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The Large Women and Female Allies Workshop

I was very pleased to attend my first Large Women and Female Allies Workshop a few weeks ago. It was great to be with almost a hundred women who are actively thinking about how to stand against sexism, reclaim their minds, and take charge of their health.

I appreciated the wide range of body sizes and types and having the opportunity to connect with women who are at different points along the journey and see how they are approaching things. Demonstrations highlighted the major effects of the oppression and how it sits differently within the various constituencies of race, class, age, religion, and so on. Diane1 consistently linked the current struggles to early hurts. I got a clearer picture of how the early place where I wanted to give up shows up now as an inability to think about or take action on my health.

Allies met separately for much of the workshop, so we large women had a lot of time together in large-women-only spaces. This created an enormous safety for me to work on really hard things. The physical counseling2 sessions were not available to allies. I wondered why not and then remembered that this was a large women’s workshop and the time was for us. Some of the topic groups were for large women only, and some were for both large women and allies. There were no topic tables at meals, so we could pay attention to our bodies and our connections with the people at our table.

DOING THIS FOR OURSELVES

On Friday night Diane announced that Marion Ouphouet3 would be taking over the leading of large women’s work in RC. She said that the RC leadership had not pushed any large woman to lead the project because it is so hard for us to figure out how to do this work for ourselves. It blew me away4 that they had made so much space for the large women who started the project to do the work for themselves first without worrying about leading anyone else. Diane has been leading the project for twelve years, and I hadn’t understood why until she explained it this way. 

I am amazed at what Diane has been able to do to move large women’s work forward in RC, especially from the position of ally. She was incredibly helpful to me as I worked on getting my large women’s support group started. I also appreciate her ability to clearly articulate what she has found useful to do, and not do, as an ally. Nevertheless, I am excited to have Marion leading us now. She knows the oppression from the inside, and that creates a level of safety for me that I don’t find with allies. I am interested to learn how she figured out how to do the work for herself, and what support she might need from us in the constituency to keep her own re-emergence at the center.

FLEXIBLE INTELLIGENCE, NOT RIGID PLANS OR PATTERNS

Marion is taking on5 her health using her flexible intelligence instead of a rigid plan or pattern. I had read her article about forming a new relationship with her bathroom scale.6 She also talked about this during her class on Sunday morning. She shared a great quote about the importance of setting goals: that if you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there and you will never know when you arrive. She said that she had avoided the scale for a long time but that now she used it to help her know where she was, which helped her notice each day what the next step was to keep the number going in the direction she wanted. I asked her if she had a target number, and she said that she didn’t, that the goal was to have her mind and to remember that she could think at each step. The more I think about this, the more I am excited about her leadership.

AN UNACKNOWLEDGED OPPRESSION

Diane said that it is good for us to rage against the oppression but that this is hard to do when it is not understood as an oppression in our society. She compared fat oppression to racism, saying that in each case individuals are targeted every day but that with racism there is a movement against it and it is understood to be an oppression and to be wrong. There is no movement or understanding like that with fat oppression.

BARIATRIC SURGERY

I appreciated the attention put on bariatric surgery. It was helpful to discharge on it and to hear what others are thinking, including those who have had it. Diane said that it is not a “magic bullet”—that it requires a lot of work and discipline in the places where we struggled before the surgery—but that she wants there to be more space in RC for people to discharge on it, on a case-by-case basis. In some situations the surgery might make sense, especially if it lets the person have a longer life or a better quality of life. She asked us to discharge on these questions:

  • Does it make sense for you now? Will it ever make sense for you in the future? If so, under what conditions?
  • Does it make sense for any other woman? If so, under what conditions?

SEX AND SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

Teresa Enrico7 led a class on sex and sexual exploitation. She got the group laughing a lot at the beginning but in a way that did not seem vulgar to me. She encouraged us to remember that sexual abuse is a form of sexual exploitation and said that to build the “muscle” to counsel on it, we need to face the way it is systematically used to keep us restimulated and feeling powerless. She said that lots of the feelings that come out of sexual exploitation—like self-hatred, blame, and shame—are ground in like nobody’s business8 by large women’s oppression. She also said that if we close the door on dating or sex, the discouragement we carry about them does not get challenged. This section of the workshop allowed me to access rage, and I have been generally pissed off9 ever since and having huge sessions.

ALLIES

Diane and Teresa said that no one has done enough work on the oppression to be considered an ally to large women. They seemed to include themselves in that, which surprised me. I don’t think I have ever heard an ally to large women state so explicitly that she still has a lot to work on. They put the word allies in quotes.

Diane said the following:

  • Being an ally lets you see how your own internalized sexism is in the way. It is also a great road out of it. A key issue in the battle against sexism is how to live your life not based on the standard set by sexism of how to be attractive to men. That’s an unhealthy road.
  • You must pay attention to where you are scared to be fat or to gain weight. Lots of allies tell themselves that their fight to stay thin is for their health when they are really fighting to meet the standard set by sexism. Look at what you are motivated by. Sexism is dangerous to your health (purging, laxatives, excessive exercise, and so on), and identifying the internalized sexism and discharging it gives you a shot at being10 an ally.
  • You must understand the oppression that large women face every time they are in public and that being large is based in early hurts; it is not due to a lack of willpower. Don’t get confused that you’re better than large women because you don’t have the distress.
  • Internalized sexism among large women makes it hard for them to stay in touch. They will love and fight for each other, but having a weekly check in can be hard. They need a strong group of allies outside the oppression to help them do the work.
  • Don’t think you know enough to be a good ally yet. If you think you know better, that your way is the right way, then you don’t know enough to be an effective ally. You need to do lots of listening. Put your hand over your mouth. Whenever you feel a pull to give advice, or you want to say what has worked for you or share something you’ve read, even if you are a hundred percent sure you are right, take all of it to sessions with other allies.
  • If you want to build relationships with large women, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Most of them gave up on that a long time ago. Say, “I love you. I am committed to your liberation. Is there any way I can be helpful?” If they have an idea, go with it. If they don’t, have a session. Keep coming back. What do you think might be useful? Don’t have an agenda, for their body or their life. They have great goals and agendas. Support them.
  • You need to have lots of sessions on any place where you feel worried or scared, where you are sure they will die. Have those sessions.
  • Large women can’t show rage when the oppression isn’t acknowledged. You must start personally. Allies are perfect targets for upsets. Welcome the rage against the oppression. Often it comes out first as grumpiness. It can take some work to get it to blow up. Work toward the rage. Say, “I know the oppression is hard. It is unfounded, vicious, and horrible. Kill me as an agent of the oppression. I would love to hear what it’s like for you.”

I am curious about what Teresa did with the allies when they were not with us, because I noticed a difference in my relationships with them and I would like to be able to tell some of my other counselors what they need to do.

I am worrying that this post is too long and that I am taking up too much space. But know that it matters that I show myself, what I learned, and how my mind is working—as a contradiction to my internalized oppression.

Betsy Ames

Wendell, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 182, January 2016)


1 Diane Shisk, the Alternate International Reference Person and the leader of the workshop
2 “Physical counseling” is counseling in which a counselor, who has been trained to do it, provides aware and thoughtful physical resistance for a client to push and fight against.
3 Marion Ouphouet is an RC leader in Seattle, Washington, USA.
4 “Blew me away” means amazed me.
5 “Taking on” means taking charge of.
See “A New Relationship with My Bathroom Scale,” on pages 9 to 10 of the October 2014 Present Time.
7 Teresa Enrico is the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People and a leader of women and physical power work and early sexual memories work.
8 “Ground in like nobody’s business” means tremendously reinforced.
9 “Pissed off” means angry.
10 “A shot at being” means a chance to be.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00