The 2020 Edition of Weight Stigma Awareness Week (WSAW) took place between September 28 and October 2. The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) under the leadership of Chevese Underhill Turner, started the WSAW in 2011. WSAW is intended to bring much needed attention to the issue of weight stigma and weight discrimination as they impact eating disorders.

With regard to weight stigma, The Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s published a clear and direct message:

“Weight stigma and the discrimination it is used to justify are common, negatively impact the health of all people, and are particularly harmful for those living in larger bodies. Experiencing weight stigma contributes to depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Weight stigma in healthcare and physical activity settings impedes access to these settings, leading to their avoidance. Weight stigma also creates the conditions that render people vulnerable to exploitative marketing tactics. For example, marketing of tobacco, diet products, and highly processed foods with low nutritional value is designed to drive up profits while driving down the health of struggling communities.

Weight stigma is also a significant risk factor for eating disorders. The more a person takes negative messages about body weight to heart, the more likely they are to develop an eating disorder, regardless of how much that person weighs. Stigmatizing messages about body weight come from mass media, educators, bullies at school, fitness professionals, prospective employers, landlords, and businesses. And they can also come from public health and healthcare professionals.”

STRIPED’s position is direct. Intelligent. To the point. It provides a common rallying point. An issue to be embraced by all. A vision, a mission, a reality bigger than any one person. And yet, embracing this vision is so elusive.

WSAW 2020 epitomized 2020 in a nutshell. It will be remembered for its divisiveness, rancor and emotional, reactionary messages. WSAW 2020 will be known as the time when the important message behind weight stigma took a back seat to a significantly lesser issue. The Power of the Message behind weight stigma was not only completely lost, but was not even articulated by people who claim to have been most impacted by weight stigma. As a result, the eating disorder community was cheapened.

The failings of WSAW 2020 centered on the eating disorder community’s failure to recognize that we as a society can only make progress, that we can only accomplish great and mighty things when we embrace the Power of the Message, and not the Image of the Messenger.

Chevese Turner, who occupied the role of Chief Policy and Strategy Officer for NEDA after the merger of BEDA and NEDA in 2018, was let go by NEDA in the weeks leading up to WSAW 2020. And NEDA, as it was expected and entitled to do, carried forward with WSAW 2020.  However, neither NEDA nor Ms. Turner issued a public statement on the ending of this employment relationship.

Since no statement effectively addressing the termination of Ms. Turner’s employment was issued, the confusion, rancor, anger and push back from a number of people was not surprising and was not unexpected. Some of the reaction on social media included the following:

Kaylie Bucaro Is anyone going to answer our questions about your lack of inclusivity? And lack of credit to the creator of WSAW (aka the reason this event was created)?

Meghan Cichy Looking forward to NEDA’s response on how they plan to address their organizations weight stigma.

Hanna Boleman Why did you fire Chevese Turner and then take over her project???

Hanna Boleman Why did you unjustly fire Chevese Turner?

Beckie Hill Is this ED prevention in ALL bodies? Including fat, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ etc? I’m confused. You have yet to respond to my, and hundreds of other people’s requests around Chevise. Joslyn is now gone, as is your ambassador (Ragen). Which bodies are you asking US to request for? Given your continued silence, I am left to assume it is not my body or bodies like mine.

Lisa Jennette Du Breuil Continued silence about why you fired Chevese Turner is sending a crystal clear message about who you really value, NEDA. So disappointed.

Ellyn Silverman Linnetz Will not be doing anything unless you are transparent. All bodies are meant to be included. Not fired and bullied like you have. Lost credibility in my eyes.

Bethany Constien Wheeler How can we prevent eating disorders if organizations, like NEDA, aren’t willing to take responsibility for perpetuating body oppression of marginalized bodies?

Hanna Boleman Can you explain more about how you support bodies in all sizes and shapes experiencing eating disorders? Why did you fire Chevese Turner?

Eating as a Path to Yoga NEDA, please deal with your internalized fat phobia.

Maeve Fickes NEDA are you going to address what happened with Chevese Turner? If not, this is the most hypocritical video

Rebecca Scritchfield NEDA…. As a thin cis het helping pro, I am trying to find ONE fat person who supports your recent firing of Chevese Underhill Turner without explanation and using #WSAW2020 without crediting her or BEDA as originators. It’s sad because people deserve activism but it must be authentic, and led by the people you purport to help. What you’re doing is hollow and hurtful.

Rachel Millner NED it is important for your readers to know (and you should be stating this) that weight stigma awareness week was created by Chevese Turner founder of BEDA and taken over by NEDA only after the merger.

Weight stigma should matter to everyone- including NEDA- and you need to take accountability for the weight stigma you perpetuated by firing Chevese and now promoting WSAW as if it were your own.

As an organization, you need to do your own workaround weight stigma. If you eliminated weight stigma in your organization, it would go a long way in eliminating it in the field.

Megan L Mills Fat babe here saying: Check yourselves for weight stigma in YOUR OWN ORGANIZATION NEDA!

Ellyn Silverman Linnetz NEDA …. unfortunately I do not associate this Awareness Week with your organization. You do not represent those that are oppressed. When you do… you will need to earn back trust and loyalty.

Megan L Mills Until a statement is issued with full transparency on how they intend to address the weight stigma in their own administration, I cannot and will not support NEDA.

Kristen A. Hardy An event on bias against fat people, featuring all thin people? Sounds like NEDA!

Julie Duffy Dillon Until NEDA provides more transparency on what happened with the firing of Chevese Turner—the person who created Weight Stigma Awareness Week—I consider it a harmful organization and will not recommend it.

Lisa Jennette Du Breuil Until NEDA offers a public explanation for why Chevese Turner was let go from the organization, I’m not participating or promoting #WSAW. Do Better NEDA

Meghan Kacmarcik Seconding the comments above – we demand transparency. It is it deeply troubling to me that NEDA has decided to become to ambassador for WSAW when they chose to let Chevese (the creator of WSAW!) go, still with no explanation or answers. Even more troubling is the fact that most people on the panel about weight stigma next week are in smaller bodies. Who is leading the charge on this? Is it a person in a larger body? Is it a person who has had the lived experience of weight stigma? Considering the lack of people working for NEDA who live in larger bodies (one, if I’m not mistaken), the answer is probably no. I no longer feel safe recommended NEDA as a safe resource for clients and I will no longer be referring anyone there until we have answers. It feels like NEDA cares about using buzzwords but not actually doing anything to combat the deadly impact of weight stigma.

Beckie Hill This is NOT YOURS!! This event was started by someone you parted ways with and have yet to issue any statement about. I’m disgusted and angry at you NEDA!

Angela Meadows How dare you take credit for WSAW? This was Chevese Underhill Turner’s labour of love that she built up from nothing. WTF NEDA? This is a disgrace.

Amy Blackmore How do you expect anyone to take you seriously with your dismissal of the very person who started this event, Chevese Turner? You have done so much damage with this move. Unbelievable.

This was an outpouring of anger, of indignation, of recrimination, of fear, of resignation. And this articulation of negative energy was not even directed at society’s ignorance of weight stigma. No. The very week when the Power of the Message regarding weight stigma should have been elevated to one all powerful, unified, “we stand together as one and shall be heard” voice, it was drowned out by a cacophony of crowd noise regarding one person. The Power of the Message was forgotten. The Power of the Message was lost. And People who Lead do not allow that to happen. In fact, for People who Lead losing the Power of the Message is inconceivable.

Consider John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address and his knowledge that a democracy thrives only when citizens contribute their talents to the common good. Persons who Lead inspire citizens to acts of sacrifice. When President Kennedy exhorted us to “Ask not, what your country can do for you,” he appealed to our noblest instincts. He was voicing a message that we were eager, and needed to hear. He lifted our spirits. He recognized that it was the importance of the message that speaks to us.

In 1987, President Reagan, in his famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech extolled a message far greater than him, “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace … Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

Admiral William McRaven, who in a commencement speech given at the University of Texas said these powerful words, “So, if you want to change the world, start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are the toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never ever give up, if you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here, will indeed have changed the world for the better.”

Powerful messages and righteous causes appeal not just to our intellect, but to our hearts, our souls, and the very essence of our life. Those messages and causes inspire us to take action, to improve society, to help those who cannot help themselves. True persons of wisdom and insight recognize the power of the message and have the ability to remove themselves from the equation. They instinctively know it is not about them. And they act accordingly.

On the first day of WSAW 2020, the following message was posted on social media:

 (9/28/20) “NEDA just sent out an email to its list that talks about Weight Stigma Awareness Week.

I want to be very clear that Wendy advocated for BEDA to take on weight stigma as one of its pillars and had the idea for WSAW. I acknowledged her for this reason — it was her continually advocacy to have the organization begin telling the story about weight stigma and eating disorders.

But I also want to be clear that the board of directors and I founded the week. I did the programming and did the labor. It was an important effort between me and the board of directors. [emphasis added]

I’m sorry that NEDA feels it has to try to minimize my role because it is getting negative feedback from the community who knows who I am and what I stand for. [emphasis added]

Its author? Chevese Underhill Turner.

The remainder of WSAW 2020 was defined by acrimonious messages, demands, threats, resignations of both paid and volunteer positions and naïve calls for reinstatement. The social media posts previously referenced represent but a taste of the acrimony.

Now, imagine if the message on September 28 had been different. Imagine if that message was more along the lines of:

“Weight Stigma Awareness Week is upon us. And collectively, we must come together as one. We must speak with one mighty voice. Weight stigma is bigger, much bigger than any one person. Weight stigma has hurt so many in our community. And unless we find a way to put our differences aside, unless we find a way to send a powerful, impactful, passionate message that resonates not just within our community, and not just within the medical and mental health community, but mainstream society as a whole we will continue to fail. Whatever differences which may currently exist between NEDA and me are insignificant when compared to the seemingly insurmountable challenges which lie ahead. Embrace the message! Write the person who represents you in Congress. Send our powerful message to every school board, every city council, every medical and mental health association. Send our powerful message to every parent organization. Send our powerful message to every governor and mayor. Send our powerful message to every political group and to all media outlets. Our voices must be heard. Our powerful message … weight stigma must and will be eradicated will echo across our great land.”

Two very different messages. And those messages illustrate the differences between “a leader,” and “a Person who Leads.” A leader is merely a person who holds a position of authority. They are a “boss.” It is the spot in the hierarchy of the workplace providing authority. In essence, a leader is an authority figure because of a title. A leader leads through bullying or by excluding people who do not agree with him/her. Anyone can be a boss.

On the other hand, a “Person who Leads” receives his or her authority from within, an internal place. A title doesn’t make anyone a Person who Leads and those persons can show leadership even if they are lower in the workplace hierarchy. It is inherent. People follow a Person who Leads because they believe in that person’s innate ability to take charge and change things in a positive, direct, progressive manner. A Person who Leads assumes a place of authority because they are able to communicate their vision honestly and with transparency and inspires others to follow. Persons who Lead do not demand authority. To the contrary. Persons who Lead not only listen to, but welcome voices who disagree with him/her. Authority is bestowed upon them through acclimation. Humility and a servant mentality are their sword and shield. Persons who Lead understand the Power of the Message.

The eating disorder community just missed another incredible opportunity. An opportunity to bring collaboration and healing from the depths of despair and acrimony. An opportunity to learn, to understand that the Image of the Messenger is more often than not, an impediment to growth and progress.

The Power of the Message is about humility. The Power of the Message is about love.  The Power of the Message is pure and open, honest and transparent. The Power of the Message overshadows pain and anguish, jealousy and greed, ego and self-absorption.

The Power of the Message.

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