Things That Don’t Justify Concern Trolling

Picture thanks to reader Morgan!

Picture thanks to reader Morgan!

Yesterday I blogged about how it’s ok to be fat and to not try to be thin no matter what your situation.  Predictably, today I heard from people who want to concern troll fat people using a couple of very common, very ridiculous justifications:

The first is based on the suggestion that if the person “wants better” or “healthier” for someone (here “better” and “healthier typically means “thinner” but sometimes mean something else) then that person should definitely step in and start doling out advice whether it’s wanted or not.

Not so much.  What we want for other people is our business and has actually nothing to do with them. Other people’s health is not our business unless they ask us to make it their business. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks they can make psychic health predictions based on other people’s size, it doesn’t matter if the object of their concern trolling has diagnosed health issues and they disagree with that person’s decisions about how to handle those issues. It simply doesn’t matter.

People are allowed to want people to be “healthy” by whatever definition they are using. They do not, however, have the right to actually make other people’s health their business unless and until their input is requested. Other people’s right to make choices for themselves without unsolicited advice is not subject to whether or not anyone thinks they are making the right choices. 

When it comes to personal health decisions, other people’s autonomy does not have to be “balanced out” by someone else’s desires to try to control those decisions regardless of their reasoning.  I do think that there can be exceptions made to this rule (I’m thinking of intervening when someone is dealing with an eating disorder or addiction), but we shouldn’t be surprised if the person we are talking to tells us to search for our beeswax elsewhere.

The second justification I often here is some version of “Fat people are at higher risk for health issues and that costs me tax dollars so I have every right to talk to them about their health.” 

Horseshit. Even if it was true. If you want to make an argument about tax dollars then I want to see a list of the things that your tax dollars pay for, broken down into things of which you do and do not approve and the interventions you are involved in for each thing you think makes your taxes too high, as well as your letter submitting to the authority of anyone who says that they know better than you what you should do to be healthy, including your willingness to let them tell you how to live so that they can bring down their tax dollars, otherwise this is just a weak justification for fat bigotry.I blogged about this in detail here.

Our bodies, our business.  We may have trusted advisers, we may welcome the input of others, but we are under no obligation to do so and there is no justification for concern trolling.

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Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 9:46 am  Comments (9)  

It’s ok to be fat as long as…

You Forgot Your BullshitIn response to my blogs about Tess Holliday and the importance of fat role models, and a 16 year old’s body positive art, I’m getting a lot of people who say some version of “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re happy with your body”  or “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re healthy.”  The idea being that if a fat person is not happy with their body, or not healthy (by whatever definition we’re using) then it’s time to try to lose weight.

While of course we are each allowed to make choices for our bodies (Underpants Rule!), I think that this line of “reasoning” deserves a closer look.

First of all, we know that being unhappy with our bodies and having health issues are not exclusive to fat people – there are people of all sizes who hate their bodies, and people of all sizes with health issues, which means that being thin can neither be a sure preventative, nor a sure cure. The idea that if a thin person is unhappy with their body or is not “healthy” then they should focus on things that would make them happier and/or healthier, but that a fat person in the same situation should focus on being thin is sketchy at best.

And that doesn’t even take into account that the most common outcome of intentional weight loss attempts is weight gain, and thus even if someone thinks that being fat is the problem, recommending intentional weight loss is statistically the worst possible advice.

We live in a world where many National governments (including in the US, my home country) suggest that fat people should be singled out, stereotyped, stigmatized, and blamed for everything from global warming to health care costs (actual evidence be damned.) Under those circumstances someone being fat and not liking their body isn’t exactly shocking.

The problem, to me, occurs when people (often the same people perpetuating fat hate and stigma) suggest that fat people should try to solve social stigma and oppression by changing our bodies, rather than by working to end stigma and oppression. This is tantamount to telling a kid to give the bullies their lunch money and hope that they stop beating her up (when we know damn well that the bullies will always find another reason to pick a fight after school, and find more and more that they can take. )

As far as health goes, health is an amorphous concept, it is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness. Nobody, of any size, owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behaviors” by any definition,   Health is also never guaranteed and never entirely within our control.  Genetics and the effects of past behaviors (like repeated dieting attempts!) can affect our health.  Access plays a major part – that includes many things including the ability to get and afford things like evidence-based healthcare, the food we want to eat, and any types of movement that we would like to do (in ways that are both physically and psychologically safe). Finally, the link between weight and health (yes, including our knees) is more complicated than what is often suggested by the media and even healthcare practitioners, and the idea that becoming thin is the same thing as becoming healthy, and weight loss behaviors are the same thing as healthy behaviors is simply not what the evidence suggests.

It’s ok to be fat, full stop.  It doesn’t matter how you currently feel about your body, or your current health status, it’s still ok to be fat and to not try to become thin.  If we don’t like our fat bodies, we have the option of working on loving them as they are.  If we are having health issues, we can research the options for dealing with those issues (including asking our doctors the magic question – “what do you do for thin people with this issue?”)

Each of us gets to make choices for our bodies, and if we want to do something regarding other people’s bodies or health we can work on creating a world without appearance-based stigma, shame, and oppression, and we can work to make sure that everyone has the food, movement, and healthcare choices that they want available to them.  And then we can mind our own business, because public health should be about making information and options available to the public, and not about making the individual’s health the public’s business.  Nobody has any right to create qualifications for when it is ok for fat people to exist.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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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

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

Published in: on May 27, 2015 at 9:29 am  Comments (12)  

Mikhaila Nodel’s Beautiful Body Positive Art

I spend a lot of time on this blog pointing out things that are messed up, ranting about people who are doing harm with their fat phobia etc.  When I give talks to teen girls, I’m always so saddened at how many of them have internalized what our culture has told sold them about their themselves – the body hatred, the insistence that they will never be enough without a lifelong commitment of massive time, money, and energy to the goal of looking like a photoshopped picture of someone else. Today I want to talk about something awesome that a number of readers sent me, that makes me incredibly happy.

When Mikhaila Nodel realized what a hard time her classmates had with their self-esteem, she created the Cosmic Cuties.  In an interview with proud2bme Mikhaila explains “‘I kind of invented them as a species. They’re born from space dust and slow down the universe and fight sexist crime. They’re these feminist goddesses that watch over all women and are there to protect them.”

http://cosmiccuties.com

Mikhaila Nodel http://cosmiccuties.com

http://cosmiccuties.com

Mikhaila Nodel http://cosmiccuties.com

cosmic cuties 3

Mikhaila Nodel http://cosmiccuties.com

She has created zines where the Cosmic Cuties talk about fatphobia, gender, body hair, and more!  You can see them all at http://cosmiccuties.com/!

Like this blog?  Here’s 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.

Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 11:04 am  Comments (5)  

Tess Holliday, Promoting Obesity, and Fat Role Models

Hot Damn, Tess Holliday Is On the Cover of People MagazineTess Holliday is a 5’5, size 22 model who is on the cover of People Magazine (like many models before her) for being rocking awesome at her job, which is to let fat women see the clothes that are being sold to us on a body that looks like us.

But heaven forbid we let a woman believe that her achievements are more important than random people’s judgments. So cue hand-wringing about the completely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity,” the armchair psychic doctors who can tell someone’s health just by looking at their picture, and the won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children nonsense about who should and shouldn’t be a role model.

Let’s begin with the bottom line:  It doesn’t matter how fat someone is, or why they are that fat, or what the outcomes of being that fat may or may not be.  We deserve to be treated with respect and we have the right to exist in our fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression.  it is completely ok for us to be fat. Yes, even if we weigh [insert random number of pounds that seems like a lot to you here]. Yes even if you think our weight is “our fault.” Yes, even if you would never ever want to be “that fat”.  Yes, even if you can’t understand how we do …whatever you can’t understand how we do. Yes, even if we have problems that can be correlated with being fat.  Yes, even if people say that we cost society more.  Yes, even if we actually cost society more.  It is totally, completely 100% ok for someone to be fat.  Nobody needs anyone’s encouragement, justification or permission to live in their body.  Period.

Even if someone believes that all fat people engage in behavior that doesn’t prioritize our health, this doesn’t hold up.  People get to make choices about their personal health. That means that they are allowed to drink like fish, jump out of helicopters wearing skis, be cast members on Jackass, take stressful jobs, not get enough sleep, eat what they choose, be sedentary, etc. at whatever weight they happen to be.  Anything else quickly becomes an very  steep slippery slope.

In order to agree with the idea that fat people make poor role models because we are unhealthy you have to believe a couple of things. First, that you can tell someone’s health based on their weight, and second, that people who aren’t healthy shouldn’t be role models. Both of these are totally wrong.

First of all, you cannot tell how healthy someone is based on their size.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes, for lots of different reasons, none of which is anybody else’s business.  But even if someone is so misguided as to believe that body size is a reliable indicator of health, this “bad role model” idea is still bullshit.

Health is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness, it’s not entirely within our control or guaranteed in any circumstance, and “health,” by whatever definition, should not be a prerequisite for being a role model or to be acknowledged for one’s achievements. The idea that someone, of any size, should have to meet some level of “health” in order to be appreciated for their talent or be a role model is horrifying, and is the definition of healthism. Not to mention that, as it plays out in reality, the double standard on this could not be more clear.

I don’t think that people who suggest that fat people shouldn’t be role models because they think we’re unhealthy actually care about our health, I think that they are trying to use healthism as a cover for their fatphobia.

Again, even if people believe that fat people are fat because we engage in behaviors that are unhealthy, or that we could be not fat if we tried and that would be healthier, that still doesn’t justify this.  We can look up to people for their achievements, appreciate their talents, we make them our role models based on their accomplishments, even if we don’t agree with every choice they make about their personal health – because those choices are between them and the people they choose to include. (And let’s not forget that many people’s choices are limited by lack of access due to factors including oppression -racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, sizeism etc. – as well as socioeconomic factors.)

So every time you see someone comment on an article about a fat person like Tess being celebrated for their achievements with some crap about their health, or how it’s promoting obesity, or how they shouldn’t be a role model etc. you can choose to acknowledge to yourself that this is sizeist, healthist, and total, unadulterated, bullshit.  If you want to go a step further, you can leave a comment saying so.

Just so there is no confusion, I am saying that it is totally, entirely, completely ok to be fat, and it’s totally, entirely, completely ok to have fat role models.

Like this blog?  Here’s 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.

Published in: on May 22, 2015 at 1:36 pm  Comments (47)  

Dressing for the Body You Have

The Body You HaveThis sign was posted on the window of a Social Services office.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, awesome activist Crystal Vasquez e-mailed to inquire as to just what the sam hill they were thinking, and received this treasure of a response (posted with her permission, of course)

Ms Vasquez, Thank you so much for your correspondence. I am truly sorry if you were offended and/or inferred that a sign encouraging people to dress appropriately was directed at a particular group, or individual, in any way. I assure you it was not, nor do we want any client to dress in less clothing (“skinny” or “fat”) than another for any reason. We want all who visit our agency to feel welcome. Our concern is as much for underdressed individuals, no matter what size or shape, as it is for those who are subjected to the inappropriate (sometimes grossly, i.e. – bra and/or panties) attire they’re wearing. While we do not necessarily expect visitors to dress modestly, we do hope they’ll adhere to most societal norms of acceptable attire and not degrade and/or embarrass themselves and/or others by doing otherwise. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and we do try and find ways to address these situations, hopefully without being offensive. I’ve attached a sign that was the catalyst in an effort to do so with a seemingly humorous approach. I’m sorry it’s so easily misconstrued and do appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ve forwarded you an email sent to staff (below) regarding this matter. I did not reference fat shaming, nor skinny or fat clients, (since the intent of the sign was to have all visitors appropriately attired, not any particular group or individual) and hope you won’t mind the use of larger people in describing the offended. I did not want anyone aggrieved by the use of “skinny, fat, shaming” anymore than I would want anyone offended by the sign. I find those terms offensive and unacceptable myself and I did not use them. Many people struggle with underweight issues, as well as overweight and/or eating disorders. Every effort should be made to avoid offending anyone, which is what we strive for. Again, I’m sorry that wasn’t your experience. We will continue to make our agency an inclusive, safe, and non-offensive place for one and all. Again, thank you for your correspondence and concern regarding this matter. Sincerely, Melissa Stokely

Huh. Well, I guess this is a step above using the Shaggy song “It Wasn’t Me” as a damage control strategy, but it’s not exactly Olivia Pope either. A lot of this note has that “talking points in a blender” feel, but let’s look at some of the greatest hits:

I am truly sorry if you were offended and/or inferred that a sign encouraging people to dress appropriately was directed at a particular group, or individual, in any way.

Oops, this is not an apology.  An apology occurs when you say that you are sorry for your bad choices, not when you say that you are sorry that other people had appropriate reactions to your bad choices.  And the sign suggested that clothes that are appropriate for some bodies are not appropriate for others, so the idea that this wasn’t “directed at a particular group, or individual” seems to be, at best, the message that she WANTS to convey, not the message that she HAS conveyed.

Our concern is as much for underdressed individuals, no matter what size or shape, as it is for those who are subjected to the inappropriate (sometimes grossly, i.e. – bra and/or panties) attire they’re wearing.

Their concern would be touching were it not wrapped up in big ball of shaming with absolutely no attempt to assist the people about whom they are so concerned. This is an office that deals with people who are struggling with poverty. If we are to believe that they weren’t trying to be shaming, then we must point out that they are aware the people are living in poverty such that they may not have access to a mirror (per the bottom line of the sign there are mirrors available in the bathrooms for those who don’t have them at home – because of course It’s totally easy for people dealing with poverty to come to the Social Services office, check their reflection in the mirror, then go home, change clothes and come back.)

So it wouldn’t be, you know, totally beyond the realm of possibility that people don’t have access to a “7 Pieces You Can’t Live Without” Marie Claire wardrobe at home. People may have to come to this office to get the assistance they need regardless of the clothing that is available to them and they should expect to be able to do so without being shamed.

This sign would be inappropriate anywhere, but it is wildly inappropriate in an office that claims to provide support to people who are dealing with poverty and the classism and oppression (and often shame) that comes with that.  Melissa and her sign making-team need to pull their shit together and I mean right damn now.

While we do not necessarily expect visitors to dress modestly, we do hope they’ll adhere to most societal norms of acceptable attire and not degrade and/or embarrass themselves and/or others by doing otherwise.

Well aren’t we just splashing around in a pool of self-righteous judgment.  “Degrade and/or embarrass themselves”?  Every social worker I know is ridiculously overworked, so I’m thinking that if these folks have extra time on their hands, there’s probably work to be done helping people rather than caring about how they are dressed, and making body shaming signs.

We do try and find ways to address these situations, hopefully without being offensive.

The phrase that you are looking for is “Epic Fail.”  If this is truly a problem, how about addressing it by keeping a box of clothes (big t-shirts, etc.) that people could borrow or be given, and offering help on a individual basis, quietly and with dignity (and without a heaping helping of body shaming.)

Every effort should be made to avoid offending anyone, which is what we strive for.

You may be striving Melissa, but I don’t think this one’s got the distance.  Suggesting that the body people have isn’t the one that they want is offensive.  Suggesting that some clothing is only for some bodies is offensive.  Trying to use ridiculous “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing to justify body shaming and manipulating adults to dress in ways of which you approve is offensive.

Hey, wait y’all … I just had a scathingly brilliant idea!  If we don’t like what someone is wearing, we could…wait for it… look at something else.  Or, hey, even better – we could get the fuck over ourselves.  We can do it, I believe in us!

For me, the body I have is the body I want and I dress accordingly (which is to say, however I damn well please) but regardless, I’m just a big fan of dressing however the hell you want. Now, I understand that they’ve taken the sign down. But still, I try never to criticize without offering solutions, so I’ve taken the liberty of redesigning the sign, let’s see if they take me up on it:

The Body You Have Dances With Fat Edit

Speaking of wearing spandex, 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 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 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.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm  Comments (52)  

Fat People and Our Knees

Ragen Chastain - fat dancer, no fat suit needed.  Photo by Richard Sabel

Photo by Richard Sabel

There’s a thing that happens to me a lot. It’s happening even more now that I’m training for an IRONMAN. Perfect strangers, upon seeing or hearing that I’m a fathlete, will ask me “how are your knees?”, often wincing like it pains them to even think about it.  When I say that my knees are fine, people suddenly become psychic.  “It will catch up to you,”  they tell me. They ask my age and then add five or ten years. My knees were going to go when I was 25, 30, 35, now it’s 40. (Again I ask: If they can tell the future would it kill them to give me some lottery numbers with their bullshit judgments?)

Let’s get a couple of things cleared up before we get into this.  First of all it’s possible that I’ll have trouble with my knees someday, many people – of all sizes – do for lots of different reasons.  As I’ve spoken about before, using the possibility of future disability to try to insult fat people or manipulate our behavior is fucked up ableism that needs to stop right the hell now. Also our joint health isn’t anybody else’s business unless we ask them to make it their business so asking random fat people about their knees is just weird – so maybe don’t do it. I have been known to respond to “How are your knees” by saying “Great!  How are your bowel movements?” or “Great! How’s your erectile function?”

The subject came up recently when I was giving a talk to a group of soon-to-be personal trainers about working with fat people. One of the guys said that he was worried about working with fat people because of the potential for knee injury.

I asked who in the room had had a knee injury in the past.  Almost everyone (not surprising in a room full of jocks.)  I asked who had been given an option for treatment of their knee injury other than weight loss.  Almost everybody.  I asked them to raise their hand if they had only been given weight loss as a treatment option.  Nobody.  I asked whose knee injuries had responded to treatment and gotten better. Almost everybody. Just like the ideas of weight causing health issues, the discussion about fat and joint health is also much more complicated than many people would have us believe.

There have been a few times in my life, at various weights, when I’ve had knee pain.  When I was less fat doctors looked at things like muscle imbalances and tightness, gait, and sure enough they were the (solvable) problem.

When I had knee pain a few years ago the only explanation offered to me by doctors was that I needed to lose weight.  Because I had the luxury of knowing how they treat these issues with smaller people, I asked the doctor if people who weren’t fat had knee problems.  After some pushing he admitted that they do.  So I said that I wanted to be treated like they treat thin people.  I was told that there was no point in treating any other issues until I lost weight.  What with the who now?  So I left the doctor’s office and did some research.  I started working with a massage therapist and when we cleared up the tightness in my quads and IT bands the knee pain disappeared.  Losing weight would have done NOTHING to help the actual issue.

In fact, continuing to work out so that I could get thin so that I could somehow “deserve” evidence-based healthcare would have been more likely to have exacerbated the problem from one that could be solved through a couple good massages to a more serious issue which would then have been blamed, not on my doctor’s incompetence, but …wait for it… on my weight!

In general I think that a diagnosis of “fat”  and a prescription of “weight loss” is always just lazy medicine.  Anytime someone tells you that weight loss is the “solution” to your health problem, I would suggest that you ask if thin people have the problem that you do.  If they do (and they definitely do), then ask how they are treated and insist that you start with that.

A medical model that suggests that in thin people “knee pain” is the diagnosis and “interventions shown to help knee pain” are the prescription, but that in fat people “fat” is the diagnosis and “attempt to be less fat” is the prescription is seriously sketchy.

And let’s remember that there’s not a single study that shows that weight loss works long term for more than a tiny fraction of people long term.  So prescribing weight loss to cure joint pain (because it almost never works, but it will be great if it does) is roughly the same as prescribing flying.  I’m mean, if you jump off your garage and flap your arms really hard you probably won’t fly, but think of the joint pain relief you would feel if it worked and your feet never had to touch the ground!

I don’t know about you but my healthcare professionals need to do a little better than trying to sell me a big bag of magical weight loss beans. Because it isn’t just phenomenally lazy medicine, it’s also medically unethical without informed consent – which requires your healthcare professional to explain that weight loss is almost never successful and most of the time results in weight gain (and when’s the last time I doctor ‘fessed up to that during your appointment?)

So if you are dealing with joint pain and you’re being told that weight loss is the only thing that can help, you are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent being lied to. It may be that strengthening the supporting muscles,  correcting movement patterns that lead to imbalances, massage, stretching,  physical therapy, ultrasound, surgery, mobility aids or the many other things that are prescribed for knee problems in thin people might help.

Or maybe the pain is something that’s not curable and/or those solutions aren’t something you want to/can pursue (remember that lack of access to healthcare due to everything from oppression – including racism, ableism, ageism, sizeism, classism etc. – to financial situation, to geography and more can limit people’s options) – there is absolutely no shame in that regardless of your size or situation – fat people shouldn’t be shamed because people believe that our knee problems are our “fault” any more than athletes should be blamed because people believe that their knee problems are their “fault.” Everyone should have access to whatever they need to navigate the world. and nobody should be shamed or made to feel guilty about that. We should also have access to compassionate, competent, evidence-based health care and that includes our knees.

Hey, speaking of my IRONMAN, 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!

If you’re looking or support for talking about fitness from a weight neutral perspective, you are welcome to join us at the Fit Fatties Forum, it’s for anyone, of any size, who wants to talk about fitness without weight loss talk, diet talk, or negative body talk.

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 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.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Comments (50)  

Fat Amy, Film, and Photoshoots

l saw the new Pitch Perfect movie last night.  I’ve seen the first Pitch Perfect movie many times.  I loved it, it was not without problematic things, but I thought that it also did a lot of subverting stereotypes and bigotry as well.  Near and dear to me was the character Fat Amy who was written to be stereotypical in some ways (the un-athletic funny fat friend etc.) but also had high self-esteem, tons of love interests,  and a starring role – a main character in a big movie who is unapologetically fat and was shown as a sexual being with a story line that didn’t involve dieting. This is a big deal, so I was super excited to see the new one.

[Semi-spoiler alert – while not revealing any specific things, the next paragraph will talk about plot points] So imagine my disappointment when Pitch Perfect 2 opened with, and a lot of the plot was based upon, a joke based on the idea that fat bodies are disgusting, reinforced by cameo after cameo of celebrity reporters from various networks reinforcing the idea that a fat body is disgusting, and then continuously bringing it up throughout the movie. I thought that the writing on this film was much more lazy than on the first – relying on tired stereotypes rather than subverting them. Still an unapologetic fat woman, still shown as a sexual being, still no dieting so still lots of good things, but some disappointing things as well.  [end semi-spoiler,]

I’m also looking at this movie through different eyes.  When I watched the first movie a screeplay had been written about my life and, if I’m honest, I didn’t expect much to come from it. But now the movie is in development and I spend a lot of time thinking, and talking, about what it means to create a movie with a fat main character who loves herself, loves her body, and fights back against weight bias, and what it means to do it without the cover of fat jokes to “take the edge off” people’s discomfort at the idea of a fat woman who doesn’t hate herself.

This makes me more excited than ever to be making the movie.  Fat people deserve to see people who look like us represented positively in the media that we consume (and pay for) and this movie will be one opportunity for that and I can’t wait to make it!

In addition to the work that’s going on behind the scenes to get us ready for our public launch, we have been working on getting together some art for a first movie poster. After trying out several different things that didn’t quite work, we decided to do a photoshoot.  Luckily for all of us, Doug Spearman – who is one of the producers – is also an incredibly talented photographer who gave me permission to share the results of the shoot. You can follow our movie making adventures on Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, I’m a big fan of putting positive images of fat people out there, so here are some of me!  The blue and red dresses are from Igigi.com when they very kindly dressed me for the America the Beautiful 2 premieres (the blue was LA and the red was Chicago.) the black dress is a former competition dress I was wearing when a dance judge trapped me by an elevator to tell me repeatedly “I couldn’t stand to look at you.”

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Published in: on May 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm  Comments (24)  

Like Comparing Fat People and Oranges

Angry FrustratedI was reminded of the issues with research about health and weight recently by the fabulous and brilliant Tigress Osborn who said on Facebook “Fat IS associated with all the things she mentioned. Those conditions are often found alongside fat. So? Peanut butter is associated with grape jelly, too, but that doesn’t mean grape jelly comes from peanuts.” I talked about the correlation vs. causation issue in depth here.   Today I want to look at another error that happens in research about weight and health. 

When studies compare thin people and fat people, often reporters, healthcare professionals, well-meaning family and friends, not-at-all-well-meaning internet trolls, and sometimes even the researchers themselves act like it’s a simple comparison – that if, for example, fat people have higher rates of a health issue than thin people, then obviously the health issue must be caused by their fat.  It’s not even close to that simple though, when they compare fat people and thin people, they’re comparing a lot more than just body sizes:

They are comparing histories of dieting

People who diet are asked to eat less than their body needs in the hopes that the body will eat itself and become smaller. Almost every attempt succeeds in the short term, but fails in the long term with the person regaining as much or more weight than they lost.  Our current social constructs around body size suggest that everyone who fails to maintain weight loss (which, remember, is almost everyone) should go through that cycle again.  And again.  And again. Until we are either thin or dead (for most of us it will be the latter.)

And that doesn’t even get into the things that are recommended to fat people  that would be considered dangerous for thin people (a liquid diet, dangerous drugs, eating 500 calories a day and getting urine injections etc.) Many fat people have spent the majority of their lives on diets like this (and with the advent of the war on fat kids, wherein they’re starting in the womb and trying to get medicare to cover weight loss for the elderly, this is more true all the time.)

So they may not be studying the effects of being fat so much as they’re studying the effects of a lifetime of attempting to be thin through dieting.

They are comparing different levels of stigma

In US culture (and many others) fat people live in a world where we, and everyone we are unwilling combatants in a government-sponsored war.  Every single  person who we ever meet has been told repeatedly by the government, the media, and who knows how many others, that our bodies are bad, wrong, drains on society, proof that we are immoral, bad people etc. In the US the government is waging a war on everyone who is perceived to be fat, actually encouraging people to stereotype us, encouraging everyone from parents to pop stars to personal trainers to insist that they are stigmatizing and oppressing us for our own good.

We live in a world where we don’t know if the next person we meet – from family and friends, to our significant other’s family, coworkers, grocery store clerks, to strangers on the street and internet – will fat-shame us, treat us poorly because of our size, call us names,  throw eggs at us, try to pray our fat away, or send us hatemail and death threats.

We are the butt of jokes in stand-up comedy , companies use the idea that we should be embarrassed to be seen to sell products, we are used in memes as metaphors for greed, capitalism, laziness and more. People create web forums and web pages for the sole purpose of hating and making fun of us for how we look, including suggesting that we’re not human. Fitness forums have “fat hate days” where they make fun of fat people and send us hatemail. And because this bullying is based on our appearance, there’s no way to hide short of never leaving our homes (and even then it comes to us through our computers and our televisions) This is all day, every single day of our lives.

So they may not be studying the effects of being fat so much as they’re studying the effects of a lifetime of ceaseless bullying, shaming, stigma, being told that you should hate your body and that your body is bad, and the resulting oppression.

They are comparing different health care access and experience

Until Obamacare, insurance companies were allowed to (and did!) refuse to cover people based on BMI (a simple ratio of weight and height) as a “pre-existing condition”, so by virtue of being fat many of us (including me) were denied insurance coverage and therefore had very different access to medical care than those who had access to insurance. Even if they can afford it, fat people who go to the doctor can expect to get a lecture on our weight regardless of (and sometimes to the complete exclusion of) what we came in for.

In some cases fat people are given a “prescription”  to eat less and exercise more (often without being asked how much they currently eat or exercise), when a thinner person would have been given an evidence-based intervention specific to their health condition.  The biases of the doctors, nurses, technicians etc. against fat people may make the experience miserable, and cloud their ability to give good care. While doctors are perfectly willing to perform dangerous stomach amputation surgery, they will deny other surgical interventions based on weight.

The facility may not have equipment that accommodates us (beds, blood pressure cuffs, surgical instruments etc. – though they seem to have them right on hand when they are suggesting dangerous – and highly profitable – stomach amputation, that’s a subject for another blog), In addition to this meaning that there is some care we can’t get it can cause other complications as well.  Since doctor’s often don’t have properly-sized blood pressure cuffs, and since too-small cuffs can lead to artificially high readings, and since there is an assumption that fat people have high blood pressure, we have no idea how many fat people are on blood pressure medication (with all of its side effects) unnecessarily.

Doctor’s bigotry against fat patients can lead to those patients not being listened to or trusted as good witnesses to their own experiences. Finally, since doctors have a nasty tendency to diagnose fat people based on our body size, in studies that rely on self-reporting, fat people may be reporting health issues that they don’t actually have.

So they may not be studying the effects of being fat so much as they’re studying the effects of a lack of access to compassionate, competent, evidence-based healthcare.

Let’s be super clear that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, not an obligation, never a barometer of worthiness, or guaranteed under any circumstances.  This is simply about the fact that everyone should have access to the best possible information so that they can make decisions about their own bodies.  Researchers and healthcare professionals ignoring the very real limitations of their research to say that if Group A has a higher health risks than group B then the obvious solution is to try to make Group A look like Group B (also completely ignoring the fact that the research suggests that even if it would work, it isn’t possible) is not the best possible information, it’s not even in the ballpark.

Let’s look at a final example: Research found that men with certain baldness patterns have a much higher risk of heart disease.  Additional research found that the baldness and heart disease likely have the same root cause.  Thank goodness the weight loss people weren’t in charge of this or instead of the additional research we’d have a government-sponsored War on Baldness and a sixty billion dollar industry telling men that they have to  grow their hair back to be healthy and that if they don’t it’s their fault, accompanied by reporters whipping everyone into a frenzy with articles about how much bald men who get heart disease are costing society. Researchers and healthcare professional can do better, they should do better, and we can start demanding that they do better by asking questions of them, the journalists who report the studies, and the healthcare practitioners who use their research.

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 on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

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 (casting, finding investors etc.).  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.

Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 11:03 am  Comments (10)  

This is Not About Fat People’s Health

Stand up speak up fight backSometimes I break the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and I read the comments.  I’m always a bit taken aback by the way people who have no health knowledge tell us all about our health, and in particular by the tone of superiority that people take against fat people:

“Fat people need to be shamed.  I have always been a big believer in shame; it is the most human emotion and impetus for corrective behavior.”

“I can judge the obese and know that they have no self control.”
“I wished more people would get an epiphany about the risks of being obese and do something about it. Too many are content accept themselves for who they are.”
“I’m not a doctor but if you’re a 225, 5’2″ female and believe you’re healthy, then you’re in denial. Everybody knows that.  You just need to eat less and exercise more and you’ll lose weight and be healthy.”

Some of the most difficult comments for me read are like this one: “I’m fat and I think that we deserve to be shamed.  I know that I could eat less and exercise more but I let life get in the way.  Maybe if we were more humiliated we would be more motivated to do something about our fat, lazy asses.”

Today I was pondering how people develop such a sense of superiority that making comments like this seems like a reasonable thing to do.  And why do fat people allow it, sometimes even joining in? Then I remembered a couple of experiments that I studied in school:

In an effort to explain racism to her third grade students, Jane Elliot conducted a two day experiment.  On day one she told her students “This is a fact.  Blue eyed people are better than brown eyed people.”  Moments later a girl took longer than the others to get her book prepared. One student immediately said “She’s a brown eye” and the other blue-eyed students all chorused in agreement. The next day she changed the groups, telling the class that brown-eyed students were superior.   According to Elliot, “I watched what had been marvelous, wonderful, cooperative, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders in the space of fifteen minutes”

In the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor chose twenty-four students out of 75 to play the prisoners, the remainder to play guards, and live in a mock prison set up in the Stanford Psychology basement. The participants quickly adapted to their roles even beyond Zimbardo’s expectations.  Within a couple of days the “Officers” displayed authoritarian measures and eventually tortured some of the prisoners.  Many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and allowed the abuse, and, when asked by the the guards, inflicted punishment on other prisoners who tried to stop them.  The experiment was stopped after six day and remains controversial.

Imagine what would have happened if the experiments had continued for the rest of these people’s lives.  How would the brown-eyed kids be now?  How much money do you suppose people would pay to try to change their eye color?  How about the students who, after just a few days, allowed themselves to be subjected to torture just because someone told them that they are second class citizens?  Can you imagine what state they would be in after years of believing that they deserved to be treated so poorly?

I wonder if that’s how it became ok to treat fat people as if we’re a lower form of life?  It seems that at some point we started being told that fat people aren’t as good as thin people. That you can look at the size of a person and tell what they eat, how much they exercise, how much self-control they have, their physical fitness level, even how smart they are, and that you have the right to judge them.  Of course that’s not supported by the research, but based on the experiments above, all it takes is an authority figure.  (A role filled by plenty of “scientists” and doctors on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies and the diet industry that makes $60,000,000,000 a year by telling people that they can move them into the superior group.).

Are fat people the brown-eyed students and inmates of the present day in a grand, unintentional social experiment?   Let’s all remember that it’s not just a day, or a week of being called names and told the we’re less valuable than thin people -it’s a lifetime.  And it’s not an experiment.  The comments that I copied above aren’t third graders learning a lesson, they are regular people who’ve taken to heart the idea that they are better than us because they look different than we do, and they are perpetuating that just as Ms. Elliot’s third graders did by calling us names, putting us down, and adopting an air of superiority.

And I don’t believe for a minute that most of these people care at all about my health.  I think the “it’s for your health” argument to justify this type of behavior is nothing more than a tattered life-raft in a sea of bullying behavior – something that people can hold onto that they feel justifies actions that they know, deep down, are wrong.

Unfortunately we can’t just end the experiment like Jane Elliott and Phillip Zombardo.  But we can fight back.  And before we do I think that we might want to take a good hard look at our behavior and be sure that we don’t end up like the Stanford inmates – allowing ourselves to be subjected to horrible treatment and putting each other down to try to gain the acceptance of the “superior class”.  We can refuse to buy into the lie.  And when we read or hear people who are trying desperately to stay in the upper group by putting us down, we can realize that these people are behaving like confused third graders, sheeple who have fallen into a classic psychological trap.

Perhaps we can’t change their behavior, but we can support each other to stay out of the trap and, over time, expose this War Against Obesity OMIGODDEATHFATISCOMINGFORUS bullshit for the baseless, highly profitable, discriminatory, power trip it really is. Until then I offer you this mantra:  The world is fucked up.  I am fine.

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 on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

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

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

Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 10:54 am  Comments (28)  

Who Are the Real Women

It seems that every day I see something about “real women” Whether it’s an article calling women who aren’t models “real women,” or stores that sell clothes for fat people advertising that their clothes are for “real women”, or ads for plus-size dating sites indicating that they will help men find “real women”, or shirts and Facebook memes that say “real women have curves” or some such thing.

I don’t know about you, but what I want is a world where we accept and celebrate the diversity of bodies, not a world where my body is seen as better than someone else’s. I have no interest in trying to wield the idea of being a “real woman” as a weapon. (Nor do I ever feel like I know better than other women what gender they are, as if there should be some kind of crotch and chromosome check and then some women get to declare that others are “real woman” or not.)

So today I thought I’d create a helpful flowchart to help people figure out who is a real woman and who isn’t:

Real Woman Flowchart

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 on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

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 (casting, finding investors etc.).  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.

Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 1:45 pm  Comments (16)