Fat-is-beautiful activist Marilyn Wann protests Japan's thinness law

It's nearly noon at Revolution Cafe in the Mission when Marilyn Wann begins her official Fat Crane count. “Matilda did … 34 beautiful fat cranes,” she says, sliding the vibrantly colored, folded paper birds into the yellow padded envelope that landed in her mailbox this morning. “We're on our way.”

Wann, the author of the book Fat! So?: Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your Size and perhaps the best-known fat activist in the country, has waged a campaign to send 1,000 fat cranes to the Japanese government. In Japanese legend, someone who folds this number of birds will be granted a wish. And, since World War II, the practice has been associated with world peace. Wann's mission combines the two: She wishes for bodily peace throughout the world. Her campaign, launched this month, comes in response to a New York Times article in June that described a draconian new Japanese law that requires companies and local governments to size up the waistlines of their employees.

According to the law, if overweight workers don't shed their excess inches within three months, they're given strict dieting guidelines. No luck after six months? Hello, re-education program! Employers whose workers fail to slim down will ultimately be slapped with hefty fines.

Wann found it shocking and sad that a country could attempt to stamp out all fat people. Her waistline extends well beyond the Japanese cut-off, and she's a happy, perfectly healthy, and productive member of society. Surely many chubby Japanese people are, too, right?

Wann knew immediately that she had to do something — and yet it took a while to figure out just what. “The article burbled in my mind for a while,” she says. “I actually feel guilty that America has exported our fat hatred pretty quickly around the world. I wanted to create a kind of peaceful event to counter it. The crane was an obvious symbol to me because I understand the incredibly peaceful symbolism they convey. And hey, I'm sure there are cranes of all sizes out there!”

But designing a plus-sized crane was no easy feat. Fortunately, Wann had a fat activist pal in New York who also happened to be an origami whiz. “I did some research and found out how to fold a fat origami sparrow, but no cranes,” Sandy Schaffer said by phone. After a few hours of experimentation, she deduced a way to make the traditional slender crane both wider and puffier. “It's more rounded,” she explained. “I didn't want pointy edges.”

Wann isn't yet sure how she and her crane-making contingent — which includes children in Sunday school classes in Ohio — will deliver the fat flock to Japanese policymakers. She just hopes they'll have an impact.

“People keep asking, 'What size paper do I need to use?” she says. Her reply? “'Whatever size you want, baby!' That's the point.”

Want to join the fold? Check out www.myspace.com/1000fatcranes

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