Open Letter to:
the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH)
April 30, 2022
I write this open letter to the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), in response to the defamatory letter posted on their blog, written by ASDAH’s leadership team.
Regarding some concerns expressed by ASDAH’s leadership team:
● I will not be updating my 14-year-old Health at Every Size book.
● I will no longer promote the Health at Every Size (HAES)®* name, though I remain committed to advocating for the values we share.
● I have taken down HAESCommunity.org.
I apologize to those in the greater HAES community who may be disappointed with these decisions.
I also remain committed to examining ways in which I can do better, and to learning from constructive criticism that may help me achieve it.
I want to honor the driving force behind the Leadership Team’s letter. I share their anger at inequity. It’s why I have devoted my career to fighting fat injustice, and the more recent years to fighting injustice for all marginalized people. This is one of the reasons I get up in the morning. This is what makes me me.
As much as I respect their underlying motivation and their passion for achieving it, this is the wrong way to go about it. The Leadership Team is derailing the inclusion they seek. The HAES community is now more fractured than ever. Many people who witnessed this will be forever more hypervigilant, scared to learn, engage, speak up and trust, afraid to even write emails or speak unguardedly on phones or video, knowing that they could be next. Many others will disengage from the movement. To those outside our movement, the people meant to represent HAES values don’t come off as very dignified, kind or compassionate. I am angered by the many mistruths and the irresponsibility in that letter, and the harm this has caused me and other individuals, as well as the HAES community and the HAES reputation.
The ASDAH Leadership Team wrote their inflammatory missive and banished me from ASDAH without any previous contact with me about these concerns, without consulting the members they ostensibly represent, and while representing an organization built on a foundation of compassion and respect for all, an organization that professes on its website to offer “disagreement with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.” That none of the ASDAH membership speaks out, despite knowing some of the mistruths, despite their anger with the Team’s missive, and despite valuing me as a member, I believe reflects their fear. What happened to me can happen to them too.
Posting that letter with no accurate evidence to support their contentions, particularly without any attempt at prior discussion or resolution, is defamatory. The intent of this letter is to speak directly to their contentions and correct some of the many misrepresentations. It is my hope ASDAH will take responsibility for addressing the harm they have done.
The email exchange they provided is accurate. It includes all contact we have had with one another―and it contradicts some of the arguments provided in their letter.
The Leadership Team asserts that they asked me for accountability and I refused. As can be observed in the correspondence they posted, the first and only communication I ever received from the Leadership Team was this public letter demanding accountability. (I did receive an email from one individual on the Leadership Team, who explicitly stated that she did not represent the Leadership Team and that their response to an email I wrote would be forthcoming. It never came.)
In their timeline, the Leadership Team states they drafted a letter―they don’t say what it contained―and collected signatures in early February 2022, but don’t mention the content or sending it; perhaps a call for accountability was there? Regardless, I did not receive a letter or hear anything about this before this public letter. I have spoken with ASDAH members who tell me that they are not aware of signatures being collected and that no letter or accountability demand was posted to the listserv.
Committed Service to ASDAH
Previous ASDAH Leadership Teams have considered me a highly valued member. As an example, a talk I gave at the most recent ASDAH conference, to a full house, was met with a standing ovation. Conference planners promoted my talk, expecting it would draw more attendees. I was a featured speaker at many ASDAH conferences over the 15+ years I have been a member. (Incidentally, I turned down compensation for all talks.)
I was told by a previous Leadership Team member that when new members were surveyed about how they found out about ASDAH, the most common answer was through me. This is not surprising: on almost all workshop handouts, in most interviews I give and many written pieces, in response to many networking/information requests I’ve received over the years, I have brought attention to ASDAH. My long history of committed service also includes writing posts for the ASDAH blog, participation in the community listserv, other advocacy described below, and financial donations. I received support (and appreciation) within ASDAH until the recent withdrawal of support from the current Leadership Team.
I’m struck by the irony that the Leadership Team made their points by sharing a private email exchange at the same time they conveniently deleted a public post from their blog, an interview with me from 18 months ago conducted by a member of the previous ASDAH Leadership Team. In that blog post, I am presented as a valued and supportive member. Many other charges levied against me are also disputed in that blog post.
Community Input on Book Revision and Title
That I take action on my own by choosing to revise my book, rather than gathering community input, seems like a very strange contention on their part when the entire purpose of my email was to solicit their feedback about potentially revising that book. I never entered into contract with the publisher, nor did I otherwise commit to revising the book. ASDAH’s feedback was part of what I was waiting on to decide.
My email request mirrors another request I made of the ASDAH listerv 15 years ago when I was writing the first edition of the book. This was well before ASDAH trademarked the term. ASDAH members encouraged me to use the title Health at Every Size (thankfully saving us all from my first―cringe-worthy―working title, Finding Your Happy Weight). Titling my book Health at Every Size was with community support, and was certainly not, as they write, “appropriation.”
I believe I was very generous in offering support to ASDAH publishing their book, as evidenced in the emails they posted.
Dedication to Inclusion of Marginalized People
The very reason I identified for updating my book was to put more attention to marginalized people, so again, it is surprising to be accused otherwise. The book, written 15 years ago, reflected community beliefs at the time and did not do this justice. Not revising the book means the invisibility persists.
I did not identify that I was intending to bring in a co-author who is more marginalized than me and could speak to issues from that living experience as I didn’t believe it necessary in a short, general query. I discussed co-authorship with two fat Black writers and initiated that several months before any suggestion from Veronica, not as “performative allyship” in response to her letter. I was not aware ASDAH had approached Marquisele Mercedes to write their book and it’s unfortunate she wasn’t forthcoming with me.
It is also evident in the email exchange with Veronica that I am actively involved in maintaining a diverse referral network and passing opportunity on to others.
In the interview they deleted from their blog, when asked to discuss the recent evolution of the HAES movement, I responded: “I prefer to step back in defining HAES values and, instead, support others in exercising their voices.” When pressed further, I replied “I want to throw it back on you. How about ASDAH commissions an ASDAH member(s) to write that blog post? Knowing that marginalized folks are usually overworked, underpaid, and often asked for free labor, I’ll donate money to pay that person—that can help ASDAH expand the pool of possible contributors.” ASDAH gratefully accepted the donation and I hope someday we’ll all benefit from their follow-through.
It also saddens me that my marginalizations have been disappeared by the Leadership Team. My experiences as a trans and queer person give me unique perspective rarely heard in our field.
Their letter also got another aspect of ASDAH’s history wrong. (In all fairness, this was also long before their time.) I share the corrected history here as there is an important lesson to be learned in this mistake. ASDAH’s trademarking the HAES name meant that the HAES ideology no longer belonged to those activists they mentioned who worked to build it, but rather to, as Charlotte Cooper, a fat activist, referred to ASDAH, “self-appointed moral guardians.” Not all of ASDAH’s original ideology was consistent with the original activist vision. Trademarking was controversial and some people left the HAES movement behind, believing that the HAES ideology should not be the property of any individual group and that ASDAH coopted the work and vision of an activist movement. To this day, the ASDAH membership is just a tiny percentage of the many people who are committed to HAES values.
That history is important because I believe it would be valuable for ASDAH to respect that the movement is much greater than they are. The issue of “power-hoarding” is complicated and nuanced and one that I grapple with. I know I have much to learn. I wish the Leadership Team had provided me with examples of how I was failing and how I could do better. Instead, what they put forth are two examples that document my community service and commitment to serving ASDAH. Those examples also draw attention to the Leadership Team’s “power hoarding,” which is undermining their goals and weakening the community.
Community Service: HAESCommunity.Org
The first example they named is the HAESCommunity.Org. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a website that I founded, finance and managed. The name, like my book title, predates ASDAH’s trademark and came after the ASDAH membership encouraged me to use the HAES name for the book. The site is a community database; it contains listings and descriptions of thousands of people (across the spectrum of identities) who provide HAES-sensitive services, as well as HAES-sensitive resources, including books, blogs, advocacy organizations and more. The listings are by the community, for the community (not provided by me).
Additionally, people who are committed to HAES can sign a pledge; scrolling through the 21,000+ names inspired many. It also helped people and businesses recognize that there is a large audience wanting HAES-sensitive services. Thousands of people made use of its (free) searchable database every month to find these HAES-sensitive services and resources, making it valuable not only for the people searching, but for the HAES practitioners who were getting their work known. Rather than diverting attention from ASDAH, the opposite is true: at the bottom of every search result was a promotion for ASDAH, linking to its website and recognizing it as the official HAES organization. Furthermore, a footer on every page informed people that ASDAH is owner of the HAES trademark. It wouldn’t surprise me if more people learned of ASDAH’s existence from the HAESCommunity.Org than from any other single resource.
ASDAH demanded that the site be taken down because they are concerned it will distract attention from their not-yet-launched searchable members-only directory that won’t contain any resources other than member listings (as far as I know). ASDAH’s membership is under 1,000, which is less than 5% of the number of people listed on HAESCommunity.Org.
In response to ASDAH’s demand, I have temporarily withdrawn the site. While I hear ASDAH’s mandate that it be retired, I believe HAESCommunity.Org is a valuable community resource and will respect the wishes of the broader community that helped to build it. Behind the scenes, the HAESCommunity.Org is currently undergoing a makeover. It will return with a new moderator, a new name, a new look, many more features, and will not reference the HAES name. Unless a donor steps up to the plate to replace me, it will need to charge money. I’ll stay involved and continue to pay its expenses until the new moderator feels confident and the site is self-supporting. (Incidentally, the new moderator―likely, but not confirmed― is a queer-identified Black person with an impressive history of advocating for collective body liberation.)
Community Service: Public Service Letters
The other example the Leadership Team provided of my purported power hoarding is an open public service letter I wrote and posted, which speaks out against a proposed recommendation for low calorie diets and censure of HAES. Writing the letter involved a considerable amount of time and expertise (almost 100 references!), with no compensation. Contrary to the Leadership Team’s contentions, I did not put myself forward as an expert on HAES; in fact, HAES was not the focus, but only mentioned in a very short section. ASDAH wrote a letter as well, which I promoted on social media. I believe that we need as many people speaking out as possible and that a diversity of perspectives reinforce one another. This view is supported by everyone I am aware of, other than the Leadership Team, apparently. Many HAES-sensitive organizations and respected people in the wider HAES movement also wrote letters, and, in my mind, there is a feeling of collegiality, with many of us sharing links to letters others had written. ASDAH does not have to fight injustice alone, and it acts against its own best interests by holding others back from supporting a shared agenda. We are much stronger together, reinforcing one another’s advocacy in unique ways.
I question whether the leadership represented the membership at the time they wrote their letter. It’s ironic that one day on the listserv members celebrated the letter I wrote and the next day (literally!) the Leadership Team condemned it as a power grab and banished me.
They claim that I “demonstrated white fragility, white supremacy culture, and performative allyship.” I do participate in white supremacy culture, as we all do, I have also demonstrated fragility, and I will continue on the life-long journey to interrogate these. However, I don’t believe their contention is supported by the evidence they point to in the email exchange. Veronica explicitly stated in her email that she was writing as an individual, not representing the Leadership Team. I did not feel the need to answer to an individual, particularly since I perceived her email to be condescending. In my mind, I maintained appropriate boundaries. I do, however, regret a harsh sentence I wrote, which should have reflected more diplomacy. I apologize for that. I also apologize for not getting Veronica’s name right. To address the Leadership Team’s last example on this topic, I do not see evidence of unreasonable urgency in my emails.
I am concerned that it is the Leadership Team participating in supremacy, and not just because of the power-hoarding discussed earlier. Shame and exile are supremacist tools and they recreate the carceral system of punishment and ostracization. These are the very systems used to oppress marginalized communities.
I suggest ASDAH engage in more honorable and dignified business practices. The Leadership Team writes their letter in solidarity with Marquisele Mercedes, linking to an article she posted simultaneously with ASDAH’s release of their letter. That blog piece is predicated on a phone conversation with me that was recorded without my consent, behavior that is unethical at least, possibly illegal depending on what state it was conducted in, and initiated a cyber-bullying campaign. Is this collusion befitting a professional organization?
Also, I could not make sense of the letter’s closing: “This Leadership Team has been generous with our time, talents, and knowledge in responding to your requests with little evidence that you are willing to engage in an accountability process.” As stated earlier, I never heard from the Leadership Team before this letter. I don’t know what they are spending their resources on.
I also want to acknowledge that some of my values don’t align with some of those presented by the current Leadership Team and certainly don’t align with the values modeled in their letter. For that reason, I had taken a step back in ASDAH; it hadn’t felt right to be an active member.
I don’t want to exist in a climate where a leadership committee distorts the truth, publicly shames and exiles any member, and damages the reputation of an individual promoting HAES, especially not when that member contributes generously to ASDAH and to the HAES community. I don’t want to exist in a climate where people are shamed for holding, discussing, or challenging ideas―or pressured to shame themselves in an accountability statement or else risk being cast out of the community. I am concerned that ASDAH is not growing with the wider social justice movement. I wanted our HAES organization to set the stage for safety and bravery in open discussion and to learn and grow. I’ve been disappointed to see that stage diminished under their leadership. It is also undermined by the letter they wrote.
It saddens me that our movement for liberation and justice is exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in the larger culture. This said, I admire the mission of ASDAH, appreciate the impactful work the organization has accomplished, and wish them well as they face these challenging issues.
Be accountable, ASDAH
Libel. Defamation. What are you going to do to take responsibility for the harm you have caused?
I wish all of you a kind, compassionate, and inclusive community.
* Health at Every Size and HAES are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health and used with permission.