by Barbara Altman Bruno, PhD, LCSW
In response to requests from our readers, the Health At Every Size Blog is honored to reprint Barbara Altman Bruno’s history of the HAES movement. Most of the installments of this history have been previously published in ASDAH member newsletters.
The Association for the Health Enrichment of Large People (AHELP) stopped meeting after 1996.
Pat Lyons continued to teach Great Shape fitness classes for Kaiser Permanente. She and Laura Keranin of Kaiser also began a series of support/sharing sessions–think tanks–for people in many disciplines working with this new, health-centered paradigm. The SF Bay Area Think Tank subsequently left Kaiser and began meeting at other northern California locations in the mid-1990s, and was attended by many future ASDAH members including Deb Burgard, Ellyn Herb, Lynn Ellen Marcus, Carol Squires, Sandy Andresen, and Frances White of NAAFA.
Cinder Ernst, a plus-size fitness instructor living in the SF Bay Area, started training larger women to become aerobics instructors after meeting Lyons in 1989. She also started fitness classes for large women and continued for 20 years, while becoming a personal trainer. One of her clients was Marilyn Wann. Two other larger women who became fitness instructors were Lisa Tealer and Dana Schuster, who in 1997 opened the Women of Substance Health Spa in California. The spa was specifically designed to be weight-neutral (not favoring a particular body size or shape). During its existence, it hosted the Think Tank meetings.
In Toronto in 1997, Pretty, Porky, and Pissed Off (PPPO) formed, initially doing street theater. Its members shared the belief that that being fat could mean being healthy, sexy, and socially productive. Over the years they performed to expand and create positive messages about fat bodies. While no longer performing, they write and lecture about their experiences as fat activists. (See Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession.)
Also in Toronto, NAAFA activist Helena Spring, RN, created CASA, the Canadian Association for Size Acceptance. She also created CanadaWyde, a size positive lifestyle publication for plus size people.
Other Canadian HAES activists included Jacqui Gingras, Gail Marchessault, and Vancouver therapist Sandra Friedman, who offered Facing Your Fat workshops for fat women, which eventually turned into groups for individuals struggling with disordered eating. Friedman remained active in the fat liberation movement through her writing on female development and eating disorder prevention. She is the author of two manuals, Nurturing Girlpower (2003) and Just for Girls (2003), and two books, When Girls Feel Fat (1997) and Body Thieves (2002), which addressed how we can become “size acceptance warriors” and fight fat prejudice while being fat with dignity (from Gingras’ history of the Canadian HAES/size acceptance movements). Marchessault helped to edit Healthy Weight Journal. Later HAES activists from Toronto included Amy Herskowitz of ASDAH and Jason Docherty of NAAFA.
Minnesota social worker Kathy Kater published Healthy Body Image: Teaching Kids to Eat and Love Their Bodies, Too! in 1998. She continued on to publish Real Kids Come in All Sizes and Healthy Bodies (2004) and Teaching Kids What They Need to Know: A Curriculum to Address Body Image, Eating, Fitness and Weight Concerns in Today’s Challenging Environment (2012).
In New York City, dancer and former bulimic Rochelle Rice, concerned about societal anti-fat messages that also equated fitness with slimness, opened her exercise studio for larger women, In Fitness & In Health. In Pennsylvania, psychotherapist, former bulimic, and fitness teacher Kelly Bliss had been working with larger women. Rice’s book, Real Fitness for Real Women, was published in 2001, and Bliss’s book, Don’t Weight: Eat Healthy and Get Moving Now! in 2002. Bliss also created a library of videos for plus-sized fitness. On the west coast, Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich, who had been giving massages since the early 1970s, shifted her focus to larger women after being moved by their stories of being verbally abused and neglected by their massage therapists. She created Yoga for Chair and Bed videos for larger people.
In their 1998 New Year’s Day editorial, “Losing Weight–An Ill-fated New Year’s Resolution,” Marcia Angell, MD, and Jerome P. Kassirer, MD, editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, warned, “Until we have better data about the risks of being overweight and the benefits and risks of trying to lose weight, we should remember that the cure for obesity may be worse than the condition.”
By lowering “normal weight” to below BMI 25, in 1998 a panel of “obesity specialists” convened by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute instantly nearly doubled the number of Americans defined as overweight or obese. Since most of the studies did not support this move, the panel cited the Nurses Health Study for their rationale (see footnote 2 in part 4 of this series).
NAAFA and other size acceptance allies in 1998 held the Million Pound March in Los Angeles. One of the speakers at the march was singer Carnie Wilson, who subsequently received and became a shill for weight-loss surgery. Another speaker was actress Camryn Manheim, who subsequently and triumphantly dedicated her Emmy award to “all the fat girls.”
Also in 1998, Marilyn Wann’s book, Fat!So?, appeared, following her ‘zine of the same name. Other HAES-related books of note include Richard Klein’s Eat Fat, and Laura Fraser’s Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry.
The name of the movement that was burgeoning was discussed in many arenas. Frances Berg, Joanne Ikeda, members of the Think Tank, and list members on the showmethedata listserv all debated between the terms “health at every size” and “health at any size,” practitioners continued using either phrase.
Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW, is a clinical social worker, size acceptance activist, and HAES pioneer. She has presented at clinical conferences, appeared in television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and demonstrations, and has written many articles, including well-being columns for larger people, guidelines for therapists who treat fat clients, a brief history of HAES, and a book, Worth Your Weight (what you CAN do about a weight problem). She is former co-chair of education for ASDAH and is on NAAFA’s Advisory Board.