The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in 1969 and bills itself as “North America’s oldest civil rights organization working to end size discrimination.” It seems that they are considering a name change.
I received a copy of their May newsletter which read:
Life comes with very few guarantees but one of those is that things are going to change. Those of us who have been around for a while have seen tremendous evolution in our world. NAAFA has evolved to its present form in response to the changes in the world. Whether as an individual or as an organization, we must continue to evolve if we are to survive and thrive.
Over the course of its lifetime, NAAFA has undergone name changes in order to better communicate its purpose and goal. This is not a new idea but we believe that it is an idea whose time has come again.
NAAFA’s message is often obscured by the reaction of the public to the name National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Illustrating this point are the many rude and obnoxious comments following news articles online in which the organization is quoted. Many members refuse to read these comments because it consumes too many “sanity points” to do so.
With the pressure of society to demonize fat, organizations don’t look at common goals and interests, and disregard NAAFA’s requests for alliance because of our name. NAAFA needs to develop alliances and garner support of other organizations in order to further our goals in the civil rights and social justice arenas. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and believe this problem will resolve itself. For us to affect change, we must be taken seriously.
NAAFA recently entered into an agreement with a public relations firm to seek corporate sponsorship for NAAFA’s annual convention and on-going programs. Sadly, its efforts were fruitless and, in most cases, the corporations indicated their objection, not to the mission, but to our organization’s name. This firm has recommended swift action to change the name of NAAFA.
Our mission is EQUALITY AT EVERY SIZE. The NAAFA Board of Directors believes that it is important that the organization’s name reflect its mission and goal. What do you think? email@example.com
They’ve asked for thoughts, here are mine:
Full disclosure – I feel like I have a positive, if slightly complicated, relationship with NAAFA that I want to be open and transparent about. There are amazing people in NAAFA doing excellent work and I appreciate them and respect what they do. The organization was very helpful with the Georgia Billboard Project and other projects that I’ve been involved with, and I was a super workshop speaker at last year’s NAAFA convention. That said, I choose not to be a member of NAAFA predominantly because of the decision of the board not to hold elections at the National level. Their chapters are required to have yearly elections and term limits, but the National Board has neither, describing themselves as member funded and board run.
While they are, of course, allowed to run the organization like this, I just don’t personally want to pay membership dues and lend my name to an organization where I have no direct way to influence policies, decisions, leadership etc., and where the National leaders don’t hold themselves to the best practices that they demand from local chapters. Obviously the fact that it doesn’t work for me doesn’t make it wrong and I don’t expect that every organization will comport itself to my liking, and while I don’t want to be a member at this time, I do very much want to see NAAFA survive and succeed and I think that this name decision is an important one, which is why I wanted to write about it.
Mine is just one opinion and I sincerely appreciate their invitation to share thoughts before they make this major decision. Remember that they are currently giving everyone a chance to share their thoughts about the name change at firstname.lastname@example.org
As far as the name change, I’m a bit confused about the reason. Are they trying to stop rude and obnoxious comments? Is it because they want corporate money? Or is it that organizations truly don’t want to work with them because they have fat in the name? Or maybe all three? Let’s take them one by one:
As someone who runs websites for DancesWithFat, More Cabaret, the Size Diversity Task Force, I can tell you that, in my experience, any attempt at suggesting that fat people should be treated with basic human decency will meet with “rude and obnoxious comments” whether or not you actually use the word fat, so I’m not sure that a name change will do anything about that – for that you need to call the jackass whisperer and, try as I might, I can’t find the number.
If they are looking for corporate money I would suggest that, from my perspective based on what I read in the newsletter (and there may be information I don’t have here), it seems that they hired a PR firm which was completely unsuccessful, who then blamed their lack of success on the name of the organization, and recommended a name change. If that’s the case and if it were me, I would be leery of making failed salespeople into branding consultants, and might suggest that it could be worth it to try another PR firm.
If the concern is that other organizations won’t work with them because the word fat is in the name and, as they say “we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and believe this problem will resolve itself. For us to affect change, we must be taken seriously” then there are tough choices to be made. I don’t think anyone’s asking them to bury their heads in the sand and I appreciate the difficult situation they are in, but I also don’t think that “taken seriously” is the same thing as “backed down based on outside pressure”. There is a choice here as to whether the name issue is, in and of itself, an opportunity for activism; or if it’s better to change the name in the hopes of gaining cooperation from organizations who would otherwise refuse to work with NAAFA because of their chosen identity. Both are legitimate choices depending on goals, but I personally hope that they at least have the guarantee of that cooperation before making such a sacrifice – it would be a shame to change the name only to be given another excuse as to why cooperation isn’t possible.
The NAAFA Constitution states
We choose to use the word fat to describe ourselves in order to remove the negative connotations normally associated with larger-than-average body size.
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