The Moment came when Mike Wallace took over a Sunday morning rap session and asked questions about discrimination and abuse. The response was electric and heated. The subject turned to mother-daughter relationships and suddenly one woman broke down.
"My mother is the only person who has never criticized me," Nancy Bierlin blurted out, tears welling and spilling down her face. "The only one."
The "60 Minutes" cameraman rushed from the other end of the room. "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Could you say it again?"
Bierlin complied, repeating the words with even more emotion. She sobbed into her hands, head bent hard, her 70-year-old mother looking on. The room became silent and Wallace quickly turned away. He had tears in his eyes. Several other women began to weep. Nancy Bierlin stands a little over 5 feet and weighs 200 pounds plus.
The subject was the plight of the fat, and the forum was the eighth annual convention of the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) - splitting the seams of the Crystal City Howard Johnson's and making media headlines nationwide. About 15 NAAFA members (there are 1,000 members nationwide) gathered this weekend to talk fat pride and, Lord knows, they had a lot to be proud of.
"Why do you like fat women? Wallace asked a 200-pound man who'd recently married a 375-pound beauty.
"I love the feel of a fat woman beside me. The ripples, the flowing back and forth."
Wallace: Are you serious?"
"Oh, he's serious, believe me," responded his wife.
"What do you weigh?" Wallace asked of the woman.
"Three-seventy-five," corrected her husband.
"He likes to brag," the wife grinned.
Wild laughter and applause.
Not all of it was hilarity, although everybody agreed it was beautiful. The people were beautiful, the center-pieces made by a waitress from a local Italian restaurant were beautiful, the rap sessions were beautiful, the HoJo staffers were beautiful. In the world filled with fat people, beautiful was the word of the weekend.
They came from California, New York, Utah, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania. There were about 100 women and they were drawn by a need to meet other fat people - a need to know they are not so different from everyone else.
The 50 men, most of them thin, were drawn to Crystal City by the women. These are what the fats call F.A.'s - Fat Admirers. They are the men the fat ladies wait and pray for.
For many of the conventioneers, this was a weekend of firsts.
The dance Saturday night was for a number of women the first time they'd ever danced.
"I tell you," said a short 220-pounder who distinguished herself at the formal dance by wearing the most plunging neckline, "I've never seen anything like this. Guys coming up to me, hands-all over, not taking no for an answer. The whole bit. You know, I'v just recently been divorced. I can't take this sort of thing yet."
"Talk about a mind-blower" said 250-pound New Yorker Jo Ann Marcus, her dark hair trembling as she shook her head. "It's the first time in my life that I've walked into a room full of people who aren't trying to lose weight.
"I can't remember the last time I went out," she added. "Yet I come here and I meet a man who actually likes to look at me the way I am.Who doesn't want me to change or lose weight."
For some it was the first time they were able to say how they really felt about being fat.
"What kind of love is it?" demanded Russell Williams. "You are saying to your child, husband, wife, sister, whatever, 'I want you change. I want you to lose weight. Do it because you love me.' And then the fat person doesn't lose weight. He stays fat. He can't lose the weight." he asked rhetorically, "Does that mean he doesn't love his mother or wife or whatever? He's failed, therefore he doesn't love her? Or maybe he's not going to be loved anymore because he failed? Think about what kind of an effect that has."
For the F.A.s who showed up, joining NAAFA meant that for the first time in their lives they were with a group of people who didn't view their sexual preference as a perversion.
"I was incapable of dealing with my preference," said Ken Wachtel, a dark, handsome, lean New Yorker with a bewhiskered face and receding hairline. "I didn't date until I was 25. That 's when I came out of the closet as an F.A. I was married to a lady who was too thin for my taste. She weighed about 200 pounds."
"Try bringing a fat girl home to mother," said NAAFA president and F.A. Billy Fabrey to an enthusiastic audience at one session. "Dating a fat girl is very hard on your psyche. You are made to feel ridiculous walking down the street with her."
"My husband is not ashamed of me," a woman piped up from the back. "He likes me for myself. Fat, whatever. He loves me for myself."
"Does he have a brother?" asked another woman.
Cameras were barred from the Sunday luncheon. "We never, ever allow people to take pictures of us eating," said Liz Fisher, NAAFA executive secretary. Although this weekend, as on most occasions, fat people ate no differently from the way skinny people eat, with a few exceptions, the rule was strictly enforced. During lunch the subject of food came up. A reference was made to eating out of terror.
"The fat person is so afraid of so many things," said one conventioneer. "Sometimes it's a job tryout. Sometimes it's thinking about coming to a convention like this. After all, we rarely go out in public if we can help it. We make our own little worlds and we stay there."
"The other thing about eating," offered another NAAFA member, Aldebaran, who looked thin at about 160, "is that dieting makes you always hungry. The fat person has always dieted, so the fat person is always hungry."
After the lunch, after the long afternoon speeches, after the fashion show by an Annapolis boutique for large women, after Peggy Williams came out in her wedding gown - 10 yards of flowing Qiana and Aubusson lace - it was time to relax. Cameras were allowed into the pool-side party for 15 minutes, but by 7:15, the sun was warming the evening and washing the HoJo patio into gold and good will. Romance took over.
Wachtel was billing and cooing with an enormous redhead. Nancy Bierlin sat by with her mother but focused hard on a slender F.A. from Rochester who was returning the attention. Couples paired off. The press left. The fat and the fat lovers were getting down to what they cared about and all the obstacles had been removed.
"I was at an Overeaters Anonymous convention once," Jo Ann Marcus said. "All the people were dieting, naturally. They were also like all these people. Fat. There were no thin ones, the lunches were carefully laid out and divided up. So much meat. So much salad. Low-fat dessert. They took care of it all. It was wonderful. There was such a sense of well-being. We were all doing something together. We were being strong. We were all trying. There was a sense of security.
"Here, everyone is fat, too. And it feels goo dto be with people who don't tell you you're ugly and have to change. But there's no security.
"You see, I have this fantasy. Some day I will be thin. I will not accept myself this way for the rest of my life. I will always diet because some day I will be thin. I won't ever let anyone take that away from me."