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HAES Pebbles

by Fall Ferguson, JD, MA

Drop Falling into Water

Ripple Effect: “a situation in which one event causes a series of other events to happen.”

Lately I have been working with the metaphor of a pebble being thrown into a pond, and causing a series of ripples that travel out to the very edges of the pond – the Ripple Effect.


At this time of year, I am working with my graduating students as they finish up their “capstone” projects in which they set forth a vision of health education practice. Some of them provide a concrete intervention, such as an educational program or workshop series. Others set forth a new approach or model for practice. All of them are passionate and inspiring. I like to think that this is at least in part because the students are encouraged from the beginning to create their projects from their hearts as well as their heads. Before they select their topics, I lead them in a guided meditation that encourages them to connect with their heart as they decide what to work on. This year, I gave out small heart tokens as a symbol of their intention to practice health education from the heart. I heard later that one of the students carried the heart everywhere while working on the project. I had to smile when a photo of the heart token even showed up as the first slide in the student’s draft presentation.

The students recently completed their project presentations (they’re finishing up their papers now), and I have been deeply pleased to see the passion, energy, and integrity that all of them brought to their projects. I like to think of each of the students casting their pebbles into diverse ponds and causing ripples of their own. At my university, teaching, rather than research or individual scholarship, is the faculty’s primary focus. As such, I can perhaps be pardoned for taking pride in the “successes” of my students. I don’t mean their grades or even their outward achievements. By successes, I mean the pebbles they cast, and the ripples they create.

Of course, as a HAES advocate, I imagine myself causing ripples of my own. Sometimes, the effect of those ripples is not immediately apparent, but I’ve been doing this work long enough now that I’ve come to understand and trust that I am making a difference, even when I never see the effect.

I respect grand gestures, but they aren’t really my style. I am more comfortable in a classroom or a conference room, or perhaps hunched over a keyboard, than in front of a camera or holding a megaphone. Advocacy and activism come in all flavors. Each one of us can make a difference – cause ripples of our own – and it all matters. The big, splashy activist moments are important, but perhaps even more important are the quiet acts of courage:

  • quietly explaining to an old friend why you won’t participate in “fat talk”
  • telling your doctors about the HAES approach and asking them to respect your views
  • finding ways to effect “change from within” when you work in weight-loss-oriented healthcare environment
  • bringing up the really hard topics, whether it’s accommodations you need in a particular environment, or confronting privilege and bias
  • standing up to family members who engage in body shaming
  • any of thousands of other small but essential acts of rebellion against the status quo

Everyone in the HAES community is a pebble. Thin or fat, when we choose to live and work in accordance with the HAES approach rather than the predominant weight-based paradigm, we transgress. Every transgression is a modeling and an affirmation to self, family, friends, co-workers, communities: there is a better way. None of us is obliged to engage in these “quiet acts of courage” – but each one of us is a hero and a role model when we do.

Some of you may remember the 1980s Faberge Organics shampoo commercials – “and they’ll tell their friends, and they’ll tell their friends…” As the jingle is played, the model’s head with shiny, manageable hair multiplies on the screen – the power of “word of mouth” brought to life in a 30-second television commercial. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. I believe that’s how the HAES approach will win out in the end.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t heave the occasional boulder and enjoy the ensuing tsunami. But in the long run, it will be the pebbles that make all the difference.

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