Messy Breakups with Exercise

my dance class at High School Day at the Central Pennsylvania GSA Leadership Summit

High School Students at my dance class during the Central Pennsylvania GSA Leadership Summit.        Rock on y’all!

In some of the talks I give, I talk about movement/exercise.  One of the things I talk about is that many people have had messy breakups with exercise.

Before we get too far into this, let me be clear – there is a mistaken notion that floats around sometimes that because I talk about being a dancer and fathlete and I talk about what the research says about fitness, that I am “promoting” exercise or I think that people “should” exercise.

Sometimes this notion happens because I haven’t written things as clearly as I could have, sometimes I think it’s because people have issues around exercise and just seeing discussion about it triggers them, which is totally understandable given how much it gets shoved down our throats and the horrible experiences many of us have had (President’s Physical Fitness Test – I’m looking at you.)  Let me take this opportunity to clarify – I do not care if anyone else exercises. I am fully aware that there are people who don’t enjoy exercise, my partner is one of them, and I have no judgment about it at all.

The short version of why I don’t care is that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not exercise dependent, and other people’s prioritization of their health and the path they choose to get there are none of my, or anyone else’s business, also Underpants Rule. The long version can be found here.

Many of the people who I meet when I’m out speaking tell me that they’d like to engage in movement but they just hate it, or feel blocked around it, are people who experienced messy breakups with exercise because exercise was used as a way to mistreat them, to punish them for their body size, or because they were forced to do exercise that they didn’t like, or were shamed because they weren’t “good enough” at the exercise. (Junior high school gym class, I am looking at you now.) All of this is complete and utter bullshit

So if you hate to exercise, that’s completely cool and understandable, lots of people do.  Even if exercise has health benefits, that doesn’t mean that anyone is required to do it, or that exercising creates some sort of health guarantee wherein you are immortal unless you get hit by a bus.  Besides, there are lots of things that are shown to improve our odds for health and we can choose some of them if we want, but aren’t all obligated to do any of them. When we insist that people “owe” society healthy habits it very quickly becomes a slippery slope.  If we “owe” society exercise do we also “owe” it 8 hours of sleep a night?  A vegan diet?  A paleo diet?  To quit drinking? To not go skiing or play soccer or anything else that could get us hurt?  Who gets to make these mandates?  I recommend that people not try to tell others how to live unless they are super excited about someone else telling them how to live.

The reason I talk about the research around fitness is that I believe we are constantly lied to and I think we have the right to review the research ourselves. We are told that exercise will lead to weight loss when the research suggests no such thing.  Lied to that exercise won’t make us healthier unless it makes us thinner.  Lied to that we have to do hours of specific things in order to get benefit from it.  Those things aren’t true – the research shows that about 30 minutes of moderate activity about 5 days a week can have many health benefits for many people, and that people experience health benefits with less movement than that as well.  That doesn’t mean that we owe anybody exercise, and, again, it doesn’t give any guarantees when it comes to health.

So if you had a messy break up with exercise, you have lots of choices.  One choice is just not to do it.  Another option is that maybe you decide that you believe what the research says about the health benefits and you want those benefits so you find some forms of movement that you hate less than other forms of movement and do them.  You may believe what the research says and choose not to exercise.  You may decide that you think the research is crap.

Maybe you get a local pharmacy or clinic to take a baseline of your metabolic numbers, do the movement for a couple months and then see if there’s any change in how you feel or your numbers.  Maybe you work toward a specific goal (picking up a grand kid, walking or rolling to the mailbox, doing a 5k whatever.)

I also wish people would stop encouraging us to set unrealistic goals or think that their goals should be everyone’s goals.  I think that too many athletes think that everyone must feel like them – since they love to exercise everyone else can love it too!  I think that’s bullshit. I, for example, hate long distance running.  I’ve heard people talk about getting a “runner’s high” but the only runner’s high I ever got was when I get stopped running.  I ran a ton when I played soccer as a kid so if I was going to learn to love it, it would have happened already.  Recently I walked a marathon.  I signed up as a walker in a marathon that had no time limit and I took forever to finish.  My realistic goal was to cross the finish line and get a medal.  I did that.  People said that it shouldn’t count because I walked or I took too long, or I should have set a different goal or whatever – fuck them, I crossed the finish line, I got my medal.  Achievement unlocked.  You get to decide what you want to do and how you want to do it.

If you hate exercise and you decide to do it anyway, you can try to make it suck less by picking activities you don’t hate (gardening? dancing in your living room?  video game that incorporates movement? window shopping?), doing it in an environment that’s comfortable for you (indoors and temperature controlled? at night and out of the sun?) changing activities frequently, playing music, watching television, reading a book, talking on the phone (when I do flexibility training I often do several of those things at once to try to stave off the boredom).  Maybe you had a messy breakup with exercise, but whether you try to kiss and make up or file for divorce because of irreconcilable differences is entirely up to you and it’s your business and nobody else’s.

This post was inspired by Leah Bee who was at the NECHA/NYSHA conference (A semi-annual combined meeting of State College Health Advisors) where I was a Featured Speaker  She took my mention of mess break-ups with exercise and, excuse the pun, ran with it.  Her amazing and inspirational blog about her journey inspired my blog today. Check it out here!

If you want some support around movement with no diet talk or negative body talk (or you just want to hang out and read the forums, watch the videos and look at the pictures), you might check out the Fit Fatties Forum.  If you’re looking for a fun way to engage in movements and get cool prizes, March first is the last day for Early Bird Discounts on the Fit Fatties Virtual Decathlon.

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 7:04 am  Comments (32)  

This Doctor is Testing My Compassion

Bad DoctorA doctor has written a piece called “A morbidly obese patient tests the limits of a doctor’s compassion.”  No power on this Earth will make me link to it.  It seems like the doctor wants an opportunity to revel in his prejudice while getting credit for being brave and talking about it.  What it ends up being is a guide to how healthcare goes wrong for fat people. This post may be very triggering – you can skip the indented portions and that may help.

Considering the piece is named “A Morbidly Obese Patient Tests the Limits of a Doctor’s Compassion” you might have some ideas about the patient’s behavior so I’m going to go ahead and give a spoiler – he tested the limits of the doctor’s compassion simply by existing.  Charming.  It does not get better.

The piece centers around a patient who went to the emergency room for treatment with stomach pain, and is fat.  In addition to being accompanied by a headless fatty picture.  Throughout the article, the doctor describes the patient in shockingly prejudiced language

a mountain of flesh

a prisoner in an enormous, fleshy castle

an oversize mirror, reminding us of our own excesses

This is not examining prejudice, it’s reveling in it.  This patient is not a metaphor, a mountain, a mirror, or a castle of fat.  He is a human being – a patient who has to suffer not just through pain, but through dealing with a series of health professionals who feel comfortable reveling in their bigotry often at the expense of his medical care.

The patient knows what’s up, he’s used to this:

He recites a litany of consultants he’s seen for his back pain, his headaches, a chronic rash on his ankles, his shortness of breath, his weakness, his insomnia and his fatigue.

“All of them have failed me,” he says, adding that the paramedics didn’t have the proper ultra-wide, ultra-sturdy gurney to accommodate his body.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act says that they should have the proper equipment to handle me, the same as they do for anyone else,” he says indignantly. “I’m entitled to that. I’ll probably have to sue to get the care I really need.”

I don’t quite know how to respond, so I say nothing.

How about responding by saying something like “That’s terrible. I’m so sorry that you haven’t been able to get good medical care.”  How about “I’m sorry that happened, I’m going to help you find [an advocate, a doctor who will help, something, anything.]”  How about saying “I’m sorry that we don’t have the proper equipment to treat you.”  How about responding with empathy, with compassion, by helping the patient get treatment for his health problems, instead of splashing around in a pool of your own prejudice?

“Don’t put him in a room right over the ER,” whispers the unit secretary to the admission clerk. “The floor won’t support him. He’ll come crashing through and kill us all.”

Glancing across the hall at the patient, I see by his eyes that he’s heard her comment, and I’m suddenly sure that he’s heard all of the side remarks aimed his way.

Does he apologize to the victim of this abuse?  Does he apologize for his role in the abuse?  Does he address the completely unprofessional behavior of the unit secretary?  Of course not!  He doubles down with more “poor everyone but the fat guy” language:

Finally, a slew of huffing, puffing, grunting attendants wheel him down the hall, leaving me to reflect on his plight.

He lies at the very large center of his own world — a world in which all the surgery mankind has to offer cannot heal the real pain he suffers.

We get it, the patient is heavy – if it was so hard for the attendants to push the guy down the hall than get more attendants, or find stronger attendants, or get equipment that helps people move people more easily, or act like it’s no problem for the sake of the patient, just like you should do for other patients who have issues that might be embarrassing or make the staff uncomfortable.

The belief – that [medicine] can’t heal the “real pain” of being fat – is often at the core of why doctors don’t provide competent care to fat people. Here’s a novel idea – do your fucking job and try.  See what happens when you treat fat patients without stigmatizing them, when you treat their actual health problems instead of diagnosing them as fat and prescribing weight loss (especially considering you don’t have anything to offer them in terms of changing their body size.) See what happens when you encourage people to appreciate the bodies they have and give them options to help them reach their goals. While you’re at it, see what happens if you actually examine your prejudice rather than selling fat people up river for catchy turns of phrase.

Perhaps this patient did share with the doctor that he has issues with what he considers to be compulsive eating , I don’t imagine that he did it so that the doctor could write a piece suggesting that this person’s experience is every fat person’s experience.  Disordered eating is something that affects people of all sizes and when healthcare professionals intimate that you can tell someone’s eating habits from looking at them, they do everyone a tremendous disservice.

The thing about the entire piece is that it is a self-absorbed exercise, written to make the doctor feel good about himself for “examining his prejudice” when really what he is doing is just heaping more stereotypes and stigma onto fat populations with the force of an MD behind it.

Having been called out on by commenters the doctor published an apology laced with the exact same issues as the piece:

We all have a burden in life; his was just larger and more apparent than most. The surgeon and the secretary were guilty of being judgmental and critical (much like some of the comments about my character here) because they were forgetting the man inside the patient.

Fat bodies are not burdens (though the stigma, shame and marginalization that is steeped upon us by people like this doctor can be.)  “Forgetting the man inside the patient” may be the absolutely more horrific thing he says in the article (and that is saying something.)  There is not a thin person inside fat people who deserves to be treated well.  The fat person in front of you deserves to be treated well as they are.  And neither the surgeon nor the secretary called him a “mountain” or “Fleshy castle” so maybe this doctor shouldn’t have exempted himself from the list of people who were guilty of being judgmental and critical.

This story was an attempt to relate a difficult encounter honestly and factually so that people (including me) could examine their own prejudices. It looks like it worked.

It’s a poor attempt and it didn’t work.  Had the doctor said “This story was an attempt to make myself look good while profiting from the stigmatizing of a fat person without his consent” then I suspect we’d be more in the ballpark.

Dear doctors – many of your are doing much better than this, thank you.  For those who aren’t, please start now.  Thanks.

If you are looking for a doctor who will treat you appropriately, consider the Cat Dragon List (if you know of such a doctor, consider posting them to the list.)

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on February 27, 2014 at 5:16 am  Comments (78)  

Real Woman, Meat, Bones, and the Last Acceptance Prejudice

Wrong RoadToday I want to talk about some things I see around body positivity and size acceptance that I think are problematic.  As always, people are allowed to do and say and believe these things, and all of us have said things that we didn’t think all the way through or that we didn’t know was problematic. My  goal here is to take a closer look at some of these things.

Real Women Have Curves

First of all, I notice that “curves” is often interpreted as “the right curves” which is to say hourglass -  big boobs, big ass, small waist. Beyond this, it suggests that women who aren’t curvy are…what…fake women?  I’m pretty much against any definition of “real woman” that isn’t “anyone who identifies as a woman.”  Anything else is suggesting that we get to determine what is real and who is a woman and I think that’s severely messed up.

Fat is the Last Acceptable Prejudice

No, it’s really not.  People are currently fighting to overturn a law that allows trans* people to choose what bathroom they use.  The Arizona legislature has just passed a bill ensuring that companies can discriminate against customers people based on the idea that discrimination is the same thing as “practicing religion”  (WWJRS – Who Would Jesus Refuse to Serve?)  Florida juries seem to think that white men’s right not to be “scared” trumps young black men’s right to be alive.  Prejudice is all around us and is sadly accepted in many places and many ways.  Suggesting that the real oppression and marginalization that we deal with is the last acceptable form of it and ignores the lived experiences of many other marginalized groups and is an invitation to engage in the Oppression Olympics  – I think that winning is about successfully fighting oppression, not being named the most oppressed.

Dogs like meat, not bones.

Let’s rephrase:   “Men are dogs, women are dog food, and the goal of women should be becoming the kind of dog food that men most want to eat.” Holy shitballs this is messed up.  I’m think that the word “empowered” jumped the shark when Mattel tried to use it for Barbie  but if disempowerment is a thing this would be it on every level -  I’m still struggling to find out how this is a good situation for anyone.

It’s okay to be big, as long as you’re healthy.

Nooooooooooooooo. I think we have got to separate weight and health.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and to be treated with basic human rights) are inalienable.  They are not size dependent, health dependent, or healthy habit dependent.  Fat people don’t lose the right to exist if they have health problems and it doesn’t matter why we have those health problems. Let’s remember that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, not an obligation, and not a barometer of worthiness.)  Like everyone else, fat people have the right to make choices about how we prioritize our health and the path we are going to take to get there. Regardless of the choices we make, or our health status, or any thing else, we never stop being allowed to exist. (And that would be true even if weight loss was actually likely to make people thinner or healthier.)

Maybe there are exceptions, but in general I feel like I might be veering off the path to self-esteem and (forgive me) empowerment when I do to someone else the exact same thing I’m asking people not to do to me, compare oppressions, dictate to other people how they have to be in order to deserve to be treated well, or compare myself and others to animals and their chow.  I’ve heard women say that in order to fix their hurt from the way that they’ve been put down in the past they have to put other women down.  Maybe that’s true, I’m not going to tell anyone how to live, but I think it’s worth a second thought.

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 6:21 am  Comments (46)  

New York Times Gets it All Wrong

BMI Graphic FinalA fairly terrible article appeared recently in the New York Times. The article, which I’ll not be linking to lest I give them traffic I don’t think they deserve, asked the question “should obesity be considered a disease.”

Now, I would be thrilled if the authors were asking questions like – “how can [weight in pounds] x 703  divided by [height in inches]2 be a diagnosis for a disease?  Or, if that does constitute a disease diagnosis, how will we be treating Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, people of above average height (since a squared equation in a three dimensional world skews toward “diagnosing” tall people as obese) and a good chunk of the NFL?  Or how about, “How can a body size constitute a disease diagnosis when people of that size have extremely varied health outcomes and when studies show that health outcomes are changed by behavior regardless of body size?”  Or, “How can we diagnose a group of people with a disease just because their physical appearance is correlated (without causal relation) with a higher incidence of diseases?” Or, “Why did the AMA ignore the recommendation of their Council on Science and Public Health who they themselves commissioned to study this question for a year, and who recommended that obesity should NOT be categorized as a disease?”

But no, alas they aren’t asking those questions.  They are predictably worried that a disease diagnosis might convince the big fat fatties not to try to lose weight. “Suggesting that one’s weight is a fixed state — like a long-term disease — made attempts at weight management seem futile, and thus undermined the importance that obese individuals placed on health-focused dieting and concern for weight.”

I think they do raise an important point, but not in the way they think.  To say that weight loss attempts are futile would suggest that people end up at the same weight.  While that is the experience of some, many people who make intentional weight loss attempts actually gain back more weight than they lost. So if obesity is a “disease” and weight loss is the “treatment,”  than we are prescribing something that results in the exact opposite of the intended effect for the majority of patients, with no proof that even the small majority who succeed will be healthier for it.

Here’s where someone will jump in and say that this is because people “go back to their old eating habits.”  First of all, let’s get real with the fact that intentional weight loss (whether you call it a lifestyle change, or a diet, or something else) is about feeding our body less fuel than it needs, in the hope that it will consume itself and become smaller, with the additional separate hope that greater health will come along for the ride.  I think there is good research that shows that the body has a number of reactions to this that are created with the express purpose of regaining and maintaining weight, even if the dieter maintains their habits.  I also think that in this case we have to realize that “going back to their old eating habits” actually means no longer feeding the body less fuel that it needs to complete its daily tasks.  I think that the research shows that almost everyone can lose weight in the short term, and almost everyone gains it back in the long term, with a majority of people gaining back more than they lost.  I think that the diet industry has done an excellent (and profitable!) job of taking credit for the first part of a biological response and blaming their clients for the second part.

But even if we employ enough willful suspension of disbelief to suggest that it’s true that it’s the dieter’s fault that they gain back the weight, the “treatment” for the “disease” of obesity still fails to meet the guidelines for ethical medicine  - if almost everyone with a disease who attempts an intervention is unsuccessful (with the majority actually making their disease worse)  then medical science needs a new intervention regardless of the reason.  For example, if a protocol of prescriptions is so complicated that only a tiny fraction of people is able to engage in it successfully, and the majority of people actually exacerbate their disease state by trying to follow it, then the proper course is to look for new interventions, not blame the patients and just keep prescribing it knowing that it will make the disease worse for the majority of patients.

In the meantime, if the doctor isn’t telling the patients that their “prescription” is likely to have the exact opposite of the intended effect, then they are not meeting their ethical requirements for informed consent.  Since the earliest studies on weight loss, there has not been a single study in which more than a tiny fraction of participants have succeeded at long term weight loss. Not a single study.  There is also not a single study of successful long term dieters showing that their dieting lead to better health (in fact, a study by Mann and Tomiyama showed that there wasn’t a strong connection at all.)  So, even if we buy the idea that obesity is a disease and that making obese people smaller will make them healthier, we still run smack into the fact that we don’t actually know how to get that done and that the thing that we’ve been prescribing for decades actually has the opposite of the intended effect the majority of the time.

So even if we think that being obese is, in and of itself, a disease state (and I don’t think that it is), knowing that the majority of weight loss interventions  end by making the subjects fatter than when they started, would lead to the conclusion that the NYT authors’ concerns are completely unfounded and, actually the BEST that we can hope for is that classifying obesity as a disease leads to obese people not taking part in weight loss interventions.  Not because those weight loss interventions are futile, but because they are actually far worse.

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on February 25, 2014 at 6:13 am  Comments (43)  

Being Fat vs. Having Fat

my name isReader Jennifer let me know about a Facebook meme that says “You are not fat.  You have fat.  You also have fingernails.  But you are not fingernails.”  I’ve seen this in plenty of version and I think it’s problematic on a lot of levels.

First of all, as regular readers have probably already sussed out, I would be much more comfortable if this was written from the perspective of how someone feels about/for themselves instead of dictating to others how we should feel (ie: “I’m not fat, I have fat” instead of “You are not fat, you have fat”.)  People are allowed to look at their bodies this way because, hey, underpants rule.  That said, I think it’s an idea worth some exploring.

First of all, let’s consider some other examples: You are not brunette, you have brown hair.  You are not tall, you have above-average height. When I’m flying in for a speaking gig I often tell the person who is responsible for picking up that I’ll be the short, fat, brunette  (in the blue dress or whatever).  People often respond by telling me not to call myself fat, nobody in my life has ever told me not to call myself brunette.  Therein lies my problem with this – it seems to me that the reason to draw a distinction between being fat and having fat is that we are considering fat to be a negative thing from which we want to disassociate, and or we want to see it as so temporary that we don’t want to be identified as fat.

I don’t think the research suggests that many fat people will remove our fat.  Regardless, knowing that it’s possible that time and circumstance might change the size of my body, I don’t think that’s a reason to not identify the way that it looks now. I call myself a brunette even though it’s basically a certainty that I will someday have hair that is gray and not brown. So even though there’s the possibility that my body may someday not be fat (through illness etc. – it’s certainly not a goal of mine) I’m still fat right now. So why do I want to find a semantic way out of it?

The problem is the way that people with fat bodies are stigmatized, stereotyped, bullied, marginalized, and oppressed. I’m just not sure this can be solved by “having” instead of “being” fat. To me the fact that identifying a body as fat is considered an insult is a symptom of a problem, not the actual problem – so this can’t be solved through wordplay.  If brunettes are being oppressed I don’t think there is much to be gained by saying that I’m not a brunette, I just have brown hair.

Similarly, since fat people are being oppressed, I don’t think there is much to be gained by saying that I’m not fat, I just have fat.  Mostly because no matter how I describe myself, people can still see me and these oppressions are based on how I look to others, not on how I describe myself.  I also understand that the word “fat” has been used as derisive and I understand that not everyone is into using it as a reclaiming term.  For me, using the word fat to describe myself without apology tells my bullies that they can’t have my lunch money any more, and avoids pathologizing my body in the way that terms like “overweight” and “obese” do.

It’s possible that people would give me slightly better treatment (however begrudgingly) if I said that I’m not fat – I have fat, or if I characterized myself as being overweight in a way that indicates that I believe there’s a problem with my body.  I’m ok with passing on that “approval”, because  I am far more interested in calling out and fighting stereotyping, stigma, bullying and oppression, than I am in trying to avoid it through wordplay or concessions that I can make to my oppressors.  Other people may see this differently and/or make other choices than I do and, of course, that’s completely fine. But as for me, I am fat because I have fat and I’m fine with that.

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on February 23, 2014 at 5:54 am  Comments (41)  

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Design by Kris Owen

Design by Kris Owen

Greetings from Dickinson College in lovely (and snowy) Carlisle, Pennsylvania!  I’m having a great time here.  Today I got to give guest lectures to three class on Fat Activism, Fat and Sexuality, and creating inclusive spaces for fitness.  Tomorrow I get to give a talk about body positivity in queer community to high school students  at the GSA Leadership Summit, Saturday I get to give a similar talk to college students at the Summit, then I head to SUNY Cortland for their Body Appreciation Week.  Everyone here has been super cool and I got to have lunch with Amy Farrel and get a signed copy of her book Fat Shame:  Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. Woot!

Meanwhile, there’s a bunch of cool movie stuff happening. First of all, America the Beautiful 2 – The Thin Commandments is now available on DVD (as well as on Netflix.) Before anyone asks, no, I don’t get compensated for these sales, I was just in the documentary and I think it’s an interesting piece.

Second, a while ago I told you that a screenwriter in Austin had written a script about my life as a dancer.  I don’t want to jinx it but some very cool things are happening with that so keep your fingers crossed for me and I’ll give you updates  as more cool things happen.

The documentary short that the Alexandra Lescaze shot to go along with her film All of Me on PBS’s Independent Lens is available for to watch (just click here and then click on Ragen’s MORE Cabaret.)

Finally, More Cabaret has our highlight film from our show Gimme More! (thanks to Alexandra and her crew for getting us the footage!)

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

My new column for Ms. Fit Magazine is out – I interviewed Virgie Tovar, Hanne Blank, and Rebecca Weinstein for the article “Jiggle is Hot:  Exploring Sex in a Fat Body

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 6:08 am  Comments (9)  

Dealing With the Tone Police

I was reminded today that one of the things we have to deal with as activists is the Tone Police.  This is a little different than people who send hatemail, these are people who want to draw the focus from the point of our activism to the way that we do the activism – the words we use, the emotion we have etc.

People might tone police to purposefully derail the conversation (taking the focus off the oppressive behavior and putting it onto the activist for not responding to the oppressive behavior “correctly.”)  Some people tone police  because they aren’t personally comfortable with the strong emotions that an activist is expressing. or because they think that we should do things the way they think things should be done, or because they genuinely think they are helping, or for some other reason.  It doesn’t matter why they do it, as always, we each get to choose how to deal with this.

This morning I posted an article to my personal Facebook wall about how FOX news “reporters” had made fun of the new gender options available on FB.  I have absolutely no patience for that kind of trans* and intersex phobia and I posted the article with the commentary “Fuck You Fox News Hosts.  Fuck. You.”  Soon this was posted on my wall, a textbook example of tone policing:

Hating on others for what you think is an incorrect opinion or narrow mindedness doesn’t make you any better than them. I’m disappointed you’re encouraging and participating in this type of behavior. It doesn’t help sway anyone to your side. Frankly lately your posts have been less than uplifting and positive. No one says they have to be. But you are trying to reach people and open minds. FUing folks is tasteless and tends to do the opposite of this.

I’ve seen this happen to activists over and over again, it’s certainly happened to me plenty of times before. Let’s break it down:

Hating on others for what you think is an incorrect opinion or narrow mindedness doesn’t make you any better than them.

We don’t have to try to be better than anyone, it’s ok to just express our feelings in our spaces about behavior that we find abhorrent.

I’m disappointed you’re encouraging and participating in this type of behavior.

This is a really common way that people attempt to punctuate tone policing.  They are disappointed in you, or surprised at you – they are hoping to make you feel ashamed of the way that you’ve expressed yourself.  I’m disappointed that those people bully, stigmatize, and oppress other people,  I have no shame about my reaction to it.

It doesn’t help sway anyone to your side.

This person has decided what the goal of my activism should be, and is letting me know that, in their expert opinion, I’m not getting it done.  In truth the goal of that post wasn’t persuasive – it was demonstrative. It’s ok to express our anger and not take responsibility for other people’s feelings or reactions.

Frankly lately your posts have been less than uplifting and positive. No one says they have to be. But you are trying to reach people and open minds. FUing folks is tasteless and tends to do the opposite of this.

Once again, this person has decided what I’m trying to do, and that they are the judge of whether or not I’m successfully doing it, as well as being an expert in human behavior as it related to saying fuck you.  Guess what? I didn’t ask, and I’m not looking to them for advice.   When people suggest that we should meet oppression and marginalization only by being positive and uplifting, however well intentioned they may be, it is just another way to take our power away and derail the discussion.  When fucked up things happen we’re allowed to get pissed off about them. We’re allowed to swear.

If people want to be uplifting and positive all the time they are welcome to do that – it doesn’t work for me.  I don’t think it’s realistic or healthy to suggest that we should be disappointed in anyone who doesn’t meet marginalization, discrimination, and disenfranchisement with uplifted politeness – acting like it’s all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. You are allowed to do that, but you are not obligated, no matter what the tone police say.  If you look at the oppression that goes on in the world and it makes you angry, I don’t think that’s surprising and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  The more we step out as activists, the more we call out the behavior around us that is seriously messed up, the more we express our anger about it,  the more people will become uncomfortable.  We are not responsible for other people’s feelings or for being activists on other people’s terms.

We have a right to all of our emotions, including being pissed off.  We have a right to all the vocabulary, including swear words. We have a right to all of the types of activism, which includes using anger as a tool.  We are not responsible for other people’s feelings and we don’t have to let the tone police dictate the way that we react to, live in, or work to change a messed up world.

Fuck you tone police.  Fuck. You.

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Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 8:00 am  Comments (71)  

Maybe Barbie Should Apologize

Reality and PerceptionIf you haven’t heard, Mattel – the maker’s of the Barbie doll – have paid Sports Illustrated to put Barbie in their Swimsuit Issue.  The move has been criticized, including by those who have pointed out that studies show that Barbie hurts the body image and self esteem of girls with her completely unrealistic and unattainable body. Mattel is shocked – shocked I tell you – at the body shaming of Barbie:

AdAge reports:

“Barbie is a legend in her own right, with more than 150 careers and a brand valued at $3 billion,” a Mattel spokeswoman said. “She is in great company with the other legends such as Heidi Klum and Christie Brinkley, to name a few.”

“As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be unapologetic,” the spokeswoman added.

Sports Illustrated also argues that the Swimsuit Issue celebrates women in a positive way. “From its earliest days, Swimsuit has delivered a message of empowerment, strength and beauty,” Swimsuit Editor M. J. Day said in a statement, “and we are delighted that Barbie is celebrating those core values in such a unique manner.”

First of all, when we talk about women and the core values of Sports Illustrated, let’s remember that Barbie’s lack of realistic proportions and humanity (and Mattel’s money) have allowed her in Sports Illustrated that few actual female athletes will ever get, especially female athletes of color. 

Let’s also be clear that Barbie isn’t so much “unapologetic” as she is inanimate. Mattel is pretending that Barbie is a real person with feelings and paralleling the criticism of a very profitable toy that has been shown to make girls more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies as they grow older, with the body shaming that actual women experience (including the shaming done by those who are judging us for not looking like Barbie).  Mattel seems to be taking a page from Special K and half the haters who e-mail me, thinking it’s clever to take the tools of Size Acceptance activists and use them for the exact opposite effect.

I can’t say for sure that Barbie actually makes girls less satisfied for their bodies, I’m sure that there are women who weren’t/aren’t negatively impacted by Barbie, but studies show it’s certainly possible, Knowing that, I’m not that inclined to care about Barbie’s feelings of empowerment, or how apologetic she may or may not be.  As far as I’m concerned, when you find out that the children’s toy you manufacture might hurt children, the responsible thing to do is make a change, not double down, get defensive,  and act like those pointing out the issues should be ashamed of ourselves for hurting a doll’s fee fees.

Body shaming is a real thing, and it sucks no matter who is getting shamed.  It’s also not the same thing as industries that profit by creating unrealistic and unattainable ideals of beauty.  I can talk about the issues with the very specific types of bodies that Sports Illustrated chooses for their Swimsuit Issues – like why the women on the cover are so often models and so rarely athletes despite the fact that it’s a sports magazine – and the way that those bodies are photoshopped to create not just a rarely unattainable, but a completely unattainable standard of beauty.  And I can, and I feel I should, talk about that without ever once body shaming the models who were chosen by Sports Illustrated.

Maybe if Barbie was a real girl who could speak for herself, she would be apologetic.  Maybe she would apologize for the way that Mattel has used her for profitability, not just ignoring the fact that she may be harming girls but suggesting that those who point that out should be shamed for criticizing her, as if she is real. How dare we put the feelings of a plastic toy ahead of the positive body image of us and our kids – what are we thinking?  Thank god Mattel and Sports Illustrated are here to show us what’s truly important and in our best interest.

I for one will be showing them what I think is truly important and in my best interest by not buying their products.

EDITED to correct the fact that Barbie is going to be in the magazine but not on the cover.

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Published in: on February 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm  Comments (33)  

No Justification

DefendOne of the interesting responses that I see when people discuss Health at Every Size are rants about how it’s all about justifying fatness and whatever stereotypical behavior the ranter ascribes to fat people. I want to talk about how to deal with this practically, because the more we put ourselves out there and challenge people’s prejudices, the more this is going to happen.  But before I get to the practical responses, I hope you’ll allow me a quick rant of my own.

As a pre-rant, let me remind everyone that Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are two different things, and nobody is obligated to participate in HAES – people get to choose how highly they prioritize their health and the path they take to get there and those choices are nobody else’s business.  Now, without further adieu…

How over-exaggerated must these people’s sense of self-importance be to think that we are living our lives as a way to justify ourselves to them? That is some ego run amok right there.  We aren’t seeking the approval of anyone  – we are giving them the opportunity to see that they are operating under prejudice, bigotry and stereotypes, and to make the choice to stop doing that. If you are one of these people and you are reading this, let me break it down:  We are saying “I Stand for myself and others” not “I kneel for your approval”.  Where you got the idea that anybody needs to justify anything to you I don’t know, but you’re dead wrong.

So what do we do about it?  There are several options that I use to handle this type of thing (if you have others it would be awesome if you would drop them in a comment below.)

Ignore it completely. Often I don’t care enough about the person making the assertion to react in any way. I typically choose this if it’s from some fat hate forum and/or if it’s sent to me privately. From my perspective these people have chosen the path away from intelligent dialog and I’m not interested in trying to be the one to bring them back.  I know that other people do choose to engage them and that’s awesome, it’s just usually not for me.

Appeal to humanity:  One of the reasons I think there is so much horrible treatment of us on the internet is the double anonymity – they don’t think of us as actual people, and they are hiding behind anonymity to behave in a way that they never would in person.  Add to that a world that encourages people to treat fat people as less than human (Biggest Loser, I’m looking at you) and you have a recipe for bullying.  Whether or not it changes the mind of the person who made the post, it can help to remind other people who read it that fat people are, in fact, people.  I sometimes leave a comment that says something like “Hi, I’m the person in the picture (or the person who wrote the article or whatever)… and then respond in whatever way seems appropriate.

Education: I use this if someone has confused their opinions with facts.  I say something like “Hi, I’m the person in the picture. It’s ok if we disagree but I wanted to point out that Health at Every Size is an evidence based health practice.  Some places to start are http://www.haescommunity.org/ (created by Dr. Linda Bacon, a Ph.d with three post graduate degrees), http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/1/55.full (an article written by five experts).  Again, I completely respect if you don’t choose HAES for yourself but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid choice for anyone else.

Gather Reinforcements:  If you see this kind of thing online another option is to let the Rolls not Trolls Facebook group know about it.  We are a group who make fat positive comments on fat negative articles and comment threads.  The goal isn’t necessarily to change the mind of the person who wrote the article or left the negative comments, but for the people who are reading through and might be affected by seeing another point of view. You are welcome to join the group or you can send the link to me and I’ll post it.

Most of all remember that it’s not you, you are amazing and beautiful and worthy of respect and love – I know that for sure.  Whatever their intentions might be, these people are living from prejudice and stereotypes and bigotry that is causing them to be misguided in their actions, but you don’t have to buy into that, and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.

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My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 7:51 am  Comments (13)  

The World is Screwed Up, We Are Fine

enoughI had an absolutely fabulous time in Eugene at the University of Oregon.  One of the questions that I was asked at several of my talks was:  what do you say to people who are having a hard time with our cultural standards of beauty and the bullying that comes along with it?

My answer is that I think the first step is realizing that the world is screwed up, we are fine. This is not our fault, but it sometimes becomes our problem.  We get to decide how we deal with this.  I think that one of the most insidious issues is that we’re told to look all kinds of places and ask all kinds of people to find out if we are worthy, sexy, attractive etc.  I think that one way to address that is to start sorting out what is true from what is foisted upon us for someones else’s benefit.  For example, things that people incorrectly think we should use to determine our worth.  Here’s part of my list,  feel free to put your additions in the comments!

Things that do not determine my worth:

Whether Alex Rodriguez would date me

Whether I fit into a sample size gown

Whether I fit into anything

What people think about how long it takes me to finish a marathon

Whether someone, a group of people, a majority of people, or anyone wants to have sex with me

Whether or not I have health issues

How I choose to prioritize my health

What anybody thinks of how I live my life

What anybody thinks of me at all

We have to live in this world and deal with other people’s beliefs. I think that one thing that can really help us make decisions about how to do that is to take back what is ours. I believe that I am the only person who gets to determine how I feel about myself (I can take other people’s beliefs in account, but who and how much is entirely up to me.)  Many things improved in my life when I stopped believing that my worth, beauty, sexiness etc. were things that had to be assigned to me by others.

Some of this culture of  bullying and shaming is a desperate attempt by people to feel better about themselves by putting someone else down.  Some is about people with a grossly exaggerated sense of self-importance who actually believe that we should care what they think of us. Either way, we can take back what is ours to decide, and then work on dealing with the rest.

Like my blog?   Here’s more stuff!

Golda Poretsky, who I have had the pleasure of teaching classes with and she is awesome, has a new 30 day e-course called Thirty Days of Body Love.  You can check it out here!  Thanks to Golda’s affiliate program if you decide that the program is something you want to do you’ll support yourself, Golda and me.  Everybody plays, everybody wins!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are welcome to check out this post.

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 9:47 am  Comments (14)