Oops, It’s the Wrong Problem

Things you can tell by looking at a fat personAs a society we are engaged in plenty of wailing and hand-wringing about the “problem” of “obesity” (which is to say that problem of people whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is greater than 30).  This creates an environment of shame, stigma, bullying and oppression based on how people look.  Also, the truth is that “obesity” is a body size – it’s not an eating disorder, it’s not a diagnosis. it’s not the problem. All of this flailing muppet arm won’tsomebodythinkofthefatpeople drama draws attention away from actual problems that we could be addressing.

There is definitely a problem (several actually), but it’s not obesity.

Stigma is a problem.

According to research from Dr. Peter Muennig, a health professor from Columbia:

“Women who say they feel they are too heavy suffer more mental and physical illness than women who say they feel fine about their size — no matter what they weigh.”

When you say that body size is the problem then you are telling people to have a problem with their bodies – betting that they will somehow hate themselves thin and healthy (which are two different things). Knowing what Dr. Muennig’s research found, and knowing that we live in a world where people spend their time making sure that we get a ceaseless stream of body hatred, it would make more sense if people of size did suffer more mental and physical illness. But if that’s the case then the issue is not obesity, it’s social stigma, and even if there was a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people succeeded at weight – thus giving us some reason to believe that it is successful, weight loss is not the cure for social stigma.  Ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma.

Speaking of stigma, Dr. Muennig also tells us:

“Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful. Over time, such chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Like the stress of being constantly stigmatized by everyone from jerks on the internet to doctors perhaps?  How about we give ending social stigma around body size a try?  Couldn’t hurt, would probably help.

Making individual health the public’s business is a problem

Someone’s health, their prioritization of their health, and the path they choose to reach any health goals that they may choose are intensely personal and not a matter for public consumption.  Health is not entirely within our control.  Health is not a barometer for worthiness, it is not a societal obligation, it is not anybody’s business.  Public health should be about providing health options to the public, not about making the individual’s health the public’s business.

Access is a problem

We’re spending so much time buying and selling thin, that we’ve forgotten about actual health.  Sixty billion dollars went to the diet industry last year. Meanwhile, plenty of people don’t have access to the foods that they want to eat, or to safe (both physically and psychologically safe) movement options. Sixty billion dollars could have created 60,000 100 acre organic farms.  It could have created 60,000 community centers with lots of movement options and sliding scale member fees.  And that’s just in one year of diet spending. In order to “fight” the “problem” of people living in larger bodies, we gave sixty billion dollars to an industry with a less than 5% success rate that has been sued repeatedly by the US Trade Commission for deceptive trade practices and LOST EVERY TIME.

Studies show us over and over that healthy habits, not weight, are the best predictor of future health. Health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control – it includes genetics, access, stress, past behaviors and current behaviors, and health is never guaranteed.  Everybody is going to die and if you don’t get hit by a bus it’s pretty likely that things will go wrong with your body, and there is no magical “healthy weight” that will stop that from happening.

Focusing on body size misleads people about health habits, leading fat people to believe that habits don’t support our health unless they make us thin, and telling thin people that they are healthy because of their size and regardless of their habits which is not what the research shows.  It also gets in the way of the proper treatment of actual health issues in people of all sizes.  Doctors neglect to do basic diagnostic tests on thin people because they assume that they are healthy, and people of size aren’t properly diagnosed because doctors are too busy giving a diagnosis of fat and a treatment protocol of weight loss. We can do better than this.

There is nothing – NOTHING – that could possibly be achieved by a war on fat people that couldn’t be achieved by an initiative for providing access to healthy foods, enjoyable movement options and affordable evidence-based healthcare to those who want them, and the latter creates an environment where people of all sizes are treated with respect and given the opportunity to appreciate, like, even love their bodies.

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

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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 April 9, 2014 at 6:13 am  Comments (10)  

The Right to Bare Fat Arms

A judge once told me that she "couldn't stand to look at me" in this dress. To that I say, please sip this big steaming mug of suck it!

A judge once told me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me” in this dress. To that I say, please sip this big steaming mug of suck it!

Ah, spring has sprung and so has the fashion advice.  Blog reader April let me know about this gem “What Not to Wear to Work this Summer” including the quote “Stafford says sleeveless tops are appropriate in the office—’if you have the figure to pull it off.’ For most women under age 40, she says few people would blink. However, for those who are older or heavier, she recommends paying particular attention to your body type and what works on you.”

First, to be very clear there is no clothing requirement to “prove” that we are part of body positivity or size acceptance.  We have the right to bare arms (and legs, and stomachs!), but never the obligation.  Long time readers of the blog are well aware that I think the idea that bare arms are somehow professional on thin women and unprofessional on fat (or older) women is bullshit.  In fact I think that the idea that there is anything that’s ok for thin people and not ok for fat people is bullshit.

I am personally a member of the F*ck Flattering club, I’m so sick of hearing about “flattering.” When someone tells me that seeing rolls isn’t flattering, or showing fat arms isn’t flattering, or bright clothing on fat people isn’t flattering, or clothing that *gasp* isn’t slimming isn’t flattering, what I hear is “I’m interested in buying into and reinforcing the idea that we should all try to get as close as we can to some arbitrary stereotype of beauty as possible.”  People are allowed to do that for themselves, they aren’t allowed to dictate it to others.  For me, I think it’s feeding the machine that oppresses me and so I personally have no interest in it.

Back to that whole sleeveless thing. When someone says that some clothing is ok for people who look one way, but not ok for people who look another way, I don’t see how it’s possible to justify that as anything other than appearance-based prejudice.  Businesses can set dress codes, but they need to be equally applicable – either everyone can wear sleeveless shirts or nobody can.  We get to decide how we dress at work.  If our clothes push against unspoken (or spoken) anti-fat prejudice that may have consequences.  As I’ve said before, risk is the currency of revolution.  We get to decide if we want to engage in that kind of risk and that kind activism.  Whether or not we engage in the activism we get to decide if we think it’s right and that’s what’s most important.

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

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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 April 8, 2014 at 6:48 am  Comments (35)  

Hilarious Haters

Sometimes my haters do something so hilarious that I have to post it here.  Today is one of those days, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  One of the things that I get asked a lot is how I deal with all the hatemail I get.  Mostly through laughter.

First, I realize that these are people who spend their time typing about why they don’t like me, my work, my clothes, my dancing whatever.  I don’t allow their comments in my spaces so they hate me for each other in spaces that they create, the most aptly named of which is probably “fitness circle jerk.”  That’s hilarious to me.

On these forums I get to watch them tie themselves in knots trying to keep their hatefire stoked, and it is impressive. I do a marathon, they all say I’ll never finish. I finish, they all complain that I didn’t do it fast enough. I say I’m not going to do another one, they all talk about how weak I am for giving up.  I decide to do another one after all, they  complain that I’m selfish for doing another one (and say I’ll never finish). It’s actually pretty entertaining.

Also, I monetized my hate by creating an official hatemail page where people can see some of this ridiculousness for themselves, and support my projects.  It is one of my great joys in life that my haters pitch in to support my activism in this way.

But as I said, sometimes they do something so funny that I just have to post it here. This picture was posted to my Facebook by an account that is very likely a dummy account (above everything my haters tend to value not putting their names to their work – just another way that we differ I guess).  This poster calls themselves “Jenny Bates” so we’ll go with that.

Heel Stretch Hate

It’s a picture of me doing a standing heel stretch, next to a picture of a ballerina doing a standing heel stretch.  Someone has used a vertical red line to illustrate that we are using different balance points (which, since I’m probably three times her size I wouldn’t have expected to be a big shock, but that’s my haters for you.)  In foreboding red block letters the caption says “There is nothing healthy about being obese.”

So let’s get clear about the message here:  I do a standing heel stretch differently than someone else, therefore fat people can’t be healthy.  There we’ve got it sorted, I’m going to go ahead and take this blog down because clearly my work is based on a lie, if I can’t do a standing heel stretch like a ballerina in a stock photo, what chance is there for fat people to be healthy?  Everyone, stop reading my blog immediately, go to Fitness Circle Jerk and ask them what to do.

Then there is the implied message – in order to be healthy, one must be able to do a standing heel stretch exactly like the ballerina in the stock photo.  One wonders how Jenny’s health would measure up on this scale.  You’ll notice that she didn’t post a picture of herself doing the heel stretch (in much the same way that my marathon hatemail often starts with “I’ve never done a marathon but…”)   I assume that these people do this because they rely on feeling better than fat people to feel ok about themselves (I’m thinking people who spend their time typing about me in forums and photoshopping pictures of standing heel stretches may not have a lot going on in their lives that they can be proud of).  So they do whatever they can to hold onto their stereotypes, and to try to make fat people ashamed of our achievements.  So here’s how I deal with that:

I don’t know how many people can do a standing heel stretch and I don’t care.  I wanted to do it, I’m not naturally flexible – it took me a year of hard work to be able to do it – and I’m proud of that.

I finished a marathon, it took me about 13 hours (I like rounding up. I often round up when I talk about my age, my weight, and now my marathon time, it’s a little bit of activism and it tends to freak people out – it’s fun!)  It was horrible, I didn’t quit, I finished the marathon, and I’m proud of that.

What’s most important about these achievements is that they are my personal expression of my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they are NOT a justification for why I deserve those rights because absolutely no justification is necessary.

So while (like taking time to smell the roses)  I think it’s important to sometimes take time to laugh at my haters, I have other stuff to do (like getting ready to speak at Chico State on Wednesday, hope to see you there!) and so I’ll close with a great picture that many of you have sent to me by e-mail and Facebook with my sincere thanks for those who send me love mail! (If you’re looking for a group that helps put body positive messages in body negative spaces, consider joining the Rolls not Trolls Facebook group!)

Haters Walk on Water

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

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

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm  Comments (36)  

Fat and Unhealthy

fight backI got a question from a blog reader who asked:

You speak a lot about how fitness and not weight is the best measure of health and you rationally prove your point against all the negative messages.  However, how does one counter those negative inaccuracies when you’re fat and not healthy, as I am?  I’m not disabled or even close to it but I have a couple of chronic health problems.  This stops me from countering all the negative comments I hear from those around me.  It makes me feel as I don’t have a right to speak up.

First of all I want to be very very clear.  The argument I’m making isn’t that “fat people should get basic human rights  if we are healthy or because we can be healthy”  What I am saying is that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and being treated with basic human respect are not size, ability, or health dependent, nor are they dependent on looking or acting the way that someone wants us to look or act. More details about this here.

By the way, I’m not asking that people confer these rights upon us, since they aren’t theirs to give or take.  What I’m saying is that people need to stop keeping these rights from us through the inappropriate use of power and privilege.

I discuss the evidence that health and weight are separate, and that the research suggests that our best chance for supporting our health lies in healthy habits (rather than attempting to reach a specific height/weight ratio and hoping health will come along for the ride) because I want to let people know their options.   But don’t get me wrong  – there are no habits that guarantee health for anybody of any size.  Health is complex and multidimensional and never entirely within our control.  Our health is a reflection not just of our habits and actions but also of our genetics, our environment, and our access – to healthy foods, safe movement options, and affordable evidence-based healthcare.

But it goes deeper than that – we talked about what happens if our fat is our fault, but what if our poor health is our fault?  Well, that’s what’s happening and we get to choose how to deal with that within our situation (and let’s be clear that everyone in our society does not have access to the same options and choices).  Regardless, it’s nobody else’s business unless we choose to make it their business.  Nobody is obligated to choose healthy habits, by any definition.  It’s none of anybody else’s business how highly we prioritize our health or what our habits are.  We do not owe anybody else “healthy” no matter what size we are.

There are all kinds of things that people of all sizes choose that don’t necessarily prioritize our health – People are allowed to jump out of helicopters wearing skis, drink two bottles of vodka a day, forgo sleep, attempt to climb mountains that nobody has ever climbed, not look both ways before crossing the street etc. But nobody is suggesting that people who don’t get enough sleep should lose their healthcare or pay more for health insurance.  My point is that this “naughty fatties need to be punished” talk is often, if not always, about trying to justify bigotry.   It’s also often done by people who insist that they should get a say in how other people live, but without any interest in people telling them how to live.

When it comes to telling other people how to live, I think it’s a bad idea. I think that if we’re interested in public health, we should work to make sure that everyone has good information and options, and then respect other people’s choices just like we want our choices to be respected.

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

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 help 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 April 6, 2014 at 4:44 pm  Comments (26)  

The People of Walmart Thing

WTFI saw yet another person on FaceBook post a picture of a fat woman, likely taken without her consent, and used soley to make fun of her with the note: “I know it’s wrong but I had to post it.” And, when called out, the further justification of “I know it makes me a bad, terrible, awful human being” but no move to delete the post.  Fuck a bunch of that.  Even if someone was holding a gun to this person’s head they still didn’t “have to” post it.  There is nothing wrong with the people in these pictures – there are very serious issues with the choice to post them, and trying to justify it is far worse.  This is bullying and it’s not ok.  So I’m reposting this piece about it:

You know the pictures.  People in Walmart, or wherever, very often fat people (EDIT:  I missed an opportunity for intersectional activism here, as commenters have pointed about below there are also often elements of classicism and racism going on as well.)   They might be dressed in tight or scant clothing, or their hair is in curlers etc.  Someone photographs them, puts them on a website for comment and then they get passed around Facebook where today I saw no less than four people who claim to be size acceptance advocates make fun of them.

Let’s look at what we know about the people in these pictures:

1.  They got dressed for the place they were going at the time they were going there- they had no intention to be photographed.

2.  They were probably photographed without their knowledge or consent.

3.  They have no opportunity to speak up on their own behalf unless they happen to find their picture and all the bullying, abusive, shaming language that is with it.

4.  They are people, deserving of basic human respect even if they make choices that are different than ours.

This is no different than the fat administrative assistant who goes to McDonalds to get lunch for her office and ends up in a picture without her head carrying twelve bags of McDonald’s food and getting ridiculed all over the internet.  Maybe the person in the Walmart picture can’t afford other clothes, maybe they had to rush their baby to the emergency room and they are at Walmart for medicine in what they were wearing around the house when the baby got sick, maybe that woman is sitting in a shopping cart because she is disabled and there were no scooters and she didn’t want to inconvenience her ride by making them wait until there was a scooter, maybe that’s just how that guy wants to freaking dress.

Regardless, why is it considered ok to take someone’s photograph without their consent for the express purpose of giving perfect strangers who weren’t there the opportunity to ridicule someone just because the way that person looks isn’t considered by some to be socially acceptable?  This seems especially significant for Size Diversity activists who ask that people please stop ridiculing us because the way we look isn’t considered by some to be socially acceptable. So I think it would be great if we were the ones who lead the charge against this practice.

Maybe when we see these photos posted we could stand up for the rights of people to be treated with basic human decency even if they make different fashion choices than we do, even if they they don’t look the way society thinks they should look or act the way society says they should act. Maybe we could stand up for a world where nobody is ridiculed for how they look, especially if we would like to start being included in that group, and believe that the road to respect is probably not paved with hypocrisy.

So when you see one of these on Facebook or Reddit or wherever, consider speaking up for someone who does not have the chance to speak up for themselves.

Some ideas of what you could say/do to get involved:

  • Comment:  I am for a world where nobody is photographed and shamed on the internet.
  • Comment:  I think it’s a shame when people get their entertainment by bullying and abusing others.
  • Suggest a possible story that humanizes the person in the picture.
  • Message the poster privately and share your concerns.
  • Post something on your own page against the practice.

Maybe we can get our Facebook entertainment watching  little pugs that can’t run or looking at pictures of kittens, not bullying and shaming other human beings.

Like my blog?   Here’s more cool stuff!

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

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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 April 4, 2014 at 3:04 am  Comments (78)  

Will Perform for Food

Nothing to proveI think that our current society seriously messes a lot of us up around food and eating, and that goes for people of all sizes.  One of the places where I often notice the results of that mess is the way that we talk about food.  I’m not talking about the way that we talk about liking or not liking food, or letting someone know what food allergies/sensitivies/needs one has, I’m talking about the way that we perform around food when we eat with others.

Sit at a restaurant for 20 minutes and I can almost guarantee that you’ll hear some version of each of these (possibly triggering) phrases:

  • This is SO MUCH FOOD, there’s no way that I could eat it all!
  • I’m going to have to do two hours on the treadmill to make up for this cookie.
  • I skipped lunch so that I could eat here tonight.
  • I’ve been so good, so it’s ok for me to cheat and eat this.
  • I exercise because I like to eat!
  • I did an extra mile on the treadmill this morning, I deserve this!
  • This fits into [my weight loss diet] for [these reasons].

All of these things might be true and I’m not trying to tell people what they should/should not feel or do around their food.  The ideas of “earning” food through exercise, or why we make food a moral issue (sinful, guilt free etc.) is the topic for another post.  My question today is more about why we feel the need to talk about this out loud.

We make lots of personal decisions every day without talking about them out loud.  Many people who would think nothing of saying or hearing any of the above phrases at a business meeting with a catered lunch would never be comfortable in the same meeting hearing or saying “I kind of have to pee but I don’t have to go that badly so maybe I’ll finish this TPS report and then head to the bathroom.” or “I really have to poo but I’m hoping the bathroom will be empty so I’m going to wait until the meeting breaks up and people get off this floor.” (Some people might be very comfortable with these things and of course that’s totally ok, I’m looking more from a cultural perspective.)

I think that a lot of it is the way that our society places value, even morality, on food – “sinful” dessert, “guilt free” baked chips, eating “clean” – leads to us treating decisions around food as a public performance that justifies our choices often at the expense of (purposefully or inadvertently) shaming or triggering others others.

If I get a plate of food and I decide that it’s more than I want for whatever reason, that’s fine.  If I decide to vocalize that, I may inadvertently shame the person next to me who ordered that same plate of food and does intend to eat it all for whatever reason, and I add to a world where food decisions need to be justified and rationalized out loud and I’d rather not be a part of that.  Just like I don’t want to engage in negative body talk, I also don’t want to engage in negative food talk.  I want people to be free to make their own decisions about food for their own reasons without feeling like they need to justify those choices to anyone.

At the end of the day I think that since I never know what’s going on with the people around me  (lots of people are dealing with disordered eating and eating disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, health issues etc.), I would rather be safe than accidentally triggering or shaming.  So while I’m happy to talk about food – what I like, what food I don’t, recipes and preparations etc.,  I eat what I eat for my own reasons and I don’t feel the need to talk about those reasons at meals.

Like my blog?   Here’s more cool stuff!

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

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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 April 2, 2014 at 3:46 am  Comments (102)  

There Are Two Kinds of Fat People

Reality and PerceptionSorry for the lapse in blogging, I’ve been traveling and out of WIFI range (a blog about my experience at the incredibly awesome Hottie Hoop Camp coming soon!) Thanks to everyone who sent me e-mails to make sure that I was ok!  Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

“There are two kinds of fat people…” I hear this all the time, most recently when I was on the fabulous Substantia Jones’ radio show (archive available here). The story always goes something like this “There are two kinds of fat people, those who eat healthy and exercise, and those who just sit around eating fast food on the couch.” Typically I’m supposed to be happy because the speaker is putting me in category one. But I’m not happy. Not even a little tiny bit. I have no interest in being categorized in this way.

This is often called the “Good Fatty, Bad Fatty Dichotomy” (I don’t know who came up with the wording, if anyone does know feel free to let me know so that I can credit them.) We’ll call it the GFBFD for short. The idea is that fat people who do the “right” things in the estimation of the person doing the judging deserve to be treated better than fat people who aren’t doing the “right” things. I think that the GFBFD needs to die and I want to actively help kill it.

First let’s pretend it’s true. If that’s the case, it’s not just fat people – you could divide any group of people into these two categories. One could claim that there are two kinds of brunettes, two kinds of people who live on their street, two kinds of thin people. In that case the person who wants to use the GFBFD would be left to explain why, even though there are people of every shape and size who can be divided into their two categories, they only think that those who are both in category two and fat should be punished (otherwise what is the sense in discussing the dichotomy in terms of fat people?)

Luckily we don’t have to travel that winding road because the whole thing is bullshit. There aren’t just two types of fat people (or two types of any people), there is a huge spectrum in terms of choices people make around food and movement, and there are a huge number of reasons for those choices – including some that are out of our control.  What they have in common is that none of them are any of our damn business unless they are our choices, or someone asks us to chime in on theirs. If someone likes to run (or walk!) marathons, that’s no more laudable than if they want to crochet a badass purse out of plarn (I’m looking at you Suzi!) or watch every episode of Star Trek ever aired.

What I find is that this is often about someone trying to justify their bigotry by suggesting that that it’s ok for them to shame and stigmatize, if not all fat people, then at least some of them! Again we have a big steaming pile of bull poo. I notice that people who insist that they should get to decide how fat people should prioritize our health and the path that we choose to get there are none too keen on others making those choices for them. It’s like many people’s view of driving (a group which may or may not include me…) Everyone who drives slower than them is a slowpoke, everyone who drives faster is a dangerous menace, and their driving is juuuuuuuust riiiiiight. So it often seems to be with those who want to stick their nose into other people’s health (a group which most definitely does not include me.) Everyone who they perceive as doing less than them is lazy and wasting their tax dollars, everyone who does more than them is some kind of health nut, and what they do is juuuuuuust riiiiiiight.

It is by this reasoning that we find ourselves on a treacherously slippery slope. They claim that the “bad fatties” deserve poor treatment because they aren’t doing the healthy things that they need to do for the good of society. But where does that end? If people have studies that show that everyone going raw foods vegan and doing hot yoga will save on healthcare costs and be better for the “good of society” do we all have to eat cashew cheez while sweating our asses off in downward dog? (For the record I had cashew cheez for the first time at Hottie Hoop Camp this weekend and it was delicious, thanks Ruby!)

If people have studies that say that everyone going paleo and doing crossfit will save on healthcare costs and be better for the “good of society” do we all have to eat a steak while we flip tires in a garage with no air conditioning? The only good answer to this is that each of us gets to choose how highly we prioritize our health and what path we choose to get there. Public health should be about making information and options available to the public, not making individual bodies the public’s business. If people want to flip tires in an air conditioned gym while eating Kraft singles and wearing a plarn backpack that’s totally their deal, I say rock on.

There aren’t two kinds of fat people and suggesting that there are is simply sinking one’s self into a pool of stereotypes and bigotry and just soaking in it. Fat people are as varied as any group of people who share a single physical characteristic, and that is as it should be. The Good Fatty Bad Fatty Dichotomy needs to die, if you want to help kill it you can do things like not participating in it, and calling it out when you see it. Have other ideas? Feel free to put those in the comments!

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Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 6:51 am  Comments (44)  

Normalizing Obesity

Actual SizeDepartment store Debenhams decided to use size 16 mannequins to both reflect the average size woman and give her a shot at seeing what clothes might actually look like on her.  Queue hand-wringing and wailing.

Britain’s chief medical director, Dame Sally Davies, is concerned that the use of mannequins in a wide variety of sizes that reflect the sizes of women may normalize obesity. First of all let’s remember that obesity is a made up thing whose definition has been changed in the past by clever lobbying by the weight loss industry. Then let’s remember that, while there are no guarantees or obligations, behaviors are a much better determinant of future health than is body size. Finally, let’s remember that Dame Davies has not a single evidence-based way to make fat women smaller,whether there are fat mannequins or not . (see the bottom of this post for evidence about this.)

The hypothesis that Dame Davies seems to be working under, of course without a shred of evidence, is that fat people will all get thin if we never see anyone (including a mannequin)  who looks like us shown in a positive light.  I hate to have a Dr. Phil moment here, but we’ve been doing that for quite a while now – how’s that workin for ya? Junot Diaz said:  “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” That is exactly what Dame Davies is engaged in doing.

It turns out that most people aren’t motivated to take care of themselves by seeing only negative portrayals of people who look like them.  The message that fat people should hate our bodies and ourselves is phenomenally effective at convincing fat people to hate our bodies and ourselves.  The problem is that, in what I would call a stunning flash of the obvious, neither health nor thinness (two different things let’s remember) follow.  But heavens forfend we have a fat person shown in a positive (or even neutral) light – we’ll soon find ourselves accused of that most heinous (and completely ridiculous) of crimes:  “promoting obesity  a gateway crime to  “normalizing obesity”.

Again, the idea being that we must keep fat people in constant misery by only showing fat people in constant misery – or not showing them at all…and why?

Maybe it’s because people are actually so misguided as to believe that all fat people will become thin if the world simply refuses to allow us to see ourselves in it as anything but “abnormal” (of course being normal is the most important thing.) Or maybe it’s because if we stop shaming fat people then they might stop pouring money into the diet industry for a solution that almost never works, and they really like getting our sixty billion dollars a year.

I don’t buy the idea that showing fat people in a positive light will make other people want to be fat (because I don’t think this is a V8 commercial where people see a happy fatty, slap their forehead and say “I coulda been fat”), and I don’t think that a ceaseless stream of shame is doing anything good for fat people.  So let’s try a new experiment. Let’s normalize bodies of all sizes – let’s acknowledge that bodies come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and move on to focus on other things based on people’s own prioritization and goals.  Can you imagine if size was not an issue?  Movies with fat leading men and  ladies, magazines filled with people of all sizes, billboards with fat people selling dishsoap, a world without fat jokes, a world without articles about how Santa Claus promotes an unhealthy body image.

Take a minute to realize that everything fat people accomplish today is done in spite of the fact that we live under the under the crushing weight of constant social stigma. Imagine what fat people could do if we didn’t have to live with a ceaseless stream of societal oppression.

Peter Muennig’s research from Columbia found that most of the health problems that are correlated with obesity are also correlated with being under a high degree of stress for a long period of time (for example, the stress of constant shaming and stigma). Therefore, public health messages that add to the shame and stigma that fat people face may actually decrease health in fat people.

Muennig also found that women who were concerned about their size experienced more physical and mental illness than those who were ok with their size, regardless of their size. So public health messages that make fat people concerned about their body size may also have the opposite of the intended effect.

Imagine a world where there was no body shame and stigma.  Hey wait, we don’t have to imagine… we could  just stop shaming and stigmatizing bodies right frickin’ now!

Of course society isn’t coming along with my plan at the moment, but we can do something about it right now. I think that the best thing that I ever did for loving my body was looking daily at bodies that were outside the beauty stereotype  -I found that I had no problem with their bodies and I was eventually able to transfer those feelings to my own body.  I think you will do yourself a world of good if you seek out images of happy people who are outside the beauty norm every single day.

Here are a couple of places to start:

Fit Fatties Forum Phot and Video Galleries

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW unless your W is super cool)

(If you know of other places feel free to put them in the comments!)

You can also take pictures of yourself and get them out there for other fatties to see- post them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram your blog,  post them in the comments of this blog – whatever.  Remember that bodies aren’t better or worse- just different.  The constant stream of thin bodies that we see can subconsciously condition us to believe that our bodies are wrong, but that’s just cultural conditioning, and that can be changed, and we can change it. Let’s be our own heroes and our own role models.

Activism Opportunity:  E-mail Debenhams to thank them (scroll to the bottom and click on “e-mail”)

Like my blog?   Here’s more cool stuff!

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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 March 28, 2014 at 5:31 am  Comments (30)  

Think We’re Doing Enough About Obesity?

Enough reallyI have arrived in Surfside, Texas for Hottie Hoop Camp. It’s amazing so far and I look forward to blogging about my super fun experiences over the rest of the week.  But for tonight, I want to address some feedback from yesterday’s blog post.  I got a bunch of e-mails and comments (which of course I did not approve) talking about how the fact that there are fat people, like me, who aren’t dieting (which is to say fat people who are opting out of the “health” plan of “feed your body less food than it needs to survive in the hope that it will eat itself and become smaller and somehow also healthier even though there’s not a single study where that worked for more than a tiny fraction of people” model), is proof that we aren’t “doing enough about obesity.”  Obviously these people have taken a swing and a miss when it comes to getting the point, so let me try this one more time:

When people express concern as to whether we are “doing enough about obesity” they are typically suggesting that we  ponder such important ideas as:

  • Are we shaming fat people enough?
  • Are we ostracizing fat people enough
  • Are we oppressing fat people enough
  • Are doctors doing a good enough job of ignoring fat people’s actual health issues and focusing on our body sizes?
  • Are we making fat people feel horrible enough about themselves?
  • Are we stereotyping fat people enough?
  • Are we doing a good enough job of conflating weight and health?

The answer seems to almost always be “No, we could be doing more.”

Look, if you are one of these people, I imagine it must be very stressful to constantly try to take responsibility for, and worry about, the business and bodies of so many people who aren’t you, so let me help you out:

You have done enough; more than enough even. It’s time for you to go look for your beeswax at your own home and in your own mirror.

If you want to make the lives of fat people better, the absolute best thing you could do as far as I’m concerned is help end the stereotyping, stigma, bullying, and oppression we deal with.  I have been thinner and I can tell you that it didn’t improve my quality of life even a fraction as much as not being constantly stigmatized, stereotyped and oppressed would.  Seriously, trust me on this – you’ve done enough, go sit down now.

I know this may be hard to wrap your head around, so feel free to read this sentence a couple of times:  Fat people’s bodies are not a signal that we require other people’s interference in our lives.  No, really – it’s true! We are capable of doing our own research and making our own decisions about our health and bodies, so you are totally off the hook. Isn’t that great?! Aren’t you just SO relieved?!

If you are interested in public health, then it would be great if you would focus your efforts on making sure that everyone has access to the foods that they would choose, safe movement options that they enjoy (and that means physically safe and also emotionally safe so that they know that they can put on a swimsuit and walk around without even the thought that they would be treated poorly or shamed about their bodies), affordable evidence-based healthcare, and true information.  Then you can make choices for you and let other people make choices for themselves.

I promise – you’ve done enough about obesity.  Please return to your homes and the policing of your own bodies only. Thank you.

I’m fat and I approved this message.

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Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 4:52 am  Comments (21)  

This Isn’t a Tree, I’m Not a Kitten

Not a kittenI am so tired of this whole  “Save the Fatties” campaign thing.  Jillian Michaels thinks that it’s ok to verbally and emotionally abuse us because she’s “saving our lives”.  Doctors ignore our symptoms (sprained wrists, broken bones, rashes, intense back pain, cancer) and treat our body size because “no matter what’s wrong with us we’ll be healthier if our bodies are smaller”.  Perfect strangers feel like they should question our food choices, make assumptions and comments about everything from our habits and health to our fitness for parenthood because it’s “for our own good”.  People at the gym, including employees, assume that we are beginner exercisers and encourage us in our quest for weight loss without bothering to ask us how long we’ve worked out or if we’re even trying to lose weight because they want to “encourage us”. People, including journalists, actually think it’s ok to ask “Should we accept obesity?”  Seriously.  As if our fat bodies are someone else’s to accept or reject.

I won’t speak for any other fat people, but for me this needs to stop.  If you do one or more of the things that I just mentioned, then this is for you:

This is not a tree, I am not a kitten, you are not a firefighter come to climb your little ladder and rescue me.  My fat body is not a message to you that I am somehow incapable of taking care of myself or making decisions about my health, or that I am looking for unsolicited opinions about how to live my life.  As the brilliant Marilyn Wann has said, the only thing that you can tell from looking at my body is what size I am, and what your prejudices and stereotypes about my size are. Deal with them or don’t, that’s up to you; but I have no obligation to be the pillow that you beat with a tennis racket trying to work out your issues  – trust me when I tell you that “emotional punching bag” is not just another free service I offer.

I am perfectly capable of making decisions about myself, my food, my exercise, my health, and anything else about my life. If I want your opinion on how to live my life, I swear you will be among the very first to know – but it’s safe for you to assume that this fatty doesn’t need saving.

Like my blog?   Here’s more cool stuff!

The fabulous Golda Poretsky is offering a great class on Health at Every Size.  You can check it out here.  I’m a member of Golda’s affiliate program, so if you decide that the class is for you, you’ll support yourself, Golda, and me – win, win, win!

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 help 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 March 26, 2014 at 4:07 am  Comments (38)