Marianne Kirby is fat. Not a bit chunky, not pleasantly plump, but fat. Or, to use a more precise term, morbidly obese. Her five-foot, four-inch frame tips the scales at 319 pounds. And she’s OK with that.

Last year she posed nude as a calendar pinup to benefit a cancer charity. That experience further convinced her that her ample curves were worth embracing.

Kirby is part of what’s called the fat power movement – overweight people who denounce dieting, believe the alleged obesity epidemic is more hype than reality, and who work to protect fatties from discrimination and teasing. A recently laid off writer and editor, Kirby manages the widely read, Orlando-based blog
www.therotund.com, which she started in April 2006 to promote fat acceptance.

Leading the fat power charge is the 12,000-member National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which pushes for size-related legislation and more obesity research. Interestingly, the NAAFA began in 1969 as a social group for chubby chasers, but has since evolved into a civil rights organization.

Kirby and other fat acceptance advocates insist that the body mass index test, which measures your fat level based on your height and weight, is crap and only serves the financial interests of the health insurance industry since it can be used to deny some health care procedures, such as transplants, to those who are overweight according to that scale. (It doesn’t factor in body fat or excess muscle; by those standards half of the National Basketball Association is overweight or obese.) They frown on weight loss surgery and diet drugs.

In fact, Kirby refuses to discuss weight loss on her blog, instead touting the notion of “healthy eating at every size,” or the idea that being healthy isn’t synonymous with losing weight.

Still, she says, she has nothing against dieters. “People who want to diet can still participate in fat acceptance as long as they know we’re not going to congratulate them,” Kirby says. “That’s not one of our topics. When you’re trying to lose weight, that’s the opposite of fat acceptance.”

But Kirby and her fat power allies are losing ground throughout the world. Parents have lost custody of their fat kids because of their weight. Such was the case in California, where a mother who lost custody of her 140-pound, 6-year-old son in December. Every state in the country except Michigan allows companies to fire employees because of their weight. New Zealand has integrated body mass index into its immigration requirements and declines to admit people it deems fat into the country until they slim down to avoid overburdening the health care industry. Health insurance companies and politicians blame the overweight for skyrocketing health care costs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that obesity leads to an array of illnesses from stroke and diabetes to heart attacks and sleep apnea. Nationally, 33 percent of the population is considered overweight, according to the CDC. In 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said the country’s obesity epidemic would dwarf the threat of terrorism, memorably stating: “Obesity is the terror within.”

The fat power movement doesn’t buy it. They say weight is not an accurate barometer of health, and they claim that obesity has never been proven the primary cause of such ailments as diabetes.

Dr. Cynthia Buffington, a Florida Hospital Celebration obesity specialist, says nothing could be farther from the truth. “That’s totally, totally not true,” she says. “It’s definitely a major cause for many leading causes of death. Studies have shown that the more obese an individual is, the higher the morbidity risk and the higher the risk for death. It’s an exponential relationship.”

Buffington admits the body mass index test has flaws. The test isn’t appropriate for pregnant women or athletes, but she says it works for the general population.

Kirby disagrees. “No one is advocating eating cheese burgers all the time,” she says. “But we can’t go to the doctor and assume we will receive adequate health care and not be painted by the medical health care’s perception of fat. We deserve to be treated the same.”

But, she says, they’re not. For example, a week prior to our interview Kirby visited her doctor, only to be told that she should “make a head of broccoli last one week” – meaning she should embark on a near-starvation diet of only healthy foods – even though the doctor also told her that, overall, she’s in good health.

“You can’t watch TV without seeing diet ads or watch news without seeing ways for us to change the way we eat.” says Peggy Howell, NAAFA spokeswoman. “The climate in general is very fat-oppressive.”

Chicago-area blogger Paul McAleer, who has maintained www.bigfatblog.com since 2000, echoes that sentiment. His site, which draws about 65,000 visitors per month, is dedicated to fat-related news and commentary, such as disputes over whether or not fat people should pay for more than one airline seat, and the recent controversy surrounding former South Dakota state Rep. Ted Klaudt, who was recently convicted of raping his two foster daughters.

(In an interview with the Associated Press, Klaudt’s lawyer suggested that the ex-congressman’s obesity – he weighs 600 pounds – was partially to blame, because “when you’re his size you do your best to fit in. He really hasn’t been able to develop normally when we’re talking about sexual relationships or sexual desires.”)

McAleer wants states and cities to pass anti-discrimination laws; besides Michigan, Washington, D.C, San Francisco and Santa Cruz have done so.

The fat acceptance movement extends beyond such political activism. Some sites encourage fat people to embrace their bodies as beautiful, sexual things. Elsewhere on the web, plus-size pay and dating sites are plentiful. Closer to home, a retreat for up to 200 BBW (or big, beautiful women) is planned in Bradenton next month by a Michigan woman who hosts several BBW events.

Those things, and the fat power movement itself, revolve around a central theme: “You have to make a personal resolution to be OK with who you are,” Kirby says.

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