Tag Archives: Shadow on a Tightrope

Fat-Positive Summer Festival in Berkeley


Laurie and Debbie say:

Laurie's photograph of five fat nudes at Baker Beach in San Francisco
photo from Women En Large, copyright (c) Laurie Toby Edison

Virgie Tovar is one of the most vibrant fat activists around, and she’s working with the Berkeley Public Library (only a mile from Debbie’s house) on a Fat Positive Summer Festival, starting tomorrow. The line-up is exciting, including Tovar’s “Lose Hate, Not Weight” lecture (which she is giving twice, due to popular demand!), a selection of short films, and a group reading over the next five days.


Frances Dinkelspiel, writing at Berkeleyside, puts the festival in a contemporary context.

The festival comes at a time when societal discussion about fat prejudice and its harmful effects is increasing. Last week, the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, banned ads on public transportation that could create body confidence issues.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising, which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies,” said Khan, according to an article in the New York Times. “Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies.”

In 2015, the French Parliament passed a measure making it illegal for modeling agencies to hire dangerously thin models. The backer of the initiative, the Socialist Olivier Véran, said he wanted to both protect super skinny models and fight body stereotypes that contribute to eating disorders.

Fat activism in the United States really began as a movement in the 1970s, with the work collected in the landmark Shadow on a Tightrope, edited by Lisa Schoenfelder and Barb Wieser.shadow-on-a-tightrope

In the intervening 30+ years, we’ve seen many faces of fat activism: it’s made homes in the women’s movement, in academia, in art, in the medical realm, in popular culture. Fat activists take on different aspects of the struggle, use different slogans, work in different arenas. What doesn’t change is what we are pushing back against–the valorization of one type of body over all others; the endless drumbeat of lies about fat; the overwhelming cultural power of the simple anti-fat narrative.

And yet, fat activists have never been silenced. In these three decades, we’ve reached a lot of people, changed some minds, even changed some laws, and some doctors’ office furnishings, and some movie casts. The Berkeley Fat Positive Summer Festival will make more change, and it will continue the tradition of refusing to shut up, refusing to get smaller, refusing to disappear which is the heart of fat activism.

If you’re in the neighborhood, go to the events! They’ll be well worth your time.

Thanks to Alan Bostick for the link.

Shadow on a Tightrope: 30 Years Casting a Powerful Shadow

Debbie says:

It’s thrilling to participate in the blog carnival for the 30th anniversary of Shadow on a Tightrope:Writings By Women on Fat Oppression, edited by Lisa Schoenfelder and Barb Weiser, hosted by publisher Aunt Lute, which is releasing a 30th anniversary edition. In a sense, this book has always been there for me; I started flirting with fat activism in the early 1980s, thanks in large part to Laurie’s outrage at some anti-fat comments I took for granted. Laurie and I started to envision the project which turned out to be both Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes and a life’s work, in 1984, only a year after Shadow was published.

naked fat woman in her kitchen, from Women En LargeThis Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

In 1982, Evelyn Torton Beck came out with Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology.

In 1985,  we saw With the Power of Each Breath: A Disabled Women’s Anthology, edited by Susan E. Browne, Debra Connors, and Nanci Stern.

There were certainly more, but these (along with Shadow) are the ones that I remember–not only the books themselves, but the power they had in the feminist and Lesbian communities (which were not the same thing in that period, but were very closely interconnected). Everyone I knew in that world read all of them from cover to cover, and thought about them, talked about them, internalized the complex political/social/personal range of their messages.

And so it was with Shadow. Some of the essays in Shadow were photocopied and sent to interested people through an informal publication network long before there was a book. Others were written for the book. The title comes from a glorious poem by Sharon Bas Hannah (“whoever I am, I’m a fat woman”):

she’s a blues singer

a flautist    a drummer

a hiker       a kite flyer

your shadow on the tightrope

she’s a fat womon

leaping on laughter’s echo the rhythms of her life

The whole poem is in the book.

The essays and poems are by giants in the field and women who have never published anywhere else, by women new to fat liberation and women steeped in it. The sections begin with the cultural myths about fat, and take us through memoir, exercise and sport, daily life, and the medical system, to a final section on survivorship and identity.

Thirty years later, like so much else viewed through that lens, the book is both depressing and relieving. Some things have gotten better for fat women in thirty years: we have much better options for clothes, we have better “role models” on television, in the movies, and in public life, we have a much greater literature and research to draw on, and we have the ability to find the community of fat women in many ways and many places. And some things are the same or worse: weight loss surgery, quite new in 1983, is still growing in numbers in 2013; our First Lady made childhood obesity her do-gooder priority, medical nonsense abounds; and so on and so forth.

Here’s what I know: no fight for justice ever ends. And this particular fight for justice has gone as far as it has in large part because of the groundbreaking work of Lisa Schoenfelder, Barb Weiser, and the women in Shadow on a Tightrope. Whether your copy is old and tattered, or you’ve never read it, whether you’re a giant in the field or new to the concepts, buy the a copy reprinted for the 30th anniversary. Something in it will help you with something you struggle with.

five naked fat women on a beach, from Women En Large