The Thing About Concern Trolls

Concerned puppy is very concerned
A pug puppy’s face is shown with a very sad expression. It is captioned “Concerned Puppy is very Concerned”

I get a lot of mail from people who asked someone to please stop making inappropriate comments/giving inappropriate “advice” etc. only to find out that the giver of unwanted advice is upset that their sincere efforts at helping fat people are not being taken well. It might be food policing, body policing,  negative comments about our bodies, recommendations for weight loss methods, suggesting that [insert aspect of our life] will be better if we manipulate our bodies into a different size, or any of an endless list of unwanted interference in our lives.

All of this is often discussed under the umbrella term “concern trolling.”  Often when the person doing the concern trolling is confronted with the phrase they insist that it’s rude and unfair because they just wanted to help. In many cases, this is true – maybe their concern trolling behavior actually comes from good intentions.  And sometimes that creates an uncomfortable situation for fat people who suddenly feel that perhaps they need to let people treat them in ways that they find personally harmful because the person who is harming them says that they sincerely want to help.

While everyone who has to deal with it is allowed to handle concern trolling however they wish, including letting people say and do things to them that they believe to be harmful, I’d like to offer the following food for thought on this:

What they want doesn’t matter. What they think is helpful doesn’t matter.  This is not about them.  I think that someone who truly wants to help me cares whether or not I want their help, and cares whether or not what they might think is helpful is actually harmful to me.  If I tell someone they are hurting me and they explain that they did it because they want to help, then we have a problem because whether or not they want to help, they obviously don’t have the skills and emotional intelligence to get that done.

A fat body is not a sign that we need (or have to put up with) other people’s  unwanted comments and advice .  Our health/food/fitness/body/life is not anybody else’s business unless we ask that person to make it their business and even then we are allowed to set boundaries.

Consider this pictorial representation (from  a hilarious article about #TheInternetNamesAnimals):

Cuddlebug Mcnope
A little girl looks at a giant crab through aquarium glass.  It is captioned “Cuddlebug McNope”

In this situation I am the little girl, and the crab is the concern troll.  I don’t care how much that crab wants to help, or how much that crab thinks that cuddling me is a good idea that will benefit me in some way, I am not cuddling that crab, even if the crab insists that his concern trolling is justified. You have options for how to handle this – I have some suggestions here for how to deal with concern trolling here, as well as an example from one of my own little crabs here. Regardless of what you decide to do, remember that the problem isn’t you- it’s the concern trolling, and you don’t have to cuddle that crab.

 

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

The War On “Obesity” is Seriously Harming Kids

grade on curveRecently PS Mag posted an article called “The Youngest Casualties in the War on Obesity.” It opens with the story of Jaime, a 11 year old who developed an eating disorder after she her school publicly measured and announced her BMI, and she decided that lowering her BMI might make her more popular.

“I don’t think she even knew what a BMI was before that,” her mother says. But as soon as she did know, it was all Jane could think about…

By the time she graduated high school, Jane had been hospitalized three times for her eating disorder and attended three separate eating disorder programs, sometimes thousands of miles away from her family…

“I don’t believe that the public school weigh-in and BMI screening caused her eating disorder, but rather they were significant factors, among others, which triggered her illness,” she says.

In a decade we saw a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalizations in kids UNDER TWELVE. That is straight up horrifying, but not surprising. We put fetuses on restriction diets, and then give babies low calorie formula, schools grade kids on their weight, people who claim to be experts on kids’ health don’t feel the need to have any evidence before implementing interventions on fat kids, the First Lady holds up those who emotionally and physically abuse fat people as role models, we perform medical experiments on fat kids without informed consent or permission. The outcomes are tragic and, more tragically, exactly what we should have expected.

The piece continues:

No one doubts that these policies are well-intentioned. It’s impossible not to want children to grow up healthy and happy. And the current data says that, for many children, this isn’t happening. Most children don’t eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables, nor do they play vigorously for an hour a day. Since children spend much of their day at school, it seemed logical to intervene there.

Stop the logic train, we had a bunch of people fall off. Research says that most kids don’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetable or get enough activity.  So schools decided to weigh them publicly and focus on body size as a proxy for health with no evidence to back up their approach.

What with the who now?  If kids aren’t getting enough fruits, vegetables and activity, then how about the school works to get them more deliciously prepared fruits and vegetables, and more options to engage in movement that are fun, non-humiliating, and help develop a life-long love of movement instead of leading to therapy sessions about the recurring nightmare you have of people hurling dodgeballs at you.

The truth about the BMI programs instituted in schools is that they were instituted without evidence as to their efficacy or of their chances of harming kids, and they continue despite the fact that there is no reason to believe that they work, and evidence that they are doing harm. According to research from the University of Minnesota “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.” Again from the PS Mag piece:

The CDC never encouraged states or school districts to mandate BMI testing in students. Even on its own website, the Center notes that BMI testing is not the answer: “There is insufficient evidence to conclude whether school-based BMI measurement programs are effective at preventing or reducing childhood obesity,” announced a 2007 study in the Journal of School Health

“School districts are passing policies ahead of the evidence,” says Allison Nihiser, who works within the division of population health at the CDC.

So instead of embarrassing and shaming kids while ruining their relationships with food, exercise and their bodies under the guise of making them healthier, what could we do? Kathleen Kara Fitzpatrick, a psychologist who works at the Stanford University Eating Disorders Clinic seems to have a pretty good idea:

“We need to teach kids to value their bodies and themselves, regardless of how they look or how they feel about themselves. The right time is right now.”

What might that look like?  First of all, kids don’t take care of things they hate, and that includes their bodies.  If we teach kids to value their bodies and view them as amazing and worthy of care, we give them a shot at actually having a good relationship with their bodies.  If we give them lots of options to be involved in movement (competitive and non-competitive sports, walking, yoga, dancing, weight lifting, video games that involved movement etc.) and if we teach kids to find ways to make movement fun, and not consider it a punishment for the size of their body (or because they should be terrified of having a larger body,) if we teach kids to eat a variety of foods and not to be scared of any foods, then we help them to have healthy relationships with food, movement, and their bodies, and they deserve that.

If you’re looking for resources, The Association for Size Diversity and Health has a great list here!

We need to do better for our kids than this, and the first step to helping is to stop hurting them with these ridiculous body shaming, hand-wringing over hard evidence interventions. And we need to stop right the hell now.

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

 

“Obesity” and Smoking – There’s No Comparison

Talking NonsenseIn response to my recent post about how unlikely significant long-term weight loss is, someone on Facebook posted the following:

“If most people who try to quit smoking fail, does that mean doctors shouldn’t advise their patients to quit?”

This a a common argument that comes up every time I talk about the failure rate of dieting. I have to assume that it’s made by people who really haven’t thought this through. So today I thought this would be a good time to re-post this, as a public service to anyone who thinks comparing being fat and smoking makes even the tiniest bit of sense:

First, this is not an apt comparison. Smoking is a single specific behavior – every smoker smokes. Being fat is a body size, being listed as “overweight” or “obese” in current medical science is a ratio of weight and height and it’s been changed over time, including at the request of companies that sell dieting. Fat people are as varied in their habits and behaviors as any group of people who share one physical characteristic.

Now let’s talk about what a successful intervention looks like. Smokers become non-smokers when they quit smoking – when they stop doing a single specific behavior. In order for fat people to become not fat, they must change their body size. There are no studies where more than a tiny fraction of fat people are able to become thin in the long term, with the behavioral solutions of “eat less and exercise more” failing just as often as what are considered fad diets. Because being fat is a body size, not a behavior, there’s not a clear behavioral intervention as there is in smoking.

Then there are issues with attempts and failures. Even if we assume that smoking and weight loss have a similar failure rate (ie: the vast majority of people fail long term) the difference here is that a smoker is statistically healthier for every day they don’t smoke – even if they start smoking again. Dieting does not work that way. Each time we feed our body less food than it needs to survive in the hopes that it will eat itself and become smaller, we open ourselves up to health risks including those from weight cycling and from caloric deficit, as well as rebound weight gain (and there is no evidence to suggest a similar “rebound” affect in smoking.)

If we think that being fat is unhealthy, then statistically a weight loss intervention is the worst possible recommendation since the majority of people who lose weight end up gaining it back plus more. Since we know that smoking is unhealthy (and that every cigarette not smoked makes someone healthier whether they relapse or not) recommending quitting is statistically the best possible recommendation.

Regardless of what you believe about smoking and “obesity”, they are simply not comparable from a public health perspective and continuing to treat them as if they are does a disservice to everyone involved.

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

Amazing Response from Girl Bullied for Her Size

Landon
This is Landon.  My friend Jeanette DePatie had him made for me to commemorate the number of times cyberbullies call me a LandWhale (note his adorable vestigial feet!) 

Dannie “Dee” McMillan, a 16-year-old junior at Lampasas High School in Texas was in study hall when her friends broke the news that someone had created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of bullying her.

Here’s the story in her own words:

I was recently a victim of cyberbullying. Someone at my school made a fake Twitter profile with the username fatwhaledee. They put their name as Dee’s a fat whale. They took my powerlifting sports team picture and photo shopped a whale over my face. After making the page they started following people from my school, with each follow another person was notified of this page.

At first I had no clue, it started with weird looks in the hallways and people giggling behind my back. Then my friends started sending me screenshots of the page so I would know. It was awful, the shame and embarrassment I felt. I left school right away and went home where I locked myself in my room and cried for hours. I stayed at home watching the follows grow for three days.

I was destroyed but with the help of my sister, my friends, and plus size model Laura Lee I decided to embrace it and turn this horrifying thing into something beautiful. We are starting to raise money to help whales. Therefore the name “Dee the Fat Whale saves the Whales.”

Dee had the brilliant idea of reclaiming the whale identity, while using this opportunity to help actual whales.  Laura encouraged her and the campaign “Dee the fat whale saves the whales” was born!

The campaign includes t-shirts being sold on Booster.com

Dee the fat whale shirt

It also includes a GoFundMe campaign and all of the money goes to Save the Whales! (GoFundMe was so impressed with her that they donated $4,000 to the campaign.)

Dee the Fat Whale GoFundMe donation

Obviously, this should never have happened. Nobody should have to figure out what to do about the horrors of human beings who engage in cyberbullying, but I’m really glad that Dee had a mentor and a support network to help her through this, and that she decided to to turn it into something positive.

This is also why it’s important that fat people claim and own our right to live the lives we want in the bodies we have. Of course, nobody is ever obligated to do activism, but every time we take that class, or go to that waterpark, or post our outfit of the day on our social media account, we give other fat people the opportunity to see that the our fat bodies are not the problem, the people who oppress us are.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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

Weight Loss, Joint Issues, and the Man Behind the Curtain

One of the things that I find incredibly frustrating in discussions that I have about weight and health happens when I point out that there is not a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people have succeeded at maintaining long term weight loss, and people agree with me. Stay with me, I’ll explain:

Typically it goes something like this:

Person:  There’s good research that shows that if fat people with knee pain lost weight, their knee pain would get better.

Me:  I have issues with the research you’re referencing, but let’s move forward as if it were valid. It doesn’t actually matter because there isn’t a single study of any intentional weight loss method where more than a tiny fraction of people are able to maintain any significant weight loss long term.

Them: I understand, I know that’s the case, but if they could just lose [insert pretty much random amount of weight or percentage of body size] their knees would feel better.

Me: But again, even if that’s true, there’s no research suggesting they could do that. The long term data we have shows that, by far, the most common outcome of an attempt at weight loss is weight gain – the exact opposite of the intended effect. So if you are suggesting that your patients lose weight because you feel their weight is causing their knee pain, you are suggesting an intervention that is most likely to make the “problem” you’ve diagnosed worse.

Them:  I understand, but isn’t it worth trying if the research shows it could help?

Me:  Think of it this way:  It’s a certainty that knee pain that occurs with walking would get better if the patient could levitate and fly, but absent evidence that we can help them do that safely, it’s unethical to suggest that they jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard because it probably won’t work, and they’ll probably end up more injured than when they started, but it would be so great for their knees if they actually flew. And let’s remember that people are only about 5% more likely to lose weight long term than to fly successfully, and even among the tiny fraction that succeed their weight loss is often only around 5 pounds.

It doesn’t matter what you think being thinner will do for someone, because you have literally no idea how to make them thinner – as we both agree, there isn’t a single study of any intentional weight loss method where more than a tiny fraction of people succeed, and “success” is often an incredibly small amount of weight (like the amount of weight that one might lose with a thorough exfoliation.) Do you agree that there aren’t any studies that support the idea that significant long-term weight loss is possible for the vast majority of people?

Them:  Yes, I agree.

Them:  But what if they are having back pain?  I mean, there are good studies that show that if they lost weight their back pain would be better.

What I’m thinking: OMGWTFHOWAREYOUNOTGETTINGTHIS?!

What I do: Slow blink while I control my urge to start screaming and throwing things. Then start the whole thing over. This is made worse by the fact that the diet industry has worked hard to link everything from knee pain to swine flu to being fat, so people seem to think that manipulating your body is the solution to almost every problem.

By the way, if you are a fat person dealing with knee pain, and you’re being told that weight loss is the only option, you are being lied to. I wrote a piece to help that you can check out here.

I’m always a little shocked when this happens, and especially when it happens with doctors.  They suggest I lose weight (most often apropos of nothing, just because I exist in a fat body and I happen to be in their office for an issue that has absolutely no relationship to weight.)  I point out that the complete lack of evidence and that the most likely outcome is weight gain.  I would say 8 times out of 10 they agree with me, then continue trying to convince me to attempt weight loss.

Such is the state of the “science” when it comes to weight and health. It seems like everyone still believes in the Wizard, even though they admit that they know it’s just a dude (or, preferably, Queen Latifah) behind the curtain. Seriously, weight loss doesn’t work so, if you’re thinking of recommending weight loss, it’s time to think again.

And, just to be clear, I’m talking about the science of weight and health, and you may not agree with me, but it has nothing to do with treating fat people with respect. Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could (or want to) become thin.  The rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size or health dependent (by any definition of health.)

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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

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

Dealing with a Fat Shaming Massage Therapist

Say Something SundayI have found massage therapy to be amazing – most of the massage work I get is sports massage but I’ve also had the occasional relaxation massage.  It can be great, but it can also be a fraught situation – you’re lying on a table, vulnerable, while someone is touching you. It’s a terrible time to be fat shamed.  Recently, reader Lucinda had this experience. She shared her brilliant response with me and gave me permission to share it with you:

I’m a fat athlete too, and this last Saturday I ran my first Half Marathon. It was a great experience! Unfortunately, as maybe I should have expected, it was very hard for the world to let a fat woman run a half marathon without making sure I knew how unhealthy it was to be a fat woman and how much better my half marathon would have gone had I been thin.

Yesterday I had scheduled a recovery massage with my regular therapist, Joan. I’ve seen her about 5 times this year, as part of my preparation for the race, and also as part of my rehab for my knee (tendinitis). She has heard every story of preparation and planning for my half marathon, and has been a supporter of my efforts. I have felt a strong rapport and built trust with her.

During my massage, I told her about my half marathon experience. But instead of being supportive, this time her response was to give me unsolicited advice about how losing weight would really “fix” my running and then try to sell me some shake program that she’s been following and has lost weight on. So there I am, naked on her massage table, completely vulnerable, paying her $80 to work on my body, and she took that time to A, criticize my body, B, try to fix my “problem” which she, not me, has diagnosed and she admittedly is not an expert in, and C, then she tried to sell me something. It was such a violation, and ruined the massage for me, and left me feeling upset and angry all day.

Usually my response in these kinds of situations is to withdraw and just never go see that practitioner again. But yesterday was not like all those other times, because yesterday was the first time someone had said that kind of bullshit to Half Marathon Finisher Lucinda. All those other times, the woman they were criticizing was the woman who didn’t think she was capable, who believed that her body was an enemy she had to overcome, who thought she didn’t have what it took. Now I know, I have what it takes. I have surprised myself with how much I can do. I did not run that half marathon despite my fat body, I did it with my fat body. We are on the same team. And nobody disrespects the Team.

So I wrote her an e-mail.

Joan,

I wanted to circle back to our conversation about that shake program (isometrics?). Thanks for telling me about your own experience with weight loss on this program, I am glad you feel good about it. However, it made me uncomfortable to feel like you were selling me something during a massage, and that discomfort took me mentally out of the relaxation of the experience. Also, and this is more what I wanted to make sure I said, I did not appreciate you making a comment about my body, specifically that I needed to lose weight, while I was lying naked and vulnerable on your massage table. That felt like a violation of trust and also of your role. I had just finished telling you about what a victory running my half marathon was, and your response was to give me unsolicited advice about how weight loss would fix and improve my running, which does not need to either be fixed or improved, and which you yourself admit is not an expertise of yours. Both giving unsolicited and unresearched health advice, and making comments about a client’s physical body that reveal your negative opinion of that body, seem to me to be beyond the scope of your role as a massage therapist. My time on the massage table is time I dedicate to relaxation, self care, and recovery, and I pay a premium for it. It is not too much for me to expect that that time be free from criticism, bigotry, judgment, and condemnation of my perfectly normal, strong, healthy, and accomplished fat body.

Sincerely,

Lucinda

Now, as we’ve talked about before, with activism we can only give people the opportunity to question their behavior, we aren’t responsible for their reactions.  Happily, in this situation Joan took advantage of the opportunity that was generously given to her:

Oh Lucinda,

I am truly sorry that I made you so upset.  I hate that you had to take the time to write this note and may continue to carry anger.

First of all,  I can’t tell you how excited I am about your race and your success. I thought about the race many times during the weekend. It was an accomplishment that, as you said, changed the benchmark for you about what was possible.

I was very conflicted before sharing my weight loss experience and have been thinking about it ever since our massage.  You are absolutely correct the advice was unsolicited and unprofessional and I wish I could inhale the words back in. Lesson learned.

There is a check in the mail to refund the massage.

Run on!

I really appreciate Lucinda because not only did she advocate for herself, but who knows how many of Joan’s clients will be saved from similar negative experiences.  I think it’s also important to point out the power of the after-the-fact letter.  Sometimes we just don’t feel like speaking up at the moment and that’s ok, we have no obligation to engage in activism in the moment, or at all.  But sometimes we walk away from a situation and decide that we do want to say something and that’s when the letter or e-mail can come in really handy, and I want to really thank Lucinda for giving us a great example of how it’s done for Say Something Sunday.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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 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!

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

Nobody Tells This Woman How to Dress

How messed up do you have to be to take to social media in order to try to tell people of a certain weight what they can and can’t wear? That’s a question that I don’t have a definitive answer to (“pretty messed up” is as close as I can get.)  When it comes to options for responding to this nonsense, Sara Petty has that part under control.

Sara is a blogger who is majoring in Public Relations at Bowling green University, and she decided to create a response to the size-shaming troll drivel she found in social media about what people should and shouldn’t wear.  In a statement to Huffington Post she said:

I also hope that girls are able to separate who they are from the number that shows up on the scale, and realize there is no number, high or low, that dictates if you’re worthy of feeling beautiful.

I think that this is a great project and I appreciate Sara putting herself out there.  I especially appreciate that the pictures are amateur, with just her room in the background etc.  While there’s nothing wrong with having beautiful, professional pictures taken of yourself, I also want people to know that activism doesn’t require a professional photographer, and that you can make a difference using whatever resources you happen to have.

But it’s the responses to her activism that I found particularly interesting, and that’s what I want to talk about:

There is NO WAY that she could be 200 pounds

This one illustrates that people are terrible at judging weight, but excellent at missing the point of Size Acceptance. She is 5’11 and 219 pounds for the record, but that’s not really the point here.

She’s not fat!

This one is a bit tricky.  As a smaller fat person Sara has privilege since the mistreatment of fat people, as well as access to everything from clothing to transportation to compassionate evidence-based healthcare gets worse the more visibly fat one is (as well as intersectionally with things like disability, health, race, and other marginalized identities.) So some people are pointing out that, while she is taking a risk by putting herself out there, her risk is not as great as it would be if she were a size 26 with belly rolls and cellulite. And that’s true.

Still, as we’ve discussed before, this is something to be careful with because if someone is being shamed, stigmatized, bullied etc. for being fat, and we say “they aren’t fat” or “they aren’t even that fat”  in their defense, what we are also suggesting is that there is a size at which they would deserve that treatment, and that’s just not true. Which brings us to…

But she looks good at 200 pounds, I was talking about the other 200 pound people.

Because of her height and the distribution of her fat, Sara approximates the current stereotype of beauty more than people who are shorter, fatter, have different fat distribution etc.  That’s an important thing to note, and I was happy that Sara represented for women her size, and used her privilege to advocate for women of all sizes – specifically not doing the “at some point you’re too fat blah blah handwringing about our health blah blah” thing that can often happens in these situations.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that the suggestion that only people of a certain size/ weight/appearance are allowed to wear certain types of clothing is ALWAYS bullshit regardless of the parameters.  If people don’t like how fat people dress, they can avail themselves of one of these options.  In the meantime, here are Sara’s fabulous pictures, and you can check out her blog here!

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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 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!

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