Projection is for Films not Fatties

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

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)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m about to go to sleep and I was dreading getting up in the morning for my dance coaching session. Been sick for two weeks, my body feels like I’ve been beaten with a bat (from coughing) and I’ve done nothing but lie around like a sloth for 16 days. I do NOT want to go! But I DO want to be a fat girl that is active and strong and graceful! So this blog was just in time and gave me a little kick in the arse. Maybe I’ll read it again in the morning. Thanks, Ragen. :-)

    • If you’ve been that sick, then lying around was the best thing you could probably have done for your body. When you’re sick, it’s not slothful or weak to give yourself time to recover.

      You’re still the strong, graceful fat girl. You just needed to rest a bit.

      • Actually no…I’m not strong or graceful yet. But that’s the goal! And for me, too much resting at some point just slows down my recovery. I needed to get back to it. Although I certainly do agree that resting and taking care of your body when you’re sick IS important. I learned the hard way what can happen when you don’t a couple years ago.

  2. If you’ve had a break-up with exercise, you can always choose to try to repair that relationship.

    If I’d broken up with a person as many times as I’ve broken up with exercise, every single one of my friends would tell me it was an awful relationship, probably abusive, and I should stay far, far away from that person. I think I’m going to continue to take the same attitude towards exercise.

    • You are allowed to do whatever you like. I am curious though as to why you have had issues with exercise, if you don’t mind elaborating.

    • Hmmm…I’ve broken up with exercise a lot too. Hoop dancing and I have a better relationship than fitness classes and I ever did. Or running and I ever did. Running and I have a long-term on again off again relationship too starting back when I was in high school. Still sometimes, I sneak out and meet up with running for a brief fling. I guess that I think that I should love running but I never do.

      (I like this metaphor)

      • I LOVE that! And I think you bring up an important factor…there isn’t one exercise out there so like with a relationship with a person it can just take finding the right one. Or ones as It is okay to have poly relationships with exercise no matter how you feel about it with people. Sometimes things seem great for awhile and it fizzles and sometimes you need a temporary break from one another to keep things fresh. Yeah, I like this metaphor too. I think I may have to steal this at some point. ~;p

  3. We should also remember that, however much we exercise, all bodies do not have the potential, the ability, to attain the same level of fitness, the same strength. Much of our ability to be fit or athletic is genetic & it is also, of course, affected by disability & aging, both in the case of some of us. There are people, I personally know people, who have a higher level of genetic cardiovascular fitness just going to work, living, maybe doing a bit of yard work, than I ever have had, even when I was working out 4 hours every day. I have been active all my life, & now, at 62, disabled with cerebral palsy since birth & developing a good deal of arthritis, I keep walking as much as I can, will walk as long as I can. My health has always been good, I have no doubt that being active has helped my health in some ways & that it has helped me to remain mobile & independent longer than I could if I just sat around, but all the exercise in the world…including lifting weights for years, many thousands of stomach crunches & attempts at what passed for pushups, using two exercise machines until they had over 4000 miles on them, then fell apart, & all the more than 60,000 miles I have walked & the thousands of stairs I have climbed…cannot make me what this culture considers superfit or very strong or at all athletic. It has nothing to do with being fat & everything to do with being me. I have spent years pushing my body beyond its limits, beating up on my body for what it could not do, trying to do what able-bodied people could do, but now I am more interested in being kinder to my body, to showing it appreciation & respect for all it has done & does every day for me, to listening to it, understanding & ACCEPTING its needs & limitations. No matter how hard I tried, I could not do all the things with my body that you do, Ragen, & that is okay. It is also not entirely a choice.

    And deciding that you do not like exercise & exercise does not like you is also a valid choice. MAYBE people are a bit healthier if they exercise than if they do not, maybe not. MAYBE people who exercise live a little bit longer (some estimates say 5-6 months, others say maybe 2 years, & remember, these are not months or years of full health & strength & youth, but time you may well be spending in adult diapers trying to remember your own name), maybe not. One thing that is definite is that your body belongs to you & you get to decide how to live in it & no one has a right to make you feel guilty or as if you are not taking care of yourself if you don’t like to exercise. Also, one thing we tend to forget is that MOST people get more moving around in the course of their daily lives than they give themselves credit for & much more than our culture acknowledges.

    No, you should not project your own fears & insecurities onto the bodies of fat people, you should not assume anything about anyone based on body size. However, it is also okay if a fat person (or a thin person) does not live a lifestyle which makes him or her a poster child for fit & healthy. Oh, & it is also important to remember that one can be fit without necessarily being healthy or healthy without necessarily being fit. FIT does NOT mean ‘healthy’, any more than THIN means ‘healthy.’

    • You bring up some great points here. I actually ran into a very similar discussion on a forum I belong to. A lot of people were defending the judgment of people who choose to live sedentary, and as I expected, it actually ended up becoming an argument about laziness and collecting food stamps and other government assistance and how it’s unfair to those to try to make an honest living. One said, “sorry but if I see some fat person who doesn’t like to get off the couch long enough to work 8 hours a day but it sucking off the gov’ment’s teet, I will not have any respect for them and they can get over it if they don’t like it.”

      • Those people are nuts. Part of the reason, I gained the weight in the first place is that I work a 10 hour desk job that doesn’t allow a lot of time for working out. My family is prone to be big and bulky. It gets worse if we’re sedentary. I work a job that requires me to be sedentary. It follows that I gained weight. No matter how much exercise I do, it doesn’t make up for my time at my desk. So to heck with them. for judging me and others like me.

    • My late father was, unfortunately, a bit of a healthist, and it did not serve him well. I’ve only recently realized that he was actually extremely obsessive with his exercising when he was younger. He ran 6 miles a day until he was in his fifties, at which point he had to cut back a bit. He had a previous spinal injury and it’s possible that the two things together led to the spinal stenosis that he developed later in life. After he had a hemorrhagic stroke which affected the basal ganglion area of his brain, he of course could not run any longer. I tried to get him to do strengthening exercises such as quad lifts, but he told me that was “not real exercise.”
      I’ve spent a lot of years getting over the “it isn’t real exercise” thing, because I’ve never liked to run. That was the only thing that my dad considered to be real exercise. I prefer walking, hiking, working out in the pool, and I like the elliptical and the strider machines.
      I don’t want to sound like I’m berating my father, because I don’t mean to. I’m just saying that being a healthist does not really make a person win out in the end.

    • Thank you for this!

  4. I think a lot of the stigma comes from the fear you mention, like the nutritionist. That’s terrifying to hear that she works with ED patients and I can only hope she isn’t projecting those fears onto them.

    How do we get people away from their own fear and move them closer to acceptance, of themselves and of others? It seems almost an impossible task.

  5. Ragen, your photo is beautiful! Adipositivity is a wonderful place, and Substantia takes outstanding photos. Thank you for sharing that!

    I work very hard at not projecting my issues onto other folks. Would that they would do the same.

  6. Gotta love the stereotyping there! If a fat person is not seen exercising &/or working every minute, then she is a lazy slob who lives off the ‘government teat’. Never mind that plenty of thin people do not work & also, for that matter, that at any given moment, many of the people who are not working are either disabled or are desperately looking for a job & having no luck. Yes, I suppose it is true that the fact that I have always pushed my body so hard & the people who have seen me around over the years always saw me in motion protected me from some of the worst of those judgments about how ‘lazy’ I was or that I was ‘living off the government” Which I never have since I was a teenager & a kindly doctor declared my father’s alcoholism a ‘disability’ so he, my mother, & I lived on his social security until I finished college. I guess it is hard not projecting one’s issues onto other people. I do wish that more of us could work harder at not assuming we know everything about another person based upon some superficial judgment of a total stranger.

  7. I didn’t know about that from Dr. Oz, I hated that program and learned it was terrible when he did a discussion on disability but this is bad too, my parents love him for some reason.

    I really like the idea of Health at Every Size, I think many people could be physically uncomfortable when being fat because they don’t exercize. I also think it’s really important not to confuse health with morality, the same way fatness is not a lack of morality being sick or unfit is not wrong.

    I have a personal problem with this because I am disabled, chronically sick and I don’t know if I am considered really fat by others anymore but not thin. I still want to be as healthy as I can be but accepting that I will always be sick and that my sickness and disabilities are limiting my energy and ability and if I don’t respect that I will be more sick while trying to be healthy.
    I don’t want to be shamed for being sick and more unfit when I am looking to be a little more healthy, I don’t want people to tell me I am not trying hard enough or that I am lazy, so that leaves me with fewer resources, so far your blog is one of the few I so far feel comfortable reading.
    Sickness, like fatness and disability, have a lot of social stigma but you can be happy being the three and no one should be judged because of any of those.

    Because of a useless traumatic bariatric surgery I was coerced to do as a teenager I have many scars so body acceptance goes beyond size for me.
    Reading about fat acceptance and health at every size always remembers me about people being obsessed with weight loss in my past, everyone tells me they wish they had done the surgery I had because I lost weight, I can speak about the trauma, some of the days after when I couldn’t remember who I was, the pain I will forever feel eating, every single time it doesn’t matter what I say because I lost weight so I should be grateful, they use the argument that I am more healthy now, because I had all of those health problems associated with being fat before surgery, everyone forgets that I gained weight with medication that caused those health problems, the same medication I stopped taking at the time of the surgery, so obviously I got better but saying that is heresy. People get upset with me if I say I wish I never did that surgery, they wish they were so lucky, people get upset when I say the surgery didn’t helped with my non-existent self-esteem, I think a lot of that has something do with projecting what they want in me. Obsession with being thin disguised with obsession with being healthy, losing weight was supposed to fix my physical and psychological problems, it didn’t so I did something wrong. I actually cried the day before the surgery and asked not to do that, but loosing weight was more important.

    That’s a very long comment that is kind of offtopic at some points and related to other comments, I kind of connected similar unrelated topics on my head, sorry.
    I like your blog, I have a hard time finding a way to be healthy without being judged for something but I don’t feel this here.

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