Deb Lemire is a revolutionary, a woman dedicated to helping others feel as good about their bodies as she feels about hers. Through arts and theater, advocacy work and volunteering, Deb has built up a presence as a size activist, challenging the old norms and fears of “obesity” and promoting a health at every size progressive mentality. While it hasn’t always been easy, she has built up an empire based on her creative production company, Queen Bee Productions, as well as her advocacy work for the Association for Size Diversity & Health. The birth of her beautiful daughter in 1997 has inspired her to take steps to create a more accepting and open world to the different forms of beauty that exist and a space for women who feel neglected by a lack of representation of their bodies. Furthermore, she is taking steps to create a more accepting future for her daughter. Please join me now for an interview with a woman whose presence can bring light into the room and whose laughter I can never forget.
Persephone Magazine: Hi Deb! Tell me about Queen Bee Productions, why you started it, and the organization’s overall mission.
Deb Lemire: I started Queen Bee in 1998. I studied musical theatre in college and worked in local and regional theatres. A couple months after I had my daughter in 1997, I was hired to do a staged reading on women’s right to vote for someone’s graduate thesis. I read the role of Susan B Anthony. While I knew who she was based on the paragraph or two in my high school history book, I had no idea the depth and strength of the women’s movement. Shortly after that I joined a theatre group, and we all pitched in ideas for the next production. I read and subsequently directed the play “Mother Wove the Morning” by Carol Lynn Pearson. The play brings to the stage 16 women from history, including Susan B.’s partner in the movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The play asks us to see the divine in women. I did a lot of research on goddess theology and the women’s movement, etc. I was hooked. Holding my baby girl and armed with this new perspective, I started QBP to use my theatre skills to bring to the stage issues that impact women’s lives.
PM: You are a proud size activist and are committed to the acceptance of health at every size. Can you tell us about this advocacy work? What are the goals? What are the obstacles?
DL: Working on issues of body diversity, privilege, discrimination, and stigmatization is not easy. I don’t think there is anyone who comes to this work without personal and too often painful experiences. So not only do those of us doing this work advocate for others, but we often are advocating for ourselves as well. And it is something I know I need to choose to do every day. I live in a fat body. I have always felt that my body was too big, and now when I look at pictures of myself from when I was younger and felt the worst about myself, I find that I was actually an “average” size person. That sometimes pisses me off. If everyone would have left me alone, I would never have diet cycled for 30 some years and would likely not be living in a fat body now. Then I wouldn’t have to struggle with the discrimination and stigmatization that is thrown my way. But as my husband and I like to say, “no wasted steps.” If the path of my life was different I wouldn’t have found HAESSM, and I wouldn’t love myself just as I am (not that we all don’t have bad days), and I wouldn’t be able to role model this for my daughter.
PM: You are also president of ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity and Health) a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated to size acceptance and ending weight discrimination. Can you tell us more about ASDAH and the work you do with them?
DL: I think the thing I love about ASDAH the most is the diversity of its members. We have members from academic, medical, social, and advocacy backgrounds. It makes conversations very interesting! The Health At Every SizeSM movement has been around for probably 15 years or more, but I think ASDAH has been able to put a professional face on the work. ASDAH works to educate and promote the Health At Every SizeSM approach. There are several interpretations of the HAESSM principles, and you can find ASDAH’s version on our website. But it comes down to a few basic truth: honoring the diversity of bodies, eating intuitively, finding joyful movement and physical activity with a goal of improved health outcomes not weight loss, and having access to good food and safe places to play. ASDAH has actively sought a seat at the table as our country discusses “obesity.” We have not been successful yet, but we are determined! We have drafted briefs for the Obama administration, provided representatives to the CDC forums, and collaborated with eating disorder and nutrition education organizations to provide guidelines to local and national government agencies.
PM: Where are we with the media and its treatment of size? The terms “obesity” and “fat” seem to be thrown around very liberally and often cruelly, and I want to know if you think we lack in size acceptance in mainstream media. Do you think it’s represented positively anywhere?
DL: We need to really look at what the agenda is behind any media blitz. If we all live in fear of fat (or aging, or sexual dysfunction, or war, or terrorists, etc.), we will be willing to do whatever it takes to relieve that fear – buy something, give up something, eliminate something, separate ourselves from the object of our fear. So who benefits when we desperately want to relieve our fear of fat and obesity? Answer that question, and we can begin to address what underlies the lack of size acceptance in the mainstream media.
PM: Do you think we as a culture can have a better dialogue about body privilege and recognizing when people are using oppressive language?
DL: Privilege is an interesting thing. We all step in and out of privilege every day. I think we have made progress, but I think we always need to be vigilant around the discussions of body privilege. Often we can get caught up with our desire to help others and overlook the barriers others face because our own privilege eliminates those barriers for us.
PM: You have a young daughter who is entering her teenage years. What are the hopes you have for her and her generation? Are there things you fear will continue?
DL: There is so much to hope for, and I work really hard on not living in the place of fear for my daughter, which is sometimes easier said than done! My hope for her and the upcoming generation of young women is that they get to skip the self hate, self doubt, and under appreciation of their gifts that our culture has imposed on women almost as a rite of passage. That they will intuitively know from the start that they are the strength of our species, they are the leaders, the warriors, and the light that will heal our planet.
PM: Any amazing upcoming plans that we can get hip to?
DL: Right now QBP is working on an art show and performance to benefit women artists local to our area you can find info on Facebook at HeART of a Woman. I am also working with ASDAH on how to take the Big Idea I presented at the ES Summit to the next step. And ASDAH has just announced its upcoming conference to be held in San Francisco in August”¦. No BODY Left Behind ““ The HAESSM Model: Ensuring an Inclusive Approach to Health and Wellness. Keynote speakers Linda Bacon (US) and Lucy Aphramor (UK) will present their research paper, recently published in the Nutrition Journal, that blows the lid off of the pseudoscience surrounding health and weight, and we will present the highly anticipated, complete and direct-from-the-studio, San Francisco Bay Area Premiere of Darryl Robert’s sequel, “America the Beautiful: Health for Sale.” I am a big fan of his first film “America the Beautiful” and am really looking forward to this look at how health and wellness information is hijacked by economic and political agendas. The film will be an excellent springboard for a long needed, critical conversation. Info is at our website, www.sizediversityandhealth.org.
2 replies on “Persephone Pioneers: Deb Lemire”
What a wonderful interview involving two obviously intelligent and passionate women. We are lucky to have Deb Lemire and ASDAH fighting to end size discrimination and to have Coco P. using media to spread this under-reported movement in our society.
Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz
Amen! I got to here Deb speak at the summit and I am definitely a fan! Thanks for the great article.