No Pitying, No Preaching, No Problem

Design by Kris Owen
Desig by Kris Owen

I was watching a cooking show.  There was a chef whose passion was “healthy cooking.”  She started out by talking about how many people in her family “struggle with their weight”, she teared up as she talked about how sad it was for her to watch.

Then, when she went in front of the judges with a soup that was a horrific looking combination of black eyed peas and cabbage – pureed –   she suddenly got angry and went on a rant about how she was “fed up” how there is “no excuse for it.” Happily the judges were not into the attitude which for me neatly  summed up two reactions that people have to fat people that I find utterly inappropriate and unwelcome.

First – Pity.  Don’t want it, don’t need it, won’t listen to it.  There is nothing pitiable about my body.  As I’ve mentioned before I do not “suffer” from obesity, I do suffer from people’s attitudes about my body.  That’s a suffering that will end as soon as people acknowledge that bodies come in different sizes for different reasons, that there is no wrong way to have a body, and that it’s nobody else’s business at all.  When someone says that they pity me because of my body it indicates that they think there is something superior about their bodies. My body is amazing and I won’t allow it to be treated that way without sticking up for it.  People can keep their pity, and their opinions and assumptions of my body, to themselves.

Preaching is the second issue.  It seems like every time I turn around someone’s trying to score points by giving “tough talk” to us fatties.  Telling us that they are just fed up with us and our big, fleshy bodies like we should care how they feel.  Saying that the world needs to stop “coddling” us, asserting that the world would be better if we didn’t exist,  waging war on us for power, politics and profit.  Suggesting that the problem with fat people is that we’re just not bullied and oppressed enough.  Somehow certain that the reason we’re not thin is that 386,170 negative messages a year about our body are just not enough. That somebody needs to tell us we’re fat. If shaming fat people made us thin, we’d all be thin.

I reflect sometimes on how the achievements of fat people are made more impressive because we accomplish things under the crushing weight of near constant stigma and bullying. Despite the pitying, the preaching, and the constant drumbeat of “your body is wrong”, we keep rising above, keep fighting back.  Just getting out of bed when you know the work water cooler conversation is going to be about fat shaming documentaries, or going to the gym when you know you might deal with jerks are gold medal sports some days and we just keep doing it.

So go fatties go! Everyone else can keep their pitying and preaching to themselves, I think we’re fine.

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I See Fat People, They Are Everywhere

Tonight in the State of the Union, President Obama gave Michelle Obama credit for lowering childhood obesity.  This is not so cut and dried as it might sound.  Australian scholar Michael Gard points out in his new book, The End of the Obesity Epidemic, that over the last decade obesity rates among both adults and children have leveled off or declined all over the world, including in the United States. In 1998 35 million Americans went to bed a so-called “healthy weight” and woke up fat thanks to a commission of scientists with ties to weight loss programs and drugs who successfully lobbied to have what is considered a “healthy” weight lowered (creating 25 million new potential clients in the process.)

But try to calmly enter this information into the discussion and you’ll often find yourself  shouted down by people yelling – I see fat people everywhere and I didn’t before! 65% of people are fat!  I see fat people everywhere and they are all [fill in the blank with a stereotype]!    This may be a good time to remember that observation, while part of the scientific method, is not science in itself, here’s why:

First, there’s Confirmation Bias –  that people tend to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, regardless of whether or not the information is true. They also tend to interpret ambiguous results as supporting their point of view.  Everyone is subject to this, including me, researchers are taught to be aware of it.  (Interestingly, this is why it took me so long to choose a Behavior Centered Health approach – I was certain that I had to lose weight to be healthy and it took a while for the facts that were staring me in the face to set in).  Back to our world overrun with fatties… we must accept the possibility that it’s not that there are a ton more fatties, or that every fatty fits into some stereotypes (and let’s be clear that the problem here is stereotyping and not fat people), but rather that confirmation bias is driving society to seek out evidence to support their conclusion and ignore that which does not.  Similarly, when someone posts a comment on one of my dance videos saying how lazy I am they are ignoring the evidence in front of them because they are letting their confirmation bias run away unchecked, or because they are a jackass.  Actually, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  At any rate, this is something that we all have to be aware of – especially if we are reviewing and interpreting data.

The second issue is frame of reference. I’ve heard more than one doctor say “I know that obesity causes health problems, every obese person I see has health problems!”  Well, you’re a doctor – do a lot of people stop by your office to say that they feel great?  When  a friend of mine suggested that there are fat people without binge eating disorder a therapist specializing in binge eating disorder told her that “It’s my experience that someone that size probably has binge eating disorder”.  Perhaps that’s because her experience is with fat people coming to her to deal with binge eating disorder.  It’s like a podiatrist saying that every person with feet has foot problems.  If all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem can start to look like a nail.

Next we have sample size.  Maybe you saw a fat person eating McDonalds – this does not a statistically significant sample size make, though that person has every right to eat whatever he or she wants.  Similarly, if you, or your sister in law’s best friend’s nanny’s aunt, lost weight and kept it off for 5 years then you are a statistical anomaly, if you were on TV the bottom of the screen would read “Results Not Typical”, you are not proof that weight loss works for the majority or even the minority of people.

The next thing to think about is meaning.  Even if it’s true that there are tons more fat people than there used to be, do we know (and I’m not talking  about “everybody knows”, I’m talking about evidence-based knowing) why it’s happening or what it means?  We are also taller than we used to be but nobody’s freaking out about the tallness epidemic.  The hysteria around obesity and its healthcare costs (which, despite popular opinion, have been shown to be way overblown) has somehow made it ok to skip the steps where we look dispassionately at why a phenomenon happens and what it means and instead we’ve jumped right to  “We’re gonna die! Quick, shame the fatties!!!”.

Finally, we have to look deeper.  I heard someone say the other day that they were at a hospital and most of the people there were fat, thus proving that fat people are less healthy.  All of the issues from above apply but let’s look deeper.  According to research out of Yale, in this culture fat people have a more than 50% chance that when we go to the doctor, she or he will view us, and treat us, as if we are awkward, unattractive, lazy, weak-willed,  and unlikely to comply with treatment. Even when fat people do go to the doctor they are often humiliated and receive sub-par care.  Without so much as touching us, let alone using proper diagnostics, doctors diagnose us as fat, give us a treatment protocol of weight loss and send us on our way (People have relayed having been prescribed weight loss without even being touched by their doctor for sudden onset intense back pain that turned out to be ruptured discs, abdominal pain that turned out to be a cancer, and abdominal pain that turned out to be gallstones that required emergency surgery).  So, many fat people have horrible experiences that lead to them to avoiding the doctor, and when we go we often get subpar treatment.  Both of these things can lead to us not getting proper early intervention, thus even if the scenario is true,  finding us in the hospital for situations that a thin person may have had solved by their doctor in its early stages because they were listened to with more respect and given a treatment plan based on proper diagnostics.  You can’t just accept things  at face value if you want to get to the truth.  It helps to ask yourself:  Is this statement true?  If it is true what might it mean?  What is might be causing this?

Observation can be powerful but we have to be careful about drawing large scale conclusions based only on what we can see.  This is something that researchers struggle mightily with.  You know how when you paint a room the painting is easy but the set up is a pain – all that taping and prepping, laying down the tarp, etc.?  That’s how setting up research is – actually performing the research is the easy part. The difficult part is in setting it up – making sure that you have a statistically significant sample size, making sure it can be extrapolated to the population of interest, deciding what variables to control for and how to control for them etc.  Good researchers go to great pains to do this well, and they always state their limitations so it’s foolish to think that we can look around and get information that’s just as good or better.

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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Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

Mother Jones Meltdown

facepalmWhen you read that “researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between [thing x and thing y]” what do you imagine the percent of correlation to be (after, of course, you realize that since it’s just correlation so all they’ve found is that two things sometimes happen at the same time, without any idea of what causes them, and with the distinct possibility that they are completely unrelated.) Still, what would your expectation be if a source that it supposed to be reporting the news said that there was a “statistically significant correlation?” Would you expect that correlation to be 80%?  50%?  Would you expect it to be .02 percent?

That’s exactly what Mother Jones did on their Facebook post today.  Their teaser for an article they linked to by Pacific Standard called  “Grand Obese Party” (see what they did there – so clever) read “Researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between support for Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace.” The story this linked to reported a study that had found that “a one percent increase in county-level support for Romney corresponds to a 0.02 percent increase in age-adjusted obesity rates.” I guess “Having Cured All Diseases and Ended Poverty and Hunger, Researchers are Spending Money to See if Republicans are Fatter than Democrats” was just too long for a headline.

[Edit for quick discussion of statistical significance:  The reason I ask about expectation is that the paper is either counting on the readers to not understand statistical significance or they don’t understand it themselves. Either way, just really poor journalism. Statistical significance is about the probability that an effect doesn’t occur by happenstance.  One of the first things I learned in my stats and research methods classes (right after correlation never ever implies causation) is that statistical significance is not an indicator of meaningful results.  Unfortunately reporters who don’t understand research often think that “statistically significant” sounds important and all “science-y” and this kind of “news story” is the result – where they report the results as if they are important because they were “statistically significant”  and don’t tell you that, for example, the sample was a small group of middle aged white men which severely limits how they can extrapolate results.

Even more ridiculous:

The researchers argue this reflects poorly on the Republican party’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” for reducing obesity risk. Successful fat-fighting strategies “will necessarily involve government intervention,” they argue, “because they involve workplace, school, marketing and agricultural policies.”

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

First of all, nobody has a “successful” intervention for obesity – we have no idea how to make fat people not fat.  What we do have is a political climate where any idea that someone suggests will “reduce obesity” is likely to be implemented with absolutely no evidence required.  That’s how we ended up with programs in schools that didn’t do anything to make fat students smaller, but did increase eating disorders.

So let’s review:  Mother Jones contributed to a climate of bullying, stigma, and shaming of fat people for a .02% correlation, some cheap alliteration, and the suggestion that people should vote for the party that will best eradicate a group of people based on how they look.   Pretty sure this is the definition of being a hack.

This member of the “pudgy populace” is not impressed.

ACTIVISM OPPORTUNITY:

Let’s give some feedback:

Pacific Standard (who ran the piece):  pacificstandard@alissaneilpr.com

Mother Jones:  backtalk@motherjones.com

Comment on MJ’s Facebook thread about the piece:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151981633102144&set=a.86221162143.85117.7642602143&type=1

Me, My Body, and Relationship Counseling

love-tummyMy body and I used to have a seriously bad relationship, and looking back it’s not that surprising. I grew up the daughter of a Marine and a multi-sport athlete. If I fell and ran to my father, I could expect to hear “Are you hurt or are you injured?” Hurt meant that it was time to suck it up; injured meant you were going to the doctor. He, along with coaches and dance teachers told me to “walk it off”, “play through the pain” and that “pain is fear leaving the body.”

I was told over and over again that my body was just a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness  – blocking out or working through the pain. It didn’t come naturally at first – I seemed to have an innate sense that my body deserved better than that, but at some point I turned a corner and got really good at thinking of my body as something separate, and something to be ignored.

I worked through stress fractures, and an IT band so tight it felt like it was going to rip in half, pulled muscles, sprains, strains, jammed fingers, knee injuries and a host of other issues. I ignored my body when it asked for food and hydration, and I scoffed at it when it asked for rest.

I became a compulsive exerciser and I started to look down on my body even more. I refused to give it what it needed and pushed it beyond reasonable, and then unreasonable, limits.  When my body would finally bend or break under the strain, I treated it with utter contempt. I believed that my body was just a “meat sack,”  a collection of muscles and bones that were trying to limit what I could do. I believed that my mind had to be stronger than my body and I felt triumphant when I ignored my body’s signals and “pushed through.”

If I ever had an acquaintance who treated me the way that I treated my body for all those years, I would never speak to them again. In fact, I would never have let it go on that long. But through all of this my body stuck with me (even though I wasn’t giving it the food, hydration, or rest it needed), my body continued to support me. It never gave up on me. If my body could talk, all it would have said for years would have probably be something like “&$*#(*@ *$*&*#(*$  and for the love of pete can we please take a nap?!” but I wouldn’t have listened.

We live in a culture that preaches that our bodies are limitations. I still think of my body as something separate (and I know and honor those for whom that doesn’t work.)  But it’s different now –  I consider my body is a cherished friend.  Think of everything your body does for you without you even asking: breathing, blinking, heart beating… every cell in your body is getting blood right now and you’re not even thinking about it.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I am too distracted to focus on a game of solitaire. I’m pretty sure that  if I was consciously in charge of breathing and blinking and heart beat I would have been dead in middle school when I got my first Walkman and regularly walked into stuff because I was so into the soundtrack of A Chorus Line.

I’m not saying that pushing your body is always wrong, you have to decide what works for you. I know I’ve danced through plenty of injuries. What I’m suggesting is that you consider treating your body like you would treat a friend.  I can’t even count the things that my best friend has done for me, even though he might rather have been doing something else (hello marathon!) because he’s my best friend and he loves me and I asked. It’s the same with my body.

I’m privileged to be temporarily able-bodied and I learned more about that when I had a neck injury last year and lost the use of my right arm for almost three months.  I learned that even if my body has limitations, that doesn’t make my body a limitation and that I worked best when it was me and my body against a problem, and not me against my body. I don’t know what is in the future for me and my body and like any relationship, my body and I have to keep up the communication and we have breakdowns, but we’ve come a long way since our days of giving each other the silent treatment, and I’m feel like our relationship is healthier than it’s ever been.

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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Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

Just By Looking At Us

People believing that they can glean tons of information about others based only on their body size is reaching *cough* epidemic levels in this country.

As has been said by the brilliant Marilyn Wann, there are exactly two things that you can tell by looking at someone’s size:

  1. What size they are
  2. What your preconceived notions and prejudices about that particular body size are

When people look at someone and think they know anything other than those two things, they are just acting on their preconceived notions and prejudices (which which is made much worse when they are doctors, eating disorder professionals and other people who should know better).

Many current cultures have developed intense preconceived notions and prejudices against body sizes (in some cultures they are against fat bodies, in some cultures they are against thin bodies).  In US culture there is currently a strong bias against fat bodies.  We are not the first or only group to be the subject of stereotyping and scapegoating, and we have options (always options, never obligations!)

We can notice how often these messages come at us from people who either want to sell us something, or want to put us down as a way to raise themselves up.  We can point out situations where we feel that people are operating from stereotypes and preconceived notions if we feel like it. We can remind people that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely under our control, and that each person gets to choose what health means to them, how important health is to them, and what path supports their priorities and goals.

Perhaps most importantly, we can work to be the person in charge of how we feel about ourselves, and to decide that we like, even love ourselves, regardless of how close or far we are from some arbitrary social ideal.  So as we deal with being stereotyped, stigmatized, and scapegoated, it may help to remember that it’s not us, it’s them, and we are under no obligation to buy into their stereotypes when we choose how to view ourselves.

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

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

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

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

Things That Are Still A Diet

Success and DietsThe term “Diet” has taken on the meaning of ” a method of eating which leads to weight loss.”  None of these methods have been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people (research list here) and it seems that information has gotten around because more and more companies are trying to market their “Diet” as anything but. This is, of course, bullshit.

Lean Cuisine has ads that say “ditch the diet and go on a try it!” and then suggest that people eat their frozen meals to lose weight.

Special K says that you should stop worrying about the number on the scale. Don’t get your hopes up, they still want us to buy their products in an attempt to lose weight, they just want us to call it “Size Sassy”. Seriously.

Weight Watchers says they aren’t a Diet, they’re a lifestyle choice.  It’s a lifestyle where you choose to be on a Diet. Also it really doesn’t work and they know it.

If someone is suggesting that you should eat fewer calories than you need (whether or not it’s in concern with burning calories through movement) in the hope that your body will consume itself and become smaller, they are putting you on a program that is almost sure to fail.  They can call it a try-it, a lifestyle choice, Size Sassy, or Petunia the Petulant Porcupine, but at the end of the day it’s the same Diet concept that’s been shown to fail the vast majority of people, and have the exact opposite of the intended effect on the majority of people you try it.  Which, I imagine, is why they are in such a hurry to call it something else.

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

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

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

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave

Jillian MichaelsYou know those people who pride themselves on “telling it like it is” and giving “tough love” to fatties.  Jillian Michaels, the authors of Skinny Bitch, Dr. Oz, random people I meet in the gym…People who defend their bullying actions by saying “Someone needs to be brave and stop coddling these fatties. I’m that person, put down the bon bons and get off your ass fatty”.  Here’s what I would like to say to them:

Newsflash  – there is not a fat person in this culture who hasn’t heard this before.  There are very few fat people who haven’t heard it in the last two hours.  We know what you think of us.  We are all too aware that you let your assumptions run wild and then treat us like your assumptions and stereotypes are true, and like public health means making fat peoples’ health the public’s business. We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170  times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery.

Maybe you are actually so deluded that you think this is a good idea.  Maybe this is all an exercise to stroke your massive ego.  Maybe you think you’re the fatty whisperer.  Or maybe it just makes you feel good to treat people like crap.  I don’t really care because bullying is inappropriate in any guise.   If someone is interested in hearing your “tough” talk I’m sure you’ll be among the very first people to know and then let ‘er rip, otherwise how about you sit down and shut up.

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

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

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

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

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.