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Where do we go from here?

To Our Valued Fat Liberation & HAES® Communities:

In our last communication to you, we stated, “Though confronting the patterns of harm in our community is difficult, we grow and strengthen because of it. We have great hope for the future of HAES® and ASDAH and that is because of our incredible community.” 

As anticipated this past week or so has indeed been difficult. Within our communities many emotions, sometimes all at once, have arisen. Anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, exhaustion, fear, confusion, grief, hope, relief, empowerment, and solidarity. All of these are valid responses to what has occurred. With compassionate care and support, rest and restoration, we are confident that our communities can move forward in ways that are generative and transformative.

In addition to the many emotions that have come up, many thoughts and criticisms have arisen. One of the tenants of white supremacy culture that we have been grappling with a lot as a leadership team is either/or and binary thinking when it comes to worshiping the “hero” and lambasting the “villain.” Some have painted ASDAH as a hero and Lindo as the villain in this situation. However, transformative justice teaches us that there is more nuance to harm and accountability.

In Fumbling Towards Repair, the authors state, “Self-accountability is a process we do with ourselves, for ourselves. When we are being accountable to ourselves, we are acting in a way that honors ourselves and our values. We are acting with consciousness and integrity by taking responsibility for who we are in the world and for living in alignment with our values. Self-accountability is the basis for being accountable in all of our relationships…In the work of self-accountability, we are constantly striving to align our actions and our values, knowing it’s likely they will never exactly be the same. When there’s a gap in that alignment we can reflect on what choices we would need to make in the future, so our actions are more in line with who we want to be.”

Though at this moment the focus is on the harm perpetrated by Lindo, in an effort to be self-accountable, we acknowledge and name the harm that ASDAH has historically caused over its almost 20-year history. A culture of white supremacy and complicity coupled with past decision-making and actions have created an environment where thin, white people are able to maintain power in conversations about HAES® and to harm fat, Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, including our Vision & Strategy Leader, Veronica.

Our current leadership team has inherited this legacy, history, and responsibility. Our team continues to learn the details and depth of ASDAH’s history while working to move ASDAH forward in ways that are in alignment with our values. At the beginning of this board year, our team decided on our grounding and guiding values. These include: abundance, curiosity, growth, integrity, intersectionality, trust, and well-being. These values inform our commitment to uprooting white supremacy and re-orienting to liberatory frameworks. We will extend compassion and grace to ourselves when we inevitably make mistakes along the way.

We want to share more with you all about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. We encourage you to check out our annual meeting recording from September 2021, where we shared our progress since 2020 and our vision for the future.

Where we’ve been

For much of ASDAH’s history, many fat people across the fat spectrum (though mostly white and otherwise privileged) were involved in leading the organization. Around 2015, as body positivity and Health at Every Size® gained mainstream attention, things began to shift. The voices that were uplifted the most were those of thin, white women. By 2017, the ASDAH Leadership Team consisted of almost all thin, white people.

There were people who tried to disrupt the status quo of the organization to make it more inclusive for fat, Black, brown, and otherwise oppressed people, but they were silenced and pushed out of the organization. Diversity and inclusion efforts had been attempted in fits and starts, but were frequently disrupted by changes in leadership. Eventually, an Advisory Board team made up of folks with identities underrepresented in ASDAH’s leadership and membership was formed to support the organization in course correcting. Unfortunately, this group of fat, Black, brown, disabled, and otherwise marginalized folks was also harmed by ASDAH Leadership.

Not only was ASDAH leadership harming the Black and brown folks in our community, the decisions of past leaders had set ASDAH up for the current environment of not being able to support the work of fat, Black, and brown leaders through adequate pay, health insurance, and other material support. A scarcity mindset and white saviorism kept the organization stuck and unable to keep itself sustainably funded and resourced. Almost all of the work of the organization was done by volunteers. What the organization was able to accomplish was largely based on who was willing and able to do uncompensated labor and their skill sets. Who can afford to provide uncompensated labor, but multiply privileged, and in ASDAH’s case, thin, white people?

In addition to these challenges, our technology infrastructure was crumbling. Most ASDAH resources were woefully out-of-date and reflective of the privileged perspectives in ASDAH leadership. Our financial status was stable, but our resources were small (ASDAH has not yet exceeded $65,000 gross annually). In order to grow the organization, we had to invest in organizational stability. We slowly invested our resources, keeping the organization solvent while updating the website, membership site, and many other back-end technology services. This stability and automation allowed the team to vision and plan for the future.

In 2019, the ASDAH Leadership Team was more diverse than it had ever been, but still relied on uncompensated labor. Because of this, during the 2019-2020 board year (our board years are July 1-June 30), ASDAH failed at supporting the Black, fat, transgender, and neurodivergent leaders of ASDAH. In 2020, the advisory board led efforts with the leadership team to create a new leadership structure that was less hierarchical and compensated leaders. The outcome was the first two paid leaders of ASDAH, who serve the organization as quarter-time staff. This supported the 2020-2021 leadership team to once again be the most diverse it had ever been.

During 2020-2021, in the midst of a devastating global pandemic and racial justice uprisings, we on-boarded and oriented the new team to the work of ASDAH and continued the slow work of transforming the inner workings of the organization towards liberatory frameworks. We faced resistance from those who wanted to maintain the status quo of ASDAH, including many bureaucratic and white-supremacy-laden policies and procedures. We continued to contend with the challenge of folks with identities oppressed by society providing volunteer labor since most of the leadership team (seven of nine leaders) were still uncompensated. Despite this, we pushed forward with our limited capacity and limited resources.

Where we are

The transition to the 2021-2022 board year was still challenging. The outgoing leaders were burned out. Seventy-five percent of the team offboarded, leaving the transition to just three people. Eventually five incoming leaders needed to be onboarded and oriented to the organization, all while trying to maintain some level of stability. As we found our groove, we were finally able to make slow and steady, yet substantive progress toward increasing our impact.

So far this year, we’ve established a regular event calendar with a mix of educational, member, and community events including Hunter Shackelford’s teach-in on health abolition and a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color affinity space community event. Coming up in April is a teach-in with Lutze Segu on accountability and cancel culture. We’ll be announcing a community healing event soon for May. And in June we’ll be hosting our 2022 ASDAH Conference featuring  amazing speakers like Da’Shaun Harrison, Imani Barbarin, and Sabrina Strings.

Our paid events have helped us increase our revenue to offer programs at no charge to the public, invest in a revamped HAES® Professional Listing, and launch the Abolish the BMI Coalition.

Because of our values-aligned efforts, we are seeing the largest increases in membership, financial support, and member diversity than any other year in our history. As of last month, our membership increased to over 800 (up from 500 members in 2018). We were and still are on track to meet our $110,000 gross revenue goal. And our Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color membership has increased to 25% (up from 10% in 2020).

Where we’re going

Our next priorities for ASDAH are to complete the HAES® Professional Listing, revise the HAES® principles and the HAES® curriculum, develop a more in-depth HAES® training for health professionals and advocates, expand our advocacy and outreach efforts, maintain monthly events, and make the conference an annual event. We also aim to improve the support structure for leaders in better pay and benefits, as they are not currently offered paid time off, health insurance, or stipends for the technology needed to support their work with ASDAH.

One of our goals for this year that we are still working on is transitioning to a 501c3 nonprofit. We are currently a 501c6 nonprofit, limiting our grant and other funding opportunities, and limiting our scope as an organization to being primarily a professional organization. We intend to continue the membership aspect of our work serving professionals who use HAES® principles and we want to increase our work to directly serve those most affected by fatphobia in health care: fat, Black, brown, transgender, disabled, aging, and chronically ill people. We’ll be sharing more as we work on next steps to reorganize our leadership structure, revise our bylaws, and file the necessary paperwork to make it official.

Our highest priority for the 2022-2023 board year will be revising the HAES® principles. This project will be led by fat liberationists and Black feminists with significant input from our membership and the greater fat community. When Health at Every Size® is not firmly grounded in liberatory frameworks, it can become a tool for harm and impede fat liberation. The current principles uphold healthism and ableism while failing to adequately acknowledge the social determinants of health like racism and fatphobia.

Health at Every Size® has been positioned in the past as social justice in and of itself. It is not. HAES® is a framework of care. We want to be clear that the current leadership team does not view HAES® as a social justice movement. Adopting HAES® as a framework for your work or life does not equate with fat liberation and as the principles currently stand, they can and do work against fat liberation. 

Fat people deserve access to compassionate and effective healthcare. Full stop. Regardless of whether fat people are or have the capacity to be “healthy,” whether we participate in individual health behaviors (even weight neutral ones like eating for wellbeing and joyful movement), and even if there were safe and permanent ways to lose weight intentionally, we would still deserve access to healthcare that serves our needs. ASDAH is committed to creating a world where this is possible.

We are so thankful to those making the commitment to keep learning and unlearning, making change, and acknowledging all of our humanity. We are also so thankful for the support from our communities during this trying week. To show our gratitude, we want to give back to you by sharing our first teach-in of this board year with ASDAH’s Vision & Strategy Leader, Veronica Garnett: Intersectional Liberation in Health at Every Size®. We leave you with this quote by Nora Samaran on models of care & accountability in Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture, “When communities identify and interrupt systemic violence, prioritize the needs of those harmed, and hold a circle of belonging that humanizes everyone, they create a foundation that can begin to resist and repair the harms inflicted by patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.”

In resistance and repair,

The ASDAH Leadership Team

Note: an earlier version of this blog listed Virgie Tovar as a conference speaker. She will no longer be a speaker at the 2022 conference.

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