The rhetoric around obesity is toxic. So I created a new language for fat people | Charlotte Cooper

I like to call myself and be called fat. I think fat is a political subject, and as such it feels powerful to reclaim words that are frequently used pejoratively

There are lots of words used to describe people such as me. Medics and their allies will use some Latin or Greek to make their language appear authoritative and scientific. According to them I am obese, or someone requiring bariatric intervention. By extension, in newspapers I am part of an anonymous population blob known as the obese.

If I go shopping for clothes I might be called plus size. If I meet someone who finds someone with a body like mine shameful, I might be euphemistically described as big or large. Others might try to spin this shame into something more positive and pretty, like curvy. If someone tries to translate my work, they might use words such as gordo, dicke, grasso, grande. In some places there might not be words for me, either because no language exists, or because some people relate to me through a lexicon of disapproving looks and disgusted sounds.

I like to call myself, and be called, fat. This is simple and descriptive and it feels powerful to reclaim a word that is frequently used pejoratively. I am a fat activist, which is a term that can mean many things, but for me it means that I think fat is a political subject.

Fat is typically framed as a health problem but health is not apolitical, as bodies of work in the social sciences have come to reveal. Debates about the NHS, and fat people being held responsible for funding crises, are just one area in which fat is a political subject. The social hatred and scapegoating of fat people can also be seen as political.

In my most recent book, Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, I argue that fat activism can be anything done by anyone for any reason. It is not necessarily about self-acceptance, improving health, developing self-love or addressing stigma though that can be part of it. It can be as much about joining organisations as tweeting; as going to a fat clothes-swap as writing and sharing a poem; as having a conversation with someone as presenting a paper at a conference. It can be weird, illegible, ambiguous and antisocial. There is no singular way of being a fat activist.

In calling myself fat I am drawing on a feminist practice of naming things in order to bring them into being. This means naming myself, on my own terms, and using language to define the world around me as I experience it. I do this because I think the experience of being fat is valuable. This is heresy to those who think fat people should not exist. But the view from the margins illuminates a lot about the shadow side of conformity, norms, and fears concerning embodiment and difference, and how these are manipulated for power and profit.

Earlier this year I published a homemade dictionary of fat activist words and concepts. I wanted to subvert the language of medicine and public health to give readers a playful glimpse of a subculture. Here are some examples.


A literary device that is irresistible to people writing about fat, especially journalists: piling on the pounds, fat fighters, weight watchers, and so on. Maybe they do this because fat is intrinsically funny to write about, not like serious stories or hard news.


The part of your body thats under your tits and above your privates. Can be any size, shape, texture, colour, levels of hairiness, sweatiness. A place where fat accumulates on some people. Sometimes flops around, sometimes is bold and stout. Sometimes makes gurgling noises. Sometimes has creases and stretch marks. Sometimes has a mind of its own and will not behave. A delightful, gorgeous thing, a source of physical power much maligned and fretted over. Important resource in gut-barging competitions.


A way of talking about energy that you get through eating food. An obsession. A pretty name for a girl child.


A fat athlete.


A person who is not fat. A person who is better-looking, healthier, more intelligent, more likely to succeed in life, sexier, more lovable and better to be with than any fat person. A very good and virtuous and normal person.


Fat upper arms that get more wobbly and loose with age. Source of power.

I created A Fat Activist Vernacular because I am interested in language and power in relation to fat people. The weight-loss industry is worth a fortune, and there is a lot of money and status riding on the question of who gets to define fat experience generally public health politicians and their friends and allies in the weight-loss industry and medicine. My preference would be that this is a subject for fat people to work out for ourselves by valuing and sharing our own experiences. But there are many others with vested interests in owning and wielding this information.

The language of fat activism, frequently raw and emotive when people talk about being objects of hate, is being appropriated and gentrified by academics and professionals, tidied up and made respectable, while ousting the originators. You can see this in the transformation of the activist term fatphobia into the blandly inoffensive weight bias, which is sure to make its way into policy sometime soon.

My own term, headless fatty referring to media images of fat people whose heads have been cropped out of the frame was also cleaned up by a prominent academic at Yale as headless stomach. What happens more often is that fat activist originators of language and concepts are not cited, and their ideas become appropriated and made respectable without anyone being the wiser.

Meanwhile, at the age of 46, I have found other ways of speaking about this subject. After embarking a few years ago on a lifelong ambition of becoming a contemporary dancer, in November I will be dancing a piece called But Is it Healthy? in the Wellcome Collections Obesity gallery. I get asked the question all the time and it is impossible to answer it in words, not least because fat people are a diverse group, health is constructed in myriad ways, and expert science is not incontrovertible. So I will dance the answer instead! This will be performed as a duet by Kay Hyatt and me to a soundtrack I have made based on archival recordings by fat feminist activists made in 1980 by Karen Stimson at the New Haven Fat Womens Health Conference. The speakers are Diane Denne, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran and Judith Stein; a recording of Marcia Duvall, also present on the panel, has unfortunately been lost. These women are founders of many of the ideas circulating in fat activism today, but they have been neglected historically. I would love more people to know about their work.

The dance emerged from a period of research in which Hyatt and I explored what it is like to be continually asked: But is it healthy?; it brings together years of activism, explaining, patient listening and deep frustration in response to this question.

Through dance I am developing a different kind of language, using my body expressively and encountering audiences who have been worn down by the rhetoric of the obesity epidemic for the past decade and a half, and want something different.

I hope that by watching us dance in the Obesity display at the Wellcome Collection, audiences will understand that there are other ways of talking and thinking about fat than those which have been dominant in recent years. It is unbelievable that fat people like me have to lobby so very hard to be seen simply as human. I hope the dancing, and its soundtrack, helps people recognise that fat people have community, histories, cultures, agency, thoughts and lives all of our own.

Charlotte Cooper and Kay Hyatt are performing on 4 November 2016 as part of the Friday Late Spectacular: Body Language at the Wellcome Collection

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David Hernandez

Miss Iceland quits beauty pageant for being told she’s ‘too fat’

Arna r Jnsdttir, who was told to lose weight for a beauty pageant.
Image: Uwe Anspach/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

UPDATE: Oct. 26, 2016, 4:16 p.m. BST The pageant president says organisers told Miss Iceland to lose weight.

LONDON Miss Iceland has quit an international beauty pageant after being told by staff “to lose weight for the finals” and that she had “too much fat” on her.

Arna r Jnsdttirposted her handwritten “goodbye letter” on Instagram, explaining her reasons for dropping out of the Miss Grand International event in Las Vegas.

“I am a very strong woman, but sometimes my strength isn’t enough,” Jnsdttir wrote.

My goodbye letter

A photo posted by Arna r Jnsdttir (@arnayr) on

“Your staff told me that I had to loose weight for the finals because I have too much fat on me and also to big shoulders [sic]. They told me to eat less and then you would like me more,” Jnsdttir wrote.

Miss Iceland also said the judges told her she was “too fat”.

Jnsdttir told Icelandic newspaper Iceland Monitor she was instructed to stop eating breakfast, to only eat salad for lunch and to drink water every evening until the finals.

“In my country my body shape is perfect. And that’s what I’m gonna remember. No one will ever tell me anything else,” Jnsdttir wrote in her open letter.

“I truly hope that the organisation opens their eyes because the year is 2016 and if you are gonna hold an international pageant you have to be able to see the international beauty,” Jnsdttir continued.
People have taken to social media to praise Miss Iceland for her decision to quit the pageant.

The president of Miss Grand International Nawat Itsaragrisil has since admitted that staff told Miss Iceland that she needed to lose weight if she wanted to do well in the contest.

She asked some questions and for suggestions from our staff which theyve replied according to what they think, she may be a little bit fat and they recommended her, in good way, to try to lose some weight in order to improve her chance to win, Itsaragrisil said.

BONUS: South African students speak out against racist ban on afro hair and win

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David Hernandez

She Tattoos Weight Goal On Her Tummy, Then Stuns Family With Transformation

Meredith Prince always struggled with her appearance. The 24-year-old teacher from Rochester, NY, was adopted as a child. The fact that she wasn’t a waif like the other women in her family made her self-conscious.

“I always knew I was adopted,” she said. “They’re small and I’m not at all. I just never felt like I fit into my own [adoptive] family.”

Prince spent years yo-yo dieting and at her biggest weighed over 400pounds. She knew she had to make a change.

After reaching out to Chris Powell, host of Extreme Weight Loss, she made her way to his weight-loss boot camp. Powell told Prince to lose 80 pounds in three months with just diet and exercise.

Prince lost 84 pounds. Then she tattooed her goal weight of 155 pounds onto her stomach. For the next year she devoted her time to healthy diet and exercise.

When she weighed herself, she weighed exactly 155 pounds. Her family was stunned.

“At the heaviest, I was over 400 pounds,” Prince said today on Good Morning America. “And here we are today at 155 pounds. It’s been such a journey.”

Prince’s hard work and dedication to herself is an inspiration to us all. See her stunning transformation below.

Due to restrictions, this video cannot
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David Hernandez

‘Lethal’ DNP diet pills still on sale despite crackdown, BBC finds – BBC News

Image copyright Parry family
Image caption Eloise Aimee Parry, 21, from Shrewsbury, died in hospital in April 2015 after taking diet pills believed to have contained DNP

Around 19 websites believed to be selling diet products containing a chemical linked to a series of deaths in the UK have been closed down.

The Food Standards Agency said the websites selling 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) were shut down in the last year.

But a BBC investigation has found hidden sites on the so-called dark web were still selling the products.

DNP is an industrial chemical licensed for commercial use but not for human consumption.

‘No safe dose’

In April 2015, Eloise Aimee Parry, 21, from Shrewsbury took diet pills she had bought over the internet. Later that day she was dead.

Sean Cleathero died in October 2012 aged 28, after taking an illegal slimming pill in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

His mother Sharon Ayres, said: “Why would people still want to take it anyway, whether they think there is a safe dose, because there isn’t a safe dose?”

Former Prime Minister David Cameron raised the issue in the Commons following the death of Sarah Houston who died in Leeds in 2012 after she had taken pills containing DNP.

Image copyright Ross Parry
Image caption Medical student Sarah Houston died in September 2012 after secretly taking slimming pills which contained DNP that she had bought online

The BBC investigation found a number of suppliers were marketing DNP as a diet product for human consumption.

A number of samples were bought online and sent for laboratory tests which found they contained about 40% DNP – a potentially lethal amount.

Jon Griffin, analyst for Kent Scientific Services at Kent County Council, said: “You’re not being able to control your body temperature, at 40 per cent that danger rises significantly, this has got some potential in there for very serious repercussions.

“Worst case scenario would be death.”

Image copyright Wikimedia
Image caption 2,4-dinitrophenol or DNP is a highly toxic and industrial chemical

What is DNP?

  • 2,4-dinitrophenol or DNP is highly toxic and is not intended for human consumption
  • An industrial chemical, it is sold illegally in diet pills as a fat-burning substance
  • Users experience a metabolism boost, leading to weight loss, but taking even a few tablets can be fatal
  • Signs of acute poisoning include nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, headaches, rapid respiration and irregular heartbeat
  • Consuming lower amounts over longer periods could lead to cataracts and skin lesions and impact on the heart, blood and nervous system
  • Experts say buying drugs online is risky as medicines may be fake, out of date or extremely harmful
  • The sale of DNP is the subject of an ongoing investigation involving police, Interpol and the Food Standards Agency

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized 1.4 million worth of unlicensed dietary medicines in 2015-16, 960,000 more than two years before.

Lynda Scammell, senior policy manager at the MHRA, said: “The internet offers access to a vast number of websites offering products marketed as ‘slimming’ or ‘diet’ pills.

“Many of these pills will not be licensed medicines. That means their contents are unknown and untested.

Chances are they simply will not work, but they may contain dangerous ingredients,” she said.

“The consequences for your health can be devastating.”

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David Hernandez

Harvard Called Lazy, Fat, Stupid in Endowment Report Last Year

Harvard Universitys money managers collected tens of millions in bonuses by exceeding easy-to-beat investment goals even as the colleges endowment languished, employees complained in an internal review.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Co., in a wide-ranging examination, zeroed in on the endowments benchmarks, or investment targets. Some of those surveyed said Harvard allowed a kind of grade inflation when it came to evaluating its money managers.

This is the only place Ive seen where people can negotiate the benchmark they get compensated on, read a representative quote” in the McKinsey report.

The McKinsey assessment offered an explanation of what it called the performance paradox at Harvards $35.7 billion endowment, the largest in higher education. Year after year, Harvard would report benchmark-beating performance while falling further behind rivals such as Yale, Princeton, Columbia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The April 2015 report, which has never been made public, spells out why the fund paid more than peers for lagging performance, as well as its managements strategy for shifting course. Harvard said it has since revamped its compensation.

Soaring Pay

McKinseys review took a rare, unvarnished look into the culture of a secretive organization, where employees and others complained to McKinsey of an inattentive board and complacent culture — in their words, stable, rather than smart, capital or, less charitably, lazy, fat and stupid.

As Harvards Cambridge, Massachusetts campus braces for possible budget cuts after a recent decline in the endowment, McKinseys conclusions are likely to raise concern. For years, faculty and alumni have complained about money manager pay, which they have called inappropriate for a nonprofit.

The consultants report focused on the five years ended June 2014, a period when manager compensation soared. During that half-decade, Harvard paid 11 money managers a total of $242 million, 90 percent of which was made up of bonuses, tax filings show. In the final year, total compensation amounted to $65 million, more than twice the amount five years earlier.

Harvards endowment has redesigned its compensation to further align the interest of investment professionals with those of the university, spokeswoman Emily Guadagnoli said in an e-mail. Because of under-performance in the most recent year, current and former employees will forfeit compensation that was held back in prior years.

The new plan ties pay to appropriate industry benchmarks and a significant portion is held back and wont be awarded for performance that isnt sustained, she said.

In the report, the consultants cited a representative quote from within the endowment stating that benchmarks are easy to beat, inconsistent and often manipulated. McKinsey summed up this sentiment in a PowerPoint slide: The benchmarks are considered slow rabbits.

People familiar with the report said some at Harvard considered McKinseys comparisons unfair because each school had such a different mix of investments and risks. They also took issue with the idea that benchmarks were manipulated.

Then Chief Executive Officer Jane Mendillo, who oversaw the endowment during the period McKinsey studied, had a goal of making the endowment less volatile after steep losses during the 2008 financial crisis. Even adjusted for risk, however, Harvards performance lagged, McKinsey said. Mendillo declined to comment.

Key Targets

Universities and other organizations with money managers must strike a balance when setting performance targets, according to Ashby Monk, who directs a Stanford University research center and is a senior adviser to the University of California endowment. Setting goals too high encourages excessive risk, while setting them too low results in overpaying money managers, he said.

Youve got to get the benchmarks right, Monk said.

Harvard commissioned the study after it promoted Stephen Blyth, a former Deutsche Bank AG bond trader from head of public markets to chief executive officer in 2014. McKinsey delivered a 78-page PowerPoint presentation, which was reviewed by Bloomberg, to executives and money managers.

Afterward, Blyth overhauled Harvards compensation and benchmarks, making targets harder to beat. Blyth stepped down in July after taking a medical leave. In December Nirmal P. Narvekar, the top-performing endowment manager from Columbia, will take over at Harvard. He will become the eighth permanent or interim chief executive since 2005.

Foregone Billions

In the five years scrutinized by McKinsey, the fund reported an average annual return of 11.2 percent, compared with Princetons 14 percent, Yales 13.5 percent and MITs 13.2 percent. Harvards relative under-performance cost the school $3.5 billion. Because of such results, McKinsey warned that Harvard could lose its perch as the worlds largest endowment to Yale within 20 years. On a 10-year basis, Harvards performance was slightly better, McKinsey said.

U.S. Colleges Amass Riches as Students Sink in Debt: QuickTake

The review focused on what endowments call a policy portfolio. It reflects the mix of each kind of asset a school owns — from stocks and bonds to South American timberland. The university picks benchmarks, such as an equity index, to evaluate the performance of the different investments.

Over the five-year period, Harvard reported that its 11.2 percent average annual return beat its benchmarks — its so-called policy portfolio — by 1 percentage point, a significant margin for a money manager.

Then, McKinsey compared the colleges performance to Stanfords policy portfolio, which it viewed as more ambitious. Had it been measured by the more rigorous standard, Harvard would have underperformed by half a percentage point.

Side Deals

In fact, merely running a portfolio of index-tracking funds – 65 percent in the S&P 500 Index and 35 percent in a government bond index – would have generated a 14.2 percent annual return.

During the financial crisis, managers took steps to move out poorly performing investments and adjust benchmarks, muddying performance judgments, according to one of the quotations from the survey: There were so many side deals cut during the crisis bad stuff moved out of portfolios and benchmarks adjusted individual performance bears little resemblance to fund performance and we somehow seem OK with that.

The McKinsey report singled out alternative investments such as real estate and natural resources. They make up more than half of Harvards portfolio, and McKinsey noted they performed strongly. At the same time, they were judged on benchmarks — particularly for natural resources — that were less aggressive compared with those at Yale, Princeton and Stanford, according to the report.

Highest Pay

In the five-year period, the university paid Andrew Wiltshire, who oversaw alternative investments, a total of $38 million, more than anyone else. Alvaro Aguirre, who oversaw holdings in natural resources like farmland and timber, made $25 million during the four years for which his compensation was disclosed. Wiltshire, who declined to comment, and Aguirre, who didnt return messages, both left Harvard last year.

During the entire five years, Harvard paid then CEO Mendillo $37 million, twice as much as top-performing David Swensen at Yale University.

The report recommended expanding Harvards internal trading operations, which it said had an annual cost of almost $75 million, including performance bonuses for employees. Harvard did so, but later backtracked, eliminating at least a dozen positions.

Thanking Klarman

Blyth, who headed public markets, including the trading operation, was paid a total of $34 million over the five years. McKinsey found that Blyths unit contribute strongly to the funds performance, and its benchmarks fell in line with the schools peers. Blyth didnt return messages.

The report also noted that some of the best-performing investments in the portfolio were picked years ago. They included Baupost Group LLC, the hedge fund run by Seth Klarman, stock-picking hedge fund Adage Capital Management, and venture firm Sequoia Capital, an early backer of Google and PayPal Holdings Inc. Thank God for Seth Klarman, one employee told the consultants.

McKinsey cited interviews describing recent commitments to strongly performing investments, such as Baker Brothers Advisors, a biotechnology stock-focused fund, as incremental, scattershot and lacking in conviction.

Consultants heard complaints about the board overseeing Harvard Management Co., the schools investment arm: The board doesnt ask the hard, searching questions around benchmarks and compensation.

Falling Behind

James Rothenberg, chairman of Capital Research & Management Co., the Los Angeles mutual-fund manager, chaired the board during this period. Rothenberg, who was also Harvards treasurer, died in July 2015.

Paul Finnegan, founder of a private equity fund, joined the board in 2014 and succeeded Rothenberg as chairman last year. Most of the current members of the board joined in the last two years. Harvard President Drew Faust was also on the board during the period and remains a member.

McKinsey said staffers were proud to work for such a prestigious college, which they said could use its name to attract talent and gain access to investments. As one of those interviewed told the consultant: Harvard shouldnt stand for mediocrity, but thats where were heading if this continues.

Watch Next: Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein Says He’s Surprised He Got Into Harvard

Lloyd Blankfein: Surprised I Got Into Harvard

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David Hernandez

How to support fat women in the time of Trump.

This month has been an especially taxing time to be a woman in America.

We watch coverage of the presidential race and see thin women talk about being called not my first choice and Miss Piggy. It is outrageous, and it is visceral.

A wave of shame washes over us. The memory of a strangers hands on our skin sends an electric charge through our legs, willing us to run. Blood rushes to our cheeks as we try to figure out where we would fit on a bleak one-to-10 scale. Would he call me a one? A zero? Would he reach back into negative numbers? Who else thinks about us, about me, in such reductive terms?

As a woman, this wondering is all too familiar. Often, it is forced upon us, a biting reminder of the simple mathematics of femininity that appearance only and always equals worth. It impacts every woman.

But this televised bullying frequently targets women based on their weight.

It made Miss Universe into Miss Piggy, one of many women singled out for gaining weight. So many women have been called fat these last few months and so few are.

Those of us who are fat know that this kind of name-calling is just the beginning. It is only the tip of the iceberg that has struck our shared ship. Fat women have seen the craggy mass beneath the surface, its sharp edges cutting us down to size every day.

It is horrifying that a man running to lead a nation would talk about women this way. But to fat women, it is not surprising.

As a fat woman, I know that Trump is only the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of a massive monolith of attitudes toward fat people. Humiliation of fat women happens daily, publicly, hidden beneath a waterline that can only be traversed by having a body within shouting distance of acceptability.

We feel the jagged edges of that iceberg in fat jokes in movies. (Whole careers have been built on pratfalls and fat suits.) We feel its cut when strangers give unsolicited diet mandates at the grocery store or when colleagues offer gym memberships to fat co-workers.

We have become accustomed to the rush of blood in our cheeks when our bodies are so readily commented upon by anyone, in any venue. The stomach that drops like a faulty elevator. The hollow echo of friends laughter at cruel fat jokes. The thudding heartbeat when a family member insists she shouldnt be wearing that about another fat stranger.

The way fat women are talked about is terrible. The way were treated is worse.

We know the sinking feeling of “grab them by the p***y.” Because some fat women have been and, upon reporting our assaults, have been met with disbelief who would want you? The horrifying logic of who would rape a fat woman is so ubiquitous some of us never report at all. Others of us havent been assaulted and somehow feel invisible in a culture that conflates groping and rape with affirmation. All kinds of women are sexually assaulted. Fat women are told were too disposable to be raped, even after its happened.

We didnt start with a presidential candidate who felt comfortable, all on his own, to comment on womens bodies. He has seen as so many of us have the aggressive, prescriptive, dismissive fate that befalls women who dare to gain weight. Hes got the backing of a whole culture that demonizes all women, yes, and fat women in particular.

The comments about starting a diet or joining a gym, the unchecked bullying, the harsh jokes and slurs hurled at fat women all of that softens the ground for this kind of public abuse. It comes from all sides: movies, politics, family, friends, workplaces, doctors. Its only from below that we can see the enormity of that slow, massive iceberg. Its only from close-up that we can see its razor sharp edges, only from experience that we can know how deeply it cuts.

Thin women are under immense pressure not to fall from the iceberg into the frigid waters below. For fat women, it is not a cliff to fall from, it is a boulder to be pinned under. You may not feel sure-footed you may feel your feet slip from time to time, may just be breathing at the surface but you are breathing. Fat women are drowning. And were drowning with or without a bombastic fat-shamer on television each day.

We dont just need you to dispose of the noisiest bully. We need you to challenge the culture that created him.

You have the key to the oxygen we need. You can chip away at the heavy, hurtful iceberg. You can interrupt others when they call fat people names or pass judgments on their health, relationships, appearance, or value. You can talk to family members who offer unsolicited advice on dieting, exercise, fashion, or health. You can stop seeing movies with actors in fat suits, stop listening to comedians who target fat people.

You can ask better of those around you. You can do better for yourself and for the women you know. Because targeting women for their weight hurts all of us.

None of us owes anyone access to the bodies we have to touch them, to change them, to criticize them, to cut them down to size. You dont owe strangers, pundits, or politicians your desirability. Your body is not a debt to be paid, not a problem to solve or an albatross to carry. Your body is yours.

All you need to do is have the body you have, keep yourself safe, and build the momentum of your own goodness. Feel it whirring away inside you. Fuel its engine. Remember who you are, regardless of the body you have.

You have the extraordinary strength of character that only comes from living in a culture that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge you, much less affirm you. You have an unparalleled ability to empathize and to know just how essential empathy is. You know the difference between the abundance of love and the mirage of desire. You know that desire leaves you with less; you know how to give the kind of love that makes us all whole.

You have the extraordinary love of friends, family, and partners many of whom are learning to love you in their actions as they love you in their hearts.

Its going to take all of our warmth to melt this iceberg. Thankfully, all of our hearts are furnaces. Now lets get to the hard work of firing them up.

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David Hernandez