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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, genderqueer 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 and 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. I’m not going into the details here, but you can read the essay if you’d like.

The essay includes a Zoom transcript of a call between the two of them that is pretty damning for Lindo. Probably the most shocking thing revealed in this transcript is the complete and utter failure on Lindo’s part to understand the basic mechanics of power, and the particular power dynamics between them and Mikey. Lindo, who could easily afford to listen and be receptive to some feedback about the HAES paradigm, clearly did not like being intellectually challenged by Mikey. Lindo’s subtle manipulation—attempting to withdraw the offer of collaborating in an attempt to get Mikey to then capitulate to Lindo’s demand for greater control, for example—is obvious to anyone with experience in abuse dynamics or toxic workplaces. Moreover, for someone who is apparently quite fluent in fat politics and trans issues, I was shocked to see Lindo claim that white people shouldn’t be expected to step back to make room for Black people in social justice movements. That is…not at all how dismantling whiteness and white supremacy work. While it’s true that, these days, everyone can set up a platform and pick up a virtual megaphone, it’s simply not the case that power can just magically be easily and equally distributed among all who show up. Lindo knows damn well that power is accorded to those with bodies who are most valued in society, and yet they acted with extraordinary obtuseness with Mikey on this matter.

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.

I am not a clinician and don’t consider myself to be part of the Health At Every Size community; I’m not a member of ASDAH (though that may soon change) and don’t spend any time on any online HAES group. However, I have cited Lindo’s work, relied on it in my writing and in my diet-recovery coaching practice. I own two of Lindo’s three books, bought during my own recovery from my disordered eating. My coach let me know before I read them that they were flawed; some fatphobia was still baked in to their pages, and the concept of “health” as an obligation fat people are expected to strive for was not adequately problematized. But there was useful material there that helped me immensely in healing my relationship with food and my body.

Although I’ve followed Mikey on Twitter for quite a while, Lindo’s fame, credibility and whiteness positioned them in my mind as someone I was sympathetic to. The ways in which my own whiteness and identification with power informed my reading of Mikey’s essay became clear to me in the hours and days after I read it. I started off thinking it was pretty unethical of Mikey to print a Zoom transcript of a call without Lindo’s consent. As I began reading the account, my mind kept wanting to jump in with but, but, but—wanting to give Lindo the benefit of the doubt, and wanting Mikey to have misunderstood something, or gotten the wrong end of the stick in her interactions with Lindo.

By the time I was mid-way through Mikey’s piece, however, it was obvious: Lindo’s words and actions were shockingly obtuse, invested in consolidating their own image and power, and disappointingly manipulative. I saw that Mikey’s choice to print the transcript was the act of a whistleblower working on behalf of a beloved community, letting folks know that the luminary that is Lindo Bacon was actually far more invested in their own career and brand than in the well-being of a much younger activist who was putting down boundaries around how she was being treated in a professional setting.

It’s the fact that Lindo appears to have a pattern of using their power against people who have so much less power than Lindo does 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.

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The stakes are very high for a lot of people in the Health at Every Size community now, especially 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. In the wake of all this, I understand the anger now being directed at thin, white practitioners of Health at Every Size who fail to recognize their power or simply give lip service to allyship. In fact, one of the observations I saw made today in a thread about this incident is that thin care providers should not provide coaching or support to fat people on the subject of body image.

At the risk of having a #NotAllThinPeople moment, I do just want to say one thing on this topic.

I do believe that thin allies are real. Very, very few of them exist—genuine ones, I mean. I don’t even know if I know any in meatspace; the few I can think of are known to me online. But I learned about weight stigma and fatphobia from a thin person. This thin person—my coach and colleague, Isabel Foxen Duke—literally changed my life, and for that I’ll always be grateful to her. She introduced me to rad fatties like Ragen Chastain and Virgie Tovar. She tipped me off to the world of fat liberation, radical body acceptance, and body positivity/acceptance/neutrality. She also introduced me to intuitive eating, Health at Every Size and the work of Lindo Bacon. She was the one who showed me that, in order to truly reckon with my relationships with my food and my body, I was going to have to reckon with my internalized fatphobia and the fatphobia baked into our society in our daily lives.

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.

This is why I do think, as a fat diet-recovery coach, that there is room for thin coaches and health care practitioners to provide safe and appropriate care for fat people. It’s true that thin people can’t know what daily life is like for fat people, and what our lived experience is really like. But I have to choose to believe that thin coaches and care providers can still equip themselves with enough knowledge, and be deeply enough in community with fat people, to intellectually and perhaps even emotionally understand what they need to understand in order to provide safe care to fat folks.

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 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).

But I know this doesn’t work for everyone, and lots of people have good reason not to trust thin providers.

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.

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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?

This situation has also caused me to want to follow in the footsteps of other white practitioners and more clearly state on a monthly basis what I’m doing to ensure my coaching practice is as culturally safe as possible. I’ll be doing that over on my social justice commitments page.

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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.

Does this situation mean that Lindo should be “cancelled”?* Honestly, the answer to that question is largely up to Lindo and how they respond. As of today, Lindo has not yet apologized, responded to what’s been written about them, or used their considerable power to create any space at all for being held accountable by the communities they have harmed. Instead, Lindo has virtually gone into hiding in the weeks since Mikey’s and other accounts have been made public. (All of that work around radical belonging, only to leave people directly and indirectly harmed hanging by a thread? It’s mind-blowing. While I can appreciate that Lindo may not want to slap together a hastily-written PR statement, having no response at all is incredibly damning and is continuing to perpetuate harm.) So Lindo’s failure to address and redress the accounts offered by those who have been harmed by Lindo might be the biggest disappointment of all. 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 body positivity/neutrality/acceptance and fat liberation.

*Let’s remember that being cancelled, aka being deeply criticized in the public sphere, rarely actually ever results in the ending of one’s career or livelihood.