New Fat City

Bad DoctorReader Abby let me know that Karen Hitchcock is a doctor, and I mean that only in the strictest definition that she completed medical school, not the she is someone to whom anyone should turn for actual professional medical care.  She has penned a piece for The Monthly, called Fat City – What Can Stop Obesity.  It is a tribute to bigotry, poor science, and perhaps the old adage that the person who graduates last in their med school class is still called “doctor.”  Trigger Warning:  the article is truly awful and I will not link to it.  Her quotes are indented, you can skip them if you haven’t banked enough sanity points this week. Also, if you have trouble picking up on sarcasm this post is going to give you a bit of trouble.

I think the phrase that best encapsulates the multitude of issues with the article is this one:

I have moments of clarity – I think of the way Emily ate – and obesity seems simple: more in than out. Then I am engulfed once again by the high science of genetics, by the concept that obesity is a disease.

Nothing says “medical professional” quite like ignoring science and just assuming that if you know one person you can extrapolate a treatment plan for a population of millions.  Not to mention that Emily was a fat person who, in “doctor” Hitchcock’s estimation, ate a lot- at no point are we told that she ate less and lost weight.  So Hitchcock isn’t creating a treatment protocol based on one successful case, she’s basing it on someone who never tried the protocol.  But who needs pesky science? Let’s just cut off all this ridiculous money for medical research and get one of each person who shares a single physical characteristic.  Treating a brunette?  There’s an app for that.  Not to mention that we’ve been giving fat people the same advice for 2500 years and it’s never worked but don’t worry about it because we have Karen Hitchcock and Emily.

So is fatness a doctor’s problem? Studies show that verbal interventions during an episode of serious acute illness can result in a change in behaviour – people quit smoking, cut down on their drinking and sometimes lose weight. But usually counselling people to lose weight is hopeless.

You know what else doesn’t work – counseling people with joint problems to fly.  Don’t they know how much better their joints would feel if they would just fly?  Sure there’s no study that shows that it’s possible, but I think we should blame the people with joint pain both for their joint pain and for their lack of flying.  These people just refuse to respond to treatment.

Is fat inherently ugly? Ask Aristotle, Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolf.

Why would I do that?  Why do these three people get to decide what beauty is? Why don’t we ask Maya Angelou, Peter Paul Reubens, and me (hey, if we’re just picking random people I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.)

Today when we look at those who are thin, part of what we see is a triumph of will over gluttony, so the beauty is a moral beauty; it has little to do with health.that also doesn’t make it true.

It also has little to do with reality.  The fact that we’ve made body size about morality doesn’t make it true.

Obesity is bad because it causes disease

Obesity is correlated with diseases which, if “doctor”Hitchcock had managed to stay awake during class, she would know is not the same as causation.  (Many studies have shown that habits, and not body size, are a much better determinant of future health, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)  Obesity is, in fact, correlated with with almost all the sames diseases with which being under stress over a long period of time is correlated.  Unlike Dr. Hitchcock in her article, I’m going to go ahead and cite some of that high science of which she is so dismissive.  Research by Peter Muennig at Columbia University found that “Obese persons experience a high degree of stress, and this stress plausibly explains a portion of the BMI-health association. Thus, the obesity epidemic may, in part, be driven by social constructs surrounding body image norms.”  Driven, for example, by doctors who write articles like this.

Fat men and women make less money, marry less often and are less educated than the lean. They are more often depressed.

And if you think that the solution to that is changing fat people, and not changing the society that stigmatizes them, then you are working the wrong end of the problem.

If you quit smoking and get fat, you may as well have kept on smoking.

Please stop being a doctor now, you have no business practicing medicine.  Her suggestion here is that the life expectancy is similar but she doesn’t define “fat” nor does she mention that studies show that overweight people live longer than their thin peers

Prescribe exercise? Walk for an hour at an average pace and you’ll only burn off the equivalent of one slice of bread.

Seriously, please find another profession because you are unbelievably incompetent.  There is literally a MOUNTAIN of evidence showing how about  30 minutes of movement a day 5 days a week has tremendous health benefits.  This is what happens when we substitute body size for health, and caloric intake for healthy habits and ignore research in favor of “The Emily Diet”

Matheson, et al:  Healthy, Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals

“Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of baseline body mass index.”

Steven Blair – Cooper Institute

“We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and in men, and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity, it’s the fitness.”

Glenn Gaesser – Obesity, Health, and Metabolic Fitness

“no measure of body weight or body fat was related to the degree of coronary vessel disease. The obesity-heart disease link is just not well supported by the scientific and medical literature…Body weight, and even body fat for that matter, do not tell us nearly as much about our health as lifestyle factors, such as exercise and the foods we eat…total cholesterol levels returned to their original levels–despite absolutely no change in body weight–requiring the researchers to conclude that the fat content of the diet, not weight change, was responsible for the changes in cholesterol levels.”

Paffenbarger et. al. Physical Mortality:  All Cause Mortality, and Longevity of College Alumni

“With or without consideration of …extremes or gains in body weight…alumni mortality rates were significantly lower among the physically active.”

Wei et. al. Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men

I wish you could get really fat and stay healthy. I wish you could get morbidly obese and be considered beautiful. Maybe it will change with time, as we all become enormous, and we’ll look back on the skinny-is-beautiful era with distaste, regarding high cheekbones, defined jaws and long sculptured thighs as skeletal and ugly.

You don’t have to wish angel, there are plenty of healthy fat people, and everyone is beautiful if you just learn to see it.  But as long as we’re making wishes, I wish we didn’t act like seeing the beauty in fat people means diminishing the beauty that we see in those who are not fat.  I wish doctors would treat actual health instead of body size and quit adding to the stigma and shame that fat people face by also giving us lazy, incompetent medical care.  I wish they would understand that Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors. Health is not an obligation, nor is it a barometer of worthiness. Nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,” and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health. Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. Public health should be about providing access and information, not making the individual’s health the public’s business.  People who have health issues should be given shame-free, future oriented options for care and accommodation as they wish, not judged or asked to prove that their health issues are not their fault.”

This year I started work as the physician in an obesity clinic with a group of bariatric surgeons.

Well, that’s absolutely terrifying.

The attempt to help people lose weight is generally seen as one of the most futile acts we as doctors of internal medicine can perform: pretty much all we can do is make you feel crappier about yourself than you already do.

This is half true. There isn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of participants have successfully lost weight long term and doing the same things that those studies did is likely to lead to the same failure.  I don’t feel crappy about myself at all and you won’t be able to make me, but there are certainly plenty of fat people who have been beaten down by the type of stigma and stereotype with which this article is laced. You have a choice – if you would  practice from a Health at Every Size perspective research shows that you would help people become healthier and increase their self-esteem. Why not give that the old college try?

I once attended a hospital lecture on the genetic determinants of obesity delivered by a specialist physician. The doctor giving the talk was very fat. As he went on, his face got red and stains of sweat spread from his armpits. Obesity is genetic, he argued, wiping his brow

Wow, way to keep your eye on the ball there, that explains why you did not seem to learn anything from the presentation.  If, god forbid, you are ever asked to give a talk like this you will find that it’s hot under those lights and giving a talk, at least a good one, is a physical endeavor.  I have been part of conversations with very thin speakers, some of whom are physical fitness professionals, who were discussing how to deal with sweat on stage.  Also, there’s a word for using the way someone looks to discredit what they say, and that word is bigotry.

Throughout the piece she goes from saying horrible things about fat people…

Emily was white and loud and the fattest person I had ever seen outside a caravan park.

To acting like she’s the victim for having to say them…

Globally, we are carrying 18.5 million tonnes of excess fat under the skin of the overweight and obese, which – if it were still food rather than adipose tissue  – would feed 300 million people for life. Fat people have been compared to petrol-guzzling cars. I feel terrible typing these sentences. I apologise; they are ugly.

You know what’s better than apologizing?  Not saying ridiculous, inflammatory, stigmatizing things with no evidence basis to begin with. Not repeating ridiculous inflammatory statements.  Adding something to the discourse on global hunger slightly more sophisticated than my mother’s admonition that I should eat all my broccoli because kids are starving elsewhere in the world.  Not taking a group of people who are identifiable by sight and then trying to calculate their cost on society in support of their eradication.

The pro-fat bloggers are smart, sassy and pissed off. I’d hang out with them. Yet, if they could click their fingers and be thin, would they?

No, you wouldn’t, at least not with this blogger.  And no, I wouldn’t.  When I say that I love and cherish my body, I don’t mean “I guess if I can’t have a thin body I’ll just like this one.”  I love my body and I entrust my health to that high science of research that you are so willing to eschew for a treatment program that didn’t worked for one person one time.  Since you doctors have no good options that are likely to make fat people thinner, I’m also very glad that I can model the option of falling in love with the bodies that we have, and give people like you an opportunity to question their stereotypes.

This isn’t a complete discussion of the piece because, as science is to Dr. Hitchock’s medical practice, so brevity is to her writing.  The piece is interminable and packed with prejudice, assumption, stereotype, bigotry, and a devil may care attitude toward science that I find seriously disturbing in someone claiming to be a medical professional.  Let me end with this bit of research from Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer “In a study of over 620 primary care physicians, >50% viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant. One-third of the sample further characterized obese patients as weak-willed, sloppy, and lazy.”

Welcome to the club Dr. Hitchcock, I wish you weren’t such a proud member. Especially since people are going to come to your clinic in the hope of getting compassionate, competent, evidence-based medical care and instead they’ll get you.

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Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 10:07 am  Comments (64)  

Target Market My (Fat) Ass

wtfplus:the completed plus size clothing bingo card.Bingo! BINGO! BIN-GO!!!!

From the fabulous WTF, Plus Size Clothing Manufacturers http://wtfplus.tumblr.com/

I was on Alberta Primetime last week to discuss “target marketing” from the springboard of the Abercrombie and Fitch issue (video below).  I’ve heard plenty of excuses and justifications for why companies don’t choose to make clothes in plus sizes.  In this segment one of the things that kept coming up was that stores have to target their marketing and therefore excluding plus sized people is completely normal and justifiable part of marketing strategy.

First of all, saying “we want to target our marketing” is not the same thing as saying “we want to make it impossible for people who look a certain way to wear our clothing.”  You can have a target market that is based on the aesthetic that the customer is looking for (what the customer wants to buy), rather than the aesthetic of the customer (what the customer looks like).  So a store can make clothes in a wide variety of sizes and then market those clothes to people who are interested in a “preppy” look, or a “goth” look, more classic or more modern etc.  I learned about a company today that sells Victorian style couture gowns up to a size 28 (and gives a portion of their proceeds to bulldog rescue!)  They’ve got a couple target markets – people who enjoy Victorian style clothes, and people who are interested in bulldog rescue, and they didn’t have to discriminate based on size at all.

I was also asked if stores that only sell plus-sized clothing should be accused of the same type of discrimination.  If considered technically and in a vacuum, I suppose it’s possible.  But based on the actual reality of the current culture, I think it’s a derailing and basically indefensible position to take.  When you realize that, as things are, I can be in a huge mall in LA and not find a single piece of clothing in my size, it seems ridiculous to begrudge me the few stores that do sell clothes that fit me.  Those stores aren’t discriminating because they don’t want thin people in their clothes, indeed most of their clothes mimic those already available in straight sizes, these stores fill a gap so that fat people don’t all have to learn to sew or make our lives into some sort of endless toga party.

“People who wear Catherine’s Brand are just cooler than everyone else!” said nobody ever.  Fat people aren’t asking for specialty stores, we just want some clothes that we like and that cover us at least as the law requires.  Unfortunately we often have to settle for only the latter, and the only place many of us can get these clothes is specialty stores (and for some fatties plus-sized stores don’t carry their sizes and they have to order online or from catalogs) because all the other clothing stores just happen to have chosen to “target market” by making sure that people who look like us can’t wear their clothes.

I think that the fashion industry has long taken advantage of how easy it is to discriminate against fat people by simply not making clothes to fit us, and acting as if that’s simply an aesthetic choice and not a discriminatory one.  I would love to see fashion become about personal expression rather than defining who is cool and who is not (are we seriously adults still trying to be the “cool kids”, could we maybe stop doing that?), or becoming a way to tear each other down (Who has that kind of free time?  If I ever find myself with enough time to sit around and judge other people for their clothing choices,  I will immediately volunteer somewhere.)

There are some signs of positive change in the fashion world right now.  H&M used a “plus-size” model to advertise their swimsuit collection, some Cornell students created a plus-size dress form that actually makes sense, and the “fatkini” sold out in record time which, though not without its problems, gives a real word example of what happens when designers make clothes that plus size women want to wear  (rather than clothes that the rest of the fashion world thinks plus size women “should” wear.)

As a fat person I know that I’m the target market for all kinds of crap I don’t want, courtesy of conferences like “Marketing to the Overweight American,” Since I’m not paying money to these companies that want to sell me diets or stomach amputation, I have some money just waiting to spend on a store that chooses to target their marketing to the aesthetic I’m looking for, rather than trying to score “cool points” by specifically not making clothes to fit me and then encouraging their customers to see the fact that they can get clothes that I can’t as some kind of status symbol.  I guess I’m saying that I wish that particular segment of the fashion world would stop delighting in the fact that they act like junior high school bullies, using justifications that are thinner than that cute gauzy top I can’t get in my size.

You can check out the Alberta Primetime Interview here.

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

Published in: on May 28, 2013 at 11:04 am  Comments (22)  

Enough Already

enoughI think that one of the most damaging, despicable and erroneous messages that the diet industry uses to sell us their products that don’t work, is that unless we’re thin, we will never be enough.  Our lives will never be enough, our accomplishments will never be enough.

Sure you won a Grammy for your first CD and an Oscar for your first film, but are you thin?  You’re the governor of a state and people want you to run for President, but are you thin? You’re thin now so we expect you to maintain that obsessively so that you are never not thin.  You eat nourishing foods and move your body regularly, but are you thin? You’re a great mother but are you thin?  You’re a successful business person but are you thin? You’re 4 years old but are you thin? You’re 94 years old but are you thin? You cured cancer but are you thin?

Enough already.

Let’s take a moment to consider that this is an artificial construct.  That being thin is only valuable because of what our culture values at this time.  The body size that is culturally valuable has been different at different times, and currently varies tremendously in different cultures and under different circumstances.

Let’s also be honest that if our body doesn’t match the ideal body for the culture and time in which we live, that can well and truly suck. We have some options:  we can try to change our bodies, we can try to change the culture, or we can live outside it (somewhere on the spectrum from deliriously happy to miserable).  But I’d like us to consider something.  Consider that doing any of those things doesn’t change one simple thing:  We are, each of us, already enough. Our intrinsic value is already beyond measure and, though we can forget that or try to profess it away, our inherent amazingness cannot be diminished by an arbitrary cultural stereotype of beauty, or an industry that seeks to make us hate ourselves so that we buy their useless products.

Consider that we are not more valuable if there is less of us, or less valuable if there is more of us.

Imagine what our society would be like if we realized the value of all bodies.  If we expanded the concept of beautiful people to include everyone, thus rendering it both ultimately powerful, and completely powerless. Imagine how different our lives would be if we understood that comparing our body to anyone else’s is complete folly- as ridiculous as looking at two snowflakes and suggesting that one is more beautiful.

How would our lives be different, how would we use our time, energy, and money if we realized this one simple truth:  We are enough already.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

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

Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 10:09 am  Comments (17)  

After the Victory – Part 2

victoryI blogged yesterday about the tendency of quelling celebration after activism victories because there is more to be done.  Today I want to talk about what happened was the response to an article I wrote for iVillage about the two bullshit “apologies” that Abercrombie and Fitch have offered regarding their CEO’s comment regarding their lack of plus-sized clothes saying “We go after the attractive all-American kid… A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary, absolutely.”

Both apologizes are tributes to political doublespeak and obfuscation including this absolute gem from the CEO himself: “I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense”  Right, I feel so much better right now (sarcasm meter- 1o out of 10)

In discussing the situation several people said something to the effect that even if A&F started making plus sized clothes they would never, ever buy anything from them because they didn’t want to make plus-sizes in the first place.  A similar thing happened when I talked about trying out Southwest Airline’s new policy. and people suggested that no matter what their new policy is, their previous poor treatment of fat passengers was so egregious that we should never patronize them again.

I absolutely understand this, I struggled with it when I was considering flying Southwest, and it was really difficult for me to pay Southwest money.  Ultimately the reason I did was that I felt like we had asked them to make things better for fat flyers and in response they made things better for fat flyers.  If  my response to that was “sorry but it will never be enough to make up for what you did and I will never buy your product” then what incentive do companies have to respond to my requests/demands/activism?

I think that this is tricky and I’m not suggesting that everyone has to go out and buy things from companies they find despicable (and lord knows that A&F have more issues than just their poor treatment of fat folk,) I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do at all, but I do think this is worth discussion.  If a company hears our concerns/request/demands and responds to them by making the changes we asked for, and is then told that because of what they did in the past we will never patronize them regardless, then it seems that we may be training activism targets to ignore us or even be more aggressively hostile, and that it might have been better just to try to put them out of business instead of asking them to change.

If, for example, a petition or e-mail campaign results in desired changes, it seems to me that it would be a good idea to have a second quick campaign thanking the company for making the changes.  Even if we think it’s something that they should have done all along, from an outcome-based standpoint a little thank you can mean that we get the changes and gain an ally instead of a begrudging change and bitter possible future adversary.

So if we make requests of a company, the company makes the changes, and then we give them a second chance and our business, maybe we train businesses that there are rewards for responding to our requests?  As usual I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s an interesting question.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

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The 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

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 9:35 am  Comments (4)  

After the Victory – Part 1

CelebrateA couple things have happened today that have made me thing about what happens after an activism victory.  I’ll talk about one today, and the other tomorrow.  (My first 2 part post, I’m pretty excited!)  I posted on Facebook about how excited I am that the Boy Scouts of America voted to end their ban on gay scouts, and congratulating the activists who made it happen.  Immediately people replied that there is still a ban on gay leaders and that this victory isn’t enough.

I see this happen with all kinds of activism victories.  I won’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that when I’ve just been part of an activism project that has had a success, this response is far more disheartening than a million trolls calling me a “fat cnut landwale.”  There is always a next step, there is always more work to do, but I don’t believe that means that we shouldn’t take time and space to celebrate our victories. While I understand that many of the people who do this have positive intentions, and of course I don’t deny that people are allowed to do it, I’m not convinced that pointing out that a hard fought victory  is “not enough” before the ink dries helps to encourage future activism  – though perhaps that’s not the goal. I’m not against discussion of what more there is to do,  I’m just not certain that the most productive time for that discussion is in the minutes following a victory.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in some large-ish scale long term projects and to talk to people who have been involved in many more than I, and what I learned from my experience and from the people who mentored me is that activism like this can be absolutely gut wrenching – full of bumps in the road, hope dashed by bitter disappointment, desperate stories from people who tell you that they are counting on you to make things better.  Out of a 1,000 day campaign, it’s possible that day 1,000 is a partial victory, but every single other day was a battle  – not even necessarily with those whose policies/minds you hope to change, but also with yourself not to give up in the face of seriously stacked odds and naysayers (just as there are people who rush to tell activists that our victories aren’t enough, there are those who tell us at the outset and every possible opportunity that our activism is doomed to failure, nothing ever changes etc.).

As an activist it is always possible to look back see your entire life as a series of projects and victories that were never enough – for me that certainly doesn’t encourage continued work, and I’ve not seen it inspire others to activism.  So to take away the celebration when we win a battle, just because there are more battles to fight, seems like an absolute shame and counter productive to me, but of course that’s just my opinion.

Fat activism has had plenty of amazing victories so far and we’re going to have plenty more, so I think we might as well talk about what happens after we win.

On the News!

I’ll be on Alberta Primetime at 12:30pm Pacific Time today (5/24/13) with a panel to discuss the Abercrombie and Fitch situation and what we think will happen in the future.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

The 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

Published in: on May 24, 2013 at 9:34 am  Comments (16)  

But Not Too Big

Photo by Richard Sabel

Photo by Richard Sabel

I did a segment on HuffPost live today called “Too Big to Dance?”  The segment was great but there was just one problem, I had final thoughts I wanted to give and, as is wont to happen in these situation, time ran out.  But what is the point of having a blog but to prattle on long after they’ve turned off your mic?  Before I get into it I just want to thank HuffPost Live for continuing to create spaces for this type of discussion- I’ve been on before but this time I was in studio and it was an absolute blast.  Nancy Redd is a talented and super gracious host (which helps because I’m a total dork), Camille and Vanessa who produced the segment were amazing, the crew rocked and the panel was fantastic – Glenna Cush from Shimmy Sista  provides plus size clothes for belly dancers, bad ass pole dancer/instructor Roz Mays, and dance writer Lauren Warnecke.  So, here are my final thoughts:

First, the idea that people don’t want to see a fat dancer as Giselle (or at all).  There is a word for saying that we don’t want people to get jobs because of how they look, and that word is bigotry.  The dance world tends to act as if bigotry is ok because that’s just how dance is, or claim they won’t sell tickets if they use dancers with “non-traditional” bodies.  First of all, neither of those things change the fact that this is bigotry, and neither mean that bigotry can’t be challenged. Also, I’m not sure that the ticket sale idea is based on good evidence, and even if it’s true that doesn’t mean that it’s ok – people may want bigotry but that doesn’t mean we have to give them what they want.  Also, let’s remember that the fact that we only ever see thin bodies dancing trains us to think that fat bodies look “wrong” and the only way to fix that situation is to put fat bodies out there. Risk is the currency of revolution and I think it’s time for the dance world to start paying up.

I really liked a lot of what Laura said, but I must take exception to her assertion that “severely overweight” dancers shouldn’t dance en pointe. First let’s talk about calling bodies “severely overweight.”  As I am Type 3, Super Obese at 5’4 and nearly 300 pounds, I assume that I would find myself firmly in that category, and I protest mightily.  Over what weight?  People come in different sizes and shapes, this is the size that I come in.  And while I am sorry for the difficult journey that Laura has had, and very happy to hear that she is finding a path to peace with her body as a dancer, I think in this comment she missed the point of the whole segment a little bit.  The point being: don’t assume that there is something wrong with fat dancers because of our size, and don’t tell us what we can and can’t do.

Tatyana Gladkaya from Big Ballet Russia (Thanks to reader Ras for finding her name!)

In general I think we’ll do best to avoid the “big, but not too big” language that I sometimes hear in discussions like this, suggesting that loving and appreciating your body and using it in ways that you enjoy has a size limit.  No, no, no, no, seriously no, not even for “really fat” people.

While we’re at it, I would love to see an end to the “as long as they’re healthy” dialog.  First because often “healthy” is a euphemism for “not too fat” and second because, even if they actually mean healthy that is very deeply problematic.  It’s not that I think we shouldn’t discuss health at all, I do take exception to making health a barrier to entry or barometer of worthiness.  Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors.  Health is not an obligation – nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,”  and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health.  Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. I don’t think that people are allowed to dance “as long as they’re healthy,”  I think that, with the exception of movement restrictions for actual health issues, people are allowed to dance, period.  Of course that goes for any activity.

Finally I want to address how important I believe it is for fathletes to be visible.  Not just us making the choice to be out there, but venues like Huffpost Live giving us air time.  As we’ve discussed before, the absolutely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity” (as if someone will watch me dance and think “I wish I could dance that way, I guess the first step is to get to 300 pounds) means that fat people, including fat kids, don’t have role models who look like them doing the things that they want to do.  So they often assume that means that those things are impossible for all fat people.  I get e-mails all the time from fat people who wanted to try dancing  but never tried because they thought they couldn’t at their size.  Obviously every fat person can’t do what every fat athlete can do – but neither can every thin person.  The problem here is that when someone says that showing fat people as anything other than miserable is “promoting obesity,” they are actually saying that we should give fat people the message that they should do nothing with their lives but try to lose weight because there is no hope for their happiness until they are thin.  They are consciously choosing to withhold hope from fat people, and I believe that withholding hope is a crime and should be punishable.

Fat dancers are here, we are here to stay, and we will not stop until we get the opportunities that we deserve.

Follow Up

On the show I mentioned the Fat Fatties Forum.  If you want to see some amazing representations of fathletes, you can check out the photo and video galleries at www.fitfatties.com.  It’s completely free to join and use and is a space for people of all sizes who want to discuss fitness at all levels from a Health at Every Size perspective.

The picture they showed of me in the splits was taken by the incredible Substantia Jones for The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)

Update:

My dance classes are now (finally!)  available for download, and not just DVDs, and they even have their own website! 

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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

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

Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm  Comments (41)  

Taking the Fat Out of NAAFA?

NametagThe National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in 1969 and bills itself as “North America’s oldest civil rights organization working to end size discrimination.”  It seems that they are considering a name change.

I received a copy of their May newsletter which read:

Life comes with very few guarantees but one of those is that things are going to change. Those of us who have been around for a while have seen tremendous evolution in our world. NAAFA has evolved to its present form in response to the changes in the world. Whether as an individual or as an organization, we must continue to evolve if we are to survive and thrive.

Over the course of its lifetime, NAAFA has undergone name changes in order to better communicate its purpose and goal. This is not a new idea but we believe that it is an idea whose time has come again.

NAAFA’s message is often obscured by the reaction of the public to the name National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Illustrating this point are the many rude and obnoxious comments following news articles online in which the organization is quoted. Many members refuse to read these comments because it consumes too many “sanity points” to do so.

With the pressure of society to demonize fat, organizations don’t look at common goals and interests, and disregard NAAFA’s requests for alliance because of our name. NAAFA needs to develop alliances and garner support of other organizations in order to further our goals in the civil rights and social justice arenas. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and believe this problem will resolve itself. For us to affect change, we must be taken seriously.

NAAFA recently entered into an agreement with a public relations firm to seek corporate sponsorship for NAAFA’s annual convention and on-going programs. Sadly, its efforts were fruitless and, in most cases, the corporations indicated their objection, not to the mission, but to our organization’s name. This firm has recommended swift action to change the name of NAAFA.

Our mission is EQUALITY AT EVERY SIZE. The NAAFA Board of Directors believes that it is important that the organization’s name reflect its mission and goal. What do you think? pr@naafa.org

They’ve asked for thoughts, here are mine:

Full disclosure – I feel like I have a positive, if slightly complicated, relationship with NAAFA that I want to be open and transparent about.  There are amazing people in NAAFA doing excellent work and I appreciate them and respect what they do. The organization was very helpful with the Georgia Billboard Project and other projects that I’ve been involved with, and I was a super workshop speaker at last year’s NAAFA convention.  That said, I choose not to be a member of NAAFA predominantly because of the decision of the board not to hold elections at the National level.  Their chapters are required to have yearly elections and term limits, but the National Board has neither, describing themselves as member funded and board run.

While they are, of course, allowed to run the organization like this, I just don’t personally want to pay membership dues and lend my name to an organization where I have no direct way to influence policies, decisions, leadership etc., and where the National leaders don’t hold themselves to the best practices that they demand from local chapters.  Obviously the fact that it doesn’t work for me doesn’t make it wrong and I don’t expect that every organization will comport itself to my liking, and while I don’t want to be a member at this time, I do very much want to see NAAFA survive and succeed and I think that this name decision is an important one, which is why I wanted to write about it.

Mine is just one opinion and I sincerely appreciate their invitation to share thoughts before they make this major decision.   Remember that they are currently giving everyone a chance to share their thoughts about the name change at pr@naafa.org

As far as the name change, I’m a bit confused about the reason.  Are they trying to stop rude and obnoxious comments?  Is it because they want corporate money?  Or is it that organizations truly don’t want to work with them because they have fat in the name? Or maybe all three?  Let’s take them one by one:

As someone who runs websites for DancesWithFat, More Cabaret, the Size Diversity Task Force, I can tell you that, in my experience, any attempt at suggesting that fat people should be treated with basic human decency will meet with “rude and obnoxious comments” whether or not you actually use the word fat, so I’m not sure that a name change will do anything about that – for that you need to call the jackass whisperer and, try as I might, I can’t find the number.

If they are looking for corporate money I would suggest that, from my perspective based on what I read in the newsletter (and there may be information I don’t have here),  it seems that they hired a PR firm which was completely unsuccessful, who then blamed their lack of success on the name of the organization, and recommended a name change.  If that’s the case and if it were me, I would be leery of making failed salespeople into branding consultants, and might suggest that it could be worth it to try another PR firm.

If the concern is that other organizations won’t work with them because the word fat is in the name and, as they say “we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and believe this problem will resolve itself. For us to affect change, we must be taken seriously” then there are tough choices to be made.  I don’t think anyone’s asking them to bury their heads in the sand and I appreciate the difficult situation they are in,  but I also don’t think that “taken seriously” is the same thing as “backed down based on outside pressure”.  There is a choice here as to whether the name issue is, in and of itself, an opportunity for activism; or if it’s better to change the name in the hopes of gaining cooperation from organizations who would otherwise refuse to work with NAAFA because of their chosen identity.  Both are legitimate choices depending on goals, but I personally hope that they at least have the guarantee of that cooperation before making such a sacrifice –  it would be a shame to change the name only to be given another excuse as to why cooperation isn’t possible.

The NAAFA Constitution states

We choose to use the word fat to describe ourselves in order to remove the negative connotations normally associated with larger-than-average body size.
So I wonder how this name change would affect that sentiment?  It’s not that the strategy might not work, but I am concerned about the statement it makes – that we started out specifically reclaiming the word fat, but are now disavowing it. Are we to understand that they are suggesting that members do the same thing – that as a community we should stop calling ourselves fat because people and corporations may not like it?  Or is this just for the organization and not for its members? That said, there are people who would qualify as “fat” based on many definitions but do not choose to identify with the word, should we choose a path that gives them more opportunities to embrace a fat identity and remove the negative connotations, or change the name to bring down the barrier?
I fully acknowledge that it’s a difficult decision.  I do believe that there is a case to be made for inclusive language.  I was one of many people involved in naming the Size Diversity Task Force and we were specifically looking for a name that acknowledged that fat-phobia hurts us all and that spoke to not only fat-identified people, but also those who want to fight for justice in this arena who don’t identify as fat.  I was also involved in naming the Fit Fatties Forum and, though we are open to people of all sizes, we specifically chose to use the word fat because we wanted to claim a fat space in the fitness world.  Both decisions were cheered by some and criticized by others, none of whom were wrong. I empathize with the Board in that, whatever decision they make, they will meet with both support and criticism.
My concern here isn’t so much about a name, it’s about a name change.  They mentioned in the newsletter that there have been name changes  – the original name I found was the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, so it seems to me like it has been tied to the word “fat” since the beginning, and I am concerned about what it says that such an old and prestigious organization would makes a conscious, deliberate, and public move away from identifying as fat.  I wonder if they might end up trading criticisms – from being criticized for choosing a reclaiming identity, to being criticized for disavowing a reclaiming identity, thus making it a wash in the end.
Of course there pros and cons to either choice, and I obviously don’t have all the answers, I’m just trying to think it through.  If it were my decision, I don’t think that I would do it.  I don’t believe that corporate cooperation is worth disavowing a fat identity.  But then, identifying as fat is important to me and I recognize that it’s not important to everyone.   These are just my thoughts, if you want the NAAFA board to hear yours, remember that you can send your feedback to pr@naafa.org   In the meantime I wish the NAAFA board the best of luck and the greatest success in this and all of the work they do.
Update: 6/14/13
The leader of NAAFA was quoted in the media saying “The reason the word ‘fat’ was kept in the structure of our communications was it was an attempt to reclaim the word so it wasn’t seen as a bad word. Unfortunately, that part of the media war has been lost.” I don’t care what name NAAFA chooses, I am very concerned  that their leader seems to think that because they didn’t get something done “the battle is lost.” It’s fine if they aren’t up to this fight, I don’t think they are obligated to fight it. I just think it’s important that they be clear that just because they couldn’t get it done, or no longer want to try, doesn’t mean “the battle is lost”.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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

Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

Published in: on May 21, 2013 at 10:43 am  Comments (29)  

Seeing My Body as Separate

Photo by Richard Sabel

Photo by Richard Sabel

I often talk about my body and me being a team. Often people ask why, and sometimes they let me know that it bothers them because they like to think of themselves as an integrated whole.  First, of course however you view yourself and your body is totally fine The Underpants Rule absolutely applies here.  Thinking of my body as separate is actually the result of a conscious choice for me.

If you are a regular blog reader you may remember that my journey to body love started with my decision that, not matter what it took, I was going to learn to love myself as I was.  At that point I wasn’t able to see that my body was beautiful, and it felt disingenuous to say that I did, so I was looking for ways to shift the way I felt about my body.  As part of that journey, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I treated my body and why.  One day I was sitting in my mechanic’s waiting area as my car got an oil change.  I realized that I treated my car way better than my body. Unlike my body, I always took my car in for preventative maintenance and necessary repairs, and I would never have given it a fraction of the fuel it needed and then become angry when it stopped working.

I also realized that I treated my friends way better than I treated my body.  If I got into an accident and a friend had to do everything for me, I couldn’t even imagine responding to that by spending all of my time berating them for how they look.  But that’s how I was treating my body every day.

So I made a conscious decision to try treating my body at least as well as I treated my car, and preferably like I would treat a close friend – which meant that I would love it regardless of how it looked, take care of it, and defend it from detractors.  I decided to treat my body like a partner in everything that I do, rather than treating it like an adversary.  The first thing that helped me do was take the last steps away from my diet mentality as starving my body by feeding it less food than it needs to survive in the hopes that it would eat itself and become smaller was no longer an acceptable way to treat my body.

That, along with a shift in focus to appreciating all the things that my body did for me, helped me become motivated to take really good care of my body, to appreciate what my body did for me, and to decide that, even if I didn’t love the way it looked, my body was still amazing and deserving of love, respect, and excellent care.  I would later learn to love the way my body looks – actually, it would be more truthful to say that I unlearned the idea that there was something wrong with how my body looked – but for me that was the icing on the self-esteem cake.

I continue to think of my body as an incredible friend and partner because it works for me to think about it like that.  Of course that’s not better or worse than thinking of myself as an integrated whole and, as always, your mileage may vary.  For me, seeing my body as separate helps me to see my body as worthy of love, respect and excellent care.  It helps me remember that my body deserves nothing less than my unconditional love and full-throated support. It helps me respect my bodies boundaries when it comes to sickness or injury. It helps me be in a place of peace and love and joy with my body, a place that – before I started to think of my body this way – seemed like somewhere I could never get, and now is somewhere that I never want to leave.

Two Cool Upcoming Events!

The Size Diversity Task Force retreat is open for registration.  We’re going to Vegas in October! It is designed to be a fun, laid back weekend with a couple workshops and group activities, and a whole lot of hanging out with fun and fabulous fatties and friends.  Registration is just $35 and includes a one-year membership to SDTF, snacks, casual lunches, beverages throughout the weekend, as well as the workshops/group activities during the day on Saturday.  The hotel has amazing deals and scholarships are available.  Check out all the details here!

In November, I’ll be keynoting the Abundia Conference!  This fantastic conference takes place near Chicago and the focus will be “Finding Joy in Your Body” I’ll be giving talks, workshops, even dance classes and hopefully hanging out with super cool people and meeting my awesome blog readers in person!

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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

Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 10:23 am  Comments (21)  

The Right to Discriminate?

Dream WorldThe recent Ambercrombie and Fitch dust-up has brought up some common issues faced by activists.  The minute we point out corporate behavior that is discriminatory, someone pipes up that corporations have a right to discriminate. Of course, that is not the point.

When someone engages in activism against discriminatory practices we’re rarely arguing whether or not someone has the legal right to do the thing (though it’s very often a legitimate question and this type of activism is valuable), we’re typically questioning whether it’s ok with us that they are doing it and, if not, what we want to do about it.

Whenever an activist says “This corporation’s practices are discriminatory and that’s wrong,”  someone always feels like the definitive and final answer to the concern is to say “It’s legal for them to discriminate in that way .”  To which I would like to say “Dude, thanks for pointing that out, because I forgot to eat my bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes this morning.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where the fact that bigotry against a group is legal constitutes a good enough reason to let it go on unchallenged.

Yes, I know it’s not illegal for a clothing store to delight in their refusal to make plus size clothes (though if a businesses’ expression of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is to take pride in discriminating against a group of people for how they look, I think they might want to rethink their use of precious freedoms.)  Regardless, I have the right to discuss that businesses choices, take action against them, and try to incite others to take action as well.  The fact that someone, somewhere can justify the behavior is not a reason for me to stop taking action against it.  If discrimination is happening, it’s highly likely that there is already a justification for it, but that doesn’t make it right or indicate that nobody should try to change it.

Clothing businesses are allowed to choose a target market and are not obligated to make clothes for everyone, but when a business’s goal is to make their brand a status symbol, then their choice to systematically exclude all people who look a certain way becomes more than a simple business decision, it becomes a purposeful creation of a second class who can’t access the “status” they provide. It becomes especially problematic when almost every business that exists in a niche makes the same “business decision.”  When a “business decision” purposefully excludes a group of people in a way that adds to the stigma already heaped upon that group of people because of how they look, then that decision deserves examination and critique.

As a fat dancer, and now training for a marathon, I find myself constantly frustrated by an industry that tells people that exercise is good for us, but seems to want fat people to do it in togas that we make out of bedsheets because god forbid a fatty be seen working out in their clothes. So they justify it by calling it a “business decision” – let’s remember that plenty of horrible wrong things had similar justifications – the existence of a justification does not indicate an absence of issues, or a lack of impetus for complaint.  Pointing out the systematic exclusion of a group, and the ways in which that increases stigma on that group is not entitlement, it’s classic civil rights action.

One thing I’ve learned about activism is that when you decide to do something, there will always be someone who insists that there is a reason why you shouldn’t do it.  In my experience, anything worth doing is worth doing despite the critics.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

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

Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

Published in: on May 18, 2013 at 7:31 am  Comments (42)  

This Self-Esteem Thing

Wrong RoadIn my recent blog post discussing what to say to girls about body image and self-esteem,  mentioned intrinsic self-esteem.  I’ve since received several questions about it so I thought I would go into more detail about it today. If self-esteem is a word that’s triggering to you, then you have both my apologies and my suggestion to try substituting self-worth or something else that works for you, the main idea here is to think about how we think of ourselves.

The theory that I’ve learned that makes the most sense to me is that there are two types of self-esteem – intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic is what we get from external feedback:

  • Roles:  We play lots of roles in life – mother, father, sister, brother, partner, volunteer, employee, boss, parent, child etc.  and how we perform in these roles can inform how we feel about ourselves
  • Social Approval:  This is about how we perform based on social conventions, stereotypes etc.
  • Third Party information: This is about what we read/hear/learn about people who are like us.

Intrinsic Self Esteem

This is our sense of our innate value We are each the only person who can determine our intrinsic self esteem – how we feel about ourselves – and part of that is deciding what factors we include in our calculations.

Many people choose to determine their intrinsic self esteem based on their extrinsic self esteem values – people are, of course, allowed to do this but it can be pretty problematic for a number of reasons.  Our performance in role values varies from day to day – even minute by minute as anyone with a toddler can attest –  so one day we might feel like we are an excellent parent, employee and friend, and the next day we might feel like we are epic failures in all three.  If we base our intrinsic self esteem on our role values we can end up on a self-worth roller coaster that isn’t necessarily that much fun.  If we base it on societal approval and third party information then we are putting our sense of self worth entirely in the hands of other people, some of whom have the very specific goal of making us feel bad so that they feel better.

Another option is to realize that we are the only person in charge of how we feel about ourselves and that, as such, we can decide that we are intrinsically amazing and that there is nothing that will ever change that. If today we were a crappy employee, parent, and friend then we are an awesome person having a bad day, or maybe even a bad year. At any given time we may be damaged goods, but we are always goods nonetheless. (Bonus points for the movie reference)

If we can keep our intrinsic sense of self esteem high, then we can handle the extrinsic blows with our head held high.  We can see ourselves as always being worthy of respect, love, and good care – and we can see that when we aren’t treated that way the issue lies with the people treating us poorly and not with us.  We shield ourselves from attacks made by those who are hoping to make themselves feel better by making us feel worse.  We can see through the lie that our belief that we are intrinsically amazing is somehow hubris or arrogance (a lie most often repeated by those who profit emotionally or monetarily from its dissemination.)

Here’s an example:  I’ve been getting a lot of troll mail lately on my post about my first official 5k.  Most failed to comprehend the post, and think that I’m claiming to be an athlete soley based on my having having walked this 5k. Of course that’s not the case and wasn’t the point of the article, but so what if I was?  When did they get to be the “Athlete Decider”?  Was there a ceremony? Was it nice?  There are plenty of people, of all sizes, for whom walking a 5k is an athletic achievement and there is nothing in the world wrong with that.  There are plenty of people, of all sizes, for whom walking to the mailbox i an athletic achievement and if they want to do a butt-shaking happy dance with their newly acquired junkmail then I’m all for that and there is no reason that anyone would be against it that doesn’t begin and end with petty animus.

Anyway,  back to the example.  I’ve received tons of comments suggesting that, not only shouldn’t I be happy that I did the 5k, but I should feel bad about myself for not running it, that I should have been kicked out for walking, that nobody should be allowed to walk these races or do anything other than what the commenter has chosen to do.  These are easily identifiable as people in two camps – those who are desperate to hold onto their stereotypes about fat people and thus have to find a way to negate fat people’s achievements/experience that don’t support their prejudice, and/or those  who are trying to increase their self-esteem by putting other people (in this case me) down.

Alas, I’m not the jackass whisperer and I can’t make these people behave like they’ve had some home training.  I do get to choose whether or not I want to fall for their crap.  I choose not.  In the end, I’m truly sorry that these people are in such a bad place but I’m not obligated, or willing, to fall on my self esteem sword to help them out of it.  I would suggest that you don’t have to either.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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

Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

Published in: on May 16, 2013 at 10:28 am  Comments (37)