Esther Rothblum

Who comes to mind when we think of founders of important human rights movements? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Mahatma Ghandi? Martin Luther King Jr.? When I think of the fat rights movement, Judy Freespirit is the founding foremother.

Judy was a member of the Fat Underground, the earliest radical movement to question the dieting industry and the oppression of fat people. She also founded Fat Lip Readers Theatre. She wrote the Fat Liberation Manifesto. She continued to be part of fat, feminist, and disability rights groups throughout her life.

In 1982, I was a young assistant professor in Vermont, and angry at the shoddy publications that described “research” on dieting, full of methodological flaws. I complained about these articles to my colleagues and stated that I planned to do research on the social stigma of body weight. One of my colleagues, a very thin woman, replied “yes, but aren’t they unhealthy?” The word “they” was not lost on me, a fat woman.

Luckily, I happened to be at the Association for Women in Psychology conference in Seattle in March 1983 when the new Fat Lip Readers Theatre performed. I was transfixed by these powerful women and the issues they raised. I could hardly wait to go back to Vermont and begin my research.

For the next two decades I published in two areas; one mainstream and one radical. The mainstream area was lesbian studies, where editors vied for my research articles and invited me to submit my work even before it was complete. The radical area was on the stigma of weight, where I received letters with extremely hostile comments from editors and reviewers. I learned to ignore the comments and resubmit each article somewhere else, then somewhere else again. I got so many rejections that I now have a slide show of some of the most blatant, hostile comments.

In 1989, when Fat Lip Readers Theatre put out their video Nothing To Lose, I finally had an address to contact these powerful women. I sent them my articles and thanked them for inspiring me to do this work in relative isolation.

When I visited the Bay Area, I was amazed to find pockets of fat acceptance, nearly always with Judy in the center. I became accustomed to seeing Judy rushing by in her scooter, usually dressed in purple. She had the inspiration and energy to organize conferences, come to the Fat Women’s Think Tanks, write a play, laugh and connive.

As Robin Morgan said “Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.” Thank you, Judy, for founding a movement!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. maxairborne
    Sep 14, 2010 @ 06:50:16

    Esther, thanks for sharing your words here, and for doing the vital work you do!


  2. Sharonah Robinson aka Sharon Lia Robinson
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 18:06:03

    Dear Esther, thanks for publishing my poem, “whoever i am, i’m a fat womon” in Women And Therapy, in 1989. I hope we can reconnect and I can update you on some of my other size esteem writings, including an unpublished article, “The Shadow of Fat” which I feel needs to be more widely known. It is a Jungian analysis of fat oppression that I wrote in 1976, while I was working on the original manuscript for the anthology, Shadow on a Tightrope. The article did not make it into the Shadow on a Tightrope anthology; although I have other writings in that anthology. Please see my ongoing art and poems related to size esteem on my website Fondly, Sharonah Robinson


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