Thursday, July 19, 2007

Odds & Sods from the Con

(To start at Day One, go here.)
(For Day Two, go here.)
(For Day Three, click here.)
(For Day Four, go here.)

Some isolated moments and observations from the NAAFA convention that I’d most likely put within their proper days, if only I could remember which days they were:
  • Introducing myself to Randi (a.k.a. SoVerySoft), a longtime fixture in both NAAFA and East Coast size acceptance groups. (Here’s Derrick Fish’s devilwoman version of SVS.) We meet outside the elevator, chat briefly and then head for different floors. The rest of the night, whenever I move from one space to another, it seems like I run into Randi along the way. She notices the same thing, says somp’n about it, and I reply by declaring that “I’m ubiquitous!” The convention dynamic: once you have an interaction with a person – no matter how brief it may be – they pop out at you, even within a crowd.

  • Happily watching my wife work and talk to customers as they pick through the bead bowl for their made-to-order “branklets.” She’s definitely in her element here.

  • My wife telling me about the dismayed looks some of the convention attendees display when they scan our vendor’s table and ask about the fiction in the Wilson Barbers Newsletter. Near the end of the con, a young SSBBW who has bought a newsletter comes up to me and sez she found the writing “elegant,” though she doesn’t understand the disclaimer (“Despite what some hypocritically self-righteous types may say, the preceding material has been produced for entertainment purposes only.”) that appears at the bottom of the last page. I mutter something vague about how some folks out there have difficulty with fantasy.

  • Me chatting with NAAFA newsletter editor Bill Weitze and telling him our history with NAAFA: how my wife and I’d once been active members and then later dropped out for a while during a period of upper level weirdness. Bill tells me that he came to the organization after all the in-house trauma, and as he briefly describes the period from his PoV, it quickly becomes clear to me that we’re talking about two different moments in the organization’s history.

  • Sitting in the FA workshop, an event that at earlier cons has sometimes been listed as “for men only,” and hearing plus-sized Chicago chapter president Lisa identify herself as a fat admirer.

  • Realizing for the umpteenth time that no matter how much I try to open my eyes to ‘em, I just don’t dig tattoos. Think I might’ve read Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man one too many times. . .

  • Me dealing with being more than one name. Because my convention nametag is under my real-life birth name and not my writer’s nom de plume, I’ve penned an “a.k.a. Wilson” beneath the printed name. Not everybody recognizes me – or cares to recognize me – as “Wilson Barbers,” however. Near the end of the con I run into New York BBW social club legend Nancy Goddess, who I remember from a variety of 90’s pictorials. But I don’t identify myself as the writer Barbers because I honestly can’t imagine her caring. I’m just some middle-aged FA who the woman briefly chitchats with while waiting for a friend to come out of the bathroom.

  • A comment about hotel rooms in general: I loath the bathroom toilet seats. They always seem to come with a flimsy cover, so when you try to sit down on ‘em to put on yer shoes, say, after spiffing up with the bathroom mirror, they make that distressing popping noise and force you to bounce back up immediately. Damn cheap-ass toilet seats . . .
And that’s about it, folks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Notes from the Con – Day Four

(To start at Day One, go here.)
(For Day Two, go here.)
(For Day Three, click here.)


Last day of the convention, and we’re planning on leaving early to get back to hearth and pets. (Blinkin’ on our hotel phone when we returned from the dance was a message from one of the folks pet-sitting part of our menagerie that one of our ferrets wasn’t doing too well.) Because I’m habitually an early riser – whether it makes sense to be one or not – I wander downstairs for a cup of overpriced hotel cappuccino. Don’t see a lot of anybody walking around at 8:30 a.m., so I just sit back with a manga paperback in hand and read. At one point, David, a convention volunteer who snapped a photo of me and the spouse on our way into last night’s dance, asks me if I’ve seen Josh, the guy who was filming the YouTube material Friday, since some of David’s pics will be used in a brunch slideshow. I wonder if we’ll be in it.

The brunch is set to start at 11:00, so I eventually head back upstairs to rouse my still-sleeping wife. Sunday brunch is a buffet, and, while I’m in line, I can’t help taking note of what the NAAFA women put on their plates. Per Becky J. – who has had experience with size acceptance cons in the past – despite all the clichés, NAAFAns as a group don’t eat more than any other group of conventioneers. At least one hotel person, she states, has told her that the amount of food returned from buffets is frequently greater than it is at other events. Though anecdotal and probably unverifiable, Becky's words are believable when you look at the size of the servings that even the largest women are spooning out for themselves. I mean, I’ve got a larger pile of scrambled eggs on my plate.

Wish that the hotel had provided some Dannon yoghurt that wasn’t “light & fit,” tho. Splenda®, bluccch!

We leave before the brunch speech, so we kin get on the road. But before we’ve snuck away from our table, we hear the second of two size discrimination stories that have been floating around the convention. The first concerns a child in New Mexico who was removed from her family for being too fat: though details are sketchy (was this the sole rationale presented by the state’s child protection agency?), it brings up an earlier case where that state removed young Anamarie Martinez-Regino from her family because one of her doctors claimed that her caretakers weren't doing enough to help the girl lose weight. That case was eventually overturned by the courts, but not before the child herself had to spend time in the New Mexico foster care system.

Second outrage revolves on a woman in Florida who recently died because an ambulance helicopter reportedly refused to carry her approximately four-hundred pound body to the hospital. This is the kinda horror story that understandably connects to many super-sized adults’ fears: of being fatally turned away by a medical community ill-equipped to treat them – which will later claim that the cause of the fat patient’s death was their “morbid obesity,” not a lack of life-saving treatment. Again, the details on this particular case are sketchy, but you can really see the group taking notice as they hear the basics.

Both stories underline one basic fact about the size acceptance movement: this is not just a matter of a few oversensitive fat folk getting their feelings over a few dumb fat jokes on the teevee. People are having their lives destroyed by a culture and a system that promotes fat hatred on a daily basis. As we leave the convention, we can’t help realizing that the same ol’ world of stupidity and bigotry still lies outside the 2007 NAAFA Con . . .

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Notes from the Con – Day Three

(To start at Day One, go here.)
(For Day Two, go here.)

Saturday Morning/Afternoon

Second day at ye vendor’s table. From our place we can turn around and look at the hotel pool below where a Water Aerobics workshop is in session. Speaking as an unabashed sexist, it’s fun to occasionally turn around and watch.

In the afternoon, my lovely wife heads for the convention coffeehouse where she’ll be reading one of the four short stories she’s selling under the title, Zaftly, My Love. The stories are romance fiction (or, as she puts it, “girly stuff”), and the work she’s picked is a short piece that originally appeared in the print mag Dimensions. While she’s there, I hold the vendor’s table by myself. It’s pretty quiet: I’m just not as magnetic as my wife. I while away the time perusing a Tek Jansen comic book. The story reading, I later hear, went well.

We have a better afternoon at our table. Because she’s brought her beads and jewelry-making paraphernalia, my wife is able to make bracelets and anklets to order – and she’s kept fairly busy. A few attendees from yesterday’s FA Workshop also show up to buy a newsletter, having realized who I was midway into the workshop. “This is for all the pleasure you’ve provided over the years” is a regular refrain, and every time I hear it, a small part of me wants to say, “Well, I hope you’re gonna read the newsletter today!

I later chat with a fat FA who turns out to be a fellow blogger: he gives me his URL (which I've added to the blogroll), and I promise to take a look when I get home. Here at the hotel, connection to the Internet comes with a price – and since we’re here on the cheap, I’ve already gone close to three days w/o any web surfing. Hard to believe, actually . . .

Saturday Night

We attend the Awards Banquet and Dinner Dance. The awards are handed out to NAAFA volunteers who’ve distinguished themselves over the past year. During flusher days, the association had an office, paid office help and a salaried spokesperson, but these days, all the work is done by volunteers. By now, we recognized all the identified volunteers from the last two days in the hotel.

After last night’s seventies kitsch-a-thon, tonight’s event is for dressing to the nines. See a lotta gorgeous fat women in gorgeous ensembles tonight. I’ve heard it said more than once (usually at events like these) that you can tell a lot about a fat woman’s self-confidence level by how much of her upper arms she allows you to see. Looks like there are plenty of confident women in the room.

Finally get my spouse on the dance floor for two slow ones tonight: in these small moments, all the shit and stressors and struggles that we’ve face over the last year abate. One of the long-standing components of the size acceptance movement has been dances, and, though some more activist members look down on ‘em, the experience remains a powerful one. Wasn’t it Emma Goldman who once stated that she didn’t want to be part of any revolution that wouldn’t allow you to dance? Holding my wife in my arms, I can’t help but agree.

That said, I more than half wish the dee-jay had a more varied musical array – I’m hearing songs tonight that I also heard on Friday. At least we escape before he gets to “Baby Got Back.”

The rest of the night is none of yer bizness, thank you.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Notes from the Con – Day Two

(For Day One, go here.)

Friday Morning

The Vendor’s Fair opens at 10:00 a.m., so we’re up early to get ready for bizness. Also at the hotel is a group of young health care professionals attending a certification training put on by an outfit called Galderma Laboratories. Our table is set across from the River Rock Food Emporium, and I see a large crowd of ‘em waiting in line for breakfast. All the young women look thin to average-sized, but if you’d asked any of ‘em before they got to this hotel, I’d wager that most of ‘em would've described themselves as fat. I wonder if they still would after this weekend?

The morning proves pretty quiet in terms of browsers: we’re hoping it’s ‘coz everybody’s slept late. I know I’m still feeling caffeine deprived, and we went to bed at a decent hour. First night in a hotel room’s always shaky for both of us when it comes to sleeping in an unfamiliar bed.

Friday Afternoon

Pick up a plate of lunch from the convention brunch auction buffet, then return to our table to hold the fort while Becky heads to the auction. As I sit behind the table, I enjoy the sight of beautiful plus-sized women wandering around the area in summers dresses, shorts and multiply-x-ed tee-shirts. So many places in the world where fat adults are encouraged to camouflage themselves, “blend in” by dressing as boringly as possible. In this setting, of course, the exact opposite is promoted. For this experience alone, I’d recommend attending at least one bit NAAFA to-do to any young fat admirer.

Speaking of which, this afternoon I get to speak to several FAs who’ve come to our table, one of whom recognizes me from my fiction and is surprised to see how “skinny” my mid-size wife is. (“In your stories,” he sez at one point, “the women are all over 600 pounds.”) I could tell him that my wife has been heavier in the past, but that arthritis and fibromyalgia were a factor in her dropping some weight, but that’s not really the point. I love “Miz Barbers,” even if she’s not over 600 lbs.

I attend two workshops in the afternoon: one, an FA workshop hosted by longtime workshopper Bob Sponaugle. As someone who has himself hosted FA Workshops in the past, much of what was said in this year’s was admittedly fairly familiar to me. The second was a bit fresher: a session devoted to putting together a NAAFA positive YouTube clip. Clearly, the association feels a pressing need to connect to younger fat adults and admirers. There’s a certain frustration in the fact that, though (admittedly fudged due to tinkering with the Body Mass Index), Americans are statistically fatter than they used to be, the membership in NAAFA has shrunk. I sign up to be filmed, but the process takes so long that I have to leave for the FA Workshop before I get my shot on camera. No YouTube notoriety for yours truly!

Friday Night

The first of two dances – this ‘un’s called Club Retro due to its seventies theme – takes place. Dances used to be a big draw for NAAFA as a unique and relatively safe place for fat adults and their admirers to connect, but the growth of regular fat social clubs in most of the country’s big cities has made this less of a part of the NAAFA Con experience. Unlike my memories of the last big Chicago NAAFA convention back in the nineties. I don’t see a lotta extra attendees at the event.

It isn’t 'til the dee-jay puts some disco on the floor that folks really start to get up and boogie: earlier rock tracks like Free’s “Slow Ride” don’t cut it with this crowd. Some fun kitschy periodware on some of the SSBBWs: I particularly enjoy a trio of (California, I think) women who dress up like an early seventies girl group. Being yer average move-free Baby Boomer white guy, I don’t personally venture onto the floor myself. I dig the music, though, pop nerd that I am, I can’t help noticing when the dee-jay fudges and plays somp’n from ’68 or ’69. I promise Miz Barbers a slow one at tomorrow’s festivities, though.

Notes from the Con – Day One

(Being a series of undigested thoughts and impressions from this humble writer’s recent attendance at the 2007 National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance size acceptance convention in Rosemont, Illinois.)

Thursday Afternoon

We arrive at the 2007 convention on a Thursday afternoon, unsure how many folks we’ll be seeing at the event. Both my wife and I were personally more active in NAAFA over ten years ago – even helmed a short-lived Central Illinois chapter for a time – but we both became burned out during a period of organizational/political upheaval. Though we’ve kept in touch with friends from the Chicago chapter in particular, it’s been several years since we’ve even attended an upstate chapter event. We do know that the number of the national organization’s chapters has shrunk significantly since its peak.

I can’t help feeling cheered when we walk into the Crowne Plaza Hotel lobby, however, and I see a striking super-sized redhead standing by the Atrium. We’re at the right place, at least!

One of our friends from Chicago NAAFA, Dave J. (who once had a cameo as a caterer in an early story of mine) has spied us at the registration desk, so he pops down to let us know where the action it. We head down to the hotel’s Lower Level – where registration, hospitality and the workshops are set – then briefly pop into one of the workshops where Dave’s pear-shaped wife Becky J. is doing some polymer clay sculpture. The fat lady piece she makes for her hubby is quite bottom-heavy. Becky J. definitely knows her spouse. . .

Thursday Evening

First formal event that we attend is the ever-popular fashion show: where NAAFAn women of all sizes and ages get to cat walk in clothing provided by con vendors. As OakHaus Designs, we’ve come to try and do some selling: jewelry that my lovely wife has created, a booklet of her romantic fiction, postcards and a new issue of the Wilson Barbers Newsletter are our primary wares. Two hours before the fashion show, we run into one of the clothing vendors on the elevator, and she brings up the possibility that some of Becky’s jewelry could be worn as accessories in the show. We hadn’t even thought of that. We quickly rush back to our room to retrieve some necklaces and bring them down to the woman who’s coordinating the event.

Unfortunately, when the show itself takes place, none Becky’s jewelry gets used. Since at least one of the other vendors is selling vintage jewelry, the shut-out makes sense, but it still feels a bit like we’re Ugly Betty trying to beak into the insular world of fashion mags. It’s an undeniable kick to watch the show, though.

I also get to briefly talk to Kristie Agee, the BBW r-&-b singer who does a brief singer-w./-backing-tracks set during a break in the show. As a lover of size-themed blues (Bullmoose Jackson’s “Big Fat Mamas Are Back in Style Again,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Built for Comfort,” etc.), I’m in my element. Beats hearing the umpteenth replay of “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” to my ears at least, and, besides, Miz A. has brought Chick Willis, a songwriter with several fine leering plus-sized anthems to his credit, to my attention. We buy a copy of the singer’s CD, Use What You Got, after the show.

Last event of the day is a late nite private pool party: lots of very large women - and a few men - romping in the hotel pool. Quite a sight. While water is a very fat-friendly element, most public swimming areas aren't, so unless they've got a private pool or a whole lotta chutzpah, many super-sized adults don't take advantage of the Waterworld. Though we’re feeling more than a little weary from the drive up, we go to the event since, well, since we paid for it.

While there, my wife and I run into a reporter for who’s covering the event. You always feel more than a little wary when a member of the mainstream press – even one as generally liberal in its focus as Salon – is on the scene.* Fat acceptance has a knack for bringing out the condescending concern troll as well as the just plain snarky in even the “best” progressive writers. (After all, at the moment, we're standing on the edge of a pool that has very fat women wearing two-pieces cavorting within it – keep the jag-offs from Fat Women in Hats away!) We’ll have to see how it goes.

*After posting the above, I went to Salon and found a new alarmist piece (you may need to click thru an ad to read it) positing that plastic containers might be responsible for our nation's so-called "obesity epidemic."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Jimmy, the Job Stealer

Those FA readers enamored of old superhero comic book stories centering around weight gain (like the Lois Lane misadventure, “The Fattest Girl in Metropolis”) should be pleased to learn that a new trade paperback of Jimmy Olsen stories, The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen (DC), has just been published. Amongst the many and diverse amazing transformations that Superman’s pal experiences is a sudden fattening in “The Fattest Boy in Metropolis.” Written by Silver Age comic book scribe George Klein and illustrated by Curt Swan, the story describes the young reporter’s travails after he is “mistakenly” given a weight gain formula during a visit to a daffy scientist’s lab. In the most memorable moment (at least from a male FA perspective), Jimmy is spotted by a carnival fat lady who is worried that Olsen has come to replace her fat man husband in the side show. Pretending to be an old girlfriend, she lures him into a diner where she keeps him occupied with an ice cream sundae until she sees the carnie manager driving off. The manager out of the way, she pushes him off his chair, dumping the rest of the sundae on top of his head and shouts, “Get lost, fat stuff!” Waste of a perfectly good ice cream sundae, if ya ask me . . .

(Fat Jimmy Olsen also shows up in a later tale in this collection devoted to a planet comprised entirely of transformed Jimmys; at one point in "The Planet of 1,000 Jimmy Olsens," our hero even impersonates his fat self with cheek pads and an inflato-suit to escape captivity.)

Monday, July 02, 2007


Happened to catch the Fox sitcom The Loop almost by accident last night (caught a quick description of it on the cable service menu). In it, series hero Sully (Eric Christian Olsen), a young guy working for a major airline, is forced to wear a fat suit on a cross-country flight to appease the members of a size acceptance group who’ve been threatening legal action over about the unfriendly accommodations on the company’s planes. The episode, written by Pam Grady & Will Gluck, makes the usual unfunny fat/gluttony jokes (often coming from the series’ un-PC mouthpiece, played with curmudgeonly gusto by Philip Baker Hall). But it also contains an intriguing scene centered on a hottie female fat admirer.

Seated next to our fat-suited hero on the plane, the clearly attracted blond unsubtly flirts with Sully and then leads him into the plane’s restroom, where she initiates him into the Mile High Club. How this is accomplished without revealing that he’s encased in a big prosthetic is never explained, but we get several shots of her giddily caressing his artificial forefront and marveling over its magnificent size. As a plot complication, said FFA turns out to be the girlfriend of Hall’s character Russ, of course – perhaps we’ll get some scenes in future outings of her feeding him to a suitable size? That'd show the ol' s.o.b.