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Wednesday, May 6, 1998 Published at 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK


One size does not fit all
image: [ On Wednesday: Say no to dieting ]
On Wednesday: Say no to dieting

Your wedding day is supposed be the happiest day of your life. But it wasn't for Jody Abrams.

Jody Abrams is fat. At 22 stones 5 lbs (143 kg), she said she had faced relatively little discrimination and humiliation - until she got married two years ago.

"When my fiance's parents met me for the first time, they went completely ballistic. They told him to see a psychiatrist. They told him he was a pervert. They told him they would never speak to him again.

"I couldn't understand why they couldn't see past my weight."

Mrs Abrams, who owns her own boutique for larger size women, has been overweight all her life. She was put on a Weight Watchers diet when she was just five years old. Like many of her friends, she has gained and lost hundreds of pounds on yo-yo diets.

No more. Today, Mrs Abrams is the activism chairwoman of NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, an American organisation with 50 chapters. On Wednesday, along with organisations in Britain, Canada and Australia, the group will celebrate International No-Diet Day. The day encourages people to stop dieting and reflect upon how dieting has helped or harmed them over the years.

A day of protest

[ image: Slogans to encourage 'size diversity']
Slogans to encourage 'size diversity'
To celebrate No-Diet Day, groups all over the world will mount protests, sponsor education programs or just go out for a good meal. Organisers do not advocate ignoring the dangers of obesity such as heart attacks and high blood pressure - only increasing acceptance of people that do not fit society's ideals.

In the United States, Naafa's "Scales of Justice" project is sending talk show host Oprah Winfrey - whose own weight fluctuations have become a catalyst for widespread dieting - at least 50 discarded bathroom scales. Slogans such as "A waist is a terrible thing to mind" and "I'm not dying to lose weight" are scrawled on the scales.

In Seattle, Washington, fat discrimination protestors will gather at a community college to "scale smash" to "strike a blow against the tyranny of diet and weight obsession". In the United Kingdom, anti-diet groups sponsored a picnic in the park and a workshop entitled Eat Well, Look Good, Feel Great.

International No-Diet Day was started in Britain in 1992. Mary Evans Young, the director of Oxfordshire anti-diet group Diet Breakers, says she took action after seeing a television programme where women were having their stomachs stapled. She also heard about a girl of 15 committing suicide because "she couldn't cope being fat". She was size 14 (12 in US).

"I decided somebody had to stand up and try to stop this madness . . . So I sent out a press release titled Fat Woman Bites Back and got some media attention. I was desperate to keep the anti-diet/size acceptance concept in the public eye. So, without really thinking about it, at the end of a live TV interview I said, 'Don't forget to celebrate No Diet Day.'"

Having declared it on national television. Mrs Young set about organising a picnic in Hyde Park. It rained, but the group was not put off. They had the meal in her living room instead.

The day is not only for seriously obese people. Participants in No-Diet Day programmes hope that the activities will make an impact on anyone who has tried - and failed - to diet.

Long road ahead

[ image: Elizabeth Hurley thought she looked fat]
Elizabeth Hurley thought she looked fat
But in a culture that has made waif-like supermodel Kate Moss an icon, changing the way one sees "normal" bodies will not be easy. Pop culture is obsessed by thinness. At a recent press conference, model Elizabeth Hurley said that she thought she looked fat. No one batted an eyelash.

More than half of women are unhappy with their body image, American health statistics show. On any given day, there are 48m Americans dieting. A third of Australian women diet. In the United Kingdom, there are 3.5m people suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

Sixteen percent of American women have made themselves vomit in an attempt to try to lose weight.

And ironically, average-sized men and women have never been further from the ideal to which many aspire. Fashion models weigh 23% less than they did 20 years ago while the average woman weighs at least that much more.

Organisers and fat activists say that any progress they are making is gradual. They point to the recent spate of books and magazines that expose the evils of dieting as proof that their message is getting through.

"If there are books, there is a market. If there is a market, there is interest and awareness," said Laura Fraser, the author of Losing it: False Hopes, Fat Profits in the Diet Industry, and a contributing editor to Mode, a new magazine catering for larger women.

"But," she adds, "like losing weight, it's not going to happen overnight."

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