We Love to Watch You Try

I’m back in Austin from San Francisco (I will be posting all about the trip, but not today).  I literally just arrived (driving 14 hours on Saturday, sleeping, then starting again at noon yesterday and ending now).  Normally I would just go to bed and blog whenever I get up, but I was checking my e-mail at a red light on the way home and after reading a comment I decided that I had to get this off my chest before going to be for what I can only assume will be a very long time.

The comment said “Oh Ragen I adore you.  Of course we’ll never change things but I think I speak for everyone when I say how much we appreciate that you try”.

She started off well (from my, admittedly biased, perspective) but then took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  This is the second comment that said something like this that I’ve received in the last few days and I’ll admit that the first thing I thought when I saw each of them was “haven’t you seen Newsies?”  Seriously though, I know that both of these commenters had the best of intentions, but I really struggled with the comments.

I think part of it is because of my business history. In my consulting career I did a fair amount of turnaround (going into a business that is failing and attempting to turn it around and make it succeed). This often presents as a near impossible task. Once the turnaround team decided that a business was salvageable we did a lot of analysis, change implementation, change management, planning, goal setting etc.  in order to succeed.  You know what we never did?  If you guessed “say that the task was impossible” give yourself 5 points (or a cookie, your choice).  Because there’s nothing to be gained by predicting failure except feeling better about failing which nobody on any turnaround team I’ve ever been on was interested in.

So that’s where most of my initial reaction to the comment came from, but there’s another layer.  And that is the fact that for me there is no alternative than to try to change the status quo.  The more I see fat people stereotyped, recieving subpar or no medical treatment, being made to pay higher insurance premiums, having people claim that our body size constitutes a disease diagnosis or proof of a mental illness (more on that tomorrow) etc. the more it reinforces to me that this is a civil rights movement. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a fat person who is happy with their body and size or a fat person who wants to change their size and/or shape. We all deserve respect in the bodies that we live in right now and that doesn’t change even if our body size does.  I absolutely believe that we’ll see substantive change in my lifetime, but even if I didn’t believe that I would continue what I’m doing because when it comes to fighting for civil rights, the odds just don’t matter and history is on our side. People can say “that’s reality, deal with it fatty”, but we know better than that.

I was originally planning to re-post last years Halloween post and fortuitously it turns out that last year’s Halloween blog is highly applicable to today’s topic so here it is:

Fair warning – this  starts and ends with Halloween but the middle bits strayed a little…

I was shopping for Halloween Costumes yesterday.  There was one that said “One Size Fits Most”.  In small print it said that it fit women’s sizes up to 14.

That really made me think.  Every time I turn around, I hear that 60+% of Americans are overweight or obese, so shouldn’ t the tag read  “One Size Fits Less than One Third”.

Let’s be clear, I seriously question the validity of the percentage of overweight and obese Americans  because the standard for what constitutes “overweight” was set by diet companies.  But let’s pretend that it’s a true statistic.  In that case, we’re the majority in this country and yet we’re still not treated very well.

If we’re really 60+%, then why don’t lobby the media:  We want to see more positive representations of ourselves and less body hating and photoshopping or they’ll lose 60+ % of their customers?  This doesn’t just affect fat people either, studies show that 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their bodies.  As the majority, I think it’s time we stand up for our thin body-dissatisfied sisters and say that enough is enough – we aren’t buying any more magazines that promise “our best bikini body in 15 minutes”.

At 60+%, we control to vote in the United States, but 25+ states have considered or are considering taxes on fat people –  despite the fact that nobody has any proven way to lose weight.  It doesn’t even matter that I have perfect health at my current size.  My picture of health doesn’t fit my state’s frame so I could get taxed for my size.

At the end of the day, if we want change then we have to take responsibility for claiming our power as the majority, or (just in case those numbers are as wrong as I think they are) a community. Many people of size choose to buy into the idea that their size determines their worth and that they don’t deserve to be treated well.  It’s an easy thing to do –  we are constantly told that we are lazy, we are unhealthy, we are costing billions in healthcare and lost work.  When you look into those studies you’ll find that there are some serious questions as to their validity.  For example, the Congressional Budget Office released a report saying that Obesity WAS NOT the reason for the rise in health care costs  Using that article as a basis, the Boston Globe published an article called “Obesity’s Punch to the Gut” where they said that Obesity WAS the cause of the rise in health care costs.  How did they get from point A to point B?  They left out words in quotes, and they used those partial quotes to construct a message that was polar opposite from the source material.  I have no idea why they would do that, but they weren’t the only ones who did.

There is no such thing as a “healthy weight”  and that insidious little saying needs to be pulled from the collective vocabulary. We know that two people can fit the same profile – sedentary, non-nutritious diet, health problems – and one can be fat while the other stays thin. Ignoring that facts that healthy is multi-dimensional, not in our control and that other people’s health is not our business this is still problematic.  Even if you believed that people should be held fully responsible for their health, it’s a big, flaming sack of duh that it’s absolutely unfair to single out the one who is fat for higher taxes, workplace discrimination and poor treatment, while the person who remains thin doesn’t suffer any of those consequences despite the same lifestyle and choices.  You could say that’s all trick and no treat (you might especially say that if you were trying to fit this blog into the Halloween theme).

No matter what, you deserve to be treated well with respect and equality in the exact body that you have now.  So have a fun, happy and safe Halloween and at some candy corn for me, because I’m planning to sleep through the whole thing.

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When constantly told that you are something, you become it. Remember that office exercise, where people put labels on their head and are told to solve a problem, where everyone treats them like they’re that label? At first, they are confused and sometimes upset, but they quickly adjust to act like the label that they’ve been given… or someone who actually fits the label.

    People given the label ‘fat’, in this society, would either a) start being lazy and eat a bit more, as their brain thinks that’s what people expect of them, and would make them happy… or start to hate themselves, as others do, and no matter what they do they still have that label.

    It really does take a rare person to step out of those two and say,”This isn’t right. Nothing your saying about me is true, and the only reason you think you know they are, is because of the silly label on my head.”

  2. The reason the majority doesn’t lobby for human rights? They don’t feel they deserve it. The internalized fat hatred is so so so so strong and so hard to overcome. You’re absolutely right it is a civil rights issue but until fats understand that fat is not bad, worthless, garbage, pathology, etc, nothing will change from mass action.

    Working on “turnaround teams” sounds amazing. I’ll bet it was extremely gratifying.

  3. They keep trotting out that 60%+ stat seemingly to terrify us. A huge chunk of that 60% are probably people like me — would still fit into that Halloween costume, but are told we are dangerously “overweight,” no matter what our health is, and even though the proposed solution is more often than not counterproductive. Because of my size, some people around me seem to feel safe talking about how terrible “obesity” is. I want to tell them — you’re talking about me. Maybe I’ll never show up in a headless fatty pic, but when you talk about how awful it is that people don’t control their weight, you’re talking about me.

  4. I’m sorry, I know I should be commenting in a more intelligent manner, but…”a big flaming sack of duh” is going to stay with me all day, and I can’t stop laughing…

    Intellectual and profound commenting will resume again shortly…a thousand pardons for this slight blip..!

  5. I just started following your blog but I love it! You are not only a well written blogger but you have the message that I need to hear.

    About a year ago, I went to see a doctor for the first time in a long time because I had a cold that would not go away. She spent more time telling me how I needed to exercise and eat better than she did addressing my cold. She was so “concerned” for me over my weight that she demanded I go and get blood work done to make sure I wasn’t diabetic or anything. Since at the time I had insurance and it was free, I thought why not. When I brought the paperwork back to her, she had a look of shock on her face and said (almost a direction quotation), “Oh wow. Your numbers are better than mine.”

    I didn’t realize it at the time, but that doctor couldn’t even focus on the real reason why I came to see her because all she could see was my “weight.” Much like people of other races have felt and still feel sometimes. People can only focus on their “color.” So you are absolutely right, it is a civil rights issue! People roll their eyes when I say that, but I keep saying it! Haha

  6. You know what? My grandmother was born into a world where nobody seriously expected that women would ever get the vote. My mother held elected office.

    My father was born into a world where everybody assumed the sun would never set on the British Empire in India… and yet somehow it fell before his first child was born.

    My oldest brother was born into a world where nobody believed that the Jim Crow laws in the deep south would ever be repealed. ‘Nuff said. There’s still plenty of institutionalized racism in the world, but it’s blatantly illegal now, even when the people who are supposed to be enforcing the law aren’t. Miles to go, but we’re on the road.

    I was born into a world where a woman would never have been expected to sit on the bench of the Supreme Court. Yeah, that changed, too.

    Change is not easy. It isn’t usually quick. But that doesn’t make it impossible. The one thing needed to make change possible is for enough people to stand up and be counted, and believe, and never give up.

    • Twistie, I know you wrote this 6 months ago, but it really gave me a lift today. The truth is things do change slowly – it can be hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the midst of that slowness. But it is essential. Thank you!

  7. I thought this was a great article and proof that mainstream thinking about this is just not true: http://www.canada.com/health/Myths+about+piling+pounds+belly+study/5590263/story.html

    • I think, except for this part.

      “But Fransoo said it is concerning that the biggest increases in obesity in Manitoba are among young adults age 18 to 34. It means that they may be exposed to weight-related risks, such as hypertension and diabetes for much longer periods in their lives.”

      IIRC they are somewhat correlated to higher weight, but not caused by higher weight (correlation does not equal causation!), and the article does not make that distinction clear.

  8. I agree with much of your post, as I often do. But, given your beginning with complaining that you don’t like to be told “We love to watch you try [although it won't work] I wonder that you don’t notice how often you tell people that they won’t be able to lose weight, even though , according to the stats that you yourself cite, 5% of people DO SUCCEED in losing weight and maintaining the loss.
    Thus, 5 out of every hundred, 50 out of every 1000, 500 out of every 10,000… 5,000 out of every 100,000 succeed, In spite of the now near constant chant that it “can’t” be done About the same number of people who manage to turn around failing businesses, become proficient at difficult skills of any kind, – you see my point?
    I am against fat-phobia, and I agree that people are healthy at many weights. What I am tired of is “why try since it can’t be done?” – when what is really meant is “It is extremely difficult and means life changes at several levels, not a temporary diet… but some do succeed”.
    My point is, that if people want to give it a try to lose some of their weight, for whatever reason (unless they are anorexic), the it is equally offensive for you and other bloggers to keep telling them “It’s nice to see you “try” but it won’t work” as you find the remarks of those who you helped with your consulting.

    • Hi Katie,

      Thanks for the questions. The reason lies not just in the “can it be done” (and it should be noted that the 5% success rate is generally within the margin of error for the studies), but also in whether it makes sense to do it. The 95% of people who are likely to fail at weight loss are also likely to become less healthy than they were before those attempts (including markers of physical and mental health) which means that the most common outcome of weight loss attempts is weight gain and endangerment of health. The consequences become worse the more that people attempt weight loss.

      There is also no proof that losing weight causes an increase in health – as weight has not been proven to cause health problems (only to be correlated with them) and weight loss has not been proven to cure them since it’s most likely that the behaviors and not the weight loss are responsible for the health changes . A Health at Every Size perspective where we concentrate on health rather than weight offers all of the health benefits of a weight loss regimen without the risks. Therefore the only benefits of weight loss are social which makes it a civil rights issue and not a health issue at all.

      You’ll note that I never tell people not to lose weight, but I think it’s important – especially in a world where weight loss is marketed as a successful cure for things – that people understand that suggesting weight loss is prescribing something that nobody has proved is possible for a reason that nobody can prove is valid. I was always honest with consulting clients about their odds of success and also about the consequences of lack of success as I am when it comes to weight loss.

      ~Ragen

      • Ragen, this –

        A Health at Every Size perspective where we concentrate on health rather than weight offers all of the health benefits of a weight loss regimen without the risks. Therefore the only benefits of weight loss are social which makes it a civil rights issue and not a health issue at all

        – gets right to the very heart of the issue, directly and concisely. I’ll remember this next time anyone’s recommending weight loss. Thank you.

  9. I completely missed the fact that you live in Austin! Now I must attend one of your speaking engagements. My sis-in-law is the one who lobbied to have you speak at Google. :)

  10. Every major social change begins against nearly impossible odds. We have to understand that revolution may move very slowly at first, and may even seem to go backwards at times. A major paradigm shift such as the one we are pursuing does not happen in a week, or a year, or even in a decade. For us to change the anti-fat tide we first have to slow it down before it can be stopped then reversed. every person who joins that movement adds to the opposition. Sure, the fat haters will keep on hating us tomorrow no matter what we say today. But the results of our opposition may be seen years down the road. When you plant a seed, it doesn’t spring up immediately no matter how much you water it. But give it a few days or even weeks, and it sprouts. What we stand for today may change our kids’ tomorrow, if not ours. The only way to ensure that things don’t change is to throw up our hands and surrender.

  11. Fantastic post Ragen. Oh things are going to change – they already have and they do a little more each day. But it is slow. And that’s why people think that nothing changes. They forget where we were, and what we’ve achieved.

    Keep fighting the good fight. I’m right beside you.

  12. I want to be on the turnaround team for this issue! Where do I sign up? What can I do? I’ve been giving little fat/health awareness talks to my [mostly thin, fat-phobic] friends, but it hasn’t done much good. We are in a period of rapidly accelerating change–look what’s happening in politics and economies, world-wide–so the energy is with us to stop fat discrimination as well!


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