Peggy Howell interview

Peggy Howell NAAFA
Peggy Howell

When I came up with the idea for BBW Shrine, Peggy Howell was one of the first people I approached about it. I had some initial text online in sort of a placeholder website, and within hours of emailing her I got a response about the website content, or what was there anyway. Peggy's always been upfront and honest about which topics are important to the BBW community and suffice to say I have learned a lot from her and put her tips and advice to good use.

Being a spokesperson for NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) Peggy knows her way around the BBW community the world over. I thought it would make for a very interesting interview!

Note: SA = Size Awareness. Also Size Acceptance.

Coen: Hi Peggy, please tell us a little about who you are and what you do in life.

Peggy: My name is Peggy Howell and I share my home in Las Vegas, NV with my sister Darliene who is also my business partner in www.chunkEbusiness.com, the premier fat-friendly online art gallery and gift shop dedicated to the size acceptance community.

I volunteer my time with NAAFA as their Public Relations Director. This involves the greatest part of my time, but I also take time to express myself as an artist. I enjoy reclamation art and photography as well as socializing with friends and Las Vegas is a great place to do that.

Coen: You are a spokesperson for NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). Can you tell us a little about the organization and how/why it came to be?

Peggy: Founded in 1969, NAAFA is a non-profit, all volunteer civil rights organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for fat people. NAAFA works to eliminate discrimination based on body size and provide fat people with the tools for self-empowerment though public education, advocacy and member support.

In 1969, Bill Fabrey decided to start NAAFA as an advocacy and support group for people of size and those who had a preference for large-size partners. Since he lived on Long Island, New York, he placed an ad in the Village Voice and received responses from about 6 people. He had the vision to incorporate the group as a tax exempt organization and worked with a NY attorney to draft the Constitution for the group then known as the National Association to Aid Fat Americans.

In the late 1980's, when Executive Director, Sally Smith, who had previous experience with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), came aboard, the group became even more a human rights organization for large-size people. Our paid membership grew and extended beyond the borders of the U.S.

The Board of Directors decided to change the name of NAAFA to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance in the early 1990's because we had international members and because we were not in a position financially to give grants to individuals which was often the kinds of requests we received.

NAAFA presently works to see that anti-discrimination laws are changed to include height and weight. Our members were instrumental in seeing those changes to the laws in San Francisco a few years back and more recently those laws were used as a model for change in Binghamton, NY. NAAFA and its members are currently working to bring about changes to the laws in Massachusetts, Nevada, Florida and California. Presently, Michigan is the only state that has these laws in place. There are six cities around the country with laws in place as well.

In December, 2008 NAAFA launched the NAAFA Size Diversity Toolkit directed toward human resource professionals. We were able to send these toolkits to key human resources officers employed by the Fortune 500 companies of the U.S. as well as some key personnel in learning institutions.

Two of our board members presented an online audio presentation entitled, Eliminate Weight Bias from the Workplace and Encourage a Culture of Wellness, January 28, 2009 hosted by BLR, Business and Legal Reports. Their in-depth audio conference addressed how to eradicate weight bias in the workplace and motivate an entire workforce into practicing healthy habits designed to boost employee engagement. We are very proud of this work which we believe will help employers and employees alike.

Our current project is the development of a childhood obesity toolkit that will help parents, guardians, educators and legislators alike. We hope to help prevent even further stigmatization of fat children.

Coen: Wow, that is a whole mouth's full.

So, you have been to parties all around the United States, have you not? Do you see this sort of event rapidly expand across the country and if so what are your thoughts as to why that is?

Peggy: NAAFA began the size acceptance movement on the east coast in 1969 and about two years later, the Fat Underground was founded by a group of fat feminists on the west coast. These were the founding fathers and mothers of what we know today.

NAAFA grew to have chapters all over the US in every state, multiple chapters in some states. The national organization held fund raising regional events every quarter and a large national fund raising event once a year on alternating east and west coasts. The chapters held activism and social events as often as their membership requested.

It was from these chapters that social groups, not necessarily interested so much in the political aspect of things as in the social aspect, began to spring up. Many of these were financially motivated event promoters but I believe most of them soon learned that monthly dances and yearly bashes are more a labor of love than one yielding much financial gain.

The advent of the Internet had a tremendous impact on the changes in the size acceptance world. People were able to communicate with like minded people all over the world. For some, this allows them contact with other people right from the comfort of their homes. For others, it led to the formation of annual events where you finally meet face to face!

The largest and longest running bash is the BBW Network's Vegas Bash. It has its roots in chat channels. People who used Dalnet formed BBW channels and Admirer channels and channels for special interest groups. And as these people began to know one another through chatting online, they decided to get together in Las Vegas, NV for a weekend of fun. Their first face to face meeting had 26 attendees which grew to 1300 fat friendly party people for their 10th anniversary celebration in 2006. Their growth came from word of mouth according to the organizers.

Coen: Talking about growing your numbers! Wow.. I wish parties like that existed over here.

Do you think the United States plays a big role in the size acceptance and awareness movements throughout the world?

Peggy: I have no doubt that the US plays a big role in the SA movement around the world. This is where it began. Activists from around the world contact our organization and other well known fat activists in the US for moral support, information and resources as they work to build their case for SA in their part of the world.

Many of the researchers and healthcare providers who support HAES (Health at Every Size) are here in the US. Our efforts are years ahead of those of other countries and it is my hope that they can use us as a resource, learn from our mistakes and utilize what works well.

Coen: It appears NAAFA is a very large organization. How did NAAFA get so big over the years? What things do you think played a role in that? Is it just that there are many fat people, or because there are many fat people that want to speak out or be accepted? Or maybe there is another reason?

Peggy: I did not become involved in NAAFA until the early 1990's. Sadly, one of the mistakes that has been made by our organization is the recording of the history of the organization. Much of NAAFA's history that is on paper has been put into storage. I rely on one of my fellow board members who has been involved longer than I when I need specific answers so I don't really have the “big” picture of the evolution of NAAFA. I'm not sure how rapidly it grew. I believe Sally Smith utilized her experience with the ACLU to grow the organization.

I believe that NAAFA presented a brand new idea to people who were being marginalized and they were happy to embrace this revolutionary philosophy and way of life. The idea that we should accept ourselves as we are and live our lives to the fullest is revolutionary for many, maybe even most fat people, still today! And don't forget, we are a country founded on revolution, so no doubt that is a contributing factor.

Coen: Yes, that's true.

Currently in Holland there is a sort of a trend going on where BBW are very hip. The coolness factor if you will. One thing I see developing in the United States, is slimmer people - especially women - wanting to gain weight. Do you also see this and if so do you think it is the reverse of people wanting to lose weight for the same reason of wanting to belong to a group?

Peggy: I'm surprised to hear that it is now hip to be a BBW in Holland. I only hope it is for the right reasons, and not just a “fad”. I am even more surprised that you see a trend toward slim people wanting to gain weight in the US. Maybe this is because all I see is the constant bombardment of advertising on television and the Internet and in print media for weight loss drugs, weight loss surgery, weight loss meal delivery programs, exercise equipment, gym memberships and reality television, weight loss every kind of show you can imagine!

Then there's the war being waged on obesity in our country with our tax dollars from the “recovery plan” being given to companies and groups who focus on eliminating obesity. And our First Lady has very publicly vowed to wipe out childhood obesity in one generation. No, I really can't say I see any trend in the US in the other direction. Honestly, it would be refreshing and encouraging for me to see that happen!

Coen: Let's hope that changes in the (near) future.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with me Peggy!

Visit Peggy Howell's website chunkEbusiness.