On spaces for fat activism and scholarship

As a super fat person living in New Zealand, I am rarely afforded the opportunity to hang out in fat spaces offline. I don’t know many fat people who embrace that identity, so I am always keen to have access to spaces designed by fat people, for fat people, about fat people. One of those yearly spaces (albeit online) is the Fat Activism Conference(FAC). This began in 2014, organised by Ragan Chastain of DancewithFat and Jeannette DePattie from The Fat Chick. This year, I’m pleased to be part of the organising team; doing my part to encourage that speakers are invited from all parts of the world, not just the Western Northern Hemisphere. And I’m excited that my radio show, Friend of Marilyn, has come on board as a Gold Sponsor this year!


There’s a lot to love about this conference. It’s online, so you can access it from anywhere in the world on your phone or computer. If you can’t join the conference live (like me, due to time differences), you can listen to the recorded sessions at your leisure. Plus, this year they are providing transcripts. FAC runs from 23-25 September 2016.

The keynotes this year are Jill Andrew, Charlotte Cooper, Caleb Luna, and Dianne Bondy. Other speakers include Bevin Branlandingham, Alysse Dalessandro, Rajah Jones, Gloria Lucas, Mirna Valerio, and me (find them all here). One of the things I LOVE about these kinds of events are the opportunities afforded to fat people to share their stories – their truths – their experiences. Fat people are excluded from the narratives around fatness in favour of “experts on obesity”.

Another great aspect is the accessibility of FAC. There are passes at affordable prices, that gain you access to the sessions and transcripts, plus extras. And there is a pay-what-you-can-afford option too! Fat activism is important because fat hate hurts people of all sizes – and while we may not be able to change everyone’s mind about fatness, we can damn sure make it illegal to discriminate against us for our size. And we can strive for a society in which fat people are able to lead their lives the way they want, without apology or shame.

Register now to attend FAC 2016 (this is my affiliate link)!

If you are interested in fat scholarship, then make sure to check out FSNZ16!

Fat Studies: Identity, Agency, Embodiment (FSNZ16) was the second Fat Studies conference I’ve hosted in New Zealand. It provided a space for Fat Studies scholars and fat activists to come together and share pedagogy, scholarship, and activism. It was well supported by my Institution and received a great deal of media attention across New Zealand. Having hosted Fat Studies: Reflective Intersections in 2012, colleagues, admin, and the media alike, were not confounded by the idea of a Fat Studies conference this go around; a Fat Studies conference no longer seems odd, or, as odd, to the people in New Zealand.

cat1We had 22 speakers from eight countries across four continents; 5 of them joined remotely (a New Zealander with a sick child on the day, and individuals from Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom). All of the presentations were well received; one of the most popular was from a postgrad student, Jessica Maclean, who shared at the start that it was her first academic presentation. Our two keynotes were fantastic. Having two keynotes: one academic, Katie LeBesco, and one activist, Substantia Jones, drew attendees from across two crowds and acknowledged that Fat Studies is a discipline heavily influenced by both scholars and activists alike.

While we had presenters from 8 countries, I was disappointed that we were a space that (re)produced white supremacy; both keynotes were white, most speakers and attendees were white. This was further reinforced by the pictures supplied by presenters to use in the promotion material; we only had one picture from a POC to use in our materials. The organising committee had sought to ensure we had POC on the committee, and that our CFP reached out to feminist spaces, student spaces, and spaces for people of colour. We worked especially hard to engage with the indigenous communities in New Zealand. When all was said and done, though, we failed to produce a conference that represented a diverse group of voices. We are working on strategies to ensure that future FSNZ conferences do better, including a commitment to having a POC as a keynote.

Of our registrations, many of those were online registrations.  One of the drawbacks of hosting FSNZ is that many people are unable to attend a conference in New Zealand in person. Online attendees were able to live stream the two days, and submit Qs for presenters through Twitter; online participation allowed access to those unable to join us in New Zealand, and live tweeting allowed for engagement with those not in the room. Live Tweeting of FSNZ16 took place by four individuals in attendance, along with the organiser. Presenters were requested to provide 3-5 tweets (or bits that could be revised into tweets) beforehand; in total, the conference account (@FSNZ2016) tweeted about 325 times during the two days.

Financially, the conference was tenuous. Many academic conferences are now supported or sponsored by industry; this has almost become an expectation within academia. As we do not have a large industry that could support us, FSNZ16 relied solely on registrations and financial support from the University. This makes us vulnerable to budget capacities of the institution, and to the willingness of the fat community to support the conference. In fact, we are still looking for fat community support, ascat2 registration remains open until 30 September for those who wish to access the recorded presentations from the conference. The price has been dropped to 25NZD/18USD, and we hope there are many out there who are willing to support us and ensure that FSNZ happens again!

Before the conference kicked off, a spoken word event was held at the public library. Fat Out Loud was hosted by Dr. Jenny Lee and myself, and we were thrilled to have six readers share stories about being pregnant while fat, being a fat child, negotiating life with an anti-fat mother, rejecting suitors who won’t be seen with you in public, and the role of chairs in the lives of fat people. You can find videos of two of those readings in this playlist. The closing night of the conference, The Adipositivity Project exhibit opened at Te Manawa, a local art gallery and museum.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of the conference is the opportunity for community. To be in a space for fat people, with fat voices at the fore, is rare for me. As Kath Read of the Fat Heffalump wrote,

cat3But most of all, what I valued the most was the community.  This was a room full of people whom I did not have to educate from scratch.  This is almost unheard of for me – I spend the majority of my time engaging in Fat Activism 101, where I constantly have to justify the right of fat people to have a life of dignity and respect – something I have been doing for almost 8 long, long years.   I did not have to explain to any of the attendees the basic tenets of fat activism.  We spoke a common language, and are approaching the topic from a similar direction.  Not to mention, generally speaking, people engaging in fat studies are not looking to eradicate, cure or prevent fatness.  They’re looking at what it means to live in a fat body, how society treats fat people and how we can maintain fat people’s rights.

If you are able to support Fat Studies scholarship, please register for FSNZ16. You’ll get the full programme, along with recorded presentations from the two days. If you’d like access to the videos, but cannot afford the registration fee, please let me know and I will arrange for a scholarship for you!

(re-posted from the Health at Every Size blog)