Tuesday, August 7, 2018

ASDAH Conference- The Healing Of Not Being Afraid

I just woke up in my own bed for the first time in almost a week and boy am I glad to be home! I spent the weekend across the country, in Portland OR, as the Association of Size Diversity and Health 2018 conference. It was my first conference, not just with ASDAH, but any conference. I was excited, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and too sick to attend most of it.

Unfortunately, I was brokenhearted after having to leave only a few minutes after the first keynote speaker. I had an anaphylactic reaction to something and was in and out of the ER the whole weekend. The good news is that I met a local fattie who wasn't attending the conference, but had volunteered to hang out with me while I was in town. Now I have a Portland bestie!

A whole weekend with swollen throat tissue was not fun. It's like having something stuck in your throat while being choked at the same time. Worse, it made it hard to enjoy the overwhelming amount of vegan food available in Portland! (I did, however, go to Doe Donuts.. which was amazing! A good alternative so that you never have to step foot in Voodoo Doughnuts- known for it's sugary doughnuts and racism).

But, the weekend was not lost, even though it seemed so at first!

I attended the pre-conference talk on fat as a social justice issues, lead by  Nancy Ellis-Ordway PhD MSW, and Rachel Smith MA LPC NCC CACII RYT 500. And no, I don't know what most of those lettters or numbers mean. 

We started out by getting used to saying "fat" out loud. What? I've said "fat" out loud more than I have just about any other word. I use fat daily, I write about fat, I tweet and go on facebook rants about"fat"!  So there I was, in a room full of people, almost all of them fat, saying this word out loud. It was revolutionary.

Sure I use the word "fat" a lot, but it's always within the context of being in a fatphobic culture or even talking directly with a fatphobic person or group of people. Being able to say it, out loud, with other fat people who are there to LOVE the word and your body and their bodies... it was so much different than the defensive and activist way that I usually use the word. I was slightly blushing at saying it out loud, I was buzzing and beaming!

That was all I got to participate in on Friday, of course. After the mast cell reaction, my mood plummeted, exacerbated by the vegan options at lunch actually not existing and being asked if i could just eat lettuce and sliced tomatoes. A terrible thing to ask in a conference full of people who have been told our whole lives to just eat lettuce and sliced tomatoes, especially for those of us with eating disorder histories.

But let's get past that and onto the two talks I was able to attend Saturday! I was able to attend the keynote talk by Dr. Bacon, author of Health at Every Size, and co-author with  Lucy Aphramor  of Body Respect, and who has a new book coming out, hopefully next year. This talk was amazing and I felt lucky to be in the same city as Dr. Bacon, let alone the same room. Though Dr. Bacon had many criticisms of Health at Every Size, that's what made being there so wonderful. Weaving in personal stories with explanations of overlapping privilege, and adding that a thin, white, person being applauded for being decent was problematic, created an overwhelming atmosphere where I wanted to give this person all the activist cookies in the world, while completely agreeing that privileged people treating marginalized folx with respect isn't a cookie-worthy act.

I don't think there's a way to describe the feeling of hearing the best thin ally I've ever encountered, honestly and genuinely not want applauds and thanks for being an ally. And Dr. Bacon is right.. the fact that I want, so badly, to gush and beam over a thin person not hating me, is a very real problem.

The next talk that I was able to attend was by Mäks Roßmöller (pronounced "Max"), a somatic therapist from Germany who has created the #Reframefatreclaimmovement (Reclaim fat Reclaim Movement). I'll be honest, this was my absolute most favorite talk. Their website is in German, but if you speak German or know someone who would benefit, pass it along! At one point in the talk, Mäks explained that fat often exists in the body to protect things that are delicate and precious, such as the eyeballs or inner organs which are surrounded by fat for protection. 

Then they said the most amazing thing that I have ever heard in my history of being involved in Fat Liberation: "What if fat forms on my body because it is precious?". In that moment, with my eyes closed, my hands on my belly, feeling it move and shift as I breathed in and out, I felt gutted in the best possible way. So much of the Fat Liberation community is about undoing harmful stereotypes around fat. About accepting these fat bodies that most of the world hates so much. But this... this was a complete re-framing for me. It wasn't about being defensive, it wasn't about proving people wrong, it wasn't about educating other people on my own humanity.... it was about the elegant and delicate beauty of fat, of being fat. My life is changed because of this talk. If you have a chance to attend one of their workshops please do it! 

The the information was scientific, compassionate, innovative, and mind blowing. They talked about the ways in which the body biologically stores trauma. 

An example which was both simple and likely relate-able to almost all fat people, was simply the act of sucking in your stomach for decades which makes learning to belly-breathe difficult and even painful. For me, it is so painful to take deep breaths, that I'm terrified of yawning. They also talked about fat as this living entity, with a liveliness, in constant movement. They defined Soma (as in somatic therapist) as "the living body in it's wholeness". And this was only a tiny portion of what was talked about. I can't even explain the depth of which this talk touched me.

Whew! And finally, I was able to attend the keynote talk by Substantia Jones about representation of fat through photography. She's such a real and genuine person, easy to get along with and laugh with, and the same was true through her talk, which features the photography of people like Patricia Schwartz, Laura Aguilar, Catherine Oakson, Lauri Toby Eddison, and, of course, Substantia herself. As the photographer for The Fat Naked Art Project, this talk was deeply interesting and it was so amazing to see the work of so many photographers who came before me. I can only hope to make a fraction of the impact that these people made.

The conference also included a couple of performances such as "What I learned From Fat People On An Airplane" by Kimberly Dark. If you've seen any parts of this online then you know what an amazing story teller Kimberly is... but it's nothing compared to seeing her in person!

Overall, the conference was a struggle. I missed most of it, was uncomfortable and sick the whole time, at times felt hopeless about how I can even keep living with these illnesses, and, at the same time, an amazing, uplifting, reinvigorating experience that I will never forget. I crave more and I feel like the activist burn-out I've been experiencing for a while is gone. I'm ready. I'm willing. And I'm ready to jump back in to this amazing community. I can't explain the amazing feeling or being around hundreds of strangers... and not having to be afraid. 

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