Fat Tax and Diet Failure – The Perfect Storm

What a Load of CrapAs I was scrolling through my Facebook feed two articles came across in a row. The first was about how a University health sciences lecturer in Barbados made a public address at the Ministry of Health’s town hall meeting where the topic was the future of health care financing, and suggested that fat people should be subjected to a special tax.

Taxing people based on their perceived “healthcare costs” is a terrible idea.  It’s a terrible idea even if the numbers are on your side (which, when it comes to fat people, they are not.) It’s also the slipperiest of slopes (or it would be if this were about anything other than sizeism.) Are we going to tax sedentary thin people?  How about people who don’t get the recommended servings of vegetables. How about people who participate in sports who will have injuries now, and possibly later in life that are quite expensive? How about people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street? And if that seems ridiculous then maybe it’s time to face the fact that this has nothing to do with health and is actually about a fatphobic society trying to punish fat people?

There’s always some proud fatphobe trying to add to the institutionalized oppression that fat people face, like trying to tax us for existing.  What made this interesting was the next article on my Facebook feed. It was about a study that showed, like every long-term weight loss study shows, that dieting tends to lead to weight gain – that the odds of becoming fat almost double if you diet once and nearly triple if you diet twice.

Studies that look at dieters long-term show that the vast majority of people gain their weight back and a majority gain back more than they lost.  So, even for those who think that being fat is bad, recommending attempts at weight loss is the absolute worst advice they could give.

Something that would be funny if it weren’t headdesk level ridiculous is the study’s conclusion:

Dieting to lose weight can contribute to the risk of future obesity and weight gain. Losing weight requires a commitment to change one’s lifestyle and a sustained effort to maintain a healthy diet and engage in physical activity.

The first sentence is based on their actual research. Their second sentence is absolutely made up – 100% rectal pull.  They have literally NOTHING to back it up, there is no research anywhere of any method of “maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity” in which people lost weight long term.  The research that does exist comes to the same conclusion that they came to in their research – intentional weight loss simply doesn’t work.

This is the state of diet research, basically these researchers’ concluded:  Dieting leads to weight gain.  In order to lose weight you have to engage in a game of semantics in which you call dieting something else.”  This is sadly typical of the embarrassing state of research when it comes to weight loss and health, as Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor have explained.

So, let’s take stock of the situation here: There is not a single study of any intentional weight loss method where more than a tiny fraction of people are able to lose weight long-term.  And even among the tiny fraction who maintain weight loss, most don’t lose enough weight to change classes – so those who started classes as “obese” were still “obese” after the weight loss, and those classed as “overweight” were still “overweight” after the weight loss. And remember that the majority of people actually gain weight long term.

So if the fat tax people get their way, they will tax people for their weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared (aka – their BMI.)  We know from the research that any attempt that fat people make to try to be not fat (so that they don’t have to pay the fat tax) will likely end up in them being fatter (and perhaps subject to even more tax?)   Think it seems far-fetched? It’s already happening in corporate wellness programs in which people are penalized for being fat and have to pay thousands more for their insurance premiums until they lose weight, including having their companies enroll them in diet programs with proven track records of creating weight gain.

This is a vicious cycle of oppression and it has to stop.  This is why our public health conversation should focusing on providing access to information, and options for health, and removing barriers to health (like lack of access, oppression and marginalization, doctor bias etc.) Public health should be about making information and options available to the public, not about making fat people’s bodies the public’s business. And if we need the revenue that badly, maybe we can create a bigot tax so that making other people’s lives miserable becomes a little more expensive.

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Published in: on February 13, 2016 at 10:07 am  Comments (5)  

Some Dreams Might Be Better Stolen

Success and DietsToday I was accused, not for the first time, of “stealing people’s dreams.” This happens to those of us who are very vocal about the mountain of research that shows that long term weight loss is nearly impossible.

People criticize me for this despite the fact that I am very clear that people have every right to choose dieting just like I have every right to choose a Health at Every Size practice, and that I only talk about these things in my forum – I would never go to someone else’s weight loss blog and tell them that they should practice HAES. But since we are constantly and purposefully misled about the facts when it comes to weight loss and health, I think it’s important to tell the truth about it.

The people who sew in the tag that says “Cape does not enable user to fly” are not stealing my dreams of flying.  They are giving me the opportunity to read the tag and get information so that I can make an informed decision before I yell “Hey y’all watch this!”, jump off a roof and break something I’ll need in later life.

But back to weight loss, what is the dream really?  Is it being smaller than someone is now, or is it all the things that they believe will come along with that?  Consider these sentences:

I lost weight, I started going to more parties and now I have more friends.

I lost weight, I became more confident and then I met my spouse.

I lost weight, and then I starting going out dancing.

You could remove “I lost weight” from each of these sentences and they could still be complete. That doesn’t mean that fat people aren’t oppressed by a world that is sizeist, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to deal with bullshit shame, stigma, bullying, and harassment that isn’t our fault but becomes our problem.  But the reality for almost all dieters is that if they keep the “I lost weight” in those sentences, then they will will need to add a sentence at the end that starts “Now that I’ve gained the weight back…” That makes me think that we might want to come up with some different dreams. I offer the following:

A world where we accept and celebrate the diversity of body sizes.

A world where health care professionals base their advice on scientific evidence.

A world where we pour sixty billion dollars a year into creating access to healthcare and options for food and options, instead of failed weight loss programs, and where the US is a successful role model for everyone having access to health,  rather than a failed role model for making everyone thin.

If someone’s dream is weight loss, then the research shows that they have almost no chance of achieving it, and have a huge chance of ending up less healthy than they started.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to try, but given those odds I think it’s critical that people understand that there are other options.

A dieter once commented on a piece that I wrote saying “I know that I only have a 5% chance of succeeding, but I’m just hoping and praying to be in that 5% because, really, what else makes sense?” People are allowed to choose “hoping to be an statistical anomaly” as a strategy for health and happiness. But it’s not the only thing that makes sense, at least not to me. To me remembering that I have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in the fat body I have makes sense.  Remembering that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within my control makes sense. Having gratitude for my amazing body makes sense. Choosing a path to health based on research makes sense.  Choosing a path to health that has a chance of succeeding outside the margin of error makes sense to me.

I’m not interested in stealing other people’s dreams, but I’m also not going to let a fatphobic world that tells me lies about weight loss and health steal mine.

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!

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Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 10:46 am  Comments (22)  

Transformation Tuesday

Before AfterIn several Facebook groups that I belong to, most of which are fitness/athletics related, they have “Transformation Tuesday.”  This is code for “Weight Loss Tuesday” as people post before and afters of their weight loss “successes” and other people tell them how much prettier/younger/better they look now than they looked before.

People are allowed to do this, the groups allow it and I was clear that weight loss talk was allowed when I joined. Still, I wanted to provide a different perspective for Transformation Tuesday.

First of all, almost everyone who posts for TT is in the “honeymoon” period before the weight regain starts. The truth is that almost every single one of them will gain the weight back, many will gain back more. I wonder what the effect of all those Transformation Tuesday compliments will be when they are looking at them from the other side.  I worry about the ways that these TT “compliments” reinforce sizeism, ageism, healthism, and ableism.

So as an alternative, I offer my Transformation Tuesday Story:

There was a time when I believed that I had to be thin to be healthy and happy. There was a time when I believed that smaller bodies were more beautiful, and that manipulating my body size was praiseworthy.  There was a time when I saw my body as “before” (even though it was actually “current”) and the elusive “after” which actually ended up being a transitional phase during which I was briefly thinner between periods of being fat.

My life transformed when I realized that there’s no such thing as “before” and “after,” pictures, just “during” pictures.  My life transformed when I realized that being thin probably isn’t possible for me and, even if it was, it was not a goal worthy of my time, energy, or money.  My relationships with my body, food, and movement transformed when I realized that health isn’t an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or guaranteed under any circumstances, and that my best chance of supporting my health was healthy habits and not body size manipulation. Those relationships transformed again when I started appreciating all the things my body does for me rather than being mad that it didn’t look like a photoshopped picture of someone else. Those relationships transformed again when I realized that my beauty isn’t diminished because some people can’t see it. Those relationships keep getting better because they are now based on truth, and respect, and joy instead of on diet industry lies, self-loathing and desperation. By leaving behind a diet mentality and sizeist beliefs, I transformed my life not just on Tuesday, but every day.

Do you have a Transformation Tuesday story that doesn’t revolve around body size manipulation? Feel free to leave it in the comments!

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!

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 9, 2016 at 11:19 am  Comments (6)  

Stereotyping and Fats Against Humanity Cards

Flying Rhino Argyle

It’s Me! As drawn by the fabulous http://www.tonitails.com!

This is a story of using a problematic framework to do kick-ass activism.  There is a popular card game called Cards Against Humanity. The description from its own website is:

Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.

The game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card.

It can be funny, it can also be really uncomfortable as some of the cards invite “jokes” that can be racist, misogynist, and transphobic for starters. The brilliant Stacy Bias recently created an expansion pack that I’ll tell you about in just a minute.

First I’ll tell you that one of the things I love about the expansion pack is that it doesn’t back down or apologize for the stereotypes that fat people face. That’s something that can sometimes make even fat activists uncomfortable, and I think it’s important to talk about.

One way to deal with stereotypes is to challenge them by pointing out that they don’t apply to all members of a community. While it can be an effective way to change people’s minds, it can also be oppressive to those members of a group who happen to embody the stereotype. So with this type of activism I think it’s important to take care to be clear that the problem is stereotyping people – not that some people in any group are likely to embodying the stereotype that never should have happened.

Another way to deal with stereotypes is to refuse to be embarrassed by them or to care at all – to avoid talking about ourselves in ways that try to make us seem better than “those other fatties.” I think that Stacy’s Rad Fatty Merit Badges were a great example of this with badges like “Broke chair don’t care” and “Concern trolled didn’t fold,” and her Fats Against Humanity Expansion Pack is another.

According to Stacy:

I played Cards Against Humanity the other day with some friends and — whew. If y’all have played it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, well — let’s just say it makes your inner feminist killjoy REEEEEAAAALLLY uncomfortable. So I thought I’d whip up a little expansion pack to throw into the game for some momentary relief.

You can download the whole set for free 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!

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 8, 2016 at 1:45 pm  Comments (13)  

Store Deletes Employee’s Instagram Pictures Because She’s Not a Size Small

Bullshit FairyThe store Dainty Hooligan sells clothes up to a size large, so employee Sherene Zarrabi was shocked when Jessica Issler, the founder and CEO of the company sent her store manager an e-mail about the pictures, including those of Sherene, that appeared on the store’s Instagram account:

Something I want to make sure you keep in mind: I want size small, the stereotypical ‘model’ type to model our clothes. Please use our pictures of our models if Stillwater store can’t find someone who would be considered ‘model material.’ This is not to put anyone down but to communicate the expectations of presenting our brand.

According to a piece on Refinery29 “[Issler] added that the employee shouldn’t “take it personal,” but any images that don’t comply with that “really good representation” of its clothing should be removed from Instagram.”

So, if you’re not a size small the CEO will be happy to take your money, but she thinks that the way you look is a poor representation of their brand.  Why would anyone feel put down by that?  (I so very much need there to be a sarcasm font.)

Oh but it gets better so much worse. Sherene talked about what happened, and people called Jessica on her sizeist bullshit.  I imagine Jessica was pretty surprised since bullies like this tend to expect that their victims will feel ashamed and keep silent. So Jessica went on the attack:

My No. 1 priority is the safety of my staff, so the evil and lack of positivity is terrifying. This girl has now created a hostile work environment because she has a sad body image of herself….She’s not mentally healthy.

I’ve seen my share of blame-the-victim bullshit when it comes to fatphobia but this one might take the cake.  Sherene Zarrabi posted pictures of herself in the clothes her employer sells on her employer’s Instagram account.  Her employer, Jessica Issler, told her that she is a poor representation of the brand because she doesn’t look like an almost impossible to attain stereotype of beauty, and insisted that the pictures be taken down.

And Jessica thinks that Sherene is the one with body image problems?  She thinks that Sherene is the one who created a hostile work environment? And then she decides to add healthism and ableism to the sizeism in which she’s already engaged? Pro-tip – if your plan for “positivity” in the workplace depends upon your employees remaining silent about your mistreatment of them, then you probably shouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t work out for you.

Jessica then realized that talking complete nonsense wasn’t working out, and so she went took a swing at an apology and missed for strike three of this fiasco.

I can definitely see where feelings got hurt and negativity from there festered from something I take full responsibility for…I wish you the best of luck and honestly I don’t have any ill or hard feelings toward you and I want to thank you for a very humbling experience.

Ok, that first sentence is like poorly completed apology madlibs. Also, obviously this experience was not humbling enough if she thinks it’s important whether or not she has ill or hard feelings toward an employee whom she treated atrociously. Jessica, I think the words you were looking for are: “I fucked up.  I am sorry.  Is there anything I can do to rectify the harm I’ve done?”

Sadly, on the About Us page of the store’s website, Jessica says she started her first store because  “If I could just get girls & women in my shop, I could make them feel like a million bucks with my merchandise.” Apparently “feeling like a million bucks” should not include thinking that it’s ok for you to appear in the store’s clothing on Instagram if you don’t look like a model.

Happily Sherene quit, leaving the job behind, but  not her positive body image:

My advice for others who face body discrimination is just to simply love yourself. Sometimes it isn’t easy. You reach a certain point where you realize that you have nothing to prove to anybody. Your body is your only body, so love it. Be proud of who you are and what you look like. If anybody tries to bring down a person based on their size, there’s something that person is struggling with themselves.

Jessica Issler has said that she doesn’t expect this to affect sales because “I think the typical standard customer knows what we’re about and knows this topic is irrelevant.” Do you think it’s irrelevant?  Want to let Dainty Hooligan know what you think?

E-mail them:  CustomerCare@DaintyHooligan.com

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/ShopDaintyHooligan/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Dainty-Hooligan-Boutique-213533918673901/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/_DaintyHooligan

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!

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 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm  Comments (30)  

Fabulous Fat Comic Book Hero

I was being interviewed for a podcast yesterday, talking about being a fat athlete, and the host asked me to define fat as it applies to me.  I said “I’m fat. I’m not ‘I ate big burrito for lunch’ fat, or ‘Hollywood’ fat. I’m 5’4 and 300 pounds, I’m everybody’s definition of fat.”

That was in my head when I read a piece by Amy Diegelman for panels.net about fat comic book hero Faith “Zephyr” Herbert.

Faith is fat. Not the average, or just slightly bigger than, size usually called “fat” in media. Not the curvy best friend or the athletically stout team member. This is a fat beyond that, a fat that means someone has to shop in special stores and can’t ride roller coasters and spends a lot of time trying to convince their doctors they really aren’t interested in weight loss surgery.

Fat like me.
Fat like Faith.

Positive representation of people who are fat by any definition is thin on the ground (see what I did there?) But positive representation of people who are fat like me, like Amy, like Faith is almost non-existent, what with the mythical threat of promoting obesity and the baseless hand-wringing about healthy role-models.

Of course there’s no shortage of that in the reactions, as the usual suspects lose their shit in comment sections all over the web, somehow wanting us to believe that a single example of a fat person as happy, successful and not miserable and self-loathing will start a rash of people desperately attempting to become fat so that maybe, just maybe, they can be the second. Because what would happen to our sizeist culture, and its diet-and-beauty-industry-fueled obsession with becoming thin, if our media was actually representative of the diversity of body sizes that exist? Everybody freak out!

Whatever, let them lose it in the comments section, we’ve got the whole comic book!

I love that Faith gives us a comic book hero who is fat, and I love how visual it is. As Amy talked about in her piece, because of the comic book format Faith’s size cannot be denied, or imagined away, as it might be in other written formats.  I love it because it gives fat people a hero who looks like us.  I love it because it gives other people a hero who looks like us. Certainly there will be conversations to have about everything from her wardrobe to her plot lines, but for now I’ll take a moment to bask in the awesomeness that is a fabulous fat comic book hero.

Speaking of podcasts, I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on the fabulous Summer Innanen’s Fearless Rebelle Radio and it was a total blast.  You can check it out 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!

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 5, 2016 at 9:39 am  Comments (11)  

10 Reasons I Ditched Dieting

Success and DietsA friend of mine was added to a Facebook group about dieting without her permission. She responded to the person who added her with this post, and in her honor I’m reposting it today.

I wasted many, many years dieting and now that I’m off that roller coaster, I’m never getting back on.  Here are 1o reasons why I’ll never try to manipulate my body size again:

1.  I refuse to manipulate my body size to try to conform to a social stereotype of beauty.

2.  I refuse to attempt to manipulate my body size to try to solve social stigma, bullying or oppression.  The cure for bullying, social stigma and oppression is not weight loss, it’s ending bullying, social stigma, and oppression.  The problem is not my body, it’s people who bully, stigmatize and oppress me because of my body size.

3.  Of course health is not a guarantee, an obligation or a barometer of worthiness – we each get to choose how highly we prioritize our health and the path that we want to take to get there.  For me it’s important to know that research suggests that habits are a much better indicator of future health than body size.

4. There is not a single study of any method of intentional weight loss (whether you call it dieting, lifestyle change or something else)  has shown it to be successful for more than a tiny fraction of people long term.  Even the diet companies’ own studies show that they don’t work.

5.  Even if I managed to be part of the tiny percentage of people who succeed at long term weight loss, there is not a single study that shows that it would make me healthier, in fact, the little research that exists suggests that it wouldn’t.

6.  During the time that I was attempting intentional weight loss my body size would decrease in the short term, then increase over time no matter how strictly I kept to my diet/exercise habits (which, it turned out, is exactly what the research said would happen.)  I wasn’t able to stabilize my body size until I started practicing Health at Every Size.

7.  During the time that I was attempting intentional weight loss I had unhealthy relationships with food, exercise and my body.  A focus on appreciating my body and supporting it through healthy habits has lead to my having healthy relationships with food, exercise, and my body.

8.  Three words:  Uncontrolled Anal Seepage.  And a whole bunch of things that I was told were “healthy” as a dieter, often by doctors, that don’t make any damn sense

9.  I don’t want my money to be part of the over 60 billion dollars that we spend every year on the diet industry – an industry that has lost so many deceptive trade practice lawsuits that they are actually required to remind us that their product doesn’t actually work every time they advertise it.  I think that there are a lot better things we could buy for 60 billion dollars.

10.  Diets don’t work – I definitely gave dieting the old college try and it didn’t make me thinner, healthier, happier, or anything other than miserable.  I think I’m right about the science, but even if I’m wrong I choose Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size.

Of course we each get to choose what we want to do with our bodies (Underpants Rule FTW!) I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

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!

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 4, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  

Val Chmerkovskiy Sued for Fat Shaming a Little Girl

You Forgot Your BullshitVal Chmerkovskiy is one of the pros on the US television show Dancing with the Stars. His fame on the show has garnered him 365,000 Facebook followers.  That’s a big platform. So it’s too bad that he decided to use it to fat-shame a 9 year old girl with Down syndrome.

He posted a picture of the girl drinking a soda at a baseball game with the caption “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.” When people pointed out how absolutely inappropriate this was, he responded with the “I have fat friends” defense, saying that his “mother is heavy set” and he thinks she is “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Then he pivoted to some concern trolling:

I have no desire to discriminate or shame, I just think people should have a little more knowledge and take more responsibility when it comes to their children’s diet. That’s all. It’s not about what I find beautiful or not, it’s about what’s healthy or not. Anyway, thank you.

Thank you?  I’m thinking of a two word phrase, “you” is the second word, but “thank” is most definitely not the first.  This is such bullshit I feel like I need boots to break it down but here goes:

  • Having “no desire to discriminate or shame” doesn’t matter if you are, in fact discriminating and shaming. If you aren’t sure whether posting a picture of a child with a caption fat shaming her is discrimination or shaming, you should probably not post things to social media.
  • If his goal was to give people more knowledge about kid’s health, then his post should have been information about kid’s health.
  • In addition to cheap fat shaming, it’s also cheap stereotyping, for all he knows it could have been iced tea or water in that cup, and even if it wasn’t I’m sure there were plenty of thin kids drinking soda that day who were not photographed for the express purpose of shaming them and making wild accusations about their parents. When you apply an appearance-based double standard you’re discriminating.  Since he has “no desire to discriminate” that should have been a great reason not to post this.
  • You cannot tell how healthy someone is based on their body size. You cannot tell the quality of someone’s parents based on their size.  You cannot tell the quality of a parent by their size.  The only things you can tell about someone based on their size, as Marilyn Wann has very famously said, is what size they are, and what your personal prejudices are about people that size are.

This is what happens in a society where fatphobia is not just accepted but actually encouraged, often by the government. When people are encouraged to join the “war on obesity,” we get people who think it’s actually ok to fat-shame children. Kids come in lots of sizes for lots of reasons and stigmatizing the kids and accusing their parents of child abuse is a stunningly terrible idea. Just ask the parents of Anamarie Regino who was torn from her home at 3 years old.  When she failed to lose weight in foster care it was determined that a genetic disorder caused the weight gain and she was returned to her family. Oddly, parents seem to find “We’re sorry, our bad” to be cold comfort for the pain and loss caused by having their kids ripped out of their home because of the way they look.

The girl’s sister saw the picture that Val posted and was justifiably shocked. It seems that, like so many pictures of fat people, this picture was taken without the girl’s (or her parents’) knowledge or permission, with the express purpose of mocking her. Val took the photographer’s dream of fat-shaming a little girl and gave it the wings of his 365,000 followers. The girl, now 16, and her family are suing the photographer, Val, and CBS (the picture appeared on cbsnews.com) to the tune of $6 million.

Maybe that’s what it will take to make this trend of fat shaming memes based on pictures taken without permission to stop. Maybe if stigmatizing, stereotyping, fat shaming, and making baseless accusations about fat people becomes expensive, it will help those who lack the capacity to treat other people with basic human respect to, if not locate their humanity, at least not visit their issues on the rest of us.

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Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 9:44 am  Comments (25)  

Study: Fat, Stigma, and Missing the Point

Talking NonsenseOne of the things that helps perpetuate stigma and hold oppression in place is peoples’ tendency, when told about someone else’s experience of stigma and oppression, to immediately engage in an attempt to try to explain it away or justify it.

A comment on an article published by MinnPost about a recent study on stigma and “obesity” (which I’ll call “fat” from here on out because this is my blog and I prefer a term that describes my body without pathologizing it) shows us exactly how this works. First, let’s talk about what the article said:

Women who are obese experience many more incidents of stigmatization because of their weight — an average of three incidents a day — than previous research has reported, according to a study published in the Feb. issue of the Journal of Health Psychology.

I am Ragen’s complete lack of surprise.

Past research has tended to suggest that people who are overweight or obese experience negative weight-related stigmatization only a few times during their entire lives.

BWA HA HA HA HA HA  OMG HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! SO FUNNY I FORGOT TO LAUGH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  I’M CRYING OVER HERE!  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! No, seriously, I’m crying that anyone would suggest that this is true.

The 50 women cited a total of 1,077 stigmatizing experiences during that single week — an average of three a day for each woman. The most common experiences involved “physical barriers” (84%), “nasty comments from others” (74%), “being stared at” (72%) and “others making negative assumptions” (72%). Experiences least frequently reported included “job discrimination” (22%), “comments from doctors” (16%) and “being physically attacked”(12%).

Yeah, I’m going to have a heart attack and die from not surprised. (Not to get all mathlete on you, but that’s an average of 1,123 experiences a year for each woman!)

The article gave some examples:

“With friends at a baby shower. Went to McDonald’s first so people wouldn’t look at me eating more than I should.”

“Teenagers made animal sounds [moo] outside of a store I was in.”

“I was told what a bad mother I am because I can’t set limits as to what my son or his friends eat during sleepovers, because I can’t even control myself.”

“Boyfriend’s mother denied me access to food, also stated that I was so fat because I was lazy.”

(Sadly) I exhibit no surprise.

The study authors drew the conclusion:

“It is therefore important that researchers continue investigating all aspects of this important phenomenon. Future interventions to reduce stigma and better equip overweight/obese individuals for their encounters with stigmatization should be based upon solid empirical and ecologically valid research.”

Yes!  Thank you.  And let’s be clear that equipping fat people to deal with bullshit should be nothing more than a stop-gap measure as we insist that fat people should be able to exist in fat bodies without shame, bullying, stigma, or oppression. Remember that – no matter what someone thinks about why we’re fat, or what being fat means – there is absolutely no reason to believe that oppressing us will improve our lives, or society, in any way.

But then I broke the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and read the comments, and that’s where I was reminded of how all of this stigma is held in place:

Not to quibble, but the term “social stigma” seems incorrect.

I understand the term “stigma” to refer to a posture of being disgraced in the eyes of others. The most frequently cited “social stigma” in the study is “physical barriers.” The fact that the typical chair in a public place is not designed comfortably to accommodate the obese doesn’t implicate “stigma.” It reflects that because of material costs and space considerations, typical chairs are designed for those of typical size.

Another fault of the study, it seems, is that incidents of “social stigma” are based on the subjects’ perceptions. It seems likely that a person who is obese, who is self-conscious about her obesity, and who is participating in a study about how others respond to her in light of her obesity, is going to be somewhat more inclined to perceive “false positives” in the eye contact, comments, etc of others than “false negatives.”

What the study seems more to be measuring is the self-stigmatization of those who are obese – i.e., how often, and in what respects, someone who is obese is negatively self-aware of that fact when in public.

Oh Charlie – can I call you Charlie? What a mess you’ve made. Let’s clean it up:

I understand the term “stigma” to refer to a posture of being disgraced in the eyes of others. The most frequently cited “social stigma” in the study is “physical barriers.” The fact that the typical chair in a public place is not designed comfortably to accommodate the obese doesn’t implicate “stigma.” It reflects that because of material costs and space considerations, typical chairs are designed for those of typical size.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll go ahead and use Charlie’s definition: First of all, does he honestly think that not being able to fit in a chair isn’t being disgraced in the eyes of others? Does he imagine fat people to be like “No, it’s cool, I’m not embarrassed at all. I mean obviously it’s just way too difficult to have some arm-less chairs in this restaurant, so I’ll just stand through this business lunch, it won’t be weird at all, it won’t feel stigmatizing in any way, it’s really my fault for existing.”?  The fact that he thinks that his (weak) justification for the stigmatizing experience erases the nature of the stigmatizing experience, tells me that Charlie’s not really working this out logically, but let’s move on:

Another fault of the study, it seems, is that incidents of “social stigma” are based on the subjects’ perceptions. It seems likely that a person who is obese, who is self-conscious about her obesity, and who is participating in a study about how others respond to her in light of her obesity, is going to be somewhat more inclined to perceive “false positives” in the eye contact, comments, etc of others than “false negatives.”

Nope nope nope, swing and a miss Charlie. In a world where the diversity of body sizes was respected and there was no stigmatizing of fat bodies, there would be no self-consciousness about body size. That the self-consciousness exists (and as Charlie illustrated is expected of fat people) is a pretty good indicator that fat people are living in a world where fat people are stigmatized (possibly to the tune of over 1,000 incidents a year and that doesn’t include all of the constant messages we get that “thin = good/fat=bad” from the media.)

Telling people who are experiencing stigma that you know better than they do what their experiences are isn’t new, and as long as it’s been around, it’s been a way to hold oppression in place – this is what happens when people think that “No I’m not.” is a complete and acceptable answer to “You’re hurting me.”

What the study seems more to be measuring is the self-stigmatization of those who are obese – i.e., how often, and in what respects, someone who is obese is negatively self-aware of that fact when in public.

Let’s examine the situation:

“Teenagers made animal sounds [moo] outside of a store I was in.”

“I was told what a bad mother I am because I can’t set limits as to what my son or his friends eat during sleepovers, because I can’t even control myself.”

“Boyfriend’s mother denied me access to food, also stated that I was so fat because I was lazy.”

Oh sure, Charlie, these are all just examples of people being negatively-self aware, I totally see it now!  (Why isn’t there a font to indicate sarcasm?  Can someone get on that please? I need it more than Oprah needs bread.)

But what about “With friends at a baby shower. Went to McDonald’s first so people wouldn’t look at me eating more than I should.”  Surely that’s just in the fat person’s head right?  Wrong.  First of all, this person knows their friends and family better than we do, so if they tell us that their experience of stigma led them to avoid eating in public at an event where food was served, we should take their word for it.  In general, ask yourself this –  if this person hadn’t experienced stigma around eating in public as a fat person, where would they have gotten the idea to avoid eating in public?

Again – one of the things that helps perpetuate stigma and hold oppression in place is peoples’s tendency, when told about someone else’s experience of stigma, to immediately engage in an attempt to try to explain it away or justify it. We do more to work against oppression and stigma when our first thought upon being told that something is stigmatizing is “tell me more” (assuming the person is interested in doing so, nobody has an obligation to educate,) or “wow, let me think about that” rather than “no it’s not, and let me tell you why.”

Charlie (and so many like him) are missing the point here (perhaps aggressively, purposefully missing the point.)  Fat people don’t just wake up and “self-stigmatize” out of the blue. Internalized oppression happens when fat people believe all of the stigmatizing messages that we get (from teenagers who moo at us, people who question our parenting, and boyfriend’s mothers who deny us food, the US Government which is waging war on us etc., all because of a physical characteristic that is easily identifiable by sight and thus easily stigmatized. ) The suggestion that the existence of internalized oppression somehow invalidates a fat person’s experience of stigma is truly awful.

It’s also an excellent example of oppression – If I’m able to convince some fat people of the idea that being fat makes them bad/ugly/unhealthy/immoral etc., then I can declare that fat people aren’t competent witnesses to their experience of stigma, because they “self-stigmatize.”

Fat people face real stigma, and it needs to stop right the hell now, and a great place to start would be to stop pretending that it doesn’t happen.

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!

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 January 30, 2016 at 10:53 am  Comments (22)  

How Fat People Deserve To Be Treated

Bullshit Deja MooI talk a lot about how poorly fat people are treated (with shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression) and how that is at odds with how we deserve to be treated.  I say things like “we have the right to be treated with basic human respect” and “the rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness aren’t size, health, or healthy habit dependent” and “Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could – or want to – become thin.”  In short, I tell fat people that, regardless of what bullshit treatment we are experiencing in a fatphobic society, we deserve better.

Every time I do this (so, basically, daily) people leave comments or send me e-mails to tell me that I’m wrong.  Most of them read like these that arrived today:

You talk about how fat people deserve to be treated with respect -You dumb bitch, you can’t make people treat you with respect.  How entitled can you be?

and

Show me in the Constitution where it says that you have a right to be treated with respect you fat fucking cunt.

How entitled can I be? I can tell you that I can be significantly more entitled than to suggest that I deserve to be treated like a human being.  And, bless your heart, I really feel like “fat fucking cunt” needs some punctuation – I mean, am I a fucking cunt who is fat, am I a cunt that fucks fat? A little clarity is all I’m asking – it’s bad enough that you’ve devolved into being an internet troll, at least take a little pride in your work.

But I digress.

As for the second comment, I would hope that it is obvious that I’m asserting that being treated with basic human respect is a basic human right – covering even those people not under the jurisdiction of the United States Constitution. But, I imagine that wouldn’t be obvious to anyone whose response to “people have the right to be treated with basic human respect” is to insist that it’s not guaranteed by the organizing documents of their country. (I’m going to take a wild guess that these are the same “Constitutional scholars” who think that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” somehow obligates me to publish their ridiculous comments on my blog or Facebook wall.)

As I’ve said before, the idea that our right to live in fat bodies and be treated with basic human respect is debatable is a pretty clear indication of the problem.   The truth is that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shaming, stigma, bullying or oppression regardless of why we are fat, what it means to be fat, or if we could become thin.  There are no other valid opinions about that, it should never be up for debate.

For the record, I’m not suggesting that I can force people to treat fat people with basic human respect.  What I am saying is that it’s important to know that we deserve to be treated with basic human respect.  We deserve to live in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or bullying, and we are entitled to live without the crushing weight of fat phobia and oppression. What each of us does with that information is up to us – but it’s critical for us to know that these things aren’t our fault, though they become our problem, and they shouldn’t be happening to us.

I choose to do activism, and part of that activism is reminding fat people that regardless of what bullshit treatment we are experiencing in a fatphobic society, we deserve better and if you think I need the Constitution, or any other document, to back me up, then you have massively missed the point.

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!

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 January 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm  Comments (13)