Truvia Sells Sweet Self-Hatred

Truvia is a sugar substitute made from Stevia. Apparently they’ve decided that instead of convincing people to like their product, it’s easier to convince women to hate ourselves and eat their product to assuage our guilt at being bad, bad girls who eat all of our boyfriend’s cake.

Here’s the video, I’ve just copied the lyrics below in case you’d prefer to skip this exercise and not have to apply brain bleach later  (the dislikes and negative comments on YouTube make me happy)

(this is a complication of all the songs, the one I’m talking about starts at 1:30)
Here are the lyrics:

I loved you sweetness
But you’re not sweet you made my butt fat
you drove me insane
self control down the drain
we’re over I’m so done with that
I found a new love
A natural true l0ve
that comes from a little green leaf
zero calorie guilt free no artificiality
my skinny jeans zipped in relief
It’s name is Truvia
I had no idea
No more sprinkling my coffee with grief

First, I do not understand the point of being guilty about eating.  How does that help?  Does guilt burn a bunch of calories? I’m thinking either eat the thing and enjoy it and move on with your life, or don’t eat eat the thing and move on with your life, but I cannot for the life of me think of what would be accomplished by my choosing to eat something and then choosing to feel guilty about that.

Next, I’m concerned that the lyricists on this gem of a jingle might want to examine their relationship with food.  In 30 seconds they’ve used the words insane, grief, guilt, relief, and love three times discussing an artificial sweetener.  Whoa.  Imagine how many emotions they must go through when they see some seven layer dip.  I work with people who are dealing with eating disorders and I’m not intending to make light of that, but I do want to point out how they are using disordered eating behavior to sell us food that is not exactly as advertised as “no artificiality.”

99.1% of Truvia is Erythritol.  This is a corn-based sweetener manufactured by Cargill. (30% of whose corn is, by their own information, genetically modified in case that matters to you). Sugars from the corn are extracted, mixed with water and fermented, filtered, crystallized and dried.  Side effects if you consume too much include digestive upset, diarrhea, and bloating. I’m betting that the bloating is going to end her skinny jean relief and in lieu of being driven to insanity, our songstress can instead be driven into the bathroom.  At least the acoustics are good in there.

The other .9% of Truvia is Rebiana.  This is a sweetener that is derived from the stevia leaf through a refining process. So just to go back to the song, only a fraction of a percent of the sweetener is derived from a little green leaf.  I guess it’s just really difficult to rhyme Erythritol?

Oddly, another way to sweeten with stevia is to eat the damn leaf.  That sounds less artificial than putting .9% of stevia extract with 99.1% of corn extract, but I’m not an expert at this.

I’m not here to tell anyone what to eat and what not to eat.  I am here to say that selling artificial sweetener (or anything for that matter) by trying to make people feel guilty and hate themselves is bullshit and I hope that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

To end on a much more positive note, the Truvia commercial that I saw was during the Final Episode of “The Voice”.  The following video is from that episode.  It’s a bald, butch, tatted out lesbian singing a duet with Christina Aguilera and I thought that it was “Beautiful” (see what I did there…)  I think that the Truvia songwriters could take a cue from this:

Do 95% of Dieters Really Fail?

Thanks to reader Marie for the questions that spawned this blog.  She asked:

I’m curious about the 95% figure. As far as I’ve read, that is based on some outdated and likely not valid research. I hope you understand I’m not attacking you, but it’s a statistic I see that you use often here and one that many of the nutritionists that I work with dispute. And I know I shouldn’t rely on anecdotal evidence, but I know several people personally (including myself) who have lost weight and kept it off. Now, the people who have kept it off have done it sensibly with healthy food and exercise. Others I’ve known who relied on more gimmicky approaches have regained. Here’s an article I’ve read.

Thanks for the thoughtful, non-attacking question Maria.  Here is my answer.

First, my take on the article:

They say “…The true failure rate could be much better, or much worse, he said. ”The fact is that we just don’t know.”

They say that the number is based on a 1959 study conducted by Dr. Albert Stunkard and Mavis McLaren-Hume in which 95 of 100 participants failed.  But then admit “Since the 1959 study, though, the statistic has been reinforced by most other clinical studies, which also showed people with discouraging results.”  Studies like this one which is a 55 year study.  They conclude that “Dieting has it’s own benefits…People who try to lose weight tend to eat better and exercise more, leading to increased fitness and lower blood pressure”.  That, to me, is practically an endorsement of the Health at Every Size Paradigm since you can have the better eating and exercising without a side of failure and body shame.

At any rate, this statistic has a long history and was acknowledged at both the New Zealand Obesity Society conference in 2009 and again at the inaugural International Obesity Summit in 2010.

They are not questioning the 95% statistic based on any scientific study, but upon the incredibly sketchy anecdotal evidence of the National Weight Control Registry (discussed in detail here This is a voluntary registry of dieters who have lost at least 30 pounds and maintained that for a year. The article claims that “Judging by their accounts, it is entirely possible for people without the resources to hire personal trainers and chefs to accomplish permanent weight loss.” And that’s where it goes off the rails for me.

According to their website:

There are currently more than five thousand members of the National Weight Control Registry, all of whom have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off. These members lost the weight in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Some have lost 30 pounds, some 130 pounds. Some have kept the weight off for one year, some for decades. What they all have in common, though, is a commitment to successful weight loss maintenance.

Ok, first of all, “more than 5,000”.  Let’s say that they have 6,000 members, just to give them the benefit of the doubt.  My research showed that between 45 million and 80 million Americans go on a diet every year.  I’ll round down to 40 million just to be sure..  The registry started in 1994 and has 6,000 success stories.  Using our extremely low estimate, since 1994, there were 660,000,000 attempts at dieting (including people who tried more than once).  So if we are going to use the registry to prove weight loss success, it shows a failure rate of 99.991%.  That’s not necessarily accurate of course because the registry relies on self-reporting.  It’s possible that there are 32,994,000 people who successfully lost weight but didn’t report it to the registry.  If that’s the case then the 95% failure rate holds true.  If there are more than 32,994,000 who successfully lost weight but didn’t report it then the failure rate would be less. Or maybe when they said “more than 5,000” they actually meant 33 million.

As it stands, based on estimates that favor them: 660,000,000 diet attempts.  6,000 successes and 659,994,000 failures.  What I’m trying to say here is that the registry is no help in proving the efficacy of dieting because it utterly lacks statistical significance and relies completely on self-reporting –  in addition to under-reporting, some of those “success stories” could have regained their weight but not reported it. Also, the numbers are singularly unimpressive.  Were I these two doctors, who make their living selling weight loss, I would not be waving these numbers around.

What these scientists are trying to say is that by studying the .009% of dieters who have succeeded they can find the secret to dieting successfully. That’s like studying Powerball winners to see the best way to become a hundred millionaire.  On a side note, studies show that more than 50% of “overweight” people and more than 30% of “obese” people are metabolically healthy, but very few people seem to be studying us to see how they can make other overweight and obese people healthy. Why do we value .009% over 50% or 30%?

Maybe it’s because the Registry is run by two doctors who make their living selling weight loss and is predominantly funded by pharmaceutical and diet companies whose bottom lines depend upon people believing that they can lose weight.  Conflict of interest?  You decide.

Moving on.  In order to talk about success or failure we first have to define them.  Weight Watchers once claimed success when a study showed that participants lost around about 10 pounds in six months and kept off half of that for two years.  Karren Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International at the time said: “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.”

Validation? Seriously?  Lady, they lost 5 pounds in two years.  I’m reasonably certain that I could lose 5 pounds in two years just by exfoliating semi-regularly.  If Weight Watchers (or any weight loss company) was so successful then you probably wouldn’t be required to put “Results not typical” on every one of your ads, you know what I’m saying?

At any rate, to me success would have to be based on the diet industry’s own definition:  Getting people into the “normal bmi” range. But that raises the question – if 95% of people who are 5 pounds over the “normal” range are “successful”, does it follow scientifically that 95% of people who are 200 pounds over would be successful by the same means? This is a trickier question than it sounds.

For me the bottom line is that even if a study did prove that some form of weight loss had success based on the diet industry’s definition, that would only be the start of the discussion.  What are the risks?  What happens to the people who don’t succeed? Are these people actually healthier, or are they just smaller?  And for me the big question is “What’s the point”.  I researched and chose Health at Every Size for a Reason.  I already love my body and I’m healthy and Health at Every Size has given me everything I’ve ever wanted so I don’t need another path to health.

The reason I believe that diets fail 95% of the time is that there isn’t a single statistically significant study that shows otherwise.  If you know of one, I’m open to reading it. (Note that I am not including weight loss surgery in this because when the side effects include death and lifelong misery, I think that’s a game changer.)  The reason that I repeat the statistic here often is because I think that we’re being lied to.

If your doctor told you that she was going to prescribe you a medicine that worked for Sally, but that she was legally required to say that Sally’s results weren’t typical, that you probably wouldn’t experience Sally’s results, and then told you that it was more likely to leave you less healthy than more healthy would you take it?  If Viagra failed 95% of the time would we blame guys for not trying hard enough or would we say that the medicine didn’t work?

It’s time to tell the truth:  The Emperor has no weight loss.

For more research on this subject, check out this post.

Killing Kids Thin

Trigger Warning:  This post talks about eating disorder behavior.

I saw an article online today titled “Children as Young as Ten Vomit to Lose Weight”

According to the article:

Thirteen per cent of the 8,673 girls and 7,043 boys who took part in the research admitted they made themselves sick to lose weight. But the figures were much higher in younger children, with 16% of 10-12 year-olds and 15% of 13-15 year-olds vomiting. The figures fell to 8% in 16-18 year-olds.

This blog post isn’t about the study. I haven’t analyzed it and  I’ve no idea how well done it is.  It’s about this quote from the researchers:

“Our study found that children as young as ten were aware of the importance of weight control, but used vomiting to control their weight” concludes Dr Liou. “This reinforces the need for public health campaigns that stress the negative impact that vomiting can have on their health and encourage them to tackle any weight issues in a healthy and responsible way.”

Let me get this straight:  You find out that an absolutely shocking percentage of very young children are so obsessed with weight control that they are forcing themselves to vomit to lose weight, and your suggestion is to “encourage them to tackle any weight issues in a healthy and responsible way”? What does that say about the message you’re giving them now?  And if they were NOT made so very  “aware of the importance of weight control” I wonder if they would be making themselves vomit?

Here is what I think:

It’s not about how much vomiting is encouraged or discouraged for weight control.  It’s how much weight control is encouraged or discouraged.  The study was done in Thailand but I’ve seen statistics about eating disorders on the rise for America’s youth as well. And I don’t think it’s because there are signs in elementary schools that say “Got a couple pounds to lose? Try vomiting!”

I think that when we barrage kids with the message that weight is the only measure of health and that if they aren’t able to get thin then they deserve to have war waged on them by the First Lady of the United States, we set them up for disordered eating. We already know that 95% of diets fail.  As children start trying to control their weight from earlier and earlier ages (in the womb for example), we set them up to fail at dieting multiple times before age 10.  Labeled lazy, unhealthy, lying, failures – and finding themselves on the losing side of the First Lady’s war – I’m saddened but not surprised that they turn to any means necessary to lose weight.

I’m pretty sure that kids don’t think that vomiting is a good idea. I think that we’ve created a world where kids actually think that making themselves vomit is somehow healthier than being fat because they’ve been convinced that unhealthy behaviors will lead to health if they make you thin.  (If that’s true then we should be passing out cocaine with school lunches.) Or they no longer care about being healthy, they just want to look like Mrs. Obama says they should so she’ll stop trying to convince everyone to bully them. And that’s a problem. A huge problem.  But luckily, an easily correctable one.

The solution that I propose is to be for healthy children, not against obese ones. It’s easy to do:  Be for access to affordable healthy food, for access to movement that they enjoy (maybe different PE classes for kids who are athletic, kids who just want to who would rather play Dance Dance Revolution), be for the mental health that is only possible when kids are not constantly stigmatized by society because of their size, or terrified of being stigmatized by society if their size changes.

There is absolutely nothing that can be accomplished by having a war on childhood obesity that cannot be accomplished by being for healthy children. And being for healthy children means that we aren’t ignoring kids who practice unhealthy habits but remain thin. We all knew those kids in school who ate nothing but junk food and never gained any weight.  Just as there are healthy and unhealthy adults of every shape and size, there are healthy and healthy kids of all sizes and a war on childhood obesity tells thin kids that it doesn’t matter how unhealthy their habits are, as long as they are thin.

The bottom line is that we probably shouldn’t be surprised that adults in power waging war against kids causes them to do some pretty messed up stuff.  And there is no reason to wage war against kids when we could support them instead.

I’ve heard and read from the people who say that we can’t worry about kid’s feelings when we have so much childhood obesity.  The argument apparently being that the only way to deal with childhood obesity is to keep talking about it and keep waging war on obese kids until they hate themselves healthy.  Well I think that anyone who says that is nothing more than a bully, and is contributing to a dangerous culture of hate for no other reason than to feel superior and bask in the won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children drama.  Don’t kid yourself: These are ten year old children.  They are not making themselves vomit, you are making them vomit with your message of bullying, body hate, and thinness at any cost. Sleep well.

If we truly want to help children be healthy then it’s time to strike the words “childhood obesity” from our vocabularies and start having a real discussion about childhood health.

Size Acceptance actually means SIZE ACCEPTANCE

I got into a discussion on Facebook today on the “International Size Acceptance Association UK/MENA” page that really has me annoyed. I don’t want to hijack someone else’s page, so I thought I would put it here with the commentary that I didn’t put on Facebook and see what you guys think.

Original Post by FP:  “In my opinion, women should have hips, boobs and a stomach. Women shouldn’t be made to think that we have to look like skinny boys to be attractive – we are meant to be shapely.”  It linked to an Article titled “Woman are meant to be curvy…not look like boys”

Me:  I object to this very strongly, especially on a size acceptance space. Size acceptance means EVERY size. There are plenty of women who are not “meant” to be curvy and they are not less a woman than I am. I don’t believe that the road to size acceptance is paved with blatant hypocrisy and so I think that since we want acceptance and respect for our bodies, we should probably take a pass on trashing other people’s bodies.

FP:  We are not against the naturally thin, but I want to show the harm of body hate, starvation and the harm the thin is in message has on women and children all over the world. we are all worthy of respect and dignity and our body size is not our identity or a measure of our worth. There are many women who are thin and shapely. women’s bodies are meant to be shapely womanly, not looking like teen boy’s like they force women all over the world, to starve themselves down to, shapely is not plus size only.

Ok, first of all, it’s not your job to be for or against anyone’s body size or shape.  You are not the grand overlord of body sizes.  Secondly I know women who are built like teenaged boys who don’t appreciate hearing that they are meant to be more shapely than they are.  If you are against body hate and starvation then let’s actually be against that, not against people’s body shapes.  When you say that some body shapes are right and some are wrong, then you are opening the door for people to say that your body shape is wrong.  I don’t know about you but the discussion I want to be having is that we should respect and embrace people of all size, not that we should stop shaming fat people and start shaming thin people instead.  Some women aren’t meant to have hips, boobs or a stomach, and their bodies are beautiful as they are.

PD (new commenter):  Maybe Ragen is reacting to the headline of the story. It’s slightly offensive.

On the other hand, I think there is a great deal of “size acceptance political correctness” out there that needs to be reined in. “Size Acceptance” is a euphemism for “fat acceptance”–I prefer the latter term.

For example, we are not necessarily about protecting the rights and sensibilities of men who are 6’1″ and weigh 185 pounds, therefore, I do not understand the insistence that we protect the rights and sensibilities of women who are 5’7″ and weigh 125 pounds. Size acceptance is fat acceptance. Others may see this differently than I do.

Holy crap do I see it differently than you do, and while I respect your right to have this attitude, it makes my blood boil.  I settled for this profanity-free response:

I am reacting to the title but also to the idea that there is a way that women’s bodies are “meant to be shaped”. To me it’s not about political correctness or protecting anyone else’s rights, it’s about not doing to others precisely what we don’t want done to ourselves. We can demand respect for our bodies without putting down other’s bodies. This is not the Oppression Olympics and everyone is affected by a culture of body hate. I disagree that size acceptance is a euphemism for fat acceptance, and I certainly don’t think that it means that we only give acceptance to those people of whose size we approve. I don’t mean to link spam but to avoid this comment getting any longer, you can read my blog about it if you are interested:

What I wanted to say was:  Are you fucking kidding me with this?  I cannot stand this kind of attitude.  Why aren’t you protecting the rights of men who are 6’1, 185 or women who are 5’7 and 125 pounds?  How much shorter and/or fatter would they have to be for you to deem them worthy to have their rights protected?  Also, did I miss the e-mail where you were put in charge of who deserves rights and who doesn’t, because the gays would like to have a word with you.

If you mean fat acceptance than say that.  If you say that you are for size acceptance but you don’t accept people of all sizes you are at best a hypocrite and at worst a sneaky liar who says you are for one thing but is actually for something else. It’s idiotic statements like this that cause people to constantly assume that those of us who fight for size acceptance are thin-bashers. This isn’t about political correctness, this is about living in integrity.

Please consider this:  The idea that thin people are not harmed by our culture of body hate, so it’s ok to say nasty things about thin bodies, is not just a lie it’s also a trap.  Besides making us look like complete hypocrites, it creates a chasm instead of a bridge, and it makes an enemy instead of  an ally.  I shudder to think that someone who is traditionally very thin might be thinking “Wow, the way we treat fat people is bullshit, I’m going to look into this whole size acceptance thing” only to find websites where they are greeted with the message “Where are your hips, boobs and stomach?  You represent body hate and starvation.  Your body is wrong! You don’t look like a woman, you look like a teenage boy!’  Go ahead, bask in the “acceptance” of that message, I’ll wait.

We can do better than this.  Putting others down to make yourself feel better: didn’t work in Junior High School, won’t work now. If you want size acceptance, how about you start with, you know, accepting people of all sizes.

Explaining Health at Every Size

I’m often asked how I explain HAES to others. In my experience this is trickier than it sounds. (Thanks to reader Knesija for the inspiration for today’s blog!)

First, you have to decide your goal:

  1. Do you simply want share what you do?
  2. Do you want to present it as an option for someone else?
  3. Are you trying to win a debate by saying that it’s better than something else.
  4. Are you trying to convince someone to practice HAES?

I’m not a big fan of 3 or 4 personally, but it’s all up to you.

When I want to explain HAES I usually have four goals:

  1. Explain it as a respectable path to health
  2. Present it as an option in case people don’t know about it
  3. Throw in a couple of resources
  4. Let people decide what they want to do and respect their choices

One of the things that still surprises me are the number of people who do not know that there is an option to be healthy that does not include trying to lose weight.  That is, of course, the whole point of this blog and my activism work.  I want to create the largest possible platform from which to tell people about this option.  I’m not invested in them choosing it or not, I’m not trying to persuade, I just want them to know that it’s out there.

I used to just say “I listen to my body and give it what it asks for”.  But I found the reaction to that was generally incredulous at best.  I realized that I wasn’t explaining HAES with the same gravitas with which other people describe their path to health.  As a society, at least in the States, we have fallen in love with diet programs, and our culture loves the idea of restricting and sacrificing to be thin.  So when someone says I’m on [Jenny Craig, Atkins, Weight Watchers etc.] people typically recognize the diet and respond in the affirmative. Even if they disagree with the diet choice, they understand it as a path to health and a discipline and they respect that.  When I say I practice HAES, I often get an eye-roll before I can explain what it is because people see it as an “easy way out” or justifying my fatness (although for my money it has taken me much more discipline to opt out of the diet culture than it did to be part of it, even as a failure.)

So I choose to very specifically talk about HAES as a practice – a path to health – that is just a respectable as any other life choice.  When the subject comes up I say some or all of the following:

I practice a version of Health at Every Size: I believe that my best path to health is to concentrate on healthy behaviors rather than on having a smaller body. I used to really focus on dieting and losing weight and I was terribly unhealthy and still fat.  Now that I practice HAES I’m the same weight I always was, but I’m very healthy and I’m much happier.  I originally heard of the idea through Linda Bacon.  She literally wrote the book on HAES and she has an awesome website with a more technical definition and lots of resources. You can also check out my blog and the blogs I link to for more perspectives.

I take my time, I don’t rush, I take great care not to accidentally appear as if I’m seeking their approval.  If they ask follow up questions I’m happy to answer but the important thing to me is that I presented my version of HAES as a serious health practice, and I stuck to my own experience (notice I didn’t add “so you should try it!”) I present the option, demand respect for my choices, and respect other people’s choices. Throw in the understanding that some people don’t want to understand or respect others people’s choices –  they just want to tell you that they are right and you are wrong –  and you’re all set to ‘splain.

On another topic, I’m sorry that I’m so behind on replying to comments and e-mails and such, but I do read and appreciate every one – even if it’s taking me a little while to reply.  Also, I have seen comments lately on other blogs talking about how awesome the comments here are.  Of course I’m not surprised because I already know that you are the most awesome readers ever, but I wanted to make sure that you all know that news of your ass kickery has traveled far and wide!

Curvy, Plump, Plus-Sized, BBW, Fatty

I use the descriptor “fat”.  I like it because it allows me to reclaim a term that has been used against me. It’s my way of telling the bullies that they can’t have my lunch money anymore. But that doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone.

Some of the labels I’ve heard are:

  • curvy
  • plus-sized
  • zaftig
  • person of size
  • BBW/BHM (Big Beautiful Woman/Big Handsome Man
  • fat
  • pleasantly plump
  • rubenesque

I don’t think that any of these are better or worse. Here’s what I do think:

You are allowed to use whatever term you prefer.  So is everyone else.  Unless I missed an e-mail, nobody has been appointed  Grand Label Overlord.  I don’t care if you don’t think someone is actually “Rubenesque” or big enough to be BBW.  I never thought that I would quote Gollum from Lord of the Rings but:  “Not It’s Business!”  Really, it’s not.

Think before you use the terms negatively.  When I hear someone say “Real women have curves” or “Sticks aren’t sexy” I cringe. Because I know women who aren’t curvy and that doesn’t make them un-real.  And I know very thin women and they don’t like to be called names and told that they aren’t attractive any more than I and my fat friends do.  I’m guessing that the road to size diversity is probably not paved with hypocrisy so I try really hard not to do to someone else exactly what I don’t want done to me.

Your experience is your experience, not everyone’s experience.  You cannot assume that because something works for you that it works for anyone else. Maybe it was empowering for you to wear a bikini.  That’s awesome, but that doesn’t mean that it will be empowering for everyone.  Maybe you practice intuitive eating.  Fantastic, but if someone else prefers to measure their food it doesn’t make them any less body positive than you.  Some people feel that Health at Every Size means that everybody can be healthy at every size.  Some think it means there are healthy and unhealthy bodies at various shapes and sizes.  Some subscribe to the theory that each body has a set point.  These are all things that are interesting and good academic discussions to have, but everyone gets to choose their own experience and path to health.

To me, the most important thing isn’t what we call ourselves, or the path to health that we choose.  It’s respect.  And that includes demanding respect for our experience and choices and giving other people respect for theirs. I believe that my right to punch ends at the tip of everyone else’s nose. Therefore, I don’t try to tell anyone how to live, and I don’t allow other people to tell me how to live. And while I would never say that you have to live this way, I will say that it is working out great for me!

WTF Lane Bryant Clerks?

I have recently been becoming more of a fatshionista and it’s included several trips to a couple different locations of Lane Bryant.  There are many clerks there who are great (including a some who have seen my blog on Jezebel and talk about it, which is actually really cool…). Of the limited selection of clothing stores in my style (and because I live far away from re/dress in NYC) they are probably my favorite store in terms of  clothes.  I do not like their models and we’ve talked about that here before.  However on the last three trips I’ve noticed a trend in body shaming by the clerks.

In the first incident I was in line to pay, and a customer in front of me mentioned that she had thought about wearing Spanx but that they looked uncomfortable.  So the clerk who was not checking people out launched into a diatribe to everyone in line about how she used to be against them, but then she wore them for a special occasion and now she won’t go out without them on.  That’s her experience and that’s fine. But then she said “I can’t believe that I ever subjected people to all of my lumps and bumps before.  I mean, who wants to see that?”.  If you read this blog you know my feelings about Spanx and their marketing but this was just beyond the pale.

In My Head:  Hold on there fat-store sales lady.  Did you just try to sell us all something by trying to convince us that nobody wants to look at us, and that we are doing the public a disservice by not making ourselves into over-stuffed underwear-sausages?

Outloud:  I think Spanx are uncomfortable and make me look like over-stuffed underwear sausage.  And I prefer to see people’s lumps and bumps so there is at least one person who wants to look at that!

Several of the women in line laughed and we got checked out and on our way but I felt a little queasy handing money to a fat clerk, in a store that caters to fat women, who was selling using fat hate.

In the second incident I was attempting to buy a pair of pants when this happened:

Clerk:  You don’t want those, you want these – they are way better.

Me:  They look the same to me?

Clerk: They look the same, but you won’t because they have our Tighter Tummy Technology. They’ll pull in that problem area.

Me:  I don’t consider my stomach to be a problem.

Clerk:  Oh you know, we all have those flaws to mask.

Me:  No.  Some people choose to think of their bodies as flawed and that’s their right. I do not think my body is flawed.

Clerk:  Stares at me like I am not speaking English

Me:  I’ll just take these original pants thanks.

Clerk:  (Still looking super confused) Ok?…

The last incident happened just yesterday.  I was bra shopping and I saw a bra that was really pretty but it had a ton of runching on it and lace and I asked the clerk what you could wear it under so that it wouldn’t show.

Clerk:  It doesn’t matter, it will distract people from looking at our stomachs.

Me:  Goldfishing (opening and closing my mouth without being able to get sound out)

Her:  That’s the trick.  We need to get them to look at our face, chest, or feet so they don’t look at our stomach, legs or arms.

In My Head:  Oh what in fat hell?! Who is this ‘we’ you’re talking about?  Do you have a mouse in your pocket that has body image issues too?

Outloud:  There are no parts of my body that I don’t want people to look at.

Her: Well…um… there you go then.

This trifecta of body hate really got me thinking.  As a researcher you learn that one data point is nothing, two points just make a line, but three is the start of a trend.

So, are these clerks just trying to drag me down in their sea of body issues, or is Lane Bryant telling their associates to pour on the body hate to sell expensive shapewear and more expensive verions of pants?

To be clear, I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live.  I support women buying whatever shapewear they want. I support the clerk having whatever relationship she wants to have with her body. Where it goes off the rails for me is when she tries to make her experience “our” experience, subsequently trying to sell me something by assuming, or trying to convince me, that I hate my body.

My best friend graduated from NYU recently and Bill Clinton was the speaker.  One of the things that he spoke about was that he felt it was a mistake that businesses had gone from caring more about their stakeholders to caring more about their stockholders. I fear that this is an example of that.  Ye olde fat girl clothing store sees how much money the diet industry rakes in by trying to convince us to hate ourselves and our bodies and thinks “Hey, we can do that too, who cares if we contribute to a dangerous unhealthy culture of body hate, we’re gonna make a ton more money!”.

I don’t know if this kind of body shaming happens to thin women when they shop, but I personally feel that as a fat woman when I go into a store that caters to fat women, I should see models who look like me, be affirmed for who I am, and leave feeling fabulous about my body and the clothes I’ve just spent my money to put on that body.  I’ve been “polite but firm” so far but the more this happens the less I’m going to be able to keep my inside voice in.

The Trouble with Proving It

When people are faced with fat people who refuse to buy into the idea that the best path to health is manipulating our body size, they often feel the need to attack us. In my experience they do this in several ways:

Calling us liars.

Using the Vague Future Health Threat (aka the VFHT, this technique takes advantage of the fact that everyone dies to say that someday all fat people will die and even if we get hit by a bus they’ll find a way to blame it on our fatness and then say “see I told you so!”)

Unsupported Generalizations:

“The human body just wasn’t mean to carry that much weight.”  (You don’t know what my body was meant to do)

“It’s okay to be somewhat overweight but at some point you’re just too fat.”  (Are you serious?  “a little”?  “At some point?”  What you are really saying is “I have no clue, but I really want to put my 2 cents in and feel superior.)

Challenging us to “Prove it”.  And this is where I made my mistake because I am healthy and fat and athletic and I’m a great fan of evidence so I took up the challenge and started down a bad path.  Let me tell you how this went so that someone can learn from my mistakes.  This all took place on a listserve:

Someone posted information about me on a listserve of people who, at first, were being reasonable and curious. I was e-mailed and challenged to state my numbers.  I posted my cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure etc., all in the exceptionally healthy range.  People called me a liar and VFHTed me.  Besides, a random stranger on the internet asked, what could I do physically?

So I posted pictures of my strength and flexibility

Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel
Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Pilates Instructor: Kate Wodash, Mindful Body Center Austin
Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Pilates Instructor: Kate Wodash, Mindful Body Center Austin

They said that my ankle must have shattered 30 seconds after the first picture was taken because how could I hold my 284 pound body up on on my toe like that? They said that holding that same 284 pound body up in an arch and doing suspended pull ups isn’t that hard.  They said I must be flexible because I’m all fat and no muscle. They asked why I didn’t show something more athletic.

So I posted a picture of me leaping.

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

They said that if I did it twice I probably would have shattered bones in my foot.  They asked can’t I post anything where I’m moving?

So I posted a dance video:

They said that it’s slow and that makes it easy (because they aren’t dancers).  They said that if I went any faster I would faint and be out of breath.

So I posted another, faster dance video:

They got mean. They called me a whale, they called me a hippo, they said that it doesn’t matter because I’m still fat.

And there it was, staring me in the face.  The truth.  The reason that “proving it” will never work and the proof that I was wasting my time. Their core belief is that accomplishments only count if you’re thin, so since I’m fat no amount of proving it will ever be enough.  Also, I realized that these are adults who resort to name calling and that I was spending a lot of my time trying to prove things to people for whom I have no respect.

I’ve said before that I’m much more concerned with fat people realizing that they deserve respect than with other people realizing that fat people deserve respect.  It turns out that the same goes for posting pictures or videos or numbers. Don’t like what I post?  Don’t believe me?  I don’t care.  This isn’t about you or for you, I’m done making that mistake.

This is about refusing to be hidden by society. This is because fat people deserve to see themselves represented as more than just a headless picture carrying a fast food bag and I can help with that.  When it comes to athleticism, there are fat people of all stripes – some are couch potatoes, some are active, some are hardcore athletes.  Lots of us are healthy and happy.  This is about showing an example of that.

If you have a picture or video of you doing something awesome, it would be awesome if you would post it in the comments.  I promise I’ll keep it safe from trolls so that you can get your appropriate props and people can see another representation of someone doing something awesome!

Can You Believe She’s Wearing That?

Ragen Chastain 5’4 284lbs Photograph by Richard Sabel

Completing the “If you’re looking for your beeswax it’s not over here” trifecta, I bring you today’s blog.

My blog was mentioned in a woman’s forum where they were talking positively about my work, which was nice.  But then these apparently rational, seemingly kind-hearted, at least open to the idea of Health at Every Size women, went on a rampage about how other women dress.

This has happened to me.  I’ve told the story before of Cindi, the dance judge who told me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me” because I was wearing the dress pictured above and she could see my bare arms.

I see this all the time in any number of guises, from the blatant “can you believe that she’s wearing that” to the “it’s for her own good that’s just not flattering on her”:

If you’re not blueberry or chocolate chip then I don’t want to see your muffin top.

Great, I’m not blueberry or chocolate chip so go ahead and look somewhere else. (And no points for the play on’s just weak all around.)

You’ve just got to find clothes that hide your flaws.

I don’t just got to do anything and my body doesn’t have any flaws, it’s perfect the way it is (and if next week it’s 10 pounds heavier or lighter, it will be perfect then too).

I don’t even want to see thin women wearing tight clothing.

Just. Don’t. Look.

I always wear very modest, figure flattering clothes.

Awesome, rock that shit.  How does this affect anyone else’s clothing choices?

I just think that big girls should wear dark clothing.

I just think you should bite me.

I’m not hating on fat people but I don’t want to see fat bodies.

You are totally hating on fat people and a disclaimer doesn’t change that.  In the South we use “bless her heart” for this purpose and it doesn’t hold water either.

In short, if you’re looking for your beeswax, you won’t find it in someone else’s wardrobe choices.

I’m not saying that you need to put on a bikini to prove that you love your body. You don’t have to be naked to prove your body love. What I am saying is that Spandex are in fact a right and not a privilege, regardless of what you may have heard.  What I am also saying is that if you think I’m obligated to wear Spanx you can think again.

I’m not much of a fatshionista and so my clothing is typically about comfort and what I like.  But at the most recent More Cabaret performance I wore fishnets, a red lace bra, and tiny mini skirt and I rocked that outfit.  Still, plenty of  people would say that at my size I should hang up my fishnets and go mumu shopping. Lucky for me, it’s not their business.

It works figuratively and literally – we are the boss of our own underpants (and the rest of our wardrobe) and nobody else’s.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, or what your intentions are, I would ask you to consider that this type of discussion is nothing more than thinly veiled body hate and that you are better than body snarking. So maybe people should dress in whatever way makes them happy and if you don’t like it there are a lot of other things to look at…what do you say?

But But But Syndrome

I was thinking today about situations in which people’s assumptions about fat people are directly contradicted with evidence, and so they try to discount the evidence.  I’ll call this “But But But syndrome”.  For example:

Kelly Gneiting is a 400 pound trained sumo wrestler who completed a marathon.  The responses included  “At 405 lbs he probably has a very difficult time just walking.”   Obviously not that difficult a time since he just jogged and walked a marathon in a respectable time.  But I don’t think this person even thought it through because they are too busy trying not to challenge their assumptions.  What they are really saying is “but but but I like to think of fat people as lazy and unathletic, and I want to keep it that way by sheer idiocy if necessary”

Talented Yoga teacher Anna Guest-Jelley writes a beautiful letter about yoga and Health at Every Size.  The responses include  “Too many people practicing now are overweight and not fit.justifying obesity is a disorder.”  “But but but, I like to feel superior and think that being thin gives me the right to dictate who is a “real” yogini, therefore I will say that any other way of thinking constitutes a disorder.”

This happens here when I post my health information and people call me a liar.  “But but but, I don’t want to be wrong so I’ll just try to discredit you and say that I’m a better witness to your experience than you are”.

Even doctors do it.  I and other people I know have had doctors try to prescribe blood pressure and cholesterol medicine BEFORE testing our blood pressure or cholesterol.  And upon finding out that they are normal they turn to the VFHT (Vague Future Health Threat).  “But but but I don’t want to look like an idiot so even though my laziness and lack of knowledge lead to me prescribing medicine that would have harmed you physically,  I’m going to try to convince you that even though I’m harmfully wrong today I’ll be right eventually so you are wrong and I am right and you need to believe me”.

It’s not just fit fat people and this isn’t a recent thing.  When Galileo looked at the research and agreed with Copernicus that the Earth revolved around the sun, he was sentenced to “formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition” which was commuted to house arrest and lasted for the rest of his life. Publishing of his current or future works was forbidden.  “But but but I don’t want to be wrong so shut that guy up.”

In my experience when you openly practice Health at Every Size, even if you specifically don’t try to impress your views on anyone else, it challenges people’s assumptions and stereotypes in a way that makes them uncomfortable.  So  you have to be aware of “But But But Syndrome” because some of those people are going to do everything that they can to hold onto their assumptions and stereotypes, even if it means attacking you.

For the record, I think that the best cure for “But But But Syndrome” is for these people to Butt Butt Butt Out.