Junkfood Science: In memory

June 04, 2007

In memory

The Los Angeles Times today reports on the passing of Bettye Travis, a clinical psychologist who devoted her life to fighting discrimination against fat people and challenging popular myths about obesity. “The myth, that we have lived with in this country forever — that people are responsible for their size — is not true,” she told a reporter for American News Service in 2000. As she said, fat people are one of the last marginal groups that people think it’s still okay to make fun of. Her advocacy work included sharing information on the risks of bariatric surgery.

Bettye Travis, 55; activist for the overweight

.... She challenged conventional wisdom about being overweight. Through her role as president and a board member of the National Assn. to Advance Fat Acceptance, she stood her ground in debates with radio shock jocks and responded to criticism from the public in a bid to lessen the stigma and ridicule that come with being fat, a term she used with no shame.

Travis died May 7 after a long battle with cancer at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, Moreno said. She was 55. Personal experience led Travis to the conclusion that fat people were “one of the last marginal groups that are still targeted, that it's still OK to make fun of," she told the New York Times in 1999. Having lived through the crude jokes, ostracism and assumptions that “fat" equals “lazy" or “ugly," she set out to change the way society thinks about size....

In Travis' view, using the term “fat" was fine, part of her embracing who she was. But it was unacceptable for people to lose out on job opportunities, receive inferior healthcare or be denied access to facilities and services because of their size....

An internship at the Pacific Center turned into a 14-year tenure with a related organization, the AIDS Project of the East Bay. There she served as a client services counselor and was director of client services when she left in the mid-1990s. During her tenure with the National Assn. to Advance Fat Acceptance in the 1990s, Travis made sure workshops addressed issues of importance to children and parents, "so they will not suffer from the kinds of things we suffered from," said Frances White, who served with Travis on the association's board.

Travis was concerned about the parents of large children who were often assumed to be guilty of overfeeding or otherwise abusing their children. She was also concerned about the bullying and teasing that overweight children endure.

“We were taught that fat people are stupid or worthless, but we aren’t buying that anymore,” she told a reporter for the Boston Globe in 1999. “That is what we're hoping to get people to realize, that being fat is not a crime. It's what we are, and we are proud of it.”

A memorial gathering will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Salvation Army Church, 4600 Appian Way, El Sobrante.

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