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Some Directions for Allies to Large Women

A Large Women and Female Allies Workshop took place in Maryland (USA) in September 2019. [See also previous article.] There were two separate workshops: Marion Ouphouet led the one for large women, and Teresa Enrico led the one for allies.

The RC Large Women’s Health Project will be celebrating its fifteenth year this spring. (It doesn’t seem that long!) Diane Shisk convened the group. She had noticed certain things happening when women did physical power work—things related to body size, size oppression, and the sometimes-related health challenges. Eventually she passed the project leadership on to Marion Ouphouet.

At the September workshop, Marion did many things to create safety: There was a short pre-workshop for Global Majority women. We were discouraged from having meetings during mealtimes, so we could focus on eating and pay attention to connecting. The two separate workshops ate separately. Resting was encouraged—the evening classes ended at 10:30, and there were no pre-breakfast meetings. Global Majority allies have often attended these workshops, but this was the first time that Black women allies had been present.

Many Black women are large. As a Black woman, I haven’t noticed fat oppression being acknowledged in the Black community. I don’t think we even talk about it in any real way. There is so much else going on—perhaps we don’t dare take on [confront and do something about] another oppression.

Large women shared the following with the allies:

  • Don’t assume you know anything about fat oppression.
  • As counselor, don’t have an agenda for me. Don’t sneak in advice—including about food and dieting—as a “direction.” Don’t run [act out] at me your discouragement about my size. Don’t forget “point zero” about me—I’m good.
  • Work on any feelings of urgency about large women, even if you don’t have a relationship with a large woman.
  • Assume you don’t know anything about my struggle. Check in with me about my struggle. And I may not know what my struggle is, so hang in [stay] and love me.
  • Don’t leave me alone here. After I state my intention to do this work, my distress might make me forget to do it, but I expect you not to forget. (And if you do, don’t be surprised if I “bite your head off.”)
  • It is best not to reassure me when I’m working on the horrors of self-hatred. Instead, be with me in my hard places. Learn to recognize the many flavors of self-hatred (I don’t always need the same contradiction [to distress]).
  • Don’t ask, “What did the doctor say?” after I’ve had a medical appointment. Also, know that doctors often feel more comfortable with skinnier people, and take into account how that might have affected me.
  • Don’t congratulate me for my weight loss—that is inside the oppression. Learn about and work on how there’s a difference between losing weight and going for [pursuing] good health.
  • Work on any feelings of being “better” than large women and wanting us to be big so you can appear small and delicate.
  • Recognize that skinnier women are more employable and get paid more.
  • Discharge your fears of being fat—but not with us. Work on loving your own body.
  • Never comment about my body size, or yours. My body is just right at this moment, and so is yours.
  • Don’t discuss food or dieting at RC events or talk about your body shape. Work on your issues about food, dieting, and nutrition, but not with us or when we are nearby.
  • Don’t take it personally if I don’t trust you.
  • Don’t take food away from me at workshops.
  • I can tell [sense] when you are not yet able to take a stand against the systematic oppression of fat people. The more you can take that stand, the safer I’ll be to work as a client.
  • Remember how pervasive fat oppression is and that the “information” out there is steeped in it.

Feelings came up for me during workshop farewells. At first I didn’t know why, and then it occurred to me: I had spent a weekend not having to apologize for being me. I had spent a weekend not having to figure out how to make space for myself. I was feeling safe.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Kane

Albany, New York, USA

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

(Present Time 198, January 2020)


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