I’m THE Big Fat Panda

Obviously I'm not at full extension but my friend was having trouble with the camera and there is only so long that 100 people will wait for you to take a picture at a crowded theater!

I freely admit that this is an “overthinking it” blog.  I’m going to talk about a cartoon Panda as if he is a real person and a fat activist.  I know it’s a stretch, I’ll understand if you don’t want to come along for the ride! (Also, if you’ve not seen the original Kung Fu Panda, this post contains spoilers).

I love Kung Fu Panda.  Love.  It. Today I made someone drive 30 minutes to get this movie so that I could show it to a friend so that friend and I can go see the sequel tomorrow.

The first very cool thing about this movie is that the main character realizes that he can be an athlete without being thin. He then not only isn’t ashamed of being fat, but he actually uses his size:

He belly bumps, he sits on someone, he uses his size to gain advantage.  He could never do that if he was busy being ashamed of his size and trying to look smaller than he is.

His enemy asks “What are you going to do, sit on me?”.  Po responds “Don’t tempt me”.  What better way to shut down this fat shaming than to turn an insult into empowerment?

The quintessential exchange is:

“You cannot defeat me, you’re just a big fat panda”.

“I’m not a big fat panda.  I’m THE big fat Panda.”

Indeed, he is a fat panda.  It’s just a descriptor, he could just as easily have said “you’re just a black and white panda” but the enemy assumes that since fat has so much negative connotation it will make him feel ashamed. When fat is just a descriptor it takes the power away from those who want to hurl an insult.  When I’m having a business meeting with someone I’ve not met I tell them “I’m a short, fat, brunette”.  Plenty of people have told me “Oh, don’t call yourself fat!” but nobody has ever said “Oh, don’t call yourself brunette!” I purposefully use fat as a descriptor because I think it’s important for me to reclaim the word with no negative charge.  It’s my way of telling the bullies that they can’t have my lunch money any more.

Then of course there is the pure joy of watching him defeat someone who assumes that he is less of an adversary simply because of his size.  Skidoosh.

So maybe we fatties can take some advice from Po:  Take an attempt at shaming and turn it into a statement of pride.  Use fat as a descriptor, not as a judgment. Own our size and find ways to use it to our advantage.  Be the big fat whatever that we are.  For me it sure beats the alternative.

I’m not a big fat dancer.  I’m THE big fat dancer.

How about you?

For a little inspiration here is the final, end of the first movie battle. MAJOR SPOILERS:

My Readers are NOT Idiots and Other Keen Observations

When people disagree with my blog, there are three main points that they tend to make:

1.  I am a liar.  It is impossible to be healthy and obese.  I covered that here.

2.  I’m must hate thin people and encourage thin bashing.  I find this incredibly offensive.  I covered it in detail here.  And Here.   And Here. And about a hundred other places.

3.  It’s fine for me to think what I want (even thought it’s obviously wrong and stupid), but I’m incredibly irresponsible for putting it in a blog because people will read it and choose Health at Every Size like I did and then they’ll die of fatness and it will all be my fault. Oh, where to begin with this one.

The diet industry in this country makes nearly 60 billion dollars a year convincing people they should want to be thin.  They are assisted by almost every major news and media outlet buying into the conflation of weight and health and giving us 386,170 negative messages about our bodies every year, along with extraordinarily irresponsible reporting. Then there is the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.  Self Magazine put 34 weight loss stories on their cover in 2010 alone.  That’s almost 3 cover stories every month for just ONE magazine, and that doesn’t take into account the fact that they choose nearly every model in every picture based on a single standard of beauty . Billions of dollars and billions of work hours going into convincing people that they should want to be thin and that thin and healthy are the same thing.

I am one woman blogging a few hours a week.

What I’m getting at here is that if my message is that much of a threat to the mainstream then I think that they should consider how weak their message really is, and whether or not they want to keep pushing that message.

Even more to the point, my readers (with the possible exception of the people who stumble onto this blog and make this kind of comment) are not idiots.  They are capable of weighing evidence and making their own decisions.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said on this blog that I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live, simply demonstrating an option. People are allowed to make choices that are different than your choices or my choices, and that in no way invalidates your choices or my choices. We are all the boss of our own underpants, and we are not the boss of anyone else’s underpants.  Why everyone except these commenters is able to grasp that I will never know.  Of course you don’t have to agree with me but I think that this is just a big sack of not-my-problem.

Dancer’s Body and Other BS

Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel

After a workshop that I taught, a participant told me that she was told she shouldn’t take dance class by a dance class instructor because she doesn’t have a “dancer’s body”.  It struck a chord because I’ve heard this countless times.

Dancer’s body.  Swimmer’s Build.  Athletic physique.

Complete, Total and Utter Bullshit.

These ideas are constantly touted by two groups of people:

1.  People who want to sell us something “Buy my Taepilatyogalletboxing System and get that dancer’s body you’ve always wanted”

2.  People who rely on feeling superior to feel ok about themselves: “I have a dancer’s body so it doesn’t matter how well you dance, you can’t possibly be a dancer because you don’t have a dancer’s body.  I am therefore better than you and so my fragile sense of self-esteem and exaggerated sense of self-importance both remain intact”

Except that nobody actually has the right to declare anything about anybody else’s body. Nobody is required to do any kind of athletics or exercise, but anyone who wants to should be welcome.

Do you dance?  Do you want to?  Then you have a dancer’s body.

Do you swim?  Do you want to?  The you have a swimmer’s build. (Let’s try to remember that everything from minnows to whales swims, you know what I’m saying?)

Are you an athlete?  Do you want to be?  Then you have an athletic physique.

People can try to tell us otherwise, but happily we get to decide if we’re going to let people who are trying to sell us something or trying to put us down to make themselves feel better keep us from doing what we want to do. And we get to choose how we do it – do we want to find a comfortable accepting environment (even if it’s our living room)?  Do we want to crash the party with our “non-traditional” bodies?  It’s all up to us.

Like the blog?  Consider becoming 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.

What do member fees support?  I get hundreds of requests a day (not including hatemail) from academic to deeply personal. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (and let me just give a huge THANK YOU to my members, I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for detail

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

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post

Nobody Really Wants to Eliminate Obesity

I know that with all of “war on obesity” stuff you hear it’s hard to believe, but stick with me here for a minute.  First let’s clarify who the War on Obesity is actually against. It would seem to be against obese people, but that’s not quite true.  “Obesity” as currently defined is the result of a mathematical formula involving a ratio of weight and height called “BMI”  We’ve discussed before why the BMI is BS.  Part of the reason is that there are so many exceptions to the rule. Since BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account, many hardcore athletes (most of the NFL for example) are obese based on the formula.  Nobody wants to get rid of athletes or force them to lose muscle to conform and so they are given an exception. If you are mathematically obese but without what is considered an excess of adipose tissue, you are excepted from the war.

So let’s just be honest: Nobody wants to eliminate obesity, they want to eliminate people who are visibly fat.  There is no war on obesity, there is a war against fat people.  And the front lines of this war are everywhere we look and listen – magazine covers, billboards, commercials, infomercials, ads on the internet, random strangers on the street, health care and wellness professionals, talk show hosts etc.

Knowing that, today I’m going to ignore the mountain of scientific evidence that says that  intentional weight loss doesn’t work.  I’m going to ignore all of the evidence that Health at Every Size does work.  I’m going to ignore the many healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people who exist and disprove the efficacy of conflating weight and health.  My question today is: Even if we would all be healthier if we were thin, is the War on Obesity a good idea?

Have you ever had something that you hated: a purse, some shoes, a knick-knack that was a gift from someone?  Did you take good care if it?  Were you inspired to dust it and polish it and keep it beautiful.

Me either.

The war on obesity has branched out to cover not just the appearance of bodies, but also their health, intelligence and worthiness. The War tells us that if our bodies are fat then they are unhealthy, ugly, unattractive and not worthy of love. We are told that we are not thin because we are lazy, don’t make healthy choices, and lack will power.  We are told that thin is the same as healthy and that we can’t have health without attaining a “healthy weight”.

95% of dieters gain back all of their weight plus more within five years. Yet if we are part of this vast majority,  we are shamed, tsk’d and called weak failures.

The war on obesity tells us to hate ourselves.  Then it says that we have to take good care of ourselves.  Then it says that it doesn’t matter if we take good care of ourselves, we have to lose weight or we should keep hating ourselves until we hate ourselves enough to take good enough care of ourselves to lose weight.

It’s ridiculous.  It’s a system that sets us up to fail, participates in our failure, then makes us feel horrible for failing, all the while profiting the diet industry to the tune of almost $60,000,000,000 (yup, that’s sixty billion dollars) a year.

So back to my original question:  Even if we would all be healthier if we were thin, is the War on Obesity a good idea?

I think that the answer is no. And I say it’s time to opt out of the war on obesity all together because even if we would be healthier if we were thin, the war on obesity still doesn’t make sense.  Here’s how I think we can do it…

  1. Notice how often this happens.  Decide tomorrow to see how many messages you get about obesity – from television, the radio, the internet (how many diet ads are on the pages you look at) etc.  Notice how many of those messages are placed forward by someone who either wants you to buy their product or has something to gain by maintaining the status quo (ie: they derive their self-esteem from being “better” than fat people)
  2. Appreciate your body! Your body is amazing – think of all of the stuff that it is doing for you right now:  you are breathing, your heart is beating, you are blinking, the list goes on and on.  Your body deserves to be loved and appreciated!  Just as it is.  Right now.  Right this minute.
  3. Do things that make you feel good.  If you don’t feel as healthy as you would like, then I would absolutely encourage you to make choices to take care of your amazing body.  Not necessarily so that you change its size or shape, or to fit into a bikini.  Just for the joy of feeling good and taking care of your amazing body.
  4. Stop judging others by their weight. Stop assuming that very thin women have eating disorders.  Stop assuming that fat people are lazy or unhealthy.  Strike words like “skinny bitch”, “fat pig” etc. from your vocabulary
  5. Don’t push your idea of health onto other people.  Practice healthy choices for yourself and stop telling other people how they should live unless they are asking directly for your thoughts or advice.  Your experience is just that – YOUR experience.  Don’t confuse your experience for everyone else’s.
  6. Speak out when you see other people partaking in these behaviors.  Every time someone says something like this they are reinforcing to someone else that they are unhealthy, unattractive and unworthy.  The idea of making someone hate themselves healthy is ludicrous.
  7. Tell your story.  A lot of people don’t even know that Health at Ever Size is an option for them.  That’s the entire point of my blog. I don’t want to tell people what to choose for their health, I just want to make sure they know that HAES is an option.

Speaking of telling my story, an article about me is appearing in the June issue of “All You” magazine (which is found in Walmart Stores).  It was beautifully written by Virginia Sole-Smith from The Beauty Schooled Project.  I love her blog and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank her for the article and all of the support!

Taking Up Space

I am at La Guardia airport, leaving after spending a week in New York City.  It has been an incredible experience. I watched my Best Friend graduate from NYU at Yankee Stadium (I’m so proud of him that I could burst), and got to hear Bill Clinton speak (and he gave a great speech).  I got to do a workshop with the ever fabulous Golda Poretsky of Body Love Wellness,  at the ever famous Re/Dress plus-sized clothing store in Brooklyn. I got to see all kinds of neighborhoods in NYC that you wouldn’t see as a typical tourist. Got to spend a ton of time with my BF and his boyfriend just relaxing and hanging out which I rarely get to do.

But one of the reasons that I am happy to go back to Texas is space and the taking up of it by me. NYC, while amazing in many ways, does not suit me.  It seems to be an increcible city largely based on inconvenient travel, strangers touching and jostling you, and trying to occupy as little space as possible.  During my week here I had multiple experiences on trains and subways (sometimes very crowded ones) and I noticed that space is at a premium and people try to take up as little as possible – hunching over, collapsing their chests, abandoning their posture.  Nobody said anything about my size (or, at least, not to my face) but then again I never took a seat unless it was beside friends.  Things may have been different had I been sitting alone since I take up ALL of a seat and so someone sitting next to me would be stuck touching me (which I wouldn’t enjoy either, part of the reason that I chose to stand).

What makes this more interesting is a discussion that I had with a stranger on my way to NYC.  I was in the airport in Chicago standing on an escalator.  As I got off a woman said to me “I love the say that you stand. You just…take up space”.  Then a panicked look crossed her face and she stammered “I didn’t mean, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, I just…”. I cut her off and thanked her.  She said that I looked “regal”, thanked me for inspiring her and then walked on to her flight leaving me feeling super awesome.

This experience was with me as I watched people try to take up as little space as possible.  Maybe it’s because I’m a dancer or maybe it’s just me but a big part of feeling good about myself and happy in my body is standing up straight with good posture and that equates to taking up space. I do not apologize for the space I take up and I do not hesitate to make sure that my body has the space it needs (for example, as a short fat person often times if I sit in a booth in a restaurant the height is perfect to dig into my stomach as my boobs rest on the table.  Yeah…no.  I’m absolutely moving to a space that appropriately accommodates me. This is my body and space is it’s birthright and if you feel that it’s not fair that I take up more space than you, there is nothing stopping you from trying to get to my size or wearing a parka so we’ll be even.

This probably brings up the airplane discussion which I already talked about here.

I guess my point is that if you live in a place that encourages you to be small, or if you try to make yourself small as a way to deal with society, or it’s just a habit, that’s absolutely a valid choice.  But maybe consider looking for opportunities to just take up some space. Whether you take a trip to the country or just move the furniture in your living room, consider standing up straight, throwing your shoulders back, moving around and really loving taking up space.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Exercise

Steve Blair and his many studies at the Cooper Clinic have found that overweight individuals who exercise regularly have roughly the same health profile as lower weight people who exercise, and a better profile than thin people who don’t exercise.

For many people “exercise” is a dirty word because it’s been a punishment, a horrible experience (hello dodgeball in Jr. High Gym), and/or the only reason they’ve ever exercised is a failed attempt to try to change the size and shape of their bodies, or because they think that they have to do it “exactly right” to get the benefit.

Many people look to “fitness professionals” to help them, but there are plenty of people who claim to be fitness experts without any training or certification at all (Jillian Michaels, for example, in addition to lawsuits for weight loss supplements, has had her credentials called into question by a fitness specialist in the LA Times) and they can say anything that they want. I can’t tell you the number of fitness infomercials I’ve come across that have made me want to laugh and cry with their obvious lack of knowledge about the human body.

I’ve been an AFAA certified fitness professional (the same body that now certifies Jillian Michaels). and while I did not maintain my certification I will say that I personally would never trust a “fitness” professional who said any of the following:

“work your lower abs”

This one drives me crazy because it shows a shocking disregard for human anatomy.  There is simply no.  such.  thing.  Your rectus abdominus is a single muscle responsible for flexion of the torso. This is the one they mean when they talk about your non-existant lower abs.  The entire rectus abdominus fires every time you flex your torso.  Your internal and external obliques are responsible for lateral flexion (side bends) Your transverse abdominus compresses the abdomen and stabilizes the vertabrae, and your erector spinea extends the trunk. Say it with me:  there is no such thing as lower abs.

“[Abdominal exercise of the moment] will give you a flat stomach/6-pack”

We have to stop buying into this.  The shape of your stomach is a combination of the muscle below and fat and skin above. There is no exercise that will target and change the shape of your stomach.  The ability to have a “6 pack”, which is just the ability to have visible abdominal muscles, is the product of being genetically able to have/maintain low enough body fat for the definition of those muscles to be visible (which includes the ability to maintain the low body fat necessary and where you might hold your fat), and then doing whatever it takes for you to have/maintain that.  There is a really great blog about it here (trigger warning:  the comments are not so body positive)

“Lifting lighter weights with more repetitions will help you tone without bulking up”

Sweet merciful Zeuss can we please stop saying this.  This myth is FRIGHTENINGLY pervasive and completely wrong. First of all, I wish that strength goals could be tied to how strong we want to be (ie:  how heavy is the grand kid who you want to pick up?) and not some kind of “ideal body shape” but that’s another blog.  Lifting a 2 pound weight a hundred times is basically a waste of time and energy, unless you are lifting it fast enough to get some kind of cardio benefit.  You are either over-taxing the muscle enough to make it stronger, or you are not. The resulting muscle shape is a product of genetics.  Truly “bulking up” is a product of genetics, a serious weight routine, diet, supplementation, and for some people even steroid use [Big thanks to reader Suzanne who pointed out that my original phrasing made it sound like I thought supplementation and steroid use were the same thing]. I often wonder if people would be happier if they spent less time worrying about having a visible bicep and focus instead on what they want their body to be able to do.

“Working your [thigh muscles, upper arms, stomach etc.) will melt the fat around them.”

This one just makes me giggle while realizing that way too many weight loss ads use the term “melt the fat away”.  If you are a fitness professional, you have to have a wanton disregard for the workings of the human body to espouse this particular belief.  No, Virginia, moving a part of the body does not create heat that “melts” the fat around the muscles.

If you want to be healthier you might first consider that health has many facets:  behaviors, genetics, stress, environment, access.  Obviously not all of these are under our control and no amount of healthy behaviors can guarantee health.  So my suggestion, which of course you can take or leave, is to consider choosing movement you like and then do it several times per week and see how you feel.  If you have more specific goals or want to get more technical than that then do some research and buyer beware, because people say some crazy things.

1 in 6 Women Would Rather Be Blind Than Obese

Jezebel.com did a quick article referencing a Times of India piece about a study in which 1 in 6 women apparently said that they would rather be blind than obese. I haven’t seen the study and I can’t tell you if I think it’s accurate or not, but it’s the reporting that I want to talk about because it manages to be bad on so many levels:

First, they seem to use “affliction” and “socially stigmatized condition” interchangeably in the Times article.  Obesity is not an affliction, it is a body size.  I am as fat as you can get on the BMI chart: Type 3 Super Obese.  I  am also super healthy and happy.  I am not afflicted by a health condition, I am stigmatized by society. These are two very different things. If I had a health condition I would try to cure it via healthy habits.  Social Stigma I try to cure by telling people to shut the hell  up and mind their own business enforcing my personal boundaries, trying to elucidate options and suggesting that all people should be treated with dignity, even if you don’t agree with their choices.

Second  –  The quote that accompanied the Times article was “Experts said, “it was astonishing that people would opt – even in theory  – for afflictions that were difficult or impossible to treat in favour of obesity.”

Notice the false dichotomy between “afflictions that were difficult or impossible to treat” and “obesity”.  Like people can cross their arms and bounce their head like “I Dream of Jeannie” and be thin.  The Jezebel article is, to me, even worse saying “Obesity is, generally speaking, a condition that can be reversed”   Not so much.  So far intentional weight loss has shown a long-term success rate of less than 5% in all major scientific studies, that’s within the statistical margin of error.

Maybe it’s time to accept that not only don’t we have a simple solution for long-term weight loss – we don’t have any proven solution at all.  Maybe we don’t notice because the diet industry has managed to replace the concept of “health” with the concept of “thin” and is being paid handsomely for it,  so we think that we need to be thin no matter what the cost or we’ll never be healthy.  Unfortunately the lazy medicine and science that this situation has wrought seem to have abandoned any type of research around making people healthier for the much more lucrative pursuit of making them smaller (or, in actuality, telling them that you can make them smaller without ever delivering on that promise).

What would our health be like if we actually focused on health, rather than body size?

Finally, the Jezebel article asks “Is the fact that north of 15% of women who participated in the study would prefer blindness to obesity a testament to the shallowness that women have been driven to in American society or to the fact that women realize that society tends to treat the obese more poorly than it treats the blind?”

This is not the Oppression Olympics and I’m not interested in getting into any discussions about who is more stigmatized.  I have very little understanding of what a blind person must deal with in the world and to be clear I would choose obesity any day of the freaking week.  But what I’m thinking is that maybe it’s a testament to the fact that blind people aren’t constantly told that they could see if they just had some personal responsibility and will power and tried hard enough, and that if they are going to stay blind then they don’t deserve respect or love.

Luckily I don’t have to make the choice between blindness or obesity but I do make the choice to focus on my health rather than my body size and that one I’ll stand by.

By the way my blog has once again been posted to the board of “fit” people.  These people are obsessed with me!  I can’t imagine how much of their lives they’ve devoted to reading my blog, posting comments I’m never going to allow through, photoshopping my picture, putting negative comments on my YouTube videos (and flagging them as terrorism) etc. These people have spent a TON of time on me.  I’d be flattered if I thought that they were worth the time it takes to delete their comments.  Thanks for the attention and all the hits to my page but please do feel free to go do something useful with your lives.  Also, feel free to stop leaving anonymous comments complaining about how I didn’t post your previous anonymous comment.  It’s called comment moderation – I worked very hard to create a forum for respectful, intelligent discussion of Health at Every Size, self -esteem and body image.  I am so grateful for all of the people who let me know that they’ve found support or encouragement here.  If you think I’m going to use my forum to give a voice to people who are only looking to tear others down, and are, based on a preponderance of the evidence, uninterested in a respectful intelligent discussion (“fatties gonna fat” Seriously?)  and typically are so cowardly that they won’t even put their real name and e-mail on their comments then you are even less bright than your comments suggest. But you know, keep clicking because it’s making my stats look great and I’m getting pretty fast with the “Trash Comment” button.

Thanks to the always awesome Beauty Schooled Project for turning me onto the Times India Article.

Here are the original articles


Times India