Dancing with my Ass On

Dancing with my awesome coach Rowdy Dufrene

(Sorry to those on the subscription list who got this early due to my premature pushing of the publish button!)

My friend to her friend (who I don’t know):  That’s Ragen, she’s a bad-ass dancer.  She has won National competitions!

Friend’s friend:  Keep at it, you’ll lose the weight.

Me:  What the fuck???? (Actually I said that in my head but it must have come across in my facial expression because she quickly developed an acute case of verbal diarrea…)

FF:  I mean, when those people go on Dancing with the Stars they lose weight and there’s that Dance Your Ass Off Show and all  of those people lost weight…

On Dancing with the Stars there is great emphasis placed on the star’s weight loss.   If Kirstie Alley would have won Dancing with the Stars but not lost any weight what kind of press do you think she would have received?

Dance Your Ass Off is a reality show and fat people go on the show and they learn to dance and are put on extreme diets and the only way to win is both dance well and lose weight.

The creator of Dance Your Ass off is actress/comedienne Lisa Ann Walters.  I was a huge fan of her from her work on Shall We Dance where she played a fat eccentric who was a great dancer.  So it actually broke my heart a little that she had jumped on the fat=fit train.  Then, when I posted about the world the diet culture built, she commented on the blog:

This link came to my Dance Your Ass Off FB page and I, like you, am appalled – but, sadly, not surprised at the flourishing “size-ism” that is our last, completely acceptable prejudice. I am encouraged by voices like yours that fight. I created DYAO for that reason. I did, in fact, write a book about women and self-esteem to help combat negative body-image issues!It’s funny and very empowering – I hope you get a chance to take a look, you are very inspiring. Best, LAW

After much soul searching, I replied with this:

First, I am such a fan of you and especially your performance in Shall We Dance. While I am honored that you would consider me inspiring and the book looks fantastic, you are breaking my heart because I believe you that you think that Dance Your Ass Off helps to fight fat hatred. However I, who am a fat National Champion Dancer, am certain that your show and others like it are partially responsible for creating a culture where a stranger feels comfortable telling me they want to punch me until I die because I’m fat. You are an amazing actress and comedienne with a platform much bigger than mine and if I could truly inspire you, I would inspire you to encourage a focus on actual healthy habits rather than a focus on thinness that only adds to the stigma against fat people and doesn’t actually increase anyone’s health. Your show sends the loud and clear message that talent is not enough and health is not enough – you must be thin to win. I wrote this post http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/the-real-biggest-loser last year specifically to discuss the dangers of shows like yours, I hope you’ll read it, think it over, and then do whatever you think is right.

Thank you for the comment and very best of luck to you,

~Ragen

The whole dancing/weight loss thing creates an annoying problem for me.  The conversation that I opened with is not rare.  Most people would be shocked at how many times someone appends a compliment of my dancing with “how much weight have you lost?”.  I understand that some people think that these go hand in hand but to me they are so different that it’s like someone telling an artist “Wow, that’s a beautiful painting.  Had you considered a boob job?”  Non sequitur and inappropriate all at the same time.

Let’s talk about what you know in this situation.  You have watched me dance, and you thought that I was talented.  You complimented me.  Excellent logical thought process.  And thank you for the compliment.

You watched me dance, you thought that I was talented, you see that I’m fat. You asked me how much weight I’ve lost. Hit the brakes and back up the logic train, we had a passenger fall off.

I haven’t lost any weight.  I am not trying to be thin.This is not the kind of thing to guess about.  Now I’m irritated and the person who made the comment is embarrassed.  This could all be avoided by focusing on what’s in front of us.  You don’t know anything about my weight, or my health or my intentions for either by watching me dance.  You do know whether or not you think I’m a good dancer so let’s keep our eye on the ball here and stick with what we know.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 3:49 am  Comments (28)  

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Keep at it. Eventually people will get that it’s not always possible to lose the weight no matter what you do. You can walk and dance and exercise for hours and just simply not lose it. And NO, the answer to that should NOT be bariatric surgery (and it’s sad because I DO see people go to that next step and I even had an OB say that I should get bariatric surgery if I can’t lose the weight with diet and exercise, guess he had to get the surgery money somehow since he couldn’t convince me to allow him to cut my baby out of me for no good reason)! The answer is to accept that that person has a different body than you do. Just like there are people out there who can’t get fat no matter how many donuts you feed them, there are people who cannot get skinny no matter how much exercise they do. D’OH!

  2. I’m glad that you communicated your feelings to Lisa about this. I too loved her in “Shall We Dance?” I wish that “Dance Your Ass Off” focused on HAES principles and not on getting skinny. That would be very cool.

    • I have to comment on this as Ragen is my student. And I have to disagree, I do think that DYAO is trying to help these people on not just loosing weight but also healthier eating habits for themselves. I think we all agree that everyone shoudl be happy with themselves as they are, but not everyone is. And if these people can be happy with the way these programs are helping them then why cant we just be supportive of that! As for as DWTS goes they do put a lot of focus on the weight loss but I for one have only really noticed it with maybe three or four people. and have to say its a sahem that they focus more on that then on the fact that these peopel learned to dance.

      Just my comments and thoughts, I’m sure Ragen and I will have more on this in our lesson Thursday ….heheh

      Rowdy

  3. Ragen this is a wonderful post. Thank you! I get similar for my cycling. I love to be out on my bike, in the fresh air, surrounded by beautiful countryside, or if I’m in London, by gorgeous architecture. Cycling makes feel feel a zen-like calm, I feel real freedom and a deeper connection to nature.

    Then someone points out that it’s a great way to lose weight. They totally miss the point and I feel angry with them, as if they are cheapening my cycling experience. Or they say things like “I need to lose weight – I should start cycling too”.

    One day I hope the world will exercise because it makes their heart soar, not because of some numbers on a scale or a chart.

  4. Terrific post! There is no doubt that you are FIT. There are lots of weak skinny girls out there will drop long before you do. There’s fat …
    and then there’s fat, sedentary, and plain lazy and they don’t belong lumped into the same category.

    • There’s also skinny, sedentary, and plain lazy, which is what I was for most of my life, until the last year or so when I was actually encouraged to think more about my health than numbers on a scale or inches on a tape measure! And I think this blog has been a big help in enabling me to realize that I need to exercise for *health* not for *size.* Since I was skinny to begin with, I thought I could get away with sitting on my butt eating crap all the time, but that isn’t healthy!

    • Oh but they do. They all belong to the category of “people that deserve to live their lives without disrespect and judgement”. The notion that there are “good fatties” and then “bad fatties” or that fitness/health are virtues is considered very problematic and harmful in the size acceptance community. This was actually hurtful.

    • Well, I am fat, sedentary, and lazy. I am sorry you don’t see me as having any worth. Or maybe it is just that I don’t have “as much” worth as the good fatties who are also fit. I will now go sit in a “lump” in my own little category by myself.

    • Hi Gayle,

      Thank you for your comment, I’m glad that you liked the post. I’m not sure if it was your intention to say that people should not assume that I’m sedentary because of my size, or if you meant to create a “good fatty”, “bad fatty” type of division.

      I’m personally against creating that type of division. People lead all kinds of lifestyles for all kinds of reasons and saying anything other that “everyone deserves to be treated with respect” seems like treading on dangerous ground to me. As a society we celebrate people who jump out of helicopters wearing skis, or go on Fear Factor and eat bugs. But not single moms who work two jobs and just don’t have time to work out, or people who simply choose to value other things in their lives above health. All of those choices are equally valid to me no matter what the person’s body size is and I think that we travel down a bad road when we start deciding whose lifestyle is “good” and whose is “bad”.

      Just my 2 cents,

      ~Ragen

  5. Fun fact: Since I started actively dancing my ass on (I love that phrase, btw) a few years back, I’ve gained roughly 20kg/45lbs. To quote one of my favorite artists, isn’t it funny how your body works? I’m no smaller, maybe slightly differently proportioned but in the end it is all about me having fun. And that’s what matters to me. I’ve had people go “how the fuck you stay fat with the way you dance, do you eat nothing but butter?” and assume I’m doing hard drugs all the time to be able to do what I do.

    I know I will never be a professional dancer like you, mainly because I am too effing lazy and love my actual job too much- but I like to think my dancing is a BIG part of my identit. I love it and I want more of it. If I find one that suits my silly schedule, I intend to sign up for actual classes soon and I blame you because you’re so inspiring. Just so you know :D

  6. Yup. I’m at a professional conference right now with a bunch of colleagues. I’ve been hitting the fitness center twice a day because all the sitting during the day is aggravating my chronic pain, and movement helps relieve it.

    A couple of my colleagues, who themselves have lost noticeable amounts of weight, have commented to me. The conversations have basically gone:

    Colleague: “How much weight have you lost so far?”

    Me: “None.”

    Colleague: “Don’t worry, you will!”

    Me: “I don’t think so, but I’m not worried.”

    And it’s like they can’t conceive of a situation in which a person would be regularly physically active (past conversations have revealed that I’ve been doing this for considerably longer than they have) and not lose weight. I sort of understand because I think they: a) may have a thought train that sees fat always as the result of unhealthy habits; b) have a certain amount of emotional/esteem investment in their weight loss/thinner appearance.

    So I get that they’re trying to be encouraging. But assuming I do or should want something that isn’t happening for me (and that I try very hard not to want) doesn’t really encourage the right thing.

    • I can SO relate to this. I’ve really never been much of a big eater and exercise frequently and hear this stuff ALL the time. Then, when my reply is something along the lines of “Yeah, I don’t really lose weight no matter what I do or don’t do” the response is somewhere along the lines me being crazy, lying, or both. Then it makes ME feel crazy! But, most people believe what they learn in popular culture and unless they are struggling with that issue they never learn otherwise. And then they’re happy to inform you of what they “know” as though you don’t have access to the same junk science. (As one of Ragan’s previous posts points out.)

      It’s SO obnoxious! :)
      ~ManDee

  7. I think one of the biggest issues about that response is how it de-legitimizes your talent within the activity and your reasons for doing it. Fat person: “Hey, I won a triathlon!” Reply: “Congrats, and if you keep at it you’ll really lose the weight!” No one says that crap to a thin athlete.

    Obviously, a world class athlete – or just a talented amateur – is into a sport for more than just weight loss or even health reasons. I assume that you don’t dance just to exercise, but because it is your passion. So many people force themselves to do exercise that they hate, just so they can lose weight or increase health or whatever. People assume that fat people must be working out for the same reasons. After all, if they loved to exercise they wouldn’t be fat, right? QED!

  8. Even worse than “how much weight have you lost?” is “You look good. Have you lost weight?” What, did I look bad before? Is it only because it appears that I’ve lost weight that I “look good”? If I were this size to begin with, would I still look good? Or is it only the apparent weight loss that makes me look good? I could look like Cousin It from the Adams Family but as long as it appears I have lost weight, I look good, right? If I developed an eating disorder and lost a ton of weight, would you continue to tell me I look good, the thinner I get? Because that statement makes it seem that looking good and losing weight have a causal link.

    I like to stun these people by saying, “Nope, I haven’t.” They get these confused looks on their faces, like they’re thinking, “But… but… but… now I don’t know if she looks good or not! How can she look good if she’s the same weight?!?!?! I don’t know up from down, left from right anymore! Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!”

    • I like to stun these people by saying “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of my weight.” (Not actually truthful. When I’m in a full training load, I do. Because I don’t want to lose too much weight, it would suggest problems with my nutrition and hydration plans.)

      But, my-oh-my, the issues people have with the idea of a person not tracking their weight. Because I’m fat, it appears that I need to know what I weigh, and obsess about decreasing that number.

      • I don’t keep track of my weight (I get weighed when I go to the doctor/GYN, that’s all) and some people really can’t believe it. They do love my bathroom scale, though — I glued little positive messages over all the numbers, so it’s like getting a fortune cookie:

        http://www.dorothyhickson.com/crafts/fbr.html

    • Related to this is the “you’d be gorgeous if you lost weight.” I once countered with, “what am I now, ugly?!” The person stammered. Then recovered and said I would be even more beautiful…

      Yeah, but the message is that I am not ENOUGH.

      Oh, am I enough!

      xo Susie

    • Try “You’d look so pretty, if you’d just lose your weight.” My father has said that to me on multiple occasions. The last time was at Christmas, so if I end up having to move back in with my parents I’m going to be having what I have dubbed the “Fat Talk” with my parents. Heck I’ll have it with them even if I don’t move back in, because no one deserves to have comments like that thrown at them by anyone.

  9. I’m leaving a mostly unrelated comment here, but will also say that I, too, can’t stand the questions about weight loss if you share an exercise or fitness practice with others- breaking the association of exercise with weight loss is SO necessary in society! Move in a way you love, and your body will certainly appreciate it! That appreciation may or may not cause a change in the number on the scale! Done!

    Anyway, I’m really commenting because I wondered if you have read Body Wars by Margo Maine? I’m reading it currently and it’s fabulous. I think you’d like it quite a bit, and it gives more of the science around weight and the ridiculous “basis” for some of the weight standards. I just learned, for instance, that people who might have been average weight on a table on June 16, 1998 were possibly obese on June 17, 1998 without having gained a pound! Heh. Anyway, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend picking it up!

    • I remember seeing the announcement of the new guideline on the evening news. I went from the lower end of overweight to obese in less than 10 minutes. I was 15 at the time. I remember the feeling of completely being adrift as a difficult to reach goal became completely out of reach.

  10. The phenomenon you’re describing frustrates the shit out of me. I run a Contact Improvisation dance community and my favorite dance partner/best male friend is fat, and I’ve heard people occasionally make a comment about his weight related to his dance ability. Dancing with him is one of the greatest pleasures of my life and though his weight fluctuations change the experience of our dances, they don’t lessen it–and frankly, when he’s bigger, lifting him means I get a better workout.

    Since I started reading this blog, I’ve been thinking more about diversity in my group. Probably 90% of the people who join us are some combination of youngish, white, able-bodied, and thin. We’ve never marketed ourselves except in other non-choreographed dance groups. Any ideas about where to go to bring in a broader diversity of people? Maybe the local rec centers…

  11. Am going through the same with swimming daily – the body is changing and the ass is getting a different shape, but the size of me is not smaller. Fine with it, loving the renewed strength and energy from movement in a way I enjoy and doesn’t hurt me. Sometimes I think of beginning a water dance program for women with their asses on and loving it.

  12. I wish there was a “like” button for all the comments on this blog. ;) I’m so glad to hear from those who struggle with those comments. It feels good here, y’all!

    ~ManDee
    http://www.chubbygirlcomics.com

  13. I just have to say again Ragen that I admire you so much. I resolved that after we moved I would start taking dance classes in our new city. (I’ve always loved to dance and have always been graceful, but grew up “knowing” that I wouldn’t fit in the dance world.)

    However we got here a week ago and I have yet to search out dance classes. I blame it on getting settled in to our new place, but really I’m scared. Every time I think about walking in to a dance studio at my size, I actually get nauseous.

    Any words of advice to help get me through the door?

  14. Ugh! Usually the weight-loss talk comes couched in a “compliment” (I put that in quotes because it’s really not…) This person didn’t even do you that small courtesy. What you said in your head, I would’ve said out loud to her.

    To be quite honest, I don’t know how the people who do those weight loss + dance training shows don’t collapse. One of the pillars of training is that you have to give your body back through nutrition what you take away through exercise, but these folks are burning their candles at both ends.

  15. I once had a friend compliment my weight loss and then compound the insult by saying I looked good, but would look amazing if I lost ANOTHER 10 pounds.

    • Ugh, this one is the worst. I have had readers who’ve commented that this happened to them when the weight loss was from stage 4 cancer, so you are not alone in the world of people who confuse compliments and encouragement with being freaking rude.

      ~Ragen


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