The “Promoting Obesity” Myth

I was on the news with Darryl Roberts, filmmaker of America the Beautiful 2 for the Houston premiere.   As almost always happens when I’m in the media, they brought up the concern that I am “promoting obesity”.  I’ve observed that this happens almost any time a fat person is shown in the media being good at anything or having any kind of success not tied to weight loss.  This is among the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard.  As if someone will see me dancing and think “I wish I could dance like that.  The secret must be her obesity – screw dance lessons, I’m going to try to get fat!”.  It’s insulting to my years of hard work and training, and it’s insulting to your intelligence. Like’s it the new V8 commercial:  millions of thin people, who see the same 386,170 negative messages a year about fat people, will see one of us being successful in some way, smack their foreheads and say “I coulda been fat!”

Promoting a body size is what got us into this mess in the first place. I think that being thin might be the most aggressively promoted idea of my lifetime and while it hasn’t made everyone thin (in fact if you believe the statistics the majority of people are not thin), it has insidiously created a second class of citizens.  The (completely wrong) idea that the only path to health dead ends at a thin body has led to the mistaken belief that every fat person hates their body and wants to be thin and has put their entire life on hold, vowing not to be successful at anything unless and until they can be successful at weight loss.  And as soon as someone shows a fat person who doesn’t fit neatly into the story of  body hatred and weight loss goals above all else, they get shouted down and pulled out of view based on the ridiculous notion that they are “promoting obesity”.

Look, if you see a fat person and immediately think you know everything about their behaviors, choices, and inner thoughts then you have a problem – you someone who stereotypes fat people.  If the sight of a fat person being happy makes you angry, then you have some very serious issues to deal with. If you think that happy successful fat people are promoting obesity then you are a dangerously delusional. If they are promoting anything, they are promoting being happy and successful.

Not to mention that if we follow the “logic” that putting fat people in the public eye as anything other than a negative representation or an ad for stomach amputation is “promoting obesity”, then what we are actually saying is that fat people should never see anyone who looks like them in a positive light.  We seriously believe that the best thing that we can do is make sure that fat people should never see someone who looks like them being successful or happy.  How messed up is that?  How cruel?  First they tell fat people that they are all miserable, then they purposefully hide all the evidence to the contrary under the guise of not “promoting obesity”, then they use the lack of evidence that you created to “prove” that all fat people are miserable.  Step three:  Profits!  Sixty billion a year, in fact, for the diet industry.

We have GOT to stop promoting any body size at all.  We need to show, and celebrate, the diversity of the human experience and that includes all colors, shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, athletes and couch potatoes – everybody. Our diversity is what makes us strong – it’s what makes us survivors and pretending otherwise for your own profit ought to buy you a special place in hell.

I’m just happy that there are people standing up to this preposterous notion, who are brave and strong enough not to cave to the pressure, and who are getting fat role models out into the light where they belong. And I’m so proud and thankful for all the fatties who brave the responses – from ridiculous to utterly hateful – to live their lives out loud!

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Published in: on December 9, 2011 at 6:44 am  Comments (60)  

60 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As always, you have found a way to articulate so perfectly both how ignorant most people are and how simple things really should be.

    I recently got into hot yoga and the other day we got a new teacher who is NOT the stereotype of a yoga teacher. She’s my size. Not skinny or fat. She has a bit of a belly and my first thought was “Huh. Maybe yoga ISN’T that good for you.” And then I caught myself. I thought of you, actually. Because this woman looks brilliant when she’s doing yoga. Her posture is incredible and she’s become my favorite teacher! But what about our culture has made me – and I think I’m relatively “enlightened” about body image – double take when I see someone healthy who isn’t a stick?

    • Thanks Marian, for your kind words and also for being honest about your story – you are not alone. We are so inundated with the message that it can easily slip into our subconscious unless we root it out. I’m flattered that you thought of me 🙂


    • Maybe this is why they think you promote obesity Ragen — because maybe they see you promoting healthy eating and movement, and since it didn’t make you thin they are afraid other people will also make that same assumption, and possibly then just give up and live on twinkies until they EAT THE WORLD!!!!

      • Maybe these people fear HAES because it makes them lose the feeling of control they get from putting someone else down. It’s bullying behaviour, IMO.

        I wonder if these people feel bad about their own habits and/or bodies and need to find someone “worse” to compare themselves to and feel better. When they find out that person is not only healthy but happy, it causes them to lose that sense of superiority.

      • There you go bringing truth into things… I was trying to be charitable.

        In all seriousness, your explanation comes closer to truth than my (entirely tongue in cheek) one could ever hope to. And of course, you’re entirely right (as everyone around here knows) that neither health nor thinness is the driving force behind all the stigma experienced by fat people.

        After all (and there was a post just recently about this so obviously not breaking new ground here) If the only way to be healthy is to be thin, and eating right and exercising always and inevitably leads to being thin, then the only reason for anyone to be against HAES with it’s message that eating well and engaging in physical activity is a viable path towards health even if no weight is lost would be because health was not their desired end goal in the first place.

        But then, I’ve noticed that any time you have a group who is vehemently opposed to something and a second group who are supporting actions which should lead to a reduction in the first group’s target thing… you can always tell when the real issue of the first group isn’t what they claim it is. Because if they REALLY held the beliefs they claim they hold, they wouldn’t fight against the second groups goals… they would fight for them, because reduction of their target thing would be the most important. Not how it came about.

    • As a fat man I have come to accept it. Its who I am. I don’t eat the best, but I eat on par with most people I know. I bike to work most days, and I hike and geocache, which makes me more active than most of the people I know, yet I have 100lbs on pretty much everyone I meet.

      I just think of my extra pounds as famine defense. I’m gonna outlast you all!

      • Heehee! Love it!

      • I’m thinking zombie apocalypse. They’re slow anyway so it’s really going to be about who can last the longest!!

      • Also! We will survive being shipwrecked and lost at sea. Flotation & sustenance, in one adorable package!

      • Dave, I am with you on this one. It’s such a complex issue the understanding of it is non existent in most areas. Physical famine defence or psychological famine defence…. or both – who knows. What I do know is that what the ‘experts’ claim is short sighted and inaccurate.

  2. Ragan ~ thank you. I am right behind you….. this blog supports my experience of telling someone about my diet….. they seem brainwashed….. can’t hear….. fat people have no voice in the UK society….. everyone else knows better…. we clearly have no structure, no organisation, no strength of character….

    Thank you for dancing out/speaking out!


  3. It’s not about thinness. It’s about power. Fat hate is just another form of bigotry. Logic doesn’t come into it.

  4. I am absolutely appalled and disgusted with myself when I see a fat person and find my brain spewing out the same fat-hating messages that I fight against, the same ones that have taken root so long in my head and have resulted in a deep, permanent self-hatred. It’s so weird to have that happen in my own head!

    But I rebut the statement immediately, thanks to coming here and learning how, and think, “Even if she DOES sit around all day and eat Twinkies, it’s none of your freakin’ business, woman…” And, being a Unitarian, I then default to our very first tenet and repeat as much as I need to until my brain stops being so hateful…

    “I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being…”

    • I know exactly what you mean. I experience things very similar. Most of my co-workers are thin, but the past 2 fat co-workers I have had to work with (one male, one female) I had the obligation of reporting them because they were slow and unproductive. The female was admittedly lazy, and the male claimed that his fat was an excuse for him being slower than the rest of us. I fight my own thoughts in my head between believing that they aren’t working out because they are fat. I fight thoughts between believing the male that he “can’t do this or that because he is fat,” and then I remember size acceptance and think, “Wouldn’t they have a shit fit if they heard him saying that? I don’t care what he weighs, he should pick his speed up anyway!” and then feel an urge to start busting his balls about his speed. It’s like, I don’t know what to think when some fat people I encounter will admit to being a product of their stereotype.

      • Every ugly stereotype is going to have a few people who fit it. There are going to be fat people who are lazy, or who eat like crap, just like there have to be some blonde women who are clueless or ditzy. It doesn’t make them the majority or representative of the whole.

        The other thing about a lot of stereotypes is that they can often actually push people into the behaviors that are stereotyped. If you get hate thrown at you when you try to work out, you’re a lot more likely to give up than someone who’s just treated neutrally.

        Also, just as a matter of personal preference, when referring to people, I’m really not a fan of “male” and “female” as opposed to “man” and “woman” because it sounds kind of dehumanizing, as though you’re talking about animals or something. *Especially* when using “male” and “female” as nouns.

      • Your thoughts are quite bigoted. The fact that you associate their laziness with their fatness at all shows you need to work on your prejudices. The two things, fatness and laziness, are completely separate as I am sure you know thin people who are also lazy. Take that mentality and change all the references of fat to race instead, how does it sound?

        “Most of my coworkers are my race, but the past 2 people of another race I had the obligation of reporting because they were slow and unproductive. The female was admittedly lazy and the man blamed his race on being slower than the rest of us. I fight my own thoughts in my head between believing that they aren’t working out because they are another race. ” I could go on but I am sure you get my point.

  5. Agree! Great post, articulate and passionate!

  6. Also, it’s not related to weight issues, but I thought you might get a kick out of this graphic, “Correlation or Causation?” (from Business Week):

    • That’s brilliant! I suspected that babies name “Ava” were responsible for the housing bubble and now I know.

      • Cathy, I must respectfully disagree with you. The chart clearly proves that the housing bubble caused babies named “Ava”

  7. Ragen,
    What was your response to the news interviewer about ‘promoting obesity’?

    • I told him that it doesn’t make sense that the best way to support people in being healthy is to make sure that people who look like them are only portrayed as lazy, unattractive and unhappy, and removing any role models who look like them and are active or happy.


  8. I just walked through the Atlanta airport with a laptop bag slung across my body, pulling my wheelie luggage, carrying a banana & a large cup of coffee. I look super cute in my outfit and I was walking faster than 75% of the crowd and not even breathing hard.

    My point?

    If looks could kill, I’d be a pile of ash right now. A whole squad of college girls in matching track suits glanced at each other and giggled as I stepped over their sprawling bodies to find a seat at my gate. I can’t even tell you how many dirty looks I’ve gotten.

    I mean, really, how dare I live my life, looking cute, and flying on an airplane to other cities. Six months ago I would have wanted to curl up & die…or at least attempt to make myself appear smaller. But thanks to your blog and the other SA blogs I’ve found, I’m lounging comfortably and perfectly at ease. Mine is a quiet rebellion. 😀

    • You can pull wheeled luggage and carry a banana and a large cup of coffee at the same time? You are a goddess! I would have burned myself on the coffee. 🙂

    • Being awesome in the face of bigotry and meanness is loud enough for me! Go you!

    • Yours is an awesome kick ass rebellion. Also, I require a stage, spotlight and audience to be graceful so I would have redesigned the wheelie luggage and my laptop when I fell while burning myself on the coffee. You have skillz!


  9. In another illogical twist, I tried to access this site on my phone and Orange blocked it for under-18s because it had an ‘anti-health message’. WTF, Orange, WTF. Better not let those kids get hold of any facts!

    • What?!? Can you give me more information on this? Do you have contact information for them? It’s something that I want to look into.



      • Well, I only encountered it because Orange temporarily didn’t recognise my number for some reason (I’m over 18) and it’s working OK now. However, it was definitely biased because I tried some other sites while it was in force – Shapely Prose was blocked, Weight Watchers wasn’t. Thinking over it again, the block page didn’t specify why such pages were blocked, it just mentioned ‘anti-health’ as being one of the possible reasons, so I assumed it was that (I can’t think of any other reason; it didn’t block stuff like Scarleteen so mentions of sex can’t be the issue).

        There’s more info about the system here:
        And details about ‘inappropriate content’ here:

        I’m hoping it was a mistake, but… yeah, I’m a cynic :/

        • Gotcha, thanks for letting me know. I guess it’s good news that they know anything about my site at all… I’ll follow up.


      • Wow, seriously, that is bad, bad, evil, nasty, wicked aweful corporate censorship. That needs following up en masse! WTF!

  10. Yeah, I’ve always thought the basic assumption behind the “promoting obesity” question is “How can you not be ashamed of being fat?” It really seems to fry some people’s brains when they’re confronted with someone who just refuses to accept all the propaganda that being fat is the absolute WORST THING EVAH

  11. Slapping my forehead miss thing…Love this one!!!

    Rowdy (Ragen’s Dance Mentor)

  12. Boy, that “reporter” could not have been more dismissive at the end of the video report. What did mashing cake into one’s face have anything to do with, well, anything being reported?

    • Hi Grace,

      Yeah, I have no idea what that was about. So weird.


  13. Someone who’s eating twinkies all day does not have to be fat, but this kind of diet is unarguably unhealthy. I’m sure you’ve seen this before:

  14. Ohoh, Please don’t take that serious. It’s meant to be a joke. I forgot about the smilies *oops*

  15. This makes me think of what has been happening in Finnish media a lot recently. The media writes articles of celebrities who are gay, usually not because they are gay, but because what they do that made them celebrities in the first place (e.g. singing, dancing, politics, writing books, whatever). Some gay celebrities have been invited to the president’s yearly independence day celebration gala and naturally some of they have danced with their partners, just like the heterosexual participants of the event do.

    Then a lot of people complain that the media is “full of gays who promote their homosexuality”. Comments left by these people suggest they seem to believe these gay celebrities actually call magazines, TV channels etc and ask if they can be interviewed or featured to get to “promote their homosexuality”. Every time a gay is featured in the media, they’re “flaunting” their homosexuality. Many suggest that being gay is “technically” okay, but e.g. dancing in the public with your same sex partner isn’t. Don’t even mention gay prides…

    Of course these people insist they are not homophobic, no way. They often mention they even have gay friends, they just don’t support the open “promotion” of homosexuality. This is the worst kind of discrimination: claiming you’re open-minded and have no problem with minorities, but in reality you only accept them if you play to your very narrow-minded preconceptions. Gays are okay if they aren’t too openly gay. Fat people are okay if they aren’t too openly fat. Minorities are okay – but only if they are ashamed of representing their minority.

    • Beautifully stated, thank you!


  16. Another excellent post! To me it defies logic when the media pulls out the ‘promoting obesity’ card. You never hear anyone saying shows like ‘jersey shore’ promote drinking or lewd behavior, or shows like the ‘real housewives’ promote materialism…but just let a fat person show their face in public and suddenly they’re ‘promoting’ obesity, as though they’re out there shouting at everyone to eat more and excercise less [the apparently only way to be fat, according to prevailing beliefs].

  17. *thunderous applause*

    Word times eleventy million. 😀

  18. Great post Ragen! I get this a lot when doing publicity for my radio show/podcast, Friend of Marilyn. Media personalities ask, ‘aren’t you glorifying obesity?’ and I always respond, ‘I am promoting the crazy idea that fat people deserve the same rights and dignity as non-fat people’. *Sanity points*

    • Thanks Cat! “Glorifying Obesity” – I might like that term better. In fact I think I’d like a t-shirt or bumper sticker 🙂 Thanks for all that you do to insert a little sanity into a crazy world!


      • I love that “Glorifying Obesity” can be abbreviated GO! Let’s GO people! GO GO GO!

  19. KellyK: “It doesn’t make them the majority or representative of the whole.”

    The other thing about a lot of stereotypes is that they can often actually push people into the behaviors that are stereotyped. If you get hate thrown at you when you try to work out, you’re a lot more likely to give up than someone who’s just treated neutrally.”

    I agree with you on both points. And thanks for pointing out to me the references to the words male and female. I don’t know why I chose those as opposed to “man and woman.” It just came out in the flow of writing my comment, but you make an interesting point.

    Mari: “Your thoughts are quite bigoted. The fact that you associate their laziness with their fatness at all shows you need to work on your prejudices. The two things, fatness and laziness, are completely separate as I am sure you know thin people who are also lazy. Take that mentality and change all the references of fat to race instead, how does it sound?”

    I’m not perfect and I occasionally have bigoted thoughts as does anyone else. I fight these thoughts in my head usually only when I see people who fit into a stereotype, and it’s not just fat people. I do the same thing when I see men using women for sex, women using men for money, and so on. I don’t start thinking thinks like “They are all like that, aren’t they?!” I know not everyone is going to be an example of their stereotypes, but I start to wonder why and how stereotypes came to be if there wasn’t “at least some truth to it” as I have heard people argue. But then I wonder if it even matters at all.

    • I’ve always felt that negative stereotypes came to be because people want an excuse to feel superior, judge others, and rationalize hate, not because there is any truth to them. I’ve experienced far too much diversity in my life to ever presume they have any truth. Honestly, every single stereotype I have ever heard in my life, I have met someone who doesn’t fit it.

      It does matter, because stereotypes hurt everyone. They hurt the people who don’t fit them. (obviously.) They hurt the people who do fit them. (People who fit a negative stereotype are often judged far more harshly for said character flaws than those with the same flaws in a privileged group.) They even hurt the people who buy into them in a way, as with you having to constantly struggle with them when in your heart you want to believe they are wrong. That is why it is so important for people to accept that they are nothing but mind constraints that are not worth our time.

      • That is the kind of clear thinking I was trying to reach, thank you.

      • Actually, some stereotypes do have basis in fact. Black people like fried chicken and watermelon. Chicken is cheap, frying is a good way to stretch the chicken by dividing it into pieces and adding breading to make it more filling, and watermelon grows like crazy in some parts of the South. It is understandable that both foods would be a staple in a lot of southern black households AND in southern white households.

        Some people ARE fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise. That doesn’t mean that all fat people fit the mold or that there aren’t thin people who also eat too much and don’t exercise. But, people associate caloric consumption with weight and jump to that conclusion.

        Stereotypes exist because someone observed the behaviors in a few people within a specific group and applied those behaviors to the entire group regardless of whether or not other people also exhibit those behaviors.

  20. Dear Ragen –
    “As if someone will see me dancing and think “I wish I could dance like that. The secret must be her obesity – screw dance lessons, I’m going to try to get fat!”

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud… i needed that. You have an uphill battle and a long road ahead of you, but I have never met anymore better equipped for it or more courageous.

    On a side note, have you ever seen the movie “disfigured”? i watched it with my recovery group and it was really interesting. i would love to know what you think of it….

    • Hi Gwen,

      Glad that I could add a smile to your day. I haven’t seen that movie, I need to check it out.


  21. “Look, if you see a fat person and immediately think that all they do is sit around and eat Twinkies then YOU have a problem – you are a bigot who stereotypes fat people. If the sight of a fat person being athletic makes you angry, then you have some very serious issues to deal with.”

    I agree completely, Ragen, and admit I have issues. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life and have been both very fat and very thin. My problem isn’t so much that I get angry when I see a fat person (since I am one!) but that I see a thin person and feel angry and jealous. Probably because thinness is equated with beauty in our culture and I work my ass off to get thin and it never works. I am working on accepting people of all sizes but I don’t know if I can accept myself and am having bariatric surgery to address my health problems and my weight. I love reading your blog but I am excited to hopefully be one of the privileged thin women someday soon. I will never judge fat people though since I know their struggles. But I can’t stand being one of them anymore. I admire your courage for being an advocate.

  22. Standing Ovation for your post on this topic, Ragen!! Well said. I scratch my head over the whole “promoting obesity” idea too.

  23. Ragan ~ thank you. I am right behind you….. this blog supports my experience of telling people about my diet….. they seem brainwashed….. can’t hear….. fat people have no voice in UK society….. everyone else knows better…. we clearly have no structure, no organisation, no strength of character…. sigh……

    We need to each have an individual voice and one for the collective to bring reality… which is NOT about promoting obesity but about fact.

    Thank you for dancing out/speaking out!


  24. Your article gave me chills reading it … in a totally fabulous way. I was only speaking to a family member about this the other day and she still cannot accept HAES. I’m going to send her the link as you expressed everything I was frustratingly trying to explain to her about. Thank you … you are AWESOME!!!!

    • Hi Irisa,

      Glad that I could help! Hope it goes well with your family member.


  25. I’ve just stumbled upon your blog Ragen, and I think it is amazing. I’m a 17 year old girl living in New Zealand, a country with a large proportion of fat people.

    I swim, I run, I walk my two dogs, I climb, I dance, I am a lifeguard. All for the enjoyment I get out of it. I eat what I feel like eating, when I feel like eating. Be that fruit or cake, out with friends or home alone. I’m spending 4 weeks (starting 29th December) in Borneo, climbing the mountain, hiking, and doing a community project. I am smart and successful in all of my school subjects.

    I am also, according to the BMI calculation, borderline obese (29.9).
    At 80 kilos (approx 176 lb), and 165cm tall, this overrated and flawed measurement instantly belittles all of my accomplishments, according to society.

    I have a belly, I have boobs, I have thighs, and I have a rather full bottom. And I am proud of them. They are what make me who I am. My body is the vessel through which I experience this wonderful world, just as everyone else has their own, customized, perfect, unique vessels.

    I suppose I have been rather lucky in that I have not really experienced bullying, nor a severe and ongoing eating disorder caused by social pressure to conform to an unrealistic ‘ideal’ shape and size. I have, however, not come to my positive body image views easily. I once hated myself. I forced myself to stop eating, then to throw-up whatever I did eat. I cut my thighs, to feel as though I had control over my, what I once believed was disgusting, body. I have dieted more times than I care to admit, only to end up at the same weight. I have not ever been hospitalized, although I know people, thin and fat alike, that have been.

    I’m straight, white, and fat. I fight for LGBT rights, race equality, and elimination of ALL, no matter what it is, discrimination. I want to be a surgeon, a surgeon who will do the best by any patient I see, be them any race, religion, size, shape, or sexual orientation. I would love to see everyone have the same awareness, but I know that even in my lifetime it may not happen.

    That makes me sad, but I know that just a spark, such as the one you have lit Ragen, can ignite an entire forest, in this case, society.

    (Oh, sorry for the long-winded reply. I just couldn’t help it!)

    • Hi!

      Welcome to the blog. Your story is awesome and I’m really glad to hear that you are finding a path to health and self-esteem. Thank you for fighting for equality for everyone and I can’t tell you how excited I am the you want to be a surgeon – we need more medical professionals like you. Love what you said about the spark!



  26. “Like’s it the new V8 commercial: millions of thin people, who see the same 386,170 negative messages a year about fat people, will see one of us being successful in some way, smack their foreheads and say “I coulda been fat!””

    It seems to me, that’s kindof what you’ve done with your life – you could have wasted it trying to pursue a thin ideal that would have made you too sick to do much of anything, but instead of that, you decided to get on with your life at the size you are. I can imagine somebody else like you or me, looking back at their life of starvation dieting, yo-yoing drama, surgery, and the resulting health effects, and thinking “dammit, what could I have done with my life, if I had just let the fat thing slide?”

    Such a thought is absolutely unacceptably subversive. People who go around living a fulfilled life, getting things done and feeling good about themselves, are really hard to sell things to.

  27. I am still struggling with acceptance of my body, and like another commenter on your blog has stated before, I too am battling old demons in regards to my childhood and being teased/bullied for being fat and different. I know better but sometimes the media and what other people think is so strong and so seductive that you can help but to doubt yourself and your existence.

    when I first started riding fixed gear bikes (clearly i really wanted a challenge) I was really slow and I could not even keep pace with my friends. that was over two years ago, and since then I have rode in world naked bike rides and critical masses that take place in the city where I live. And I still find it funny that people criticize other fat people while those fat people are exercising. I can remember two occasions where I was called names or taunted by random strangers on the street for the audacity of bike riding while fat. and I could probably out-bike them any day of the week!

    and I hate to admit, that even surrounding myself with positive like-minded people has not completely eradicated my issues with my weight and how I feel about myself. sometimes I even find myself fat-shaming other people until I take the effort to analyze my own thoughts and feelings and realize how unfounded and foolish they are.

    I don’t think the masses realize, and the American masses are the densest (yes, there I said it) how much we are manipulated to not act in our own best interest, or for even the collective good (whatever shape that may take) but rather to act in the service of someone Else’s agenda.

    reading your blog and reading the stories of your commentators have hit an emotional chord with me. I have committed myself to clean eating and exercising regularly whenever my rigorous schooling permits, and I am still sad that the weight does not come off like it used to.

    consequently, I am tired of putting my life on hold to feel like the person I should be, and your blog has helped me realize that not only do I have to be conscious but to be a fighter as well.

    thank you!

  28. This. Is. Fucking. BRILLIANT.

    Seriously, slow clapping from behind my computer screen right now.

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