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Heavy & happy

Many plus-sized women wouldn’t dream of yielding to waif worship

Jessica Yadegaran Contra Costa Times

Alyssa Russell of Pleasant Hill, Calif., went through what she calls the “whole hating my body thing” when she was a teenager.

But these days, the 20-year-old student has shed those negative feelings. She’s big, beautiful and proud.

“I’ve actually prayed for bigger hips,” says Russell, who used to be 257 pounds, but, through healthy living, has found her comfort zone at 216. “I don’t want to lose weight, because I don’t want to lose my curves.”

Despite a national war on obesity and a culture obsessed with weight loss, there are many women who love their bigger bodies and don’t apologize for them.

Most actually prefer “fat,” the term size-acceptance activists first reclaimed during the civil and women’s rights movements, says Marilyn Wann, San Francisco author of “Fat! So?” (Ten Speed Press).

Reclaiming the word is about getting rid of shame and moving on with your life, says Oakland’s Amanda Piasecki, founder of the community blog, Fatshionista.

Such self-actualization isn’t new, but it comes at a moment when researchers are touting weight-neutral, health-at-every-size programs, and big women are more prevalent in mainstream media.

Last month, Fox debuted its plus-size dating reality show, “More to Love,” and “Drop Dead Diva,” about a vapid model who dies and comes back to life in the body of a larger woman, premiered on Lifetime.

“In all dating shows, the women are thin and look the same,” says Amanda Tobias, 23, of Pleasant Hill, Calif., who works at a plus-size clothing store.

“At least in (“More to Love”), we see a variety of sizes. We see the average American woman.”

Author Wann says she’d rather see more fat characters integrated into regular TV programming.

“We all want to be happy, successful, and have cool clothes, dates and feel attractive,” she says. “It’s a false prerequisite that you have to be thin to get those things.”

Wann’s book was first published 10 years ago after, she says, she was denied health care for weighing 235 pounds. She and other fat activists subsequently fought to add weight and height to the anti-discrimination laws of San Francisco.

Much has changed since then. Fat-friendly resources, including plus-sized clothing retailers and specialized fitness groups, have helped fat women advance, Wann says.

Community blogs such as Fatshionista ( also provide a forum where women can talk about their fat bodies in a way that is safer than normal conversations, says Piasecki, who founded Fatshionista in 2004.

Plus, women say, big clothes are simply cuter now.

“Everything used to be shapeless or boxy,” says Dana Roeting, a Millbrae, Calif., plus-sized model who has worked for Liz Claiborne. “Now there are trendy clothes available for people up to size 30.”

Size acceptance started at a young age for Margarita Rossi. The 26-year-old credits her parents, whom she says laid a foundation for her to question the status quo.

“They helped me realize that there’s nothing wrong with me, and I don’t need to change myself to make other people feel more comfortable,” says the size-26 Rossi, who lives in San Francisco and is a moderator on Fatshionista.

“In our culture, people think women’s bodies are subject to comment. But I have lots of people who are supportive of me and a loving boyfriend. I know that I’m not alone.”

While size acceptance is important, the risks associated with being overweight or obese aren’t going anywhere, doctors say. The American Medical Association defines a person of normal weight as having a body mass index between 18 and 25.

“If you’re in that range, you are far less likely to suffer from hypertension, coronary artery disease, or diabetes, which are leading killers of people in this country,” says Amanda Williams Calhoun, a Richmond, Calif., gynecologist and medical director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

But, Williams Calhoun adds, BMI is a starting point. When she meets overweight patients, she tries to understand what – genetics, a sedentary lifestyle – led to their weight issues.

Then she asks women five questions: Are you exercising four to five days per week? Are you eating a balanced diet? Is your blood sugar normal? Is your cholesterol normal? Are your periods normal?

“If they answer yes to all those questions,” she says, “then I am really not that concerned about how much they weigh.”

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