Perceiving the Beauty of All Bodies

defendI just got back from giving four days of talks at Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and UMass Amherst. The students, faculty, staff, and community members I had the honor to meet were absolutely amazing and I had a blast. (I also got to see and walk through snow – it’s possible I was the only one who was happy about that part!)

During one of my talks – The World is Messed Up, You Are Fine – I talked about beauty. In particular I talked about the ways that the diet and beauty industries leverage the idea of beauty for profit, in the process disempowering well, just about everyone.

I also talked about the idea that, rather than the suggestion that “beauty” is limited to certain people, the truth is that perceiving beauty is a skill set – which is to say that everyone has inherent beauty, and the ability to see that beauty is a skill that can be learned and expanded. Some people have never bothered to expand their skill-set beyond the stereotypes that we get spoon-fed. Stereotypes that are too often grounded in privileged identities in our culture like whiteness, thinness, appearing cisgender, heteronormativity, appearing able-bodied, and more.

Now, regardless of how we think of beauty, let’s be clear that nobody owes anybody else beauty or attractiveness by any definition. And there are plenty of other ways to deal with toxic beauty culture, including deciding that beauty just isn’t something that we should care about/talk about/value. I like the idea of perceiving beauty as a skill-set because it acknowledges that people around the world have the ability to appreciate many different types of beauty, and it puts the responsibility where it belongs – on the person who is doing the perceiving, not on the body that is being perceived. So if we can’t see the beauty in someone, that’s on us because there is nothing wrong with the person we’re looking at. And if someone can’t see our beauty – that’s on them because there is nothing wrong with us.

Now, if we don’t have a great skillset for perceiving beauty, that’s not exactly a galloping shock – we live in a society that lies to us early and often about beauty for reasons including profit and power, and media that makes it nearly impossible for us to even see people who fall outside the Hollywood stereotypes of beauty in any kind of positive light.

What we can do is take responsibility for expanding our skill-set. I think a good place to start is to notice when we can’t see the beauty in someone, and ask ourselves why. We can start by asking ourselves if it’s tied to an identity or characteristic that is marginalized in our society – this could be anything from racism/colorism to things like gendered ideas of height, or sizeism and more.

Regardless of where the idea came from, we can actively work to overcome our conditioning and see the beauty in bodies like these. One option is to create a powerpoint or other slideshow and add pictures that represent the types of beauty that we are struggling to see. Then go through the deck each day and work to see the beauty in each person. As you see people in your daily life, work to perceive their beauty (though, of course, please don’t visit your issues on them – this is about your own growth.)

I got an e-mail from one of the students who was at my talk that I wanted to share with you (with their permission.)  They wrote:

I wanted to thank you for what you said about perceiving beauty. I’ve never thought about it like this before. I’ve been forcing myself to really be aware of the thoughts I have and I’ve realized that even though I’m committed to social justice, I’ve been couching a lot of bigotry in my ideas of beauty. Like, I am clear that these folks should not be oppressed, and I fight against their oppression, but I still believe that their appearance makes them less…attractive…worthy…something not good. Anyway, it’s already created a big shift for me, and it has the bonus of making me feel much more confident myself since I know that even if someone doesn’t see my beauty, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. You are my shero, your whole talk was amazing and I learned a ton, but this has really stuck out so I wanted to tell you.

So there are lots of reasons to take responsibility for our ability to perceive beauty. When it comes to fat bodies, people who can’t see our beauty have plenty of options, one of them is to accept responsibility for their inability to see our beauty and to work on that. Regardless, we are never under any obligation to buy into sizeist (or any other negative) ideas about our bodies.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism 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!

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

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

Published in: on February 25, 2018 at 6:09 am  Comments (6)  

Lies About Health At Every Size

Public HealthI see a LOT of misinformation being spread about Health at Every Size, sometimes by well-meaning but misinformed people, sometimes by those intentionally trying to discredit the concept. So today I thought I would repost this to help clear up some of what I think are common misconceptions:

1. Health at Every Size says that if you love your body you will be healthy

First of all, “healthy” is complicated to define. More to the point health – by any definition – isn’t an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstance. To me, HAES on a personal level is about putting the focus on habits and behavior that support our personal health concept (rather that putting the focus on trying to manipulate our bodies to a specific height/weight ratio.)

It’s also about acknowledging that we don’t have as much control over our health as we might like to think we do, and creating environments that are conducive to health, and I don’t mean fat-shaming and soda taxes, I mean creating environments that are free from stigma and oppression, removing barriers to access and information, making healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone, giving people the option to appreciate their bodies and think of them as worthy of care.

Finally, everyone has the option (though, of course never the obligation) to love their bodies regardless of “health” or anything having to do with “health.”  People are allowed to having complicated feelings when it comes to their bodies and “health.”

2. Health at Every Size is only for fat people

Nope-ity nope.  HAES is practiced by people of all sizes.  The reason that it’s most often talked about in conjunction with fat people is that fat people are typically told that the only path to health is to become thin (despite the fact that there are thin people who have all the health issues that fat people are told to lose weight to avoid) and so while many fat people find it while looking for an alternative to the intentional weight loss recommendations that have been failing us our entire lives, HAES is an option for those who want to pursue health rather than body size manipulation, it’s also practiced by people of all sizes who want an evidence-based health practice.

3.  Good Fat People Practice Health at Every Size 

The good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy is the idea that fat people who participate in “healthy” behaviors or are “healthy”  (as defined by the person who inappropriately and incorrectly thinks that it’s their right to judge) are better than the “bad fatties” who don’t practice “healthy” behaviors or aren’t “healthy” (by whatever definition.)

The GF/BF dichotomy is wrong and it needs to die.  Each person should have the right to define and prioritize “health” for themselves, and to choose the path that they want to travel -those are personal decisions and aren’t anyone else’s business (those wishing to make a “but muh tax dollarz!” argument can head over to this post) Public health isn’t about making fat people’s health the public’s business, or about creating healthism in the name of health, or about using “health” as a thin veil for fat bigotry.

4. I disagree with the science behind Health at Every Size, therefore I am justified in treating fat people like crap.

Noooooooo. World of no. Galaxy of no. Universe of no. No. People are free to believe whatever they want about body size and health. None of those beliefs are a “get out of Sizeism free” card.  Fat people have the right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression. Period.  What someone believes, or what is true, about Health at Every Size does not come into play here.

The seed for my HAES journey was reading the research about weight loss methods and realizing that there wasn’t a single study that would lead me to believe that future efforts at long term significant weight loss would have any different outcomes from my past attempts (which is to say, I had the same experience as almost everyone – losing weight short term and gaining it back long term, often plus more!)  Realizing that I had been sold a (massively profitable) lie about my size and health, I went looking for what the research actually said. And the research seemed pretty clear to me that, understanding that my health wasn’t entirely within our control, a focus on behaviors rather than body size was a much more evidence-based way to support my health.

There are people out there riding the weight loss roller coaster even though their experience, and the research, tells them that there is no reason to believe that attempting intentional weight loss will leave them thinner or healthier in the long term, because they want to be “healthy” and they don’t know that there is another option.  HAES is important because it provides a paradigm for personal choices and (perhaps more important) wellness care that doesn’t revolve around doing something that nobody has shown is possible for an outcome that nobody has proven is valid.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support fat activism 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!

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

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

Published in: on February 16, 2018 at 11:03 am  Comments (14)