Friday, February 4, 2011

Brickhouse Chronicles: Fat Like Me- All About Starting a Fat Pride Group...

Brickhouse Betties is a dream and passion of mine that has become a reality thanks in big part to the lovely ladies at Self Serve and my wonderfully supportive wife. I started this group about four years ago because it had been a desire of mine to start a group where fat people and their admirers and allies’ could go to feel good about themselves unconditionally. My journey in developing a sense of fat pride was fraught with a lot of mistakes and until I met my trans sisters, an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I felt that starting a fat positive group would be a wonderful way of paying forward the beautiful gift of companionship on my fat pride journey that these wonderful goddesses had given me.

In the beginning all I had to begin with were a couple of strong fat pride objectives that I wanted the group to focus on, and once Molly and Matie gave me the green light to start having my meetings at Self Serve, I began to work on figuring out how to implement them into the mission statement. But first came the great panic. What if I wound up hurting more people than helping them? What if no one was as interested in unconditional Fat Pride as I was? What if no one liked me? What the hell was I going to call the group? The first name of the group was ‘The Fat Positive Group’ which lasted for all of two meetings until someone wisely pointed out that the term “fat” wasn’t something that most people would be comfortable with if they’re struggling with body image issues. It wasn’t until my friend Tara suggested Brickhouse Betties that namesake gold was struck.

My next step was to work on finishing up my mission statement which would basically sum up all of the things that I felt would make a truly empowering fat positive group. I started with all the things I didn’t want the group to be.

1) Not a weight loss discussion group- I knew that this one would be tricky because most people still equate being healthy with having a thin body, but I really felt that it was important for people to be challenged to view having a happy, vibrant, and healthy body by some qualifier other than a number on their scale.

2)Not a skinny chick bashing group- This is usually one of hardest obstacles for a fat positive group to deal with. I call it the “skinny bitch syndrome”. This is where someone comes into a false sense of fat pride by denigrating the body type of slender women. Not only does it create a false sense of security at the expense of someone else’s self esteem, but it also takes away the focus from where it should be which is how you view yourself and why you feel your body type is less beautiful. There’s nothing trickier than helping people recognize the difference between having a healthy discussion on the realities of thin privilege within our society and thin body bashing, but the work is always worth it no matter what their body type.

3) Not a women only group- This usually comes as a surprise to most people to hear that the Brickhouse Betties is an all gender inclusive group, but it was important for me to give recognition to the fact that men of all sexual orientations and gender expressions have body image issues as well. I wanted my group to be a safe harbor for everybody. Bears need love too damnit!

These have been my group mission statements since day one, although I’m always learning and adding as I continue my own journey. If I could give one piece of emotional advice to anyone thinking about starting a fat positive group it would be to have make sure you have something in place that replenishes you for when you experience the burn out that is inevitable. Experiencing burn out isn’t a sign of failure at all, but just an emotional and sometimes physical signal that you as the facilitator need to recharge your batteries. As far as what recharges me, I’d like to say that I’m a strong diesel femme dyke who is completely and emotionally autonomous, but it is with the gleeful spirit of honesty that I confess that my safe harbor is in the arms of my wife…who is fat like me.

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