When Mikey Mercedes posted her incredibly problematic experience with Lindo Bacon this week, I wasn’t surprised.
I’ve got my own story, you see.
But first, go read Mikey’s, because hers is both worse and more important in understanding the challenges facing the Health at Every Size® community.
Go read it. I’ll wait.
When I told my story to a trusted friend in the HAES community, she laughed and said, “Yeah, welcome to the club. It seems like everyone has a Lindo story.”
That was the first time since my 2021 encounter with Lindo that it occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t located in me, and that I hadn’t done anything to cause it.
But to understand my story, you’ll need to skip back with me in time a bit.
That size can be healthy
For those who have no idea who or what I’m talking about, a quick primer:
Health at Every Size, or HAES, was a health framework developed by fat acceptance activists and healthcare providers in the 1990s. It posited that people in all body sizes can pursue health-promoting behaviors without focusing on weight loss.
HAES was created by a group of people of all body sizes. Dr. Lindo Bacon (who prefers that people not use their title, so I’ve refrained elsewhere in this piece) codified that framework in the book Health at Every Size, which was followed by a second edition, Body Respect.
However, Lindo — a thin white non-binary person — is neither the sole founder of HAES nor its head, and does not speak for the movement as a whole.
Let’s skip forward in time to 2020, where a Facebook group for HAES-aligned healthcare providers was bubbling like a boiling kettle.
A group of white providers — let’s call them Group A — had just come forward about another white provider named Maria Paredes.
A Black provider in the same geographical area as all the aforementioned providers had come to Group A, asking them to do something about Maria, who’d done something harmful to the Black provider.
(As a member of the Facebook group in question, but not a member of Group A, I wasn’t privy to all the details, and it’s not my story to tell, anyway.)
Group A attempted to talk to Maria about it, who wanted nothing to do with them. If I recall correctly, Group A hired a Black consultant for guidance, and that led to them posting about their efforts in the Facebook group.
Where it promptly exploded into a flame war, as Maria’s defenders defended her behavior, and the whole thing eventually burned down and sank into the swamp.
Your fupa isn’t your belly
I hold a strange position within HAES: I’m a photographer, not a doctor or clinician of any sort, and yet I’m a guest in a number of provider spaces, since some of those folks value my opinion.
I’m usually one of only a few fat people in those spaces, and almost always the only non-clinician. I’m also usually the only person in these groups who’s also active in fat-centric spaces, so I’m often tuned into the fat zeitgeist in a way that thinner-bodied HAES-aligned providers aren’t.
When the 2020 provider blowup happened, I was the only one in the group who knew that Maria hadn’t just been harmful to a Black healthcare provider.
She’d also been absolutely vicious in Fupagate, a year prior in 2019. When approached by a number of fat folks — let’s call them Group B — who felt that her flippant usage of the term “fupa” to refer to her belly was both inaccurate (it’s generally spelled out as “fat upper pubic area” and refers to the mons pubis) and appropriative, Maria responded to them cruelly and then promptly blocked them and deleted their comments and messages.
We’ll also see other instances of hiding bad behavior with secrecy as we go on.
I wasn’t part of Group B, but I was there when Group B described their experiences in fat-centric spaces, and I saw their hurt. I wrote a blog post at the time that was otherwise unrelated, but included a single sentence referring obliquely to the fupa situation.
I was also apparently the sole person in the healthcare provider group who even knew Fupagate had happened.
Since a good portion of Maria’s defenders in the provider group seemed to be resting their disbelief in any misbehavior on Maria’s otherwise untarnished reputation, I felt it was important to note that there were many fat people who’d also been harmed.
I left a brief comment to that effect in the massive thread (hundreds of comments long) that had developed.
Shortly after, Maria leaped to her own defense in the comment section. I didn’t even know Maria knew I existed, but apparently she’d not only seen the single sentence in a single blog post that referred to fupas back in 2019, but had held a grudge. She left me a nasty comment; I declined to reply.
Critiquing Social Justice Dogma
Now, let’s make one more jump in time to early 2021. This is the part where we talk about Lindo.
I’d met Lindo briefly at the ASDAH conference (coincidentally also back in 2019), and they reached out to me once with a complimentary email about my work. We weren’t closely connected, but each of us knew who the other was.
In January 2021, Lindo published a lengthy essay titled “Critiquing Social Justice Dogma” to ASDAH’s private listserv. They asked that the essay not be shared publicly, and I’m going to respect that request, so you’ll have to ask them directly if you’d like a copy.
This essay was, to put it mildly, a bad take. It consisted of hand wringing over “cancel culture” and a positioning of Black and/or fat people as the real issues within HAES. Since, you know, we react so badly to mistreatment of us that by demanding accountability and repair, we’re the ones doing the real harm by terrorizing privileged people, who are now too frightened to speak up around the meanyface marginalized people.
It was, in two words, hella racist. And part of it was a pretty thinly-veiled defense of Maria Paredes’ behavior towards her Black colleague, and an attack on the backlash that had resulted.
The first response
Over on the ASDAH listserv, there was a smattering of glowing responses. Who was going to contradict a “founder” of HAES?
In backchannels, though, there were dozens of dismayed and angry conversations happening. I was also dismayed and angry: One of my heroes had written something that was clearly racist and fatphobic, had released it to a group of mostly thin white people where it couldn’t even be discussed publicly, and I wasn’t even a healthcare provider (ASDAH’s primary audience), so I wasn’t about to respond on the listserv.
I couldn’t let it go without speaking up in some way, though, so I emailed Lindo privately. I trusted that since we already had a slight connection, they’d give me the benefit of the doubt.
I’m including a portion of that email below. (I’m removing a portion that would have other professional ramifications for me.)
Hi Dr. Bacon, I hope you’re doing well! The piece you posted in the ASDAH listserv was really interesting and thought-provoking.
I don’t necessarily disagree with most of what you say, but it was distressing to see the focus on marginalized people being held up as the people who need to change, rather than the people oppressing them. It felt like a bit of a back attack, too, since marginalized people are highly underrepresented within ASDAH membership, the population who has access to the document.
It’s distressing that the only times fat people are mentioned, we’re positioned as punishers who “cancel” thin people and destroy their careers. (We’re accused of this so often in the wider world that we have a joking name for it — the Council of Fat Overlords.) But we have so very little power in the HAES community. We’re not represented at the highest levels of ASDAH. [Note: This has since changed. -Lindley] Our voices regularly go unheard and ignored. It’s exhausting to have such a tiny slice of power within HAES and be constantly accused of using it to bully others.
That’s the reason I’m writing to you privately; I’m scared of speaking up on the listserv. I’ve only been deeply into this work for a few years, but there’s no other word than exhausted for it. Too exhausted to risk the tattered remains of my reputation by speaking up in that listserv.
Fat people are barely mentioned or tolerated within HAES, and when we are included, it’s usually by being referred to as aggressors, as cancellors, as those angry demanding people who won’t shut up. I would cheerfully exchange places with the thin folks in the movement who are worried about being cancelled. I get to worry about that too, except that I also have to worry about the smothering silence of fat oppression within HAES AND dying because some doctor decided I don’t deserve to live.
I don’t have a desired change or action to wrap up this email with. I mostly agree with your piece, though I’m very uncomfortable with a group of mostly thin white folks telling BIPOC they’re doing it wrong (on reading the responses that have come in so far). I’m on board. Your new book is on my desk and I look forward to reading it. I’m just so very tired to see that fat people are an afterthought, once again.
On second thought, it doesn’t seem right to wrap up on that note, so here’s what I’d genuinely like to see: an honest, earnest discussion on how HAES as a whole, and ASDAH in particular, can stop replicating fatphobic systems of oppression. I’m clearly not the right person to start that conversation — my outspokenness in the past has already removed my ability to be taken seriously, it seems — but I’d love to see it happen.
I later sent this as an addendum:
Ah, send in haste, repent at leisure. I also meant to mention that I’m not sure whether the recent conflict involving Maria Paredes was one of the things you were referring to in your piece, but I believe at least one listserv responder has mentioned it already. That’s a curious case study, because Maria was maliciously oppressive to fat folks long before the current kerfuffle. When fat folks (of which I was not one) asked her to stop appropriating the term “fupa,” she responded viciously and ruthlessly screamed at those folks, then deleted all their comments and messages and blocked them. The abuse was so legendary that people still refer to it in fat-only spaces on Facebook.
But thin folks who wanted to preserve their social networks weren’t listening, and they still aren’t.
I wasn’t expecting a response at all, and was surprised to get one that very evening.
I was even more surprised when I opened it and saw how condescending and dismissive it was. Lindo admonished me for being emotional in my writing, while in the same email noting that they were writing me while upset with me.
I was informed that:
- I didn’t get it because I hadn’t studied enough
- I didn’t get it because I hadn’t yet read their book
- They had a hard time “offering up grace” to me
- Yes, Lindo was defending Maria
- We’re all scared to speak up “because we fear rejection” (as opposed to the very real fears of further oppression and marginalization that fat and Black people hold)
The next morning, before I’d even decided to respond, I had a second email in my inbox from Lindo. In this one, they’d done a point-by-point refutation of my email in bright red text, as if I were being redlined in a college essay.
In this one, I was told I was being presumptuous, and that “these issues in general are not where I want to be putting my energy.”
And then I was asked for ideas for improving the essay, as if I hadn’t just been told very thoroughly that my feedback was wrong and unwanted.
I was stunned and so, so hurt that my vulnerable outreach had been turned around on me that way.
I didn’t respond to either email; there was nothing I could say.
Since I’d been reassured that reading Lindo’s new book, Radical Belonging, would make it all clear, and I’d already bought it, I read the book. I didn’t find any answers, but I did find a couple of strangely fatphobic comments. (Mikey’s experience with Lindo asking her to ghostwrite sections makes me wonder if those sections of Radical Belonging were ghostwritten and not reviewed thoroughly enough to catch the fatphobic spots.)
The second response
A few months later, a group of HAES providers wrote and published an open letter on the ASDAH listserv in response to Lindo’s bad-take essay. Lindo left a brief comment saying they’d be responding at more length.
Shortly after, I got another email from Lindo.
Just seeing their name appear in my inbox brought all the shame — of being positioned as the real problem by someone I’d respected, and having that reinforced by the emails telling me how wrongity wrong I was — rushing back.
The email was brief and nonspecific. Lindo had written something they wanted to send to the ASDAH listserv, and wanted my review and feedback. (No mention of compensation.)
At first, I didn’t make the connection to the open letter, and I almost responded and said, “Sure, my rate is X/hour.” And then I connected the dots.
Why would someone who clearly doesn’t value or respect my opinion, as a person or a fat activist, want my opinion, unless the goal was to be able to say that a real live fat person had approved?
I politely declined, they responded to let me know they had other reviewers lined up, and that was it.
I Will Never Work With You
Last week, I connected with Mikey and she told me an abbreviated version of her experience. I basically spent the whole time clutching my face in horror. I, a white woman, had gotten less paternalism and condescension; Mikey, a Black woman, got the whole shebang.
My conversation with Mikey is an example of how whisper networks work in communities and the purposes they serve. When we have missing stairs — especially missing stairs who hold immense power and respect — backchannels are often the only way we can protect ourselves.
This is where I feel some internal pressure to apologize for remaining silent about Lindo’s behavior towards me. It sucks that no one else spoke up before Mikey, and it sucks that a Black woman felt forced to take that on.
But I won’t apologize, and here’s why:
That paternalism and condescension I mentioned on Lindo’s part run strong through the entire HAES community. I’ve already put my business at risk any number of times by standing up for fat folks’ dignity and worth in HAES spaces. Any number of thin HAES providers have screamed at me and then flounced out of that Facebook group I mentioned earlier rather than listen to me gently question their internalized fatphobia.
And any number of people will never work with me or promote me or buy from me because I object to poor treatment of fat people, especially poor treatment wrapped in secrecy as we’ve seen over and over here.
I was part of that whisper network to protect my multiply-marginalized self and my career, and I don’t regret that. I may regret speaking out publicly now, but it’s time.
Where do we go from here?
In the time since Mikey released her post, I’ve been watching with interest as the word spreads and the link gets shared.
In spaces that have a higher percentage of fat folks, I’m seeing a lot of discussion.
In spaces with primarily thin HAES providers, I’m seeing crickets.
I don’t have any brilliant advice for you on how to fix HAES that I’m not already sharing in the Body Liberation Guide. If I did, I probably wouldn’t share it for free; I’m absolutely exhausted having dredged up the damage Maria, Lindo and a hundred other thin white HAES folks have done to me.
That said, if you have questions and you’re ready to do the work, I do offer consulting sessions to help you uproot your internalized fatphobia and navigate these types of situations without hurting marginalized people.
My only other comment is on the portion of Lindo’s conversation with Mikey that addressed who gets asked and chosen to speak on behalf of HAES and fat folks.
If privileged folks never take a seat, how are marginalized folks supposed to get the experience to be the ones chosen to headline an event, to be the keynote speaker, to be the big draw?
Sit down. It’s time.
Unpacking Weight Stigma I: A Workbook for Fat Allies and Health at Every Size® Practitioners
March 8, 2022: Mikey Mercedes releases I Will Never Work With You (see links below)
March 9: Lindley Ashline releases Movements, Missing Stairs and Lindo Bacon (above)
March 10: ASDAH releases statement
April 8: Lindo releases “apology statement”
Followups (newest first)
- #HAES has figured out how to break me.
- You are not exempt from ethics: Naming HAES names
- Education, Obgobbing, HAES and the Right to Engage
- Health at Every Size®, Stories and Silence
- HAES history and thinness: A thread
- Responses and risk: A thread
- Alone in HAES spaces: A thread
- “Everyone has opportunities that don’t work out, so what?”
- The consequences of doing while fat: A thread
- Mikey Mercedes’ story | A Week Into The Lindo-pocalypse
- ASDAH’s story and statement
- Alishia McCullough’s story
- Sam Dylan Finch’s story
- Carrie Dennett’s story
- Joslyn Smith’s story
- Lindo Bacon’s “cancel culture” essay (shared elsewhere after my post here was published)
- Rachel Fox’s thread about Lindo’s “cancel culture” essay
- Dr. Asher Larmie’s deconstruction of Lindo’s essay
- What can we do?
- A HAES book written by a fat person, Nancy Ellis-Ordway: Thrive at Any Weight
- Ellyn Satter Institute’s followup post after removing a post defending Lindo Bacon
- Lindo Bacon’s “apology,” released after exactly one month