Your Experience is Just That

I hear these kinds of things all the time:  I know that fat people eat this way because it’s what I did when I was fat.  I know that all fat people are sick because everyone who comes to my medical practice who is fat is sick.  I gained 20 pounds after a bad break-up and lost it with Slim Fast (or whatever) therefore someone who has been fat their whole life and has been on 15 diets can lose 200 pounds by doing what I did.

This is going wrong on a bunch of levels. The first thing to do is to separate personal experience from research.

The mistake that I see most often with experience is people confusing their own experience with everyone’s experience. Each of us can only speak for ourselves and what we think and our own life experiences.

This also leads to some issues wherein people who have no sense of understanding of a situation try to figure out how they would solve it if it were them.  Depressed?  Snap out of it.  Alcoholic?  Stop drinking.  Anorexic? Start eating.  Fat?  Get thin.  These “solutions” aren’t evidence-based, they are what people think based on their limited understanding, and lacking the emotional intelligence and intellectual humility to understand that they may not have any frame of reference that would allow them to understand someone else’s experience.

That said, we are the best witnesses to our own experience as is everyone else, so if someone says that they are happier having lost weight I have no right to tell them that they are wrong, just like they have no right to question that I am happy at my size.  Also, saying that one fat person losing weight and maintaining the loss means every fat person can is very much like saying that one person surviving going over Niagara Falls in a barrel means everybody can do it. That’s where research comes in.

So while a person might be happier thin, research gives me some context for that (besides the fact that I don’t believe that the cure for social stigma is weight loss).  Based on the studies that exist I know that there is a 95% that they will regain their weight within 5 years and, if they don’t, they are a statistical anomaly.  So before I go trying to duplicate the weight loss to be happy, it’s important to know that I have a 95% chance of failure, so I might want to look at a different avenue for finding happiness.

Even though the message I hear from the everybody knows” people is that exercise doesn’t make me healthier unless it makes me thinner, research tells me that moderate movement 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week mitigates most of the health issues correlated with obesity, even though it’s not likely to lead to weight loss.

I use a lot of education in my activism.  I have found that even well meaning people have a hard time figuring out how it feels to be a person of size and what they can do to help.  One of the things that I’ve seen be very successful with that is share our experiences, share research, educate.  Not just point out the problem, but become involved in the solution.

In order to do that we have to avoid mistaking our experience for the experience of others, and we also have to be extremely careful to remember that we are the best witness to our own experiences and that other people don’t get to replace our experiences with theirs.

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Published in: on March 30, 2012 at 5:46 am  Comments (26)  

Projection is for Films not Fatties

Ragen Chastain 5'4, 284lbs Photo by the amazing Substantia Jones of adipositivity.com

I am reviewing my slide deck for my talk tomorrow at Long Island University.  The talk is called “Health for People of Size” (and is open to the public, details are here.)  Toward the end I discuss practical steps to give proper healthcare to people of size, and one of the things that I discuss is that the practitioner must not project their issues onto the patient.

This particular bullet point came about when I was chatting with a dietician I know.  She has recovered from an eating disorder and now works with people who have eating disorders. She told me she likes what I have to say if it’s true, but that she doubts that people can really be happy in fat bodies.  I asked why and she explained that she was uncomfortable when she was just 20 pounds heavier than her now thin frame and so we couldn’t image being comfortable at 15o pounds heavier.

I think that this happens a lot- people who aren’t able to live joyfully in their bodies for whatever reason have a tendency to project their issues onto us, the idea being that if they are unhappy at 125 pounds, we must be twice as unhappy at 250 pounds.  There are two pieces of this. The first is social acceptance – we talk about that a lot in this blog, specifically the fact that the cure for social stigma is not weight loss, it’s ending social stigma.

What I want to talk about today is the physicality of a fat body and the fallacy that one can make assumptions about how someone else feels in their body.

Remember when Dr. Oz had Dr. Gaesser put on an 80 pound vest to show him what it would be like to be obese?  Remember how that’s complete bullshit since people don’t typically gain 80 pounds in 5 seconds all on their torso?

The human body has a tremendous ability to adapt.  My body is used to carrying this much weight and it does it well.  I work hard on my physical fitness and I find that I am physically fit.  I’ve written before about considering shifting from a concept of overweight to one of being under-strong.  Pilates and weight training have been instrumental in what I can do with my body. If it weren’t for Pilates I would never have been able to do the splits and the strength from pilates and weight lifting is what allows me to do the dance work that I do.  Unfortunately, well meaning people have often suggested that I not lift weights so as not to “bulk up” – the idea being that I’m already fat, I would certainly not want to be heavier.  What they aren’t understanding is that I’m FAR more interested in what my body can do than in how it looks.

But that’s my body, with its unique combination of potential and limitations.  Every body is different. The idea that all thin people are fit and all fat people are unfit is simply not true.  If I got 50 people who are all in their “ideal” weight range, there would be some people who couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without losing their breath, some who would have trouble curling a gallon of milk, some who couldn’t do a single squat or push-up, and some who run marathons, some who power lift etc.  The same would happen for 50 people at any weight or size. You can’t tell how fit someone is by how the size of their body, and different bodies are good at different things based on genetics and training.  It’s about what you choose to do, with the body you have (and it’s unique combination of potential and limitations), and the access you have, and all choices are valid.

Each of our bodies is amazing and there is simply no point in comparing them to other bodies.  We are also not obligated to take other people’s opinions of what it’s like to be us and internalize them.  People’s thoughts are like grocery stores – they can sell whatever they want but we don’t have to buy it.  If you’ve had a break-up with exercise, you can always choose to try to repair that relationship.  If you are looking for a safe space to talk about fitness from a Health at Every Size perspective, join us on the Fit Fatties Forum.

Regardless, you never know what your body can do until you try and you are the only person who gets to decide how you feel about your body or what you want to do with it.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 29, 2012 at 7:10 am  Comments (16)  

Shame-Free Self Care

I got an e-mail response to yesterday’s blog from a woman who asked “can you address the practical side of it? How do you deal with the sweaty, rubbing aspect of bodies, especially in the heat”

This is a big deal because we live in a society that tells us that our bodies, if they are fat, are not worthy of care.  We also get the message that the needs of a fat body are embarrassing and shameful.  We are in charge of whether or not we believe these things, and I do not.  I think my body is amazing and worthy of great care.

My first experience with this was when I decided to look for a solution to inner thigh chaffing (aka “chub rub”).  What shocked me most was that it wasn’t just fat women – there were thin women dealing with the same issues.  That’s when I realized that these aren’t just “fat people issues” it’s just that fat people are the only ones encouraged to be ashamed of them.

For me, it’s all about honoring the needs of my body without guilt or shame.  Here are some examples:

Chaffing

There are all kinds of cremes and powders to address this. There’s a thread about those here [TW - not a Health at Every Size Space].  Making sure that your clothes fit well is another part of it.  When I’m wearing skirts I often wear leggings under them (long length if I want them to show and bike short length if I don’t want them to show).  This also helps with the fact that I have a hard time remembering to sit like a lady and I have a tendency to just high kick for any old reason!  There are also cloth pads that you can buy that go under your bra or in your tunny fold to prevent chaffing.  I bought the bra ones because sometimes I dance in an underwire bra and that makes the skin under my breasts really sad.  The pads cleared the problem right up.

Showering

It’s possible that a combination of body size and/or arm length and/or inflexibility will lead to you know being able to reach your whole body when showering.  Consider using loofah or other sponges that have long handles, getting a shower head that separates.  While you’re at it, consider investing in a big, ginormous towel or two (I have found that it’s completely awesome to have a towel that matches my bodies proportions) and make sure that you dry off thoroughly.

Treats!

Your body is awesome and it can feel awesome to treat it well with special things and decorations.  It can be as simple as a scented lotion or a bubble bath, or as dramatic as a tattoo or piercing.

More of Me to Love, Ample Stuff, and My Size USA all offer products specifically to help people take care of their large bodies. (I don’t get paid by any of these sites, More of Me to Love was the major donor on the Billboard Project).

Regardless, if I let people shame me into not taking good care of my big amazing body then the shamers win and I’m the only one who suffers.

So, today is “ask me anything about self-care day”!  Leave a comment with your question, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

I also wrote this week for iVillage about the Vogue article involving the mother who decided to make body shame part of her 7 year old daughter’s inheritance.  Feel free to read and comment if the mood strikes you!

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 28, 2012 at 6:05 am  Comments (57)  

When Every Body But Mine Was Beautiful

Picture by Richard Sabel

One of the most common e-mails that I get is from blog fans who say that, while they completely understand size acceptance for everyone else, and they find bodies of all sizes beautiful and valuable and awesome, they just can’t get there for their own bodies. I got an e-mail like that today and it really struck me because I’m preparing to be an Adiposer tomorrow. If you don’t know about the [NSFW] adipositivity project, you are absolutely missing out. It’s a project that “aims to promote size acceptance, not by listing the merits of big people, or detailing examples of excellence (these things are easily seen all around us), but rather, through a visual display of fat physicality.”  There are stunning pictures of fat people in various stages of dress and undress.  It’s amazing, I’ve loved it forever and tomorrow I get to pose for the project and meet its amazing creator, Substantia Jones, which in some ways is a culmination of all the self work I’ve done about this,  and wow am I rambling off topic right now.

So anyway, I get a lot of people who e-mail and ask how to go from being able to appreciate everyone else’s body to being able to appreciate their own body as well.  I have been there, so I’ll just speak from my experience.  I’m betting my commenters will have other awesome ideas, because that’s just how we roll here.  Ok, I’m starting to think that I’m kind of loopy from all the excitement of the billboard project today, I’m seriously going to try to tighten this up from here out.

For me, the thing that triggered the idea that I could ever be happy with my fat body was the realization that I didn’t feel about other fat bodies the way that I felt about my body at the time. I was trying to quit a diet program that had me eating less than I had with an eating disorder and wouldn’t allow me to exercise, and I was gaining weight.  When I told them I was quitting, they made me go into a little room with a little poster about not quitting and a woman brought in a binder with pictures of fat women, and she started flipping through it silently.  She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself?”

What I realized in that moment was that I didn’t find anything wrong with those women’s bodies, in fact I thought that they were beautiful.  I didn’t expect that they would never find love (and I didn’t know what bon bons were but that’s another thing.) So it occurred to me in a rush: if I thought that their bodies were beautiful… and if I looked like them…then maybe it was possible to think that my body was beautiful.

Of course that was the beginning of a long process.  I started that process by focusing on what my body does instead of how it looks.  I made a massive list of all the things that I appreciate about my body – I included things like blinking and breathing, I included standing, walking, reaching,  hugging and any other action I could think of.  I included that I love my curly hair and my eyes that change color.  I wrote down anything that I could think of that I liked about my body, or that my body did.

Then I committed to really paying attention to my thoughts and every time I had a negative thought about my body I would replace it with a positive thought from the list.  Every time it crossed my mind I would thank my body for doing anything that I could think of  – hey, thanks for breathing! I appreciate you reaching for that!  Way to climb the stairs!  Whatever I could think of.

More than any work that I have done, this started to shift the way that I felt about my body.

At the same time I made a point of noticing something beautiful about every body that I saw.  When something about someone caught my eye because it was outside the stereotype of beauty, I focused on what was amazing about it.  When I had negative thoughts I reminded myself that I had been spoon-fed these ideas by industries that profit from my thinking them; and that if they didn’t serve me or didn’t feel authentic, then I was free to replace those thoughts with thoughts that I came up with on my own that did serve me and felt authentic.

I stopped engaging in body snarking altogether and I started to interrupt it when other people did it.

I actively sought out pictures of people who were outside of the stereotype of beauty.  Some places I can recommend for this are:

The Fit Fatties Forum Photo Gallery

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)

The Flickr Athletes of Every Size group

Full Figure Entertainment Gallery

I looked for similarities between the people I thought were beautiful and pictures of my own body, and I reminded myself that other people were looking at me and seeing the same beauty that I saw in those women.

And I had a lot of compassion for myself.  Changing thoughts and patterns that are ingrained, and sometimes reinforced by the culture around us is really hard work.  It takes time, there will often be backslides and mistakes, and the best ways to NOT succeed are not having compassion for the learning process, not having patience, and trying to rush it along. I know for me I decided that I was going to get there, and then I held that thought all the way through.  Patience, persistence, and belief that I would get there were the keys to my success.

Activism Update and Opportunity

We pointed out a problem to Planned Parenthood Northwest, explained why it was a problem, suggested how they could fix it, and they did!  They’ve removed “obesity” from their list of healthcare concerns.  You can send a thank you note to ppaction@ppvotesnw.org

Here’s the note that I sent in case it helps:

I forwarded the original letter with this message:  Hi,  I wrote the letter below to you about the use of “obesity” as a healthcare concern on your “War on Women has Come to Alaska” piece.  I looked at it today and saw that it has been changed and I want to say thank you.  As I said in the letter I have long been a fan and supporter of Planned Parenthood.  I understand that you are under attack and, whether it was my letter or others that caused you to reconsider,  I greatly appreciate you taking the time to address this  concern in the middle of what you are going through.  Thank you.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 5:16 am  Comments (41)  

The Billboards Are Going Up Today!

When I first had the idea to put up billboards in response to the Strong4Life campaign of shame and weight bullying, people said that it was impossible.  They were wrong:

Thousands of people helped get the word out about the campaign  (Thanks everybody!)

1010 people donated their own money to the cause (Thanks to every donor!)

A corporate donor supported us with a $5,000 matching  donation (Thanks More of Me to Love)

$21,720.20 was raised (holy cow!)

6 billboards and 10 bus shelter signs are going up all over Atlanta today. (Thanks to Allan from Adout, Inc. for negotiating on our behalf and helping us through the billboard project)

The original goals of this campaign were to:

  1. Show Atlanta kids of all sizes that they are valued and respected and try to undo some of the damage of the Strong4Life campaign
  2. Assert that we can support the development of healthy habits in kids of all sizes (including a focus on providing access to healthy food and movement options that are culturally appropriate and that kids enjoy) without shaming or stigmatizing any kids at all
  3. Educate people about why shaming kids is bad for their health and about the Health at Every Size option

I feel like we are on our way to accomplishing those goals with the billboards, bus shelter ads, and the new website.  All of the pieces link to www.SupportAllKids.com  This website, beautifully designed by Sabrina Wilson of ThoughtBoxMarketing, includes the final version of the billboard, the 10 bus shelter ads, and information intended to help start authentic dialog and support people in learning more about Health at Every Size, Size Acceptance, and Fat Civil Rights.

If you’ve ever done a project of this magnitude, then you know that they attract criticism.  Some, and possibly all, of that criticism will be absolutely valid.  One of the things that makes doing big projects with this many moving parts scary (and one of the reasons that people tell me keeps them from doing this kind of work) is that you know you are going to screw things up, you know that people will point it out, and you don’t know if they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

Any mistakes made on this project are my own and I take full responsibility and apologize.  I am already aware that, in retrospect, I absolutely could have done a better job of reaching out to communities including people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and anyone else who may not feel that Fat Activism is welcoming to them or addressing the issues that are specific to their community.  I deeply apologize for that, and it’s something that I will continue to work on and improve. I learned a lot from this project and part of that is that I still have a lot to learn.

I think it’s important to continuously strive to be better activists, and I also think it’s important to celebrate our victories, and this project is a victory – More than 1,000 people got together and got something done.  Something massive.  Something that people said was impossible.  Thanks so much to everyone involved.  Congratulations and here’s to bigger and better things in the future!

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 6:10 am  Comments (34)  

As Long as We’re Healthy

I see a lot of people say some version of “I think it’s fine for people to be any size as long as they’re healthy”.  I think they usually think that they are being supportive, and are well intentioned (which we’ll deal with in a moment). First I want to explain why I find this to be faulty for a number of reasons:

First, the idea that other people should dictate to us what health means, how highly we should prioritize it, and what path we should choose to get there is deeply problematic in no small part because it quickly becomes a slippery slope.  I find that, for example, omnivores who want to police my health choices are typically much less excited to have their health choices questions by someone who believes that a vegan diet is the best for health.

Second, whether intended or not, this often has the feel of someone who sees themselves as superior and thereby empowered to dole out approval of my size and health plan.  I don’t recognize anyone else’s authority over my body and health – I have trusted advisors but I am the ultimate boss of my underpants.

Third, it makes it sound like they believe that I can be fat if I’m healthy (by whatever definition of healthy they are using) but if I start to have health problems then it’s time to get thin.  That is a trifecta of putting the ass in assumption, including:   1. fat is causing the problem 2.  becoming thin would solve the problem  3.  becoming thin is possible (It’s the third one that’s the real doozie – since there’s no proof that most fat people can maintain long-term weight loss, it doesn’t matter what becoming thin might do because we don’t know how to get it done).

So what do we do about this?  You all know that I don’t like to criticize without giving some suggestions so here are some options that I’ve personally used, just in case  it helps you.  As always it’s up to you and your mileage may vary:

This can be an opportunity to educate about Health at Every Size – “I’m not sure what path to health that person has chosen, but from my research, I see this differently.  I practice Health at Every Size which acknowledges that  health and weight are two separate things.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.  Since there’s not a single study that shows that weight loss works, regardless of my health I would still choose health interventions for health problems – rather than trying to change the size of my body.” or something like that.

If you’re not up to having a doing the whole education piece, maybe point out an option where people don’t make judgments about other people:  “I think that judging people based on their  size or their health is really pretty inappropriate.”

You can choose to disengage with an explanation “Actually, I’m not really comfortable with conversations that include body policing or healthism.  I’m happy to change the subject or to call it a night”

Or you can just go with short and sweet “You know, I don’t think someone else’s health or size is up for my approval or, really, any of my business”.

Of course you are not obligated to open a dialog at all and despite your best efforts people may not choose to question their actions, but I believe that we can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions, all we can ever do is point out the issue and offer compassion, support, and education in whatever combination we believe is right.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

 

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 8:36 am  Comments (12)  

Obesity is Not a Stunt Double

This post is not about my desire to do work as a plus-size stunt person when I move to LA (although I do and I am so if you need that kind of thing…call me :)

No, this post is about the way that people say “obesity” when they mean general or specific health problems.  Obesity is a poorly cast stunt double who gets called on set to stand in for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart  disease, eating  disorders and whatever other thing we’re confusing correlation and causation about this week.

Yesterday’s post about Planned Parenthood is a really good example of how this happens. They were trying to list three “critical health care issues” and they listed obesity, children’s healthcare, and suicide.  Unfortunately that’s actually 2 critical health issues and one body size. It’s the same as if they said “critical health issues like tallness, children’s healthcare, and suicide.”.

Tallness, you see, is also associated with a shorter lifespan and a higher risk for health issues, but that doesn’t mean we try to make tall people shorter (and remember that we the chances of making someone thin are less than 5% better than making them shorter).

Part of this is a massive correlation vs. causation error.  Correlation means that we can observe two things happening at the same time, causation means that we know that one actually causes the other and how that happens. If all we have is correlation, even if the two things ALWAYS happen at the same time, we still can’t prove causation until we know how one causes the other.  This is the most basic pillar of research.  If all we know is correlation, then we have to leave room for the possibility that the two things are caused by a third factor, or that they are unrelated.  If we fail to do that, we are incompetent researchers.

So, even if every August has the most murders and the most ice cream eaten, we have no reason to believe that if we stop selling ice cream in August the murder rate will go down.  Nor can we accurately state that we want to work serious crime issues like home break-ins, grand theft auto, and ice cream eating.  Ice cream is not a stand in for murder no matter how much they may be correlated. But that’s exactly the mistake we make when we call obesity a “health care issue”.

Obesity is correlated with diseases, but causation isn’t proven.  It’s possible that both things are caused by a third factor (for example the stress of constant stigma has also been correlated to many of the same diseases as obesity in Peter Muennig’s work).  There are some chemicals that are in food that are correlated to both obesity and the disease that are commonly correlated with obesity.  The point is that nobody has solid research about why bodies are the size that they are (and it doesn’t matter what “everybody knows”), nobody has a shred of evidence proving that they can make fat people thin for the long term, and so calling fat bodies a health care crisis is not an evidence based claim, and focusing on things that we could “cure” if we could make people thin is like focusing on things that we could cure if we could make people fly.  Even if it would work, we don’t know how to get it done.

Not only does it create a second class of citizens who are shamed and stigmatized because of their body size and can’t get evidence-based healthcare because doctors are too busy prescribing behaviors for us that they diagnose as unhealthy in thin people.  It also harms thin people, who get all of the same diseases as fat people but often can’t get a diagnosis because their physicians believe that these diseases only happen to fat people, and are sold a dangerously false sense of security because they are told that their weight makes them healthy, regardless of their habits.

I sometimes wonder if the focus on obesity instead of disease is on purpose since obesity is seen as something that the obese person is “responsible for” and has to deal with, but diseases are seen as something that deserves healthcare (although  I notice some people, especially in the United States, are desperately trying to make disease an issue of blame and fear as well.)

Regardless of why it’s done, obesity is not the stunt double for diseases with which it is correlated. Obesity is a ratio of height and weight and we need to stop confusing the two.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 23, 2012 at 7:18 am  Comments (25)  

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Fat People

Update!    Planned Parenthood has responded and removed “obesity” from it’s list of health concerns.  Activism works!  Send a thank you to ppaction at ppvotesnw dot org.

I am a fan of planned parenthood so I was saddened to learn that In a post about about women’s rights in Alaska, Planned Parenthood Northwest stated:

Alaska should not be the place for the next frontier on the national war on women. As a state, we need to focus on continued revenue generation, addressing critical health care issues like obesity, children’s health care, and suicide, and ensuring that all Alaskans are afforded the rights put in place by our constitution regardless of their socioeconomic status.

So let me see if I understand this:

Planned Parenthood Northwest would like to shift the focus from inappropriate attention on women’s reproductive systems to inappropriate attention to fat people’s bodies.

Planned Parenthood Northwest doesn’t want a war on women, but they’re cool with a war on obese people.

PPNW wants to makes sure that people get their constitutional rights unless they are fat, then the want to systematically eradicate us, even against our will.

[Trigger Warning - suicide talk] They list obesity and suicide as two critical health issues, ostensibly at the same level. This is not the first time I’ve seen them talked about as parallel, in addition to having people tell me that being fat is “committing slow suicide” This infuriates me for very personal reasons: I am obese, my brother committed suicide.  I live a fabulous life with amazing friends and wonderful experiences.  My brother does not live at all.  I’m not being flip about this and I hesitated to talk about it here at all, but I think it’s important to realize the distinction -  his death was a tragedy, my body is not.  His suffering and death should never be minimized by comparing them to something that wouldn’t cause me any suffering at all if it weren’t for the bigotry and stigma that I have to deal with, that is being reinforced in PP’s memo.

The Declaration of Independence says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I’m ready to get me some of that.  I’m ready to be able to enjoy the world I live in with the body I live in without shame, stigma or humiliation.  I’m ready for the government to stop putting up walls and hurdles to block my pursuit of happiness.  Pursuing happiness and being the subject of a war whose goal is my eradication are competing interests at best. I’d like to live in a world where people challenge an industry that makes $60 billion selling a product for which they have zero proof of long-term efficacy, rather than giving them grants and telling me that I have to buy in or I’m not prioritizing my health. I think that my pursuit of happiness will become a lot easier at precisely the time that the pursuit of fat people as “the enemy” stops.

Activism Opportunity

Tell Planned Parenthood how you feel.  E-mail them at ppaction@ppvotesnw.org

Here’s an example from what I wrote:

I am a long-time support of Planned Parenthood.  As an obese woman who practices Health at Every Size and leads an amazing life, I ask you to reconsider your suggestion that we transfer inappropriate focus on women’s reproductive systems to inappropriate focus on fat people’s bodies. A war on obese people is no better than a war on women.   I would ask that you stop any anti-obesity language and instead support access to healthy foods, safe movement options, and affordable evidence-based medical care for people of all sizes.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 9:42 am  Comments (17)  

It’s Obviously Magic

I read a story once, I wish I could remember where, about a couple from the US who had been living in a very rural part of Africa when their two children were born.  When the kids were around 8 and 10 years old they brought them to the states for a visit.  Upon arriving at the airport in the US, the kids discovered an automatic door.  As the little boy stepped forward and back, opening the door over and over, the little girl stated matter of factly, “Well, it’s obviously magic.”

That made perfect sense to her, despite the fact that it seems like nonsense to the rest of us.  It’s not because she is not smart, but because that is the only conclusion that she can come to based on her current body of knowledge.  One can expect that with education she will understand that something she previous thought was impossible is actually easily explained. When given the information the young girl will have a choice:  She can accept the new information into her body of knowledge or she can refuse to believe it and go on believing that the door is magic. Her belief doesn’t change the truth, and she is the only one responsible for what she chooses to believe.

I think that’s how it often is with the Health at Every Size concept – people aren’t able to wrap their heads around it because there is simply nothing in their frame of reference that makes it seem possible that health and weight are two separate things. But once they have access to the information they can either add it to their body of knowledge or they can go on believing that weight and health are the same thing. Their belief doesn’t make it any more true. And we can’t be responsible for what other people believe.

I think it’s incredibly important to spread the word about Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size.  Every time we post something on Facebook or Twitter, or bring up our Size Acceptance/HAES practice, we are giving people an opportunity to question their stereotypes and add to their knowledge base.  We ARE NOT responsible for what they do or do not choose to do with this opportunity, we can only provide the opportunity.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right-hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 21, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (4)  

Are Fat People Really Oppressed?

I got a great comment yesterday asking about my use of the word oppression to describe my experience as a fat person.  The comment read:

I wonder if using the word oppressed is maybe a bit dramatic. Maybe the experience is different when you weigh more than I did, (I was 220lbs) and it’s surely different being an obese woman, but from MY experiences I’m not sure that I would ever feel right referring to myself as having been oppressed. I’m new to the whole “embracing [my] body” thing, and I’m not trying to start a fight or anything. It’d be helpful if someone could just point me to some empirical studies on specific ways in which fat people are treated differently. I’ve certainly had shaming experiences that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been overweight, but I’m just hesitant to describe them as acts of oppression. It has certainly devastated my confidence in probably irreversible ways, and that HAS held me back in some ways in my life. I guess I’m just uncomfortable viewing myself as oppressed.

And maybe this is just my ignorance showing, I don’t mean this as an attack or as an attempt to set your efforts back; I’m just trying to learn.

Thanks for asking respectfully Max! Here is where I’m coming from:

The definition of oppression is “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner; to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints”.

The simplest explanation I can give is that as long as my government is waging a war against me (the War on Obesity) a war in which they are actively trying to involve everyone from employers to restaurants to healthcare and insurance companies in my eradication – and as long as there are people who assert that we should all hope for a world where people who look like me don’t exist – I will assert that I am the victim of oppression.  I think that society’s attempt to police my body and eradicate (at least part of) me without my permission and by any means necessary constitutes the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel and unjust manner.

But let’s go deeper here, you had asked about studies and evidence, here’s some of that:

This article discusses workplace weight discrimination (which is legal almost everywhere) -trigger warning for possible victim blaming language

Here is a more scholarly article about workplace weight bias and wage discrimination

If I worked at Whole Foods, I wouldn’t get the same benefits package as my thin co-workers. No amount of healthy behaviors or metabolic health could get me the same benefits (which would also be massively problematic), I have to be thin.  This idea of rewarding thin employees and punishing fat employees at the workplace (aptly nicknamed “Carrot and Stick” benefits) is gaining popularity.

Studies show that 24% of nurses said that they are “repulsed” by obese persons. More than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned described obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.”

I’ve personally had doctors refuse to set my broken toe unless i agreed to go to a class about weight loss surgery, tell me that my strep throat is due to my weight (and admit the lie when confronted, but defend that no matter what was wrong with me I would feel better if I lost weight), try to lie to me about my blood pressure to scare me into weight loss (and try to justify the lie as “for my own good” when confronted).  I’ve been prescribed weight loss for anemia, a dislocated shoulder, and strep throat.

I get so much hate mail for giving people the option of focusing on healthy habits instead of weight loss that I created a separate website for it.

We can get almost 400,000 negative messages about our bodies every year.

As a fat woman people feel comfortable making comments about what I eat, mooing at me out of cars, blaming me for everything from global warming to world hunger with absolutely no proof, and being unspeakably rude.

Behaviors that are considered unhealthy for thin people are encouraged for me.

People argue that I deserve to be shamed and ridiculed because my body proves that I’m not being personally responsible.

I was put in a movie as an example of a fat healthy woman. A professional editor, being paid for his work, went against the express wishes of the filmmaker to try to make a joke out of me.

People who look like me are not allowed to have any success, except weight loss, without the ridiculous accusation that we are promoting obesity. This creates a situation where people try to make sure that I neither have role models who look like me, nor am I a role model to others.

People posit that because I am fat I am an idiot who, if not told exactly what to eat, will simply binge on Twinkies and call it healthy eating.

I am told that because I’m fat I’m not a credible witness to MY OWN experience and that other people know better than I how I behave and what I truly want

Not to mention that studies funded by people who profit from selling weight loss that make ridiculous claims about fat people, from which they profit, are published as factual news

All of this, and there is not a shred of evidence that any intervention will be successful at bringing even a simple majority of participants into a “normal” weight range, since 95% of all participants gain back their weight (and often more) within 5 years.  Stated eloquently by Wayne Miller, an Exercise Specialist from George Washington University:

“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.”(emphasis added)

So yeah, I believe that fat people are being oppressed.  I’m not trying to say we are more or less oppressed than any other group.  I don’t believe in wasting time playing the Oppression Olympics. I believe in stepping up and getting involved which is why I do what I do.  I think the idea that oppression is too strong a word is one of the things that keeps us oppressed which is why I use it.

That’s what makes sense to me. I also believe that everyone has the right to their own experience and so if someone doesn’t feel like oppressed is the right word for them I would never say that they should use it.

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Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 8:15 am  Comments (30)