Lynn Ellen Marcus

In 1977 I moved from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, began taking psychology and women’s studies classes at Sonoma State University, and in my anxiety about starting a new chapter of my life, I went on what was to be my last diet. I was 27, I had already spent 5 years in the glorious evolution of lesbian feminism, radical left politics and no aspect of our lives had gone unexamined. Sure I had lost weight, then regained it plus some, and I probably planned on trying again. The following year I went to a gathering for women and the speaker was a lesbian feminist who had just moved up from Los Angeles. I walked in, sat down, and there was Judy Freespirit, wearing a form-fitting tee shirt and loose trousers, but nothing could hide the fact that she was really fat, and really willing to show herself to us so that we could hear her words and feel her authenticity move through her body and into ours.

Judy gave us data that totally reversed my understanding about why I always regained the weight I lost whenever I stopped dieting. Judy spoke to my feminist sensibilities in expanding my understanding of how fat hatred is a part of the spectrum of the hatred of the female parts of all our bodies (on women and men). Judy realigned my understanding of social justice to include the mistreatment of fat people and Judy offered me a yellow brick road out of the land of endless futile dieting and internalized self-hatred of my fat self.

Judy stayed in Sonoma County for a few years, and during that time, she asked Barbara “Beep” Penny, a member of the Motivity low trapeze group, to teach a small group of fat women how to use the equipment to discover our abilities to fly and move and love ourselves even more. Fat Chance was born, and Judy, Martha Courtois, Hannah Martine, Leah Kushner and I put together a routine of performances that were deeply intimate, and we shared them with members of the community in Berkeley and Santa Rosa. We got a range of reactions, mostly overwhelmingly positive, but also some derision when we included our teacher in our show (Beep is not fat). However for me, it was such an honor to share the space with these interesting women and put our bodies where our mouths were.

Over the next 30 years, Judy was a strong presence in the Bay Area, and the body of Fat Liberation politics grew and evolved, and while I was over a decade younger than Judy, I began to feel like one of the old ladies of Fat Politics. Still, I have always been grateful for the opportunity to have been launched by Judy into this field, and I am so glad we are now looking at Health at Every Size from so many angles. I only attended one or two of the Fat Fests (fat conference for women) that Judy tirelessly organized, though fortunately I was there to try on the perfectly-sized brown dress that managed to fit EVERYone in the room, regardless of size or shape. How perfect a metaphor for the universality of our quest to declare the beauty in each of our bodies.

Judy Freespirit and Lynn Ellen Marcus 2003Judy had joined the Unitarian Church in Oakland and in part as a fundraiser for the church, and in part as a way to summarize her experiences as a founding grandmother of our movement, she wrote a play called Polly’s Phat Phollies in 2003, and I was privileged to have a supporting role singing and acting in an ensemble of wonderful friends of Judy. Though we had not worked or played together for a number of years, Judy and I reactivated our collaboration on the play, and then the following year in pulling together one more Fat Fest, which served to financially revitalize NAAFA and brought together a panel of brilliant minds to speak to where we had been and where we were heading. It also afforded an opportunity for most of the members of the original Fat Underground to be together under one roof.

I am forever grateful for the foundations of liberation politics that has remained the underpinning of all of my ethical and political decisions. My experience of Judy on that random day in 1978 is indeed an essential part of that foundation.

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