Things I’ve Heard About Thin Women

I recently wrote a blog called 386,170 unhelpful things about the messages that I get from the world about my body.  While I was researching it, some of the messages I heard were:

"Fat isn't sexy, it's a fact."
"Men just don't want obese women"
"Everybody knows you can't be healthy and obese"

I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy getting those messages from society,  it’s frustrating and it hurts my feelings.

Today while perusing some “size positive” blogs I found the following comments:

"Stick women just aren't sexy, it's just gross".
"What man would want a twig anyway?"
"It's just impossible to be healthy when you are that thin,
you have to be anorexic or a drug addict to look like that"
"Real women are curvy and LOOK like women"

I absolutely understand why people in the size positive community say things like this.  It’s rare to see people on television and in commercials who look like us and that can be frustrating.  We’re getting hundreds of thousands of negative messages about our bodies every year and we are tired, angry, and hurt.  People with no health credentials feel completely justified in making assumptions about our health.  Doctors make the same mistaken assumptions.  It’s easy to transfer our  frustration onto the people who represent “the other side”.  Sometimes you’ve just taken all you can stand and you feel like you have to lash out. I get it – I really do, I’ve been there.  That being said:

I wish we would knock it off.

Seriously.

If we want people to treat us with respect when it comes to our bodies,  we should probably take a pass on bashing other people about their bodies.

If we want people to take a good, hard look at their size prejudices, we should take a good, hard look at our own.

Health at Every Size means health at EVERY size.  If we purport that some people are naturally larger, then it follows that some people are naturally smaller.   It astounds me that someone who screams “IT’S NOT FAIR” when they are judged as unhealthy because of their size would turn around and do the same thing to someone else.

I want a world of body positivity.  A world where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, where everyone knows that they are beautiful, and receives acknowledgment of that from society.   Nobody should be treated the way that fat people are currently being treated in our culture. Nobody.  So I want change, but not if it means treating  thin people like fat people are treated now – that’s too high a price to pay.

I believe that if you say that you want a size positive world, you have to mean size positive for everyone.  That means not making judgments about others based on their size;  sticking up for the model being called anorexic with the same fervor you would use to defend a fat women being called lazy; respecting other people’s decisions when it comes to their bodies – even when you don’t agree with them.

That’s what it means to be the change you want to see in the world.

Trying to hurt someone else in the same way that you’ve been hurt never works. You can’t improve your self-esteem by diminishing someone else’s.   In the end you won’t feel better and now there are two people in pain.

If you want to lash out do something really radical, something that really takes courage:  respect every body like it was your own.

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Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm  Comments (20)  

Raising Your Physical Voice

I blogged about this a couple of years ago, but based on a conversation that I had yesterday, I think it bears repeating:

I’m very vocal about being a fat dancer.  I bring up my size.  Reasonably often, someone asks me why – why do I have to be so “militant” about being fat?  If nobody else is bringing it up, why do I?

Two years ago a judge named Cindi came up to me after I had competed.  My waltz dress that year was a beautiful crushed velvet gown with spaghetti straps that I loved and got lots of compliments on.

 Here I am in it:Here I am in it:

At the end of the competition, Cindi caught me at the elevators and told me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me”.  She told me four times that she couldn’t stand to look at me.  I just kept saying “ok”, with no emotion.  She kept getting louder and angrier, I kept saying “ok”.  She put her finger in my face and said  ” you have  NO BUSINESS wearing spaghetti straps”. I said “ok”.   She said “You’re such a beautiful dancer…with your arms out like that I couldn’t stand to look at you.”  I made the (very difficult) decision to be classy, and said “In truth I probably won’t choose to change the dress, but I appreciate that you took the time to tell me it’s such a problem for you.”

For a lot of my life, I’ve been an “exception”, and I hear the same thing from a lot of my large friends.  People say things to us :  I’m not attracted to big women, except you.  I would never take a class from a plus-sized aerobics instructor, except  you.  I think of all big people are lazy, except you.    Plenty of people think that it’s a good thing to be the exception, I don’t.

It means is that if someone looks at us and we challenge their prejudice, instead of taking a hard look at their prejudice, they keep their prejudice and stick us in the “exception” category.  That’s not ok and I’m not interested in being the exception.

It’s been said that dancing gives you a Physical Voice, and I agree. But it’s not just dancing that provides a physical voice, it’s all physical activities – just the act of being in this culture .  When people discount us as non-physical beings, or as unworthy of being looked at  because we’re fat, they are trying to silence our physical voice.  When Cindi told me that I should hide my arms because they are just too disgusting to be  looked at she was trying to silence away my physical voice.

The reason that I bring up my size a lot when other people would like to pretend I’m “normal”,  the reason I don’t want to be the exception, is because when anyone claims our physical voice, we claim it for all people; when any large person claims their physical voice, they claim it for all large people.  When we stand up for ourselves and raise our physical voices, we start to change perceptions, change prejudices, and make a difference.

So, how do you raise your physical voice?

Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm  Comments (8)  

Dear Michelle Obama – Good Intentions are Not Enough

I sincerely believe that Michelle Obama has the absolute best of intentions with her war on childhood obesity.  Unfortunately, good intentions and $5 will get you a non-fat latte and not much else.

The war on obesity seems to be predicated upon the idea that there is a “thin person” buried in fat inside each obese person.  I think that’s why people feel that having a “war on obesity” is an ok thing to do. I’m betting they look at it like the “war on cancer”, where the goal is to remove the cancer and leave the person…they want to remove the “extra” weight and leave the thin person.

But I am not a thin woman covered in fat.  I am a fat woman.  I am my fat, my fat is me.  I may lose some fat or gain some fat, lose some muscle or gain some muscle,  and that’s fine. But all of me is always, well… all of me.

You can’t have a war against my fat and leave the rest of me out of it, so the war on obesity is a war against me and against the body I live in 100% of the time.

A war on childhood obesity IS A WAR ON CHILDREN.  These aren’t little walking statistics.  They are children.  Precious, impressionable children who already have to navigate a world of peer pressure, parent pressure, academic pressure, information overload, over-scheduling,  awkward social interactions, puberty, early sexualization, drugs and alcohol etc.   As if obese children don’t have enough problems without state sponsored teasing.  I’m already hearing horror stories of kids being weighed in IN FRONT OF THEIR CLASS and getting report cards sent home admonishing them for their BMI.

Look, in my childhood plenty of adults in my life, including family members, were just plain mean to me about my weight.   They did it under the guise that it was “for my own good”.   It was devastating and I know that I’m not the only person with a story like this (in fact I know some people who have never recovered).   I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if their behavior was sanctioned by the school.

I’m not here to argue about causes or effects of childhood obesity.  I’m here to suggest that you can’t shame people into taking care of their bodies, and adding the stress of publicly being shamed about their weight just doesn’t logically lead to kids who are mentally healthy enough with high enough self-esteem  to make good choices in any area of their lives, least of all their health.  Making kids hate their bodies will not support them in taking care of those bodies.  Do you take care of things you hate? Neither do kids.  It’s not “for their own good” . Their own good is to be raised to believe that they are incredible beings who deserve to be respected and treated well by themselves and others, and taught true, correct information about what constitutes health.

If Michelle Obama was for childhood health, I’d be behind her 100%, but as long as she is waging a war against children I’ll find myself fighting on the other side, the side where we work to empower kids to be mentally healthy, have high self-esteem, and take care of their bodies without shame or self-hatred.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 6:23 am  Comments (20)  

Fears – Bring ‘Em On!

I’m about to tell you about an experience I had  that prompted me to ask you this question:

Are there things that you are scared to do because of the size of your body.  Skydiving?  Rockclimbing?

Tell me all about them!  I’ll put my 5’4 280 pound body through as many of the things as possible and blog about them here (if you’ve read my Fat Girl Waxing then you’ve seen the results of a similar experiment).

Just leave a  comment here or click here to send an e-mail (let me know if you want me to keep it anonymous) and I’ll try the things out and let you know how it goes!

Here’s my story:

I’m not afraid of airplanes because of my size.  I fit in a seat, I bring my own seatbelt extender, and if I ever get thrown off a plane for being fat I will calmly insist that anyone who has  shoulders that are too broad to fit in their space, or legs that are too long to fit in their space be carted off with me.   I’ve scripted and practiced exactly what I’ll say. (I’m very aware of how dorky that sounds  but absent the practice I just get all screamy and bitchy and emotional and then I’m just the screaming, bitchy, emotional fat girl and I’ve found that to be pretty ineffective).  So I feel comfortable with flying – expecting the best but prepared for the worst which is one of my general life philosophies.

Except that I went on a  trip recently and I realized walking into the airport that at least one of  my traveling companions would be really uncomfortable with me making such a scene.   I should have thought about it and dealt with it beforehand but I didn’t and I didn’t want to bring it up at the airport.

Had it come down to it I absolutely would have stuck up for myself on the plane, but as we were walking through security I started to feel really anxious.  I realized how much I just wanted everything to go smoothly, and how little control I had of the situation,  and I started to be scared that it wouldn’t go well.  Had I gained weight since the last time I flew?  Had the airlines become more strict?  Should I rethink my scripting?

Everything was fine.  In fact, the flight attendant at one point tried to take my seatbelt extender to give to someone else saying “I knew you didn’t need it, I figured it was left over from the last passenger”.  (I don’t typically need it but I figure it’s worth the $40 to travel with piece of mind).  I explained it was mine, and offered to let someone borrow if if they ran out of extenders.  She didn’t even know that you could buy one of your own so I got to do a little education there.  Anyway, it all worked out, and I didn’t have any problems, but I found myself feeling pretty panicked  getting on each plane, all the while acting calm and cheerful to make sure that my friend was comfortable.  Again, all stuff that could have been dealt with by better communication on my part and that’s a lesson I’ve learned (again!) for next time.  It was my first experience of being scared to get on an  airplane and it wasn’t fun.

Leave a  comment here or click here to e-mail me (let me know if you want me to keep it anonymous) and I’ll try the things out and let you know how it goes!

~Ragen “Ain’t Skeerd” Chastain

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 6:19 am  Comments (6)  

We Need a Better Anthem

I heard someone the other day call “And I am Telling You”  (also known as “You’re Gonna Love Me”) the ultimate woman-power and fat girl  anthem.  I have some problems with that.

Mostly because in the song she is telling a man who know longer wants her that she is going to stay and that he is going to love her, but also for the following reasons:

********DREAMGIRLS SPOILER ALERT.  SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH TO SKIP THE SPOILERS*********

1.  He treats her horribly

2.  He has already cheated on her

3. He has already said that he doesn’t want her.

4. He leaves her in the end

**************End of Spoilers************************

Now, I’m fine with that being the plot of the movie.  I am NOT fine with that being my anthem.

Might I suggest Deborah Cox’s “Absolutely Not”

What song gets your vote for ultimate empowerment anthem?

Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 12:52 am  Comments (2)  

Wii Need to Exercise Some Common Sense

After hearing several stories about the Wii being designed to make people feel bad about themselves, I decided to try it for myself.

I started by creating my Mii (my avatar, it’s like playing paperdolls with WAY too many options).  Much time was taken on what type of eyebrows were most representative of me, and whether or not I wanted to wear sunglasses.  I tried to accurately represent my body type but, like so many misguided clothing designers, the Wii assumes that the shorter you are the thinner you must be, so I wasn’t able to get an accurate representation of my figure.  Disappointed by undaunted I moved on.

My Mii created, I started Wii’s assessment process.  It asked me for my height, the weight of my clothes, and my birthday.  It didn’t ask anything about bone structure, build, or workout habits.

In the “things I wish someone had told me category”, when you step on the balance board it makes a surprised “Oh!” sound.  Apparently it does that for people of any weight, but it could be a bit off-putting.

Then the fun really began.  It gave me a little lecture about posture, then looked at how good my posture is (almost perfectly as it turns out).

Then it weighed me in.  My Mii started to expand – ah, I thought, that looks much more like me.  I was quite pleased.

But then the bad thing happened.   It played some music that was as  ominous as simple digitized notes can be, and my Mii began to look very sad and concerned.  So now my body was right, but my happy chipper disposition was gone.  I looked depressed and worried.  That’s not like me.

My Body Mass Index (a calculation of weight and height – more about this later) popped up on the screen along with a scale of underweight to obese.  My marker shot up to the top of the obese category and a chipper voice said “That’s Obese!”

Then it told me that my real age was 45 (at which point my Mii bent over and held her back in pain) and that my BMI told it that my body was weaker than it should be.  Having just leg-pressed about a thousand pounds  a few days before, I was curious what the Mii thought I should be able to lift.  Plus I don’t have any back pain and I wanted to ask it why it thought I (and apparently 45 year old women everywhere) did.  Unfortunately  it doesn’t really respond to questions.

Now the kicker.  It told me that a healthy weight for me might be 119.5lbs.  Many of you know that during college I developed a little  issue with not eating and working out all the time.  I went to the hospital briefly and was diagnosed as an EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).   I weighed 135lbs.  So I’m going to disagree with the Mii about my goal weight.

Once we got through that and played the actual games, they were fun and some of them were a at least a bit of a workout.  I had high hopes for the Wii because I’m a big advocate of people having fun ways to add movement to their lives if they choose.   My conclusion is that it would be fun if it didn’t come with all that shame piled on top.  I haven’t tested this but I’ve been told that if you don’t weigh in it constantly bugs you about it.

It’s not just big people either, a friend of mine told me that her son is underweight due to kidney problems and his Mii looks small and wimpy and makes him feel bad.

Here’s where Wii need to apply just a little bit of common sense.

First, BMI was meant to be used over extremely broad, statistically significant sample sizes.  It was not meant to be used on an individual basis due to it’s propensity for being grossly inaccurate in those cases.  Take me, for example.  I’m a healthy athlete but according to my BMI (which falls into Category 3:  Super Obese – which is as fat as you can get on the BMI chart), I should be pretty much be dead right no

You cannot tell someone’s health based on their height and weight.  You just can’t.  Wii need to stop being so lazy.

Even if my BMI was correct, representing me as  fat and depressed, and telling me that my body is weak and old is pretty much the crappiest motivation technique ever.

If you want to get healthier, I would suggest that the first step is to start appreciating the health that you have now – whatever that is.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably breathing so start there.  You don’t even ask it to, yet there your body is, breathing in and out just when you need it to.  Your eyes are probably blinking – there’s your body again, supporting your ability to see through healthy eyes.  Start appreciating the little things.  Can you walk or wheel yourself across the room?  Pat yourself on the back, thank your body for that.  Stop focusing on the things that you have been taught aren’t good enough, or pretty enough or whatever enough.  Refuse to buy into a culture of body hate.  Love yourself, then make choices.  If you haven’t already, find foods that you and your body both like, find ways to move that make you and your body health.  Start loving your body right now and you’ll be healthier, mentally and physically, right now.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 7:49 am  Comments (12)  

My Mom is Crazy and Beauty is Arbitrary

Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely, positively, have the best Mom in the whole world.  She’s so awesome that I capitalize Mom even when it’s not grammatically appropriate.  I wouldn’t trade her for any other mom, actual or fictional, in the whole world.

Now the disclaimers:

  1. My Mom is crazy
  2. But in the cutest possible way
  3. This is a true story, though not a politically correct one
  4. But it beautifully illustrates my point so I’m going to tell it to you
  5. Stick with me to the end, I do have a point

Several years ago, my Mom decided to join the Peace Corps and went to a small town called Kayes in West Africa.  She did amazing work setting up internet cafes and teaching people computer skills.  They love her, they still e-mail her.

Mom wrote me a letter roughly every 10-12 minutes while she was there, and one Saturday I was sitting and catching up when I received a letter that started off:

Dear Ragen, (that’s not the interesting part, as Ragen is my name)

First you have to understand that it is very hot here, almost 120 degrees every day.  (Well, I’m sorry to hear that but you joined the Peace Corps so I can’t really rouse too much sympathy.)

Second, you should know that the largest trade ever given for a bride here was 1 air conditioner, and that was for a Malian Princess.  (No.  No way.  No FREAKING WAY!.)

I have offered your hand in marriage for two air-conditioners.  He knows that you may not come to be his bride and if not I have agreed to return the air-conditioners when I leave.  (WHAT THE $%&#?!?!?!?!?!?!?!)

I don’t condone being traded for air-conditioners and my Mom and I definitely had words about this, but that’s very much beside the point right now.

Here’s the thing:  The standard of beauty in Kayes is different than it is here. There, the bigger you are, the more attractive you are. I am a regulation, hottie, perfect 10, supermodel in Kayes, West Africa.  My mom had my picture up and apparently men would constantly ask her “Who is that beautiful girl?”.

My point is this:  there is a place in the world where a 5’4, 280 pound woman is considered the height of beauty.  Try to wrap your mind around that for a minute.  There are places in the world RIGHT THIS MINUTE where women who look like me  could go and be the epitome of beauty.  Can you even conceptualize it?

This is a picture of me (5’4, 284lbs, no make-up, no photoshopping) .  To the men of Kayes, this is  physical perfection.

Ragen in BPD Shirt

I was with a group of men the other day in a training class where we are all very honest with each other.  I was talking about the film America the Beautiful and specifically about the scene where the guy says he likes a slender girl but doesn’t know why.  One of the guys, who I consider a good friend, intelligent, and reasonably sensitive, immediately said “That’s just how we’re hard-wired!”.  I didn’t want to start a debate in the middle of class so I let it go.  The truth is, I don’t think he is hard-wired.  I think he’s “soft-wired” by the images of beauty that our culture has thrown at him since his birth and his choice (conscious or subconscious) to accept that standard.  If he was born in Kai he would probably be making the opposite argument.

Of course I don’t live in Kayes, West Africa, I live here.  Here in America where some intelligent, reasonably sensitive men think that they are hard-wired to find me unattractive; and that’s something that I have to deal with.  I choose to believe that I am beautiful and desirable and plenty of people have agreed with me.  I don’t feel a need to be attractive to everyone and if someone isn’t attracted to me I might be disappointed, but I’m aware that it’s them and not me and I don’t take it personally.   Alternately I could try to change myself to better match the cultural standard of beauty.  I want my choices to be respected and so I absolutely respect someone who does this – I just hope that they do it with the complete understanding that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are an inherently amazing, beautiful person who deserves love and respect, and chooses to match society’s beauty ideal for ease of social navigation.  I could also just move to someplace where my beauty would be more celebrated.

Why not change or move?  Because somebody has to say no.  The fact that beauty has changed shape, and that there are places in the world where it’s “Beauty Opposite Day” every day, tell me that it is possible to change our cultural standard of beauty, and if it’s possible then I’m for doing it.  I’m for walking around all day long knowing that I am beautiful, inspiring others to know that they are beautiful, and changing the world.  How about you?

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 6:01 am  Comments (2)  

We’re All On the Same Team

This weekend was so amazing.  My non-profit hosted a screening of America the Beautiful.  The film takes a powerful look at America’s obsession with beauty, and the filmmaker – Darryl Roberts – was impressive and inspiring and well-received by an audience of people for 15 to 65.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be part of an amazing panel.  It included CJ Legare, the first plus-sized model ever signed to Elite Model Management, and the owner of Power Pinc; Darryl Robert – the filmmaker of America the Beautiful; Amanda Buller – licensed and registered Dietician for the University of Texas; Rozana Zaifer-Sims Psy.D and eating disorder expert, Alexis Jones founder of i am that girl, and top 3 finalist on Survivor;  and me.

I was so inspired by the message and story that each one of these people brought to the table, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with them.  The name of the panel was “Does Health at Every Size Work?”.  We had a lot of differences – age, gender, race, our stories, our speaking topics, our philosophies, and the audiences to whom we usually speak.  We didn’t even all have the same idea about Health at Every Size, but we could all get behind the idea that in order for people to be willing to take consistently good care of themselves, they probably have to like themselves first.

And it was bigger than that.  For that glorious couple of hours, we became a mutual admiration society – we had a dialog, we learned from- and were inspired by – each other, and I will say for myself that I came away much better for the experience.  We weren’t six speakers who felt like we had to keep it close to the vest because we’re “competing” for the same gigs and attention.  We weren’t activists looking for attention and a by-line.  We were people who want something so much that we are willing to transcend our differences, and the idea of competition,  and play on the same team

That’s where the power is. Not just in the field of self-esteem and body image, but everywhere.  When we start looking for common goals and  playing like we’re on the same team, then we can’t help but make the world better.  You couldn’t have a baseball team that was made up entirely of pitchers – you need different players for different jobs and it’s no different out in the world – we need all of our voices to be heard.

So, don’t just let your amazing light shine, look for opportunities to help others do the same and watch the magic happen.  You are an amazing being and you  never need to dim someone else’s light to make yours brighter, and I know that for sure.

If you want to make the world better, if you want to help people love themselves more, then I want to be on your team – just tell me how I can help and put me in coach!

Thank you CJ, Alexis, Darryl, Rozana, and Amanda – you all inspire me more than you will probably ever know!

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm  Leave a Comment