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Susan Stinson

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11:36 am: Testimony

My name is Susan Stinson. I live in Northampton, and I'm a novelist. In December 1999, I was invited by a local paper, The Springfield Republican, to write an essay. I wrote about attitudes towards weight in the twentieth century. One response was a letter sent directly to my home which, rather than taking issue with the arguments made in the essay, was full of gross assumptions about me as an individual. It said things like, "You have a belief that environmental pollution or some other societal ill will kill you so why not eat yourself to death."

I had published novels that centered on the lives of fat people, so I was used to articulating complicated issues in relation to being fat, and to responding in public to questions and concerns about them. But getting this particular letter was painful. It touched a nerve. I spent a few days in despair, and then I walked into downtown Northampton, and said to everyone I ran into who asked how I was, "I got a fat-hating letter."

Three of the people I saw on that walk, along with others, helped organize a speak-out against fat hatred. We collected more than five hundred names for an open letter against fat hatred. There were articles in the paper, radio interviews, The Healthy Weight Journal reprinted my original essay, and it was used in workshops and university courses. There were amazing acts of courage around the event, as many people spoke about fat hatred for the first time to their families, friends and co-workers. And it transformed my despair into active hope.

The point of this story is not the fat-hating letter, which, sadly enough, is the kind of thing that happens every day. And I strongly believe in freedom of speech. It's the response. My community, with the support of people all over the country, responded to a cruel thing, something people there perceived as morally wrong, and, by responding, completely transformed its effects. Coming from a wide range of perspectives, one of the things they made very clear is that concerns about health are never an excuse for discrimination. So I'm saying to you: discrimination based on height and weight happens. And it is wrong. Respond. Transform it. Pass this bill. Thank you.

Testimony, 3.25.08
Labor & Workforce Development Committee
State House, Boston, MA

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Comments

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From:amarama
Date:March 26th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Hooray, again.
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. I'm about to put it in the mail in a letter to the chair of the committee, so it's on written record.
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From:leah_puppette
Date:March 26th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
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i love you Susan Stinson!
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
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Goodness! Honored and pleased!
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From:meaning_making
Date:March 26th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
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Yes! I am sending confetti from Michigan.
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. You know, Mark Roehling, who is a Human Resources expert from Michigan who testified, was just so effective. He had done a survey of multiple studies of discrimination based on height and weight, and he was just so solid on having clear documentation that this happens with very little social stigma and alarming frequency.
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From:beccawrites
Date:March 26th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
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yay!
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
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Yay! It feels a little strange to be cheered on when all I did was draw on work that others had a big part in around the speak out against fat hatred, help navigate the confusing Boston driving (no easy task for us!) and, you know, just show up. As we know, others have worked really, really hard to make this happen.

But, I'll tell you, that showing up thing. It really mattered. The legistlator who ended up running the hearing was from Western Mass., and he thanked those of us who had made the trip for coming -- I think there were three of us. And if more folks from Boston who I know care about these issues had found a way to get time off from work simply to fill the committee room in silent support, that would have mattered, too. As it was, Rep. Rushing, the bill's powerful and persistent sponsor, noted that it was the largest turn-out for a hearing on this bill that he had seen in the ten years he's been putting it forward. And the room wasn't full. So yeah, showing up. It matters, for sure.

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From:liveavatar
Date:March 26th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
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You continue to rock!
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. I just wrote a long reply to beccawrites about how little I did, and how much it still seemed to matter, just to show up.
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From:daisydumont
Date:March 26th, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC)
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that's very moving. i hope the committee listened well.
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. Many members were absent, but the ones who were there really did seem to be having an experience that surprised and touched them. And there were staffers taking notes for others, too. I'm submitting my testimony in writing today so that it can be on record and circulated to the other members, along with everybody else's testimony.
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From:mermeydele
Date:March 27th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
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yayayay!!
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! And, if you're interested, see the comment I wrote to becca about how little I did and how much it seemed to matter, just to show up.
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From:plaid_is_best
Date:March 27th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
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You are fabulous!!!!
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for all of the warm praise on these posts. It's a beautiful thing, it really is. And, also, if you want to have time, check out what I wrote becca above about how little I did and how much it seemed to matter.
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From:hhholiday
Date:March 27th, 2008 05:28 am (UTC)
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you are the best. thank you again.
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From:susanstinson
Date:March 27th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I'm feeling like I'm holding a lot of this praise as if it's going through me, trying to let it sustain me in what I need to do next, which, right now, is go buy some oranges because I came home with a cold, and then more on and focus with intensely but -- what? with agility? playfully? feelingly? something that's not just intense -- on the end of this phase of revision on the novel. It's hard to go back and forth between worlds this way, but it's absolutely what I need to do.

And it's also very clear to me that it was really important to show up. (I said more about that to becca above). And also, what I started to say about the praise, that so many people, I think of Sondra and Marilyn and Beth Denny and Rep. Rushing and all the folks who flew from all over the country and have the intellectual and moral courage to believe their own experiences or the data or observations are telling them, whether or not it fits with prevailing cultural beliefs or was what they expected to find -- so many people have done so much work around this with so much more effort and risk than appreciation, that any praise coming through this blog has got to keep circulating out to them, and back to all of you, for it to feel alive and real and right to me. You know?

And, yeah, again, thank you.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 30th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)

Great letter!

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Hey, Susan, that's a great letter to your rep! At this point, individual e-mails and phone calls could make a huge difference in whether or not Massachusetts adopts legal protection against height- and weight-based discrimination.

Thanks for inspiring others to make a difference!
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