I’m Ok. You’re Ok. The Fat Version

One thing that frustrates me about a lot of the discourse on the internet is many people’s assertion that their experience is (or should be, or will be) everyone’s experience, and that others should feel obligated to make major health decisions based on their experience/opinions.

I hopped on this train of thought because of a comment I received today on my post “Stop Pretending it’s About My Health”  It may be triggering for some but it is also highly amusing to me.  There is a warning on the comment that explains possible triggers.

Here’s the bit I want to talk about today:

“I am overweight myself. But I understand this and accept the fact that it was my own overindulgence that created the situation. I have gone from 280 in 1990 to 150 in 2000 back to 280 in 2010. It was all of my own doing, and I know it was wrong. I would never make excuses about it. Facts are facts. You cannot deny it any longer.”

Then, a Yoga Instructor who is on a Body Positive listserve with me wrote what I thought was a beautiful, respectful open letter to the Yoga journal and was repaid by someone writing a blog that called her personal health choices “bullshit” (Nope, I will not be helping that blog get traffic by linking to it here, and it was everything I could do keep my rule of not commenting on inflammatory posts).

My issue is this: I feel like I am very clear on this blog that I am not trying to tell anyone how to live.  My goal is always simply to demonstrate an option that people can choose if it makes sense to them. It seems that Anna was doing the same thing with her letter.  However, people seem to respond to this vehemently – almost as if my choosing something different than they chose  is somehow threatening to them.  My best guess is that their self-esteem is based on what other people think.  Society values thinness, they are thin, therefore they are valuable.  I, and everyone who agrees with me and does not value thinness, is therefore diminishing their value and a threat to their self-esteem.  That just my guess, who the hell knows?  Some days I’m just glad to be so separated from mainstream culture.

You’ll notice that the commenter starts off talking about his/her experience but then veers at the end to tell me what I can and can’t do.  Since we’re not sharing a body, it seems like the only appropriate thing to say here is “I don’t agree with you and therefore don’t choose that path to health”.  That’s a perfectly valid life choice.  You go with your funky bad self. Saying:  “I don’t agree with you and therefore you must choose my path to health” is not okay, as you are not the boss of my underpants.

If you want to post comments on my blog telling me that you disagree with me that’s fine, but may I first suggest that you complete this quick exercise.

First, just read through a couple of examples to get the hang of it:

  • I think that the research shows that dieting doesn’t work so I don’t diet.
  • You think that research shows that dieting is the path to health so you do diet.

I’m ok.  You’re ok.

  • I think that weight loss surgery has a low success rate, lots of dangerous side effects and virtually no health benefits so I don’t have weight loss surgery.
  • You think that being thin means being healthy and that weight loss surgery will make me thin, so you pressure me to have weight loss surgery.

I’m ok.  You’re NOT ok.

  • I think that movement I enjoy is the key to health so I choose exercise options that I like.
  • You think that you must do specific exercises to be healthy, so you do exercise that you hate.

I’m ok.  You’re ok.

  • I choose to concentrate on healthy behaviors to the exclusion of concentrating on my weight because I believe that it is my best option for being healthy.
  • You choose to concentrate on being thin because you believe that it is your best option for being healthy.

I’m ok.  You’re ok.

Now that you’ve got the hang of it, you try one:

  • I find that a Health at Every size approach works great for me so I share my experiences on my blog.  If you disagree, I support your right to choose your own path to health.
  • You doubt the efficacy of the Health at Every Size approach, so you come on my blog and say that everything that I say is bullshit and that I need to think and act like you want me to.

If you guessed “I’m ok. You’re not ok.” then congratulations you are ready to comment!   If you got it wrong, go back to the beginning and try the exercise again, or feel free to peruse someone else’s blog – you never know who might be looking for health advice and body shaming from random people on the internet!

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 1:45 am  Comments (35)  

35 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. thank you for writing this. i have struggled with my weight all my life and read you blog for just this reason: i want to find a way to accept my choices an escape the self-shaming that i feel is forced on me. if you took all those pressures away, i’m a pretty happy person with a great life. but it’s hard to escape that mainstream where it is a part of your valuation. obviously my husband doesn’t see things this way; unfortunately much of the rest of my family does…

    i see similar things with other choices. particularly as a woman, motherhood. i’m in my mid-30s and have decided that i am, at this point, too old to be a parent. when people ask me about my choice not to parent, they immediately take it as a criticism of their choice to have kids “in a few years” – look, do what works for you. i like my life with my dogs and cats and vacations and romantic dinners too much right now, but my choice isn’t a judgment on you.

    it’s really refreshing to see this kind of rhetoric in this me-vs-you-vs-theworld talk that we all see far too much of these days.

    • Hi Kathleen,

      I’m so glad that you like it. And I agree this is absolutely not confined to matters of health and it’s a shame. The desire to fight against somebody else instead of choosing for yourself eludes me. I’m glad that you are getting to a place where you can be supported and make the choices you believe in.

      For the record, I never, ever, in my whole life wanted children and now, at age 34 people are still pressuring me, assuring me that “I’ll like them when they are mine” and “I’ll be sorry when I turn 40 and don’t have any”. Bizarre.

      • People pressured me into getting dogs for my son because “every kid should have a dog.” He’s in college now and I’m stuck with these dogs. I like them but I’m not a dog person. I don’t enjoy walking them, I don’t enjoy cleaning up after them. They deserve a better owner than me but I don’t want to take them to the shelter because I don’t want them to be put down. They’re seniors and it would be hard to re-home them. :-(
        I agree with you. People need to BUTT OUT!

        • I am so sorry, that must be frustrating for all involved. Thanks for telling us about it – it is a really good example that the point can be extrapolated well beyond weight and health issues. Good luck with them!

          ~Ragen

  2. Hi Ragen,

    I wish I had something more articulate to say, but can only muster an enthusiastic, “YOU ROCK!”

    This part stood out for me: “Some days I’m just glad to be so separated from mainstream culture.” Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed…

    Mary-Ellin

    • Hi Mary-Ellin,

      Saying that I rock is always articulate from my perspective :) And the whole separation from mainstream culture thing is like magic sometimes.

  3. WILD APPLAUSE!! This should go for many disagreements on the internet, not just size issues! Disagreeing is fine, but telling me I don’t have a right to my own opinion or control of my own body? Not ok.

    • Yay! I’m like Tinkerbell, I need applause to live :) and I absolutely agree that this goes well beyond just size issues. thanks!

      ~Ragen

  4. I too have struggled with my weight all my life. I have figured out that at my age particularly there is no “perfect body,” there is only accepting yourself. I will never have weight loss surgery. Some of my weight is due to comfort eating. Some of it is due to endocrine problems. Some of it is just the way I’m made.
    If shaming worked to change people, we’d all be perfect already.

    • Hi Dolly,

      I am so glad that you moving into a place of acceptance. Thank you for the comment!

      ~Ragen

  5. I have always found civil disagreement is essential to me, as long as it remains that way, civil. As I’ve said to many of my friends, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know that through them and my own research, I can hone that blade. I’d rather be surrounded by people who think for themselves, even if I don’t agree with them, than a bunch of sheeple.

    • Hi Karen,

      Very well said and I agree. I think the place where we lose civility is when we start telling people that they have to agree with us and that theirs is the only valid opinion, and I think that’s a shame.

      I am political liberally and I have a friend who is a staunch conservative. He and I have the best political conversations. We even thought about starting a political discussion group for people who want to do the research and have a civil discussion. We were going to call it “Juice Box and a Hug”. And now I’m babbling so I’m going to stop. Thank you for the comment!

      ~Ragen

  6. In the original post this person accused you, of all people, of something called, “under-exercising”. That made me laugh a little. I know s/he is most likely externalizing his/her own guilt, for you have made it very clear in your blog that you love exercise and do it all the time, and in fact that is what you are celebrating.

    • Yeah, I thought that was pretty hilarious. A close second for me was “promise yourself that you’re going to be healthy”. I just don’t get people sometimes.

      ~Ragen

  7. Thanks for this awesome post (as always). I too saw the negative blog post (we’re on the same listserv) and I’ve decided to make HAES posts as much as possible to help fight the insane health=thin rhetoric. And I respect that you choose not to respond to negative posts and I definitely understand why since your efforts in body-positive posting are so much more worthwhile. So I’m ok AND you’re ok!!

    For a long time I have sensed the overwhelming need of many people to be “right,” and the best way for them to do that is to present their experiences and feelings as facts instead of opinions. It is tiresome and unfortunately the internet is the perfect medium for this kind of behavior. That’s why I love this blog so much – you never delve into that. Keep fighting the good fight Ragen!

    • Hi Glenys,

      Thanks for the compliments, I’m glad that you liked the post. I’m also really glad that you posted a comment on the negative blog.

      For the record, my rule about not commenting on such posts is not because I think it’s a bad idea to do so. It’s just because I find that for me it pulls me from my core mission by pissing me off for a protracted period. I admire people who take on those fights and I very much appreciate you!

      If yours was the one about correlation not implying causation that I would like to give you a hug because that was driving me nuts. (As was the “I tried being unhealthy once and it was unhealthy” argument). Dude, what?!

      Anyway, thanks for being awesome :)

      ~Ragen

      • I’m with you on the protracted pissed-off period…it really does take it out of a person. I can’t spend *too much* time commenting on these things – it can feel so defeating. Then I need to run back to my sane HAES world to recharge for a time.

        Yep, that was me :-). Hugs back!

  8. Ok, one more comment. (I can’t help myself! I’m a DWF addict!) I just read the open letter and wow. Something that someone reminded me of was a motto we used to live by on a message board I was once a very active member of, “Don’t let people rent space in your head….for free!” I am working really hard to make sure people earn their place in my head, and if all someone is going to do is try to shame me, then they will promptly get an eviction notice. I don’t have the head space for them any more.

    • You are so awesome. I LOVE that motto. Love it, Love it, Love it. I love the idea of a headspace eviction notice. I imagine it would go like this:

      ~Ragen

      • LOL! Love the video. I wish I could take credit for the motto. I believe it may have been my friend Colleen that started it, but to be quite honest it has been 10 years and well, I think that tidbit of information was evicted from my brain space a long time ago. I do love the motto though.

  9. Applause, applause! “I’m okay, you’re okay” is one of my life-mottos. I love that you’ve reminded people of it. :3

    • Thanks :) It’s one of my life-mottos too!

  10. “However, people seem to respond to this vehemently – almost as if my choosing something different than they chose is somehow threatening to them. My best guess is that their self-esteem is based on what other people think. Society values thinness, they are thin, therefore they are valuable. I, and everyone who agrees with me and does not value thinness, is therefore diminishing their value and a threat to their self-esteem. That just my guess, who the hell knows?”

    I think this makes a whole lot of sense! Definitely something I will consider for the future!

    • It’s just a guess and I’m sure that it’s different issues for different people but when people get so angry about the way that someone else lives their lives I tend to assume it’s their issue.

  11. I had to focus on this part because I think you make an excellent point:
    “I, and everyone who agrees with me and does not value thinness, is therefore diminishing their value and a threat to their self-esteem.”

    I can say from personal experience that this is a very accurate reading. Being abnormally skinny, I endured a lot of teasing growing up, and I turned into a bit of a reflex bully in high school. My self-esteem was so low that when I got the opportunity to act superior to anyone, I seized it – and with a vengeance. Stores like AA and Urban Outfitters (“Eat less” shirt, anyone?) made it easier, because semi-emaciated androgyny was the ideal. By their standards, I could call anyone “fat.” I only went after people who I knew envied me, though. And I was subtle. I picked them because they were easy targets, not because I actually thought I was superior to them. I knew that there was nothing about me worth envying. I was lucky in this respect. My self-worth wasn’t actually founded on this idea of thinness, so it was easier for me to realize what a horrible thing I was doing – misusing others to temporarily repair my own wounded ego – but someone could have just as easily called me out on it when it was actually happening. But no one did, and I’m guessing it’s because other people secretly did buy into the thin ideal, even as they were teasing me for being a visible extreme.

    People pick you because they think you’ll be an easy target. They think you’ll be too busy staring at your shoes in shame to notice that there’s a flimsy little ladder of assumptions just waiting to be kicked out from under them. The closer you get, the more they scream and tear their hair out trying to make you look away. It’s not about you; it’s about the illusion of superiority that you’re destroying.

    • Thank you for being so honest about that. It’s a powerful story and I think it speaks to how body shaming and body snarking affect everyone.

  12. I feel like I am very clear on this blog that I am not trying to tell anyone how to live. My goal is always simply to demonstrate an option that people can choose if it makes sense to them. It seems that Anna was doing the same thing with her letter. However, people seem to respond to this vehemently – almost as if my choosing something different than they chose is somehow threatening to them.

    Oh, yes indeed. There are a lot of things where simply making a choice that’s different from the mainstream is seen as direct criticism of the people who do the mainstream thing. I run into it a fair bit – I don’t have a car, so OBVIOUSLY I must think that people who drive are [insert insult of choice here]. I don’t have a TV, so OBVIOUSLY I must think people who watch TV are [insert insult of choice here]. I’m mostly vegetarian, so OBVIOUSLY I must think that people who eat meat are [insert insult of choice here].

    Simply suggesting that a choice is possible seems to be interpreted as criticism by many people, unfortunately.

    • It seems like people will try to leverage almost anything to feel superior. So sad that everyone can’t just make choices for themselves and let other people make their choices in peace.

  13. I agree with all of this. Even though I have actively chosen to change my weight, I do not believe my personal choice for change has anything to do with anyone else but me. I felt I needed to change for personal and health reasons, and I made the change.

    I’ve received negative reactions from friends about my choices, which I can only imagine are because they are offended by my choices. That’s okay, they have every right to be. What hurts me is the ridicule, despite that I have never insisted that anyone else should make any changes to themselves unless they want to, I still receive the negative reactions. I’m okay with people being who they are and feeling safe in their bodies, I only wish others could be okay with my personal health choices, too.

  14. This is great and addresses all of those “I did it, and if I can do it anyone can.” Comments that annoy so much.

  15. I think you are better than OK
    OK barely begins to describe how wonderful you are and how powerful your blog is!!!
    Thank you.

  16. I so enjoy your blog and love this piece. I wouldn’t have expected a thoughtful HAES post could make me *coffeespew* my monitor but “you never know who might be looking for health advice and body shaming from random people on the internet!” did it! I do hand-embroidered t-shirts with small, lengthy messages (you have to look closely to see / read what they are about) and would love to use this quote if it is OK with you. (I didn’t find a link to email you this request?) Still giggling….

    • Hi Regina,

      I’m glad that you liked the post and hope that the coffee didn’t damage your monitor (I don’t carry liability insurance for that :) You are very welcome to use this quote on a t-shirt, and please let me know how I might acquire one.

      ~Ragen

  17. Love this! I definitely agree with your assessment of the person who wrote a nasty piece about my open letter to Yoga Journal. That had a lot more to do with them than me.

    Don’t know if you saw it or not, but I posted about my reaction on my site–especially once I figured out I know the person who wrote it! So bizarre.
    http://www.curvyyoga.com/body-positivity/my-crisis-of-curvy-faith/

    Hugs for this post and all your great work! Thanks!

    • Hi Anna,

      I’m so glad that you liked the blog. I just read your reaction and I loved what you wrote – Body Positivity is not always all rainbows and bunnies and I think it’s great to have someone post the truth about our journeys. Than you for everything that you do and thanks for a beautifully written letter to yoga journal! Hugs right back at you.

      ~Ragen


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: