You’re Not Fat

my name isCalling ourselves fat in a derogatory way seems to be part of the price of admission for being a woman in this society. We’re never supposed to be happy with our bodies and saying “I’m so fat” because we don’t fit into size two jeans, or because we do but they are tight because we just ate lunch is part of the way that women deal with the body image bullshit that comes at us all the time no matter what size we are.

It’s almost a form of self-deprecating humor – “I’ll say it first and then no one can accuse me of not hating my body like I’m supposed to.”  It can also be very real – it’s possible for a woman who is a size 2 and a woman who is a size 24 to feel equally as badly about their bodies.  Though there are absolutely institutional oppressions faced by fat people, self-loathing is not body-size dependent and our culture tells women of all sizes to hate ourselves, that we are never thin enough so we are all fat, and that fat is an absolutely horrible thing to be.

One problem that stems from this is that the “proper” response to the phrase “I’m so fat” is “You’re not fat!”  Being “not fat” is important in this society, so sometimes a woman will say “I’m so fat” so that someone else will say “You’re not fat” and she will be able to feel better about herself for a minute, or she’ll say “I’m so fat” because she knows that she is not fat by society’s standards and is reminding herself that she is “better” than fat people and in this way she can feel better about herself for a minute.  This is about how people survive in an effed up world where self-hatred is ingrained in us and an impossible stereotype of beauty is imposed upon us. It’s understandable.  That doesn’t make it a good idea.

The “I’m so fat!” “You’re not fat!” cycle reinforces the idea that fat is bad, so bad in fact that it’s important to immediately and emphatically insist that it’s not true to defend our friend’s honor.  When I describe myself using fat as a neutral descriptor (I’m the brunette, fat girl in the blue dress) very often someone will chime in and say “You’re not fat!”  The fact that nobody has ever said “You’re not a brunette” illustrates the problem – they are both physical descriptions but one has a had shame attached to it by our society.

So while I understand why it’s done, I’m still going to suggest that we stop – stop using the word “fat” as anything other than a neutral descriptor.  Say I’m fat if we think that we are, and not as a way to fish for compliments, as hyperbole, or because we just ate a burrito.  Stop using “You’re not fat” – when someone says “I’m so fat!”  and say something like “There’s nothing wrong with being fat” or “I wish we lived in a world where we could appreciate beauty at every size” or anything that doesn’t reinforce the idea that fat is bad (suggestions welcome in the comments).   One way to break down the stigma around being fat is by removing it from the word.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 11:27 am  Comments (46)  

Special K Thinks We’re All Very Gullible

Cookie Monster Special KOne of the great things about watching all of my TV on Hulu and Netflix is that I don’t see a lot of commercials. For the past couple of days I’ve been dog sitting two super cute pitbulls and so I’ve been watching cable, which means watching a ton of crappy weight loss commercials.  The only thing that’s stopped me from hurling something heavy at the television is that it’s not mine.

The most insidious examples right now seem to come from Special K. They are using a size acceptance message to sell weight loss.  It’s gross.  In some commercials they’ve stolen size acceptance tools like Marilyn Wann’s Yay Scale and Amanda Levitt’s Body Positive Measuring Tapes. Claire Mysko over on The Frisky did a great job of taking this down.

The one I keep seeing is this one:

As a catchy song about having a good day plays in the background, a woman is shopping for jeans and the tags all say words like Confident, Va Va Voom, and Ooh La La.  A voiceover comes on and says

Wouldn’t it nice if we focused less on the number…

Yes, yes.  Ye gods yes! That would be fan-frickin-tastic!

…and more on how the fit makes us feel?

Um, I guess – if you mean finding jeans that fit us – maybe this is going to be a commercial about how jean designers should make rocking styles in more sizes?

Take the special K challenge, drop a jean size in 2 weeks and slip into size sassy.

What the…?  Oh hell no.  You’ve just substituted “Size Sassy” for “Smaller size”.  Who is falling for this?  Replacing numbers with words doesn’t actually change anything, the message is the same:  You will be better when you are thinner.

The website is worse, “It’s not about the number on the tag; it’s about how a pair of jeans can make you feel:  Sassy, confident, even fierce.  Special K has a variety of free plans to help you slip into a size sassy.”

If it wasn’t about the number on the tag then couldn’t ANY size jeans be Size Sassy, including the size I’m wearing right now?  I couldn’t help but notice that they suggest that for EVERY woman Size Sassy is one size smaller. (So for me, sIze 24 would be Size Sassy, but my friend Donna would have to be a size 000.)  Of course, if you become a size smaller and watch their commercial you’ll learn that Size Sassy is – you guessed it – one size smaller.  I think I have a new theme song for Special K (sung to the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie)

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll wear Size Sassy, tomorrow, It’s always a size away!

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s because they can make a lot more money if they can convince every single woman that she needs their weight loss bullshit.

How did this happen? Is it possible that women have been so thoroughly bombarded with messages that we should all hate ourselves and hate our bodies (by advertising from the diet industry including Special K  – I haven’t forgotton their “you can’t pinch an inch” campaign) that it’s not working any more?

It looks like this goes back to the start of the “What will you gain when you lose” campaign Special K developed after a study that they commissioned from Edelman Berland, a markeing and PR “research” firm, that  found that “a positive attitude toward weight management might actually help you succeed.”

Fascinating.  It turns out 9 out of 10 women who report that they think positively about weight management also reported either losing weight or maintaining weight in the past year compared to “only about half” of women with a negative approach.

How is this study highly suspect?  Let me count the ways.  There’s the aforementioned choice of research firms.  Then there’s the methodology – they interviewed “more than 1,000″ women who described themselves as “weight conscious” to find out just what they think about their success or failure. Ok, dude. Self-reported information on dieting by people who describe themselves as weight conscious talking about what they believe led them to succeed or fail at dieting does not a strong study make.  Then there is the fact that they are looking at only a year – we know that most people can lose weight in the short term, but most gain it back within 2-5 years so using a one year period doesn’t really tell us anything about long term weight loss. Also, comparing 9 out of 10 to “about half” seems suspicious. Why not give us the actual number?  If they interpret 7 as about half then this is quite a bit closer than it might sound.

So, says Special K, we should all focus on how the “fit makes us feel”.  Well, that and two special K meals and 2 special K snacks each and every day – if you stay on the diet for a year you can consume 1,460 Special K projects – can’t wait.  They say that the average weight loss is a 4-8 pounds (or roughly the weight you could lose if you loofah’d regularly for two weeks.)   And remember the study they commissioned wasn’t about people who did the Special K diet, just women who describe themselves as “weight conscious.”  As with every diet plan, they have absolutely no proof that this plan will lead to long term weight loss, nor that it will lead to health.  They do seem pretty certain that it will lead to profits.

I’m definitely interested in how the fit of the jeans makes me feel.  And if I don’t like it, I change the jeans – not me.  I have a positive attitude – I’m positive that based on the evidence the vast majority of people who lose weight on this program, or any diet/lifestyle change/etc. will gain it back, and many will gain back more.  I’m positive that was my experience when I dieted (though of course that’s not extrapolatable.)   So I’m positive that I’m never going back to a dieting lifestyle and the willful suspension of disbelief it would require.  I’m positive that I’m a Size Sassy whatever jeans I wear.  And all that without spending a dime on products that market to me based on the idea that I’m too stupid to figure out that the new marketing is the same as the old marketing.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

 

Published in: on September 28, 2013 at 9:54 am  Comments (60)  

Who Gives a Crap?

Reality and PerceptionYesterday I posted about a picture that’s become quite popular on Facebook (over 130,000 likes and over 10,000 shares.) I discussed why I thought it was problematic and gave people the information that they needed to get involved.  There was a good discussion going in the comments and then runbunny  chose to add this to the discourse:

Who gives a crap? It was a dumb photo posted by an arrogant little girl that pissed off some people. How about ignore it? Or, instead of getting on a soap box, laugh at it? Yeah, she’s pretty fit and all, and her question was arrogant, but that’s the culture she’s involved in. Some gyms have that prevailing message. She’s allowed to her viewpoint, as you are to yours. (The moderators are so not gonna post this, but I’ll try anyway.) I looked at the photo, read the comments and thought ‘whatever’. To me there far bigger injustices out there to get mad about than some girl that works out alot and posts macho No Fear-esqe captions. Anyone remember the phrase ‘no pain no gain’? In 5 years or so, she’ll probably be doughy anyway. And like a wise woman once told me, ‘a little weight on a woman never hurt nobody.’

First of all, I’m completely tickled that people think there are mods on this blog.  It’s just me y’all, hence my getting behind in approving comments. I decided to leave the comment up because it provides a perfect example of a couple of the great fallacies in activism, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to address it since, if you’re going to engage in activism, you’ll likely deal with attitudes like this.

First is the idea that the injustice in question isn’t worth addressing because there are “greater injustices.” Following this logic we should only ever work on the greatest injustice, so instead of participating in activism we can all spend our time arguing about what the greatest injustice is, and criticizing other activists for not picking injustices that we would have fought. Then again, maybe this isn’t the best idea.

Second is the idea that if something isn’t important to someone, the appropriate response is to criticize those to whom it is important, convince people that it shouldn’t be important to anyone, and insist that it shouldn’t be addressed at all. Simply put, this is bullshit (not to mention a clear violation of the underpants rule). If someone is concerned about greater injustices, one option would be to stop complaining about the ones that other people choose to address and go ahead and start working on the ones that are, in their estimation, worth addressing.

If someone believe that something I talk about should be ignored, I invite them to ignore it. If they think it should be laughed at, I invite them to laugh. I happen to think it’s worth addressing and I don’t think it’s funny, so I wrote this blog post about it. Even if addressing this had been a waste of time – I’ve already wasted the time. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take back the time it took to write the post and address whatever someone think is more important. I would hope that people who engage in this behavior are able to suss that out, so I guess maybe they are into wasting even more time by commenting on it? Or maybe this kind of comment makes them feel superior and important – there are people who become critics because it makes them feel powerful in some way.  Or maybe they actually believe that their priorities are what should drive everyone’s activism, and that their reactions to things are the only valid ones, in which case now I am laughing.

Regardless, there are plenty of opportunities for activism and we can each address what is important to us. People are, of course, allowed to make their own choices, but I might suggest spending time criticizing the people, institutions, and societal structures that oppress and stigmatize us, rather that complaining to activists who are addressing oppression and stigma that they didn’t pick the right thing.

The saddest thing to me is that these kinds of comments can serve to discourage activism by making people afraid that engaging in activism means that, in addition to all the stigma and shame they get from society, they will be stigmatized and shamed by people within the movement for their activism being “not important enough” or some such bullshit. So if you’re thinking about becoming an activist or you are an activist already, whatever you are doing is important.  I absolutely commend you, I support you, and I sincerely apologize if you have to deal with bullshit like this.

It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week and BEDA has put together an awesome week of chats, blog posts, and contests (I’m a meme hunt!).  Check it all out here!

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

 

Published in: on September 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm  Comments (60)  

What’s Your Excuse?

facepalmReader Annie sent me a link to a Facebook post by Maria Kang.  It seems Maria put some time and effort into looking like the cultural stereotype of beauty, then took a picture of herself wearing gym clothes with her three sons.

Ok, that’s fine, I’m glad that she is happy.

Then she put a caption on it…“What’s Your Excuse?”

Nooooooo. Nonononono.  This is not cool.

Just to recap, Maria decided to use her time, energy and money to try to make her body look a certain way and she happened to be successful at it while raising three boys.  Now she wants us to ask ourselves what our excuse is for not doing so.

How about this, I don’t need an excuse.  What’s your excuse for having such an unbelievably over exaggerated sense of self-importance that you actually think that everyone should aspire to the same things that you do?

Oh but it gets better.  Some people pointed out to her that her post was fat shaming and added to the unrealistic ideals that women face.  Her response (which she called an apology, which makes me think that she doesn’t actually know what that means)  was to talk about how hard weight loss was for her for oh so many reasons, then say

Obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a ‘bigger’ [see what she did there – obese and bigger – Maria is a comic genius] issue than this photo. Maybe it’s time we stop tip-toeing around people’s feelings and get to the point.

And then repeated “So What’s Your Excuse?” because Maria is just too bad ass to respect people when they tell her that her actions are creating stigma and shame.

Also, I don’t know who the hell these people are who are trying to tip-toe around my feelings, but if she could point me in their direction that would be a refreshing change from the people who yell “HEY FAT BITCH” and throw eggs at me. Just saying.

She then created an FAQ page where the justification parade begins:

All the cool kids are doing it

I often saw posters of grandmothers running in marathons, paraplegics competing in the Olympics and even a father performing a pull up with three kids in tow – all with the same caption: “What’s your Excuse?

Yeah, these are problematic as well, especially if they are made about someone without their permission.  That grandmother might not want to be held up as an example, people with disabilities may not want to be used as teaching and motivational tools.  Also, just to review, nobody needs an excuse to not run in marathons, compete in the Olympics, do pull-ups with some kids hanging off of them, or anything else.

I didn’t mean it that way

This one is my favorite:

My intention was not to ask, “What’s your Excuse for not looking like me?” My intention was to imply, “What’s your Excuse for not exercising?” However you interpret the message is dependent on your emotional state when you read the caption.

First of all, maybe it’s time to deal with the fact that your intention is not working out.  Maybe it’s because you put a picture of yourself in a sports bra and boy shorts under the phrase “What’s Your Excuse?”.  Again, I’m for Maria, and anyone else, wearing whatever they want to wear.  But if people are telling you that your image is shaming to them and creates an unrealistic image (which may have to do with all the photoshopping of the image) then may I suggest that instead of speculating about their emotional state, you take some time to think about how all of this went wrong and why you might want to fix it.  Also did I mention that people don’t need excuses to not exercise?  Because they really don’t.

I didn’t mean it that way either

For those of you who have legitimate excuse then that’s your excuse! I’m not saying there isn’t one. I’m saying that for the majority of people out there who use multiple kids (or just one), a job, lack of time, lack of support – as an excuse, then maybe you can take my story and my image and use that as a source of inspiration.

Well thank you for your permission, but the premise is still bullshit. Nobody.  Needs.  An. Excuse.  We especially don’t need to worry about having a “legitimate” excuse. And, not for nothing, but I think you might find out that it’s cooler if you put your thoughts and story out there and let people choose you as their role model, rather than trying so hard to guilt/shame them into it.

One more time: nobody needs an excuse for making different choices than you, or for making the same choices but looking different. All bodies are amazing, there is no single body size or shape that represents actual beauty, fitness, health, or anything else.

Obviously this issue is bigger than Maria’s post – she is part of a much bigger problem wherein people get confused and think that their choices are THE choices and that if others want to make different choices they owe some kind justification.  Um, no.  People are allowed to choose to spend their time, energy and money trying to make their bodies look a specific way. What’s not cool is to suggest that everyone should want/have to do that.  What’s not cool is to suggest that if they can do it, anybody can, or should. What’s not cool is for those people to try to make their achievement feel more important by shaming people who make different choices, or who make the same choices but look different than they do.  What’s not cool is to ignore people who tell them that they are stigmatizing other people.  There’s just no excuse for that.
If you have some thoughts for Maria, you can find the image on her Facebook page here.

It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week and BEDA has put together an awesome week of chats, blog posts, and contests (I’m a meme hunt!).  Check it all out here!

Want to support my work?

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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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

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm  Comments (73)  

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Nothing to prove“Fat is the last acceptable prejudice.”  I see someone say something like this at least once a day either in an online forum, in person or, as happened yesterday, on this blog.  I’d like to make a case for never saying this again.  I’ll put forth two arguments.  First, that it’s not true.  Second, that even if it was true, there is nothing to be gained by saying it.

My first argument is that it’s not true.

At this moment people are trying to make an all white town in North Dakota.  A couple of years ago the Arizona legislature passed, and the governor signed, a law that allowed anyone who  the police thought looked like they might be an illegal immigrant to be forced to show proof of citizenship at any time.  The Supreme Court had to tell them that this was not ok.

As recently as July 18th of this year, the Baton Rouge police have been running a sting operation arresting gay men for setting a date to have sex in a private residence, with no money changing hands, with a police officer who started the conversation by denying that he was a police officer.  They are charging the men based on Louisiana sodomy laws that were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. The police used justifications from the suggestion that gay people should not be allowed to ask each other out in parks, to “won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children”.

California just became the first state to pass a law giving trans* students equal access to facilities and activities consistent with their gender identity.  Forty nine states do NOT have such a law.  When I posted this to my FB the first question I got was “does this mean we have to allow them in women only spaces?”  When I said that I certainly hope so since they are women, the argument I got was that we’d have to agree to disagree.  Um, no, I don’t have to agree to disagree on basic civil rights and none of us has the right to say who is and who is not a woman.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, trans* phobia, ableism, ageism, and fat phobia are just some of the prejudices that happen all the time, often in combination (intersectionality!)   They are all acceptable to some people or they wouldn’t happen.

I think that often when people say this, they mean that there aren’t a lot of legal protections for fat people.  That’s true, but it doesn’t make it the last acceptable prejudice.  In Michigan, for example, you can’t be legally fired for being fat, but you can be fired because you are gay. The citizens of a number of states have voted that consenting adults of the same sex should not be allowed to marry each other.

Sometimes when people say this they are speaking to how institutionalized fat oppression is.  That’s true, but it doesn’t make it the last acceptable prejudice.  When criticized because the vast majority of people targeted by the NYC stop and frisk policy were Black and Hispanic, Mayor Bloomberg said that it was because Black and Hispanic people were more likely to be criminals.  Prejudice against lots of groups is accepted at the institutional level in lots of ways.

My second argument is that even if it were true that fat is the last acceptable prejudice, I don’t think that there is anything to be gained by saying it, or by using our time and energy to argue for it.

It’s divisive and moves the conversation from fighting oppression to arguing about who’s being oppressed more and why.

It invalidates the experience of people in other oppressed groups who are telling us that they do experience their oppression as acceptable.  I know that I insist that I’m the best witness to my own oppression and as such I have to believe that other people are the best witness to theirs.  If people from other marginalized groups are saying that the prejudice they experience is acceptable, then I believe them.

I just don’t see any good reason to make this claim.  It seems like we can fight every facet of fat oppression without making any sweeping generalizations about the nature of it as compared to other oppressions, which also assures that we avoid negating the experiences of the members of other oppressed groups.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate to have spaces and discussions specifically about fat oppression, to me it just means that I think we are better off if these discussions focus on fighting the oppression rather than comparing it to others, and that we are best served if we also have conversations about intersectionality and how we can support other marginalized groups both within and outside of fat acceptance.

I’ve never been a fan of the Oppression Olympics – I would rather fight oppression than argue about who has it worst.

Like my blog?  Here’s more of my stuff!

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

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Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm  Comments (40)  

The High Cost of Weight Stigma

2013WSAWparticipantbadgeIt has become quite a popular practice to calculate the “costs” of obesity. (As if it’s ok to decide that a group of people with shared physical characteristics should be eradicated to make things cheaper.) There are many, many problems with the calculations, but I think it’s important to realize that in our society fat people live under intense, constant, stigma and oppression.  That means that any calculation about the “cost” of fat people is actually a calculation about the cost of that stigma and oppression.

Let’s start with healthcare costs since that’s one of the most popular things for people to calculate.  Studies from Yale showed that over 50% of doctors find fat patients “awkward, ugly, weak-willed and unlikely to comply with treatment” and 28% of nurses said that they were “repulsed” by their obese patients.   Mary Huizinga of Johns Hopkins found that “The higher a patient’s body mass, the less respect doctors express for that patient.  And the less respect a doctor has for a patient the less time they spend with that patient and the less information he or she offers.”

This leads to increased healthcare costs in a number of ways:

Fat people are treated so poorly by health care professionals – given no respect, called liars, told that all of our problems are due to our fat, lectured extensively about our weight regardless of the reason for our visit – that some of us start avoiding the doctor.  This leads to us not getting early intervention and, for some, only going to the doctor when the situation is more advanced and therefore more expensive.

When we do brave the poor treatment, discrimination and bigotry and go to the doctor our actual complaints are often ignored and whether we have tendonitis, strep throat, or a broken toe we are told that the cure is to eat less and exercise more.  Thin people get all the same health issues as fat people but they get interventions that have been shown to effectively address their health problems. Fat people are given an intervention intended to change our body size, which not only hasn’t been proven to effectively address health issues, but hasn’t been shown to effectively change our body size.

Because of fat stigma we are denied evidence-based care which means that instead of taking part in interventions that address health issues, those issues continue unabated while we try to change our body size because our health care provider tells us that is miraculously curative.  So sometimes we don’t get evidence-based healthcare until our health issues are in the advanced stage (and therefore much more expensive) and sometimes we never get evidence based healthcare and we die trying to lose weight.  Then all of those costs are chalked up to our fatness rather than the fact that we aren’t able to access good, evidence-based medical care.

Because our society enjoys blaming people for their health, there is shame and stigma attached to diseases that can often be effectively treated – like Type 2 Diabetes.  That shame and stigma are especially bad for fat people since despite the fact that thin people get these diseases, and despite the fact that a thin person and a fat person can have the same eating and exercise habits but very different weights, we are told that these are brought on by being fat, and that our fat is our fault.  Because of this stigma and blame, fat people are often too ashamed to seek medical care and so we don’t get good early treatment, and delayed treatment means higher costs and worse health.

Nobody is obligated to prioritize health.  However, for those who are interested, a mountain of evidence has shown that healthy habits are the best chance for healthy bodies, and yet medical professionals ignore this evidence and instead tell us that if our healthy habits don’t make us thin then they aren’t making us healthy.  So fat people give up on healthy habits because they almost never make us thin.  So because stigma leads to misinformation, our health hazard ratios go up along with our purported “costs”.

Although eating disorders are dangerous and in some cases deadly, fat people who present with disordered eating are often encouraged to continue and even escalate the behaviors. The fat stigma that these professionals hold means that they mistakenly believe that becoming thin by any means necessary is better than being fat.  Then all the costs that ensue from the disordered eating are chalked up to body size.

The costs of weight loss attempts, especially those that are “medically supervised”  are often folded into people’s calculations of how much fat people “cost society”.  The problem is that these interventions should never have been recommended in the first place since they do not meet the requirements of evidence-based medicine.  The people supervising these programs do not have a shred of evidence that would lead them to believe that the intervention will succeed, but they keep prescribing it and taking money for it, and in the end the fat people who are victims of a scam also get blamed for the cost of the scam.

Even when we lose weight and gain it back, which studies show us is the most likely outcome, we are encouraged to diet again. This leads to weight cycling (also known as yo-yo dieting) which has been correlated to the same diseases as obesity.  So again, bad medical advice can lead to health issues but they get charged to the accounts of the fat people who were poorly advised.

Now let’s look at the cost of societal discrimination, bigotry, oppression and stigma:

Movement is beneficial for everyone’s health, and though nobody is obligated to exercise, when fat people who are interested in it attempt to engage in physical activity we often find ourselves the subject of ridicule.  Being “moo’d” at in the gym, having people throw thing at us from cars, and being humiliated for wearing a swimsuit are all things that are reported by fat people as regular occurrences.  A lot of my “normal weight” friends complain about having trouble finding the time to exercise, imagine how much harder that is when carving out time to exercise also means carving out time to be ridiculed and humiliated.

The media giving fat people tons of negative messages about our bodies, and having those messages reinforced by everyone from our parents to our doctors to strangers at the gym is an effective way of convincing fat people to hate our bodies.  It also turns out that people don’t take good care of things that they hate, and health issues and costs ensue.

To be crystal clear, it is not ok to find a group of people you can identify by sight, calculate their cost on society, and then have a national campaign to eradicate them because you’ve decided things would be cheaper without them.

But since that’s what’s happening let’s understand that until we end stigma, oppression and bigotry against fat people it is impossible to calculate the costs (if any) of our body size separate from the cost of our stigmatization.

Thus, any attempt to calculate of the cost of being fat will, in fact, be a calculation of the cost of being stigmatized and oppressed for being fat.   Therefore, if the current cost calculations about being fat indicate that it’s the “greatest threat to public health”, then the actual greatest threat to public health is fat stigma and oppression, making people like Meme Roth a public health threat.  This is actually good news since we have no idea how to make people thinner but we do know how to stop stigmatizing fat people and we could do it right now.

Of course when you point this out you are told that the cure for social stigma, oppression and bigotry against fat people is…wait for it…weight loss!  Yes, people actually suggest that the problem isn’t that we’re being bullied, the problem is that we aren’t giving the bully our lunch money.  In other words, if we do what our oppressors want us to do and lose weight, they promise they’ll stop oppressing us.  The cure for social stigma is not weight loss, it’s ending social stigma, and I, for one, will not have the cost of the bigotry, hate, stigma, and bullying that I deal with charged to my account.

For a list of the research used in this post, go here and scroll to the bottom.

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Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 7:02 am  Comments (39)  

Toddler Gets Weight Loss Surgery

Bad DoctorA toddler  – a toddler, a child of two years old who cannot yet walk with proficiency – in Saudi Arabia was given irreversible gastric sleeve surgery.  That shit actually happened (It’s definitely a swearing day, you’ve been warned.)

What the fuck?  What the fucking fuck?  What the actual fucking fuck?  The kid was two years old and his stomach has been amputated and his digestive system redesigned by a surgeon who has literally no idea what this means for his future or what is likely to happen as he, we hope, grows up.

What they do know is that he was put on a series of diets before age 2.  At 14 months old he weighed 46 pounds and his parents took him to an endocrinologist who, finding nothing wrong with him, put him on his first diet.  He gained 17 pounds.  They assumed that the parents hadn’t followed the diet and put him in a clinic on a medically supervised plan.  He gained 18 more pounds.

They did testing and could find nothing out of the ordinary.  They had no idea why he was gaining weight on these diets, so they decided the next logical step was just to go ahead and perform a dangerous and irreversible surgery that has never been done on someone so young.  Why bother to do the work to diagnose an issue when you can just cut up a toddler, I mean what do we think this is, an episode of House?

Let’s also remember that in order to have even a hope of absorbing enough nutrition to grow he will have to keep up with a nutrition plan and supplements.  They are entrusting this to the same parents who they didn’t believe could follow a simple caloric restriction diet.

In fact, they found that during the 2 year follow up period:

The parents of the child did not comply with the provided instruction/s and more often showed a tendency to miss appointments and hence a regular time bound follow up was not possible.

And yet they still concluded

[Laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy] may be used in very young children provided they have co-morbidities and no improvement with medical and conservative multidisciplinary management. In our patient, the weight reduction was significant and his associated symptoms resolved with time indicating its safety and efficacy.

Even if the parents had followed every instruction and made all of their appointments it would have been completely ridiculous to draw this conclusion from one study on one kid with a two year follow up. By the way, his “associated symptoms” were sleep apnea and bow leggedness.  For that we have risked this boy’s life. Apparently it’s far more difficult to make a cpap mask to fit him than to hack up his guts.

I’ve called it a dangerous surgery but in truth I only have an idea of how dangerous it is for adults. Neither I, nor his doctors, can speak to the dangers of doing this to a child who is still rocking a bib and sippy cup. EDIT:  The following information is for gastric bypass, gastric sleeve is a newer surgery that does less rearranging of the digestive system.  There is not a lot of data yet on the procedure, but it is generally agreed to have less risks than gastric bypass:

The largest examination of mortality rates following bariatric surgery found chilling results: nearly 3% of the patients died after the first year and 6.4% at the end of the fourth year. Of those who had surgery in 1995 and had at least 9 years of follow-up, 13.0% had died. Of those who had the surgery in 1996 and 8 years of follow-up, 15.8% had died, and of those who had surgery in 1997 with 7 years of follow-up, 10.5% had died.
Sandy Swarzc, on the Junk-food Science blog, compared these rates to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, matching Americans of the same age and BMI and concludes: “By best estimates, bariatric surgeries likely increase the actual mortality risks for these patients by 7-fold in the first year and by 363% to 250% the first four years. (from Linda Bacon’s Dreams on the Operating Room Table (Bariatric Surgery)
How could anyone who has access to those numbers justify doing this to a toddler?  And if he does live, and is somehow able to absorb enough vitamins to grow, let’s talk about the side effects he can look forward to [TW: Gross]
adhesions and polyps, massive scar tissue,advanced aging, anemia, arthritis, blackouts/fainting, bloating, body secretions (odor like rotten meat), bowel/fecal impaction, cancer (of the stomach, esophagus, pancreas, and bowel), chest pain from vomiting, circulation impairment, cold intolerance, constipation,depression, diarrhea, digestive impairment due to heavy mucus, digestive irregularities, diverticulitis, drainage problems at incision, early onset of diabetes, early onset of hypertension, electrolyte imbalance, erosion of tooth enamel, excessive dry skin, excessive stomach acid, esophageal contractions, esophageal erosion and scarring, feeling ill, gallbladder distress, gynecological complications, hair loss, hemorrhoids, hernia, hormone imbalances, impaired mobility, infection from leakage into body cavities (peritonitis), infertility, intestinal atrophy, intestinal gas, involuntary anorexia, irregular body fat distribution (lumpy body), iron deficiency, kidney impairment and failure, liver impairment and failure, loss of energy, loss of muscle control, loss of skin integrity, low hemoglobin, lowered immunity and increased susceptibility to illnesses, malfunction of the pituitary gland, muscle cramps, nausea, neural tube defects inyour children, neurological impairment (nerve and brain damage), osteoporosis, pancreas impairment, pain along the left side, pain on digestion, pain on evacuation, peeling of fingernails, potassium loss, pulmonary embolus, putrid breath and stomach odor, rectal bleeding, shrinking of intestines, stomach pain, sleep irregularities, suicidal thoughts, thyroid malfunction, urinary tract infection, vitamin and mineral deficiency, vitamin and mineral malabsorption, violent hiccups that persist daily, vomiting from blockage, vomiting from drinking too fast, vomiting from eating too fast,
vomiting from eating too much (more than 2 ounces) . . . and best of all—weight regain (from Linda Bacon’s Dreams on the Operating Room Table (Bariatric Surgery)
If he could read any of this I’m sure he’d be just thrilled.  How is he going to feel about the people who did this to him when he can understand it?  Considering the results of being malnourished from such a young age, it seems like being bow legged might start looking pretty good.
This is completely, utterly, out-of-control, indefensibly ridiculous.  I’m not entirely sure that these types of surgeries meet the requirements of ethical medicine for anyone  considering the mortality rates and side effects and that they are often prescribed to solve health problems that haven’t happened yet and/or are controllable through other means, or advised simply to make someone’s body look different.  I am sure that it’s not ok to give this surgery to someone who isn’t able to understand the possible repercussions (and let’s be honest that, at this point, NOBODY understands the possible repercussions of doing this to very young children) or consent to it – especially if they can’t consent because they’re still trying to grasp the concept “don’t hit, use your words.” Make no mistake, this is not ok.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 11:03 am  Comments (77)  

Activism Win at Penn State

fight backStarting in November, Penn State faculty and their university health care covered spouses and domestic partners were scheduled to be required to complete an online wellness profile (including questions like “do you plan to become pregnant in the next year” and “how often do you have arguments with your spouse”), a physical exam, and a biometric screening, including a full lipid profile and glucose, body mass index and waist circumference measurements in mobile units deployed by the University’s health insurance company.

If employees didn’t “volunteer” to do these things they would be punished with a $1,200.00 a year insurance surcharge.  (My frienda in the military describe this kind of situation as being “volun-told”)

We’ve talked about these programs before, including how they have not been shown to be effective. We’ve also talked about the fact that body size measurements are not health measurements, and that even if they were people are different sizes for different reasons, and we have no idea how to change them long term which makes changing body size an ineffective healthcare intervention.  The difference with this situation is that the employees reacted with a ferocity that warms my fat activist heart.

One of my favorite reactions was this one.  It is a call for civil disobedience and the first thing I like about it was that it is written by an associate professor without tenure which I think is quite brave.

He states the point beautifully:

While university administrators may be implementing this program with the best of intentions, coercing Penn State employees to undergo medical testing and requiring that they disclose personal medical information to a third-party online database is ethically indefensible. University employees should respond accordingly.

He acknowledges that a full boycott is unrealistic because some faculty members simply can’t afford a $1,200 pay cut (note that the ability to insist upon one’s privacy is reserved for those who can lose $1,200.00 a year.) Not to mention that a boycott would “create an annual two million dollar windfall for the organization’s budget, thus rewarding the administration for inserting itself in our private medical affairs.”

He suggests alternatives that will allow people to participate by the letter of the program but still create an effective protest.  My favorite of his ideas is for participants to get screenings at their regular doctor rather than at the mobile units (which HR assured him was allowed) because, among other reasons, “if ten thousand Penn State employees set up previously unscheduled doctor visits, (particularly if they are scheduled as full check-ups) it will have the effect of frustrating the university’s narrow budgetary objectives, making the cost of implementing these “basic biometric screening” simply unsustainable.”

He also makes an excellent point that such a program would never pass the basic approval process that is required for any academic study at the university that involves humans, because they utilize coercion and do not give participants the right to opt out of questions which they find embarrassing, threatening, or too personal.

This is one of many protests and interventions of the University’s policy, all of which met with the predictable group of people who insisted that there’s no use protesting things like this.

Today Penn State backed down.  They are removing the surcharge for those who don’t participate and Administrators have agreed to work with a faculty and staff task force to study alternatives for implementing the wellness program.

Obviously this is a beginning and not an end to the work to be done around these issues, but I think it’s important to remember that these things can be fought and progress can be made.  Obamacare does a lot of things that I appreciate (like making insurance available to me at all since I currently can’t get it because of my size) but it also allows for these kinds of carrot and stick programs – including the use of body size measurement as health measurements – so I expect we have many more of these fights ahead of us, but if we employ consistent activism and creative civil disobedience, I believe we can win.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 19, 2013 at 7:51 am  Comments (24)  

Throwing This Weight Around

Photo by Richard Sabel

Photo by Richard Sabel

Amber Riley (best known as Mercedes from Glee) is on Dancing with the Stars.  I’ve not been a fan of the way that the show has become about dancing for its thin contestants and weight loss for its fat contestants, so I tuned in with some trepidation. I was thrilled to see Amber displaying body pride, with no weight loss talk.  She said that she thinks it will be good for girls her size to see her dancing and “throwing this weight around!”  I agree with her and all of my fingers and toes are crossed that even if she experiences some (likely temporary) weight loss that she stays body positive and weight neutral.

This got me thinking about weight and mobility.  I get lots of e-mails from frustrated fat people whose doctors/personal trainers/family members who watch Dr. Oz and think they are doctors told them that the only way to increase mobility/fitness is by losing weight.  This is patently ridiculous for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, is that they have no idea how to help people lose weight long term – the vast majority of people who diet end up gaining their weight back – and often more than they lost – within 5 years so if body weight is the source of mobility problems, then recommending weight loss is absolutely irresponsible.  The second reason that this is stupid is that the suggestion that body weight=mobility ignores the realities of mathematics, not to mention the fact that there are people with varied mobility and fitness at various sizes.

Let’s start here – mobility is not a measure of value or worth, there should be zero judgment of people based on their mobility.  People have different levels of mobility for different reasons and none of those are anyone else’s business unless the person wants it to be someone’s business.  Not everyone can icrease their mobility and nobody should be pressured to do so.  Everyone should have access to every mobility option including mobility aids from canes to scooters and anything that can help rated for whatever their weight is and there should be no shame or judgment in the use of these mobility aids ever for any reason.   Fitness is not a measure of worth, people who choose movement/fitness as a hobby are no more laudable than people who choose anything else as a hobby.  Fitness by any definition is not an obligation.

If you want to increase mobility/fitness then I would suggest starting with the three pillars – strength, stamina, and flexibility.

Strength:  This one is often overlooked accidentally or intentionally by people who are doling out advice to fatties. Personal trainers are infamous for ignoring this for fat people because they don’t want to “put weight on,” telling us instead to focus on cardio.  I do not know how they can believe one half of the equation (if we lose weight then it will be easier to move at our current strength) but not the other half of the equation (if we gain strength then it will be easier to move at our current weight).

Strength training is the most important part of my fitness program  – it is what allows me to move my body around the way that I do.  I’m very lucky in that I seem to build muscle easily, as with everything, your mileage may vary.  I know that for a lot of fat people strength training has also been psychologically good for them because they excelled at it. As super heavyweight Olympic weight lifter Cheryl Haworth puts it – mass moves mass.  Strength training can include lifting weights, body weight exercises (wall sits, sit to stands from a chair, push ups – including modifications like wall push ups), using resistance bands, and strength work in the pool.

Stamina

There are lots of ways to work on stamina – it’s essentially about elevating your heart rate.  One thing that people who have mobility issues can do is to separate stamina training from strength and flexibility work.  If walking is difficult then trying to walk fast enough and long enough to elevate heart rate could lead to lots of other problems, or be impossible.  Stamina work can be done with the upper body (like using a hand bike while sitting), or sitting down (chair dancing, chair aerobics, sit and be fit etc.),  stationary in the pool (holding onto the side and kicking), moving in the pool (swimming, aqua jogging, water aerobics).  A quick note about water work  – one of the reasons that it can be helpful is that a lot of your body weight is supported by the water.  This is great for people with joint issues, or those starting out on mobility work,  if your goal is mobility out of the water (being able to walk farther etc.) then you’ll want to eventually add work that has you support your own body weight out of the water.

Flexibility

I think that flexibility is really important because it helps with mobility and general body resilience and can be super practical (the importance of being able to wipe with both hands is often underestimated by people who have never injured their primary wiping arm).  There are lots of ways to work on flexibility – from yoga, to martial arts flexibility work, to resistance stretching, pilates etc.  It can also be aided by things like massage, partner stretching etc.  For me flexibility takes the most time, I’m not naturally flexible – it took me a year of working about an hour a day to get my splits – if I wasn’t a dancer I would definitely still work on flexibility but certainly not to that extent.

In general I suggest choosing functional goals (I want to be able to walk to the mailbox, I want to be able to lift my grandkid, I want to be able to touch my toes) or goals that mean something to you (walk x miles, bench press x pounds etc.)  You can start with a baseline (for example how far you can walk now), set a goal based on that (walking 1.5 times/twice that far) devise a plan that will work for your actual life, be flexible with yourself, be compassionate with yourself, and celebrate every small victory like you won the Super Bowl.

I believe that every body is different and they aren’t comparable so, to me, there is really no point in comparing my body to anyone else’s in terms of how it looks or what it can and can’t do. For me it’s about having fun and throwing this weight around.

There are great resources out there for those who want to work on this stuff, here are some I’ve personally experienced and loved (I’m living in terror of forgetting someone here, apologies in advance if I did) – feel free to list others in the comments.

Jeanette DePatie (aka The Fat Chick) is a fat personal trainer who has a book and video on beginner fitness that are fabulous, as well as doing personal training live and by Skype for those who aren’t in the LA area, and doing two beginner level fitness classes a week that she livestreams.  Jeanette is a good friend of mine and I’ve taken class with her and she is fabulous.

Punk Rock Hoops  is run by two rocking sisters (Blythe and Rowan) and their new Chief of Making It Happen Alejandra. They offer classes, teacher certifications, workshops, and the amazing Hottie Hoop Camp.  I took a class from Rowan with my friend Heather and not only was she awesome, encouraging and patient (I got a serious workout from all the squats I did dropping the hoop and picking it up again),  we ended up in hooping.org

Abby Lentz is a fat yoga teacher who has DVDs, live classes and trainer certifications.  Abby is fantastic at using modifications and props to make yoga work for every body (including those who utilize wheelchairs, live predominantly in bed and live with disabilities)  I met Abby when I lived in Austin, I got to take class with her and it was wonderful.

Anna Guest Jelley is a self-described curvy yoga practitioner and instructor who offers resources in the form of books as well as classes live, and online and trainer certifications.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet her online and I’ve taken some of her online classes and loved them.

The Fit Fatties Forum is a place for anyone who wants to talk about movement and fitness from a weight neutral perspective. Jeanette DePatie and I founded it and there is a general forum where people talk about everything from chub rub, to getting out of a movement rut, to finding plus-size activewear. There are groups (like newbies, runners, hoopers, strength athletes etc.) and there are photo and video galleries that are pretty awesome.  It’s totally free to join and use.

Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments!

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm  Comments (26)  

Yes People Are Allowed to Diet

DefendAfter my piece about Holley Mangold going on the biggest loser, in which I voiced my belief that Holley is allowed to chose dieting just like I’m allowed to choose not to diet, I got some push back.  Several people suggested that Holley’s choice to engage in dieting is not equal to a fat activist’s choice not to engage and thus her choice deserves critique that a fat activists does not.  It was suggested that I was wrong to suggest that Holley’s choices should be respected in the same way that I want my choices to be respected – that as an activist I don’t have to respect her choice or defend her right to make it – in fact that I’m hurting the movement by doing so – because she is buying into a system that oppresses me and other fat people.

For me it comes down to this:  I don’t want to base my activism on doing to others the exact same thing that I don’t want done to me, even if I have the right to do so.  I don’t want to make statements about an individual’s choice to diet that could be creating by copying and pasting my hatemail and exchanging the term “Health at Every Size” or “Fat Activism” for the term “dieting” even if there are theories of anti-oppression work that would support my right to do just that.

Insisting that those who chose to diet should be criticized because of the effect of their choice on society seems to me to be insisting that it’s ok to ask people to sacrifice their body autonomy for the greater good, which to me sounds a lot like the people who say that those who choose not to diet should be criticized because of the ramifications of our choice on society  – which is something that I rail against.  I’m not excited that people choose to diet, I don’t celebrate the choice and I’m careful about how I respond to those who are celebrating their weight loss, I simply respect their right to choose as I insist my right to choose be respected.

I think that fat people have the right not to be activists and to make choices that make their lives easier in current society (like being a “good fatty” and attempting weight loss) even if those choices make the lives of fat activists harder. People are also allowed to have different interpretations of the research and pursue weight loss because they believe it’s the best choice for their bodies. What they don’t have the right to do is suggest that all fat people should make that choice, or that those who don’t make that choice should be stigmatized, oppressed – or that we don’t have the right to choose not to diet.

I believe that the fight is first and foremost for civil rights which include respecting body autonomy, which includes defending the right of others to make choices I wouldn’t make for myself. As a fat activist I’m interested in fighting for civil rights which are not up for debate or argument.  As a Health at Every Size practitioner I’m interested in getting information out there and presenting options and counter-arguments but I’m not interested in dictating to others how they should live.

In my opinion, no matter how personally disappointed I am with her choice, attacking Holley for wanting body autonomy only hurts our movement because it’s hypocritical. It’s true that her choice does not happen in a vacuum and that the choice may have a negative effect on the fat activist movement, the fact remains that she is still allowed to make choices for her body, even if the fallout hurts the fat rights movement. (Just like we are allowed to chose Fat Activism, Health at Every Size etc. even though many say that those choices hurt society financially, morally etc.)

I think that if I want to eliminate the biggest loser or fat oppression or diet culture or anything else, I prefer to attack the institutions and social constructs that support them and those who seek to take away our rights through those institutions and constructs, not the individuals trying to navigate those institutions and constructs.  If I’m going to be radical, I want to be radical at the institutional level (like this response to Penn State’s crappy employee health program requirements)  not radical in my insistence that the choices of other individuals shouldn’t be given the same respect as my own choices.  Obviously these are just my beliefs and choices as an activist, other activists can make other choices based on other beliefs and I completely respect that.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on September 16, 2013 at 8:24 am  Comments (39)