Experiments with Fat Kids

grade on curveI took part in a panel about childhood obesity tonight.  It went well and I’ll do a full write-up later, but in the meantime I wanted to re-post this just in case anyone from the event is looking at the blog for follow up.

The first thing to know is that all of the interventions being used for “childhood obesity” are experimental.  There is no long term data showing that these interventions lead to more thinner kids, or healthier kids (remember that those are two different things.) The research simply doesn’t exist.

There is definitely evidence that trying to get children to be as weight-obsessed and to see fat bodies as a negative thing is problematic:

Research from the University of Minnesota found that: None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.

A Canadian study found that eating disorders were more prevalent than type 2 diabetes in kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12) There was a 15% increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in all ages across the same time period.

A new study is looking at the effects of “school based healthy-living programs.”  Turns out that these programs are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that, per the researchers,  there is little research on the effectiveness of these programs or any inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health.

This study found that these programs are actually triggering eating disorders in kids.  Dr. Leora Pinhas said “The programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy…We live in a culture that stigmatizes fat people, and we’ve turned it into this kind of moralistic health thing.”

Well said Dr. Pinhas, well said.  But I would say that it goes beyond that.  Fat people have been the unwilling, un-consenting victims of experimental medicine for years.  Now we are moving the experiment to kids.

Though she has since thankfully backed way off her obesity rhetoric, with her assertion that she was going to eradicate all the fat kids in a generation, despite having not a single intervention shown to lead to long-term weight loss in kids (or adults), Michelle Obama helped to usher in an era wherein anyone who says that they have an idea for eradicating fat kids is taken as seriously as if they had actual research backing their idea.

Kids are being subjected to interventions that were created by rectal pull, no evidence necessary. So when someone said”It makes sense to me that if we have kids starting in elementary school focus on their weight, count calories, and think of exercise as punishment for being fat, then they’ll all be thin” authorities, including health professionals, just went ahead and implemented that intervention in schools across the country.

The problem is that someone’s belief – no matter how sincere – does not an evidence-based public health intervention make.   When we consider dart-throwing and rectal pull to be appropriate methods of developing public health initiatives for kids, we open ourselves up to things like what the evidence is uncovering:   the interventions don’t work, they have the exact opposite of the intended effect, and they result in dangerous side effects.

We need to demand that kids not be subjected to a ceaseless barrage of experiments in an attempt to manipulate their body sizes in ways that we don’t have any proof are possible or helpful.  While we’re at it, we might demand the same standard for ourselves.

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Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 7:13 am  Comments (15)  

URGENT! Fat Filmmaker Being Harassed by Haters

fight backLindsey Averill is in the process of co-creating the documentary “Fattitude:  A Body Positive Documentary” which the kickstarter page describes as “A feature-length documentary that exposes how popular culture fosters fat prejudice, and then offers an alternative way of thinking.”  She is working to crowdfund the project and has created the Kickstarter and a trailer on YouTube and then, she told me, this happened:

It all started when I reported a YouTube user, “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” for copyright for posting my trailer verbatim on his youtube channel – I also reported another video of his that featured my film and horrible images of 9/11 hate speech, etc. YouTube pulled down his videos and he and his followers began to torture me. They were calling our house till I changed our number. They are now calling my family, my husband’s business and the have collected all the information on my interviewees and posted it online and they say are going to begin harassing them.

Lindsay has been working with the Rolls Not Trolls community on Facebook to deal with haters as her project has received well deserved publicity, and now we need more help.  This guy is going after Lindsey, her family, the people she interviewed for the film, and her backers with the hope that he can make us afraid of getting involved, thereby keeping this film from being made.

This is a common tactic by oppressors and I say screw that. I posted yesterday about how we are kept out of the media, I’ll be damned if anonymous cowardly haters will keep us from telling our stories. You can help stand against this hate whether you have money to contribute or not:

Activism Opportunity:  Stand up to hate and support Lindsey’s project:

Let people know it’s happening and that they can help (you can use the social media links at the bottom of this page to share this post if it helps.)

Contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.  Let’s get this film funded! You can contribute with a pseudonym if you want to avoid having to deal with the haters’ malicious and grossly inappropriate behavior.  To change your profile settings go to https://www.kickstarter.com/settings/profile

(Full transparency, I’m not currently involved in this project except as a supporter – I donated and have been sharing it on my social media. Lindsey reached out to discuss the possibility of interviewing me, I’m a supporter whether I’m an interviewee or not.)

Report/Block him on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/GodBlessHitler

Join Rolls Not Trolls on Facebook and contribute to our mission of putting body positive messages into body negative spaces.

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Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 3:54 am  Comments (38)  

Hiding the Fat People

Reality and PerceptionMany readers have sent me the story of Amani Terrell who, having become tired of Hollywood’s perfection obsession,  rocked a bikini on Hollywood Avenue.  I love what she did and I congratulate her for her message of body positivity.  That said, every article that covered her that I saw included the phrase “she knows she needs to lose weight.” I find that odd, not “she wants to lose weight” nor “she believes that losing weight will offer [whatever benefits she believes it will offer]”  not even a quote from her about weight loss.  Just the writer saying “She knows she needs to lose weight.”  Like  they might say she knows that she needs oxygen.  Unfortunately, this is all too common.

I think that one of the things that reinforces ideas about fat people hating ourselves and our bodies, is the stories about fat people that the media chooses to tell. The media can be a gatekeeper that decides what stories make it into wide publication.   Fat people who love our bodies and/or who have exchanged dieting for Health at Every Size rarely get to tell our stories, and it’s rarer still that we get to tell them without an opposing view, or a phrase like “she knows she needs to lose weight” or [insert obesity hysteria here] etc. to “balance the story.” The opposite is not true, stories of weight loss, body hatred, and dieting are told as stand-alone stories with no need to “balance” them by providing a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size perspective, or a story of a fat person who improved their life through a means other than weight loss.

We are sometimes allowed to suggest body positivity, but usually it has to be qualified by admitting that we want to/are trying to lose weight, and it’s helpful if we do it in concert with discussing conditions that might be responsible for our being fat – PCOS, thyroid issues, medication, etc. (Though in the double edged sword that oppression so often is, people with these issues face criticism including being accused of faking it, being told that their condition doesn’t really exist etc.)  It’s not that these stories don’t exist, it’s not the these stories aren’t valid, it’s that they aren’t the only stories, but you wouldn’t know it from the most popular media.  Fat people who are happy, successful (at something other than weight loss), and/or completely disinterested in weight loss are often kept from public view by the media, often under the ridiculous premise of not “promoting obesity.” 

There are fat people who love our bodies and aren’t interested in losing weight.  Most of us had to go searching for (or stumble upon) that as an option because we never once saw it in mainstream media.  There are fat people who choose to pursue health in ways that don’t rest on the manipulation of our body size.  There are fat people who don’t prioritize pursuing health (just as there are thin people who don’t) and are still very happy with their lives.  Fat people are as varied in our behaviors and choices as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic.  What we do share is the oppression we face which is made worse by the media’s tendency to hide happy fat people at worst and, at best begrudging suggest that it might be ok to love our fat bodies as long as we know that we have to change them.

If you want to go beyond mainstream media messages, I would suggest starting in the the fatosphere.  Some of my favorites are here.  I think it’s always good to remember that there are more options, more nuances, and often more facts than we might see and that, in a world that stigmatizes people based on our size, we might not be getting the whole story.

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Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 7:14 am  Comments (31)  

How to Actually Stop Stigmatizing Obesity

fight backOne of the most interesting conversations I hear occurs when people who are actively and vocally trying to “eliminate obesity,” “fight the war on obesity,” or work on “obesity prevention” etc. discuss how they might be able to do that work without stigmatizing fat people. I suppose in some ways it’s laudable that they are asking the question, but let me suggest this:

It is impossible to avoid stigmatizing a group of people for how they look while simultaneously calling for the eradication of everyone who looks like them.  Suggesting that everyone who looks a certain way should be eradicated, and/or that every future person who might look that way should be prevented is, in fact, a form of stigma.

If effective, the obesity elimination/prevention movement convinces all of us that we should look at every fat person as someone who should be eradicated, at every child as a possible future fat person who should be prevented, and also convinces fat people that we shouldn’t exist.  I don’t think it’s possible to do that and not stigmatize fat people.

The only way to stop stigmatizing fat people is to be clear that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, oppression, or attempts to eradicate us including and especially against our will.

If people are interested in public health then they can work to make sure that everyone has access to the foods they want to eat, safe movement options, and true information, and that their choices are respected.  They can also stop trying to use public health to make individual’s bodies the public’s business, or to suggest that everyone whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is not between 18.5 and 24.9  should be eradicated/prevented.

To make this more clear, consider these statements:

I’m not against activists who are trying to do strategic work/coalition building  with groups that do this, but that work is just not for me – I don’t choose to try to find common ground with those who advocate for my eradication.  Regardless, I think that it’s important to see this for what it is – ignorance at best, polite lip service about not stigmatizing fat people while aggressively profiting from attempts to eradicate and prevent fat people at worst. Either way, not something that we have to be happy about, or ok with.

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Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 9:09 am  Comments (15)  

Lies About Size Acceptance

LiesLast week I blogged about Laila Pedro’s stunning mischaracterization of the Fat Acceptance Movement.  I often speak of it as the Size Acceptance movement because I think that fat oppression ends up hurting people of all sizes, and I would prefer to include as many people as possible in the fight against size and weight-based oppression.  Ms. Pedro is not the first, and unfortunately not likely the last, to mischaracterize the movement.  She appears to have done it to bolster an argument, though of course I don’t know if she did it purposefully or because she simply didn’t bother to do her research.  Jess Weiner appears to me to have done it for profit.  Many others do it for many other reasons. Today I thought I would try to clear things up.  As always, the Movement is not a monolith and so these are my beliefs, and they may vary with others in the Movement.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT asking people to please treat us with basic courtesy and give us our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What we are saying is that those rights are not size, health, or healthy habit dependent and as such people need to stop trying to keep our rights from us through an inappropriate use of power and privilege including, but not limited to, creating campaigns and wars with the purpose of eradicating us against our will.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT about giving people permission to “ignore their health” by any definitions of ignore and health.  That’s because people don’t need permission to make choices about the prioritization of their health and the path that they choose within their prioritization.  If they did, we would need a “Skeleton Acceptance Movement” to give people permission to travel down an icy shoot at 85 miles an hour on a tiny sled face first in the Olympics, which surely ignores some aspects of health and the prioritization thereof.  People get to make choices for themselves, period, and it doesn’t matter what size they are.  A fat body is not an indication that someone needs policing of their choices or some kind of permission to make them.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT saying that fat bodies are healthy.  The Size Acceptance movement is not about making declarations about health and size at all.  What we are saying is that people of all sizes, including fat people, have the right to exist in bodies of all sizes, including fat bodies, without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression.  And it doesn’t matter why they are that size, what being that size means (including as it may or may not pertain to their health), or if they could be a different size by some means however easy or difficult.  For a discussion of size and health you might want to consider the Health at Every Size paradigm which I give my take on here and here.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT telling people not to diet or exercise  That’s because the Size Acceptance Movement isn’t about telling people what to do except as it relates to infringing on the civil rights of others.  We are about demanding basic civil rights for people of all sizes, not telling people what choices to make for themselves.  As a member of the Size Acceptance Movement I believe in fighting against the infrastructure, for example the medical establishment and government’s pesky habit of prescribing (and even attempting to require) treatment that is not evidence based and without informed consent. I’m not, however, about fighting individuals and the choices that they make for themselves because I believe that my rights to make choices for me are predicated on other people’s rights to make choices with which I disagree.

As long as people insist on using size as a reason to withhold the rights and respectful treatement, as long as there are wars in our country with the goal of eradicating everyone of a certain size – against our wills if necessary – there will be a Size Acceptance Movement.  And I imagine that as long as it helps people win arguments and make money, there will be mischaracterizations of the Movement.  As far as I’m concerned all there is to do is to keep telling the truth, calling out the lies, and pushing forward in our demands of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 9:47 am  Comments (10)  

Laila Pedro Gets Fat and Feminism All Wrong

facepalmIn this blog I often talk about the mistakes of people who confuse requests that they respect other people’s rights and choices with their being oppressed, confusing their values and choices for “the correct” values and choices, and believing that they should get to dictate what constitutes healthy choices for other people (though typically without any interest in being told by others what constitutes healthy choices for them.)

In a recent piece for The Feminist Wire [all the trigger warnings], Laila Pedro makes all of those mistakes on an epic scale, then laments about how horrible and dis-empowering to women it is that everyone won’t just do what she thinks is the right thing to do. Poor Laila.  Let’s break this down. (The indented text is the original text from Laila’s piece, it may very well be triggering, you can skip it and still understand the post if you choose.) I’ll tell you now that this is one of those really long blog posts, I tried to make it shorter but her piece is so completely ridiculous that I wanted to address all of it.

I have been at a weight I was uncomfortable with, and I worked hard — still do, every day — to  change it. I’ve been at the other end, too: at a weight that was unhealthy, unsustainable, draining, and exhausting. I frequently find myself in the position of defending universally reviled, supposed mean-girl types like Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Kang. And I find myself increasingly bewildered, and a bit depressed, at the responses of otherwise brilliant, driven, confident women to any suggestion that more exercise is good, that dieting becomes increasingly something to be considered as we get older, that, in short, perhaps the standard American body—overfed, under-stimulated, ready for heart failure at any moment — is not inevitable. That it is, in fact, anything but natural.

It sounds like Laila might want to do some research into Size Acceptance.  To be clear I have no problem with Laila’s choices as they pertain to her body (because, hey, underpants rule)  Let me try to un-bewilder her.  Nobody I know is saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to exercise or diet.  What we are saying is that exercise is an option, not an obligation, and different amounts are appropriate for different people for various reasons that are none of anyone else’s business.  As far as dieting, when one looks at the actual research,  there isn’t a single study that shows that more than a tiny fraction of people will succeed, and the research we have says that almost everyone regains the weight, and a majority gain back more than they lost.

Nobody is required to have evidence backing their choice to diet or not, but let’s be clear that what she is suggesting should “become increasingly something to consider as we age”  is not supported by the evidence, so the fact that some people choose to opt out really shouldn’t be that bewildering.  Also, trotting out the tired trope about the “American Body” is simply stereotyping stated as fact.

I don’t know about Laila’s thinking, but sometimes what people who make this argument are actually saying is  “I think that I should do whatever I think will give me a body that looks a certain way, and in order to feel okay about that I need everyone to agree and if they don’t I need their choice to be wrong. I’m completely bewildered that people don’t agree with me because of course I’m right about everything.”

Women of my age and education in America (Lisa Frank folders submitted in lieu of D.O.B.) grew up in a culture of self-help talk and D.A.R.E. programs, of dialogue and interaction cues metered by the Very Special Episode. The Gothic fetish-specter of eating disorders haunts our collective psyche. It is socially acceptable to mention, with beatific concern, the (statistically much lower) possibility that a friend is not eating enough, but beyond the pale to suggest that she is (as the vast majority of Americans are) eating too much.

Lisa Frank has been around for a while so maybe Laila and I are the same general age but I’m not sure. To reduce confusion, rather than use office supplies as reference, I’ll just say that I’m 37 and I would suggest that the comparison of a body size with eating disorders is a serious issue that we need to stop. Eating Disorders are a complex mix of mental and physical illness and symptoms.  Body size is just body size.  These are not comparable and saying “I”m concerned that you have the most deadly mental illness” is not, to me, the same thing as saying “I don’t think you should have another piece of pizza.”

It’s up to each of us to decide if and when we want to intervene in the health and choices of those in our lives, but it’s definitely not up to Laila to make that call. Again, where is she getting this “vast majority of Americans are eating too much”?  She has two “footnotes” to her piece but none of them address the sweeping generalizations that she seems so fond of making about Americans.  When people who, like Laila, are defending doctoral dissertations think it’s ok to throw phrases like this around, it makes me really concerned for our education system.

Let me be clear: I am not into fat shaming. I am not into disparaging people based on their bodies. I am not a fan of Hot-Or-Not, or Best-and-Worst Beach Bodies fashion magazine issues (unless I am on a transcontinental flight, in which case I will do what I want and all bets are off).  My reason for being opposed to these things, however, has nothing to do with fat acceptance. I don’t like fat shaming because I dislike shaming, not because I like fat.

And here we have the crux of the issue. First the idea that she’s not into disparaging people based on their bodies, except when she is, and of course that’s ok.  From my perspective you either think body shaming is ok, or you don’t.  I have been on the record since I started writing this blog that I am anti- body shaming including those with thin bodies.  I don’t think that the road to self-acceptance is paved with hypocrisy, and so I don’t do to others exactly what I don’t want done to me regardless of what privileges society might bestow upon them.  But the idea that it’s ok to be against fat shaming, even though she may be against fat bodies is deeply problematic, as exemplified in the difference between these two phrases:

Thin people have the right to exist in thin bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against thin people for the purpose of their eradication.

Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against fat people for the purpose of their eradication.

More simply, think of the difference between the phrases “I’m proud to be thin” and “I’m proud to be fat.”

Statements that suggest that, while people don’t support shaming fat people, they also don’t condone our existence, draw the need for a Fat Acceptance movement into sharp relief.

A few months ago, the internet lost its collective rage-mind at a woman who posted what was clearly intended to be a provocative photo on her basically run-of-the-mill, midlevel life-and-fitness website. Responses to Maria Kang ranged from the class-based (“She MUST have nannies”) to the quasi-racist (“She’s shaped like that because she’s Asian”). I admit, while I (a veteran of gym culture and long runs and hot yoga and boot-camp style workouts who has benefited tremendously from this type of aggressive motivational language) found it inspiring, badass, hilarious, and delightfully third wave, it was also simplistic, tone deaf, and sure to attract ire.

I discussed the Maria Kang thing here. What I’ll say today is that to discuss the classism inherent in people suggesting that “she must have nannies” without discussing the classism inherent in suggesting that there is “no excuse” for not making the same choices Maria Kang has made (including, for example, working three jobs and taking care of your kids, a lack of access to safe movement options, etc.); and to discuss the racism inherent in assumptions about her as an Asian woman without discussing the racism inherent in holding Women of Color to beauty stereotypes often developed by and for white women is at best irresponsible and at worst a blatant attempt to distract us from the issues that exist with Maria Kang’s original picture and subsequent “defense” thereof.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is in a collision of equally valid but mutually incompatible discourses: the motivational, no-excuses, ONE MORE REP liturgy of traditional gym culture (now resurgent in CrossFit, Tough Mudder, and the like) and the self-accepting, non-judgemental, nominally supportive discourse of progressive, yoga-inflected feminist-ish female friendship. At their worst, the former sees the latter as hopelessly weak and indulgent, while the latter sees the former as sexist and borderline fascistic. So it’s not surprising that these two rhetorical camps, enriched by images of Kang’s six-pack or Gwyneth’s everything, explode in the semantic powder keg of the internet.

These discussions are only “equally valid but mutually exclusive” if we feel that there must be competition between the two, with one eventually “winning”.  If both dialogs exist and women are allowed to choose what works for them, then we have no problem.  Part of the problem, I suspect, is in people’s unwillingness to respect other people’s choices as they want their choices to be respected.

I think that this often comes from a deep lack of confidence which leads people to not feel good about their decisions unless others make the same decisions, ultimately ending up with a piece like Laila has written suggesting that her choices are in fact obviously superior and that she is literally “bewildered” and “befuddled” that anyone could make a different choice. The inability to understand that there are many options, and that it’s ok to choose what works for you regardless of what others choose – the need to be validated in our choices by insisting that everyone must make those choices and that we are somehow superior to those who make different (and therefore obviously incorrect) choices – as Laila perfectly illustrates in her piece – is one of the main things that fosters a culture of body shaming, where women are judged first and foremost based on how we look.

What is surprising, and, to me, disappointing, is the misappropriation of empowering critical inquiry to bully, demean, and hate other women. That, to me, is insidiously, and fatally, anti-feminist. Why then do demonstrably smart, feminist women who are supposedly all for sisterly solidarity so loathe one type of woman? A simple answer is that feminist discourse is a) not monolithic and b) not always as subtle and informative as we might like.  Enough has been written about how troubling much of Jezebel’s approach is that I don’t need to cover it here, but the comments on that site, and others, are hardly paragons of sisterly love. Kang and Gwyneth are seen as a kind of fifth column, as inside traitors in a culture war. This reading is superficially logical but, ultimately insufficient and disappointing. There is a specific dimension having to do with bodies, with our right to do with them what we want, and to participate in the cultural practices that we want to, without invoking feminine ire.

Maria and Gwyneth aren’t being criticized or loathed for their choices as they pertain to their own bodies.  They are being criticized for trying to suggest that everyone should make the choices that they have, and ignoring the fact that many people made the same choices that they did but got different results.  They are being criticized for responding with superiority, condescension and shame to anyone who makes different choices, or who isn’t able to attain what they think we should attain, including those for whom it is outside of their control. They are being criticized for calling themselves oppressed simply because they aren’t able to contribute to the oppression of others without being called out on it.

 Upon inspection, then, the  vitriolic rage seems to me to derive not simply from the fact of being on the “wrong side”, or as the cattier among us might say, simply being luckier, prettier, richer and thinner, but from something much more troubling: the intensely self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny I see in much of feminine American discourse today.

And that self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny is most successfully supported by the suggestion that all women should try to look the same way.  It is supported by the ridiculous insistence that we should use body size as a proxy for health and behaviors, and that instead of allowing women to make our own choices out of the options that exist and based on our understanding of the research, we instead need to insist that there is “no excuse” for not looking a certain way, and that not only is our body size completely within our control (and you have to ignore quite a bit of research to believe that) but the only acceptable choice is to seek out the current societal stereotype of beauty at any cost.

More and more, I am fascinated a major question facing women (really, everyone) in America today: Why do we hate those who we perceive to be healthier (and in many cases, more attractive) than we are? Why do we look for excuses and make ourselves complicit in our own physical dis-empowerment?Many of my peers seem much more ready to come up with a dismissal than they are to believe that they have the power to change their bodies and themselves.

I think that the key to the perception displayed in the initial questions can be found in the absolute bias shown throughout the rest of the paragraph.  Note that in her supposed feminism Laila does not ask the question “why aren’t the choice to try to make our bodies look a certain way and the choice not to change them equal options?”  No, she characterizes those who don’t make the same choices as she’s making as looking for “excuses”, “complicit in dis-empowerment” and “ready to come up with a dismissal.”

May I suggest that perhaps what we loathe are not those who are benefiting from deeply flawed, often misogynistic,  views around weight, health, and beauty.  Rather, what we hate are the social constructs that support the notion that body size is the same as health, fitness, and attractiveness and that we have an obligation to be “healthy” and “beautiful” by someone else’s definitions, and that is why we take issue with women, like Laila, who try to perpetuate those constructs and call it feminism.  My question is, why are women perpetuating the oppressive idea that we should be judged based on how we look?

This power — the power to make your body and mind fitter, faster, stronger, to be in charge of yourself — is real power. It is serious power. It is probably scary power. I argue that obesity is more than a disease, that fat is more than a choice, and that we use weapons of misogynistic defensiveness (in the case of Kang) and class (Gwyneth Paltrow looks like that only because she is rich) to remain complacent in a society that is set up to make us weak, lethargic, complacent, and unhealthy.

First of all it shouldn’t even have to be said, but making our bodies and minds fitter, faster, and stronger, does not necessarily mean making them look a certain way.  The incessant  suggestion that it does that runs through Laila’s piece, as well as her need for the things that make her feel powerful (largely the ability to control how she looks) to somehow be the only “true power” are very deeply problematic.

Laila and I make very different choices, but the true difference between us is that I respect her right to make choices for her, and she does not respect mine.   As someone who doesn’t choose to  “work hard every day” to try to manipulate my body size, as someone who doesn’t substitute folder art for my actual age, as someone who feels powerful and complete with my goal of making choices for myself and engaging in activism that gives people information and options rather than suggesting that everyone needs to make the same choices that I do, I celebrate that Laila and I can make different choices and I submit that is where the real power lies.  I suggest that true power is not to be found in  complaining that those women who suggest that their choices are the only valid ones are criticized for doing so.

We turn what should be our most potent weapons — our intelligence and critical thinking skills, our ability to parse precisely the inflections of class, race, and physical power that conspire to occlude and diminish women — against  other women, and, consequently, inevitably, against ourselves.

Fit women are strong women; strong women make demands and change conditions and take on the world. Fit women, in other words, are terrifying.  By hating other women who talk about fitness in a serious way, who reject “fat acceptance” and choose to change, we are really internalizing a cultural, social, and capitalist construct set up to keep us docile, weak, and self-loathing.

Holy false dichotomies Batman!  Talking about fitness in a serious way and being fit is not the same thing as rejecting Fat Acceptance.  There are many, many fathletes who are fat acceptance activists who talk about fitness all the time.  There are Fat Acceptance activists who are also fit women.  There are fit women who don’t make demands and change conditions.

A big part of the issue here may be  Laila’s complete lack of understanding (I imagine perhaps due to a complete lack of research) about the Fat Acceptance movement.  Women like Laila, Maria Kang, and Gwyneth Paltrow are terrifying -  not because they perceive themselves as more fit and attractive, but because they insist that everyone else must perceive them that way, and judge ourselves and everyone else by their standards.  They are terrifying because they actually believe that there are only two choices – succeed at manipulating your body size, or be docile, weak and self-loathing. Meanwhile, those in the Size Acceptance movement make demands, change conditions, and take on the world for the right for people to exist in their bodies of all sizes without being treated the way that Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth would have fat people treated under the guise of feminism.  It seems to me that fat women who insist on our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on our own terms are the women who Laila represents as being actually terrifying.

We use stereotypically “feminine” weapons — gossip, side-eye, cliques — couched  as “concern” and “critique” to put down other women. Only by seeing each other as role models in a shared struggle do we begin to transcend these issues and empower ourselves. A healthy body, just like a body that is loved and accepted on its own terms, unconditionally, is not an unattainable privilege of the rich or genetically blessed. It is not a weapon to use in judging and diminishing other women. It is a source of empowerment. It is a philosophical statement. It is political. It is a choice. And sometimes, it is — quite literally — all you have.

The idea that the key to empowerment is that we all make the same choices as Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth – that we all buy in to an obligation to health and beauty and that we judge those things based on body size – would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.  The only perspective around bodies that is actually feminist is to respect bodies of all sizes, and to respect the choices of the women who own those bodies.  Health is not entirely within our control, body size is not entirely within our control, but even if they were, it is blatantly anti-feminist and patriarchal to suggest that a woman should conform to a specific idea of the “correct” body size, and that her body size should be seen as a philosophical and political statement.  This serves only to perpetuate the idea that women should be judged not by what we achieve or who we are, but by how we look, and I think that’s about as far from feminism or empowerment as we could possibly get.

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 11, 2014 at 8:45 am  Comments (57)  

It’s the Swimsuit Post!

This is one of those posts that is a Danceswithfat tradition.  Today I got my first e-mail from a reader who is worried about buying a swimsuit, so today I post this.  Enjoy! 

Pink Argyle Bikini

Fantastic art by Jodee Rose http://jodee.deviantart.com/gallery/

Do you know Golda Poretsky?  You should.  She is a very cool woman doing great work in the Body Positive Community. Her site is Body Love Wellness and I highly recommend it.

She tweeted;  “Rec’d a link to “How Not To Look Fat In A Swimsuit”. Wld ♥ to see “How Not To Obsess Abt Looking Fat In A Swimsuit & F-ing Enjoy Yourself”

Well Golda, your wish is my command!

Seriously, let’s talk about this.  It seems that a lot of the women I know, of any size, start to panic the first time they see swimsuits out on the floor of their favorite store;  their pesky cheerfulness belying their seemingly actual  purpose of prodding us into paying the diet industry for products that don’t work, and considering a move to Alaska.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I’m about to start doing a lot of outdoor swimming which isn’t something I’ve done a lot of in the past – I’m more of an ambient temperature controlled, swim in water in which no creature is a permanent resident kind of girl (I’m not high maintenance, I’m highly maintained.)  But I have, in the past, strutted around my gym in a bathing suit with no worries.  Here are a few reasons why:

1.  It’s my BODY.  I live with it 100% of the time.  It does awesome things for me like breathing, and heartbeat, and swimming and I decided long ago that I am not going to allow anyone to convince me to hate or be ashamed of  something that I am with 100% of the time for the rest of my life.  I get to choose how I feel about my body – nobody else can make me feel good or bad, it’s on me.

2.  Because it’s a pool and when you go to the pool, you wear a swimsuit. It’s not for vanity – it’s practical.  The last time I was at the gym ready to make use of the pool there was a “thin to average size” (probably a size 8 or 10)  woman in a large t-shirt with a towel wrapped around her legs and all the way to her ankles.  She scooted to the edge of the pool and threw the towel behind her as she jumped into the water as fast as she could whilst grabbing a kickboard off the side. The move was impressive for it’s flexibility and quickness and I was admiring it when I saw  saw she was wearing control top pantyhose under her suit.  She looked at me and said “Nobody should have to see these legs without hose on”.  Before I could reply, she realized that her shirt was caught on the side railing, then her pantyhose got caught on her kickboard.  While I swam laps she spent most of the time dealing with being in the water with a giant shirt and pantyhose. That is her right, I have no judgment about her choices.  I am simply not willing to put up with, what to me seems to be a massive inconvenience, or have my technique interrupted by a ginormous swatch of cloth which, when it is wet, hides nothing anyway; and pantyhose which I will not wear under any circumstances in the world, ever.

3.  I do not care if people are offended by my body.  People are allowed to be offended by whatever they want and it’s really none of my business.  I’m offended by people who are offended by my body, but it turns out nobody gives a damn which is as it should be.  It is my BODY, if we all treated each other with basic human respect it would be impossible to be offended by the mere existence of people because of their body size.  The very idea is ludicrous to me. Regardless, it is not my job to protect people’s delicate sensibilities – there are at least three alternate cardinal directions in which they can look if they don’t want to look at me, they are free to choose one.

4.  Hypocrisy is an ugly thing.  It always seems like the same group of people who are  telling me that because I’m fat I have some obligation to exercise (which is bullshit by the way) are subsequently offended by my body in a swimsuit.  The message apparently being that they want me to exercise, but in my house with the shades drawn and under some kind of tarp.  Screw that.  Don’t like it?  Take some advice from the band Chicago and Look away, baby.  Look away.

5. It is maddening to me that the diet industry makes 60 BILLION dollars a year convincing women to hate themselves.  They create fear and uncertainty by saying things like “Swimsuit season is just around the corner, are you ready to wear a swimsuit?”  Well, let’s see here…  Swimsuit?  Check.  Body to put it on?  Check.  Yup, I’m all set thanks.  Plus I think I’ll keep my money you bloodsucking leeches.

6.  People can see me.  So they know how big I am whether I’m in a swimsuit, or jeans and a t-shirt.  If they are shocked at my size in a swimsuit, they should have been paying better attention.  That’s just a big flaming sack of not-my-problem.

I realize that my swimsuit preferences are not everyone’s which is awesome.  Not everyone, regardless of size, is comfortable with how much skin a swimsuit shows.  There is no obligation to rock a bikini or a swimsuit of any kind in order to be body positive.  Here are some more ideas  to help you stop obsessing and start having fun in the sun (or the oh-so-flattering incandescent glow of the overhead lights at the gym).

1. Alternative Swimsuits.  These are often created for women who want to keep to specific religious clothing guidelines or who just want a more modest look.  I did a quick Google search and found http://www.modestkini.com/.  I’m not affiliated with them at all so I make no guarantees, but it will give you an idea of what’s out there (and some of their plus size swimwear is actually modeled by plus-sized women.  Woot!)

2.  Fabulous Cover ups:  If there’s a particular part of your body that you prefer to keep covered for whatever reason, an (aptly-named) cover-up might be just the thing.  Here are some examples (again, no affiliation, check out the vendors before you buy!)

3.  Safety in numbers.  Go with a group of people who make you feel good about yourself and focus on the fun and not on any body insecurities you might have.  Think about how fantastic your body feels when you are swimming, or going down a water slide, or splashing in the waves.

4.  Reality check.  One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain “I’ve had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened”  When I’m worrying about something I try to remember that I am wasting energy on something that is not actually part of reality.  So instead I…

5.  …Expect the best, plan for the worst.  Think about what your true fears are about going out in a swimsuit.  Write them down and then create a plan to deal with each of them.  Are you afraid people will say something mean to you?  Create some scripting and practice it until you feel comfortable (you might check out my How Dare You post). Afraid of chaffing?  Hie thee to Google and read up on the various lotions, powders etc. that can help with that, or look into swimsuits that can help. Worried people will talk about you behind your back? Maybe that’s the best possible outcome since you don’t have to hear it!

In the end of course it’s your choice.  For my part,  I’m not willing to allow my options for fun, activity, movement etc. to be controlled by what other people might think or say.  If my own fears or insecurities are getting in the way I try to find a way over (modest swimsuit), under (cover up), or through (F this, I’m wearing a bikini) the fear and insecurity because I’ve found that very often the pure joy lies just on the other side.

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 10, 2014 at 5:37 pm  Comments (22)  

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!

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 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!

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 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!

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 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm  Comments (36)