Not a Civil Debate

Angry FrustratedI got a series of comments from someone who was suggesting that fat people should be forced to lose weight for the good of society. After I didn’t approve any of their 7 comments, they said: “You need to approve my comments.  Why won’t you engage in a civil debate?”

Besides the absolutely ridiculous idea that I’m obligated to give anybody else an audience my blog, there is a deeper issue here:

There is no way to have a civil debate about whether or not a group of people should be eradicated. There is no way to have a civil debate about whether I have the right to exist.  Nobody has the right to require fat people to debate them for our lives.

There’s a ton of weight stigma, bullying and oppression that happens, talk about the “War on Obesity” is encouraged by the government and rampant, and public health seems to be largely about making fat people’s health the public’s business. If we’re not careful we can start to think that those things are ok and that we have to step up to the mic anytime someone wants to suggest that we don’t have the right to exist. Or, having decided that they should be eradicated, debating about the best way to get it done. We can start to think that fat people should feel obligated to step up to the mic and engage in these debates, or try to justify our right to exist by proving that we are “healthy”, or “worthy”, or that we want to be/are trying to be thin, or whatever.  We can start to believe that fat people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are contingent on our ability to successfully debate for them.

Bullshit.  THIS IS NOT OK.  People, including the media, the government, our friends and families, and perfect strangers, have no right to treat fat people the way that we are treated.  Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies, period.  It doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we want to/could become thin. And those who suggest that it’s ok to treat fat people like crap because they will acknowledge our right to exist and stop the mistreatment just as soon as we become thin, can take a flying leap – these people do not get to try to eradicate actual me while cowering behind the excuse that they don’t want to eradicate theoretical thin me.

Sometimes I, and other fat people, do choose to debate these topics but it should be clear that when we do so, it’s a courtesy – not an obligation.  The systematic stigma, bullying, and oppression of fat people including war on obesity IS WRONG.  Completely and totally wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrongity Wrong. It is absolutely unjustifiable whether it’s couched in terms of health, costs, social responsibility or anything else.  It is an affront to our civil rights – it is pure shaming, bullying, and oppression, and it is most assuredly wrong.

So why won’t I engage in a civil debate?  Perhaps it’s because, as the unwilling combatant in a war waged on me by my government – assisted by the media, the diet industry with their $60 billion a year in profits, and a volunteer army of total strangers – all of whom ridiculously insist that they are trying to eradicate me “for my own good”, I am not feeling civil.  I will not “civilly” beg for my right to exist from people who are actively trying to eradicate me, but I will damn sure fight for my right to exist against anyone who threatens it. They want a war on obesity?  I’ll give them a war, and civility will not be my first priority.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Because Fat Bias Kills, That’s Why

What Will you DefendEvery once in a while someone asks why I bother fighting anti-fat bias an oppression, suggesting that it’s no big deal. That hasn’t been my experience, or the experience of people who have found themselves ostracized from family and friends, unable to access the world because of lack of accommodation, fired/not hired/paid less because they are fat, at the losing ending of the tremendous about of medical bias, or subject to the many forms of oppression that fat people experience on a daily basis often encouraged by the government, our employers, and even our families and friends.

In a piece called “My Cancer Pt. II, Medical Fat Shaming Could Have Killed Me” Rebecca Hiles explains the experience of being diagnosed as fat and prescribed weight loss regardless of symptoms – and how that put her life in jeopardy.  She is not alone, certainly fat people suffer and die because fat bias leads to medical malpractice. And because of doctors buying into the lie that being thin is so important that putting fat people’s lives at risk in an effort to change the way we look is a completely reasonable thing to do – whether it’s pills that have been shown to kill us, or surgery that amputates a healthy organ and very often results in life-altering complications and death – it is made clear to us every day in so many ways that we should consider death a reasonable alternative to living in a fat body.

But it’s not just medical bias that kills us.  It’s people whose lives don’t ever get started because they are waiting until they are thin, living their lives as a perpetual “before” picture. (something that affects not just fat people but our families and friends as well.)

It’s people who aren’t able to do the things that they want to in their lives because so much of the world – restaurants, theaters, transportation, healthcare facilities –  is built by people who are either pretending that fat people don’t exist, or don’t care that they are excluding us – or they are celebrating the fact that they are excluding us (paging Abercrombie and Fitch…)

Fat bias kills when people who are the victims of bullying, including online bullying, take down their blogs, or youtube channels, or give up on their dreams, or stop leaving their homes to try to get some relief from being harassed and terrorized.  Fat bias kills when it hurts our ability to build a strong social network because our government is trying to engage our employers, family, and friends to see us as the enemy and fight against us in an incredibly ill-advised War on Fat people, in which we become unwilling combatants and casualties.

Fat bias ruins lives. Fat bias kills.  And that’s why I spend my time fighting it.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

A Big Fat Fairytale

DragonA reader sent me an article today that claiming that most fat people have no idea that we are fat. I’ve seen articles about how doctors don’t talk to their fat patients enough about weight loss, how fat people don’t know they are fat, that nobody is brave enough to talk about obesity.

What the hell are they talking about?  Are these surveys based on 9 out of 10 people who live under a rock?  All of those articles should start with “Once upon a time” because they are fairytales.

Magazines at the grocery store can’t stop talking about weight loss.  I, and many of the readers who e-mail me have almost never been to the doctor and not had our weight brought up and that includes, in my case, occasions when doctors suggested that I should lose weight for strep throat, a separated shoulder, and a broken toe. My theory is that the media likes to interject this idea into their stories so that people don’t call them out for reporting the same “everybody knows”  crap in multiple stories day in and day out without checking the evidence or, you know, asking questions as journalists might be expected to do.

The big problem happens when people believe this story and think that fat people are wandering the world oblivious to the fact that everyone from the media, to healthcare professionals, to them wants to stereotype us based on how we look, or that god forbid we don’t hate ourselves and spend all of our free brainspace, time, and money trying to be thin –  and they think it’s somehow up to them to disabuse us of these notions, or remind us that if we’re not giving all of our efforts to self-hatred – if we dare to enjoy our lives in any way – then we’re just not trying hard enough.

The fairytale is based on another fairytale:  Once upon a time, we got the idea that other people’s bodies were our business.  And we all lived miserably ever after.

Until we called bullshit on these fairytales, made public health about providing options to the public instead of about making people’s health the public’s business, and chose to respect and appreciate people of all shapes and sizes.  Maybe it’s not happily ever after, but it’s a much better start.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Should We Be Fat Talk Free?

Actual SizeThanks to reader Harmony for providing the inspiration for this post!  Part of it is a re-post from a past blog and part of it is new to address new questions. Reasonably often I see somebody – typically somebody well intentioned – suggest that we should stop using the word fat.  Recently I actually saw someone say that fat people “shouldn’t be allowed” to call ourselves fat.  Sometimes when it is discussed, “fat talk” is short hand for negative body talk, but often it’s literal.

The issue here is that, however well meaning, saying that we shouldn’t call people fat suggests that being fat is such a terrible thing that we shouldn’t utter the word out loud.  Fat people are not Voldemort and making fat seem like the “physical descriptor that must not be named” actually further shames and stigmatizes people who are, in fact, fat (whether we call them/ourselves that or not.)

Many people who meet the social definition of fat don’t identify as such. This is typically because society has been allowed to heap all kinds of nastiness onto a perfectly good adjective. In response, many of us choose to embrace the word fat because we get to choose what words have power over us and we have decided that when it comes to how we describe our bodies, the bullies can no longer have our lunch money. Of course, nobody is obligated identify as fat, but at the end of the day even those who choose not to identify with the word fat – either because of the negativity that has been heaped upon it, or because it was used as a weapon against them, or for some other reason – are still fat by the social definition. So when someone says “Don’t call people fat” because it’s body shaming, they are saying that there’s something wrong with being fat, which is – you guessed it – body shaming.

The problem isn’t that people are fat.  The problem is that there is so much social stigma around being fat.  It is in this way that we get sayings such as:

you’re not fat, you have fat,

“you’re not fat, you’re beautiful”

and people who think that their lack of condescension for a fat person who went running is so important that they should write about it.

To understand the problem, try substituting a characteristic that is more socially neutral.  I’m also brunette, so we’ll use that:

“You’re not brunette, you just have brown hair!”

“You’re not brunette, you’re beautiful”

“To the brunette running on the Westfield track, if you’d look at me when you pass you’d see that there’s no condescension in my eyes, I have nothing but respect for you.”

The first one sounds patently ridiculous.  The second is offensive – since obviously being brunette and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive. The last one is just whackadoodle, why would it be noteworthy that someone didn’t have condescension for a person with brown hair who went running?

The fact that these three phrases are vastly different with two different adjectives speaks to the effect of society’s weight bias, and that won’t be solved by calling fat people something else.

The trick is to end body shaming and negative body talk full stop – not to suggest that we should abandon the use a perfectly good physical descriptor because people have been allowed to heap negativity onto it.

Here’s what I think:  We don’t need an end to “fat talk”, we need an end to fat stereotyping, fat stigmatizing, fat bashing and fat-based healthism (along with all healthism while we’re at it.) We need to acknowledge that bodies come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and that people of all sizes deserve to be treated with respect – which includes the absence of stereotyping based on physical appearance.  I think that we need to end body snarking and body bashing of all kinds, and I think part of that is creating a world where calling someone fat doesn’t constitute either.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Who Looks Healthy

Picture thanks to reader Morgan!
Picture thanks to reader Morgan!

I saw a picture on Facebook comparing Marilyn Monroe to a very thin woman.  The picture was about their “beauty” but many people responded with some version of “Neither of them look healthy to me.”  I saw a piece about diversity in yoga criticized by people suggesting that we should be giving the participants attention because “doing yoga or not these people do not look healthy,” and I deleted a number of comments on a video of inspiration for fat people who want to participate in fitness that insisted that people like us shouldn’t be seen because we’re “obviously not healthy.”

There are a lot of ways that this is screwed up, let’s take them one by one:

First of all, judging how healthy people are based on their picture, or looking at them, is ridiculous.  Not only does this feed into various appearance based prejudices and stereotypes, but it also harms people who deal with invisible disabilities who have to put up with busybodies questioning them about any accommodation they might use.

The next issue is that even if we could judge people’s health by looking at them, it’s absolutely none of our business. Other people’s health is not for us to guess about, or judge, or comment on unless someone is inviting us to do so.

Finally, the suggestion that only people who are “healthy” (by whatever definition) deserve to participate in the hobbies of their choice, or to be seen in photographs, or be role models, or be in the public eye, is a blatantly disgusting display of healthism that is often used as another way to enforce oppression intersectionally, including sizeism, racism, ageism and ableism.

The truth about health is that it is complicated, multi-dimensional, not an obligation, not a barometer of worthiness, not entirely within our control, and not guaranteed under any circumstances.  But even more important, it is deeply personal. The push to have public health focus on making the individual’s health the public’s business, and the accompanying suggestion that people should have to “perform” health or “look healthy” to avoid social stigma, bullying and harassment etc. takes our attention away from things that we could be doing to support people’s choices for their bodies – including removing barriers to healthcare (many of them rooted in the same prejudice that this “who looks healthy” culture perpetuates,)  making sure that everyone has access to the food that they want to eat and that movement options are accessible and safe – not just physically safe, though that’s very important – but also psychologically safe. Until everyone can show up for the movement options they are interested in – whether that’s a local swimming pool or body of water, or the free weight area of the gym, or a pole dancing class or whatever – and know for absolute certain that they will not face bullying or harassment for how they look, then we aren’t providing safe options. Public health needs to be about making information and options available to the public, not making the individual’s health the public’s business.

There are things that we can do as individuals:

  • don’t use phrases like “she looks healthy” or “he doesn’t look healthy”
  • don’t use health status as a response to fat shaming – make it clear that fat people have the right to exist without bullying, stigmatizing, and oppression regardless of our size, or our health status
  • speak out when you see people engaging in this kind of discussion.  instead of countering “they obviously aren’t healthy” with “they look healthy to me! ” consider making it clear that the idea that we can know how healthy someone is from a picture, and that even if we could we should consider it our business, is absurd

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Questions for Diet Companies

Ask QuestionsBesides the obvious question for the diet industry – How can you live with yourselves making 60 billion dollars  a year selling a product that hardly ever works? –  I have some other questions for the diets I’m seeing advertised.  Of course, health is complicated, multi-dimensional, not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, completely within our control or guaranteed under any circumstances. And I would never tell anyone else what to eat or what path to health they should choose – these are just my questions base on the health and weight loss claims that the diet industry is so fond of making.

NutriSystem and Jenny Craig:  With all of this talk about how the healthiest thing is to eat farm to table/slow food/food as close to whole as possible, why are you suggesting to fat people that we should eat meals that are highly processed, frozen, and packaged in plastic bags to be microwaved back to warmth?

Medifast, your plan of five shakes a day and one lean protein and vegetable meal not only replaces almost all food with reconstituted soy protein, but it puts people at a caloric level that is less than what has been used  to study starvation, and is so low fat that women may stop menstruating and lose their hair. Your “health coaches” become “health coaches” by buying into your multi-level marketing program to resell the product (I personally know someone who was an unemployed social psychologist one day and a health coach the next.)  Explain again how this is a good idea?

Slimfast:  You want us to believe that replacing two-thirds of our food with a drink that has a laxative effect and a ton of sugar will bring greater health.  Are you serious?

The Cabbage Soup Diet:  Just one of your 7 days says “Eat as many as eight bananas and drink as many glasses of skim milk as you would like on this day, along with your soup.” What the fuck?

Alli Diet Pills:  Your side effects include uncontrolled anal seepage, spontaneous bowel movements, and life-threatening liver damage and your information suggests that people should wear dark pants, all for 4 pounds more weight lost A YEAR than those who didn’t take Alli (and it sounds like a fair amount of that weight leaks out their asses.)  What the actual fuck?

Weight Watchers: When your study showed that your average participant lost around 10 pounds in six months and kept off half of that for two years, your chief scientist –  Karen Miller-Kovach – said: “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.”  If you are so comfortable with those numbers, why doesn’t your advertising say “Join Weight Watchers and maybe lose 5 pounds in two years” with before and after pictures of people who have lost 5 pounds?

Maybe if I asked representatives from these diets they would have answers – but then I have to ask if it matters what those answers are, when the diets don’t have any evidence that they lead to significant long-term weight loss or health benefits?  So my last question is “Why in the world would I give you my money?”

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Fat People Claiming Our Place

Design by Kris Owen
Design by Kris Owen

People choose lots of different hobbies. for many fat people our choice of hobby can mean extra work and/or activism on our part. For those who knit or sew it can mean having to learn to make their own patterns since patterns in their size may not exist. For those who like to travel it may mean a fight to get the same service that everyone else on the plane gets (travel to their destination in a seat that fits them). The world is set up in ways that exclude fat people and that can make everything from going out to dinner to going on a cruise to sewing a dress more difficult.

Some of us choose fitness/athletics as a hobby.  Sometimes people suggest that fat people who participate in fitness deserve to be treated better than those who don’t.  This is often called the “Good Fatty/Bad Fatty Dichotomy” and it is complete bullshit and it needs to die.  Participating in fitness does not make someone better or worse than those who choose different hobbies, or no hobbies.

That said, being a fat person in the fitness world can mean dealing with frustrations including a lack of clothing and gear that fits you, and everything from online bullying to physical violence from people who believe that we don’t belong in “their world” or who have issues that are triggered by fat people living lives that we love and taking up space in public.

As a fathlete this is something that I’ve been involved in fighting for a long time. I co-created the Fit Fatties Forum and Facebook Page with Jeanette Depatie to have a place for people of all sizes to talk about Fitness from a weight-neutral perspective (without weight loss talk, diet talk, negative body talk, or food moralization).  I’m also working with Candice Casas, Courtney Marshall, and Jeanette DePatie to put together an anthology of stories of fat people in fitness (if you’re interested in doing a first person story, academic paper, poetry, art, being interviewed, or joining the newsletter to be kept posted on our progress check out the website here)

Recently the members of the Fit Fatties Forum created this video to remind the world that, while nobody is obligated to participate in fitness, the fitness world is for Every Body who wants to participate. You can check it out below (I was involved in making it and I still cried the first time I saw it so I want to give a big fat thank you so all the awesome people who let us use their amazing photos.)

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.