Posted by Pattie on 3/06/2006 04:50:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 6 -- Who is an ally to the movement.

Coalition building is one of the most difficult things to do in political work. That is because politics is about choosing sides. I prefer to think about building bridges rather than coalitions. Bridges recognize that there is something distinctively different from our point-of-view and the group to whom we are building a bridge. A coalition is usually based upon opposition, having the same enemy. A bridge is based upon commonality, having the same goal. But I recognize that both are necessary sometimes.

The debates I’ve read lately have discussed “purity” versus “practicality” when talking about getting a message out to the public. The so-called “pure” side maintains that using particular words (like “obesity” or “prevention”) dilutes the message too much. The so-called “practical” side exclaims that no one will listen to discussions that don’t evoke popular terminology, especially within certain disciplines. Like all dichotomies, I think this one misses the point.

It is true that considerations of profession and promotion and politics leads to compromise. It is also true that it is possible to pick and choose one’s compromises in ways that do not dilute the message.

We got some grief when we subtitled our book “How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life.” This was a conscientious decision on our part. In fact, the book was laid out with a typical “self-help” format so that the table of contents read like a diet book: 10 myths, 5 steps, 3 building blocks. If someone picks up the book and thinks that they are buying a diet book, I’d be happy. If someone thinks they are simply reading a manual for self-improvement, I’d be happy.

But the subtitle and the format are meant to critique and play with these things as much as they are meant to evoke them. My attempts to “eat well” and “exercise regularly” changed my life for the worse. It wasn’t just the extreme and bulimic behaviors I dabbled in from time to time that hurt me, it was all attempts to control my body. The fact that most readers assume the word “changed” meant “improved” is something that I hope points out part of the problem with the whole diet mentality. The fact few readers will get that the first time out is okay too. I think the book still makes the case for not dieting even if the subtitle doesn’t immediately evoke that.

The point is that the title was both an attempt at promotion that conscientiously connected the book to the very things it was critiquing and yet I never used the words “obese,” “obesity” or “overweight” without pointing out the problems with those words. If we must use terms we don’t like in order to spark a larger debate in public discourse, we must do so with full disclosure. If we do so with fear that we might offend or a belief that we need to keep quiet about our beliefs in order to have more people at the table, then we will fail. We must come to the table as a full member.

A great example of this is The Center for Consumer Freedom, which is a front for the restaurant industry. It is no friend of fat people and has direct, economic reasons for vilifying fatness – most restaurants have “diet” menus as well as their usual fare. This means that dieting brings them more customers. But with that caveat, I have still have enjoyed reading some of their anti-obesity stuff and I’m happy that they have got some notice for their critiques. I don’t consider them a friend, but I build a bridge from time to time with their work because it evokes the kinds of discussions I want to evoke. But I always do so with full disclosure. They have a bias and that bias needs to be recognized.

I regard the challenges of purity, promotion and politics to be a basis for creativity rather than limitations. I think it is possible to build bridges. However, instead of dividing ourselves into camps and make arguments as if the dichotomy of message and delivery can never be bridged, it might be time for us (meaning “the movement” – whatever that is) to have discussions about “how” we can get the message out rather than “what” the message is or “who” is delivering the message. Instead we seem to be go off into our own little corners and protecting our own little kingdoms because venturing into these deep waters is just too scary.