Underground, "What did we accomplish?" Here are
excerpts from their answers:

Judy Freespirit: "In the beginning, people giggled when we talked
about Fat Liberation. Now . . . there are hundreds of thousands of
fat activists and allies all over the world."
Ariana: "We learned to reshape our minds and lives, not our bodies,
in the face of tremendous pressure to do just the opposite."
Sheri Fram: "We created a crack in the monolithic diet and
weight-loss industry, and started a slowly growing revolution."
Gudrun Fonfa: "By refuting the dogma of the diet industry and
rejecting the aesthetics of the patriarchal culture, [we made]
activists out of each individual fat woman who liberated herself from
a lifetime of humiliation."
Lynn Mabel-Lois: "We were audacious enough to understand what a
failure rate means, and to criticize the medical profession. We
expressed our rage and fought back."

SARA GOLDA BRACHA FISHMAN was a founder of the Fat Underground in the
early 1970s and distributed Fat Liberator publications later in that
decade. She has gone by several names, including Aldebaran and Vivian
F. Mayer. Sara now teaches and writes about science and Jewish
spirituality in Worcester, Massachusetts.

LV

Lady Veteran
- -----------------------------------
"I rode a tank and held a general's rank
when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank..."
- -Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil
- ------------------------------------------------
Support bacteria - they're the only culture
some people have." -Stephen Wright
- -------------------------------------------
I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only
make them think - Socrates
- --------------------------------------------
The real Lady Veteran does not use anonymous
remailers.
- -----------------------------------------------
Any male who calls a strong woman a ******* or
a dyke is himself impotent and insecure in his
manhood. Freud would say they have been
symbolically castrated. - The real Lady Veteran
- ----------------------------------------------


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