I had just finished a talk about Health at Every Size at a technology company that had requested, and received, a very data-heavy presentation. We had spent two hours going over the research around the failure of diets and the success of healthy habits and I had spent over two hours more answering questions – no, nobody is obligated to pursue health by any definition – no, health is not entirely within our control – no, there really isn’t a single study where a majority of participants moved into “normal” BMI and maintained it – yes, studies have claimed success when 70% of people dropped out and the rest averaged 2 pounds of weight lost over 2 years. Finally the engineers and computer programmers were satiated and the questions ran out.
I was packing up my things when a woman came up to me and said “I loved your presentation and I totally agree with what you said about dieting not working. I’m trying to lose weight right now but after all my dieting failures I’ve accepted that I’ll never be skinny, I just want to get back to a size 14.”
This is not the first time this has happened. In the past I have said this exact thing. I hear and see it all the time. It’s a particularly heartbreaking moment I think – the person has given up on their dream of being thin and created a new dream that, sadly, is likely precisely as unattainable.
I’ve written before about how difficult it is to be called a quitter, to give up the allure of the next diet and all of it’s possibilities, I’ve even discussed how I think our belief in the possibility of being thin is hindering the fatty uprising.
Even once we get past that, we’re still subject to this pitfall – the “I just want to be a size X” myth. We hit this stage when we acknowledge that thin is not a possibility because diets don’t work, but then hope that maybe they’ll work well enough for a smaller body than we have now. The goals of this are completely understandable – wanting to fit into old clothes, wanting to fit into an airplane seat/movie seat/chair with arms, wanting to be able to shop in a brick and mortar store, being emotionally attached to a specific size, hoping that being thinner will help mobility, and plenty more.
The problem is that no matter how good/rational/reasonable the reason – diets still just don’t work – it’s still feeding your body less food than it needs to survive in an attempt to get it to eat itself and become smaller, and that is still a recipe for disaster. The vast majority of these attempts will still end up in long-term weight gain, leaving the person not just with the problem they were originally trying to solve, but possibly new problems as well.
To be clear, I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do with their body, I don’t believe that I can argue for my right to practice Health at Every Size while simultaneously arguing against someone else’s right to diet. Plus, other people’s bodies are not my business. This is just a suggestion:
I suggest that the sooner we give up the “I want to be a size x” dream, the sooner we can start working on the “I want a better size-I-am-now” reality. Once we stop believing in the Thin Fairy – when we realize that our bodies are not the problem – we start to see all the actual problems.
We can choose to start creating a world that works for us – asking for armless chairs, finding a way to get clothes we like, flying with fat-friendly airlines, going to movie theaters with seats that have arms that raise, get the mobility aid(s) that can help us, working on strength/stamina/flexibility/movement patterns instead of just trying to get smaller, doing activism around any of these things and anything else that is in our way. Even if we don’t choose activism, at least now we’re placing the blame where it belongs and not on our bodies.
I still remember the day I decided that instead of waiting for some other body to show up, I was going to take this body for a spin – appreciate it, defend it, make the world better for it. I don’t want to imagine what my life would be like if instead i had decided, for the eleventy gabillionth time that it was time for the next diet so that I could just get down to a size whatever.
A little help from my friends?
I’m making plans to go to Southwest Florida to interview the amazing Lynn McAfee for the Fat History Project. Lynn is one of my heroes and is someone who almost every single person I discussed the project with said I HAD to interview. This project is so important to me – it would be awesome if you could help me get her amazing memories and wisdom (and that of other incredibly fat activists) out on YouTube for free for everyone to see. There are lots of ways to help, whether or not you can help financially:
Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can support this project and other activism that I do, keep this blog ad-free, be the first to know about, and get special deals on, all of my stuff, and get deals from cool businesses and my undying gratitude Click here
Help me find speaking gigs in Southwestern Florida – if I can get some speaking gigs (even small ones) I can spread the HAES/SA love and it can help offset the travel costs. If you know of a college, corporation, book store, dance studio etc. in Southwestern Florida that might like to have me as a speaker, e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!
Buy the Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Buy the Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details