Good Intentions Only Go So Far

The last HAES’d and Confused meeting to discuss ways that Health at Every Size® can become more diverse was electrifying.  There seemed to be an understanding amongst the predominantly white group that we cannot have a conversation about the barriers to HAES experienced by underrepresented people until these people are actually at the table.  We then decided that we will make anti-racism work and creating a space that is inclusive of all voices the work of the group.

Fast forward four days.  The other HAES realm of my life, the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), sent out an email announcement for their 2015 conference. The title is “Connect(ability): Creating an Inclusive Health At Every Size Movement.”  Okay, I know what inclusive means, but not “connect(ability)” so I read on to learn that it is an umbrella term for all of the ways ASDAH wishes to include people in HAES.  Not only from a power, privilege and intersectionality standpoint, but also from a some-people-think-HAES-emcompasses-sustainably-farmed-food-and-some-do-not-so-let’s-make-sure-everyone-feels-included-in-HAES standpoint, as was explained to me by someone on the planning committee.  Hmmmm, that definitely expanded my definition of inclusive.  The announcement ends by proclaiming to “bear witness to voices that have been silenced” at the next conference.

As one of two or three people of color at the last conference I was excited that ASDAH was stating commitment to do the work to make sure that there were more voices at this next one.  But a quick look at the planning committee members (all white, cis women except for one white man) told me otherwise.  There are some points I’d like to make clear:

  • To appropriately include new voices in a conference, these voices need to be on the Conference Committee
  • Inventing a new word like “connect(ability)” and making it a catch-all for any and all inclusion criteria—thus putting people who disagree about whether to shop at the farmers market under the same umbrella as societal oppression—feels really crummy
  • Excluding diverse voices from the planning of a conference that aims to address oppression within HAES is painful to watch
  • The nothing about us, without us mantra I hear from this community when lamenting that fat people are not often in conversations of “obesity” politics also applies to the voices that have been historically absent from discussions of intersectionality and oppression within HAES
  • Half-assed attempts at addressing issues like oppression are worse than not addressing them at all

I know that the people of ASDAH really do try their hardest and truly mean well, but good intentions don’t mean the work is done.  ASDAH declares that it is a social justice organization.  For me, that declaration comes with incredible responsibility to its members and community.  I would like to see the following:

  • The conference theme changed for 2015
  • Opportunities for members and leadership to learn more about oppression and privilege before attempting a conference like this in the future
  • People of underrepresented identities present on the Conference Committee
  • A Leadership Team that reflects the population that ASDAH would like to see in its membership
  • Transparency with membership, should there be a change to the conference theme
  • The support of other community members in asking ASDAH to reconsider the 2015 conference plans

I really do believe that HAES can one day be a movement for all people.  And I believe that most people want HAES to be inclusive.  The reality is that change takes time and effort if done well, and it’s time to begin reflecting upon what that process needs to look like for the ASDAH community.

Jessica Wilson is a dietitian at My Kitchen Dietitian in Oakland, CA.

7 thoughts on “Good Intentions Only Go So Far

  1. Deb Burgard

    Jessica, thank you for your honesty and for being willing to make the dynamics visible to those of us who are having trouble being aware. There is so much we have to learn, and I can only hope for the sake of all the people who could potentially be working together to make a truly accessible HAES model, that we can pay attention and do our homework and learn how to make a better class of mistakes. Deep appreciation.

  2. Corri Frohlich

    Thanks for posting this Jessica. I think you touched on some really difficult topics. I’m trying to work on a lot of these points and concepts in my own organizing work too. Thanks for your honesty and making space for this discussion. And thanks for being willing to put yourself out there all the time.

  3. Marilyn Wann

    Thank you for sharing this post. I know how it feels — as you say — to be the one not welcome (and not missed) at the table. I don’t want anyone to face that in fat community or in Health At Every Size® community. I’m sure that it’s happening in all sorts of ways, not just the examples you offer here.

  4. Kerry

    As a HAES follower, ASDAH member and have limited experience being in marginalised groups, the world of social justice is a new area. I have been grateful to my HAES and ASDAH peers who have helped and continue to help me learn. This post is another one. I am sorry that often the burden of awareness falls on those who are in the minority, that they spend so much time trying to get us to understand. And while I am sure it’s frustrating and compounds the burdens, please know that you are making a difference. I am listening and learning and hopefully in small ways becoming a louder voice for this within my own sphere of influence. Having difficult discussions is needed and I trust those of us that can help and want to help will listen and take action.

  5. Sonya Satinsky

    Thank you for sharing this, Jessica. Your thoughts and the critiques you have shared in these past two blog posts are so very powerful.

  6. Pingback: Creating the Health at Every Size of my Dreams! | My Kitchen Dietitian Blog

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