386,170 Unhelpful Things

I recently undertook  a decidedly unscientific experiment to catalog a sample of what messages I get about my body from the world around me in a 24 hour period.  Instead of posting specific examples (because I heard some ugly things that I’d rather not repeat), I’ve decided instead to group them by category.  I looked at the data and drew more than conclusions – I drew a new approach to my online personality and communications (more about that in a minute).

I chose a typical day – I went to the grocery store, I was on the internet for business and for personal surfing, I drove for a couple of hours with the radio on.  I was on Facebook and Livejournal.  I don’t watch regular TV (with commercials) so there is none of that.  I purposefully didn’t go to any websites that were specifically about weight or weight loss, any comments that I read were attached to news stories that had nothing to do with weight or weight loss (for example, unprovoked what I can only call  fat bashing abounded on articles about healthcare legislation that had nothing to do with weight).  I only included examples that stated things outright (so I did not include, for example, magazines with page after page of thin models, even though I think that sends a  pretty strong message that thin is the only body type that is beautiful). Examples are only counted in one category.

Here are the top-sheet results:

  • Messages stating that it is impossible to be healthy at my weight:  217
  • Messages stating that my weight makes me unattractive:  123
  • Messages stating that I am lazy and don’t exercise/don’t exercise enough, lack will power, or am not “in control”:  311
  • Messages stating that I need to reach a specific BMI to be healthy:  36
  • Messages stating that I am a drain on the health care system:  116
  • Messages stating that I have poor eating habits:  84
  • Messages suggesting that I should be “repulsed by my weight” [used those words specifically]: 19
  • Messages calling me a derisive name:  152
  • Messages saying something positive about people with large bodies:  3
  • Messages that specifically shouted down those 3 positive comments: 231 (these are included in the categories above so they are not added into the total below)

Let’s review:

  • Total messages about my body:  1061
  • Total negative messages:  1058
  • Total positive messages:  3
  • About 353 negative message for each positive message.

If we extrapolate, I have been receiving:

  • 7406 negative messages about my body each week
  • 31,740 negative messages about my body each  month
  • 386,170 negative messages about my body each year

Now it’s audience participation time…

Do you think that hearing 386,170 negative messages about my body makes me more likely to:

a.  appreciate my body in a way that makes me want to take good care of it

b.  become a silent monk living in the mountains with no technology

c.  hate myself and feel like a failure who doesn’t deserve to be treated well by myself or others

d.  b. and c., but not a.

If you answered d, you get the prize because in so many cases you would be correct.

Here’s the thing though, the answer for me is a.  Based on my BMI (and don’t get me started about why that is a crap measurement)  I am Type III – Super Obese.  I am as fat as you can get on the BMI scale.  I am also in perfect health (just had my cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, etc. checked on two days ago).  I have an amazing, active life.  I workout about 25 hours a week, dance competitively, and love getting up in front of a crowd of people.  I appreciate my body and I treat it well.  I date.  I have friends.  So why am I so unaffected by these messages when I see so many people who are emotionally crippled by this onslaught of negativity?
I think the answer comes down to self-esteem.  Mine seems to be intrinsic – it comes from inside of me. I don’t look for outside approval to make me certain that I am a good person, worthy of love and success.  I see my self-esteem as precious and am committed that the self-righteous people who make assumptions and judge, and the  beauty/diet/plastic surgery/etc. industries can have my self-esteem when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

So, what is my new perspective?  In looking back at my own blog as well as  the comments that I leave on other blogs, new stories etc.,  I notice that I spend a lot of time addressing some of the 386,170 messages.  While I think that it’s important to expose what’s going on , I also feel that  a better use of a lot of my time from now on is adding to the 3 positive comments.  Showing that there is another option – that you can opt out of a culture where people make assumptions and judgments and try to make you feel bad about yourself so that they can feel superior (or at least better about themselves), or convince you that buying what they are selling will make you love yourself.  We are all intrinsically amazing – and we all deserve to love and cherish ourselves and our bodies and be respected by others – just as we are, right this second.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 7:41 am  Comments (47)  

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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a wonderful post! Thanks for doing the math for all of us. I agree adding to the 3 is a good thing to keep in mind.

    • Thanks Krissy! I checked out your blog – what a neat concept. I especially love the “Neat Trick” picture, and the “love” postcard was really touching.

  2. It’s been a while, but it’s good to see you keeping up your stuff.

    The only valid reasons (in my mind) for worrying about weight are health (standard checks you mentioned above, though don’t forget a heart test every few years, which -everyone- should get), and self esteem which I am pretty sure you are good with. Other than that it’s kinda silly, and mostly to promote stupid ideas- health is the only really counterarguement to weight and thats’ mostly because people eat horrible food.

    Good luck to you, and my blessing. Glad to see you’re still kicking ass.

  3. ragen, you are badass and such an inspiration. great post!

    • Thanks Carrie! I’m glad that you liked it, and right back at you on the inspiring bad-ass!

  4. There is no money to be made telling women they are beautiful and healthy just the way they are. How many messages could one count in a 24 hour period stating they are accepted and appreciated for the way they are, that no products are needed to improve their appearance or value?

    What a shame no one has been able to bottle and sell intrinsic self esteem. Good for you!

    • Hi Melissa! I’m have a project about intrinsic self-esteem that is in the planning stages now! I checked out your website and I love the work that you are doing for girls!

  5. Ragen, I adore you. Yes, yes, yes! I am completely on board with you regarding adding to the positive messages. I think it was Mother Theresa (the other one;) that said something to the affect that she would never go to a protest against war, but would gladly participate in a rally for peace. Lusciously curvatious women rock!

    • Theresa,
      The adoration is mutual and thank you for everything that you do to make the world a better place!

  6. This was a fascinating read. What I don’t get is, why is it EVER ok to insult somebody else,to say something negative about their body, in person, online or whatever? Way to go for not letting the outside world control your self-esteem– something I struggle with even though I’m not technically overweight and even though I KNOW BETTER.

  7. I saw this post over at Jezebel.com, thought it was fabulous, shared it with friends via Twitter, and thought I’d come here to let you know!

  8. I found this post through Jezebel, and I’m so happy I did. It’s helpful, in a world that constantly tells us to loathe ourselves, to see someone beautifully call those messages out, and–through existing and dancing–counter them. Thank you.

  9. I read this post on Jezebel, and I just wanted to add to the words of encouragement. Even aside from the hate that non-typically sized women experience (and thank you for illuminating this in your post), I find it incredibly sad that that ALL women are subject to non-stop judgment about our bodies, all the time – from ourselves, from men, from other women, from the media. It’s truly a shame that we can’t move beyond this focus on our bodies to something more meaningful. Thank you for writing.

  10. Ragen,

    That’s a staggering number!

    I’ve figuratively had my fingers in my ears tuning out the (unsolicited!) messages women get about their images, because I came to the realization a long time ago that I would never be blond, white and a size 0.

    Thank you for calling out the media on it’s B.S.!

    • Thanks Jessica! I think that sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling LA LA LA LA LA is a completely valid life choice considering the messages that we are getting :)

  11. Thank you for this! Smart and hopeful. You might enjoy my blog, What’s Written On My Body:
    http://www.whatswrittenonmybody.blogpsot.com
    Thanks for being bold enough to love yourself and your body, and to talk about it!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, and thanks for passing along your website I’ll check it out!

  12. Wonderful post, and very well said. I LOVE your attitude. Thanks for being a positive voice!

    • Thanks for commenting – I’m so glad that you liked the post :)

  13. Like many others I first saw this article on Jezebel, proceeded to click my way over here and read through the entire archives (bookmarked!), and can I just say, you are awesome, and you made my day brighter!

    • Thanks! You made my day brighter so we’re even :)

  14. [...] and our bodies and be respected by others – just as we are, right this second. This post originally appeared on Dances With Fat. Republished with [...]

  15. Saw this on Jezebel as well. So glad to see here that the positive comments are rising in number. You’re a gem.

    • Thanks! I checked out your blog and really dug it. I especially like “I was singing “Take On Me” and had an Aha moment.”

  16. [...] exempel) åtminstone försöker klinga positivt så talar statistiken sitt tydliga språk. Läs Dances with fats skrämmande redogörelse för hur samhället egentligen ser på övervikt och du inser att det är [...]

  17. [...] stumbled across this amazing blog entry this morning, and I think it came at just the right time. I’m having a pretty bad morning, [...]

  18. Wow, I can’t believe how long it took me to find this blog entry, but thank you, thank you for doing the math. It’s terrifying to see it in numbers.

    I am more than a little jealous of your intrinsic self-esteem, I am a lot more susceptible to the negative messages than I would like to be. What’s your secret? A healthy childhood? :D

  19. [...] say it defiantly, we say it celebratorily, we say it defensively. We say it in response to the hundreds of messages we hear each day that tell us we are too fat, too thick, too curvy, too bodacious, too too [...]

  20. What an awesome post; and such an eye opener! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  21. Why isn’t this on googles front page

  22. [...] of cataloging all of the messages she got about her body in a 24 hour period. The final tally? 1,058 negative messages in one day telling her she’s too fat, unhealthy, a drain on the healthcare system, and on and [...]

  23. I knew that negative messages were relentless, but being and artist and not a math person, I am shocked at the daily numbers!those messages impact women and girls of all sizes to both fear and hate fat, in our own bodies and in everyone elses. I agree: We need to keep broadcasting our positive counter-messages, defy stereotypes by living the best life we can no matter what size we are, and let the world know that we aren’t listening anymore!

  24. Awesome post! Another title could be 386,170 expressions of self-hate.

  25. [...] A woman in America decided to count the amount of negative and positive ‘body image’ messages she received in a day…for every positive message there were 353 negative ones.  http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/386170-unhelpful-things/ [...]

  26. [...] I mean that I am proud to be a successful woman with high self-esteem in a world where I get 386,170 negative messages about my body a year.  I’m proud to live fully outside the cultural standard of beauty and yet [...]

  27. [...] and a post on Dances With Fat about the number of anti-fat messages we see in an average day (http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/386170-unhelpful-things/)–and reading the discussions that inevitably follow these sorts of videos/articles, [...]

  28. Thank-you. I needed this today.

  29. This is awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! Thank-you!!!

  30. [...] people with bodies that don’t fit the cultural norm already hear a number of negative messages (http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/386170-unhelpful-things/). So, remember (to quote Ragen, http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2011/11/), “Other people’s [...]

  31. God is the only one that knows our true potential. Some people don’t realize how words can affect a person and I am grateful that you took the time to do the math and turn them around for the positive.

  32. sobering, but not surprising, findings. is it really possible to work out 25 hours a week? i suppose it is, but it’d be unthinkable to me! :)

  33. The people who are rude about the weight of another person aren’t doing it out of a motivation to “help”. They are just happy to feel superior and they want to rub it in. If you’re not offended, there is nothing to rub in! If you know you have the higher moral ground because you don’t judge people based on looks you win every time and they are just exposed as the nasty little turds that they are.

    Esteem and body image are intrinsic. When I was skinny I thought I was overweight. When I was morbidly obese I thought I was overweight! Either way I didn’t actually care about other people’s opinions. So I was fine with it. I can be in control of my weight if I need to. I just see other aspects of my life as more important. I’m healthy and happy. I wonder how people who need to be nasty about others can be truly happy.

    When girls learn to be proud of themselves for who they are rather than how they look we will have a happier and healthier society.

    You go girl! Keep dancing!

  34. Hi. This is upsetting. And I know your experiment has nothing to do with this, but my immediate gut reaction to all this is, never mind what THEY are telling you. What is your body telling you? Listen to your own body. :) xx

  35. [...] have to live in a fat-hating society, too. All the anti-fat messages wear on me. Hearing a new study being used to justify assertions that fat people are unhealthy can [...]

  36. [...] it’s really annoying and counter to my actual generally-held beliefs. Plus, it gives room for lots of ‘helpful’ advice about diet, exercise, and undergarments which is 500% -not- of use, and therefore, leaves a lot [...]

  37. […] me feel like my body isn’t good enough, I guess I didn’t get that message the first 386,170 times I’ve heard it in the past year. And thanks, Mr. Wonderful Fiance for making me feel like my experiences as a fat woman in a fat […]

  38. […] in our society, especially in the fitness industry.  We are all affected by it.  Blogger Ragen Chastain calculated that she receives, on average, 353 negative messages (PER DAY) about her b….  She looked at messages in the grocery store, in magazines, on TV.  She tallied up just what she […]


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