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Fat Activism, Fat Trauma And The Far Too Familiar Fuckery of HAES Australia.

If I can say anything about what has happened over the past few weeks, it’s that 1. I’m absolutely not surprised, 2. These instances of harm should never have happened, and 3. The perpetrators of this harm absolutely need to be held accountable.

This isn’t just a US problem, or a North American problem, this has been, and continues to happen in our own backyard here in Australia. I get the impression that the folks from HAES Australia are so renowned on an international level, and appear to be doing to much “revolutionary” work, that the wool has quite literally been pulled over everybody’s eyes.

The issue here is institutional power. The issue here is who holds this power. The issue here is how this power is being used and abused. The issue here is that it’s ALWAYS folks with the most amount of privilege who wield such power and use it in such ways to abuse, exploit, steal from, gaslight and absolutely, horrendously cause harm towards marginalised folk. In particular, fat, black, queer and disabled folk.

I stand in solidarity with Mikey, with Lindley, and with Veronica for all coming forwards with their experiences of harm with Lindo Bacon. I stand in solidarity with Barbara for coming forward regarding her experience of harm with Jennifer Rollin. I stand in solidarity with every single person who has been harmed, exploited or abused in some way, but don’t have the courage to come forward. This doesn’t start and stop with Lindo.

Members of HAES Australia have harmed me personally, and have been responsible for the bullying, harm and mistreatment of a number of prominent fat folk (two of which were founding members of HA) eventually ousting every one of us and ensuring that we were not welcome anywhere near the organisation. HAES Australia have made it EXTREMELY clear that they are an organisation focussed more on connecting with other elitist, cliquey, professional providers, as opposed to being focussed on advocacy and activism (unless, of course, it furthers their own agendas).

My experience dates back to 2018. Four years ago. HAES Australia were the perfect picture of "these are the kinds of folk I really want in my circle." I was relatively new to the scene and had gotten to know many of the prominent HAES folk throughout the year before. I considered them good friends of mine. Perhaps it was my deep desire to belong somewhere where my body was not the central focus, and perhaps it was my trauma and fawn response coming through, but all I wanted was to be liked, respected and recognised for the contributions I could make to the lived experience realm through my staunch advocacy and activism.

Things started to change and started to feel 'ick' during 2018. I began to see how different members of HAES Australia wielded both their power and dominance over those with significantly less privilege. This came at the expense of my own mental health - I tried calling out this harm when it was happening, and when things felt off, but I was often gaslighted, ousted and not believed. It left me pretty broken.

I was working for an organisation and facing incredible amounts of trauma and fatphobia throughout my time working for this organisation. I'd tried, on numerous occasions to arrange meetings with folk who I thought would give me the time and space to listen to my concerns, only to be ignored by the CEO for 8 weeks, and for the issues I was facing within the organisation only to continue to get worse.

Many of us Australian based HAES folk were going to be attending a conference together. This was an incredible opportunity for me, having been asked to sit on a plenary panel, and also having an abstract accepted with a great friend of mine and fellow fat activist. We were so proud of the workshop we'd put together and so many of the HAES folk were talking about how they couldn't wait to attend our workshop as it was based solely on the lived experience of folks in bigger bodies and this was something pretty revolutionary (it was a fucking amazing workshop, even if I do say so myself).

I presented what I needed to at my plenary panel on Day One, and on Day Two, we were set to present our workshop. During the morning's awards and proceedings, a prominent member of the field was being recognised for her contribution to said field. Upon some stealth googling by one of our 'friend group' in the audience, it came to our attention that this person being recognised was also set to conduct research focussed on reducing kinds' BMI through what can only be described as a starvation diet. This became such an incessant focus of a few of the prominent members of the group, to the point where it was bordering on an obsession. Myself and my fellow workshop presenter were expecting our group of around 20 folk to attend our workshop in the afternoon. Only ONE person from our group attended, and that was because we had asked her to live tweet our workshop. The rest of the group went to Clementine Ford's 'Open Discussion' where The Fast Track Trial (the starvation experiment) was still front and centre of everyone's minds. Don't get me wrong, I was gobsmacked too, and I absolutely was floored at the thought of this experiment, but despite this, I still would have supported my friends.

Members of HAES Australia were invited (at this conference) to consult with the organisation I had been working for, about how the organisation could be doing better, and how they could be adopting a more inclusive approach. All of this happened behind my back, and then when I found out, I was told with a sense of smugness and superiority from those involved. Every time (and there were many, often through tears) I expressed how hurt and disappointed I was that this meeting was taking place about issues that I had been expression and trying to convey for months and months, I was simply told, "well, at least they're willing to listen to someone." I can only assume that they were being paid for this meeting because one of them flew up from interstate. And I can only assume that I was supposed to be grateful that the organisation was 'listening to someone.'

Now, HAES Australia have made it abundantly clear over the years that they are an organisation for education and connection for professionals in the field and they do not perform advocacy or activism. So, when issues within the organisation I was working for started to get worse, I obviously turned to my 'friends' for support, hoping that because they had that 'in' with the organisation, they could actually use their privilege to create change. Instead, I faced silence. Silence and a refusal to get involved. Again, I can only assume this was because they did not want to jeopardise their newly found 'in' with this organisation. And I found out later that the organisation was also sending a number of staff to training held by two prominent members of HAES Aus, so there was significant financial gain there.

For an organisation that wasn't focussed on advocacy and activism, a hell of a lot of advocacy and activism around the Fast Track Trial was happening in the months to follow. I'm talking submissions to have the research shut down, media appearances, websites, numerous support materials etc. It's amazing how much advocacy and activism can be done when it's furthering your own clout, your own agenda and a sense of fucking superiority and savourism.

I tried, so many times, to bring this to the attention of the group. I wanted them to know that it felt like fat folk were being scapegoated and all of this was just solely to benefit the careers of those with significant privilege. There were numerous conversations being had. Numerous conversations that I now see as having been gaslighted and been told that members of HAES Aus were taking all of these opportunities to benefit fat folk. They weren’t. It was all for show. All to further agendas. All to further their own clout. All a tokenistic way of saying, “look how good I am. Look at how good an ally I am.” I call bullshit on all of it. It was showboating, grandstanding and virtue signalling, and the folk who were hurt the most - fat folk.

Nothing has changed since four years ago. Even following a meeting with some of us fat folk at the beginning of 2019 (which I believe was just a box ticking exercise) things STILL did not change. And the changes that were made were so ridiculously tokenistic, it's actually laughable. HAES Australia bullied and tormented two of their fat founding members out of the organisation, forcing them to resign. HAES Australia are far too focussed on how they can leverage their own privilege - they actually don’t give a shit about fat people and the harm that they continue to cause.

This is a very brief account of the goings on, because I’m also bound by organisational policy and I’m aware of not implicating any one person or people within said organisation.

HAES Australia have said nothing of substance recently in terms of the goings on and the harms in the HAES community (in which they have been absolutely complicit). Any calls to account have been met with ridiculous empty statements of 'support' that essentially read as a "how to protect your own privilege" manifesto. We keep being told that HAES Australia are having meetings to discuss the recent goings on, but we haven't yet been told what the results and the actual measurable actions HAES Australia will be taking are. We have asked for meeting minutes. We have asked for a recording of the meetings. We have been ignored. We have been told that "we are an organisation in our infancy." I call bullshit in this too, because HAES Australia have had so many opportunities over the last four years to listen and learn, but have they? Absolutely not. They aren't willing to give up and redistribute the power they hold.

It's laughable, really, that they had one of their Lived Experience Board Members reach out to those of us who have demanded accountability. Mind you, these 'invitations' to discuss how they could be doing better have come with the expectation that we, the fat folk who are being harmed by HAES Australia, will come to the party with all of the emotional labour, and that these conversations would be had offline, in private. I'm not interested in investing any more labour into trying to support HAES Australia to do better. They have had four years to pull their heads in and actually commit to doing less harm. I'm also not interested in having conversations behind closed doors - for me, everything now needs to be transparent. Taking things behind closed doors only reinforces the power dynamic. HAES Australia have held on to the power for far too long.

Members of HAES Australia still continue to steal intellectual property from fat folk and use it as a teaching tool in a workshop from which they benefitted financially (and when I asked the other thin, white dietitian from the US who was also involved why this occurred, this dietitian then posted an "I'm leaving social media indefinitely" post the next day. Wouldn't it be lovely to have that much fucking privilege to be able to walk away from being held accountable for not only stealing intellectual property, but also using it for profit and harming fat folk in the process. Other members continue to sell merchandise at their practice that isn't only fatphobic as all hell, but also incredibly racist. Another member of HAES Australia defended a white, cis man who was very clearly causing harm to a fat, black, disabled person when they came forward about the harm that Lindo Bacon had caused. I mean, this is the same member of HA that had also tried to explain to me that Brene Brown's fatphobia 'got better' during her Netflix special a few years back.

HAES Australia have continued to post their hot takes on social media about how much they’ve done over the past two years to address weight stigma within Australia. Again, virtue signalling and grandstanding for their own benefit. This was done under the guise of mourning the loss of Cat Pause. They “dimmed the lights” on their social media pages following the passing of this incredible fat studies scholar. Yet, when Sarah Harry, founding member of HAES Australia and incredible fat activist passed away this time last year, there was silence. They bullied Sarah horrendously. They made Sarah’s time so horrendously difficult. I had numerous conversations with Sarah over the years and the ways in which HAES Australia had treated us just about broke both of us.

HAES Australia are not who they say they are. They use fat folk as tokens to tick a box. They are only interested in furthering their own agendas. If there’s nothing in it for them, they’re not interested. Period. The fact that they don’t see advocacy and activism as part of their responsibilities as an organisation is beyond me, considering the fundamental tenets of HAES. It truly makes me question, considering the ongoing harm they continue to cause, whether they’re in breach of the conditions around using the HAES trademark.

So, in brief, unless you are a thin, white, well educated, able bodied health professionals with an extensive back catalogue of skills, academic contributions, media appearances or the like, HAES Australia will take what they need and throw you to the curb. I want accountability. I want transparency. I just want them to fucking do better.

I’m not staying silent anymore. I won’t be complicit in my own dehumanisation. And everybody needs to know just how harmful HAES spaces can be.


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