Marilyn Wann on Weight Diversity
Marilyn Wann is a fat activist, author (Fat!So?), and weight diversity speaker who resides in San Francisco. Recently I was able to ask her about the importance of weight diversity and the evolution of fat acceptance in our society.
Moe: How long have you been an activist?
Marilyn Wann: I started being a fat activist in the mid-nineties, when I was denied health insurance based solely on my weight. I created and published a print ‘zine called FAT!SO?, and then wrote the FAT!SO? book. I started speaking when I learned about young fat people who committed suicide because of being bullied and teased about their weight. My first talk was in a junior high health education class taught by a friend.
Moe: Why is weight diversity important?
Marilyn Wann: Weight diversity is a fact about human beings. People have always come in different shapes and sizes and weights. There have always been fat people. There will always be fat people. If fat people are not welcome and encouraged to participate fully in our lives and in our society, then we all lose out on the precious contributions and talents of so many of us! And we’re losing out on the full life and full participation of thin people, too, who waste time and money worrying about getting fat. Weight diversity is crucial for the survival of human beings and for the flourishing of our communities. Weight diversity intersects in powerful ways with ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, physical ability, and class in ways that afford us a wonderful opportunity to undo other oppressions when we welcome weight diversity, too.
Moe: You have been championing fat acceptance for over a decade now? Did you ever think you would still be doing this now?
Marilyn Wann: I never imagined I would be so lucky as to find an endeavor that uses all of my talents and that is endlessly worthwhile, even in the most discouraging moments (say, when I hear First Lady Michelle Obama promising there will be no fat children in 25 years, or when people blame everything from global warming to healthcare costs on fat people). Because I have been a fat activist since the mid-90s and because I’m lucky to know about the history of fat activists who came before me, I can tell that we’re winning, that fat hate is going to be very unpopular very soon. It can happen even sooner, the more of us refuse to go along with fat jokes, fat-bashing, fat discrimination… as soon as we make it uncool, inconvenient, and unconscionable.
Moe: Do you see/feel there have been strides made in fat acceptance since you started?
Marilyn Wann: Definitely! When I came out as a proud fat person, I would never have imagined that I would not only be invited to speak about weight discrimination and the need for social justice, but be paid to do so. I’m just one person in a whole fat pride community that is growing in numbers and righteousness. I have been so excited to see people online using the power of their voices and their connections with each other to create the fatosphere. I also think it’s necessary for us to be with each other in person, where we can mirror fat pride back to each other, which helps everyone really live our ideals. Fat hate comes from a social message, so we need to experience social settings where we can appreciate our fabulousness and resistance and pride. These community spaces are happening more and more. (And I hope fat gatherings that have not yet been political or activist will become more so!) I’m also hugely heartened by the successes of Health At Every Size experts, who are publishing more and writing more forcefully about the dangers of a weight-based approach to health and the benefits of a weight-neutral approach. Also, since 2004, the interdisciplinary field of fat studies has come together and there have been historic accomplishments. There is a significant shelf of fat studies articles and books, a community of undergraduate students, grad students, recent PhDs, and professors whose careers are all expanding this new field, and this year, we saw “The Fat Studies Reader” get published by NYU Press. These are exciting times to be a fat freedom fighter. In the future, when people look back on the early, scary days of our liberation efforts, you will be able to say that you were one of the cool kids, the early adopters, that you dared to stand up for yourself when it was a risky, influential thing to do.