Tag Archives: organizing

Judy Freespirit: The Passing of a Pioneer

Debbie says:

Judy Freespirit was one of the very first fat activists. With Sara Fishman, Lynn McAfee and others, she founded the Fat Underground. With Aldebaran, nearly forty years ago, she wrote the Fat Liberation Manifesto (reproduced in full at the end of this post). She has an essay in the first book about fat pride and fat acceptance, Shadow on a Tightrope, published in 1983.

Judy Freespirit with white hair and an oxygen cannula in her nostrila

When she and I were in the same circles, she was organizing for the rights of people with environmental illness. In 2008, she was doing organizing for LGBT visibility in the Jewish Home in San Francisco. The Fat Liberation Manifesto is as vibrant and appropriate today as it was in 1973, and Judy is a lot of the reason that thousands of people have had their lives changed.

I remember her well from my early days in the fat liberation movement: supersize, clear, articulate, and unswerving. Just this past week, I read a post by Maia on Alas, A Blog, about an anti-fat post on Feministe, including this:

There were 122 comments on Monica’s recent post – a good 95% of which are people telling Monica exactly how ridiculous and offensive her post is.

Four and a half years ago, there were just a few of us who spoke up for even moderate fat acceptance (and if you read the comments – which I don’t actually recommend – I was being embarrassingly moderate and conciliatory).

In four and a half years the number of people talking fat and politics at feministe and feministe adjacent spaces has increased exponentially. Every person who says “I’m fat and there’s no shame in that”, makes it a little easier for the next person.

Everyone of those people talking fat and politics, at Feministe and elsewhere, owes a debt of eldership to Judy Freespirit. She died today, during the holiest time of the Jewish year, and her name will be remembered as a blessing. There will be a public memorial for her sometime in October, and we’ll announce it here.


by Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran

1. WE believe that fat people are fully entitled to human respect and recognition.

2. WE are angry at mistreatment by commercial and sexist interests. These have exploited our bodies as objects of ridicule, thereby creating an immensely profitable market selling the false promise of avoidance of, or relief from, that ridicule.

3. WE see our struggle as allied with the struggles of other oppressed groups against classism, racism, sexism, ageism, financial exploitation, imperialism and the like.

4. WE demand equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life, as promised in the Constitution of the United States. We demand equal access to goods and services in the public domain, and an end to discrimination against us in the areas of employment, education, public facilities and health services.

5. WE single out as our special enemies the so-called “reducing” industries. These include diet clubs, reducing salons, fat farms, diet doctors, diet books, diet foods and food supplements, surgical procedures, appetite suppressants, drugs and gadgetry such as wraps and “reducing machines”.

WE demand that they take responsibility for their false claims, acknowledge that their products are harmful to the public health, and publish long-term studies proving any statistical efficacy of their products. We make this demand knowing that over 99% of all weight loss programs, when evaluated over a five-year period, fail utterly, and also knowing the extreme proven harmfulness of frequent large changes in weight.

6. WE repudiate the mystified “science” which falsely claims that we are unfit. It has both caused and upheld discrimination against us, in collusion with the financial interests of insurance companies, the fashion and garment industries, reducing industries, the food and drug industries, and the medical and psychiatric establishment.

7. WE refuse to be subjugated to the interests of our enemies. We fully intend to reclaim power over our bodies and our lives. We commit ourselves to pursue these goals together.


By Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran
November, 1973

Originally Published by the Fat Underground,
Los Angeles, California USA

Presented as a public service by Largesse, the Network for Size Esteem. (Largesse’s website appears to be no longer active.)

This document may be freely copied and distributed in its entirety for non-commercial use in promoting size diversity empowerment, provided this statement is included.

I copied it directly from JeanC.

If Only It Was the Last One …

Laurie and Debbie say:

We see an interesting synergy between two posts from excellent blogs. First is this Alas, A Blog post by Ampersand:

I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that fat people are “the last safe target,” because I loathe that phrase.

Everyone thinks they’re the last safe target.

Second is Melissa McEwen at Shakesville, “A Perfect Example, Unfortunately”

the cover of a prominent national gay magazine reading “Gay is the New Black: The last great civil rights struggle” exceedingly, uh, unproductive. Suffice it to say, if The Advocate’s idea of outreach to people of color, whether queer or not, is to declare racism done and dusted, they needn’t be surprised when POC give them the finger.

Calling the gay rights movement “the last great civil rights struggle” is exactly what I was talking about in comments yesterday: When you relegate any rights movement to the dustbin of history, as if everything has been tied into a neat little bow of perfect equality, instead of regarding the movement as the ongoing, living, breathing, still-significant, still-necessary struggle that it is, it’s effectively a declaration of not being your ally, because if there’s “nothing left to accomplish,” if there’s no struggle, there’s no need for allies.

Ampersand and Melissa are making two different points, which are nonetheless closely related.

If you read Ampersand’s piece, he goes on to list a wide variety of both oppressed groups and whiny majority subcultures who claim to be “the last safe target,” as well as a longer list of groups who claim “the last acceptable prejudice.”

Nothing is to be gained by placing oppressions in competition. There’s a reasonably clear line between groups which have lost (or perceive that they may be losing) some degree of entitlement or privileged treatment, and groups which face social oppression and unfair treatment based on who they are. We’ll leave you to draw that line wherever you think it belongs.

Lots of groups face unfair barriers and social limitations, often similar and sometimes very different from each other. The crucially important choice in fighting for social justice is the choice to recognize all of these oppressions. Sometimes they can be fought jointly; sometimes they need to be fought individually. But fighting oppression demands the honesty to acknowledge that the oppressions you are not fighting are still there. Disability access issues don’t magically disappear while you’re fighting for the rights of welfare mothers; gay marriage doesn’t get handed down from the sky on a platter while you’re organizing for national health care. We can’t do everything, but we can acknowledge everything. We can remember other injustices while fighting a particular one.

That’s why the guest blog post by Shaker rrp that Melissa McEwen points to is so important.

I’ve been really mulling over the story of civil rights for African Americans, because there’s been a struggle about this on the blogosphere and even out away from computers. There’s a triumphant narrative to this piece of American history. Africans brought here in chains, the horrors of the slave trade and slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the backlash of Jim Crow, lynching and the anti-lynching work, then come the 50s and 60s and there seems to be a happy ending. Discrimination is illegal (though far from gone) in the USA.

… the narrative says that ancient wrongs were righted, that justice did triumph and that right was done. The narrative suggests that since it happened once it can happen again. That things that are wrong now can be fixed, that rights that are denied now can be had sometime, some time soon.

And so it makes perfect sense to me that when some LGBT people talk about our rights, they invoke the African American civil rights movement as a model. It’s a perfect shorthand and it gives hope.

But when this happens something in me tightens up. As an African American who was a kid in the 50s, who knew that the story that was happening on tv was about me and about people like me, who was the same age as the four girls who died in that blown-up church, I feel like that story is mine.

But it can’t belong to me, because once it’s become narrative, it’s off to do whatever work people can make it do. It’s not a story any more and it really can’t be mine. But doesn’t stop me from feeling that I belong to it, that it owns me in a way that other people can never understand and it’s that knowledge which gives me an unease about its casual and careless use that I just can’t get myself over.

Shaker rrp is so right about the power of narrative, and the justice narratives have to be true. We can’t ever take up a standard claiming that we’re taking it up because other battles are won; we can’t base our social justice struggles on lies.