David Letterman Chris Christie and the Power of Yes and No

Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey.  Many in the Republican party want him to run for President although he says that he does not want to run.  Governor Christie is also fat.  David Letterman spent some time last night making a series of fat jokes about him. I found them to be more mean-spirited then Letterman’s normal fare (as did the LA Times – trigger warning: It contains the jokes and the comments are, sadly, what you would expect.)

The argument goes that David Letterman makes fun of Donald Trump’s hair and Lindsey Lohan’s dress so it’s ok to make fun of Chris Christie’s body.

First, I’m not particularly a fan of David Letterman or his style of making fun of people for laughs.  The thing that makes Christie stand out to me is that there aren’t a ton of kids with Donald Trumps hair, and there aren’t a lot of kids who are forced to wear Lindsay Lohan’s dress everyday.  But there are a lot of fat kids, and making jokes about Governor Christie being fat sends fat kids (and fat adults) the message that no amount of accomplishment will ever stop the fat jokes.  You could be a state governor being asked to run for President of the United States and people will still be making the same dumbass jokes that you heard in elementary school.

This is in the same vein of Jennifer Hudson’s comment that before Weight Watchers her “whole world was can’t” when before WW she was a finalist on American Idol, won a Grammy for her first CD, an Oscar for her first film, and 29 other awards. But she just couldn’t get anything done because the was fat. Right.

Of course the diet companies want us to believe that no accomplishment is good enough until we are thin.  If we stop believing that, they might lose some of their 60 Billion Dollars a year.

I think that David Letterman’s actions are an example of a frequent occurrence.  We see it in internet comments and personal conversations, even news interviews.  The diet company has managed to make David Letterman into a walking advertisement for them.  He starts the ball rolling with the whole “it’s ok to make fun of fatties because they could stop all the stigma if they would just find a way to be more aesthetically pleasing to me” then everyone in the comments chimes in with all the rest of the rhetoric we know so well. Like these idiots who send me hate mail thinking that they are powerful and badass when they are really little workers for the diet industry – and they do it for free – what’s the word for that…

So, I think tragically, fat people hide.  Not because they want to, but because they don’t want to be publicly humiliated.  So they don’t run for city council, they don’t take that class, they don’t go to the gym, they don’t go for their Ph.D to become a professor, they turn down that opportunity to speak at a local organization.  Not because they don’t want to do these things, but because they fear the junior high school teasing that can come along with it.

This is the outcome of a society where we use body size as a proxy for health, and where we think it’s ok to judge people for their health.  Taken separately both of those are horrible ideas but together they create a toxic society where fat and the fear of being fat chip away at self-esteem, happiness, and eventually for some physical and mental health.  This is everyone’s problem but the solution will start with a few of us.

Those of us who say NO.

No, I will not allow my life choices to be limited by someone else’s juvenile bad behavior.

No, I do not care what you think of me.

No, I will not put my life at risk with dangerous surgery in the hopes that you will stop being mean to me.

No, you cannot live in my head rent free.  Hell, you can’t live in my head even if you paid rent.

No, I will not give you the power to hurt me or limit me in any way.

No, you cannot have my lunch money any more.

And those of us who say YES:

Yes, I love to dance so I’ll see you in class on Saturday.

Yes, I’d love to talk about how I xeriscaped my lawn at the homeowners association meeting.

Yes, I love myself and my body and it’s awesome.

Yes, I am running for Congress, vote for me!

There is power in yes and no, and it’s ours for the taking.

Sinful Guilty Decadent Divine Food

I’ve been thinking today of the way that we talk about food in American culture. Brownies are “guilty pleasures” but baked corn chips are “guilt free”?  Remember when we talked about that ridiculous Truvia ad campaign where a jingle singer used insane, grief, guilt, relief, and love three times discussing an artificial sweetener?  We’ve got “sinfully delicious” cookies.  Some desserts are decadent (the act or process of falling into moral decay): but some are divine (of or pertaining to a god, especially the Supreme Being).

I understand that advertisers will do whatever they can to sell a product but I would argue that we don’t have to adopt it, and I don’t see how attitudes like this can lead to healthy relationships with food.

How does being guilty about eating a food help?  Does guilt create health in some way and nobody told me?  When I hear the phrase “guilty pleasure” about food, it makes me think of hiding in a corner with some cake and I don’t think that’s a healthy way to view food.

As for the whole sinful/decadent/divine thing, how am I supposed to know if some balklava will lead to moral turpitude or give me a taste heaven?

Even the idea of  “healthy” foods and “unhealthy” foods is tricky.  Some eating plans say that potatoes are the devil but others say that you can live on potatoes, milk, and a little bit of oatmeal.  Some say eating lots of meat is healthy.  Some say that not eating any meat is healthy.  Some food plans say that anything cooked is unhealthy. Many people have food allergies and sensitivities, moral and religious considerations and more.  It goes on and on.

I used to struggled a lot with my relationship with food and I’ve found that my mental health and physical health improve dramatically when I remind myself of, and – as much as possible – remove myself from, our culture’s dangerous mixed messages, moralization and hyperbole around food.

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 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!

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 offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

 

Only Fat People – Dealing with Hate

Today the hashtag #onlyfatpeople trended on Twitter.  Tweet after tweet of “only fat people [insert something cruel]”.  I guess people think that we haven’t had enough suicides contributed to by cyber bullying and hate speech.

I get a lot of hate mail.  I get something every day and I get a death threat about once per week. And it seems like it’s morphing, like a drug who effects wear off the “fix” that people used to get from calling me a landwhale is no longer enough.  Suddenly it’s not enough for them to hate me, they want ME to hate me.  Then they want me to die. They say horrible, cruel things to me. And I’m not the only one.  The fat people I know all deal with some level of this at some time or another.

Let’s be super clear: this isn’t about my health, their tax dollars or anything else. Anybody who says it is – is lying through their teeth.   It’s purely about people wanting to hate me, and wanting me to hate me.  What the hell is wrong with these people?  Who knows – maybe they feel bad about their lives, maybe they think that their value lies in being thin and the fact that I don’t value being thin is a threat to their self-esteem.  Maybe they have that “complete and total asshole” gene that the researchers are all talking about.

Really, I’m less interested in what’s wrong with them – and more focused on what our options are for dealing with this crap.

We can try to hide.  Maybe if they don’t notice us they won’t hate us out loud. That’s not an option for me – as the Reverend Mother says in Sister Act: “That is not a person you can hide.  That is a conspicuous person, designed to stick out.”  Even if I could hide I wouldn’t but I understand people who do work to just blend in.

We can try to argue with them.  Sometimes I do this but, to borrow a phrase I’ve found that the problem with arguing with a pig is that you both get dirty but the pig is used to it and doesn’t mind.  I’m a fan of debate in general but basic human respect and civil rights are not open to debate as far as I’m concerned.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not start when we weigh what someone else thinks we should weigh.

We could try to change ourselves to be who they think we should be.  Although I’ve found that bullies are pretty good at finding fault.

I think in the end how we deal with bullying depends on the bully, the situation, and how we feel at the time.  What’s really important is that we realize that what they are doing is wrong, period. We can choose to excuse it, ignore it, challenge it or whatever, but that doesn’t change the fact that the behavior is wrong. It’s not me, it’s you.

I’ve struggled for a while with how to deal with the hate mail that I get.  I don’t want to put it on the blog because I like this to be a safe space.  But I do think it’s important for people to be able to see the kind of crazy stuff that people send me for respectfully suggesting that fat people don’t have to hate ourselves.

Then a friend told me about a Mommy blogger who put her hate mail up on a separate page with ads to monetize it.  That sounded brilliant to me – the idea that the haters will help me fund my world tour to spread the body love and replace all their hate gives me a lot of glee! So I put up a website with some of my hatemail and filled it with ads for awesome Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance stuff that I love.

So, if you want to read my hate mail (and obvious trigger warning here) you can find it at www.danceswithfat.com/hate 

Does the Obesity Gene Matter?

According to a story from Wales Online  [trigger warning – classically offensive headless fatty picture]:

The discovery of genes explicitly linked to obesity, by various teams of scientists around the world, raise the spectre that some people are genetically predisposed to be overweight.

Indeed, for those who carry an obesity gene – or a mutation in a particular gene – it could mean that even the strictest and healthiest diets will fail to prevent them gaining weight.

I’m not even delving into the science for reasons that will become clear in a minute.  The title of the piece asks “Should we change the way we think about fat people with the discovery of a fat gene”?

Sociologist Shirlene Badger states

“But when families receive this, there are no real treatment options for them and the diagnosis is very difficult to take anywhere in terms of an explanation in the public arena.

There have even been problems when families have taken that diagnosis back to their local GP because obesity is still seen as input versus output.”

First, why are doctors so unwilling to let go of the belief that our weight is a factor of our current behaviors, a calories in/calories out equation and nothing more?  I think it’s shameful that the very people who are the most trained to understand the complexity of the human body still believe that when it comes to body size we’re no more complicated than a lawnmower. They ignore evidence of the multi-dimensionality of health and the abysmal success rate of dieting and they just keep prescribing weight loss, blaming the fatties when it doesn’t work. Real scientists admit that they were wrong and course correct based on better information.

But I don’t think that the biggest problem is that the prescription for weight loss doesn’t work.  I think that the real problem is that no prescription is necessary. We need to stop treating body size like it’s a diagnosis when it may just be an expression of human diversity.

In the article they talk about trying to develop a drug to “fix” the obesity gene.  What for?  There is no proof that the gene causes anything other than a big body.  People are taller than ever before but we’re not trying to make them shorter.  Some people have big feet but we’re not looking for a drug to make those feet short and narrow. Blond and red hair are a minority but we’re not trying to remove them from the gene pool.

Body size is not a health problem, and so it doesn’t need to be “solved”. Health problems have health diagnoses and  health treatment protocols so there’s just no need to prescribe a random and unlikely change of body size as Hail Mary pass for health.

Badger says that “In some circumstances it [a genetic diagnosis] does relieve the sense of stigma and the shame associated with obesity, but in other senses it can be difficult because of the stigma surrounding obesity in society.”

Ok, you know what’s not a cure for social stigma?  A genetic diagnosis. You know what else isn’t a cure for social stigma?  Weight loss. There is only one cure for social stigma and that’s ending social stigma.

You do not get to stigmatize me because I will not look how you want me to look,  act how you want me to act, or provide you with an explanation for myself that you find satisfactory.  Are you freaking kidding me?  That is not how it works. You do not get to stigmatize me.  For any reason.  If you try then I will fight you to my last breath.  I do not owe you a reason or an explanation for why you should treat me with basic human respect. Just do it.

I personally do not care about the obesity gene.  It does not matter that my body is fat.  It does not matter why my body is fat.  It is my body and none of your damn business.

DancesWithFat World Tour!

I thought about it, I hinted at it, now I’m actually doing it!

I want to take this show on the road – spread the body appreciation, meet awesome people, have fantastic adventures. (Fair warning:  the rest of today’s blog is going to be about this.  I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled rambling thoughts tomorrow…)

I’m going to do the first leg of the tour in the US to coincide with premieres of America the Beautiful II – The Thin Commandments.  I am in the film and it is being release by Warner Brothers in October and November.  I’m super excited about giving talks, teaching dance classes, doing workshops with other people, and participating in collaborations and community events (like the moth-type events we were talking about in comments a few days ago), whatever brings people together and supports them on their journey!

If you’re interested in supporting this or getting involved, there are lots of ways:

Tour Stops!

If you want me come to your town/group/university etc., just let me know (you can comment below or e-mail me with your name and your city) It doesn’t matter if you have a budget or a plan at this point, or if you want to put on an event or just come to one…it’s just important that you are interested and we can go from there. (If you want to see more about the speaking topics and types of classes I do you can check that out here)

Because of film premieres and dance competitions I already know some of the stops for sure. The list is below –  if you want to get something going in those cities let me know right away (if your city isn’t listed, never fear, just comment or e-mail and we’ll see about getting it added!)

First Leg:

  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Austin
  • Houston
  • San Francisco/Oakland
  • Panama City Beach, Florida
  • Atlanta
  • Dallas
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Ventura
  • Las Vegas
  • Orlando

Second Leg

Still being scheduled.  Currently looking at Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK as well as stops in the states in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tucson and more.  E-mail me to add a stop in your city!

Connect!

You can be kept updated (and make me look popular to potential speaking gigs) by:

Subscribing to the blog at the top right hand corner of this page

Subscribing to the Newsletter

Following me on Twitter

Friending me on Facebook

Moolah!

Airfare, hotels, and then for the upcoming book there’s editing and self-publishing.  It all adds up!  I will not be monetizing the blog (I actually pay to NOT have ads on this blog because they’re always about weight loss and it’s super annoying.)  I will be doing some fun projects to help fund the tour. You’ll be able to find them on the Support the World Tour page!

This has come quite a long way since I was writing a blog that was read by six people.  Thanks for reading, commenting, and being awesome inspirations, I hope to see you soon!

Fat and the Fear of It

I talk a lot about how using body size as a proxy for health does a disservice not just to fat people but also to thin people who get the message that as long as they are thin they are healthy regardless of their behaviors.  I was thinking today about the similar disservice that fat stigma does to the entire population.

Being fat is an interesting experience because it is a highly stigmatized group who are thought to be able to move in and out of that group at will. (I don’t think that the research shows that at all, but I find that it’s the commonly held belief.)

Because of this, there is a general idea that the cure for social stigma directed at fat people is for those people to stop being fat.  In other words what we’re told is “Stop making people want to stigmatize you so much!”

Among fat people this this creates a couple of categories.  If we publicly agree that we deserve to be stigmatized for being fat, and we’re trying to “do something about it” in the form of attempting weight loss (aka being a “good fatty”) we can gain some provisional acceptance from the stigmatizing group.  If we refuse to buy into a thin=worthy model and refuse to attempt to conform and make our picture match someone else’s frame (aka being a “bad fatty”) then many people feel that we deserve all the hate and vitriol that they can spit at us.

We get 386,170 negative messages about our bodies a year. We are told that we can’t be attractive, sexy, smart, loved, or healthy until we are thin.  This is obviously wrong and we deserve to be treated better.

But there is one group who are affected by these things who don’t often get attention:  They are the people who are thin but spend their lives obsessed with not getting fat. They see what happens to us fatties and they don’t want it to happen to them. Some have disordered eating. Some are fixated on exercise.  Some weigh themselves every day in constant terror of being fat. Some spend their lives on diets trying to lose those “stubborn final 10 pounds”. Some miss out on experiences that they would have loved to have because they are afraid that it will make them fat or because they can never skip the gym.  Some lose their lives on the operating table getting fat sucked out of their asses.  I’ve heard that 8 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men are unhappy with their bodies. Women start dieting earlier (4 years old!) and stop later (or never).

So ending all the body shaming and body stigma isn’t just about making fat people’s lives better (although that alone is absolutely a worthy goal), it’s about making everyone’s lives better.  Imagine a world where we could all approach our relationships with our bodies purely from a place of care and appreciation.  A world where nobody hates their thighs, where bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that’s just peachy.  A world where people can make choices about their health rather than making choices based on the terror of facing massive social stigma.

We all deserve to live in that world. And we can all do things, right this minute to get us there.  Some example to get us started:

1.  Stop body snarking.  All of it. Right now.  There is just no reason in the world for you to comment negatively on someone else’s body.  Get your self-esteem elsewhere (how about intrinsically?)

2.  Interrupt body snarking and fat stigma whenever you hear and see them – whether it’s in your own mind or in public about your body or someone else’s.

3.  Consider approaching your body from a place of care and appreciation.

4. Consider spending the money that you would spend on diet programs on other self-care…get some massages, take classes that you’ve always wanted to take, buy a bike, hire a chef to prepare delicious foods that will nurture your body, take a trip to a spa, buy whole foods, whatever makes your body feel amazing.

5. Understand that almost everyone in our society is hurting because of the unceasing body shame and stigma. Even that person who you might think has “everything” – the perfect body, the perfect face –  may be living his or her life in terror of losing that.  Look for ways to support other people and lift them up. Today at the bank I saw a woman with beautiful long, curly silver hair (exactly the kind of hair I plan to have someday).  I told her that I thought her hair was awesome and she started crying.  CRYING. At. The. Bank.  She hugged me and told me that her friends said that you can’t have long gray hair and that she should cut it.  What the eff people?  We can do better.

6.  Rock my official shirt.  Oh yeah, I totally went there.  A few posts ago some readers asked me when I was going to have a DancesWithFat shirt they could wear. Thanks to lovely graphic design by Cristy C, I now have one. This is the first item that will help fund the upcoming Dances with Fat World Tour! Click on the image below and it can be yours.

Official Body Positive Dance Shirt shirt

Public Health is NOT Public Thinness

I gave a talk today to the students at the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health (They have a great blog that you can check out). They were awesome – attentive, open-minded and they asked excellent questions.  One of my favorite questions was a woman who asked what I thought was the number one most important change that could be made in public health.

My answer was that we need to take weight out of the equation and make public health about public health, not public thinness.  Right now the idea of “eradicating obesity” is a major part of public health effort and I think that every penny we are spending on that is a waste of money. So what would I spend money on? I’m glad that you asked…

Have you heard of “Food Deserts”?  These are areas where there is a lack of affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains.   You know that money that we’re putting into commercials that talk about how many calories a day breastfeeding burns and how it will stop your kid from being fat?  How about we spend some of that money making sure that moms, and everyone else, have access to affordable healthy foods.

There are people who don’t have safe access to movement options that they enjoy.  Even if they like jogging some people can’t do it safely in their neighborhoods.  Some people would love to swim but they don’t have access to a pool.  Some would love to dance but don’t have access to classes. Remember those horrible fat kid-shaming billboards from Georgia?  What if they used those millions of dollars to build some non-profit community fitness centers and help existing community fitness centers take sliding scale payments.  All the money the Ad Council spends on OMGDeathFatIsComingForYou ads?  Let’s spend that letting people know about those fitness centers and how they are fiercely anti-shame and all about health for people of all sizes.

You know every damn penny that we are spending having a war on fat kids?  How about we re-purpose that money to be for healthy healthy kids of all sizes.  Gym classes with all kinds of options  -the end of dodgeball as we know it – some kids can walk around the track, some can swim, some can dance, some can play computer games that require them to move, whatever will help them create a lasting love of moving their bodies or at last keep them from just hating the crap out of exercise. How about some school lunch offerings that are nourishing, appealing and affordable?

All those grants that we are spending for researchers to keep trying to figure out how to make us all fit the same narrow height/weight proportion?  Let’s re-purpose that money for research to make us healthier.  Let’s train doctors how to work appropriately with people of size – from a place of respect – treating health issues with health interventions. Let’s cure some form of cancer.  Let’s do SOMETHING a little more worthy of our time and money than ignoring the diversity of the human experience and trying to make everyone fit the same very narrow ratio of height and weight.

And it’s not just money.  Every second that we spend talking about the war on obesity, body shaming, body snarking, acting like someone else’s body size is our business, or confusing body size with diagnosis or health… What if we re-purposed that time to doing, oh I don’t know, anything else? I don’t think that people hate themselves healthy, because I don’t think that people take good care of things that they hate.  If we would back the hell off so that people weren’t obsessed with not being fat anymore, or not getting fat, or hating parts of their bodies, then people would have an opportunity to realize how amazing their bodies are, appreciate them and then care for them in their own way without constant stigma or constant threat of stigma.

I think any public health intervention that leads people to hate their bodies is a bad intervention.  I think that making everyone the same size is not the same as making everyone healthy. I do not believe that getting rid of fat people is a goal worthy of any time or money.  I think that giving people access to healthy foods, safe movement options that they enjoy, and love for their bodies are goals worthy of all the time, energy and money that we can possibly spend on them.  I have great hopes for the students of the Texas A&M School for Rural Public Health and for society in general that we will get past the scapegoating and stigmatizing of people of size and get onto the business of giving people access to a variety of options and then respecting their choices.