The Life I Could Have Had – International No Diet Day

Talking NonsenseIn response to my post for International No Diet Day about The Biggest Loser and how dieting doesn’t work, I got the usual rush of responses from internet trolls to concern trolls insisting (with no evidence to back it up, of course) that all fat people can – and should! – become thin if we just [insert thing we’ve all heard a million times but doesn’t actually work] – lose weight slower, use a specific diet, call dieting a “lifestyle change”, etc. along with the usual “just because it hardly ever works doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying” crap.

Here’s the thing.  Been there. Done that.  Got the rebound weight gain and larger size t-shirt.  Before I did the research to understand weight and health, I made the same mistakes that these people are making now – I believed it was a matter of willpower, I believed that it had been proven that long term significant weight loss was possible,  I believed that weight loss had been proven to make fat people healthier. Just like these misguided folks, I bought into this hook, line, and meal replacement shake.  I tried incredibly hard to be thin.  I spent a tremendous amount of my time, energy, and money trying to be thin – I did everything these people are suggesting that I do now and more. And here’s what I learned.

Fuck. That. Shit.  I shudder to think of the life I could have had if I hadn’t discovered Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size. The thought of giving up the amazing life I’ve lived and am living to have instead spent all this time  – and all the time in the future – chasing thinness, weight cycling, hating my body, waiting for that mystical thin body to show up so that my life could “really start,” is horrifying  – what an absolute waste of my life that would have been.

I hear from readers all the time whose moms, grandmothers, aunts, and friends are on their deathbeds realizing that they never fully lived because they put their lives on hold until they were thin, and spent their lives trapped in a cycle of yo yo dieting, body hatred, and self loathing, and they died fat with so many regrets.  Every single time someone tells me a story like this I think how much I hope that person is resting in peace, and I realize that could have so easily been me.

I had the exact same experience that almost everyone who tries to lose weight has – I would lose weight short term, and then no matter what I did I would gain it back long term – often gaining back more than I lost.  Then, in a tribute to doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, I would try again. And I would have the same result.

So these people who tell me that I should keep trying to lose weight can take a flying leap into a vat of fat free pudding. This discussion is hypothetical to them, but it’s everything to me. Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance gave me my life back, and even if I’m wrong about the research (though I don’t think I am) and even if I have a shorter life than I would have if I had continue to pursue dieting (though I don’t think I will) I would still make the same choices. I get to live free from dieting, free from constant body hatred, free from obsessive thoughts and behaviors around food, exercise, and weight, I get to spend my time, energy, and money pursuing things that make me happy,  I can approach my health and healthcare in a way that is rational and evidence-based.

I live every day with the security of knowing that I will not be on my deathbed with the horrible realization that I put my life on hold trying to get thin, and it never happened, and now it’s over. I used to be one of those people who hated my body, and dieted constantly because I didn’t know that I had other options. Now I know – I can have a healthy relationship with food and movement, I can love my body, and I never have to diet again. That’s so much better than the life I could have had.

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Published in: on May 7, 2016 at 11:36 am  Comments (25)  

The Biggest Loser’s Big Surprise?

Success and DietsThe internet is abuzz about an article by the New York Times called “After ‘The Biggest Loser’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight.”  I’ve received requests from over 300 readers to write about it so here we go.

Before we get too far into this let’s be clear that whether or not people regain their weight, The Biggest Loser is an abomination of a show that uses threats about, and baseless promises of, health to convince fat people to be physically and mentally abused for profit.  They use the idea that they abuse fat people “for our own good to make us healthy” to help their audiences justify watching this physical and emotional abuse for entertainment. If the show were about dogs and not fat people their treatment would have been considered so inhumane that they would have been pulled off the air after one episode.  And that’s even if they really did help people lose weight.  Sadly, we now know, that’s not so much what they do.

The article starts by explaining how everyone is shocked to find that the contestants from The Biggest Loser gain back their weight: “13 of the 14 contestants studied regained weight in the six years after the competition. Four contestants are heavier now than before the competition.”

Basically, what the study found was that, among other factors, resting metabolisms of the contestants plummeted, and kept plummeting even after they left the show and started “maintenance.” Former contestant Danny Cahill was described as “One of the worst off” because he started with a typical metabolism, but now has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size just to maintain his weight.

Their experience shows that the body will fight back for years. And that, said Dr. Michael Schwartz, an obesity and diabetes researcher who is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, is “new and important.”

“The key point is that you can be on TV, you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality,” said Dr. Schwartz, who was not involved in the study. “As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.”

What’s shocking is that every long-term study of attempted intentional weight loss has shown results like these, but somehow these so-called experts are just catching on now.

In the face of this evidence, of course The Biggest Loser’s official doctor, Robert Huizenga, was apologetic and recommended rethinking everything about the show.

Just kidding!  He “questioned whether the measurements six years later were accurate” and says he tells contestants to monitor their diet and exercise at least nine hours a week to keep the weight off. Of course, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that even if the contestants could make working out a part time job, that it would change the outcome, but why would that be important to the same doctor who oversaw this nonsense in the first place?

Among a number of really disturbing paragraphs in the article, this one stuck out at me (and at many of the people who asked me to write about this:)

Researchers are figuring out why being fat makes so many people develop diabetes and other medical conditions, and they are searching for new ways to block the poison in fat. They are starting to unravel the reasons bariatric surgery allows most people to lose significant amounts of weight when dieting so often fails. And they are looking afresh at medical care for obese people.

A huge part of the entrenchment of a weight-based model of health (the idea that we should focus on making every body fit the same ratio of weight and height as a path to health) despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy is our acceptance of “everybody knows” to substitute for, or even replace, actual evidence, and basic correlation vs causation errors being made constantly and with great confidence especially in the media.

Both mistakes are being made here.  Fat and health conditions are correlated, not causally related, researchers have no idea if being fat “makes people develop diabetes and other medical conditions” or if those medical conditions cause people to be fat, or if body size and those medical conditions are both affected by a third factor, or how much bias is involved (for example, if we test all fat people early and often for diabetes, and we fail to test thin people even when they have symptoms because healthcare providers mistakenly believe that it’s a fat persons’s disease, it wouldn’t be shocking if more fat people were diagnosed.)

The phrase “Block the poison in fat” is hyperbolic at best and has no place in a discussion about body size and health. Also while stomach amputation may reduce body size, it also has horrific life altering side effects, lots of people die, lots of people gain their weight back, and there are entire communities dedicated to people who would gladly have their weight, and their lives back and any discussion of weight loss surgery should include that information.

If they are looking afresh at medical care for fat people, might I suggest giving us actual medical care (you know, the interventions that thin people receive when they have the exact same health issues that we do) instead of keeping their gazed locked on finding ways to manipulate our body size.  There is a highly researched paper about this by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.

One of the most dangerous effects of our entrenchment in the (false) idea that manipulating body size is the only path to health (or a path to health at all,) is that it leads to doctors who put patients actual health at risk in an attempt to make them thin by any means necessary.

There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. And while it is not known why that weight can change over the years — it may be an effect of aging — at any point, there is a weight that is easy to maintain, and that is the weight the body fights to defend. Finding a way to thwart these mechanisms is the goal scientists are striving for.

Why?  Why are they striving for this when studies like Matheson et. al, Wei et. al, the Cooper Institute Longitudinal Studies, and any study that actually looks at behaviors has found that (understanding that health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances) behaviors are a much more accurate predictor of future health than body size.  The belief that making fat people thin will improve health outcomes and thus should be pursued by any means necessary is folly from a scientific perspective.  Let’s not forget that this is the approach that gave us diet pills that are dangerous, addictive, don’t help people lose very much weight, and are currently being prescribed anyway.

Another questionable bit of the article states:

While many of the contestants kept enough weight off to improve their health…

There is no evidence to show that any health improvements were the result of body size change, and not the result of a change of habits, is what led to better health.  In a piece for Huffington Post, researchers Mann, Tomiyama, and Ahlstrom explain that the suggestion that a certain percentage of weight loss will improve health is based on a series of failures leading to another “everybody knows” statistic that isn’t supported by evidence:

Eventually, the medical community settled on the current standard of losing just 5 percent of one’s starting weight, despite having no scientifically-supported medical reason for doing so.

The article goes on to talk about the ways that dieting screws up our hormones, and how doctors are looking at drugs and surgery to try to override our bodies tendencies.

Sadly, there’s no discussion of not screwing up our bodies with dieting in the first place. No discussion of what fat people’s health would look like if, instead of  a life of attempting to feed our bodies less than they need to live in the hopes that they will consume themselves and become smaller (despite a complete lack of evidence to suggest that will leave us thinner or healthier,) constant stigma, shaming, bullying, and oppression, and horrible, useless interactions with healthcare practitioners who fail to give us evidence-based interventions, we had the opportunity to spend our whole lives loving and appreciating our bodies, viewing them as worthy of care, and having the opportunity (though never the obligation) to focus on our actual health.

One of the key foundations of science is that you have to admit that you could be wrong, and in the face of overwhelming evidence that you have been fucking up you have to admit it.  This seems to be a principal that those involved in weight loss cannot, or will not, grasp. I’m sure it’s difficult to admit that you’ve been giving people terrible advice, and interventions that are most likely to lead to the opposite of the intended effect, but the alternative is to continue giving people terrible advice and interventions that are most likely to lead to the opposite of the intended effect. Sadly, that seems to be the path that The Biggest Loser, and medical science, are choosing for now.

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

Published in: on May 6, 2016 at 8:42 am  Comments (40)  

It’s Prom Time – Let’s Shame Fat Girls

Amy took great pains to make her prom night special in a way that worked for her – she got a dress that she loved, she had her hair done, she did her make-up.  It was her dream night.  Well, only if you think that crying in the bathroom, being repeatedly body shamed by a teacher, and then spending the rest of the night wearing the vice principal’s jacket over her dress is a “dream.”  What the hell happened?

If you guessed “inappropriate policing of girl’s bodies, with a special emphasis on girls who aren’t thin” you win the prize.  And the prize is to see this bullshit for what it is.

Dress codes can be really problematic, especially when they suggest that girls are responsible for the distractions/attractions/ actions of men, and enforcement policies that suggest that policing how girls look and what they wear, including removing them from their educational environment, in an effort to provide boys with a “distraction free” environment are misguided and problematic on a number of levels, including reinforcing rape culture.   For this post, I’m going to focus on the issues that happen when dress codes are enforced in sizeist ways, through the lens of Amy’s prom night.

This story has been surrounded by some confusion because when it first went viral, it was accompanied by a picture of Amy from a photoshoot that she did prior to Prom. In that photoshoot there was a lace panel in the front of her dress that wasn’t there at the prom (her parents said in a statement that it broke.) Here is the original story as told by Tiffany Taylor, a parent of one of Amy’s friends, on Facebook:

This is Bronte’s friend, Amy. Last Friday night was her senior prom. She spent time looking for the perfect dress, got her hair done and was meticulous in putting her make up on. It’s an exciting time! She proudly had her pictures made, and why wouldn’t she? She looks like a princess! Arriving at the prom, she was stopped at the door. She would not be allowed in because her dress was “too revealing”. After spending some time in the restroom crying, she was told she could go in if she wore the vice principal’s tux jacket, which mind you, did not cover her chest. She was told by a teacher repeatedly “Us big girls gotta cover up”. This young girl was SHAMED for having breasts. Her excitement during this memorable time of her life turned into embarrassment at the hands of adults who are supposed to be leading her. SHAME on YOU, Maryville. I think you look amazing, Amy. ❤️

Classmates responded, discussing the dress as Amy wore it on prom night (and not as it was pictured in her photoshoot.)

Couldn’t have said it better myself. My own dress had quite a few cut outs in the back, yet that wasn’t too much. I saw other girls with dresses lower cut and yet they weren’t called out. I was disappointed in how it was handled for sure. Love you Amy.

and

My dress had an open back almost all the way down to my hips, and not ONE teacher said a word to me. One of them even COMPLIMENTED me! And with my hair in an updo and no jacket to cover it, I was let in without hassle. I seriously hope you get justice for this Amy. Your dress was definitely one of the classier ones compared to the thigh-high slits and sheer tops

I have seen a number of “reasons” why people think this should be ok and I want to address them one by one.

Her dress was more revealing than is shown in this picture, they had every right to ask her to cover up.

While the picture that accompanied the original story showed the dress with an extra piece of lace, according to accounts from her own classmates, her dress was not more revealing than the dresses of other girls. Further, they school didn’t tell her that she was violating a specific dress code rule. In fact, a teacher kept highlighting the fact that it wasn’t about her dress, but about her body, by telling her “Us big girls gotta cover up.”  I don’t know about you, but I remember hoping to get a corsage on prom night, not some teacher’s internalized body image issues.

No girls should dress like this!

Setting aside that nobody making this comment is the boss of how all girls dress, the point here is that some girls dressed like this with no problem or push back, while Amy was forced to wear some dude’s tux jacket (which, as Tiffany pointed out did not cover the “offending” area.)

That shouldn’t have happened because [she’s beautiful, she’s not that fat, she looks great in that dress.]

It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t think she’s beautiful, or thinks that she isn’t “that fat” (and that being “that fat” is a bad thing,) or if they hate the way she looks in that dress. That’s not the issue here. Even if you believe in dress codes, the idea is not that they enforce girls approximating the stereotype of beauty, or being “attractive” based on any definition. So either the dress is appropriate for everyone, or not appropriate for anyone.

You may remember this happening last year to Alexus Miller-Wigfall who was given a of in-school suspension for wearing a prom dress that was “too revealing” based on the school dress code. (You read that right, the school thought that the best way to “punish” her for what she wore to an extra-curricular activity was to remove her from the classroom.)

You can check out the pictures below and see for yourself:

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Published in: on April 30, 2016 at 7:34 am  Comments (19)  

Stop Telling People to Just Be Positive

Angry FrustratedRarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t respond to my activism by saying something like “If you’re happy just live your life and don’t worry about what other people think!” Other iterations of this are “If you were really happy with yourself, you wouldn’t have to talk about it all the time” and “Don’t meet hate with anger just be nice and stay positive!”  I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation that included these and more (the perpetrator seemed to be trying to win a blackout round of Total Bullshit Derailment Bingo.) I responded:

I often notice that people insist that I “have a positive attitude” when my speaking out against oppression makes them uncomfortable, or challenges systems from which they benefit. I think that for some people my insistence that we talk about and fix weight-based oppression makes them uncomfortable. When they say that I “should just be positive” what they seem to mean is “I don’t like your choice to advocate for yourself and fight the oppression you face.” While I appreciate that some people may be more comfortable if I didn’t point out oppression and marginalization and demand that it stop, I don’t find that to be a good reason not to do so.

After I posted I thought that I should write a blog post about that.  Then I remembered that I already had! So I’m re-posting it today:

As always, people are allowed to deal with their oppression and marginalization any way that they want and I’m not suggesting that any of these are inappropriate reactions, I think it’s important to realize that they aren’t obligatory and it’s not ok to tell someone who is dealing with oppression that the “best” response is to just ignore it.

I understand where they are coming from, it can be a bummer to hear about the oppression that happens.  I also think that there is absolutely, positively (see what I did there) a place for the positivity – including celebrating victories and creating our own spaces full of body positivity.

That said, I think it’s important to call out things that are oppressive, especially since it’s so easy for those who aren’t part of a marginalized group to ignore them – not because they are trying to or because their intentions are bad, but because they don’t have to deal with them every day.

I also think that it’s important to look at the balance of power.  The suggestion that if I’m happy I should just live my life and not care about what others say is a nice one, but I don’t think it takes into account the stereotyping, stigma, bullying, marginalization and oppression that fat people face, and the impact that has on our lives.  The government is encouraging people to wage war on me because of my size, people my size get hired less often and paid less than our thin counterparts, things like plane seats, restaurant booths, and waiting room chairs are not built for me and it’s acceptable for people to blame me for this and insist that I should pay more for the same service, bring my own chair, etc.

Doctors are allowed to refuse service to me based on my size, and it’s ok for them not to have equipment that will work for me – beds that won’t hold me, chairs the won’t fit me, instruments that are too small for me.  Until Obamacare it was ok for insurance companies to refuse to provide me health insurance (I now have insurance for the first time in 14 years.)  Medical practices, and other business, almost everywhere in the country are allowed  – and do –  refuse to hire fat people because our bodies “don’t fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job” regardless of our actual skills.

People who are dealing with oppression are allowed to ignore it, meet it with constant positivity, and carve out a life around it – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those choices, sometimes that’s how I react as well, but in general it’s not my style. Engaging in activism – including calling out oppression – helps me to know that I am doing something about the bullshit I have to deal with, and that helps me deal with it.   I think that ignoring bullies allows them to bully in silence without any push back, I want to end bullying and dismantle oppression and I think that starts with pointing it out.

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!

Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 7:46 am  Comments (12)  

People Change, Activism Works – Say Something Sunday

Say Something SundayWe can never control the outcomes of our activism, we can only decide what it is we want to put out into the world. The best we can do is give people opportunities to question their own biases and preconceived notions, what they do with those opportunities are entirely on them.  Different people respond to different things which is why it’s not important that we all do activism the same way, but rather that we each do it in our own authentic way.

Often we never even know the outcome of our activism since we might plant the seed but never see the plant grow. Add to that the messages that we get from everyone from pathetic online trolls who insist that we’ll never make any progress, to the messages from well meaning people who say that we should just ignore injustice and “just be positive“, to people who don’t want to try to change the world (which is fine) telling us that there is no point in us trying (which is very much not fine,) and fighting for a world without size-based oppression can sometimes seem like a hopeless, sisyphean task.

So for Say Something Sunday, I wanted to share a comment that I recently received from Camila, with tremendous gratitude to them for having done the very hard work of examining their preconceived notions, and for taking the time to share this.  I’d also love for you to put your stories of activism success in the comments!

 

Hello Ragen,

I wanted to write to let you know that you managed to completely alter my perspective, and I am very glad.
I have been thin my entire life (to the point where I would often get bullied for it, and would embark on several journeys to gain weight). Mostly due to being on the receiving end of comments such as.. men like meat bones are for dogs, real women have curves, etc.etc. I (now shamefully admit) subscribed to the notion that larger people should all be able to, and want to, be quote “healthier”, Although I never bullied or shamed anybody directly myself, I did subscribe to reddit forums such as r/fatlogic, which is where I found out about you and your blog.
For the past couple of weeks I have spend several hours reading many of your current and past posts, and have been completely enlightened. I have found myself agreeing with what you say, which in the past I believe I would not have.
I truly apologize for what I now see is completely baseless hate mail which you receive, as all you are doing is promoting equality, acceptance, and positivity for ALL. I can truly say you have completely changed my way of thinking.

Thank you.

Activism works, people change, we are making progress, and someday we will live in a world that celebrates size diversity, and we will each have been part of that!

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!

 

Published in: on April 24, 2016 at 11:49 am  Comments (3)  

Michelle Bridges Can…Meet Me

WTFNot content with the fame and money she has acquired for mentally and physically abusing fat people on the television show The Biggest Loser Australia, Michelle Bridges used an interview to see if she couldn’t do some damage to people who manage to avoid her horror of a television show.

“It might be seen that I have this agenda on people who are overweight or people who are deemed fat. Honestly, if you are happy where you are, more power to you. But I can tell you, I’m yet to meet someone who is morbidly obese and happy.”

Nice to meet you Michelle, now knock that shit off.

There will be those who say that there is nothing wrong with this quote because of her qualifier “Honestly, if you are happy where you are, more power to you.”  I say, not so much, for a few reasons.

First let’s look at the this on the surface level. In order to make this statement, she would have to be asking every fat person she meets if their BMI is over 40 (because certainly, as an “expert” she wouldn’t be using “morbid obesity” which is a – massively misguided – clinical designation, as a general way to say really fat,) and then, if their BMI “qualifies” them, asking them if they are happy.  Either this is a woman who has some strange conversations, or this is bullshit. I’m guessing the latter. (Also, it turns out that she has, in fact, met at least one happy fat person)

I think it’s more likely that this is coming from much the same place as the foolish mistake that Dr. Oz made.  If you have a sign on your door that says (regardless of how untrue it is) “if you’re unhappy because you are fat, I can make you not fat,” then the fat people you meet are likely to be unhappy.  This is both because fat people who are desperate to get out of a marginalized group come to your office, and because those of us who know that you’re trying to sell us a bogus bag of magic weight loss beans will avoid your office like the plague that it is.

When you have managed to garner some fame, celebrity status, and/or expert status, you become even more responsible for what you say.  If she, who many perceive (however incorrectly) as an expert on weight, health, and happiness, says that she has never in her life met a happy fat person, that statement carries with it all the trappings of the “celebrity expert”.

Considering the growing fat acceptance movement – including articles in the largest publications in the world – I seriously doubt that she is unaware that happy fat people exist (and if she is then she is negligent by claiming to specialize in working with a population that she clearly does not understand.)

There are fat people who are happy, there are fat people who are unhappy. Fat people are allowed to have the full range of emotions – just like people of all sizes. Michelle is not only engaging in appearance-based stereotypes, and erasing the experiences of fat people who would define ourselves as “happy,” her statement is also ableist, healthist, and adds to the difficulty of fat people who deal health issues like depression, and all the difficulty in getting treatment and bullshit stigma that comes with that (including healthcare providers who insist that the cure to any issues that fat people have is to become not fat.).

She is telling everyone a story that is meant to increase her profits/fame/save  the fatties hero status. The existence of happy fat people trumps her experience of somehow never having met one of us.  When she states her personal experience of never having met a happy fat person as if that matters or has anything to do with the actual experiences of fat people, without at least qualifying it by being clear that there are lots of us out here, she is replacing the actual lived experiences of fat people with her “experience” and, were I to guess, what is perhaps her fantasy that she has never contributed to our unhappiness (aka oppression) with her work as a would-be fat person whisperer.

Finally, she fails to be self-reflective enough to realize that if the fat people she meets are unhappy, a culture that freely stigmatizes, stereotypes, bullies, harasses, and oppresses fat people (like, you know,the show that made her famous,) miiiiight have something to do with their unhappiness.

Not to mention that she can’t point to a single study that suggests that her methods won’t result in the vast majority of people regaining the weight they lost, with the majority gaining back more than they lost. So even if she believes that all fat people are unhappy, and even she believes that being thin would make us all happy, she has literally no idea how to get that done and based on the research we have, her attempts will result in the majority of people ending up fatter than when they started working with her which, again, may be why she’s never met a happy fatty.

Regardless, I’d like to state for the record that I’m a happy fat person, and any unhappiness I harbor at the oppression of fat people is correctly solved by an end to social stigma and not a change to my body sizes.  And Michelle Bridges can meet me.

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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!

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 8:12 am  Comments (9)  

We Don’t Have To Earn Body Love

love-your-bodyI recently blogged about a truly ridiculous article that was yet another remix of the mistaken belief that fat people have some obligation to be “healthy” by whatever definition.  I received the following comment:

You have said that people don’t take care of things they hate, so if someone doesn’t “take care of” their body in the sense of regular exercise, and eating the “right” foods, can they still love their body, logically-speaking?

I’m a wee bit confused.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you

This is a good question and, I think, a really important one.

To start, I do often say that people don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies. But when I say that I’m talking about people and organizations that create negative messages about fat bodies.  Most often I’m talking about the obligation that public health has to, at the very least, not harm the people they are supposed to help – which includes not putting them in a position to see their bodies as unworthy of care.

Messages that suggest that fat bodies are somehow bad bodies, or that have a primary or even accidental effect of making fat people hate our bodies are irresponsible and the opposite of public health.  Public health should focus on creating information and access, and removing barriers to health, it should not be about making the individual’s health the public’s business.

To answer the second part of the question, each of us gets to choose what “health” means to us, each of us gets to choose how highly we prioritize health, and each of us gets to choose the path we want to get there.  It’s important to note that for many people these choices are limited due to any number of factors including illness, disability, socioeconomic status, accessibility (maybe someone feels that pilates or massage would be great for their health but they can’t afford it,) and oppression (for example, when it comes to my health I would choose to live in a world where my body isn’t constantly stigmatized including by doctors, but that’s not the current situation) to name a few.

By the same token, people get to choose what “taking care of their bodies” means to them, and how/if they want to do it. There are tons of ways that we can take care of our bodies, none of them is an obligation, and nobody will ever do every one of them. And there again those choices can be limited by circumstances outside of our control, and don’t have to have anything to do with loving our bodies.

Of course nobody is obligated to love their body, and loving your body in this culture isn’t easy even if you want to, but the idea that we have to somehow earn the right to love our bodies by meeting someone (or anyone’s) criteria for “taking care of them” is bullshit that, as usual, ends up hurting people who are already dealing with marginalization (and even more for those with multiple marginalized identities) disproportionately.

Public health has an obligation to the individual, individuals do not have an obligation to public health, or to anybody else when it comes to how we feel about our bodies, or what we do with or to them.

In this world where waking up and not hating ourselves in an act of revolution, we have every right to love our bodies without justification, without “logic,” and without limits.

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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!

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 11:18 am  Comments (13)  

Parkrun, Fat People, and Exactly What Not To Do

Nothing to proveIf you’re not familiar with Parkrun, here is how they describe themselves:

From humble beginnings in 2004 with 13 runners at Bushy Park in London, parkrun has grown to become the world’s biggest running event with over 800 volunteer-led events worldwide and more than two million registered runners. Committed to breaking down barriers to participation in regular physical activity, parkrun hosts 5km timed runs on Saturdays and 2km timed runs on Sundays for juniors.

Recently there has been some controversy because the Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to charge the Parkrun organizers a fee to use Little Stoke Park on Saturdays. Since this happened, I’ve been seeing tons of Parkrun PR pieces. They mean well, but they typically show us exactly what not to do when one is “committed to breaking down barriers to participation in regular physical activity.”

A number of these pieces focus on eradicating fat people as a worthy goal.  The one that has been forwarded to me by well over 100 readers has a video about two guys personal stories, which is fine, then it moves on to state a projection about how many people will be fat by 2030, then says “We can do something about this” and then:

WE BELIEVE THAT BY BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION AND MAKING REGULAR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FREE, FUN AND SOCIABLE WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

They then list statistics about how many “previously inactive” people participated at parkrun in 2015.

And that’s where this really went wrong.

First of all, if you want to break down barriers to fitness, you don’t start by labeling some bodies as bad, or engaging in appearance-based stereotypes.  Trying to get attention by glomming on to the ridiculous OMGDEATHFATZARECOMINGFORYOU panic builds barriers, it doesn’t break them down.

Their message manages to both stigmatize fat people, and make absolutely no sense. “Fat people” is not synonymous with “inactive people,” nor is “activity” synonymous with “weight loss” or “thinness.” They are suggesting that they are “making a difference” in the number of fat people despite having no idea how many fat people even participated, but rather based on the number of “previously inactive” people who participated in Parkrun. If you’re not sure why they would fail a statistics 101 class, keep in mind that every single one of those previously inactive people (except perhaps the guy in the video) could have been thin.  Or every single once could have been a fat person who is now participating in Parkrun run, but is still fat.

Nobody is obligated to participate in fitness, ever.  It doesn’t matter what size we are, it doesn’t matter what our current “health” status is (by any definition), it doesn’t matter if doing 3 minutes of exercise every other year would make us immortal, nobody is obligated to do it, and those who choose to aren’t any better than those who don’t. If you don’t agree with this, consider how comfortable you would be if people made things that they consider “healthy habits” compulsory – are you prepared to be forced to eat a raw foods vegan diet?  How about being forced to go Paleo? Are you prepared to be forced to do the kind of physical activity that you like the least? Are you ok with some agency tracking your sleep and punishing you if you don’t get 8 hours?  We each get to choose how we define health for ourselves, how we want to prioritize it, and what path we want to take, anything else quickly becomes horrifying.

If people want to make fitness options (whether it’s running or something else) accessible, that’s fine, but not at the expense of singling out, stereotyping, or increasing the social hatred of fat people (whether those people participate or not.) If Parkrun really wants to break down barriers to participation in regular physical activity, then they should actually do that.

It’s reprehensible for them to use the fear and hatred of fat people that exists in our culture as a justification for their existence. “Don’t charge us to run because FAT PEOPLE EXIST!” or “If you charge us to run, it’s your fault that fat people exist” are not logical arguments, and are instead marketing messages created to score cheap points based on stereotypes and prejudice.

If they want to work on accessibility, then they could work on making things accessible geographically, financially, to people of different dis/abilities, to people of all speeds, they could work to break down oppression and marginalization that can exist in these (and in all) spaces including racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and sizeism, which includes not suggesting that the existence of fat people requires the existence of running programs, or that fat people’s choice to participate in fitness or not is anybody’s damn business.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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Published in: on April 18, 2016 at 10:11 am  Comments (12)  

It’s True: Body Positivity Isn’t An Excuse To Be Unhealthy

Bullshit FairyIn their column “Unpopular Opinion” xojane gave Rutvi Mehta the opportunity to engage in the same tired healthism, sizeism, and body positivity bashing that has been floated by many before her

The piece is called “Body Positivity Has Become an Excuse to Be Unhealthy” and the subtitle “If you hide under the gauzy blanket of body positivity to conceal your laziness and passivity, I feel sorry for you.” Riiiiiiight.

She spends the first part of the article discussing her history with weight cycling, her dislike of her own body, her vague understanding of the body positivity movement,and her choice to try to solve her issues with her body by manipulating its size and shape.  Of course that’s all fine, and none of it is any of my business except to say that I respect her right to make choices for her body precisely like I want my choices to be respected. Unfortunately, Rutvi seems to be struggling with that concept. Let’s take a look, shall we:

If there is one thing you have absolute control over, it is your body.

With any luck at all, this is the point when people realized that Rutvi has literally no idea what she is talking about (unless she can tell me how to become 6 feet tall when I need to reach the top shelf, let alone knowing what the research about weight loss shows) rolled their eyes so hard they saw their own brains, and then stopped reading.  But just in case they didn’t…

The compliments I’ve gotten since beginning my weight loss journey were not regarding my actual weight loss. Every single compliment I received acknowledged my perseverance and the fruitfulness of my efforts. That is so much more important than how drastically the landscape of my body has changed. If you go for a run five days a week for a month, there will eventually be results. If you work for something, there will definitely be results. That’s just how it works (thankfully).

Rutvi is allowed to believe whatever she wants about her own journey. What she cannot do, at least while remaining in any way credible, is make sweeping statements that suggest that she knows how everyone’s body will react to exercise. There are plenty of fat athletes who run five days a week or more and don’t lose weight. An inability to understand that your experience is not extrapolatable to everyone isn’t an “unpopular opinion,” it’s a failure of logic.

There is no excuse for snarking about another woman’s body because you lack the discipline to change your own body to your satisfaction.

By the exact same argument, there is no excuse for snarking about another woman’s body (including making assumptions about her level of discipline) because she isn’t interested in manipulating her body, because she is satisfied – even thrilled – with the body she has, or because she has jiggly thighs (more on that in a minute.) I would suggest that there is simply no excuse for snarking about another woman’s body.

If your only excuse is to hide under the gauzy blanket of body positivity in order to conceal your laziness and passivity, if saying “oh, I can have that body in two months” each time a sinfully hot woman walks past is your justification to yourself for your jiggly thighs, if you roll your eyes at your friend when she says she is proud of herself for sticking to her workout plan, I feel sorry for you.

Yeah, Maria Kang called and she wants her ridiculous bullshit back. PEOPLE DON’T NEED AN EXCUSE TO LOVE THEIR BODIES. If you don’t think that people should love their bodies because of their size, or health (by any definition,) then you are a sizeist and a healthist. If you visit that sizeism and healthism on others and/or try to convince other people to do the same, then you are not someone who holds an “unpopular opinion,” you are someone who is actively participating in marginalization and oppression. Obviously I can’t tell anyone what to do, but I for one think it would be just lovely if you would knock that shit off.

I won’t pretend to know what Rutvi is thinking, or what her motivations are, because I don’t.  I will say that, whenever I see this kind of sizeism and healthism and lashing out by people who are trying to manipulate their bodies – at people who love their bodies without trying to manipulate them – I always wonder if the real reason they are lashing out is that we refuse to buy into their belief that they are somehow superior because of their size/health/fitness/weight loss attempts.

People don’t need an excuse to love their bodies while being “lazy” or “passive” by whatever definition anyone is using.  People don’t need an excuse to love their bodies and never work out. People don’t need an excuse to love their jiggly thighs. People don’t need excuses to believe that their fat bodies are hot just as they are. People don’t need excuses to not give a single fuck about someone else’s workout plan or whether that person is sticking to it.  (And if they are rolling their eyes, perhaps that person needs to ask themselves why they are telling someone – who obviously didn’t ask and doesn’t care – about their workout plan?)

Health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances. Body positivity and “health” (by any definition) or “healthy habits” (by any definition) do not have to be related to each other in any way.

People are allowed to decide that their worth is somehow tied to how closely they are able to approximate the stereotype of beauty, or their “health” by whatever definition they are using, or how well they stick to their workout plan. What they aren’t allowed to do is suggest that everyone (or anyone) else has to buy into that.

If you need to engage in sizeism and healthism, if you need someone else to feel badly about themselves so you can feel good about yourself, if you need everyone to make the same choices as you in order to feel ok about your choices, then I feel sorry for you.

You are under no obligation to love your body, but you are absolutely allowed to love (or work on loving) the body you have – exactly as it is right now – no excuses needed.

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Published in: on April 15, 2016 at 1:05 pm  Comments (53)  

American Eagle Thinks Body Positivity is a Joke

facepalmSeveral weeks ago Aerie, a subsidiary of American Eagle Outfitters, launched a series of videos that they described as a body positive approach to marketing men’s underwear. I was excited to see them making their work more inclusive, I even have a half-finished blog in my drafts about it.

Unfortunately that draft will never see the light of day because, before I was able to finish it, they put out a press release saying that the whole thing was …get a load of this… an April Fool’s Day Prank.

The brand reveals today its #AerieMAN campaign, featuring a mix of quirky characters of different sizes and personalities sharing “real life” stories in their skivvies, was all in good fun to parody the #AerieReal campaign by Aerie, a leader in body-positive marketing.

Let me take a stab at translating this from Asshole to English:

The brand reveals today that we are not anywhere close to being leaders in body-positive anything, but we are willing to use the concept (and plus size male models) to forward our brand, though of course the idea that we would actually market using men of diverse sizes is so ridiculous that we think it’s hilarious that anybody believed this.  #AerieRealBigotry #AerieNoFatDudes

What Aerie is actually planning to do is stop retouching their (sterotypically sized) models. That’s not a bad thing, it’s some progress, but why announce that progress by pointing out the major progress that you could have made, but didn’t.

Almost unbelievably, it gets worse. It turns out that at least one of the models in the campaign wasn’t in on the joke. Blogger/model Kelvin Davis told Buzzfeed that he was never told that it was a “parody.”

We were asked questions about male body image and those were our responses. Everything I said was heartfelt from a place we all can relate.

I have had people in the body positivity community upset with me about this whole thing. My part and contribution to the project was 100% authentic and real.

My stance and advocation for body positivity has never been a joke. What I represent is 100% authentic.

So not only is American Eagle willing to promote their brand using what amounts to a fat joke, they are willing to hurt the brand of the models they lied to in order to do it. I guess since they think that body positivity is a joke, they think that these guy’s careers are a joke as well.

Happily, Kelvin has not been deterred from his work by American Eagle’s shitty behavior:

I represented male body positivity before the #AerieMan campaign. I represent male body positivity after the #AerieMan campaign.

I can only hope that the positive response that they got to their campaign to use diverse bodies will help American Eagle realize that body diversity is a real opportunity and not a cheap joke. Until then, I’ll continue to treat American Eagle like it’s a parody of a clothing brand – something to laugh at, but never to buy from.

EDIT:  Thanks to reader Jenni for pointing out that another model who was part of the campaign has also spoken out against the way it was handled. You can read his excellent statement here!  

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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!

 

Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 10:02 am  Comments (14)