Dear Abby’s Epic Fail

WTFSo egregious was this “Dear Abby” column that over 500 readers contacted me to ask me to write about it.  I think it’s a helpful example of everything that is wrong with the way that we talk about weight, health, self-esteem, and body image. Here are the original letter and answer, then I’ll break them down bit by bit:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.

When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.”

I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women.

Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO

DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.

While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.

Let’s break this down, bit by horrible, offensive, inappropriate, bad advice, bit:

You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.

If this had been the whole reply, my response would have been “ok.” I would personally think long and hard about spending time with someone who would body shame me, lie about the way other’s feel about my body to try to back up her own bigotry, and tell me what I’m allowed to wear when with my own family, but that’s just me and it’s ok for Abby and I to disagree on this.

While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity.

It’s only interesting if you think that what a doctor thinks about someone’s health should impact what they are allowed to wear. Can you imagine if someone wrote in because their mom has forbidden them to wear yellow clothing and Abby’s response was “It would be interesting to know if you have any health problems.”  Her statement above is exactly that ridiculous, and the only reason it may not seem that ridiculous is because rampant prejudice against fat people has created a world where the question “How do I deal with a body shaming and a gender double-standard” is answered with “what assumptions does your doctor make about your health based on your body size?”

Look, if someone thinks that they can tell how healthy someone else is by their body size, then they are mistaken.  But even if they were right, if they suggest that people who aren’t healthy shouldn’t be allowed to be comfortable in their own skin or wear clothing that they like, then they are being a horrible person.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect that Abby would do any research to make sure that she’s not harming people with her advice concern trolling, but if she did she would find studies have linked the stress of shame and stigma like this to the same diseases to which obesity has been linked, and found that women who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illness than women who are fine about their size, regardless of their size.  So Abby could have harmed the health not only of the woman to who she gave terrible advice, but to every fat person who reads the drivel she wrote and buys into it. But of course, it’s for their own good.

I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.

Notice that Abby has gone from wondering about what the woman’s physician thinks to just assuming that she knows her health, and her behaviors around her health (since she knows both that she has a “weight problem” and that she’s “complacent”.)   If I were a psychic doctor I probably wouldn’t spend my time being an advice columnist but that’s just me.  Or maybe Abby isn’t so much a psychic doctor as a bigot who is happy to visit her stereotypes and prejudices upon anyone who will listen.

I’m also wondering if she advises children who are being bullied to blame themselves and  give the bullies whatever they want in the hopes that the bullies will stop beating them up. The problem here belongs to the mother and her issues with fat bodies.  It’s not the daughter’s fault but it becomes her problem when her mother decides to enforce her issues on her daughter via a dress code.  The daughter gets to choose how to deal with this, but let’s put the problem where it belongs – on the mom’s issues, not the daughter’s body.  I hope it goes without saying that the idea that she should have to change her body to deserve her mother’s pride is abhorrent.

Abby is perpetuating the idea, the absolutely horrifying idea, that the best thing for fat people’s health is to never ever be happy with ourselves, never be comfortable in our skin, always hide our bodies, live in constant shame, have low self-esteem and poor body image, have strangers make constant assumptions about our health and habits, be constantly stigmatized, stereotyped and bullied, never have even a moment of peace unless and until we become thin. And what about the fact that being thin will probably never happen for most fat people?  Well then, according to the Dear Abby’s of the world, we should live a joyless life subjected to constant bullying, stigma, stereotypes and oppression, hiding our bodies in shame as penance for having a body that isn’t socially acceptable.

Fat people are not the problem. Fat people in bikinis are not the problem. Fat prejudice is the problem.  People who think that public health means making fat people’s health the public’s business are the problem.  People who advise fat people to internalize the shame, stigma, and bullying they (shouldn’t have to) experience are the problem.  Dear Abby is the problem.  And that’s true whether you think fat people are healthy or not.

Activism Opportunities

Write to Dear Abby (I’m thinking “Dear Abby, I can’t stop being a victim-blaming weight bigot – can you help?)

Leave a comment here

Want more support dealing with a fat phobic world?  Check out the  Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recordings so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country about self-esteem, body image, health and wellness for people of size and more, and I’d love to speak to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (74)  

Queering Fat Embodiment – An Interview

Queering Fat EmbodimentI am interrupting our usual Marathon Update Sunday because this blog is a stop on the online  tour for the new anthology Queering Fat Embodiment (2014, Ashgate).  For this I did something I’ve never done before and interviewed the lead editor, Cat Pausé who writes Friend of Marilyn:

What made you decide to edit an edition on queering fat embodiment?

One of my co-editors, Samantha Murray, held a Fat Studies conference in Sydney in 2010. After she recovered from everything that comes with running an international conference, she approached me and Jackie Wykes about this edition. Sam knew that Ashgate had a Queer Interventions series, and thought that a book about fatness would be a great edition to the series. Jackie and I agreed, and we moved forward with crafting the book proposal. We pitched it to Ashgate, and were given a contract.

I’m editing The Politics of Size: Perspectives from the Fat-Acceptance Movement at the moment; I’m aware of the amount of work that goes into a work like this…

Oh my goodness, yes. There’s a joke that working with academics is like herding cats, and it is so true. All of the authors that contributed chapters to our collection are amazing, but trying to be in charge of ensuring things are submitted on time, and all using the same referencing style, and what order will best present the material – it was trying at times. Lots of late nights; lots of overnight Skype chats between myself and my co-editors. Once it was done, though, I was ready to go again. I’m thinking an edition about fat and the family might be my next editing project.

Can you explain what it means to queer fat embodiment?

Queer is a heterogeneous and multidisciplinary practice aimed at ‘bringing forth’ and thus denaturalising the taken for granted, the invisible, the normalised. And queering is a methodology (or method) of disrupting the norm. This collection seeks to challenge and destabilise existing ideas of fat and fat embodiment both outside of and within the emerging field of Fat Studies. In queering established ideas about fat bodies, and presenting challenging inquiries/inqueeries into these notions, this collection destabilises established ideas about fat bodies, making explicit the intersectionality of fat identities.

What do you like most about the edition?

I love the variety in the contributing chapters – we have established academics, like Katie LeBesco and Robyn Longhurst, and PhD students, like James Burford. We have pieces, like Katie’s, that are really challenging and complex (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of size f*cking!), and then other chapters, like mine, that are less theoretical; more applied. I wish we would have been more successful at ensuring that the collection was more intersectional, but I am proud of the final product.

And I understand that you’re promoting the final book through a variety of ways?

We kicked it off with a global launch in Google Hangouts on Air, which was a cool way to have participation from many of the contributors across the world. It also allowed anyone to attend the launch with us online. After the launch, we embarked on a social media book tour. You can find the tour spots (to date) here, and we are adding more every couple of days (if anyone reading would like to be a spot on the tour, just let me know @FOMNZ). We’ve had spots on Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, online magazines, YouTube, etc. It’s been a great way to promote the book across the World Wide Web from the comfort of my couch! J

How can people get their hands on the book?

Honestly? It’s an academic text, so it’s super expensive. You can get a copy of the Introduction Ch by Jackie Wykes on the publisher’s website. It’s a great read and gives a great overview of the topic and the chapters. If you want to read the entire thing, I’d recommend asking your local library to get a copy.

So, what’s next for you?

It’s really exciting to see all the movement in both fat activism and fat studies scholarship. I edited the newest issue of Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society; it’s a special issue on the theme of intersectionality. And I’ve got chapters in two upcoming fat studies edited collections. The first is Fat Sex: New Directions in Theory and Activism, being edited for Ashgate by Caroline Walters and Helen Hester. The other is The Fat Pedagogy Reader: Challenging Weight-Based Oppression in Education, being edited for Peter Lang Publishers by Erin Cameron & Connie Russell. On the activist front, I’m really excited about being a speaker at the upcoming Fat Activism Conference. It’s going to be an amazing three days!

So that’s the interview! What do you think awesome loyal readers – did you like the interview format?  Did you not?  Let me know in the comments!

Speaking of the Fat Activism Conference, it’s going to be epic! Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country about self-esteem, body image, health and wellness for people of size and more, and I’d love to speak to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on August 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm  Comments (5)  

Dressing Isn’t What’s Ruining Our Salads

Fad DietsI was talking with a friend about vegetables, specifically that in looking at the research eating vegetables is consistently shown to support health but she was struggling with eating them.  The usual disclaimer applies – health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed no matter what we do.  We each get to prioritize our health and choose the path we want to get there and those choices can be limited by things like socioeconomics, access etc.

So she asked me how I get vegetables and I said that one way was salads because I like them and they are fast and easy to prepare.  She said that she likes salads but there’s no point in eating them because she only likes them with dressing.

And that, y’all, is how the diet culture messes us up. In talking with other people who’ve recovered from diet culture, this kind of mentality was a big obstacle to overcome.  The diet world tells us that nothing is ever enough unless it’s the “absolute healthiest” and that we should sacrifice anything and everything without complain, for the chance of becoming thin.

It is in this way that a meal with chicken, roasted root vegetables, salad, and a brownie becomes a minefield. Is that white meat?  Was that chicken cooked with the skin on?  It wasn’t cooked with added fat was it?  Were the vegetables roasted in olive oil? Is it possible to just get them steamed. with no salt? Is that cheese on that salad? Oh god is that ranch dressing?!  Do you have some red wine vinegar and Mrs. Dash?  And do you have some fruit instead of the brownie, actually the fruit probably has too much sugar.  Screw it, I’m going to try to survive on the energy of the universe and the dew from a single leaf. (And a reader has now earned a million points by correctly identifying the source of that quote!)

I’m not interested in telling anybody else what to eat, ever.  I am interested in examining the messages that we get around food from diet culture and the way that those messages affect us.  Going back to my original conversation with my friend, she had bought into the idea that you “ruin a salad” with dressing.  In truth, vegetables have a nutritive value that is not “ruined” or reduced by adding dressing to them.

I think we would all be in a much better place around food if we weren’t told that health is  “all or nothing” and always about “the absolute healthiest” thing. I think that we would be in a better place if  we focused on making supporting our health an additive process rather than a restrictive one.   I think we’d be better off if we looked at supporting our health as a series of choices made for various reasons that are personal and nobody’s business but our own (and those we choose to include.) I think we’d be better off if we stopped confusing the concepts of health/healthy with weight/weightloss.  It’s not the dressing that’s ruining our salads, it’s the messed up diet industry messages around food.

Want more support dealing with a fat phobic world?  Check out the  Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country about self-esteem, body image, health and wellness for people of size and more, and I’d love to speak to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

 

Published in: on August 8, 2014 at 8:19 am  Comments (44)  

What Fat People Have to Do

Public HealthAll kinds of things are being floated as things that fat people should have to do either by social pressure or government edict until we are thin (at which point we can ostensibly do whatever the hell we want as long as we don’t get fat again.)  I’ve seen it suggested that we should be forced to exercise, forced to undergo mandatory counseling, forced to have our food and exercise monitored by the government etc.  The media publishes studies with highly questionable research methods funded by corporations which directly benefit from their findings as proof that fat people can’t be trusted to make decisions for ourselves.  It is suggested that completely untested interventions should be made mandatory for all fat people.  That’s how fat people become often unwitting- sometimes obligatory – participants in experimental medicine, sometimes with some truly horrible results and almost always without success.

This is all done under the guise that”fat people need to be healthier for the greater good”.  But upon even a light inspection this falls apart.  First of all, fat is not a behavior or set of behaviors – it’s a body size.  Just like thin isn’t a set of behaviors – it is a body size.  Just like there are fat athletes there are thin couch potatoes.  You can’t look at someone and tell from their body size what their habits are. or how healthy they are.

Upon examination the choice to focus on fat people is, at best, the result of people being incredibly lazy and trying to find a group that is identifiable by sight to study blame things on.   At worst it is simply thinly veiled bigotry.  Anytime we take a group of people who we can identify by sight and then attempt to calculate their cost on society, then create an initiative to eradicate them we are going down a bad road.  Researchers take “everybody knows” size prejudice and solidify it using poor research techniques and confirmation bias.  As Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor found when they reviewed the research around weight and health “Researchers have demonstrated ways in which bias and convention interfere with robust scientific reasoning such that obesity research seems to ‘enjoy special immunity from accepted standards in clinical practice and publishing ethics’”

Researchers base their work on “everybody knows” assumptions without even an attempt to provide proof of these assumptions.  Researchers claim to calculate how much fat people cost in extra fuel, when they don’t even have basic information like how many fat people own cars, and what kind.  The media continues to report that fat people are causing massive increases in healthcare costs when the evidence is clearly to the contrary.

Even if you believe that you can tell that fat people don’t prioritize our health just by looking at us, focusing on fat people is highly questionable when there are so many people who don’t prioritize their health who we celebrate.  We love Olympic athletes, but going 80 miles an hour down an ice track face first does not prioritize health.  We love pro football and basketball players but look what they do to their bodies.  We love our pop stars but the schedule that they keep to go on tour and all the publicity that they do to sell tickets does not prioritize health.

Not to mention that plenty of people don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, don’t look both ways before they cross the street, eat soup while driving, and any number of things that don’t prioritize health, and that for every fat person you can find a thin person with the exact same habits but a different body.  The research shows that healthy habits are the best chance for a healthy body, note that there isn’t a war on sedentary people or a war on people who don’t eat their vegetables – it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn’t about health, but about body size.

Hey, I’ve got an idea – how about if we don’t have wars on people at all.  How about if stop acting like it’s our job to tell people what they “have to do” for their health for the greater good, because that becomes a slippery slope pretty fast. Who gets to dictate what healthy habits fat people, or people in general, “have to” practice – the person who eats paleo?  The one who eats raw foods vegan? The person who believes that people shouldn’t be allowed to play sports because they cause unnecessary injuries?

This is exactly why public health should be about providing options, information and access and not about saying that all people who look a certain way should have to do this or that. Let’s remember that health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, and that health and healthy habits are not an obligation nor a barometer for worthiness.   Let’s make sure everyone has access to the foods they want to eat, any movement options that they may choose, and affordable evidence-based healthcare.

Then let’s start to spread true information, like the fact that 30 minutes of moderate movement about 5 days a week provides tremendous health benefits to most people but will likely never lead to weight loss.  Of course nobody’s obligated to exercise but it would be nice to have true information about what “exercise” means so that we don’t get fooled by posters at the gym that suggest that we have to be miserable for hours every day to get any health benefit, when the truth is that three 1o minutes sessions a day of dancing around the living room in our underwear would get the job done.

Let’s quit assuming that we can look at someone’s size and know anything about them other than their size and our prejudices about their size.  Let’s stop trying to dictate what fat people “have to do” based on assumptions of what fat people do and don’t do as if that’s not just stereotyping and bigotry.  Let’s start giving everyone options, information, and access, and then respecting people’s individual decisions about prioritization and path for their health.  Voila – public health.

Want more support dealing with a fat phobic world?  Check out the  Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country about self-esteem, body image, health and wellness for people of size and more, and I’d love to speak to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 11:12 am  Comments (16)  

Me and My Food

HatersToday a reader alerted me to one of the most ridiculous reddit threads about me that I’ve seen (and in a group that includes lively conversations about my gastrointestinal health and bowel movements, that’s saying something.)  The thread is called “What Does Ragen Claim to Eat” and when I looked at it there were 92 comments.  The thing that makes this particularly ridiculous is that the first comment makes it clear that I never talk about what I eat, but the discussion went on for 91 more comments – some wild speculation, some lies, and a random video of a fat woman who isn’t me cooking something thrown in for good measure.

This is a question that I get a lot, from several groups of people:

Sometimes from the trolling “prove it” crowd whose exaggerated sense of self-importance leads them to believe that I owe them a food log.

Sometimes from people who want to know what I eat because they think I’m an example of doing Health at Every Size “right” and they want to do what I do.

Sometimes from people who are genuinely just curious because what they hear about thermodynamics doesn’t agree with what they experience or see.

It doesn’t matter what their intentions are, it’s still not something that I’m going to discuss.  There are plenty of reasons.

The most simple reason is because it’s not anybody’s business and I’m not required to discuss anything ever.  But I do talk about plenty of things that aren’t necessarily anybody’s business, so why don’t I talk about food?

Because it typically leads to food policing which I have no  interest in dealing with, in large part because it just takes away too much time from activism work that I want to do. Sometimes people who don’t have to deal with internet trolls on a daily basis naively think that talking about what I eat will prove something or somehow shut them up. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not how trolls work.

Because I don’t want to take part in our society’s insistence that we make eating into a performance, up to and including subscribing to a code of morality around food that I don’t think is healthy.

Mostly though, it’s because my personal food choices are just that – personal, not political.  They are based on my tastes, my history with food and eating,  my nutritional needs, my access, and my privileges. So are everyone else’s and, as such, I’m not that interested in what other people eat unless they want to share a recipe or a bite of something awesome, or I can help them get access to information or food.  The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not food log dependent.

We each get to make choices about what food we eat (choices that can be limited by our situation, income, access etc.) and those choices shouldn’t be anyone else’s business unless we choose to make them their business.

If you are looking for support around food and food choices from a Body Positive, Health at Every Size Perspective, there are lots of professionals to choose from, Golda at Body Love Wellness, Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist, and Soolman Nutrition and Wellness are a good place to start that work with people using online programs. (I’m sure I’m missing some great folks, please feel to leave them in the comments as long as you are SURE that they are from a FA/HAES perspective).

I think that when it comes to nutrition we should confine ourselves to making decisions for ourselves and, if we are interested in helping others then we can work to make sure that people have access to neutral, unbiased information and access to the foods that they would choose to eat.  And while we’re at it, we can work to dismantle our culture’s messed up messages about food.

Alternately, if you want to spend your time wildly speculating about what I eat, there’s always reddit…

What does Ragen Chastain Claim to Eat

 

 

 

Want more support dealing with a fat phobic world?  Check out the  Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country about self-esteem, body image, health and wellness for people of size and more, and I’d love to speak to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 1:55 pm  Comments (35)  

Refusing to Feel Bad

Kelrick and I at the Seattle Marathon finish line with our hard won medals.

Kelrick and I at the Seattle Marathon finish line with our hard won medals.

One of the common tactics that people use to bully fat people – whether it’s for fun or profit – is to make sure that we never feel good about anything – not our bodies, not our achievements, nothing, ever.

One way this is done is by insisting that there is “no excuse” for not prioritizing the manipulation of our body size.  Sometimes this technique is about “aesthetics” (like the way that we choose so many of our singers, actors, dancers, administrative assistants etc. based on their ability to approximate our current stereotype of beauty first and their talent second.) Sometimes it’s used with a side of concern trolling (as in “I’m just concerned about your health so I want to make sure that you hate yourself and never have a moment’s peace, you know, for your own good.)

Another way that this is done is by trying to downplay or negate any and all of our achievements.  You see this a lot with internet trolls on any post where a fat person dares to be successful at something other than weight loss.  What made me think about this today was a series of posts from my trolls on my Facebook trying to make me feel bad about my marathon time, and a series of e-mails that were sent to me depicting pictures of people more flexible than I am, I assume trying to make me feel bad about the fact that I can do the splits and a standing heel stretch? My haters are usually pretty pathetic in their attempts, but I’ve seen it happen time and again to fat people who talk about something that they’ve achieved, that they are excited about, that they are proud of, and the onslaught of trolls insisting that fat people don’t deserve to be happy or proud of anything ends up souring the whole experience.  I’m not interested in giving those kinds of people that kind of power.

I think it’s important to remember that these are people who their bullying and stigmatizing of fat people for profit (people who hate themselves are more likely to buy things that promise they will confer self-love) or because putting other people down makes them feel better about themselves, or for some other reason – it doesn’t really matter why.

There is a solution that I’ve found to be quite effective – I just refuse to feel bad. I’m proud that I finished a marathon, I was dead last, it took me almost 13 hours, and I’m still very proud.  I’m proud of my splits and standing heel stretch and the fact that there are people who are more flexible than I am doesn’t take away from that.  I almost always round up my age, weight, and marathon time just to subvert the message that I should want all three of those numbers to be as low as possible.

Knowing that we live in a world that bullies, stigmatizes, and oppresses fat people I make the conscious choice that I don’t care how many messages I get that I shouldn’t love or take pride in my body until it looks a certain way, I love my body, I’m proud of my body and I’m never, ever going to let anyone harm that relationship, and I’m proud of my achievements.

We may not be able to stop people from trying to shame, stigmatize and bully us, but we don’t have to buy what they’re selling, and by refusing to care what they say or think we take away their power.  So the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to make you feel like crap, maybe try this little mantra “I see what you’re doing, and I refuse to feel bad.”

Want more support dealing with a fat phobic world?  Check out the  Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

 

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 8:30 am  Comments (14)  

Marathon Update: How Could I Forget That?

Splits on WallstreetFor the last few weeks I’ve been doing a little personal experiment.  As I’ve talked about before, this marathon I’ve decided to run/walk instead of just walking.  I’ve been using a plan specifically for run/walking the marathon and I had been following that plan exactly.  I’d made some gains in speed but not what I was hoping for and my long runs were really not that fun,dictated as they were by beeps from my watch alarm.

It hit me during one of the shorter runs that I sometimes felt like I could keep running when the “walk” alarm went off, and sometimes it felt like a tremendous struggle but I kept running, all based on the prescribed intervals of running and walking.

It hit me that I was buying into a concept that I hate  – the idea that our bodies are just  limitations to overcome, just meat sacks with no useful information or feedback for us, that they can’t be trusted and and that athletic achievement means at best ignoring and more likely overcoming our bodies by forcing them to do things that they don’t want to do.

Except, since I left diet culture, that hasn’t been my experience of my body. So I thought what if I did my marathon training like I live the rest of my life – in partnership with my body.  So I decided a couple weeks ago that I would do my long run working with my body – no watch beeps, no prescribed plan.  Run when it feels right, walk when it feels right.  I was nervous because, as I talked about before,  I see training as insurance and I didn’t want to waste a training session, but I reminded myself that if it didn’t work I could always go back and it was just one run/walk.

So I set off on my long run/walk.  I won’t say it was fun, but I will say that it was the least sucky run I’ve ever done.  I didn’t trust my math as I looked at my times but sure enough when I got home and entered it into my spreadsheet I had dropped my time by 2 minutes per mile.  I thought that it might be a fluke.  The next week I completed my interval training run/walk and my hill run/walk as usual, and was off on my long run.  My pacing was even faster than the long run the week before.

I could kick myself for falling into the old trope of body as limitation/enemy, but it also speaks to one of the main reasons I did this marathon in the first place.  I wanted to do more things to push out of my comfort zone so that I could learn things about myself, and so that I could apply old lessons in new environments like, oh I don’t know, TRUST YOUR BODY AND LISTEN TO IT!  Of course there are still miles and miles (and miles and miles) and did I mention miles, to go before the marathon, but I think those miles will be better if I remember that it’s me and my body against the miles and that my body has some really helpful things to say if I’ll just listen.

Have you signed up for the  Fat Activism Conference yet?  Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on August 3, 2014 at 10:29 am  Comments (11)  

The Folly of Fearing Fat

Reality and PerceptionAs a culture we are inundated with messages about health and weight that are based on fear.  It seems that the weight loss industry discovered that “you know you want to look your best” (where “best” means “as close as possible to the current stereotypical photoshop beauty ideal“) was a much less powerful message that “NOBODY WILL EVER LOVE YOU!” Then they found that an even more effective message was “YOU’RE GONNA DIE FROM FAT.”  ..so buy our products.

Then the media found that “Fat People Will End the World” made a much better story than “Other People’s Bodies Aren’t Our Business” or “Habits are a Much Better Determinant of Future Health than Body Size.”

Healthcare professionals bought in and, often at the urging of the government, started trying to terrify their fat patients into attempting to lose weight.  Then sad, pathetic people with too much time on their hands started to become obsessed with blaming fat people for everything and/or trying to make sure that we don’t get a moment’s peace with tactics ranging from rants in every comment section on the internet to sending hatemail to those of us who refuse to live the way they think we should.

There are obvious problems with this – the first being that it’s not based on evidence.  First the entire “lose weight to be healthy” idea is based upon an untested hypothesis.  So few people have achieved significant long term weight loss that there simply aren’t enough to commission a statistically significant study.

Which leads us to the second problem – those who purport weight loss as a health intervention cannot produce a study wherein more than a tiny fraction of participants lost weight long term, and even the “successes” lost a tiny amount of weight. Weight Watchers claims success because their average study participant maintained a 5 pound loss over 2 years.

But there are more problems created by the combination of fear of fat, and misleading people about the likelihood and benefits of becoming thin:

When you make people terrified of being fat then it becomes easier for them to believe that thin by any means necessary must be better than being fat.  That works in the diet company’s favor when they suggest that while everyone else is being told to eat whole foods, farm to table with the least processing possible etc., fat people should pay to drink thin chocolate beverages with a laxative effect, reconstituted soy protein shakes five times a day from doctors who join multi-level marketing diet schemes., eat food that is delivered to us frozen in a plastic bag for microwaving, or get our stomachs amputated, and other questionable practices.

It also causes problems within families. Fat people are pressured to make more and more weight loss attempts by partners who are terrified of losing their loved ones.  Fat parents are accused of being bad parents who aren’t going to be around for their kids.  Parents of fat kids are labeled as abusers and have their kids taken away.

Other people are encouraged to look at fat people and make ridiculous assumptions and comments.

Those who aren’t fat are also affected by the fear of being fat, which can lead to everything from horrible self-esteem to disordered eating. Women body-shame each other in a desperate attempt to feel better about themselves.  People spend massive amounts of their time, money, and energy trying to claw their way an inch closer to the cultural stereotype of beauty and away from the dreaded OMGDeathFat.

And all for nothing.  Nothing.  And to add insult to massive societal injury, the evidence we do have shows that if people are interested in being healthier (and let’s remember that health is not an obligation,  barometer of worthiness, entirely within our contorl, or guaranteed under any circumstance) the best path is simply to practice healthy habits and let their weight settle where it will.

We can opt out.  We can say no.  We can refuse to be terrorized into hating and fearing the bodies we live in every day, whether it’s by the companies who, as my friend CJ says, try to take our self-esteem, cheapen it and sell it back to us at a profit.  We can refuse to bow to the pressure from those who have bought into the lies that form the profit base for those companies whether they are well-intentioned family and friends or horribly misguided internet trolls.

We can make sure that public health is about making options and information accessible to the public, not about making individual’s bodies the public’s business.

We can insist on our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – which are not size, or health, or healthy habit dependent – and which should include living without constant stigma, shame, and oppression, or fear of being or becoming fat.

Want some support?  Sign up for the Fat Activism Conference.  Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

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

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 1:57 pm  Comments (21)  

What They Never Consider

Everybody knowsI’ve heard about studies linking fat to everything from diseases to lower cognitive function. There are any number of issues with these studies – from sample sizes so small that everyone in the study would fit in an efficiency apartment, to correlation vs. causation mistakes that would make a first semester statistics student blush.  But there’s a much larger issue:  They often try to control for variables like age, smoking, socioeconomic status etc.  But there are a couple of variables that they  never control for:  the stress of being under near constant stigma and oppression and the effects of dieting.

It’s not a small thing – the diseases that are correlated with obesity are also independently correlated with being under a high level of stress over long period of time.  Like, for example, the stress of having your government declare war on you for how you look. So in order to even start to prove that fat causes diseases, there would at least need to be a control group of fat people who have not suffered a lifetime of stigma to see if their disease incidence was the same as the first group.

When they find (in a tiny study) that fat kids perform worse in math, in order for them to even suggest that the fat causes the poor math performance they would need to test a group of fat children who did not constantly see diet commercials, hear the message that fat means your bad, lazy, sick, stupid etc., and who aren’t having war waged on them by the government. Because it’s entirely possible that being constantly stigmatized, bullied, and called lazy, ugly, dumb etc. could affect your performance in school. I imagine they don’t have these control groups because no such group of fat people exists in this culture.

This society MUST stop acting like the best thing that we can do for public health is tell 60% of the population that they should hate their bodies and see them as a sign of their physical and moral failings, insisting that everyone will just hate themselves thin and healthy (and acting like they are the same thing), then asking if we’re “doing enough” about obesity.  Not only is it not helping anyone’s health – it’s possible that it’s having the opposite effect.  When we hear about how our fat is linked to swine flu, the plague, hangnails or whatever the hell it is today, remember that it is entirely possible that they are caused by the stress of being under constant stigma and oppression which, as I’ve said before, I believe are  the real public health threat.  And that doesn’t even touch upon the effects of a life of dieting (especially in a world where we are putting fetuses on diets) but that’s a whole other blog.  We don’t know what effect ending the constant shaming and stigma of fat people will have on our health, but I would certainly like to find out.

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

Fat Activism Conference.  Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

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

Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 10:10 am  Comments (11)  

Your Weight at Work

Being fat at work can be really difficult to navigate.  There is already evidence that fat people get hired less often and paid less money than our thin counterparts.  Once you do have a job it can be really scary to make waves – even when you are faced with things like getting worse benefits than your thin counterparts, being charged more for insurance, forced to attend company Weight Watchers meetings and more.

I got this question from reader Mary on Facebook:  “I received an e-mail from my employer today encouraging all staff members to lose weight in an effort to raise money for charities. What would you say to that if you received it?I’ll answer this in a more general way but outlining what you can do when your employer suggests weight loss.  I would probably send a message to the person in charge of this (HR/My Boss/Whoever) making the following points and asking for a meeting:

  • As someone who practices Health at Every Size I am uncomfortable with my boss suggesting something that goes against the health plan that I’ve created with my health professionals since I don’t want to be torn between my health practice and looking like I’m not a team player at work
  • This could be triggering and dangerous for people suffering from, recovering from, or who have a propensity for developing, eating disorders (for me I could talk about this in the first person but even if I hadn’t recovered from an ED I would want to point this out.)
  • As a fat employee I’m very uncomfortable that my employer has a point of view at all about body size and weight loss rather than being focused on work performance
  • It is my understanding that studies show that the vast majority of people who attempt weight loss gain their weight back and many gain back more, so could they please provide an evidence basis for the efficacy of their weight loss recommendation?
  • All of the pitfalls could be avoided if the employer focused on health rather than weight.
  • I would provide lots of evidence for a HAES intervention, like this absolutely amazing article
  • I would offer to help in any way that I could including creating a committee to create an optional employee movement plan with weight-neutral shame free messaging that works for people of varying fitness levels and dis/abilities
  • I would ask for a meeting to talk about this further

Some employers choose to give better benefits to thin employees.  We talked here about that here.

Some companies choose to charge their fat employees more for the same benefits.  We talked about that here.

Finally there are the employers who insist that in order to keep your health insurance costs the same as your thin co-workers, fat people must join weight loss programs.   For this situation I would first and foremost ask for proof of  long-term efficacy and safety.  If it’s one of the programs like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, you could bring up the fact that they have been successfully sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive trade practices and ask your employer’s thoughts about that and the “results not typical” .

You could attempt to get notes from your healthcare providers indicating their support for your Health at Every Size practice and saying that dieting is not something that they believe is in your best interest.  Be aware that this situation is likely due to the “employee wellness” company with which your employer contracted (often owned by companies that sell the weight loss that they recommend but that’s a different blog) and so your employer may not be able to do anything with it.  I still think it’s worth it to let your employer know the issues with this.

Being fat at work can be tricky and being a fat activist at work can be a risk. How much you want to risk is a very personal decision- risk is the currency of revolution but you don’t necessarily have to pay that at work, or at all.  I think in general it’s good to try to make it you and the person you are working with against a problem rather than you against someone at work.  Again, it’s also totally valid to not deal with it at all and just get through your workday or do to activism around some things and not others.  If you have a story of how you dealt with a fat at work situation, I hope you’ll leave it in the comments.

Book Me!  I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Like this blog? Consider supporting my work with a donation or by  becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

Fat Activism Conference.  Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

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

Published in: on July 28, 2014 at 12:45 pm  Comments (27)