Another One Bites the Dust

Sometimes people just let you down.  It happened to me.  When I originally left my consulting career it was to work with a woman on a project about self-esteem. We had lots of talks about how weight and health are not not the same thing, body positivity, how the path to health is not about making people feel bad about themselves, and that healthy behaviors lead to health.  Then she had an opportunity to create her full-time income selling an intentional weight loss product and we decided not to work together until she decided the path she wanted to take.  We’ve not been in touch  for a couple of months.

Today she issued a press release about her new website, selling weight loss.  It starts out “Americans are more overweight than they have ever been in the past. And as obesity reaches epidemic proportions in the U.S….”   The press release goes on to assume that the obese don’t exercise, and threaten that “many people continue in their habits until “the bill comes due” in the form of high blood pressure, heart disease or other health diagnoses”.  It uses the term “grossly overweight” to describe someone.  It goes on for a full page, basically selling weight loss through your usual shame, guilt, and fear tactics.

So, I am just writing this post because I’m hurt, disappointed, let down, bitter, and pissed off?  I am all of those things, but this post is meant to be more than therapy for me.

When I saw this press release I felt all of those feelings at once.  I had that moment that I hear a lot of people who work for body positivity talk about :  where things look hopeless.  If, after all of the talks that she and I have had, the discussions of how shame and fear tactics hurt people,  hours spent talking about a new paradigm of health,  if after all of that she could issue this press release, then what chance do I have of making a difference with my little blog?

Then I thought of the words of Christopher Titus:  If you’re looking in front of you and see your past, flip your life.  Now the past is behind you.  Get down off the cross, use the wood to make a bridge, and get the hell over it.

I remembered the two e-mails I got today from people who were inspired by my blog.  I remembered the comments that I get here, I remembered the girls at the eating disorder center where I teach who named me to their list of role models.

I remembered that I don’t get to choose who I’m an example to, only what I’m an example of.

So I stopped crying and wrote this blog to remind all of us:  For better or for worse, liking yourself in the world we live in can require constant vigilance and incredible bravery in the face of what sometimes seem like insurmountable odds.  The $40 BILLION A YEAR diet industry is trying to keep us all hating ourselves in a cycle of yo-yo dieting so that they can make money.

People will let you down – they won’t understand, they won’t try to understand, they’ll choose fear instead of courage, they’ll choose easy instead of worth it,  they’ll choose money instead of truth.  Then they’ll try to justify their actions by convincing you to make the same choices.   There’s nothing that we can do about that.

But we can do something about ourselves, and we can be an example for anyone who wants one.  With every choice we make, word we say, blog we write, thought we have about ourselves, by who we choose to surround ourselves with and who we choose to remove from our lives we can be an example.  We can create an option and say “Come with me if you want. Maybe not the easy way.  Maybe not the traditional way.  But it’s my way, it’s working for me, it’s worth it, and maybe you’d like it to be your way too.”

Now if you’ll excuse me it’s time for me to put this all behind me and go work on the choreography for this year’s competition piece for Body Positive Dance Company – some of the most inspirational, difference-making people I know.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 4:23 am  Comments (9)  

Math is Hard, Let’s Blame Fat People

So I saw a video at CNN.com.  The title was “Say Goodbye to Obesity”   It was late and I was tired so like an idiot I clicked on it.

The gist of the report is that an experiment was published in the Online New England Journal of Medicine.  It’s called  “The Healthy Study” and the goal was to increase health in children.  Is was a 3 year, nationwide health program of school-based interventions.  In this study, half of 42 schools adopted healthy food offerings and more PE time.  The report tells us that students at the intervention schools kept their “weight down, sugar levels lowered and lowered their body fat”. The program was deemed successful.

Question of the day:  What percentage of difference between the two groups would you consider to be successful?

I won’t keep you in suspense.  The difference between the intervention schools and the non-intervention schools was 3%.  Three. 3.

Let’s see…get out my calculator… carry the four…. Yup, I’m right – the intervention failed  97% of the time.  It’s been a while since I was in school but I think you had to do a little better than 3% to get a passing grade back then.  Shouldn’t the video have been titled  “Study a Big Giant Failure” or at least tempered  “Say goodbye to obesity for at least the short term you lucky 3%?”

So I went to the source material and read the actual study – ready to yell at the people who created it.  But in the conclusion section they said “Our comprehensive school-based program did not result in greater decreases in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity than those that occurred in control schools.  However, the intervention did result in significantly greater reductions in various indexes of adiposity. These changes may reduce the risk of childhood-onset type 2 diabetes.”  If you read further you find that what they were able to do was decrease BMI and insulin levels.  I have explained before why BMI is a fairly crap measurement (in the post A Little More Health from our Healthcare) and I won’t go into it again here, but the insulin level is significant because that is an actually measure of how they have affected the children’s health.

However, they were very clear that the study did NOT affect obesity.  Which begs the question…why the F would CNN call this video “Say Goodbye to Obesity?”  That’s a question I will probably never be able to answer.  Here are some more questions that I have:

First, before someone accuses me of being against healthy food and PE,  let me say that I’m all for healthy food options and more PE time in schools.  I AM FOR CHILDHOOD HEALTH. I am glad that 3% of children were helped by this.

My concern is this:  If the schools and CNN are calling this a “success”, what does it say to the 97% of children who did not “succeed” by the study’s own criteria?  What do the PE teachers and health teachers say to those 97%?  If they are calling the  study a success, then aren’t they necessarily calling the  97% who didn’t have experience the study’s desired outcomes failures?

This is why the War on Childhood Obesity is such a problem.  I’ve addressed this before in “Dear Michelle Obama – Good Intentions are Not Enough”  but I think it bears repeating:  let’s be for children’s health instead of against childhood obesity.  Let’s support kids to develop healthy habits and high self-esteem in a way that is empowering and fun instead of trying the terrify and shame them.

Its time for a little integrity and calling 97% of children failures so that you can call yourself a success is not the way to go.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments (4)  

Naked Focus

As part of the outreach that we do for Body Positive Dance, I attend business networking groups.  This helps me connect with other like minded individuals and often acts as a support network. During these meetings everyone stands up and gives a 30 second introduction.  At one group a personal trainer stood up and said “I help people look better naked, and we all want that.”.

Happily several of the people I normally sit with groaned.  I was immediately annoyed – the idea of selling something based on the fear that you won’t look good enough when you are at your most vulnerable is disgusting to me.  Worse than that, though, is the fact that this guy has what would be considered the stereotypical ideal body.  When he says “we all want to look better naked” he includes himself and everyone with every size and shape of body.  Is he trying to say that no matter what we look like we’re still not happy with ourselves naked?  What a horrifying thought.

Then I saw a facebook post that showed a picture of a plastic replica of 5lbs of fat and a plastic replica of 5lbs of muscle.  The trainer said that she showed them to her students and that she was always happy at how disgusted they were as she yelled at her them to “WORK HARDER!”  Once again, motivating people by hating the way that they are now.  We can do better.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  people don’t take care of things that they don’t like, so trying to motivate people to treat their bodies better by making them dislike themselves today is a horrible idea and I wish people would stop doing it.

Unfortunately, we can’t control how people try to sell us things.  We can control what we choose to buy externally, and what we focus on internally.

I suggest that you come up with a little catch phrase that you use (either out loud or in your head) when someone tries to sell you something by trying to make you not like yourself.  My catch phrase is “that’s not about me, you can keep it”  So I hear a weight-loss commercial that says “Are you tired of unsightly blah blah blah”  and I think “That’s not about me, you can keep it”.  Pick whatever you want, but I think that it really helps to become aware of how people try to manipulate you so that you will buy that thing, and be prepared to actively deal with it.

Internally, I’m going to suggest that you’ll get more of whatever you focus on – either because focusing on it makes you notice it more, or because that’s what you’ll attract.  If you focus on things that are going wrong – those things will become bigger and more overwhelming, and I think you’re likely to get, or at least notice, more things going wrong.  If you focus on things you don’t like about your body, those things will start to seem worse in your mind and you’ll naturally be looking for things that are bad about your body.  So why not focus on what you like about yourself, why not be grateful for what your body can do.  If you need help, check out Love Your Body More in Three Simple Steps

And for the record, you look great naked.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 4:55 am  Comments (9)  

Dare.

I have a fear of hip hop.  Not watching it…I love watching it.  It’s the dancing of it that scares me.  As a dancer I have in my arsenal grace, power, flexibility, and speed.  I have never had funk and groove.  In the past my hip-hop  has variously been described as “wonder bread” and looking like “bad musical theater”; once a hip hop instructor said to me “You pick up the choreography faster than anyone, but bless your heart you just don’t look good doing it”.

If you watch So You Think You Can Dance, you probably know about National Dance Day.  It’s July 31st and a piece has been choreographed by Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo especially for the occasion.  And it’s hip hop.  I quickly dismissed the idea of teaching it to my class -as previously mentioned  I’m not a good hip hop dancer and I feel that as the teacher I need to set an example.  (As per my very recent post about setting an example)

Then I realized two things:

1.  I was arguing for my limitations when it came to hip hop.  And I know for sure that when you argue for your limitations, you will always win, and the prize is that you get to keep them.  A crap prize if I ever heard of one.

2.  I hadn’t really examined what I was being an example of.  I certainly have a perfectionist streak and I’m not a big fan of letting people see me struggle or be vulnerable.  I especially didn’t relish the thought of looking like a representative of the “School for the Uncoordinated and Funk-less” in front of a class of people who were paying me for dance instruction.  I realized I was setting an example of not trying something if you think you might fail, and that’s certainly not what I want to model to my students.

I started thinking about these things a lot.  It may sound over-dramatic, but I’ll admit right now that when I visualized teaching  a class on hip hop it gave me a bit of a panic attack. But Thursday night night my disappointment with my own attitude was keeping me awake.  So Friday morning at 1am I decided that I was going to just attack it.  I posted to Facebook that we were going to do the routine so that I was locked in.  Saturday morning at about 1:30am I pulled up the fox.com website, found the dance and learned it.  I got to class at 3pm, freely admitted that I wasn’t a hip-hop dancer, but said that I was going to do my best, and tried to create an environment where trying as hard as you could was the definition of success.

It went great.  We laughed a lot.  The students said that I looked good, there were sections where I even thought my hip-hop was passable.  But that wasn’t really the point.  If I had somehow busted out with professional level hip-hop, that still wouldn’t have been the point.  The point was that as a dancer and teacher I was willing to try something that scared me, stop arguing for and justifying my limitations, and instead be willing to struggle, and risk looking like an idiot, and possibly failing right up there in front of people.

My favorite moment of the class was during the final run-through.  One of my students, who is a country-western dancer, and who sometimes struggles with having a positive attitude and trying new things walked right up to the front of the class, stood beside me and danced the crap out of the combination.  I don’t know what his thinking was, but if my willingness to publicly fail had any little part in his willingness to step up, then all of the stress was worth it.

That made me think of this – one of my favorite videos of all time, it’s called “Dare”.  I lost it for awhile and just found it again today and I want to share it with all of you. The scene at 0:56 always gives me goosebumps…enjoy!

What do you dare?

Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 6:55 am  Comments (7)  

What Do You Inspire?

I like to meet other people who work in health and fitness – especially those who work from a Behavior-Centered Health model.  A friend of mine, Dave,  tried to introduce me to the owner of a gym, we’ll call him Gary. Dave described me and my physically size saying that I was pretty big.  Gary was confused about why we were being introduced and immediately said “We wouldn’t want a trainer who was really big”.  Ostensibly because I would be a poor example.  Dave told me the story and I shrugged it off – certainly not the first time that I’ve been told that being a successful, healthy, fat athlete is setting a bad example.   That same night I was at one of the Eating Disorder Facilities where I teach dance classes.  I found out that the girls had named me to their list of Role Models.  One of them told me that I was her hero. These are girls and women who have body dymorphia and an irrational fear of being fat.  And I, at 5’4 284 pounds, I made their list of role models.  It took everything in my power not to cry – not just because I was honored but because those women inspire me.  They fight against near-impossible odds, they fall down over and over and they just keep getting back up.

The moral of the story here is that we don’t get to decide to whom we are an example – to whom we are an inspiration, or when.  We can only decide what we are an example of.

I’ve written before about my feelings on inspiration.  Basically, that I believe that the only way you can inspire by someone is presenting a new option – then they have to choose to walk toward or away from that option.  Then, just the other day I was watching Coach Carter (I have an unabashed love of all sports movies) and we reminded of this Marianne Williamson Quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So, my question to you is simple.  If someone were watching your life – if they were looking to you as a role model – what would you give them permission to do? Are you proud of what you are an example of?

I don’t ask this hypothetically… I can assure you that someone is looking to you.  For whatever reason – someone you know is relating to you right now and looking to you for inspiration.  What are you inspiring them to do? Face their fears?  Work as hard as they can?  Give up?  Fall down and stay d0wn?  Fall down and get up?

You don’t choose to be an inspiration or an example, you already are.  By the way that you live your life, by what you stand for, you are presenting an option to someone – something that they can walk towards or away from.  What option is that?  It depends:  What do you want it to be?  What do you stand for?  What do you choose? Who are you?

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm  Comments (12)  

Foreheads, Flaws, and Fashion Statements (I’m looking at you Tyra Banks)

I had the great misfortune of stumbling onto a post by Tyra Banks telling ways to pose that hide your “Flaws” in pictures.  In this scenario fixes included:

  • Making your waist look smaller
  • Making it look like your thighs don’t touch
  • Making your calves bigger

Of course we’re all familiar with the obsession with small waists and thin thighs, but calves that are too small – I never even know that could be an issue…

I may go through my whole life not understanding how parts of our body that work can be considered flawed.  In the “before” picture Tyra’s apparently too-small calves seem to be holding her up without  incident.  Her forehead does a fine job of bridging the gap between her eyebrows and her hair.

I was complaining about this to a friend who said “Well, this is fashion – it’s what they have to do”.

So let’s talk about fashion then shall we?  First of all, I’m not a fatshionista at all.  While I understand the art in it and absolutely appreciate people who are into fashion – it’s just not my thing.  (To which anyone who knows me will attest).

So I don’t pay a lot of  attention and am completely fine with clothing coming in and going out of style.  Since I am fat and therefore limited in my shopping, I can sometimes be a slave to fashion since the Fat Girl Stores can have a tendency to all carry the same thing. (I still remember walking into Lane Bryant when it looked like 70′s threw up in there, turning around and finding the same scenario in three other stores.  I just had to cover my eyes and make my existing clothes last until that one went away.)

What I am not ok with is parts of people’s bodies going “out of  style”.  Perhaps I have a bigger chip on my shoulder than most because I have naturally curly hair.  I remember the days when everyone was paying a fortune to get hair that looked just like mine.  Now I read on a site for girls with naturally curly hair “We can’t expect to be respected in the workplace if we just walk in with our curls as they are.”  Really?  See, this is why I own my own business – people can respect me with my curls as they are or they can damn well take a hike.

I think it’s time to take a stand ladies.  I say it’s not ok for parts of our bodies to go “out of style”.  We are buying into this system and allowing it to continue and we can stop anytime we want.  A few examples to get us started:

Waif/Athletic/Curvy are not fashion statements.  They are body types.  See also Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph.  It’s effing science people – your body is your body, appreciate it.

Lips are not a fashion statement.  Why are we willingly putting on a product called  “Snake Bite”, gritting our teeth through the pain while it makes our lips swell.  Swelling is not good – it is a sign of INJURY.  Get a grip and an ice pack – your lips are perfect just as they are.

Tanning is bad for you.  Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad.  Skin bleaching is bad for you.  Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad.  Your natural skin color is beautiful on you.  Do you know how I know that?  Because it’s your NATURAL skin color.

Botox is botulism.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate – botox is a neurotoxin produced by the botulism bacteria (clostridium botulinum).  Oh, it’s not actually Botulism – it’s a neurtoxin  that causes paralysis?  I feel way better about this – inject away.  No, wait…don’t. I just remembered that it’s a  neurotoxin that causes paralysis.  I think I’ll just keep the lines on my forehead (which is perfect-sized thank you for asking).

And what is with all of this hair drama?  If you like to change your look with color, and products etc – that is awesome, knock yourself out.  If you are walking around exhausted because you get up two hours early to straighten your hair since curly hair is “out”, maybe it’s time to rethink your strategy.

In the end I think it’s all about doing what makes you happy.  If your stomach is girdled, your lips are swollen, and your hair is fried, as long as it makes you happy I say go for it.  However, I think it might be worth it to give some thought to  source of the “happiness” – is it because you truly want thicker lips, or is it because you feel like you need to fit in to an artificial, arbitrary, standard of beauty?  Is that ok?  The answer is up to you, but I do think it’s worth a thought.

Published in: on July 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm  Comments (7)