Updated: Apr 29, 2020
A week ago, I had the privilege of attending the BEDA/NEDA conference in Brooklyn, NY. This was my second time attending BEDA; my first attendance was in 2013 in Washington, D.C. Both experiences were life-giving and affirming for me in both personal and professional ways.
As a Fat-Positive, Health At Every Size, Intuitive Eating therapist, who practices from a Relational-Cultural Therapy model, and who sees my role as therapist to include the role of advocacy and activism, when I’m at the conference, I feel a sense of being home. A professional embodiment that I haven’t experienced at most of the places I’ve worked or conferences I’ve attended. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, I also feel a deep sense of personal embodiment to be in an environment where the vast majority of speakers and attendees value the inherent worth of all bodies, exigently of fat bodies.
It was not a *perfect* conference. The sea of attendees was still majority White, able-bodied, cisgender, female, and small-fat or thin. More work is needed to foster a more representative membership and attendance. Because of BEDA’s commitment to social justice, I trust this will continue to improve. From presentations on weight stigma, intersectionality, healthism, transgender communities, Jewish communities, Black and racial/ethnic minority communities, the role of stigma resistance, and several presentations that focused on eating disorders in larger bodies, the conference committee demonstrated its commitment to centering the narratives of marginalized individuals. This commitment was also evident in the conference being open to non-clinician lay people, including a conference scholarship for individuals or family members with or in recovery from Binge Eating Disorder.
I heard and used the word fat often at the conference. Not as a weapon of oppression, shame, and hate, but as a neutral descriptor that was celebrated and affirmed. Providers proudly identified themselves as fat-positive and presenters boldly introduced themselves as fat individuals.
I wish my higher weight clients could experience what it’s like to hear professionals use the word fat in this way.
In fact, I wish I could send all of my clients to the conference, especially my clients of higher weights. The corrective emotional experience of being amongst a group of people who value and affirm all bodies is not something I can easily replicate in individual counseling. I attempt to do this in my body image groups, intentionally creating group compositions that include size diversity and challenging group members to consider the impact of weight stigma and discrimination on the development of their disordered eating and body image. I attempt to do this in individual counseling by connecting clients with fat-positive social media. I attempt to do this as a business owner, by sponsoring community events and outreach that affirm body autonomy, inclusion, accessibility, representation, and visibility. But, still, if I could send some of my clients to a future BEDA conference, I think I’d save them at least a year in individual therapy. Gulp, I might work myself out of a job.
It’d be worth it.
You might say that BEDA has an agenda, a social justice agenda aiming to liberate fat individuals from an oppressive framework that blocks their access to health, wellness, career mobility, happiness, and peaceful food and movement experiences.
I too have an agenda. And it happens to be one that veers to the left. I don’t want to be so left that I end up *right,* meaning that I end up applying the same rigidity of the frameworks I am fighting against. I also don’t want to be so left that those who veer right do not feel welcome. But if being left means being open to, valuing, and affirming diversity, in all its forms. If it means fighting oppression and body hate. If it means recognizing that healing must occur within the individual therapeutic relationship as well as within the larger cultural environment. If it means being an advocate, an ally, and an activist. If it means challenging myself to continue practicing humility in recognizing my privileges and in knowing that I don’t know what I don’t know. That I can’t know what I’m not. Then call me a Southpaw.
As a therapist, I often feel tired of sitting in my holier-than-thou therapist chair, not wanting to inadvertently reinforce the idea that my clients are the broken ones needing to be fixed, rather than a toxic cultural environment that pushes restriction, shame, othering, fear, and scarcity on vulnerable individuals.
Our job should not be to change our individual clients but to support and strengthen them to survive (and thrive) amidst a culture that seeks to shrink them and pathologize them.
I reject the idea that *treatment* should focus on fixing the individual while ignoring the larger context in which the individual lives. I wish that instead of *treating* my clients, we could *treat* diet culture, so that my clients wouldn’t develop eating disorders to begin with. If the world was not so fatphobic, individuals would be much more free to pursue health (if they so desired).
As I’ve heard many fellow fat-positive, Health at Every Size providers say, there are times when doing this work is exhausting. For some of our clients, we are the sole person in their life affirming their worth and goodness, fighting upstream against a tsumani of messaging that the only good bodies are thin bodies (#false). This can be a heavy load to carry alone. I agree with so many of my colleagues who attended BEDA that the conference gave me a needed booster shot to continue doing this work.
Thank you Chevese. For creating this incredible organization and for your tireless work to host this conference each year. My gratitude comes from both a place of personal recovery and as a therapist working with those seeking recovery. Thank you, Claire. Thank you to all the many individuals who helped put on such a impactful conference.
Thank you Julie, Kimmie, Beth, Emily, Michelle, Deb, Judith, Lisa, Ashley, Christy, Anna (x2), Marsha, Jessi, Katherine, Fiona, Marci, Aaron, Jamie, Hilary, Stacey, Erica, Jennifer, Gloria, Sarah, Zoe, Robyn, Meredith and so many others. So many of you, I’ve admired your work from afar. I wish I could have connected more with each of you but just being amongst others who share professional (and human) values was rejuvenating. I learned so much. Truly.
People said fuck a lot at the BEDA conference. Sometimes timidly or apologetically. Sometimes boldly and frequently. Sometimes just in passing, casual conversations, and sometimes in formal presentations. Each iteration I heard felt like a drumbeat, setting the pace for our march against patriarchal, oppressive systems that seek to shrink, mute, and temper those without power. Fuck yeah, this work is political. Fuck yeah, this work is personal. Fuck yeah, we have an agenda.
March on, fellow brave ones.