"There are signs that the isolation is ending, and that fat women's liberation will soon be recognized as a distinct yet fundamental feminist voice. As this happens, I hope that fat women who struggled to build this movement in the past will come forward to share their experiences and thoughts with new activists. We will need more than a single book, or a single journal, or the support of a single feminist agency, none of which we now have. I pray for an outpouring of fat women's thought, speech, and action to come soon, in our days" -- Vivian Mayer
As I prepared for the Shadow on a Tightrope 30th Anniversary Blog Carnival I couldn't help but be moved by Vivian Mayer's hopeful words, published a year before I was even born. This Blog Carnival is a testament to the incredible growth within the fat liberation movement, and the ways in which fat activists have overcome isolation in the last three decades, thanks in large part to technology. I have to note, however, that fat activist isolation has not only been overcome through the internet, but also with less digital technologies such as zines, objects which pushed the fat acceptance movement into the twenty-first century. While the internet facilitates ideas and communication, zines and books, like Shadow on a Tightrope, are objects that testify, that show us how we are not alone, not isolated: material evidence that other individuals are experiencing the same anger and frustration at our mistreatment by a world that demands our disappearance.
Despite its 30 years, Shadow on a Tightrope is a timely text, one that speaks with as much power, truth, and conviction as the blogs that turned my own fat life around in the last five years, particularly the inestimable Ragen Chastain's Dances with Fat. While Ragen's ideas are radical, they are not new. And they do not spring from no where. Like all movements, this movement has its mothers and fathers, its grandparents, and its cousins. There is a genealogy to fat activism, and Shadow on a Tightrope strengthens the remarkable fat activist community and camaraderie by giving us access to voices and experiences we might not otherwise have known, the fat women who have built the movement. It fortifies our family tree.
You'll excuse my exclusion of "and men" in the previous sentence. It is important to recognize at this particular moment that we are talking about a feminist text, written by women. One hope that I share with Vivian Mayer is that "fat women's liberation will soon be recognized as a distinct yet fundamental feminist voice." I think we are getting close, but we are not there yet. Fat activism has certainly adopted feminist theories and tactics, but I believe we can reconnect to our feminist mothers and gain a greater understanding and recognition of how feminism has impacted the movement, and further imagine the possibilities in feminism's potential to push the movement even further. For this reason I hope that those of us who have discovered Shadow on a Tightrope will not overlook its feminist arguments, particularly the radical lesbian feminist voice, a type of feminism that fully rejected women's cultural and social allegiance to heterosexuality and all of its trappings, including the overwhelming pressure to reduce the size of our bodies in order to attract the right (male) mate.
Let us furthermore not forget that Shadow on a Tightrope represents the fat liberation movement, not the fat acceptance movement. The women who poured their souls out for us to see, who found the courage to stand up and declare their anger at the "mistreatment by commercial and sexist interests" and who demanded "equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life," who declaimed the diet industries as "our special enemies" and who shouted "FAT PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, UNIT! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE" were not simply interested in a general "acceptance" of fat bodies (see the "Fat Liberation Manifesto"). They wanted a revolution. They demanded freedom-- liberation from a society and culture that wanted, and still wants, the eradication of fat bodies.
I hope Shadow on a Tightrope's 30th Anniversary will charge its new and past readers to take up the fat feminist torch with full force and to commit, or recommit, to fat liberation. Right now might be one of the most exciting moments in fat activist history, particularly because today we are fulfilling, at least partially, the hope of Vivian Mayer. Today we see an outpouring of fat women's (an men's) thought, speech, and action, and it is a beautiful thing.