21 April 2017

100 Fat Activists #25: Judy's Stuff

Judy Freespirit's t-shirt
Regular readers of this blog will know that I hold Judy Freespirit's activism in high esteem. In 2010 I met her and visited her archives at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, pivotal experiences in my own thinking about fat activism. I then went on to explore this in my most recent book.

I just wanted to give these holdings some space in their own right and encourage anyone who has the means to go and check them out. So here is the GLBT Historical Society's Finding Aid of the Judy Freespirit Papers 1971–2010, basically a list of all the things they have. It runs to 25 pages and is compelling as an object in its own right.

I bang on about fat activism and archiving quite a bit. Freespirit's archive shows that saving and donating ephemeral material can create an amazingly rich resource for researchers, activists, or anyone really. If you are the kind of person who does stuff, think seriously about leaving a trail behind you, like Judy, for people of the future to use and enjoy.

Rethinking fitness and leisure centres

A foggy winter day at the lido
This week was the first since the cold war that I thought getting nuked was a possibility. "How does one cope with radiation sickness?" I thought to myself. Things are very bad. I believe that it is my adult duty to stare into the abyss and do what I can to stop anyone pushing the button, but I also need respite. I have been relishing mornings at a lido in south London where the water is heated and the surrounding trees in full blossom. There aren't many places in the city where you can immerse yourself in soothing water and stare at the clouds.

On Wednesday my peace was shattered by an outdoor spin class, surely one of the most miserable things you can do in the name of leisure, which led me to wonder why sports facilities and centres in the UK are a pile of cak, and needlessly so. I will share these thoughts with you.

Leisure centres in the UK are run by jocks with no sense of aesthetics. I plan holidays around pools I would like to visit on the continent. Müller'sches Volksbad in Munich, Therme Vals in Switzerland, Holthusenbad in Hamburg and pretty much all the pools in Budapest have found me padding around in my swimmers. They boast stunning architecture, they have a sense of place about them, they're unique and lovely to visit, usually the highlight of a trip. They often have a groovy café attached, where you can get well-made food, even a glass of wine or a brandy. At central European pools you can have a dip and a game of chess. But in the UK the architecture is usually so-so at best, older pools are rarely maintained and usually close in a state of disrepair, there seems to be no incentive to build or preserve something remarkable. Inside it might be a bit dirty and smelly, the changing area is uncomfortable, it's expensive and penalises the casual user because the place is run on a business model of hard-selling memberships, the atmosphere is banal. My local Morrisons can get it together to play Joy Division as I wander the aisles, yet a typical leisure centre soundtrack consists of bleak high BPM generic M People-sounding remixes.

At many pools your swimming choices are limited to lanes or family sessions. The lanes are about training to win, sport and its attendant nationalism and citizenship, or increasing one's athleticism. The family sessions are alienating to those of us who are not a family with kids. If you are an adult by yourself there is little space for social swimming, swimming expressively, mucking about, exploring, playing, bobbing or doing any kind of unorthodox movement that being in water enables you to do. You'll find that you're subject to the lifeguard's angry whistle if you try.

The focus is on athleticism not wellness, fun or sensuality. I don't care about swimming a fast length, I just want to feel good in my body. At Bartholomäus-Therme in Hamburg I went to a candlelight session with classical music and pool noodles. Underwater jets were switched on that swirled the group of mostly old people (they'd just had a water aerobics session) round and round, so peaceful, watching our reflections in the high mirrored ceiling for an hour or so. But in the UK shit like this is not allowed, to the extent that people can't handle it when it is allowed. I went to Thermae Bath Spa last week and was amazed by the awkward, stiff people horrified by their own public near-nakedness, unable to relax in the warm water, behaving as though they were at a suburban cocktail party with strangers.

Sports and leisure centres in the UK remain places where compulsive exercising and body dysmorphia thrive. It's back to the jock quotient again, these people can get your heart rate up on a treadmill but they are not equipped to deal with those who hate and punish their own bodies through exercise. Sports and leisure centres in the UK are like a haven for misery with a grinning-winning Go For It! face plastered on top. It's not uncommon to find services advertised on the back of body shaming whereas such places could be at the forefront of breaking it down.

Which brings me to access. Being able to winch someone into a pool is all very well, but you don't see it in use very often. If you don't have a certain kind of body, if you are vulnerable within a culture that values those certain kinds of bodies, you will likely stay away. Why would you go to a place where you might get stared at or treated as inferior? This is not just about body types but also about making places accessible to people who are "unfit," a term I hate. I would never take the spin class I saw this week because I know I would be subtly sanctioned if I couldn't keep up or needed to stop. Could I even fit on one of those bikes? Session leaders say that it's fine to take a breather but no one ever takes them up on it. This keeps away people like me and the kind of people I like or consider community.

There is no political impetus to make anything different. Policymakers can chug on about "tackling the obesity epidemic" but it's all hot air or sanctioning. I dream of public services and centres that are open to all, prioritise wellness and joyful embodiment, collective feelings, imaginative possibilities. You can see fragments of this in projects like Open Barbers, a not for profit hair salon that welcomes people of all genders and sexualities. Why couldn't this community sensibility be extended further? What if a leisure centre was an arts project? Or run like a really fab nightclub? An autonomous centre for intergenerational oddballs? A political meeting place? What an experiment that would be! And likely profitable/self-sustaining. You could cordon off an area for the jocks, the wannabe Olympians, the normals and all that family-friendly stuff, they could still come too.

22 March 2017

100 Fat Activists #24: Fat Lip Reader's Theater

Still from Throwing Our Weight Around
When I started writing this post I was annoyed with myself for not knowing more about Fat Lip than I do. I found out about Fat Lip through Radiance magazine, more about that later. I rationalised that this group was active largely pre-internet, that knowing more about them at the time would have meant sending off for a video from the US and having the equipment to view it in the UK. At the time these resources were beyond me.

Then I found some notes for my PhD, later my book, hidden in a folder on my computer. Apparently I know more than I think I do! This knowledge came from a series of visits to the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco in 2010, where I sifted through Judy Freespirit's collection, which is held there. During these visits I also sat and watched the Fat Lip video, Throwing Our Weight Around, a series of skits, monologues and poems.

A Reader's Theatre is a means of making theatre with few resources. Fat Lip Readers Theater was a theatre by and for fat women that used fat feminism to discuss everyday joys and hassles. Fat Lip is important because it shows how culture-building is essential to political activism, it is activism.

As I understand it, Fat Lip Reader's Theater had a relationship to a show or a dance group called Fat Chance, made or performed by Judy Freespirit, perhaps others too. Yes, my details are sketchy. They were active in Oakland around 1981 or 85, had a ten year anniversary show in 1991, and reformed in 2004 for a reunion show "after a seven year hiatus", according to Big Moves, with additional performances by some Big Moves dancers. Freespirit's papers state that Fat Lip was part of the Mothertongue Feminist Theater Collective based at The San Francisco Women's Building. As well as Throwing Our Weight Around, they also released Nothing To Lose through Wolfe Video in 1989.
"Our 30 minute video includes the words and experiences of 16 fat, feisty women, speaking, acting and singing about being fat in America in the 80s. Scenes, dialogues, snappy answers to street taunts, poetry, song and more will provoke you to laughter, tears, and anger. Our message is fat positive and challenges the diet-obsessed, fat-hating culture we live in. We present it as an entertaining antidote to everyday life in America."

An early-internet listserv from 1995 describes Fat Lip as a group that toured the US and performed at lesbian and feminist gatherings. By this time they had a mission statement:

Questions from Fat Lip Workshop 1987
"Our mission is to end fat oppression and promote size acceptance through education and theatrical performance. We are a collective of fat women who present exciting, dynamic, theatrical performances about what it's really like to be a fat woman in today's society. We also offer educational workshops and in-service trainings for organization and community groups."

Other flyers and papers stated:

Fat Lip is "a collective of fourteen fat feisty women from the San Francisco Bay Area. We come together from varied backgrounds and are not afraid or ashamed of the way that we look or what we need to say."

"Our task is to say: 'Here we are. Deal with us. We are not going to hate ourselves if we get bigger and we're not going to like ourselves more if we get smaller. We like ourselves now. We are not going to put our lives on hold one minute longer.'"

The most significant documentation of Fat Lip in Freespirit's collection relates to Still Fat After All These Years!, their tenth anniversary show, performed at the Women's Building on 18 May 1991. A flyer gives some idea of what the night was like: there was non-alcoholic bar to benefit Making Waves (the fat swim); a dance after show; you could buy Fat Lip t-shirts; child care was available and the event was sign language interpreted, wheelchair accessible, with no scents or perfumes. There was a sliding scale for entrance and no one was turned away for lack of funds. The programme notes attest to a marathon evening of 54 acts and skits with an intermission and an MC! Nancy Thomas wrote this for the event:

F is For... by Nancy Thomas

F is for the fine, fat friends it gave me
A is for the audience applause
T is for the theatres we've played in
L is for loving women, which we are
I is for the images we're changing
P is for the politics we hold
Put them all together they spell FAT LIP
A group that's worth its weight in gold
And this year we are ten years old

Sadly Freespirit could not attend, she sent love and support in a note and added that because the Women's Building had been recently repainted "Some of us with environmental sensitivities will be here tonight in spirit only."

Photo by Cathy Cade
I don't know what happened to Fat Lip. There were attempts to expand and recruit new members, they were looking for "women who are somewhat familiar with the fat liberation concept, have a bit of ham in you, or want to develop new skills and confidence". They worked with a collective structure and decision-making by consensus. But the last paper in the box is a call for donations: "To put it bluntly, it has been a hand to mouth proposition". I suspect that behind the applause was a lot of hard graft and that as lives carried on something had to give. But the shows and videos were only part of what the group achieved, the women met without fail every week for over a decade, which suggests that Fat Lip was critical in establishing a fat feminist community and developing feminist analyses of fat oppression.

15 March 2017

100 Fat Activists #23: Rotunda Press

I've written a little about Rotunda elsewhere, but want to reiterate it here because it fits nicely in this recent flurry of posts about fat feminism in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of course I can't talk about Rotunda without also mentioning Shadow on a Tightrope.

Shadow on a Tightrope, the book that made me fat

Though it came and went, the idea of a fat feminist publishing house remains tantalising. Could it happen again?

08 March 2017

100 Fat Activists #22: London Fat Women's Group

The London Fat Women's Group went through two phases. The first took place around 1987-1989, the second from 1992-1994 or so. Both groups were either based or made use of the resources at The Women's Centre, at 4 Wild Court in Holborn. Sadly this no longer exists, though it should (have a peek at Wild Court now in the video A Walk Around Fat Activist London). Both phases of the group were explicitly feminist and intersectional, which is to say that participants had fat in common but their experiences of it varied according to other identities.

I'm not sure how the first group came into existence. From researching my book it would appear that somebody got hold of Shadow On A Tightrope and initiated some conversations amongst feminists in the UK. They published articles in Spare Rib and Trouble and Strife, created a BBC documentary (see my post Revisiting BBC Open Space: Fat Women Here To Stay) and organised a national conference at Wild Court in 1989. The latter involved generating national media exposure, which is how I got to hear from them. The conference created sparks, a publishing house, books, short-lived groups. The main group ended, I believe, because of burn-out and internal conflicts, but it has not been possible to corroborate this. I don't know much about who was in the group or what happened to those women.

In April 1992, Spare Rib published a small ad, placed by me:
I am a fat woman living in London and trying to organise a political and social group for other Fat women who may be feeling isolated. I am hoping that the group will be primarily celebratory and consciousness-raising (both for ourselves and the general public) but at this point the options are open! If you're interested, contact Charlotte at [address].

People did contact me and we started to meet. A group formed with some core members and others who came and went. We met monthly in the Rotunda at Wild Court and produced a newsletter called Fat News. I left in 1994 and the group folded but also created other sparks: an exhibition and a magazine.

Both groups experienced difficulties and are now really obscure. The generational divide is vast between these earlier fat feminisms and a discourse around fat activism that has moved towards consumerism and 'body positivity'. In scholarly literature, dominated by the US, the only historical fat activist organisations that matter enough to be documented usually reflect a North American cultural bias. It's as though these activists never existed. Not only that, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were other international, non-Anglophone, fat feminist groups that sprouted and then ended. Information about them is currently sketchy, but there must be people still alive who know and who have stories and material to share for the benefit of the movement.

See also: Fat Feminism, missing women and conversations unspoken

06 March 2017

100 Fat Activists #21: Spare Rib's Classifieds

There are few things I like more than a free online repository of independent radical feminist journals of yesteryear. I have been that woman crouched in a corner of a specialist library, going through the dusty box files. It's lovely to touch and hold these artefacts in real life, but it's also a delight to browse them from home with a cuppa at your elbow, no opening hours or obscure rules to observe, and no dodgy photocopier.

The first 50 issues of Sinister Wisdom are available online, as are copies of Dyke, A Quarterly. Rainbow History Project has downloads of The Furies and I recall seeing a page of .pdfs for The Lesbian Tide recently but now, typically, can't find the link.

The more obscure and lesbian the journals the better as far as I am concerned because this is where you will find roots of fat feminism and activism that are not really documented elsewhere. There is plenty that is problematic about some of these feminisms and navigating these spaces is a complex undertaking but still worthwhile, in my opinion.

There are many radical queer, feminist and lesbian journals that I have not seen digitised or made available online, and their absence is a giant cultural loss. Square Peg, Quim, Gossip to name a few. There are so many more (check out this amazing wiki of lesbian periodicals to get a taste of bygone media). So it's great when collections are made available, as long as their makers consent, and I am fond of resources that are accessible in thought and ideas and which don't demand institutional log-ins or a knowledge of academic language and conventions.

In the UK there are online repositories of Trouble and Strife and Shocking Pink that are particularly great. Of course the muthalode is Spare Rib, which is archived by the British Library. Does an equivalent free online archive of Ms Magazine exist? If not, it should do.

Spare Rib is especially important for people who want to know more about fat feminist activist histories in the UK. Volume 182 from 1987 has a cluster of articles about fat feminism that marks a break from previous discourse that was very much centred on eating disorders. Here fat women finally get to speak for themselves. As I write this, I have gone to download those pieces and am shocked to see that the content has been redacted. What a bummer! A note on the British Library website explains that that material is being investigated for copyright permissions. Hopefully this will be released soon. Meanwhile, The Feminist Library has a full set if you fancy a trip out.

But it is in the margins that things hot up. In issue 184 Susie Orbach refutes the criticisms made of her by fat feminists, which she also did in the Feminist Review two years previously and then 22 years later in Washington DC at the Association of Size Diversity and Health conference. I would love to see more work in Fat Studies and beyond about how particular feminist discourses around fat have persisted, and been seen as progressive, even though fat people consistently say that they are damaging and are ignored! How come those arguments remain obscure? Does this illustrate how talking about fat is usually controlled by thin people?

I also love the Classified adverts in Spare Rib. They give you a fantastic picture of everyday feminist organising and concerns in the period, whaich was, need I even say it, pre-internet. It is here that the National Fat Women's Conference was publicised in 1989, after which there were a spattering of fat feminist groups and resources proposed. I don't know what happened to them but it's encouraging to see how the work touched and encouraged people to have a go, even if they weren't ready to see things through. Later, in 1992, in issue 233, you will also see an ad that I placed, calling for a social and political group for fat women. I'll save that story for next time.

02 January 2017

Beat diet season by winning a copy of Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement

Welcome back to failed diet season, that deadly time of the year that keeps on returning like a rotten yo-yo. I see that W***** W******* are selling hard in the UK to busy mums and young black women, exactly the kind of people who could do without inevitably regaining the weight they lose on the programme 7x faster than if they did it alone.

Anyway, it's been a year since I published my newest book: Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, your best antidote to failed diet season. It's been quite a ride! The mauling I imagined never happened. Instead I've had the pleasure of supportive reviews, interesting readings and events, and excited readers. I hope that continues. Thanks to everyone who's helped it into the world. I would love to see the book taken up on course syllabi, to help create conversations about what activism is and could be, to be talked about in groups and online. I think it's a unique and important piece of work which is saying something a year on, it still feels fresh.

To celebrate this anniversary I am running a competition to WIN A COPY OF MY BOOK! The competition is now closed and the winner has been notified. Thanks for taking part.

28 November 2016

Report: Fat, Disability, SWAGGA, DaDaFest

Breast wigs, gold mini-mini fingerless gloves,
puce Air Force 1s, the essential parts
of my SWAGGA costume

I'm surfacing from an intense few weeks rehearsing for and being at DaDaFest in Liverpool. For those not in the know, DaDaFest is an organisation that promotes disabled and deaf arts. They host a biannual festival and are involved with lots of other things besides. Their website is a treasure trove. This year's DadaFest (theme: Skin Deep) is still underway, there are still things to see.

I was there for two reasons: 1. To participate in an event around fat activism and disability arts. 2. To perform SWAGGA.

It was really exciting to create public conversations about fat and disability. People who know me will know that I have been interested in this intersection since the early 1990s. I wrote an MA dissertation about it that later spawned a book and a journal article that has also prompted people to write and think about these connections and divergences. Elsewhere people have come to explore the subject independently of my work. It's a thing. But it's hard to create conversations because this is tender stuff and it involves negotiating fatphobia and disablism to varying degrees.

My friend the actor, comedian and activist Liz Carr and I have been talking about fat and crip culture for quite a while and we wanted to have a public conversation about it at DaDaFest. Because the festival is progressive and supportive about fostering conversations that expand ideas around disability, they encouraged us to go for it. Our conversation meandered around our friendship, the things we have in common as fat and disabled people, the things we don't have in common. It was satisfying, full of hope! We have a lot to learn from each other. We were joined during this event by Bethan Evans of the University of Liverpool and Stacy Bias, who have been working on a project about fat people and access.

The talks were set up to be livestreamed and archived online. There were technical hitches that meant we thought this wouldn't happen, but in the end they were recorded, although the image is blurry and the sound very quiet. Have a go at listening with headphones and the sound cranked up. If I ever get some free time I will transcribe it.

Followers of this blog will know that SWAGGA has been a life-changing experience for me. For those not in the know, SWAGGA is a dance project instigated by Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small who work together as Project O. They recruited Kay Hyatt and I in 2014 to develop and dance this piece. We have now danced it at a number of venues for many people. We've been working with Trash Kit, who play live on stage with us, and with music composed by Verity Susman. Jo Palmer has designed a beautiful lighting set-up too. There is also a film, check out the trailer.

We swept up this little pile of
dancer's dirt before we could
practise. Dust and long golden
hair. Not ours.

I don't know when we will dance SWAGGA again, or if we will dance it again. Every time I come back to it I feel changed. Dancing at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool, a wonderful venue with a radical history, was probably the best performance of it I've ever given. I had a sense that I'd really cracked it this time, which of course I feel every time! But what was different was that I was able to relax into the performance. We rehearsed quite intensively the previous week, resolved some of the things that I found difficult about it, like the part when I get up off the floor, I was confident and I felt that we belonged at DaDaFest.

Over two years, nearly three, with lots of space inbetween for me to pursue other interests in dance, performing SWAGGA at the Unity felt a bit like a graduation. I've never been to dance school, I doubt that any of them would have me anyway especially at this time in my life, it's unlikely that I would be cast in a dance production other than this, or do well at an audition, or even be invited to audition. For lots of reasons, the dance world excludes fat dancers. My movement and engagement with dance, a lifelong ambition, has been a process of making space in dance for people like me, with the amazing and generous support of radical practitioners. What a trip!

31 October 2016

How to Killjoy an Obesity display one #BodySpectacular at a time

My friend E puts on events and curates things, as is the modern way. Earlier this year she asked if I would like to talk about my book at something she was involved with at the Wellcome Collection in London. For those not in the know, the Wellcome Collection is one of the world's most august museums on medical history. They are very hot on art as a means of understanding medicine and bodies that have been medicalised. Like fat people.

I said yes, I was thrilled to have been asked, and also daunted. The exposure and support of this institution for my work is not to be sneezed at. I work outside of institutions mostly, partly because I value my independence, partly because I feel that I don't belong, and partly because I actually don't belong and would never normally be invited to take part. I said yes because I wanted to see what might happen and because I hoped it would be a good way of supporting the book.

Yet I was daunted. The way in which fat is framed throughout the institution and its sister organisations is very retrograde based on my experiences of rubbing up against it as a visitor and researcher. The public face of the institution's attitude to fat people is located in a display in their Medicine Now exhibit called Obesity. This consists of a sculpture, weight loss technology, diet books, audio recordings of anti-obesity proponents and a token fat woman, and objects implying that people have become less active and over-reliant on labour-saving devices. As a depiction of Obesity Epidemic rhetoric and medicalised obesity discourse, it is pitch perfect. I experience it as a hate zone.

I knew that I would be talking about my book in the lecture theatre on the night, but I also wanted to be in the Obesity gallery. I didn't feel that I could deliver a talk about my book without some comment about the display upstairs. I couldn’t ignore it. I have loathed that display since it was installed in 2007 and I want to see it change to reflect the realities of people like me, and to be approximately a hundred thousand times more critical of the discourse it currently represents.

So I proposed a dance that I would dance with Kay Hyatt in the Obesity gallery. We've been working on a piece that would be suitable, called 'But is it Healthy?' The people at the Wellcome Collection said yes. I said I would make a zine to contextualise the dance, and I did, it's called The Blob. I made some beats to dance to based on some recordings of fat feminists from 36 years ago. I wrote an article about the event for the paper.

I'm making it sound very easy, but the reality is not easy. Another friend, L, said that people would likely tell me how awesome I am, which is nice, but they might not be able to see the risk involved in dancing in such a space.

The risk is I am dancing in a hate zone and that most people are unlikely to understand what that might feel like. Even at this stage in my life it is hard. My hope is that dancing, being there, making a spectacle of myself, might help transform that space. Sometimes I feel hopeful and other times I think I am a fantasist and that nothing can stop the greed and ambition of the weight loss industry. I don't want to bellyache about it too much, it is an amazing privilege to be there at all, I'm so grateful for the invitation and care that has been extended towards me, but it is still complicated and sometimes it sends me into a spin.

Today we did a site visit, I was able to hear the music we will be dancing to in the space and we did a little bit of dancing when no one was looking. I am so moved by the fat feminists who made a path for us all those years ago. When I think of the risks I am taking I am humbled by those women who dared to speak before. They give me a lot of strength. It was amazing to hear them speaking today, to dance to their words which remain so relevant. I felt that I was part of something much bigger than me, that there are many other voices of refusal, not just voices but bodies. I'm not the only one to put myself in a risky place. Those others have given me a lot of courage, they remind me that I am not alone and that this risk is worth taking.

Anyway, here are all the details, downloads and links. Come along if you can but, if you can't, you can still read, watch and listen. My talk on the night will be audio recorded and put on the Wellcome website too.

Paper copies of my zine will be available at the event but you can also download a digital copy.
The Blob (.pdf 4mb)

But Is It Healthy Beats by Charlotte Cooper, featuring Diane Denne, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran and Judith Stein recorded by Karen Stimson in 1980.

Guardian article (I didn't write that rather boastful title!): The rhetoric around obesity is toxic. So I created a new language for fat people

Wellcome Collection Friday Late Spectacular: Body Language
Friday 4 November 2016

Please note that you will have to book in advance through the Wellcome Collection website if you want to see me lecture, though this is free. The dance will take place around 9.30pm, no booking is required though these events tend to be extremely popular, so get there early.

17 October 2016

100 Fat Activists #20: The Fatluck

I haven't had much energy to write and post lately, apologies. But what I do have is this, a beautiful hand-drawn poster for a get-together in Boston in the early 1980s.

I found this poster in Judy Freespirit's archive at the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society archives in San Francisco. It supports the evidence I present in my book about cross-country friendships in the US being a way in which fat feminism travelled. Judy Freespirit on the West Coast and Judith Stein, one of the propagators of Boston Area Feminist Fat Liberation, were pals. See #19 for more about that.

The poster is printed on yellow A4 paper. It has an image of two fat women in a heart shape on the top left hand corner, an image that also appears in the collated notes (by Judith?) for The First Feminist Fat Activists' Working Meeting: Proceedings of The First Feminist Fat Activists' Working Meeting. That gathering took place in New Haven in 1980 and was circulated through Fat Liberator Publications. Everything is hand drawn, with 'fatluck' written in blobby lettering.

The poster is of its time, which is also what makes it compelling to me. The world seems so different now, what would it have been like to go to a Fatluck? Online maps show me that the laundromat and the bank might still be there but that the women's centre is now at a different location. The terminology has also shifted, womyn being a way of naming gender separate to men's involvement, but also a term that has historical associations with trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Whilst I have seen some trans women/womyn reclaim womyn, I do not see this word very often these days.

What I love about the flyer is its playful and homemade qualities. Potlucks are a staple, a cliché even, of this kind of feminism. There's a postmodern feminist publication that refers to the practice called No More Potlucks. It's a North American name for collectively producing a meal to share. Here the potluck is called a Fatluck, it acknowledges that it is a big deal, a political act, for fat women to eat together, to nourish each other, to talk about liberation and to treat each other with sweet things.

14 September 2016

I'm still fat, I'm still dancing, things are happening

It's nearly three years since I went to see Project O dance a piece called O. This sparked a chain of events that has included me becoming a dancer. I always did dance, at clubs and around my flat, but things are different now. I have worked with choreographers and I've been part of a show, I have been welcomed into dance community in London, I have been in a film, I have been commissioned to make pieces, I've been to classes, I've been reviewed in the blimmin' Guardian.

Dance is now a big part of my life. By this I mean that at nearly 48 I am really getting to know my body and understand more about how it is a means of expression and feeling. I'm making space for this through thought and action. I'm annoyed that it has taken so long! Hopefully I have plenty of time left to refine what I'm learning.

I go to the studio regularly and it's exciting every time. Fat people are so used to being surveilled that being in a space where you can experiment with movement without being overlooked or judged, in complete privacy, feels like absolute freedom.

I've been making little digital timelapse films of some of these sessions, they condense a three hour stretch into 20 seconds or so. I edited some of them together into a short film. Even though it verges on comedy and I'm trying to challenge the idea that fat people dancing must always be the joke of the century, I really love seeing us zip around so quickly. The short film gives you some idea of what might happen when I spend time in a dance studio. It is fun, funny, and there's a lot of other stuff going on too.

By the way, I always come away from a session thinking that I hardly moved, but then I see the timelapse and recognise that there is a great deal of movement. I suspect this is one of the ways in which I have internalised fatphobia: the erroneous belief that thin dancers move dynamically and constantly, fat dancers do not.

One of the pieces that my partner and I have been developing is a dance called But Is It Healthy? This is the question that people always ask whenever I talk about fat stuff in public. Sometimes I place bets with friends and colleagues about whether it will be the first question.

When people ask me if fat is healthy or not, they are looking for a yes or no answer, and they expect someone to have that answer, which they believe is based in expert scientific research. But it is an impossible question to answer, not least because fat people are a diverse group, health is constructed in myriad ways, and expert science is not incontrovertible.

I have become sick of this question. Whilst I cannot control who asks it, I can make choices in how I answer. So now I have a dance that I can do whenever it arises, and this feels a lot more satisfying.

I will be dancing a longer version of But Is It Healthy? at The Wellcome Collection's Obesity gallery, part of their permanent display. I have many things to say about this space, but more about that some other time. The dance will be supported by a lecture, original music and a zine. More details coming soon.

Wellcome Collection Friday Late Spectacular: Body Language
Friday 4 November 2016

07 September 2016

100 Fat Activists #19: Stein and Freespirit

During the research process for my book I would occasionally find something in the archive that looked unassuming but said so much more. This poster for a reading by Judith Stein and Judy Freespirit, that I found in Freespirit's holdings at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, is one such example.

The typography and the images are very straightforward and the yellow paper is eye-catching. I'm not sure of the year, I'm assuming it's the early 1980s, given the Bobbeh Meisehs reference.

What this poster confirms to me is that Jewish lesbian feminists were important in the development of fat feminism. Radical Jewish feminist community was strong and active at that time in the US, I remember anthologies and conferences taking place. Many prominent early fat feminists were Jewish women. What this means in terms of politics and identity is hard for me to say as someone who is not of that identity, time and place. But I am assuming that better placed people might have insights as to how this affected the politics and range of fat feminism in the early days, for example through radical Jewish traditions of social justice. I imagine that it was important and that there are still many resonances that have not yet been fully acknowledged.

There were events by and about fat lesbian feminists which also encompassed other subjects. So here fat lesbian, Jewish, Yiddish and survivor identity was brought to the event as a kind of intersectional lens, in today's social justice parlance. I think this is important because it's a reminder that as activists we don't have to be positioned solely as fat, we can bring many things to the conversation.

Fat feminists were creating cross-country alliances at that time and maintaining earlier networks even as they migrated and fractured. I know Freespirit had spent time on the East Coast and was part of fat activist organising there for a while. It's amazing to me that geography and minimal resources did not stop people doing things.

Stein's work through Bobbeh Meisehs Press is now super rare and I have seen dealers online trying to sell it for hundreds of dollars. I understand that she created the Press to publish Jewish lesbian feminist material, and that her New Haggadah: A Jewish Lesbian Seder went through a couple of pressings and is held in high esteem by cultural historians. I don't know what happened to Freespirit's Daddy's Girl. I would love to see these documents.

It's really good to see access being advocated, not just wheelchair access but signing, and a sliding scale donation suggested. Accessible events often remain an afterthought here in the 21st century. On the other hand, it's women-only, a more contested proposal in terms of who is and who is not granted access, but consistent with the politics of the times. Today one would hope that there would be more sensitivity around gender and access in radical fat feminist community.

I get pangs when I see this poster, though I know that this is my nostalgia and that this does not necessarily illuminate much for those who were there. Nevertheless, Stein and Freespirit look full of life and power, as though they have so much to say. I can't help wishing that I could travel back in time and sit in on that reading. I would love to hear these old wives spin a few tales.

Edited: 15 December 2016

Since I first wrote this post Judith Stein has generously scanned and given permission for me to put her Bobbeh Meisehs online for people to download, read and share. All material is her copyright. Please enjoy them!

Stein, Judith (1980, revised 1982). A Jewish Lesbian Chanukah. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 2mb)

Stein, Judith (1981, revised 1987). A New Haggedah: A Jewish Lesbian Seder. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 18mb)

Stein, Judith (1980, revised 1986). The Purim Megillah: A Feminist Retelling. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 18mb)

Stein, Judith (1982). Telling Bobbeh Meisehs: Some Notes on Identity and the Creation of Jewish Lesbian Culture. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 4mb)

Stein, Judith (1980, revised 1986). On Lesbian Invisibility: A Midrash for Shavuos. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 2mb)

Stein, Judith (n.d.). Why the Moon is Small and Dark When the Sun is Big and Shiny: a Midrash for Rosh Chodesh. Cambridge MA: Bobbeh Meisehs Press. (.pdf, 1mb)

Stein, Judith (1993). How to have a Satisfying Jewish Lesbian Seder (in three easy steps) in Zahava, Irene ed., How To...Short Stories by Women. Ithaca NY: Violet Ink, 39-41. (.pdf, 3mb)

11 August 2016

Watch the 1979 Fat Underground video

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what it was like seeing the Fat Underground video.

A generous reader of this blog, who may or may not wish to be named, shared a digitised copy of the video with me. With her consent I have uploaded it to YouTube for others to see. Watch the Fat Underground video from 1979.

Edited to add: I watched the video at the weekend and realised that it is different to the video that I referred to in the other post. I suspect the other video that I saw at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco in 2010 is Shirl Buss' original 1975 footage, edited and embellished here by Marge Dean. This begs the question: could there be other Fat Underground videos out there?! Meanwhile, it would be great to see the 1975 video digitised and made available too.

By the way, I am thrilled to notice in the credits that Kathy Fire is one of the chorus. Her album, Songs of Fire, is a classic of protest music, a favourite of Homosexual Death Drive, and still available through the Smithsonian Institution. It makes sense that she was also a part of early fat feminism.

There are some things to bear in mind:

  • The video might not stay there for very long. I have done a brief search for Marge Dean, the copyright holder, and will continue to look for her. I haven't been able to find her yet, but she may get in touch and she may want the video taken down, which I will do.
  • YouTube identified some copyrighted material in the film in the form of a song. I don't know if the film-makers cleared the right to use that song. The song owners have allowed its use on YouTube but it does mean that there may be ads, and also that other people can't embed the video on their websites. This is beyond my control. If the ads turn out to be weight-loss related or in any way fatphobic or offensive, I will remove the song and therefore the restrictions, and add some notes about that to the video's page.
  • I have turned off comments on the video because they are usually crap.
  • I have set it to unlisted to try and avoid random fatphobes.
  • It's a little glitchy because it was made from an old VHS tape.

I can't believe other fat activists are going to get to see this video now, after all these years. What will it spark?

Dean, M. and Buss, S. (1979). Fat Underground [video]. Available https://youtu.be/UPYRZCXjoRo

04 August 2016

100 Fat Activists #18: Off Our Backs letters page

Off Our Backs was a radical feminist newspaper from the US that ran from 1970-2008 in various forms and was collectively produced. Some people get Off Our Backs mixed up with On Our Backs, a queer sex magazine that is also now sadly defunct. On Our Backs' name satirised Off Our Backs' problematic relationship to sex and readers who are ignorant of the lesbian sex wars might want to go off and find out what that was about in order to understand why these names are significant.

A digital archive of On Our Backs is available for free online – hurray! I have yet to do a full one-handed sift through the back issues but I am pretty sure there is plenty of fat stuff in there. These pornographers were good feminists after all. You will also find some things that I wrote, I was a columnist for the rag towards the end.

Alas, you will need university or institutional access to look at digitised editions of Off Our Backs. There must surely be sociological observations to be made here about access, respectability, feminism, class and the like between the availability of both journals, but I'll save that for another day. For copyright reasons I can't share the articles, but I have referenced them below if you would like to go digging for them.

I'm mentioning Off Our Backs here because I wanted to share some of the material I found on the letters pages during the period I was researching my book. The editorial collective ran a lively letters page, with discussions stretching across several issues or more if it was one of those intractable subjects that radical feminism could not figure out adequately, like SM. Through reading the letters page you get to see threads appear.

The main one concerns the paper's, and presumably feminism's, struggle to comprehend fat feminist politics. From 1976-1991 they get it wrong again and again! Readers are furious about Off Our Backs' editorial stereotyping fat people as capitalists, about references to 'overweight' and poor health, about an advert for a diet product that is later pulled, about the decision to publish a violently fatphobic letter from a reader. A thread in which Aldebaran pulls Off Our Backs on their fatphobia results in a weedy and defensive response by the collective, although that doesn't stop them publishing her eviscerating reply to their denial. It is electrifying to read.

Around 1978 there is also an illuminating discussion about Fat Is A Feminist Issue. Off Our Backs predictably takes the line that this is a good and useful book, though hedges its bets by inviting two women with opposing views to offer their thoughts. They shouldn't have bothered, Aldebaran is once again on the case, supported by Elly Janesdaughter, and people called Lizard, Helen, Shan and KR. Despite this awesome resistance to the problematic psychoanalytic views of fat women's bodies reflected in that book, Off Our Backs appear to have learned very little and five years later are publishing more about fat and compulsive eating, this time refuted in the letters page by Marjory Nelson. By 1985 they are being taken to task for implying that weight loss surgery is no big deal. The subsequent editorial amnesia to these critical accounts suggest to me that this is one of the ways in which these pernicious and unhelpful ideas about fat women and weight loss have persisted over the years. Time and again in the letters page I witness arguments in beautifully crafted dispatches by fat feminists being pushed aside in favour of feminist fatphobia.

There are also some curiosities. A correspondent called Moral offers some feminist evolutionary theory for the existence of fat women in 1980 and invokes some dubious racialised arguments to prove her point. But best of all is a 1978 communiqué from The Glacial Acetic Acid Liberation Front about their plans to vandalise a fatphobic poster. Wow!

Off Our Backs published a handful of articles about fat over its lifetime, separate to the discussions that went on via the letters page. The tone and range of these articles diminished, in my opinion, as time went on. They became a lot blander, more concerned with 'body image' and 'dieting' than fat, presumably because this is seen to be less contentious and is relatable to more women. Indeed, this shift was orchestrated by fat activists. I could be wrong but I understand that The Body Image Task Force (sounds really militaristic on reflection!) was a NAAFA and National Organisation of Women strategy to broaden interest. In my opinion it ended up backfiring because it had the effect of erasing the radical fat feminist voices that came before, instead of building on their analyses of oppression. To my mind this reflects the growth of conservatism in fat feminism, contextualised in a Western political shift to the right more generally, which continues through 'body positivity' and its ilk. You can see this play out through Off Our Backs, the paper is like a microcosm for this process, which I write about in more detail in my book.


Aldebaran (1979) 'Letter: oob perpetuating stereotypes', Off Our Backs, 9(11), 31.
Aldebaran (1980) 'Letter: liberal on fat', Off Our Backs, 10(3), 31.
Aldebaran (Vivian Mayer) (1979) 'Letter: compulsive eating myth', Off Our Backs, 9(7), 28.
Earthdaughter, d. (1991) 'Letter: diet pills next?', Off Our Backs, 21(3), 35.
Edwards, E. A. (1989) 'Letter: weight oppression', Off Our Backs, 19(8), 26.
Elg, T. (1991) 'Letter: weight ad unacceptable', Off Our Backs, 21(5), 34.
Freepers♀n, K. (1983) 'Letter: heavy punishment', Off Our Backs, 13(5), 30.
Hutchins, L. (1985) 'Letter: and response', Off Our Backs, 15(8), 34.
Janesdaughter, E. (1979) 'Letter: fatophobic feminists', Off Our Backs, 9(7), 28.
KR (1979) 'Letter: free to be fat', Off Our Backs, 9(5), 28.
Lizard, Helen and Shan (1979) 'Letter: thin thinking', Off Our Backs, 9(5), 28.
Moral (1980) 'Letter: fat save species', Off Our Backs, 10(3), 31.
Nelson, M. (1983) 'Letter: thinly veiled insult', Off Our Backs, 13(5), 30.
Roark, D. (1976) 'Letter: sized up &boxed in', Off Our Backs, 6(5), 30.
Stockwell, R. (1985) 'Letter: shadow-boxing', Off Our Backs, 15(8), 34.
Unsigned for obvious reasons (1979) 'Letter: fat kills', Off Our Backs, 9(7), 28.
Wiesner(sic), B. (1985) 'Letter: stomach stapling', Off Our Backs, 15(8), 34.
WildSister, K. (1990) 'Letter: not buying it', Off Our Backs, 20(8), 34.
zana (1990) 'Letter: stress of dieting', Off Our Backs, 20(8), 34.

28 July 2016

New open access Fattylympics chapter queers public health

I'm delighted to announce that a chapter I co-authored with Bethan Evans is now available to download for free!

Reframing Fatness: Critiquing 'Obesity' is a piece in The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities edited by Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods, which has just been published. In our chapter we talk about fat activism and queering public health through projects such as QUILTBAGG and Homosexual Death Drive.

The book retails at an eye-watering £175. I doubt that many activists would ever have access to this collection at this price. Only the most elite and inaccessible libraries will be able to afford to buy copies. Amazingly, the ePub is also the same price. Nevertheless, the University of Liverpool have paid for the chapter to be open access, for which I am grateful. Their actions mean that you can get it for free.

For the uninitiated, this is how academic publishing works nowadays. You may wish to check out The Para-Academic Handbook for alternative academic strategies.

Evans, B. and Cooper, C. (2016) 'Reframing Fatness: Critiquing 'Obesity'' in Whitehead, A. and Woods, A., eds., The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Wardrop, A. and Withers, D. M., eds. (2014) The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit for making-learning-creating-acting, Bristol: HammerOn Press.

100 Fat Activists #17: 1980s Fat Feminist photography

By the early 1980s fat feminism was spreading through a number of groups in the West, though fatphobia remained a big problem within the women's movement and society in general. Radical lesbian feminism of the period, including separatism, helped to establish an infrastructure of organisations, venues and businesses where fat feminism could be explored.

One of the ways in which lesbian feminists of that time did this was through photography. During my research travels to the archives for my book, I came across startling and powerful photographs of fat lesbians by Cookie Andrews-Hunt, Cathy Cade, Zoe Mosko, Lynn Levy and Judith Clarke. Vida Gallery in San Francisco hosted Fat Fridays for a period, and showcased images of fat lesbians. I have included blurry me-in-the-archive phonecam images here but would encourage readers to try and find the originals.

Andrews-Hunt, a leather dyke and photo editor, produced Images of Our Flesh in 1983, a calendar featuring pictures of The Fat Avengers, a fat lesbian feminist group from Seattle. Perhaps this influenced later activism such as the calendar produced as a fundraiser for Heather McAllister when she was undergoing cancer treatment, or the annual Adipsitivity calendar.

Cathy Cade's A Lesbian Photo Album from 1987 documented fat feminist community in the Bay Area, including Judy Freespirit. Her photograph of Pandoura, which I think may be from Images of Our Flesh is a rare glimpse of a fat lesbian of colour from that period.

My favourite photograph from Images of Our Flesh is Judith Clarke's portrait of Banshee. She is wearing a Fat Liberator t-shirt (Stop Fat Oppression: Support Fat Dykes) and looks so contemporary, meaning of her time as well as timeless. I can imagine bumping into her in queer community today.

Some of these photographers are now dead, some of this work is sadly obscure and exists only in the archive. But they resonate so strongly for me because they are visual depictions of community, of those who came before, they remind me that I am part of a movement, and they look absolutely fantastic.

Cade, C. (1987) A Lesbian Photo Album: The Lives of Seven Lesbian Feminists, Oakland, CA: Waterwoman Books.

Andrews-Hunt, C. (1983) Images of Our Flesh, Seattle: The Fat Avengers.

22 July 2016

100 Fat Activists #16: The Social Model

In her excellent book, Fat Rights, Anna Kirkland lays out a number of arguments that fat people and their representatives might use to fight discrimination in a US court of law. She draws on anti-discrimination theories that emerged from anti-racist and anti-sexist legal work, and disability law in particular. I first came across the Social Model of Disability in the early 1990s through the work of Mike Oliver, but I am including it here because it has been around for some time and has important overlaps with these earlier attempts to shift the focus around discrimination.

What do I mean by a Social Model? It is an alternative to the belief that the individual should be held responsible for the discrimination directed against them. This belief is directed at fat people in this way:

Fatty: I am discriminated against because I am fat.
Society: You should just lose weight and then you'll be fine.
Fatty: It is almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off forever and it will damage my health and wellbeing if I try and do that. Here's a load of stats and proof.
Society: Too bad! You'll just have to keep trying. Plus it makes quite a lot of money for us and gives us people to scapegoat. Hurrah!

With a Social Model the burden of responsibility for dealing with discrimination is shifted towards society in general:

Fatty: I am discriminated against because I am fat.
Society: We recognise that losing weight is not a solution to this problem and we should change our systems, values, institutions etc so that no one is discriminated against for being fat (plus points: no one is discriminated against for a host of other reasons too).
Fatty: Yippee! Let's get this shit going!

It is my belief that a Social Model is crucial to fat activists. Operating under the assumption that social attitudes are the problem, and not the individual, enables fat activists to identify those places where discrimination surfaces and do something about it. It is much harder to get organised if we are to believe that discrimination is our own fault. Perhaps this is one reason why anti-obesity people continue to promote the idea that weight loss is the only way forward, they want to keep us in our place, invested in a losing game, to stop us from becoming disruptive.

I wrote primarily about the Social Model of Disability and fat identity in my first book, Fat and Proud and I say a bit more about it in my recent book. But although others have built on that work, it's quite rare to find the Social Model spelled out in the archive and in fat activist communities. I think this is because it is most associated with disability activism and reflects the infuriating divisions between fat and disability activists, which are only now being eroded. But it remains an important way of thinking about fat activism, it is an activist-based theory that has foundations in anti-racism and anti-sexism. It is a key tool for the liberation of all people, in my humble opinion. I'm perplexed why it isn't invoked more often and would encourage readers to find out more about it.

Cooper, C. (1998) Fat & Proud: The Politics of Size, London: The Women's Press.

Cooper, C. (2016) Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, Bristol: HammerOn Press.

Kirkland, A. (2008) Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood, New York: New York University Press.

Oliver, M. (1990) The Politics of Disablement, London: Macmillan.

15 July 2016

100 Fat Activists #15: The Fat Underground video

In 2010 I had a very startling moment. I was visiting the GLBT Historical Society archives in San Francisco, looking at Judy Freespirit's papers. I was researching my doctorate, a version of which has been published as a book. I can't remember if I had met Judy at this point, or was yet to meet her.

I found a lot of interesting stuff in her boxes. If I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times more: fat activists, please make plans to archive your stuff, our stories are fragile and in danger of becoming lost.

The startling moment was the discovery of a VHS cassette with the words Fat Underground on its spine. No other information. No information in the content of the tape about who made it and when, either. A mystery tape.

The facilities for screening VHS tapes at the GLBT Historical Society at that time were basic to say the least. I sat in a windowless cupboard-cum-kitchen, piled with detritus and watched the tape on an old monitor.

Suddenly here I was, seeing the Fat Underground spell out their manifesto, producing skits, talking directly to camera. The video looked old, blurry and washed out. I was excited that the FU used technology in this way, perhaps in the mid to late 1970s. It was great to see them sitting together in some kind of underground room, looking like a group of revolutionaries. Lynn Mabel-Lois, now Lynn McAfee, made my hair stand on end with her address to the viewer: she grabs her fat arm and says "I feel like a freak and I'm getting PROUD!"

I was too dumbfounded to ask the archivists about the tape, if I could make a copy, what the deal was in terms of taking stills, anything like that. I just sat and watched it, and made notes with my pencil in my notebook. I also took some terrible photos of the screen with my phone because I couldn't believe what I was watching and I wanted proof later on that I had seen what I had seen.

Up until this point I had never seen pictures of the Fat Underground, let alone moving images. In many ways this group is mythical to me, even though I know people who were involved. They existed to me through obscure documents and a kind of echo chamber of rumour, hearsay, half-remembered detail and so on. They were a foundational moment in fat feminist activism, but always somewhat removed. Because of the mythology surrounding the group, sometimes I wonder if I'm making things up. In the face of obesity discourse, fat people are usually positioned as unreliable narrators (the opposite is more likely to be true, of course, obesity discourse is a gaslighter par excellence). But here was evidence: they are real!

I suspect other copies of this tape exist in other archives. I would encourage fat activists with better access than me to investigate making this recording public, or developing it further. It is an amazingly rich resource.

Edited to add: you can now watch this video online.

29 June 2016

Fat Activism and Research Justice

I first came across the term 'Research Justice' at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit in 2010. This may have been the first time that the conference scheduled some sessions on the theme. Since then, the AMC has hosted Research Justice network gatherings and the concept has grown. You can find documentation on the AMC website.

As I understand it, Research Justice has grown out of indigenous Participatory Action Research projects and Linda Tuhiwai Smith's foundational text Decolonizing Methodologies. DataCenter, in Oakland, California is an organisational proponent of the term, and has published various toolkits and reports. Research by and about Domestic Workers in Southern California that I have found through DataCenter have made particularly powerful reading. The organisation has a useful YouTube presence too. Last year Andrew J. Jolivette published a Research Justice anthology in Chicago, which looks pretty good but also somewhat academic and focused primarily on work in North America. It is important that Research Justice not become another academic discipline, especially when academia excludes so many, but remains something that anyone can use.

When I was first learning about Research Justice I was also inspired by the Young Women's Empowerment Project in Chicago, who produced a really great piece of research about their Bad Encounter Line. I'm not sure if the project still exists, but you can read about this research on their Media & Free Stuff page. In the UK, Salvage, a recent project about gendered violence in activist communities is similarly brilliant, I am proud to have been a part of it and am looking forwards to seeing where it goes as more people learn about it.

I have produced my own small-scale research projects using this concept, in particular No More Stitch-Ups, from 2014. My book is built on the idea that how knowledge is generated and owned is political, and that obesity discourse does not have to be the only way in which we might understand fat people.

Research Justice enables me to think of research as activism. There is a tradition in fat activism of ripping apart obesity research, about fighting research injustice, but what would it be like to generate and own our own knowledge? It would be amazing if fat people were to undertake their own research, and not only with university support or under the patronage of thin academics. What might we find if we pursued our own research agendas? I am particularly interested in DIY research, using low or no-cost resources to find things out that might benefit communities of people who don't otherwise get a look-in. I am interested in developing research skill-shares around this stuff. It is a myth that research has to be expensive, obscure and highly academic.

I also want to encourage people working in research institutions to consider Research Justice as a form of methodology. There are certainly overlaps with Participatory Action Research, but I think that Research Justice is more than a method or a consideration of ethics inresearch, it is a theoretical orientation that can underpin all kinds of research and places a commitment to social justice at its heart.

In June I made a little graphic with some questions to consider when either looking at or designing research. I made the mind-map as a response to a series of performances and workshops in Bristol called Emergenc(i)es, which was about developing new responses to the crises of the times we are in. It was a prompt to think about how to survive and thrive in difficult times. Emergenc(i)es was affiliated to the AntiUniversity a really fantastic para-academic project in the UK. The graphic is not exhaustive, I expect to come back to it and fill in gaps as I go along, but I hope it gives some idea of the critical nature of Research Justice as I see it, and encourages people to think about how knowledge is created, perhaps to become knowledge producers themselves.

Click on the image to see a larger-sized version. Extra points if you can spot the accidental typo!

Refusing co-option by the weight loss industry

I've been wondering why I had a 1050% increase in traffic to this blog over the past month. My stats tracker is somewhat perfunctory at best, so I wasn't getting much joy until this morning, when I found that this blog had been co-opted by a popular 'health' website as one of its best obesity blogs.

It took me a while to find the listing because this website crashed my computer every time I tried to have a look. Thanks guys! But there I was, amidst all the usual thinspo, unavoidable ads for Atkins crap, and creepy 'health experts'.

Part of me thinks that the author of this list is trying to be subversive by including me. But the whole thing looked as though it was put together by a robot, trying to extract the maximum clickage and monetisation-per-pixel that that fantasy quickly evaporated (also by the author: "Is Cheese Bad for You?"). The kicker is that there is some small print at the top to say that all of the entries had been "medically reviewed" by someone who must surely be a quack. Medically review my middle finger!

Although my traffic is currently very high there is very little increase in engagement with what I am posting. The stats are probably robots too. It's amazing how the killer keyword "obesity" racks up the page-views, and presumably money for other people without any substance. 16 years of fat panic and this remains what it's all about.

Let me get this straight: the medicalised concept of obesity represents a system of hate that I have spent most of my life trying to destroy. This blog represents some of that work. I called it Obesity Timebomb because I believe that obesity as a system of oppression needs blowing up and that fat people are the ones to push the button. Most people who come to my work have at least some understanding of that. But people in the world of obesity, particularly those who see it as a cash cow, are not smart, they think I want their free content and their patronage. They don't understand irony or punk. They think that fat people are passive and grateful, not dangerous.

I have written to the website to ask them to remove my listing, that it was put there without my knowledge, and to say that I loathe everything they stand for. I expect it will disappear into a black hole. But for the record I want readers of this blog to know that I will never allow myself to be co-opted by weight loss, this is not a diet blog, I am not part of that world, in fact I want to see it end. Co-option is a dirty trick of the weight loss industry to try and de-fang fat activism, I want our fangs to remain ready to bite. If you see my work on such a platform, it was done without my consent.