Social Justice

Reflections on the Lindo Bacon controversy

Updated March 27, 2022
Solid black background with green text that says Health At Every Size

In the past couple of weeks, a number of revelations have been made public about writer and speaker Lindo Bacon’s treatment of some fat and Black activists and thinkers who are, to one degree or another, associated with the Health at Every Size (HAES) community. Lindo, a thin, white, trans dietician, author, professor and speaker is most widely known as the author of the book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Their name is known by anyone who is involved in the world of body positivity and fat politics.

Mikey Mercedes was the first person to publicly come forward with her account. Mikey is a young, Black, fat and up-and-coming activist and PhD candidate at Brown. Her essay on her Patreon explains what happened when Lindo approached her about a potential opportunity to collaborate on a re-write of Lindo’s HAES book. The telling goes from fairly innocuous to confusion to downright stomach-churning.

Following Mikey’s essay, a number of other writers and activists in the world of fat activism and HAES came forward with their own accounts of Lindo behaving in inappropriate to downright manipulative ways. Lindley Ashline posted her essay here, and then compiled a list of other, similar accounts here, which you can go ahead and read.

Lindo appears to have a pattern of using their power against people who have so much less power than they do, and that is the most maddening of all. And of course, it’s a pattern of harm that had a lid kept on it for so long precisely because of Lindo’s prominence in HAES circles.

I am not a clinician and don’t consider myself to be part of the HAES community; I’m not a member of ASDAH and don’t spend any time on any online HAES group. In fact, I kinda have a mini-hatred for for the entire discipline of public health, and HAES feels in many ways like a response to that discipline. To me, HAES is one useful but flawed tool that I use in my coaching practice—nothing more, nothing less.

But for a lot of people in the Health at Every Size community now, the stakes feel very high. This is especially for those who are thin and white and have based their entire businesses on HAES-as-taught-by-Lindo, or those whose practice has been underpinned by subtle fatphobia, or those whose marketing has profited from their thinness.

The best teachers are those who can meet us where we are. As a coach, I want to show up for people no matter where they are along the spectrum of relating to their bodies—whether they are still dieting but are desperate to quit, or they’re long past the dieting stage of their lives but feel like hypocrites because they are still obsessed with their bodies. All along this spectrum are people struggling with dieting who hold varying degrees of internalized fatphobia. And I’m okay with that. I’m not impatient because they are all showing up to learn and change.

There will always be clients, fat and thin, who gravitate to certain coaches or care providers because they are thin; but there are also those who want to learn from and be cared for by those of us who are fat. It depends on what they’re looking for. For me, I want to be there for any client of any size because I myself have lived in this adult body in at least 6 different dress sizes. I have been on the spectrum of thin-ish to mid-size to smallfat, and am at the point where many would probably consider me medium-fat (these labels are all a bit slippery; others have written about this elsewhere).

More to the point, thin or not, to build trust and credibility in this space, it’s imperative for white providers and coaches to actively spend time building anti-racist practices into their work. The entire paradigm of Health at Every Size needs to be unpacked through the lens of anti-Blackness. This was already the case before this situation blew up, but now that we know that the loudest voice in the HAES movement has a problematic history, it makes the need to do this all the more urgent.

I do think the whole situation is a massive DON’T DO THIS list for white people and thin people involved in fat politics and Health at Every Size. The list includes things like:

  • don’t be wildly disingenuous when you approach “co-authors” to collaborate on a project. Do you want a co-author, a ghostwriter or a junior assistant who has a little bit of cred that can boost your own? Be honest.
  • for white people in particular: just be real when you approach Black people or Indigenous people or people of colour, and admit that you want to “collaborate” with them because doing so will give your project more cachet/cover for your lack of processing your white privilege
  • grasp that having Black co-authors/collaborators on your project doesn’t actually make you any less racist
  • when you do strike a collaboration with a Black collaborator, or one who is Indigenous or a person of colour, be aware of any power imbalances between you, and work to explicitly address how your collaboration will address, manage or dismantle that power imbalance
  • get familiar with the ways in which power operates, especially how whiteness and thin privilege work, even in social justice communities
  • for thin people in particular: fat people can see right through you when you’re being disingenuous. You make all kinds of little remarks that you think are innocuous, but actually reveal the limitations of your own political analysis and your obtuseness towards our lived realities as fat people. You may (unconsciously) think we are dumb because we’re fat…but we’re actually shrewd as fuck
  • for HAES practitioners: your paradigm is useful but flawed. Have you fully reckoned with the ways healthism can perpetuate harm and fatphobia for your plus size clients?

I want to be able to hold the both/and of this situation: Lindo has done a lot of good for a lot of people, myself included, and it’s also clear that Lindo has acted wildly unethically in relation to people they purport to be allies of. But I’m also achingly aware that my own whiteness is a lens through which I have read about all that has transpired this month, a lens that needs to be actively interrogated in each moment I’m contemplating it. So it’s possible that a both/and approach is actually inadequate.

My only hope is that something good will ultimately come of this, and that it will serve as a bit of a reckoning for those of us involved in anti-racist body positivity/neutrality/acceptance and fat liberation.