by Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin
Attending the 2013 ASDAH Conference gave me professional progress and personal payoff. I am an educator, journalist, artist and media scholar who has been a lonely salmon swimming upstream against the current of media and cultural weight stigma before finding the Fat Studies Division of the National Popular Culture/American Culture Association (PCA) and ASDAH. I’ve done body image awareness and healing workshops for many years but now more than ever I find that weight stigma makes it harder to find people who are willing to hire me to help them feel at peace with their size rather than to shrink it, “by any means possible.” Though “back in the day” I invested deeply in a size acceptance organization, I withdrew because I experienced little valuing as African American women even though I was one of their national “diversity” consultants.
I’ve been looking for an organization like ASDAH for a long time – one that focuses on research, political action, and how weight stigma affects people of different races, classes and cultures. In my search for ASDAH, I joined the Association of Healthcare Journalists a couple of years ago, impressed that they have a members-only guide to Covering Obesity and Covering Health in a Multicultural Society. Though the guides are progressive, considering the state of the field, high weights are still considered “the problem” and dieting or surgery “the answer.” The undeserved weight stigma, media’s role in creating it and a HAES® orientation isn’t even on a hazy horizon. I was promoting a HAES® perspective even though I didn’t know a name for it existed.
I met Marilyn Wann this year through the PCA and she urged me to join ASDAH. I was delighted to become at least electronically reconnected with Bill Fabrey with whom I had long ago lost contact. I was inspired by Deb Burgard’s listserv posts and remembered that at the beginning of my career, I interviewed her for an ESSENCE magazine article. I looked forward to meeting her face-to-face. Yet even though I enjoyed the posts of so many on the listserv, I was concerned about attending the conference, especially when I learned that neither Marilyn nor Bill would be attending this year.
But Marilyn encouraged me to go anyway. As conference attendee Linda Arbus (The New School Student Health Services Psychotherapist) said at the conference, I have become an even more dedicated “Marilyn Wann-a-be,” for the life improving introduction to ASDAH and encouragement to brave going to my first ASDAH conference. When Sue Clarahan noticed that I had reserved a hotel room but hadn’t registered, she called me to see if I was coming. It seemed the universe was encouraging me to go. My university provost, a sociologist, took a look at the conference schedule and “completely approved” of my going. It was time to take the leap.
I can’t remember a smoother flight than the one I had to the conference. As a ritual of confidence in the positive experience I was going to have, I wore for the first time a lime green built-in bra top with one-inch straps, smiled at attractive men, as though, I imagined in my mind, I wore a size 6 instead of more than 3 times that. I apologize that this is not exactly an activism exercise about ending weight stigma internally and externally. But in practicing living without weight stigma, this is the body-imaging experience I chose to help me in my journey. At any rate, it worked. I got lots of positive vibes and made it to the conference.
Living Large in the Merry Old Land of HAES® Oz
The conference hotel was perfect for the ASDAH conference and one of the best I’ve ever been privileged to enjoy. Not only did it have the big, plush mattress and luxurious linens, at less than half of other conference hotel rates, but in addition to the great customer service, room refrigerators, big bathrooms with a separate extra large shower and bath, they give you a free big oatmeal chocolate chip cookie upon check-in.
What a challenge to a weight stigma victim and recovering dieter before even getting to the ASDAH conference registration! I eyed my cookie suspiciously at first. I smiled at the hotel clerk and accepted the meaning-laden gift. Sometimes strangers have challenged me, pulling items they thought a fat girl shouldn’t eat from my grocery cart. Here, at the ASDAH Conference hotel check-in, a woman was offering me a free cookie. Instead of declining, being there for ASDAH gave me the courage to accept the cookie.
Later in my room, when I was hungry for something sweet, I spent time consciously communing with the cookie as I consumed it. The refrigerator was important because it meant that I could keep edible any leftovers I had without feeling the stress of wasting food or money on anything I ordered but didn’t want to eat. When the shower is too small to bathe comfortably, it’s a reminder that I am too big for a world that wants me small and the suction around my hips in a too narrow tub frightens me that I may be stuck there until the, hopefully female and probably thin, hotel housekeeper finds me flashing her in the prone position in the morning. Ahhh, ASDAH Biannual Conference 2013 was working out for me already.
Dana Schuster met me with warm smiles and words. She and I had on similar, sparkling “diva” clothes and the heart and laughter connection with her turned out to be way deeper than what we wore. Deb Burgard greeted me like an old friend and I shared a dinner of deep conversation with her and her childhood friend who was part of the press covering the conference.
With leftovers in the mini-fridge, I slept well the night before I would begin two days of conference learning and feeling a tangible support – an experience far beyond what I could even dream of that night.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin is an educator, social activist performance, fine artist and writer who earns a living as a professor of communication at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. Her research and writing specialty is exploring weight stigma in the media and its effects. Dr. Daufin is a HAES® expert, Spoken Word poet, Reiki Master, belly dancer, EFT Practitioner and consultant. You can read more about her workshops on her webpage.