The World the Diet Culture Built

A couple of my posts got linked to on forums for body building and fitness (forums, I will point out, that I could easily have been legitimately a part of).  I have now received over 260 comments (none of which I approved) including the following (WARNING:  these may be triggering – skip the bullet points if you want to skip the comments and preserve your faith in humanity without the need for a big bottle of brain bleach):

  • Fat people should all be killed. Fact. Deal with it, stretchmarks.
  • Sorry fattcakes [sic], fat is unhealthy no matter how much you can do.
  • I hope you know people, deep inside, laugh at you dancing.
  • You look like a beached whale that grew legs.
  • 23 commenters (with different e-mail and ip addresses) said “fucking fatty, I hope you die”
  • One person said “I want to punch you over and over in your fat stomack [sic] and watch you die landwhale”
  • While I’ve been typing this I got a comment that said: “If your doctor killed you it would’ve been a good thing, it would have improved the gene pool. Kidding of course, there is no way any man would ever fuck you” (I can tell them that last claim is false.  Turns out that boys – and girls – DO make passes at girls with fat asses.)

You know, there’s an Ani Difranco song that I love called  Willing to Fight (entire song and lyrics below).  She sings:

Tell me who’s your boogey man

And that’s who I will be

You don’t have to like me for who I am

But we’ll see what you’re made of

By what you make of me

My first reaction to the comments was:  Are these people happy with who they are?  Would they be proud for their moms, or their kids, to see what they said to me?  Would they say it to my face, without the anonymity of the internet?  How does the person who wants to punch me in the stomach and watch me die act in real life?  Does this person have a fat brother, sister, mother?  Do they want to punch them in the stomach and watch them die?  If we met on the street should I actually fear for my life?  Why are these people so angry?  Why isn’t it enough to live the way that they think is right rather than saying that they want people who disagree with them to die.

But as stranger after stranger called me names and said that they wanted me to die or that they personally wanted to kill me, I started to get angry at a culture that makes this seem reasonable.  We live in a culture that’s gone beyond a fascination with thinness to a vocal, socially acceptable, hatred of fat, and this culture spends a tremendous amount of time, energy and money justifying fat hatred. Most often for profit, but it’s not just the diet industry that creates a culture of hate.  Good intentions are not enough and I believe that we need to hold the people who contribute to a culture of hatred accountable.

Doctors who were paid by diet companies successfully had the definition of a healthy weight lowered and then recommended their funding diet companies’ products to ‘solve” the new health “problem” that their definition change created. Those doctors are part of a culture of hate.

Allergan (maker of the lap band) funded a study with deplorable research methods that said that fat people cost businesses $70 Billion a year.  They are using that study to convince insurance companies that it’s cheaper to pay for lap band surgeries than employ fat people.  But every major news outlet ran the story without saying anything about the limitations of the study, and most didn’t mention who funded it. I assume because articles about fatties attract readers which attracts advertisers which makes them money.  Regardless of why they ran with the story, those news organizations are part of a culture of hate.

By the way Allergan is also the same company who ran a contest where the prize was a major abdominal surgery, a side effect of which is death. One of the provisions of the contest was that you could give the surgery to a friend. Allergan is most definitely part of a culture of hate.

Michelle Obama may have good intentions but she is encouraging fat hatred starting in elementary school.  Her war on childhood obesity amounts to a war on obese children and runs completely in opposition to her anti-bullying message.  Michelle Obama is helping to create a culture of hate.

And it’s not just companies, it’s individuals, people I know. DK is a Ph.D. Social Psychologist and she and I spent hours and hours talking about health and self esteem.  She and I nearly wrote a book together about self-esteem in fact.  We were so excited about talking about health instead of weight and talking about Health at Every Size.  Instead, she committed herself full-time to a pyramid scheme that sells weight loss products, calls herself a “certified health coach”, posts studies to her Facebook that she has more than enough training to debunk as poor research, and spends her days trying to make people terrified of being fat so that she can sell them her shakes and bars. DK is part of a culture of hate

As far as I’m concerned, every single person – regardless of intention – who encourages thinness under the guise of encouraging health is part of a culture of hate, bullying and intimidation wherein a complete stranger feels comfortable saying that he/she wants to punch someone in the stomach and watch them die because they are fat. Are you telling people that they have to lose weight to be healthy (or attractive, or deserving of respect)?  Do you participate in negative body talk about other people?   Do you make judgments about the health, abilities, or intelligence of people based on their size?  Then I’m talking to directly to you.

This is not the best we can do.  Together we can create a society that values health.  Actual health.  That focuses on giving people the best options for health:  affordable, accessible healthy food; affordable movement options that people can enjoy without the threat of stigma; an opportunity to love and appreciate our bodies while we decide what we want to do with them, an awareness that health comes in a variety of body shapes and sizes, and a world that has respect for our choices when it comes to our own health.  If you believe that health and thinness are the same thing then you are free to pursue a thin body but there is no reason for you not to respect someone else’s belief in Health at Every Size and there is no reason to create a culture of hate against people because they don’t think the same thing that you do.  To paraphrase Larry Kramer, one of my personal life heroes, “Our culture declares us to be unequal, which means, in this culture, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you.”

We can do better.

The upside (I always like to have an upside) is that 3000 views have been directed to my site by these boards which is great for my stats.  Only 268 of them have left negative comments so far which is actually less than 10%, and I got 8 new subscribers so maybe I found more like-minded people and maybe, just maybe, I gave some people the opportunity to consider a new point of view.

Most importantly, I get to walk around knowing that I am part of a culture of health:  I am proud of my actions and what I write, I say what I believe under my own name – not anonymously with a fake e-mail address, I have way more than 263 comments from people who have been positively affected by my work,  I will sleep soundly tonight damn proud of the big fat life I lead.

The windows of my soul
are made of one way glass
don’t bother looking into my eyes
if there’s something you want to know,
just ask
I got a dead bolt stroll
where I’m going is clear
I won’t wait for you to wonder
I’ll just tell you why I’m here

’cause I know the biggest crime
is just to throw up your hands
say this has nothing to do with me
I just want to live as comfortably as I can
you got to look outside your eyes
you got to think outside your brain
you got to walk outside you life
to where the neighborhood changes

tell me who’s your boogieman
that’s who I will be
you don’t have to like me for who I am
but we’ll see what you’re made of
by what you make of me

I think that it’s absurd
that you think I
am the derelict daughter
I fight fire with words
words are hotter than flames
words are wetter than water

I got friends all over this country
I got friends in other countries too
I got friends I haven’t met yet
I got friends I never knew
I got lovers whose eyes
I’ve only seen at a glance
I got strangers for great grandchildren
I got strangers for ancestors

I was a long time coming
I’ll be a long time gone
you’ve got your whole life to do something
and that’s not very long
so why don’t you give me a call
when you’re willing to fight
for what you think is real
for what you think is right

Dancing Fat Girls Make Good

Edit – It’s now a bit sad for me to read this post.  I left the Cabaret because unfortunately I found it unprofessional and embarrassing (for example, at a show during our performance our director – who was supposed to be singing the song that we were dancing to – announced “I’m sorry y’all, I just burped”  into the microphone.)  But just because something isn’t for me doesn’t mean that it’s wrong and of course I wish them all the best.

I told you a while ago about Fat Bottom Cabaret.  We are now up and running.  We debuted at Emo’s at a SXSWi event.  It was crazy – a packed house.  I do the choreography for the group and I had forgotten how difficult it is to debut choreography.  It’s like showing people your baby, knowing that they might

1.  Think it’s ugly

2.  Have no problem telling you that loudly and publicly

3.  Throw fruit at it.

Also, we were the only cabaret performers –  everyone else was burlesque.  That meant that we were the only women on stage (beside the fabulous Mojo Queens singers!) who were not getting down to panties and pasties.  So on top of the anxiety of debuting as a performer and a choreographer, and the fact that the stage was carpeted which meant that we had to change our choreography when we got there,  I also had the unsettling opportunity to be simultaneously worried that people would feel that we were wearing too little, or be disappointed that we were wearing too much. Did I mention that I’m a worrier.

Skip to the end:  One of the absolute biggest rounds of applause of the night.  People asked to take their picture with us, people chased us down to tell us how good we were, people  told us that we inspired them, we got interviewed for the news.  It went great.  We’ve done several other gigs since then and always received a great reception. It has been amazing so far and I feel that the world of burlesque – which is populated by women (and some men) of all shapes and sizes – has afforded us the opportunity to be appreciated for our beauty and praised for our talent.  I continue to feel incredibly lucky to have a chance to be in a group with such talented, awesome women.

We will be putting on our own show in June (I’ll keep you posted!) and our awesome leader Nikki has sent in our application to the New Orleans Burlesque Fest for which we were required to complete two videos – I’ve shared them below.  Fair warning, if you work with me, know my in real life, or if you happen to be my Mom and you think it might be uncomfortable to watch me shake it in a miniskirt and fishnets then feel free to skip these videos.  Otherwise, enjoy and I hope to see you in New Orleans in September!  (For some reason a bit of the right side  of the video gets cut off in the embedded version so if you want to see the full thing just double click to open it in full screen.)

This is the number we did at SXSW (and it’s my favorite of our numbers so far):

This is the first piece that we ever put together:

Stop Saying Skinnyfat – You Sound Like an Idiot

If you haven’t heard this let me fill you in:  “Skinnyfat”  is a term used to describe people who are thin but not healthy – they may lack muscle tone, be sedentary, have poor eating habits, be genetically unhealthy etc.

Another term that I’ve heard bantered about (on ABC News among other places) is “normal weight obese” – which means the same thing.

I’m curious, as a healthy fat woman should I be offended because nobody calls me “fatskinny”?

This one makes my [healthy fat person] blood boil with rage.

We didn’t need to coin the terms  “skinnyfat”  or “normal weight obese” because we already have a word for the condition of being thin and unhealthy:  “unhealthy”.

I almost can’t believe that so many people have made so much money purposefully confusing the concepts of weight and health that these terms have been accepted into our lexicon.

A barely thinking person who spends 20 seconds on this will realize how ridiculous it is.  It’s an utter contradiction of terms based entirely on an erroneous conflation of weight and health.

This is an incredibly simple concept:

There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.

If someone is skinny and unhealthy that DOES NOT make them fat. (It’s such a big, hot, steaming pile of “duh” that I can’t even believe I just had to type that.)

By the same token, someone who is fat and healthy is not skinny. (Oh look, a giant bowl of No-Shit-Sherlock Flakes.)

There is weight and there is health.  They are two different things with completely different sets of measurements.  We DO have the technology to measure health – it’s not even that difficult or expensive so if this was actually about people’s health then right this very minute we as a society could stop the sheer medical laziness of substituting weight for health and start accurately assessing people’s level of health (in case you missed it, the operative word here is HEALTH).  And if a patient wanted to get healthier the doctor would prescribe healthy habits rather than just telling that person to do whatever they have to do to be skinny (but not, god forbid, skinnyfat).

Just to recap: there’s no such thing as skinny people who are fat or “normal weight” people who are obese.  I’m going to put it out there and say that using these terms is so stupid that it should cause the speaker instant and intense physical pain. For the love of all that’s logical, intelligent, not to mention grammatically and physiologically correct, let’s stop this nonsense right now.

Sick, Fat, and Dreading the Doctor

I almost never get sick and when I do it usually lasts a day.  I only get sick enough to need medical attention about once every five years.

Last week was the perfect storm – no sleep, tons of stress, really hard workouts, not eating enough food.  Monday I started to really not feel well.  I did what I had to do (meetings, workout, dance lesson etc.) and then went home to try to feel better. But I didn’t.  By  Wednesday afternoon my tonsils had swollen to the point where it was difficult to breathe and impossible to swallow and they hurt non-stop.  Thursday I felt like grim death.  By Friday morning I hadn’t eaten anything in over 36 hours and I was in constant pain.

I can hear what you’re thinking:  GO TO THE DOCTOR YOU MORON!!!!

It seems reasonable but there are a couple of snags.  First I don’t have insurance – I’m too fat to qualify.  I’ve already discussed the issues of health care access for fat people.   Luckily I can afford to pay out of pocket which brings us to reason number 2, the real reason for my hesitation: The horrible treatment that I am likely to face in the doctor’s office (both statistically and through personal experience).

Because I am involved in fat activism, I “know too much”.  I know, for example, that in research from Yale University  more than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned for one study felt comfortable describing obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment” and that almost 25% of nurses said that they were “repulsed” by obese patients.

In the past doctors have tried to kill me, doubted their own numbers, and called me a liar so I’m just not that excited to go.  However about 4am on Friday my desire to breathe without pain overtook my desire to not have to be humiliated by someone who is considered a health care professional and I Googled the closest Urgent Care Center and waited around until it opened.

In actuality it wasn’t so bad.  I tried very hard to be chipper and pleasant even though I just wanted to curl up on the floor. They didn’t try to weigh me so we skipped that whole fiasco.  The nurse tried to take my blood pressure with a regular cuff, I told him that he would need an extra large. (Why do they always do that – YOU CAN SEE ME.  I’M VERY FAT.  GET THE BIG ASS CUFF PLEASE.)   He took my blood pressure (typically 117/70) and it was 135/81.  The nurse said in a stern voice “That’s borderline…” it sounded like he was headed down the fat talk road, so I cut him off and said (conversationally, without being at bitchy I swear) “only since the pharmaceutical companies successfully lobbied to lower the number.  Also, if a patient is in constant pain in a place called “Urgent Care” what would we expect their blood pressure to do? I’m typically 117/70 like clockwork so I’m not worried.”  He seemed taken slightly aback but he took my word for it, said ok, finished the exam and walked out of the room. The exact same scene repeated when the doctor came in.  But they didn’t argue and neither of them said anything about my weight (possibly because they got distracted when they  found the size of my tonsils so impressive that they brought other doctors into the room.  I had the worst case of tonsilitis that any doctor at Northwest Urgent Care had ever seen.  Go big or go home – I’m #1 !!!!!!!!  Not that I’m competitive or anything).

So I had a pretty good experience at a doctor’s office.  I don’t know if the blood pressure thing was going to devolve into an “I’m sure you’ve never heard this before but American Medicine likes to conflate weight and health” discussion.  I’m glad that I was able to cut him off and take control of the experience if that was where it was going. Maybe the secret is that I went to Urgent Care where their job is to deal with my current urgent issue. Who knows?

I do know that I deserve better than to have to worry about this. Nobody who feels like I felt should have to worry that a trip to a health care professional will involve shaming, humiliation, advice not based on sound research, or a pathetic attempt to convince me that I wouldn’t have tonsilitis if I was just 50 pounds lighter.

One of the lines of a commonly used version of the Hippocratic Oath states “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”   Just as a start, I think if we had a little more of that and a little less “obese patients are awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment” we’d have a much better health care system.

I was going back through my blog and remembered that I wrote a little pamphlet a while ago about how to deal at the doctor’s office.  You can download it here for free if you want.

So anyway, I missed you guys last week.  Lots of good comments – sorry about the lack of replies – and I’m glad to be back!