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Reading The Riot Act

August 15th, 1997

Last week, I received some real hate mail. The man who sent it had seen the About-Face website, gotten all riled up and written me an email. I received it at work — at my day job — in the middle of the day. Any email on about- face.org that is addressed specifically to me is then forwarded to me at my work address.

Most days I get email like this: “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I haven’t seen the whole site yet, but I got so excited I had to send you a note!” And they go on like that. It’s very cool. They come from parents and teachers, usually.

The email I received last week really made my heart start pumping.

In the two years since I started the campaign, I have received only a handful of negative comments about it and in each case they were variations on the same: “Leave Thin People Alone.” Along with the complaints has been a unilateral misunderstanding of A) my point and B) my own size. I have to say I get a huge kick out of people stepping right into the “size issue” itself by assuming I’m a large woman. After all, only a bitter two-ton Nell would dare raise questions about public images of women, right?

Two years ago exactly, on the morning after a group of us postered San Francisco with my Kate Moss “Emaciation Stinks” poster, I was interviewed on KPIX-FM. The reporter interviewed me in my bathrobe, in my kitchen at 6:30 am. She left to call her report in as I listened to the show on my radio. The reporter read her report to the man and woman team that hosted the morning show, interjecting quotes from me from our taped conversation. I was absolutely amazed as the female host, Pat Thurston, said things like “it sounds like this Kathy Bruin is a little obsessed with Kate Moss.” “Are you saying she’s a lesbian?” asked her male cohort. “Well,” she said, with pronounced inflection, “I’m just saying that she seems a little preoccupied…” And as the reporter tried to deliver a more serious side to the story, Ms Thurston ended the segment with “well I think Kate Moss is beautiful and if you ask me, this Kathy Bruin is probably fat and ugly and jealous!”

I couldn’t believe how this radio personality had actually illustrated the problem itself, and nicely too! She did what many, many people do which was to assume that how a woman looks dictates her views, and indeed determines whether others take her seriously or not. Amazing.

The angry email I received last week began: “Large Marge the Intolerant.” (All spelling errors are his.) “While I do not advocate anorexia as a fashion statement, I can’t help but think that I see a bit of insecurity and jealousy in your website..” Here we go, I thought. “Your attitudes and opinions are puritanical, non-progressive and oppressive. Your annomisity (sic) toward slight people is readily appearant (sic). Your website covers itself in the guise of foreward (sic) thinking tolerance and compassion, but is really a hate site to try and make large people feel better about themselves at the *expense* of those that do not carry around enough extra weight to blow the springs on a Caddilac (sic, sic, sic.)”

You see what might have gotten my blood boiling? How’s a girl suppose to get any work done?! He found the site full of “offensive hate rhetoric,” and was bothered most by “that abusive tone you take to naturally small framed people, saying that a small framed woman with a short haircut is an androgynous ploy to attract pedophiles, making comparissons (sic) between slight models and victims of Anorexia.”

I think he may well have spent all of his time in the Gallery of Offenders where we offer sarcastic comments with each image. This is where we enjoy saying what everyone else might just think about the images that abrade us: “Where are the jeans in the jeans ad?” “Where is the flesh on these girls?” and “gee, this image of the naked boy/girl model lying on a couch with bare bottom up looks a lot like the kind of photo that might get me arrested if I turned it in at the local Fox Photo…”

Our writer suggests that thin people have faced all kinds of abuse through their lives “usually from big-boned, over-fleshed hefers (sic) who felt inadequate near (thin people’s) “ideal” frame.” (I guess he missed the eternal torture that the fat kids are put through in playgrounds every day of their lives.) He continues, “I am sorry that society favors those of us with naturally high metabolisims (sic) as the ideal of beauty and that you are unable to reconcile your appearance to that fact.” Here he takes a personal swipe at me; a nasty one since at this moment he thought I must be as big as a barn since, isn’t it true that only fat girls have a problem with scrawny, wasted, plastic, teenage girls being held up as the sole embodiment of beauty in our culture?

I was quite civil, even charming in my response to him (I know, I know — but I actually want to convert even the biggest dick uh, hotheads. And, I did take a few good swipes at him too.) Here’s the news flash: it isn’t only large women and lesbians and feminists and wall flowers and spinsters that find fault in the images of our time. Nor is it just the right wing that would love to get rid of the overly sexualized ads of teenagers. It’s mothers AND fathers who worry when their nine year old daughter refuses to take swimming lessons because she thinks she’s fat; it’s school counselors who are tired and afraid of all the cases of disordered eating they encounter; it’s high school and college aged men that are concerned about their girl friends and girlfriends who don’t eat; it’s President Clinton when he calls the fashion industry irresponsible for their heroin junkie as glamour look.

This campaign, and others that question the messages of the images we get, are not against thinpeople! **Let me be perfectly clear.** Our complaint is with the SINGULAR ideal of beauty whatever it might be, at the absolute exclusion of all others. Guess what? The emperor has no clothes. And we’re all sick of ignoring it.


Kathy Bruin often gets cranky on her business trips.