It is WRONG to Charge Large People More for Insurance

I was in line at the grocery store today when I noticed the woman behind me eyeing my enchiladas.  Always one to make conversation I said “They are actually really good for frozen food, no preservatives or weird chemicals, and they’re tasty.”

She sighed, in what I would call “longing”, and said – “I can’t, I’m on Atkins”.  She paused,  smiled wryly and said “sixth time’s the charm…”.

I must have made a “huh” face because she went on “my work charges me extra for my insurance if I’m overweight – it costs me about $600.00 a year.  I’ve been on and off every diet and I’m heavier now then when I started.  I’ll lose 30 pounds and gain back 35, lose 20 and gain back 40, it’s a vicious cycle but $600 is a lot of money to me so I have  keep trying, right”.

Now, this is something that I’ve heard of but don’t know much about.  Since I run my own business, I am not covered by a company policy.  I am the picture of health, but I guess I don’t fit the insurance companies’ frames because I am literally too fat to qualify for insurance.  Even catastrophic.  I just can’t get it.

So I went to a  friend who I know is charged $50 per month extra for her insurance.  I asked her how it works.  For her company if her BMI is over a certain number OR if her BP/Cholesterol/Glucose does not meet a certain standard, she is charged $50.  She meets the BP/Cholesterol/Glucose standard but her BMI is too high so she gets charged.

The problems with this?

  • The tests are correlational at best, and in some cases known to be inaccurate – skewed against the employee
  • Nobody can prove that their method of dieting sustains long-term weight loss
  • Dieting and weight cycling can be much more detrimental to health than being obese

Whether you call it additional premium for large employees or “incentives” for small employees, companies and their insurance plans are penalizing their employees for not doing something that nobody can prove is possible, for a reason that nobody can prove is valid, with a probable outcome of leaving their employees less healthy than they were when they started.

It’s not just size discrimination, it’s ludicrous.   You’ll hear that size is a matter of personal responsibility.  I think that personal responsibility extends to researching popular claims to be sure of their source and validity before we use them as the basis of widespread discrimination.

It also sets a dangerous precedent.  When these fat penalties stop being fun money for insurance companies, what group will they target next to increase revenue?

Why not charge employees who bike to work an extra premium because their sun exposure increases their risk for skin cancer?  Charge people who eat a lot of fish since high mercury levels in fish correlate to health issues.  What if they find out that people who live in a specific zip code tend to get the flu more often – can they be charged more too?

Currently the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act precludes charging more based on the results of genetic testing.  In reality though, isn’t that just only until the Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies go to work?  They’ve managed to lower the threshold for obesity as well as the numbers that indicate high blood pressure and high cholesterol to help bolster their profits. They are already charging based on outcomes of genetics (like cholesterol and body size) so I can’t imagine that working on charging based on genetic predisposition is far behind.

It’s not right, it’s unfounded discrimination, and it needs to stop.  Right now.

Are you a numbers and research person?  Good, me too.  Here you go:

BMI and It’s Many Problems

Belgian polymath Adolphe Quetelet devised the BMI equation in 1832.  He never intended for the number to be used as a measure of individual health, he created the formula to be used as a statistical tool across large populations.

Three members of the committee responsible for releasing the standards for obesity including BMI as a risk measurement had direct ties to pharmaceuticals that manufactured diet pills for profit.  A fourth member was the lead scientist for the program advisory committee of Weight Watchers International.  This committee advocated dieting for everyone who has a BMI more than 24.  They shaved 15-20 lbs off the definition of “ideal weight” which made over 60% of Americans “overweight” over night.  Soon we were hearing that 300,000 deaths a year were attributable to obesity.

In January 2005, the CDC came out with new “obesity and death” figures.  These figures stated that no more than 110,000 deaths per year could be connected in any way with obesity.  They also stated that the link “may be a weak one”.  The lead scientist of the CDC also said that a critical analysis of their data found that people whose weights fell within the overweight, obese, and severely obese BMI ranges tended to live longer than those whose weights fell within the so called “normal BMI” ranges.

Weight Loss Doesn’t Work

 

“There isn’t even one peer-reviewed controlled clinical study of any intentional weight-loss diet that proves that people can be successful at long-term significant weight loss.  No commercial program, clinical program, or research model has been able to demonstrate significant long-term weight loss for more than a small fraction of the participants. Given the potential dangers of weight cycling and repeated failure, it is unscientific and unethical to support the continued use of dieting as an intervention for obesity.” — Wayne Miller, an exercise specialist at George Washington University (emphasis added)

Surprised?  If you are it’s probably because the diet industry spends 60 Billion Dollars a year trying to sell…I mean tell… you otherwise.

In a recent discussion I was having online about this, someone cited the studyBehavioural correlates of successful weight reduction over 3y,” from The International Journal of Obesity (2004, volume 28, pages 334-335).

I researched it and it turns out that it gets cited a lot.  There are lots of interesting things about this study:

  • “Success” is defined as “weight loss of 5% or more from baseline”  over the three years.  So if a 5’4 person who was 350lbs loses 17.5 pounds and now weighs 332.5lbs, this study calls them a success, despite the fact that they are still considered “morbidly obese” on the BMI scale.
  • Other studies have shown that 95% of people gain their weight back within 5 years, so this study gave itself a two year efficacy cushion.
  • The study had a 77% dropout rate.  And they don’t know why people dropped out.  One reason could certainly be that they followed the strict guidelines, didn’t lose weight and so quit the program.
  • In total, 198 out of the initial 6,857 people actually obeyed the seven required diet restrictions.  40% of those “elite dieters” failed to lose even 5% of their body weight. So, about 119 of 6,857 (1.7%) actually followed the diet lost 5% of their body weight.  Which, unless they were only slightly overweight to begin with, would have little to know effect on their health.  But people cite this study and say that the other  99.983% of people clearly just lacked self-control.

“Just eat less and exercise more” doesn’t work

In the 1960s scientists experimented on prisoners, doubling their calorie intake to see if they could cause them to gain 20-40 pounds (of course this was before ethics and IRBs rendered such a study unethical). From Garner and Wooley:

“Most of the men gained the initial few pounds with ease but quickly became hypermetabolic and resisted further weight gain despite continued overfeeding. One prisoner stopped gaining weight even though he was consuming close to 10,000 calories per day. With return to normal amounts of food, most of the men returned to the weight levels that they had maintained prior to the experiment.”

So when fat people are able to lose weight, is it because they are now eating like  “thin people” eat? Actually, studies show that a high percentage of fat people who keep weight off, become, for all intents and purposes, anorexic. From Garner and Wooley:

“Geissler et al. found that previously obese women who had maintained their target weights for an average of 2.5 years had a metabolic rate about 15% less and ate significantly less (1298 vs 1945 calories) than lean controls. Liebel and Hirsch have reported that the reduced metabolic requirements endure in obese patients who have maintained a reduced body weight for 4-6 years. Thus, successful weight loss and maintenance is not accomplished by “normalizing eating patterns” as has been implied in many treatment programs but rather by sustained caloric restriction. This raises questions about the few individuals who are able to sustain their weight loss over years. In some instances, their eating patterns are much more like those of individuals who would earn a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa than like those with truly “normal” eating patterns.”

And from the New England Journal of Medicine:

“Many people cannot lose much weight no matter how hard they try, and promptly regain whatever they do lose….

Why is it that people cannot seem to lose weight, despite the social pressures, the urging of their doctors, and the investment of staggering amounts of time, energy, and money? The old view that body weight is a function of only two variables – the intake of calories and the expenditure of energy – has given way to a much more complex formulation involving a fairly stable set point for a person’s weight that is resistant over short periods to either gain or loss, but that may move with age. …Of course, the set point can be overridden and large losses can be induced by severe caloric restriction in conjunction with vigorous, sustained exercise, but when these extreme measures are discontinued, body weight generally returns to its preexisting level.”

Yo-Yo Dieting (aka Weight Cycling) is worse for you than being overweight

“Obese humans typically show repeated loss and regain of large amounts of weight. Men with large fluctuations in weight between the ages of 20 and 40 have increase systolic and diastolic blood pressure and cholesterol. These yo-yo dieters are two times more likely to die of coronary heart disease, even after adjustment for known risk factors, than are men with stable or steadily increasing weight. Fluctuations in body weight have been shown in many other major epidemiological studies to have deleterious cardiovascular effects resulting in increased mortality.”  Case Western Reserve University’s Paul Ernsberger

Dangers of Yo-Yo Dieting include:

  • Liver issues
  • Lower metabolism
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of muscle
  • Stroke
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Shorter life-span
  • Loss of muscle and lower metabolism make it nearly impossible for you to lose weight

I will say it again

Companies and their insurance plans are penalizing their employees for not doing something that nobody can prove is possible, for a reason that nobody can prove is valid, with a probable outcome of leaving employees less healthy than they were when they started.

It’s not right, it’s unfounded discrimination, and it needs to stop.  Right now.

My research for this project came from a number of sources including (where not otherwise cited)

www.nejm.org (the New England Journal of Medicine)

http://www.healthread.net

http://www.junkfoodscience.blogspot.com

www.nature.com/ijo

www.suite101.com

www.bodylovewellness.com

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Published in: on August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm  Comments (26)  

Life, Death, and the Queen of Second Chances

I spent most of last night with a friend whose father is in the process of passing away.  It’s got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head and now you get to read my meandering thoughts in blog form.  Weeee!

It would seem that I’m weird about death.  Sure I am sad for myself if I lose someone, or my friends if they lose someone, and sad for the person who died if they weren’t ready to go.  But the idea of dying does not scare me personally.

I think it’s mostly because I always try to live like there’s no tomorrow.  My goal is to make every decision, and live every day, so that if I found myself suddenly at the end of my life, I could say that I did everything I could possibly do.   There are two main things that I do to make this work:

All that risk taking stuff I always talk about here.

It boils down to a pretty simple choice.  Would I rather :

  1. Chance looking like an idiot, failure, rejection etc.
  2. Lay on my death bed with regrets that I can do nothing about?

I’m choosing a. for sure.

I often joke that the reason that I don’t go skydiving or bungee jumping etc. is because I don’t want to look like a dumbass in my obituary (ie: that an obituary which reads  “Ragen jumped out of a plane and subsequently died” could certainly elicit the response “Ragen is a dumbass”.)  In truth I don’t do those things either because I have no desire to or because they don’t make parachutes to suit my size.  In either event, I get enough adrenaline from my regular life.

In all seriousness, dying with a life full of regrets is a far, far worse potentiality to me than a little bit of failure, rejection, embarrassment and feeling like an idiot.

I choose not to settle.  I’m willing to succeed, to fail, to regroup and try again, but not to retreat into quiet resignation and accept less than what I want – that’s not the life for me.  I think that when I’m on my deathbed I’ll be glad of that.

I was reminded of a quote this week by the awesome people at www.iamthatgirl.com

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.  There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most giant idiot on Earth.  So what the hell, Leap”. –Cynthia Heimel

Be the Queen of Second Chances

My Best Friend has called me “The Queen of Second Chances”.  He did not mean it as flattery. He feels that I give people in my life too many chances and he may be right, I certainly see his point.  Plus it’s often his job to rent the movies and buy the ice cream when, after giving someone six chances, they screw me over for a seventh time and  I walk away from the relationship, so he has a unique perspective.

My Best Friend doesn’t really give second chances.  This is particularly salient because I did a series of stupid things once that pushed him out of my life.  One of the scariest things I ever did was go back to him and ask him for another chance.  I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t give it to me, but as I just mentioned, I would rather try than live with regret.  I’m not sure why he made an exception, but he gave me the second chance that I wanted but didn’t think I “deserved”.  I try hard to make sure that I do, in fact, deserve it.

I don’t regret any of the chances that I’ve given anybody.  Every relationship (business, friendship and romantic) that I’ve ever walked away from, I walked away saying that I gave it every chance I could and there was nothing more I could do. Over the years I’ve become more strict about the second chances – people have to ask for them and sometimes there are terms attached, but I’ve still given plenty of people in my life lots of chances. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t Partly that’s because I can’t imagine my life without my Best Friend and he is in my life because of a second chance.  And it’s partially because people can grow and change and if they can find the guts to ask for another chance, then I want to give it to them. I’d rather make the mistake of putting too much faith into someone than not enough.

Despite the picture that I chose to go with this blog (because it’s sooooo shiny!) I’m not sure that I believe that I’ll have “no regrets”.  When it comes down to it, I guess that in my final moments I’m ok with thinking “Wow, some of the decisions that I made and things that I tried and risks that I took weren’t very smart and/or really didn’t work out and I regret them”.  But I’m not ok with thinking “I regret NOT doing this, or taking that risk or making that decision.  I wonder what could have been if…” when it was I who controlled the “if”.

I’m having a quote-y day (I feel a blog post about my inspiration addiction coming on….) but here’s one more that I like a lot.  I’ve always just seen it credited to “anonymous” but if you know who wrote it drop me a line so that I can credit it properly – (one of the greatest uses ever of the word “abashed” by the way):

They cannot die whose lives are part
Of the great life that is to be;
Whose hearts beat with the world’s great heart,
And throb with its high intensity.
Those souls are great, who, dying, gave
A gift of greater life to man;
Death stands abashed before the brave;
They own a life death cannot ban.
Published in: on August 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm  Comments (5)  

Self-Esteem Isn’t About Not Losing

This post was inspired by the son of a friend of mine.  He’s nine.  He was explaining the difference between his summer baseball team and school sports.  He said that with sports in his school everyone wins and gets a trophy, but in summer baseball they keep score and someone wins and someone loses.

I asked him how his team did and he said that they had lost all of their games.  I asked him how he was feeling about that and he gave an unbelievably astute answer.  He said “Well, it wasn’t very fun to lose, but we got better over the season and when we played teams again we could see how the score changed.  In school you never know if you’re getting better or worse because nobody is keeping track and everybody wins.”

His mom explained that his school feels that it is bad for kid’s self-esteem to lose so they don’t allow competition.  I’m hearing more and more of this.  I guess I can kind of understand it.

On the other hand, I was a competitive athlete all through school. I also competed in spelling bees, Science Olympiads, Odessy of the Mind, Whiz Quiz, the TrigStar, Social Studies Bee etc.  While being that unbelievably nerdy did nothing for my dating life, I learned lessons through competition that nothing else could have taught me and I wouldn’t give up those lessons for anything:

Take one for the Team

In the Science Olympiad you get points for each event in which you compete – one point for participating, more depending on how you finish. On the day of the Olympiad, one of the people on my team got the flu.  I was the only one who had free times during their events so I suddenly found myself participating in “Metric Estimation” and “The Periodic Table”.  Going to fairly crappy small town public schools meant that I could barely name all of the metric units of measurement let alone estimate based on them. Being a freshman meant I had not yet been introduced to the Periodic Table.  Competing meant epic failure and humiliation in front of  judges, my peers, their teachers and their parents. I did not know the information, I could not learn it in time, I was absolutely going to lose.  My coach wanted the two participation points.  I took one for the team.  We won the competition by one point.  The team is more important than you.  Sometimes you sacrifice for the sake of the other people to whom you’ve made a commitment.

Sometimes your best isn’t good enough

Sometimes you compete to the absolute maximum of your ability, you do your best, you leave everything on the field, and you still lose.  That’s just the way it is.  Maybe your competitor had more natural talent, maybe they worked harder.  Maybe both.  You can be satisfied that you’ve done your best, you can decide to change your training strategy, you can make excuses, you can decide to quit, but the only way you get to make that decision is if you give your maximum effort and still fail.  That’s when the lesson starts.  That’s when you find out who you are.

Sometimes you win when you don’t deserve it

Your team barely gets off the bus but you still find yourselves delivering a big league butt kicking to some poor hapless team who are doing their best but don’t have your training or natural talent or resources.  This always feels like crap.  You reach that moment when you choose – are you going to continue to overwhelm them and get as many points as possible or are you going to relax or play your third string or whatever and ease off on the pummeling?  You learn a lot about yourself in those moments.

Sometimes you win because of lucky breaks

Somebody comes up with a totally lucky play.  Refs make critical mistakes in your favor.  Their best player goes out with an injury.  As competitors we say “I’ll take it”  or “Better lucky than good, I guess…” but we know that it’s not the same as truly winning.

You will not always win

In the movie Fight Club the main character says “How much do you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”  In volleyball a match is made up of three games, the person who wins two games wins the match.  My freshman year our volleyball team went the entire season without losing a single game.  Not a match, a game.  We won every match in two games.  We were riding high into our Varsity season.  We lost the first game of the first match.  We got blown away.  3 to 15 I think was the score.  We were devastated.  Before we know it, it was the second game and we were down 2 to 12.  And then we made a decision.  We were going to get up off the floor and we were going to battle back.  We won that game 17 to 15.  The third game we won 25-24. I learned more from that match than I learned in the entire previous season.  The moral of the story is that if you never fall, you never learn that you can get back up.  How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never lost?

Being artificially propped up can never build self-esteem because self-esteem can’t be built, only uncovered (I blogged about this before in The Self in Self-Esteem).  Not only won’t it have the desired effect, it will only ensure that you never know what you’re made of.  You don’t know what you’ll do if you fall down, if you lose, when you think you’re ready to quit.  How can you know, when there is always someone there with a security blanket and a binky making sure that never happens?

I’m not saying that parents should be screaming at 5 year olds in T-ball.  I am saying that your kids will learn these lessons eventually.  I think it’s much less painful to learn them in Little League or as a Mathlete than when they try to get a job.  It has the added benefit of allowing them to start early – as you fall and get up you learn that falling not the end of the world, and getting up becomes a habit.

Maybe we would all do well to stop trying to avoid failure, rejection, and humiliation and  instead throw ourselves headlong toward what we truly desire and accept any failure, rejection and humiliation that comes as the opportunities that they truly are.

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm  Comments (8)  

Your Not So Fearless Leader

Melissa Etheridge is stalking me.

I know that it may sound a bit implausible on the surface but I am serious.  I started hearing her Fearless Love song every time I turned on my internet radio, then a bunch of friends sent it to me, someone gifted it to me on iTunes, and it started popping up all the time on my shuffle, then they did a piece to it on So You Think You Can Dance, then I heard the song at Office Max on their Muzak station.

This isn’t my first flirtation with fearlessness.  My dance team jokingly nicknamed me TFL (The Fearless Leader)

A couple of days ago  I found out that I was nominated for the 2010 Fearless Women Award.

I hate to disappoint my dance team and  the Fearless Woman Nominating Committee, but I’m not fearless.  I’m not even close. And sorry Melissa, I hate to say it but I guess I’m not the woman for you.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a fearless love.  Love is scary, and it’s not the only thing…

I’m scared of lots of things, not the least of which is admitting those things here.

The night before our dance team’s first rehearsal I only slept three hours and that entire time I was having nightmares about our rehearsal – people not liking the choreography, people not liking the music, people quitting etc.

I’m scared of little things like talking too much at my networking meetings.  I’m scared of big things like under-performing my potential to make a difference in this world.

Did you catch that?  I admitted that I was scared to post my fears here, but then I did it anyway.

I think those are two of the three-part-key to being defined as “fearless”. Let me be clear – I’m not talking about fear for my health and safety here, I’m talking about more amorphous fears.

Part 1:  Admit your fears

It’s amazing how much smaller my fears seem outside my head than they seem inside it.  As long as they are something to hide, then your fears have power over you.   I used to think that telling people what I was scared of made me vulnerable…gave them something to use against me.  It turns out that if I admit my fears then there is nothing to use because I got there first.

Part 2: Realize that fear isn’t real

Fear is not making a plan in case the scary thing happens – that would be helpful.  Fear is sitting around saying “Yikes!  Maybe a scary thing will happen.”  Not helpful.  Fear is worrying about a problem that does not exist.  If your fears never come true then the energy you used on them is completely wasted.  If they do come true then they are simply another part of reality that you have to deal with and having spent time worrying about them doesn’t make any difference.  The scary thing will happen or it won’t and so you’ll have to deal with it or you won’t. Either way spending time worrying about it before it has happened is useless.

Part 3:  Choosing your actual decision making criteria

This is really what separates those seen as fearless and those paralyzed by their fear.   I think that what makes me seem fearless to people isn’t that I’m not afraid of things, but that I rarely factor my fear into my decision-making criteria.  Since it’s not real, there’s just no point.

I’m afraid that people won’t like this blog post.  I’m afraid that it will seem self-centered.  I’m afraid that something I say might hurt someone’s feelings.

All of those things could happen, but none of them factor into whether I post this or not.

I use a three question test for most decisions in my life:

1.  Is it true, honest, and authentic?

2.  Is it important to me?

3.  Is there a chance that it will be helpful to someone?

Am I scared of doing it?  What difference does it make?  That doesn’t change the truth of it, its importance to me, or the chance that I could help someone.  So if it passes the three part test, I’m going to muster up my intestinal fortitude and Jump Off a Cliff.

So I’m a not-so-fearless leader and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 2:08 am  Comments (4)  

Guest Blog by the Fabulous Kate of Eat The Damn Cake

I told you that if you were good I’d have a special surprise for you and here it is.  It’s a guest post by Kate who writes one of my favorite blogs – Eat the Damn Cake.  She writes about beauty, body image, womanhood, dessert, and her upcoming wedding.  She is always saying something insightful or witty or both.  Have fun:

I had a really interesting dream last night. In it, I was looking through a photo album of pictures of myself. They were pictures taken annually at a May Day celebration, and I was almost always laughing, dancing, or talking in them. I was never looking at the camera. It was as though someone had followed me through the years, and then, randomly, handed me the product. I didn’t really want to look at the pictures. I hate the way I look in photos.

In the first one, I was caught at a terrible moment, at an almost shockingly bad angle, my face contorted—how I usually end up looking in photos. But as I flipped through the album, I saw that I looked completely different in every shot. Sometimes I was almost pretty. Sometimes I was stunning. But even when I was stunning, it was not in a way that fit the usual qualifications. I can’t explain. I was stunning and strange-looking and awkward all at once. Nothing about me was consistent.

I woke up thinking, “Well done, subconscious. Good show.” (Because I talk to my subconscious like that butler guy in Batman.)

Which is part of what makes my upcoming wedding challenging. Not the fact that I impersonate the butler guy (he has some really easy name that I’m totally forgetting right now and could definitely look up in like two seconds if I wasn’t so lazy). Not the seating charts and the color of the hydrangeas and the gifts for the wedding party that I probably won’t remember to buy until the day before— not the details of coordinating this gigantic event. But the off-balanced arrangement of the time involved in the whole thing. Months and months of preparation for a single, breathless, panicked, thrilling, frightening day. A day in which I marry a guy who I’m still shocked and elated that I managed to find. But also a day in which I am supposed to be perfect. I am supposed to be immortalized. The one day every little girl dreams of. Ha! Kidding! Most of the former little girls I know, even if they do harbor such secrets, will swear against the allegation.

As a little girl, I didn’t dream of a big, white wedding. Or a big, fat, Greek wedding. Or any wedding at all. I dreamed of writing a book set in another world, where there were endless redwood forests and flashing blue streams, and where a half-blood princess turned huntress would lead the demon army into glorious battle. Later, she would fall in love with a gentle, powerful, nervous mage man. And I’d get to cast the movie. I definitely wanted to fall in love. I wanted that a lot. But who would bother to fantasize about wedding décor when they could imagine dragons with soft white bellies and golden wings? (I’ll leave that question unanswered, to foster a greater sense of mystery.)

It’s a good thing I didn’t come into the whole wedding planning process with a perfectly intact and well-preserved fantasy about how it should all happen. Because I learned in about one second flat that I’d better look amazing, and I’d better make sure everyone has an incredible, fantastic, overwhelmingly great time. And if I had to combine that with my own history of internalized pressure about the event, I’d probably spontaneously combust. Which can’t be good, any way you figure it.

Especially since I can’t count on myself to look any certain way for an entire day, let alone like a beautiful fairytale princess. And I’m not even consistently good at being around people. Some days I’m funny and social. Other days I stare blankly at people for five seconds too long and then finally say, “What?” and force a smile.

So there are no guarantees. And a wedding is a day when you want everything to be a guarantee. Because you just spent 10 months planning it. Or two years, in some people’s cases. And because you’re supposed to be beautiful. And because there are a photographer and a videographer following you around with cameras, capturing you forever. And your new family is supposed to think you’re an angel. And supposed to turn to one another and say, “He did good,” of your new husband. And since many of them won’t know too much about you, except that you write some little girly blog about cake, you’ll have to prove how “good” you are by how beautiful you look. And we can all try to pretend that this is not what’s happening, but come on: it’s happening.

A wedding makes an attempt to capture you, as a whole person, in a single moment. It can’t. It will inevitably fail. I am unphotogenic, and I will look bad in my wedding photos (except for maybe a few). I will probably be awkward with some of the guests, and not know what to say. I’m not stereotypically bridal. I’m not stereotypically womanly. I won’t be immortalized as the perfect blushing bride. I’ll be gawky, and one eye will be shut while the other is open, and my smile will be so big it’ll distort my face, and my future children (if I have them) will look at the photos one day and be like, “Yup. That’s mom. Doesn’t she kinda look like a bug in this one? Like, a grasshopper?”

And the day after my wedding, I’ll wake up, fully married, and look in the mirror, and I don’t know what I’ll see. I never really do. But whatever else I look like, even if it fails in every way to meet the strict standard of wedding-hyped beauty, I fully intend to look really, really happy.

Published in: on August 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm  Comments (9)  

My Feet Hurt Today…

Yesterday I was the guest blogger on EatTheDamnCake, one of my favorite blogs.  You can scoot on over there to check out my post and then I highly suggest hanging out and reading.  If you’re really good, I’ll have a special surprise for you tomorrow…

Just click here to be whisked away…

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm  Comments (3)  

Not Because of You

I was driving home tonight with my iPod on shuffle and a song came on that made me sad because it made me think of  a past relationship.  Layered with the sadness was irritation because someone had ruined a song I used to like, and so I just flipped on the radio.

There was Kelly Clarkston, singing her heart out on a song called “Because of You”.  If you’ve not heard it, the basic premise is that each line of the chorus starts with “Because of you” and then states something that sucks in her life:

Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt
Because of you I find it hard to trust, not only me but every one around me
Because of you I don’t know how to let anyone else in
Because of you, I am afraid

And it goes on like that.   I listened to it for a minute or so and then I thought to myself…

Holy crap Kelly Clarkston, stop whining.

and then I thought to myself…

Holy crap Ragen Chastain stop whining.

Thank you song lyrics for proving once again that if you can’t be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning.

Nobody can ruin a song for me.  I ruin the song for myself because I choose to continue to associate it with a bad relationship that I chose to be in.

What has two thumbs and is completely responsible for this situation?

Me.

(Bonus points to Scrubs fans who get the reference)

This is a standard to which I hold myself and others, and I was shirking on the principal without even realizing it:

I believe that I am responsible for everything in my life.  Not because I always control my circumstances, but because I always control my reactions.

Being a victim of something only lasts as long as the bad thing is actually happening.  If I get mugged, I’m a victim of a mugging while it is happening.  After that I’m someone who was a victim of a mugging who is choosing how to react, what to do about it, and what affect (if any) it is going to have on my life going forward.

Nobody can “make me” anything, I have to choose things for them to be in my life, otherwise I would have done what was necessary to get something else.

Relationships don’t make us bitter – we choose bitterness.  Life doesn’t make us jaded – we choose to be jaded.

So why do we choose to abdicate this responsibility and run around blaming our issues on someone or something that is not us?

Convenience certainly comes to mind – it’s pretty easy to blame someone else.  I have a friend with two teenage daughters who were both going through a particularly angsty phase.  She was driving herself to distraction trying to balance discipline, independence, empowerment etc.  It wasn’t working.  Finally she said “Because I’m your mother and sometimes you have to do it my way.  I’m not always right. If you end up damaged, take it up with your therapist”.  If you ask me, that is some brave parenting – and what she has taught her girls is that while they are not always in control of their circumstances, they always get to choose how they deal with them.

There’s also sheer cowardice – maybe we don’t want to accept responsibility for the choices we’ve made and where we’ve landed because of them.  Maybe admitting that we are responsible for them is super-scary.  Maybe we don’t try because we’re scared to fail.  Maybe what we want seems more frightening that what we have but don’t want.

In the end, I think it pretty much comes down to what these things are buying for us.  We think they are buying us some modicum of safety.  We think they are buying us the approval of others.  We have created a nice safety blanket of issues that keeps the world out with the added bonus of it being “not our fault”.

I’m not saying that I think we all have to work though everything in our lives,  I’m just suggesting that we take responsibility for it all.  I’m saying that by taking responsibility, we take power away from our circumstances and other people’s actions, and we claim that power for ourselves.

Someone once told me that they were making a decision that hurt me because they were a coward.  I was incredibly sad and disappointed then, and I’m incredibly sad and disappointed now that they chose that -  but there is a lot of credit to be given for that level of honesty in that situation.  I would much rather hear that than some lie fabricated to try to control my reactions by attempting to make the situation “easier” for me to deal with.

The price you pay for authenticity and freedom in your life is that you give up blaming  someone or something else for your problems.

You choose.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 5:07 am  Comments (10)  

Jump Off a Cliff

I’m a full-time risk taker.  When I’m standing on a cliff, looking across a chasm, I will always jump.  It doesn’t matter how far it is to the other side – I am going to jump.

I do this because I have discovered that I would rather be bloody and broken at the bottom of a ravine than walking away from the edge of a cliff, wondering if I could have made the jump if I tried.

Let me be clear – I’m not suggesting that this is a way for everyone to live. The law of averages says that if you live this way you’re going to end up broken and bloody at the bottom of a ravine sometimes, trust me when I tell you that I have and do, and that kind of risk is not for everyone.  Risk has rewards to be certain.  But safety has…well, safety.

When I fall and I remember “The Lion in Winter” (as quoted on The West Wing):

Prince Geoffrey:  You fool…as if the way one fell down mattered.

Prince Richard:  When the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.

So I never just give up and fall.  I kick and scream, I try to fly, I grab for the vines and the rocky outcroppings.  Sometimes I catch myself and climb back up, sometimes someone throws a rope.  Sometimes I hit the bottom, hard.

But what I have found to be true for me is that bloody and broken, however painful, heals.  The way I feel when I turn and walk away from the edge never heals.

So I jump.

I succeed.  I celebrate.

I fall.  I heal.

And I fling myself full-force into the abyss again.  Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation.  I’m am not most men, and so I jump.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Comments (6)  

Lizzie Velasquez – My Hero

Size Acceptance means accepting people of ALL SIZES.  Fat acceptance does not exist without thin acceptance, without bodies-of-every-size acceptance.  A sure way to absolutely enrage me is to claim to be for size acceptance and then say something nasty about thin people.  It’s stupid and hypocritical beyond all human reason.  When I see shirts that say things like “fight anorexia, eat a skinny bitch” it makes me want to scream, very loudly.  I’ve talked about this twice before, in the posts “Things I’ve Heard About Thin Women” and “The Road to Self-Esteem is Probably Not Paved with Hyposcrisy” but I’m saying it again.

Why?  Because I just heard of Lizzie Velasquez and already she is one of my heroes.  I’ve been watching some videos of her speaking and our lives have a lot of parallels.  When she walks into a room people make assumptions about her eating and exercise habits.  They make assumptions about her health.  They judge her.  The same thing happens to me.

There are some differences between us as well.  I’m 5’4 and 280lbs.  Because of the current OMIGODDEATHFATISCOMINGFORYOU media blitz, I’m just one of the hundreds of thousands of obese people walking around.  Everyone thinks that they know how to fix it.

Lizzie is 21 years old and weighs about 61 pounds. She has such a rare disease that she is only 1 of 3 people in the world who have it.  There is no diagnosis.  Nobody knows how to fix it.

With all of of our similarities and regardless of our differences, we have one major thing in common: Nobody has the right to judge us or our health by looking at us.

One of the things that breaks my heart is that people who look like me, and would throw a fit at the treatment that I receive, are judging Lizzie and other thin women, and feel somehow justified in doing so.   They are calling them names, making assumptions about their health and their eating habits, and basically doing to thin women every single thing that they don’t want done to them.

Thank you Lizzie for being brave, for being an inspiration, for living your life out loud and refusing to bend to pressure or break under  judgment.  Please accept my apology for anyone in the fat acceptance community who has ever judged you, made assumptions about you, or put you down in an immature bid to feel better about themselves- we can do better.  You deserve better.  We all do.  Thank you for helping make sure that we get it.

You can check out Lizzie’s website at http://www.aboutlizzie.com/

If you want to hear an interview with her, a fabulous woman and friend of mine named Abigail Mahnke has a radio show called Inner Views.  I’ve been a guest on her show and she is a fantastic interviewer.  She will be interviewing Lizzie next Wednesday.  You can find Abigail’s website here:  http://www.innerviewslive.com

In the meantime, today might be a dandy day to do a little internal check about judgments that you might be making about other people based only on what you see and not on what you know.

Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 6:48 am  Comments (4)  

The Self in Self-Esteem

I was driving home from a friend’s house tonight, feeling sad about some stuff that’s going on in my life.  I was listening to a country station (I know, I know.  Country Music has correctly been called “three chords and the truth” but has never been called “The best possible pick-me-up music”  so the station was perhaps not the best decision when sad, but I digress… ) They played an old Reba McEntire song called “I’m a Survivor”.  The second verse so hit me that I’m going to type it in its entirety here:

I don’t believe in self-pity
It only brings you down
May be the queen of broken hearts
But I don’t hide behind the crowd
When the deck is stacked against me
I just play a different game
My roots are planted in the past
And though my life is changing fast
Who I am is who I want to be
With gentle hands and the heart of a fighter
I’m a survivor

I think it’s the “Who I am is who I want to be” that really struck me.  There’s so much in life that I can’t control but I can be sure that who I am is who I want to be. And it is…I am.

That made me think about the nature of self-esteem.  Low self-esteem is one of the things that I often hear people talk  about.  Sometimes people I know complain about low self-esteem repeatedly over a prolonged period of time.  I’ve seen people’s lives ruined because of low self-esteem.

Typically when I hear people talk about self-esteem they are talking about how they don’t have as much as they’d like.  How it holds them back.  Usually they talk about low self-esteem coming from childhood, or a series of life failures.  They blame it on someone or something that is “else”.

Here’s the thing.  It’s called “Self-Esteem”.  It’s not “My-Mother-Esteem” or “My-Boss-Esteem” or “Things-Always-Go-My-Way-Esteem” or “I-Don’t-Have-Any-Issues-Esteem”.   It’s Self-Esteem.

You are the only one who can affect your self-esteem.  Let me define self-esteem as I see it so as not to cause confusion.  To me, self-esteem is your certainty, that you know like you know like you know, that you are intrinsically amazing.

It’s not the same as how you feel about yourself because you are good at your job, or because you get the approval of others, or because of your talents, abilities and successes in life.  Self-Esteem is how you would feel about yourself if you were alone on a desert island with absolutely nothing to be good at.

“Self” is the operative word in self-esteem. In my experience, self-esteem isn’t developed – it’s discovered.  It’s not a process of accumulating praise or success.  It’s a process of letting go of criticism and failure, of letting go of praise and success.  Letting go of everything and ending up with just yourself.  Realizing that you are incredible because you just are – whether or not you ever accomplish anything.

If you don’t get that, then no achievements, promotions, praise, approval, love, or success will ever be able to give it to you.  You have to get that you are amazing and worthy – at this moment, at every moment – and you don’t have to do anything to have that, be that, or deserve that.  It just is.  Nobody can give it to you, you have to discover it, claim it, and own it for yourself.

Then you scrape together everything that you found about your inherent, intrinsic amazingness and you hold it in your center and you say “This is my Self-Esteem.  It’s Mine.  It’s Precious.  You Can’t Touch It.  You can’t even get Near It.  You can have my Self-Esteem when you pry it from my COLD.  DEAD.  HANDS.”

Then you set about the work of making sure that who you are is who you want to be in all the other aspects of your life.  But it starts with self-esteem, and self-esteem starts with Self.

Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 4:35 am  Comments (17)