The Fat Girl Who Can’t Move

The first stop on the Dances with Fat World Tour was wonderful!  I’ll have a full post once I have all the pictures and videos back.  I will say that in the last 72 hours I’ve crossed the country two and a half times, slept more hours on planes than in beds, been part of movie premieres on both coasts, saw my Best Friend get married and performed at the Austin NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day.

And there I saw Ani, an awesome woman who I had met on a couple of previous occasions.  She shared with me that she has been struggling with a health condition.  Of course, it took several tries to get properly diagnosed because the first few doctors gave her a diagnosis of fat and a prescription of weight loss.

Now there are restrictions on her movement that she never had to deal with before.  In the past she was an athlete and now she’s exploring movement again but with less options.  She mentioned that in my blog I talk about being fat and being able to be athletic and that she was interested in a discussion of what happens when you’re fat and can’t buck all the stereotypes.  It’s something I’ve been meaning to talk more about and she said it was cool if I use her story to frame the discussion.

I talk about the ways that I, as a healthy athlete, do not fit the stereotypes that our society has for fat people.  As we have talked about before, that opens me up to the Role Model Problem.  It also creates the possibility that people will misunderstand and think that I’m trying to say that I think it’s ok to judge people for their health, physical fitness and/or mobility.  Of course that’s absolutely not true.

First, I do not believe that health is a personal, social, or moral obligation.  People don’t have to prioritize their lives the way that we think they should. It’s not our business.  Just like we get to prioritize our lives as we see fit and it’s not other people’s business.  I also think we forget that the current state of our bodies is not entirely under our control.  In some cases it’s almost entirely out of our control.  Our health, physical fitness, and mobility are the result of our genetics, environment, stress, access (to everything from healthy food to healthcare), past behaviors and current behaviors.  It’s ridiculous to pretend that our health is entirely under our control.

Dealing with a physical limitation of any kind can be really difficult, and those difficulties can be compounded when you are a fatty.  The messages that get put out there in our culture could make someone think that there is a magical body weight that assures health and immortality.  And that is a lie.  There are people of all sizes who have health, physical fitness and mobility limitations. But if you’re fat with a limitation then you know that people are going to blame it on your weight and judge you.  The stereotype telling you that you made yourself a fatty and that caused the mobility problem or health issue -  one or both of which can easily be untrue.

Then there are the internal emotional issues that you have to deal with…It can damage your relationship with your body, make you angry with it, feel betrayed.  Create all kinds of stuff that you have to work through.  Sometimes you have to make a change from what you enjoyed before, sometimes it means that you can’t try something that you want to try, and if you’re fat it can mean that you feel like you’re living down to the stereotype – you become the fat girl who can’t move.  This has happened to me when I’ve been injured.  Dancers get injured all the time but every time I’ve had an injury I have to work through the feelings of being betrayed by my body, and deal with being a fatty with a limp with all of the stereotypical cultural bullshit attached to that.

I think that in the end, it’s about realizing that our bodies are amazing and that they will change over time.  They are simply not comparable to other bodies or to themselves over time.  There’s no point in looking for ways that your body is better or worse than other bodies, or that it can do more or less than other bodies, or than it could at some other time in your life.  There are lots of ways to have a body and, as Hanne Blank said so beautifully, there is no wrong way to have a body.

Consider the possibility that your body is amazing just as it is, and that as it changes it will continue to be amazing in different ways. You are incomparable!

No matter what, remember that you can’t control how other people feel, but you are the only person in charge of how you feel about yourself and your body- you can choose to give that power away, but it’s always your body and your choice. I have found that shutting out the constant message that we get (mostly from people who want to sell us something) that our bodies are flawed is not easy – though it gets easier over time.  But having a healthy, happy relationship with my body is definitely worth the effort. I don’t know how my body will change over time but I believe that starting with a base of love and appreciation for what my body does for me will help work through it.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 6:07 am  Comments (24)  

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Ragen!

    I’ve recently been having some hurtful exchanges with my sister, who believes that I must live according to her paradigm. I do try to be healthy, but I can’t do everything I would like to do, both because of a serious back injury and worsening asthma. Sis, however, is terrified that I’m going to keel over dead any minute because I’m not thin (and because I’m diabetic, but my diabetes is under excellent control and is not a problem at all). Sis also recently lost her teenage son (which hurts all of us), and we’ve lost both our parents within the last few years, so I understand the reason for her fear, but I just can’t live controlled by her fears.

    Thank you for reminding myself that I get to live in my body the way I choose, according to MY needs. And thank you for giving me a place where I can come read supportive words, when my family is too broken to provide that support for me.

  2. Thank you, Ragen, for being a voice for HAES(tm) without reinforcing healthism or allowing anyone to judge you or other fatties. And best of luck on your tour, beautiful radfatty! Come have lunch with us next time you’re in L.A. again. Hugs!

    • Thank you so much Lesleigh! I will look forward to hanging out on my return trip to LA!

      ~Ragen

  3. Cha-Ching! I was an average weight and happy, confident body with MD until I started to lose my leg muscles and could no longer walk without assistance (I use a wheeled walker). Now I’ve got 50 “extra” pounds and my body is, well, different! It’s been difficult to keep my self-confidence (your blog helps so much!!) with the new fluffy me, but I love my curves and know that having my 30 year-old body again isn’t going to change my muscle loss. Now, if only I could be strong (as you were) with people like the orthopaedist who said “your legs would work better if you lost weight; diet is something you can control”. (hello, losing muscle mass as we speak, here, thanks for the vote of confidence!)
    I’m moving as best I can. I still dance with my arms and torso. I’m feeding my soul and nourishing my body. And I love my life. Some day I will love it from a wheelchair but until then, look out ’cause I’m walking!
    Blog on….
    -Carol

    • Interesting that this so-called doctor would suggest dieting to someone who is already losing muscle. One wonders if you did manage to diet off those 50 pounds, would that be offset by the extra muscle tissue you would lose by dieting? Seems to me you might be even more vulnerable to muscle loss by calorie restriction than someone without MD. Somehow I suspect that “doctor” never considered that.

  4. This post speaks to me more than any other you have done. I have cerebral palsy & arthritis & I am now 62 & post-menopausal, so my body is definitely changing & I often have chronic pain. I have had cerebral palsy since birth, so I don’t get the ‘you’re disabled because you are fat’ bullshit, & I have been active all my life, many people who see me often, only know me in passing, virtually always see me in motion, so I do not get greeted with “Why don’t you exercise more?” I do occasionally get concern trolling from someone in my family about ” your legs are not strong, your balance isn’t good, you’re getting older, you should lose weight to make it easier on your legs.” And losing weight safely & keeping it off permanently is supposed to be easier at 62 than it was at 32, especially since I weigh about 35 pounds more now than I did then? I don’t think so.

    And Carol, good for you for caring for yourself, soul & body, & for loving your life & living it well on your own terms. It is what we all need to do. And I understood, from everything I have read & learned from a friend with MD, that losing your muscles pretty much is part of what happens to everyone of ANY weight who has MD. Doctors! They are so brainwashed & programmed that it really should come out, “You should lose weight, this is a recording.”

  5. Yet another wonderful post full of great insights.

    I very much relate to this post. Due to problems that have nothing to do with my size, I have to use a cane when I go out into the world. For a long time I hated that I had to use it. I would see people stare at me and then they look at the cane. It didn’t require psychic powers to know that they saw a fattie who was so fatty fat fat that they needed to use a cane to get around.

    It took me a long time to accept that I need to use a cane and divorce myself from what others thought about it. Now I see my cane as my friend because it aids me in going farther and faster than I can go without it.

  6. I also appreciate this post. A few years ago I was rear-ended at a high speed. My car was totaled; I felt I was mostly okay because I had no broken bones and wasn’t bleeding. Turns out there was collateral damage to my knees, among other areas, that I just didn’t take seriously enough. The other areas have mostly resolved with treatment but the knees got worse. And that has made it hard to be fully mobile.

    You’re right, it’s very hard to be fat and have mobility issues. I always feel like I have to apologize, or remind people that I used to be pretty active and didn’t fit the stereotype. I’m trying to get past that need to justify and explain, and just live my life, adapting as needed. Not easy.

  7. I love this post. I have an autoimmune disease and one of my worst symptoms is joint pain. When I am hurting and walking slowly, I feel uncomfortable because I know people are thinking, “fatty can’t walk because fatty so fat.” I’m pretty sure I would be walking the same way if I were 50 or a 100 pounds lighter.

    Interestingly, I have gained weight recently and my pain level is way down. Have no idea if the two things are related at all. Or is it my healthier eating–no processed foods (except that fast food meal I ended up having every week), lots of supplements?

    Who knows. But I would feel even better still if I wasn’t worried about what people are thinking about me and my weight…

    • Hi Susie,

      Well said, it seems highly doubtful that the best thing for anyone dealing with a high pain day is someone judging them.

      ~Ragen

    • Susie, this is very similar to my situation. I am Ani, referenced in the story above. I finally was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder after YEARS of being told to “just lose the extra pounds and you’ll feel better.” Nevermind that I couldn’t move because of the excruciating joint pain, the swelling, the deep ache inside my bones. I’ve put on 100 lbs. and I still hurt the exact same as I did then. I’m pretty sure it’s not the weight. grumble.

  8. I’m lucky, in as much as I seem to very rarely encounter medical professionals who assume weight loss is the cause of health or disability issues. It’s generally the random, unqualified professional who’s all “You know, if you lost the weight you wouldn’t need crutches/have menstrual cramps/get sick ever!” And they’re generally convinced that it’s an act of pure compassionate loving kindness to be fiftieth person to judge what I eat and make inaccurate assumptions about my health.

  9. I recently saw a podiatrist for foot pain, an early, non-remediable arthritis. In his summary of what I could do, he added:stay as you are, size wise; if you gain weight, you will add additional force (I forget to what degree per pound gained). What he said made perfect sense. While it was easy for me to hear, as my weight is at a fine place, I could see that being a tough parting remark to take in.

    On another note, I have a different perspective on one’s obligation to take care of his/her own health. I might agree if it has no impact on anyone else. But your health impacts those who care about you. And dare I add, the burden on our communal health care. While some conditions we cannot control (I can’t do much for my MS), I could choose to not smoke, to manage my alcohol intake, and to stay active and well nourished. I remind you, I am simply addressing health, not size!

    • While I can understand your stance and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion – I resent being told that my health is anyone but my own business. I owe it to no one, not even myself, to “be healthy.”

      Not everyone has the time or place to be active and/or access to quality food. And no one should be tisk-tisked for that.

      • I can see where Lori is coming from. I know that I need to do some movement to keep my joints moving and happy. Not only for myself, but I also don’t want to burden my husband and children with having to care for me when I am older. I look at it as being a responsible member of my family.

    • Sure, your weight does affect your knees and feet. I don’t have great knees, and I’m certain my weight does make it harder on them. I try to take care of them, but I know that they will continue to deteriorate over time and I may one day need joint replacement. The question is, does that constitute sufficient reason to attempt weight loss? Maybe for some people it does. For me it does not. I have no reason to expect long term success with weight loss and without that it doesn’t seem worth it. It comes down to asking what set of problems you are prepared to deal with? Losing weight may help with some issues but it also brings its own host of struggles, like messing up your metabolism- no thanks! It is up to every person to answer these questions for themselves. It is not in my control how others perceive my health, and while I don’t dismiss the impact of individual health on others, we don’t all have the same ability to engage in healthy behaviors, and as Ragen said, our control over our own health is limited. Frankly, not everyone has the same health needs, and we must decide for ourselves what is best for us.

    • The thing about the burden on the communal health care is that it’s not easy to predict who will cost what. Someone who chooses not to take care of themselves and develops expensive and avoidable symptoms which require treatment can end up costing a lot, as can someone who develops expensive and unavoidable symptoms, or someone who lacks the resources to prevent expensive symptoms. However, health care costs can also end up quite high for someone who spends their life taking care of themselves, lives several decades longer than they otherwise would have, and ends up getting sick at the age of eighty or ninety. (Some health problems are vastly more common among people who live long lives.) And health problems that are connected with chosen behavior include everything from cervical cancer that could have been avoided by complete lifelong sexual abstinence to knee injuries that might not have happened if one hadn’t taken up jogging. So it’s hard to develop a picture of a person’s obligations in terms of healthy living that is useful, accurate, lacking in bias (against one’s personal vision of Those People And Their Decadent Ways), and anything other than disturbingly controlling.

  10. Lovely posts by everyone. My neurologist told me that my condition would only get worse with time so I should watch my weight (I am not sure why time and weight had to be linked). So I did, I watched my lovely fatty, mcfatty weight. I am within 10 pounds of my weight when I developed the condition 12 years ago. I was fat then and I am fat (and older) now. My neurological disabilitiy is no worse, in fact better because of other changes that surprise, surprise had nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with no longer working shift work. Did anyone mention that hormonal rhythms that are affected by sleep would affect my condition? No, just a comment to watch my weight. Aaaarrrggghhh.

  11. I have been very lucky in my doctors. My primary care provider asked me at our first meeting if I was interested in losing weight. When I said that I was not, his response was, “Great. You appear to be very healthy and happy, and that is all that is important.” He has worked with me to make sure that I am as healthy as possible and pays no attention to the scale.

    When I broke my ankle last year, I got no grief about my weight from either the folk at the Urgent Care or the orthopedist I saw for it. Maybe the Urgent Care folk were in shock because I drove myself there and walked in under my own power. Maybe the orthopedist was just stunned by my description of what we were doing before I broke it – Ragen, I’m looking at you and your conditioning routine (which I miss and try to recreate at least twice a week at home now)! Whatever the reason, no one brought my weight up at any point.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there is often a lot of doctor bashing in the comments here. Doctors are just like the rest of us – some good, some bad, most middle of the road – and the important thing is to find the one that works best with you. (Hint: Asking a doctor about their feelings on Health Psychology can often help – it is a medical philosophy that stresses the prevention of disease and injury rather than the treatment, and often goes hand-in-hand with HAES.)

  12. I’m so glad you mentioned your experience with injuries. I’m on my fourth injury in three years (two dance injuries, one overuse, and one a hilariously embarrassing accident), and that’s one of the biggest challenges to my body image.

    Loving my body for what it can do (rather than how it looks) was my first kind of acceptance. When it can’t do those things, I have to work a lot harder to love it.

    It also doesn’t help that my body changed over the same period. I went from being a small end of the inbetweenie range to the larger end. Logically, I know that it was probably rebound from my ED, not caused by my injuries. But there is an insidious voice that says “when you weren’t broken, you were thinner…”

  13. I’m struggling with believing that what I do with my body is not (at least in part) my loved ones’ business. I am more or less at peace with where I am in the recovery process (from EDs of various manifestations), but my boyfriend of 6 years is not. If I want to ask him to invest in a future with me, is it fair of me to continue with behaviors (i.e., being sedentary) that could possibly lead to a shorter or lower-quality future?

    • Rosie, I don’t know you or your boyfriend, so I can only give pretty general ideas. If your boyfriend does not accept that you need to do certain things as part of recovering from an ED (or anything else) as part of necessary taking care of yourself, it could be a problem. Being around someone who tells you that you “should” be less sedentary (or anything else) when you are sure you’re doing what you need right now, is not good. Each partner needs to be aware that what they want or approve of may not be what is best or practical for the other, and be willing to put up with things they don’t agree with but are not harming them.
      Also, there are a lot of things that may shorten someones
      life or decrease quality of life, but anything short of decapitation
      only may do that rather than being guaranteed to do that. Someone can do a lot of things that are “unhealthy” and still not be sick or die young. Worrying about how your health might be in 10 years or 20 or 30 if you do something is not very useful. If you or your boyfriend are assuming that you owe it to him to do something so you will be healthy or long-lived,that’s not a good way to see it, because neither of you can guarantee your health or lifespans. There are too many things from genetics to accidents that can’t be controlled.
      Sorry, It’s late and I may not be making sense,hope that was helpful.

    • Behavior that could possibly shorten your life isn’t just stuff like being sedentary. Behavior that could possibly shorten your life ends up being nearly everything. Life could be shortened by eating a salad and discovering you had the bad luck to get tainted lettuce, or by going out for a walk around the neighborhood and being hit by a car, or by skiing and hitting a tree, or any number of things. I scuba dive, which could possibly shorten my life, and I don’t think I owe it to my loved ones to give it up.

      Moving can feel good and brings health benefits, and if you can find some way of moving that satisfies you enough that you want to do it regularly, that’s a very good thing. If you’re thinking about it, I think it’s worth looking into. I just don’t think that “I owe it to my boyfriend” is a good reason to do so.

    • Behaviors that could shorten your life and/or lead to lower-quality future also include being in relationships that are unsupportive and damaging.


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