Wait – Those Kids are Healthy?

By now you may have heard that the children in the Strong4Life child shaming campaign who talk about being sick and teased because of their weight are actually healthy, confident kids who happen to be large.  Recently another ad campaign showed a headless fat man with his leg amputated with pictures of crutches and soda, claiming that large fast food portions can lead to Type 2 diabetes which can lead to leg amputation. Not only does the photograph’s subject have a head, he also has both legs.  What he doesn’t have is diabetes.

Some are asking “So what? They are actors.  Actors pretend”.  The problem here is that the entire reason that these pictures are used is so that people identify with them and become fearful.  “I look like the man in the picture and I drink soda.  I’m going to have to have my leg amputated!” “My kid looks like the girl in that commercial, she’s going to get diabetes!” Kids are meant to look at those pictures and be scared that looking like that means that they have diseases. I think that we need to be very careful about instilling a fear of being fat into kids considering that hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 are up 119% over the last decade.  So these ads shame, stigmatize, and humiliate those who look like the people in the ads, and instill a fear of being fat in those who don’t.  Would those people feel differently about the ads, or about themselves if the ads told the truth “This is a healthy, happy, outgoing child who is fat” or “This is a successful, happy, healthy man who is fat”?  But there is something more insidious…

These ads send the disingenuous message to society that those of us who look like the people in the ads are sick, or going to get sick, that when we do it will be our fault, and that the way to prevent this is to shame us publicly for our perceived behaviors.  Then comes the ridiculous “won’t somebody think of my tax dollars” argument and we’re off to the races as the food police don their badges and head out.  People are encouraged to see a fatty drinking a soda, assume that we drink gallons of soda every day, and that they are going to have to pay for a leg amputation, and that this somehow makes it their business, and acceptable to “educate” us via confrontation. Because surely the best way to make people healthy is to shame, stigmatize and humiliate them at every possible opportunity.

Obviously the bottom line is that it’s not anybody else’s business what we do and that, at least in the US, your tax dollars go to pay for a plethora of things and unless you have a list of all of them divided into things that you are okpaying for and things about which you are currently engaged in an active campaign against, then you don’t even get to start this conversation with me.

But let’s be honest, they are using using healthy people to create shame, fear, and stigma around health problems those people do not have.  That’s questionable at best. Just like diet ads have to say “Results not typical” every single time they suggest that their product might work, these ads should have to have a disclaimer “actor is healthy, successful and happy at their current size”.

Very Exciting Billboard Update!!!!

Get ready for the More of Me to Love Match.  The awesome folks over at MOMTL (www.moreofmetolove.com) are supporting the billboard project with a matching donation in the amount of $5,000!  That means we only have to raise $5,000 more to put up the first size positive billboard in Atlanta! In order to qualify for the grant we just need to raise $5,000, and get 1,000 individual donors (there’s no minimum donation so every little bit really does help).  The amazing Marilyn Wann has graciously offered to send autographed copies of the Fat!So? Dayplanner to the first 10 people who donate $50-99, and autographed Fat!So? books to the first 10 people who donate $100 or more.

The Big Fat Money Bomb, which is our fundraising kickoff, is Thursday.  You can find out all of the information here.  If you want a reminder on Thursday just send me an e-mail at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and I’ll put you on the list.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Of Tongs and Truths

When I was in 6th grade I did a science fair project to simulate nuclear fission.  It involved a plexi-glass box,  100 mousetraps, ping pong balls with holes drilled in them, and  bbs of different colors.  Setting 100 moustraps and “baiting them” with bb-filled ping pong balls was becoming hard on my poor sixth grade fingers, so I devised a method that used my mother’s kitchen tongs.  As I took my project and her tongs off to the science fair she said “Don’t lose my tongs!”  I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m sure it was something like “mooooooom, why don’t you trust me to be responsible, I’ll bring back your tongs!”  The project was a big hit and won the the science fair (although the second place kid had set fire to bits of hair to test the flammability of various hair sprays so I didn’t so much have to clear the bar as just trip and fall over it.  Also, you probably shouldn’t light a match while wearing Aquanet but that’s a different story.)

I lost the tongs.

I don’t know how I did it or where they went.  I know that my mom freaked out.  She was so angry. Even when the anger died down I heard about it until I left for college.  And when I went to college I started shopping for myself.  And I found out that tongs cost $2.  And I called my mom and she laughed and laughed.  Based on her reaction I thought that tongs must be incredibly expensive, that I had caused my family financial hardship by losing them.  I didn’t do my own research and so I walked around for a long time under a very misinformed assumption.

That whole story is very similar to the current obesity hysteria. It started with the idea that fat is bad, and the finding that therefore making people thin could be profitable.  Then it got all blown out of proportion because people accepted the premise without really looking into it and then set forth to “prove” it with healthy doses of confirmation bias, guesses, confusing weight and health, and confusing correlation and causation, all driven by a diet industry that makes 60 Billion Dollars a year.  If we don’t do our own research its easy to believe that hype, but the truth is that tongs cost $2, and there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes and no amount of hysteria will change either of those facts.

Healthy habits give us our best chance for health, although not a guaranteed chance since health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, and not an obligation under any circumstances. I think that one of the most damaging things about the obesity hysteria is that fat people are told that healthy habits don’t “work” unless they make us thin so when people start healthy habits and don’t lose weight they quit doing things that could very well make them healthier because they don’t make them thin.  It also gives thin people the dangerous misinformation that their weight makes them healthy no matter what their habit are. We can pick ourselves up out of the pile BS that the diet industry and the obesity hysteria have created and make informed choices for ourselves.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Grading on a Big Fat Curve

Pierre Dukan is a French diet guru.  He thinks that, in their last two years of high school, students should be awarded extra exam marks if they maintain an acceptable Body Mass Index (BMI). He makes no mention of the vast shortcomings of BMI (including that it does not, in any way, measure health).  He makes no mention of what would happen to students who are very tall or very muscular who would be punished academically for their strength and height.

He claims that it will be “a good way to sensitise teenagers to the need for a balanced diet.” I think it is just as likely that it will sensitize them to the ability to use dangerous behaviors to try to “make weight”.  It’s not like he’s suggesting an education program about a balanced diet (one that, were it evidence-based, would likely denounce the low carb high protein diet that has made Pierre millions.) He doesn’t want to measure kids’ health, or the health of their diet (which would be problematic in and of itself).  He wants weigh kids and grade them on their weight. That’s not educational, and it’s not about health, it’s punitively punishing fat kids.

Pierre says that it would not punish fat children: “There is nothing wrong with educating children about nutrition. This will not change anything for those who do not need to lose weight. For the others, it will motivate them.” It sounds an awful like what he’s saying is that it won’t punish thin kids or kids who manage to get thin.  Of course it punishes fat kids – that is the point.

Those aren’t my biggest problem with this however.  My biggest problem with this is the same as my problem with the Georgia child-shaming billboards and all of the campaigns whose goal is to end “childhood obesity”:

Where is the evidence? Where the frickity fricking frick is the evidence?

Where is the evidence that punishing fat kids with poor grades “motivates” them and makes them healthier or thinner in the short or long term?  Where is the longitudinal study with the statistically significant sample, and the controlled variables? What is he basing this on…rectal pull?

Where is the proof that nutrition education leads to kids eating more nutritiously?  Where is the proof that eating more nutritiously will make them thin?

Where is the evidence that billboards that shame kids under the guise of making their parents “aware” that they are fat lead to them becoming healthier or thinner?  Where are the studies to back up this method?

Where is the evidence that sending home a BMI report card from school will positively affect kid’s health?

Where is the damn evidence?

The current “logic” that we’re working under seems to be “Fatness is such a horrible problem that we can’t stop to prove that it’s a problem or see if our intervention will make things worse before we start solving it!”  And that’s just dumb.

I would call this a grand social experiment but it’s not.  An experiment would be way better than this.  First because they would need to get IRB approval.  This might be difficult since they’re messing with the physical and psychological health of kids. But let’s pretend that they get this approval.  They would then have to do all the scientific method stuff that’s apparently just too much trouble for these people – form a hypothesis, design an experiment, institute controls, blah blah. It’s just science, how important could it be?

But here’s the kicker: Let’s say the hypothesis was “punishing fat kids with bad grades will make them thin”.  (Now, it would probably also behoove them to prove that that making kids thin would cause them to be healthier but that’s a different deal.)  At the end of the experiment, they would evaluate the results and if kids didn’t get thin they would say “this intervention doesn’t work.  Our hypothesis was wrong.”

But that’s not what happening.  Anybody and their French brother can apparently say “I think this will work” and then treat their brainchild as if it’s a proven intervention and foist it onto children.  Then when kids don’t get thin they don’t say that the idea failed, they say that the kids failed. And that’s unacceptable.  You can file it under T for “Things that are total bullshit”

We need to stop letting people do this to kids, and while we’re at it we could stop doing it to ourselves.  There is not a single study of a weight loss method that works for more than a small fraction of participant long term, not one.  So when we don’t succeed at losing weight and we blame ourselves, it’s like putting a roast in the microwave and blaming ourselves if it doesn’t brown.  If there is absolutely no evidence that something will work (and in fact a mountain of evidence that it won’t) why would we blame ourselves when it doesn’t work for us?

We, and our kids, deserve access to evidence-based health interventions.  I believe that the burden of proof is on the person who wants to implement the intervention.  First they have to prove that there is a problem, then they have to prove that they can solve it, then they have to be honest about the pros/cons/side effects of the solution.  Then, and only then people get to choose if they want the solution.  You’ll notice there is no step where someone gets to force other people to implement their best guess of a health strategy.  I think if people really cared about kids health, they would take the time to find out what works before risking irreparable physical and psychological harm.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Oh the Humanity!

I talk a lot about minding our own business, today I want to talk about the opposite.

When I wrote about ways to deal with the Friends and Family Food Police at  at the holidays, I got an e-mail saying that I should just “keep my mouth shut and appreciate that they care enough about to say something”.

Um, no.  I’m not going to do that. I respect everyone’s right to handle these situations in their own way, but that’s not how I roll. To me this behavior is inappropriate and I’m not going to smile pretty and take it.  The people who are in my life must respect my choices (even if they don’t agree with them) and must treat me with the level of respect that I require. I give clear communication, set specific boundaries and consequences, and follow through.  I respect someone’s choice not to be in my life, and I will not hesitate to remove someone from my life if they aren’t able to get it together. What I won’t do is be surrounded by family and friends treating me in a way that I find inappropriate while I smile and say thanks.

When I wrote denouncing bullying behavior disguised as being for our own good, I got an e-mail saying that I should “stop worrying about the words people are saying and appreciate their intentions instead.”

I get why this makes people uncomfortable.  It’s difficult to see someone get upset with  a person who seems (or says that they are) well intentioned.  And I think that’s exactly what’s so insidious about this type of bullying.  People get to mistreat us and then side step while waving their red cape of “good intentions”.  That doesn’t work for me.  I think that we teach people how to treat us and, well meaning or not, this behavior is not appropriate treatment.

When I did a video condemning the fact that Dr. Oz, who makes MILLIONS of dollars selling weight loss, was shocked to find out that there is research that disagrees with him, I received e-mails saying that I “need to find more compassion for Dr. Oz and where he is at in his journey”.

I would have a tremendous amount of compassion if Dr. Oz admitted that he was on a journey, and had bothered to find out that there is opposition research. But he chooses to call himself an expert and tell millions of people (as a medical doctor who they trust, and for profit) to do something when he hasn’t even bothered to do a literature review.  I’m not scraping up a lot of compassion for Dr. Oz, I do have tons of compassion for the people he is so confidently and profitably lying to.

In this culture fat people deal with a whole bunch of crap and everyone has their own way to deal with it and that is totally cool, but I will not give up the option of insisting that I be treated with the level of respect that I require, and calling out fat shaming/hating/stigmatizing when I see it.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

But Did I Learn the Lesson

Wei et al. “Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men.” JAMA. 1999;282: 1547-1553

My mom was telling me a story that she heard.  Now, this is my mom and she is the best mom in the whole world, and she’s not always really focused on the details of a story so feel free to consider this a parable.  Apparently there was a woman who wanted to be a model and she was told that she could make a career out of it but first she would need to lose weight.  So she started dieting which lead to an eating disorder.  She did the hard work to recover and got herself into college.  Then she got called from a modeling agency asking her to be a plus size model. But, they told her, she needed to gain weight.  She said “This was a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not?” So she told them that no, she wasn’t interested in artificially manipulating her weight to get a modeling gig.

This really struck a chord with me.  I spent a lot of my life trying to artificially manipulate my weight.  Not for a modeling career but because I allowed myself to be convinced that it was healthier, and because I wanted the social acceptance that comes with having a body size that is socially acceptable.  But it never worked, I was hospitalized for an eating disorder 15 pounds over my “healthy” weight.  So I started doing research and it turns out that weight loss almost never works for anybody.  And that my premise was half flawed and half bad choice.  The flawed part was the idea that I had to be thin to be healthy, that’s just not true. The bad choice was that I thought I should solve bullying by trying to do what the bully wanted.  Now it’s crystal clear that weight loss is not the cure for social stigma, ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma.

As I walk my fat body around the world I get all kinds of messages about how I should lose weight so that I can be healthier, or happier, more date-able or more socially acceptable (from people who have no idea about my baseline health, happiness, date-ability or social acceptability.)  And I consider each of these occasions a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  I shudder to think of the money, time, and energy I gave to the diet industry that makes over 60 Billion dollars each year selling us a product that has the opposite of the intended effect 95% of the time.

So when Weight Watchers asks me to believe that Jennifer Hudson is finally a success because she lost weight (even though she was an American Idol Finalist, Grammy Winning singer and Oscar Winning Actress when she was “fat” and now the only thing she stars in are Weight Watchers commercials) it’s a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not?  Ok, that’s an easy one.

When someone tells me that they think I’m great but they don’t date big girls, it’s a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  Do I think that it’s a good idea to date someone who only wants me if I’m different than I am now? Sure they’ll date me if I lose weight, maybe even marry me if I can keep the weight off long enough.  But what happens when time changes the superficiality of my body?

When they try to tell me that I’ll be all but immortal if I lose weight, it’s a chance to see if I learned the lesson.  Do I believe the research, or the hype?  Do I demand evidence-based treatment from my doctor or do I allow him to treat me based on the information that he got at the Allergan-sponsored seminar, or the prescription he’ll write me with the Meridia pen that he got when he played golf with his friendly neighborhood pharmaceutical rep.

When the Shape Magazine publishes its 1,153rd cover article on how I can “quickly and easily lose weight for good!” it’s a chance to see if I’ve learned the lesson.  Do I really want to support these people with my money – do I really think that the 1,153rd time is the charm?

In our thin-obsessed culture there are countless opportunities to see if I’ve learned the lessons – that thin is not the same as healthy and that every body deserves respect. The more I learn that more I’m sure that I’m on the right track this time.

If you’re looking for a little bit of activism today, might I suggest emailing the Communications Director of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to ask that she denounce the Georgia Fat-Shaming Strong4Life billboards? You can send a quick note to Mary Beth Bigley and let her know where you stand: marybeth.bigley@hhs.gov I sent my e-mail yesterday!

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Stand

Today is the Lunar New Year.  According to my friend Belinda Mendoza (who is a Feng Shui expert) arguing today is bad luck.  So no rant.  Just a question – what do you stand for?  The always amazing Marilyn Wann has come up with a brilliant campaign to inject some positivity into the Georgia Child-Shaming Billboard Debacle.  Some of the pictures are below.   Today consider putting the active in activism by getting involved with Marilyn’s Stand4Kids campaign either by sending a picture to marilyn at fatso dot com and she will create one for you (she’ll get your ok before publishing it), or passing along the pictures on Facebook or Twitter, or whatever you’re comfortable with.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Wrong Thing Opposite Direction

If you’re an avid reader of the blog you may have seen me post about this before.  But people keep doing it so I’m gonna keep talking about it.

You know how we hate it when people say that fat bodies are unattractive/not as attractive as thin bodies, or that people can tell what we eat, how much we exercise and how healthy we are based on our body size, or that all fat people are diseased, etc.?

How about we don’t do that EXACT.  SAME.  THING.  to thin people.  How about we never say again “she needs to eat a sandwich” or “real women have curves” or “you can’t be healthy when you’re that thin”.

This is not cool.  I’ve heard, and I reject, the argument that because thin people have thin privilege we can just bash them all we want.  This isn’t the Oppression Olympics – it’s not about who gets oppressed worse, it’s about nobody getting oppressed at all. And let’s remember that although they undoubtedly benefit from thin privilege, that doesn’t mean that every thin person goes looking for it.  Much of privilege is conferred and trying to tear somebody else down rarely makes our situation better.

I’m always sad when I see fat people posting cartoons on Facebook or Twitter that shame thin bodies, happily commenting “Bigger is better!” or whatever.  I think that because fat women are so beaten down, told so often that our bodies are less than, that we are just so excited when someone suggests that “bigger is better” we don’t always think it all the way through.  In truth I think bigger isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.  I think being for Size Acceptance means accepting all sizes. I think it’s best to avoid being a hypocrite of epic proportions.   I don’t believe that I can call my self a Size Acceptance advocate unless I fight as ferociously for society to recognize the beauty of flat chested women with thin boyish bodies as I do for women who look like me and everyone else.  To me Size Acceptance is about realizing that every body is beautiful, not trying to convince people that my body is better than someone else’s.

Nobody should have to live in the environment of hate and judgment in which fat people currently reside.  And that includes thin people.  Doing the wrong thing in the opposite direction is not the same as doing the right thing.

Again, I understand why people do this,  I know how fat people get treated in this society and how it hurts. But that doesn’t make it right and I hope you’ll consider 1.  Choosing to just stop body snarking altogether and 2.  Gently pointing it out when you see it.  Body stigma hurts everyone and stigma just breeds more stigma.  Why don’t we be the ones to stop it.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen