Dancing with my Ass On

Dancing with my awesome coach Rowdy Dufrene

(Sorry to those on the subscription list who got this early due to my premature pushing of the publish button!)

My friend to her friend (who I don’t know):  That’s Ragen, she’s a bad-ass dancer.  She has won National competitions!

Friend’s friend:  Keep at it, you’ll lose the weight.

Me:  What the fuck???? (Actually I said that in my head but it must have come across in my facial expression because she quickly developed an acute case of verbal diarrea…)

FF:  I mean, when those people go on Dancing with the Stars they lose weight and there’s that Dance Your Ass Off Show and all  of those people lost weight…

On Dancing with the Stars there is great emphasis placed on the star’s weight loss.   If Kirstie Alley would have won Dancing with the Stars but not lost any weight what kind of press do you think she would have received?

Dance Your Ass Off is a reality show and fat people go on the show and they learn to dance and are put on extreme diets and the only way to win is both dance well and lose weight.

The creator of Dance Your Ass off is actress/comedienne Lisa Ann Walters.  I was a huge fan of her from her work on Shall We Dance where she played a fat eccentric who was a great dancer.  So it actually broke my heart a little that she had jumped on the fat=fit train.  Then, when I posted about the world the diet culture built, she commented on the blog:

This link came to my Dance Your Ass Off FB page and I, like you, am appalled – but, sadly, not surprised at the flourishing “size-ism” that is our last, completely acceptable prejudice. I am encouraged by voices like yours that fight. I created DYAO for that reason. I did, in fact, write a book about women and self-esteem to help combat negative body-image issues!It’s funny and very empowering – I hope you get a chance to take a look, you are very inspiring. Best, LAW

After much soul searching, I replied with this:

First, I am such a fan of you and especially your performance in Shall We Dance. While I am honored that you would consider me inspiring and the book looks fantastic, you are breaking my heart because I believe you that you think that Dance Your Ass Off helps to fight fat hatred. However I, who am a fat National Champion Dancer, am certain that your show and others like it are partially responsible for creating a culture where a stranger feels comfortable telling me they want to punch me until I die because I’m fat. You are an amazing actress and comedienne with a platform much bigger than mine and if I could truly inspire you, I would inspire you to encourage a focus on actual healthy habits rather than a focus on thinness that only adds to the stigma against fat people and doesn’t actually increase anyone’s health. Your show sends the loud and clear message that talent is not enough and health is not enough – you must be thin to win. I wrote this post https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/the-real-biggest-loser last year specifically to discuss the dangers of shows like yours, I hope you’ll read it, think it over, and then do whatever you think is right.

Thank you for the comment and very best of luck to you,

~Ragen

The whole dancing/weight loss thing creates an annoying problem for me.  The conversation that I opened with is not rare.  Most people would be shocked at how many times someone appends a compliment of my dancing with “how much weight have you lost?”.  I understand that some people think that these go hand in hand but to me they are so different that it’s like someone telling an artist “Wow, that’s a beautiful painting.  Had you considered a boob job?”  Non sequitur and inappropriate all at the same time.

Let’s talk about what you know in this situation.  You have watched me dance, and you thought that I was talented.  You complimented me.  Excellent logical thought process.  And thank you for the compliment.

You watched me dance, you thought that I was talented, you see that I’m fat. You asked me how much weight I’ve lost. Hit the brakes and back up the logic train, we had a passenger fall off.

I haven’t lost any weight.  I am not trying to be thin.This is not the kind of thing to guess about.  Now I’m irritated and the person who made the comment is embarrassed.  This could all be avoided by focusing on what’s in front of us.  You don’t know anything about my weight, or my health or my intentions for either by watching me dance.  You do know whether or not you think I’m a good dancer so let’s keep our eye on the ball here and stick with what we know.

That Fit and Fat Thing

Surprisingly often, people incorrectly assume (often out loud or in comments)  that I “can’t climb a flight of stairs without being winded” because I’m fat. But, in the same breath, say that the only reason that I can leg press 1,000 pounds or do a standing heel stretch is because I’m fat. Huh?

Of course, this doesn’t make any sense – my strength, stamina and flexibility are the result of a combination of my genetics; my access to movement options, information and professional assistance; and my extremely hard work on strength, stamina and flexibility.

These statements are typically made by people being idiots and trying to diminish my accomplishments so that they can hold onto their stereotypes and sense of superiority at all costs.  I don’t care so much about it when comes at me but I do worry that other people, who may have not had the opportunities to understand health that I have, will believe the oft-repeated  false assertion that the only way to gain strength, stamina and flexibility is to lose weight.

We talk a lot on this blog about how intentional weight loss fails 95% of the time.  Today I want to talk about the areas where movement succeeds:

“Groundbreaking work on fitness and weight has been done by [epidemiologist Steven] Blair and colleagues at the Cooper Institute. They have shown that the advantages of being fit are striking and that people can be fit even if they are fat … and thus have lowered risk of disease. A remarkable finding is that heavy people who are fit have lower risk than thin people who are unfit.”
-Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, 2003

“We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and in men and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity—it’s the fitness.”
-Steven Blair, P.E.D., Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, 2004

“Active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary … the health risks of obesity are largely controlled if a person is physically active and physically fit.”
-The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 2000

“This prospective follow-up study among middle-aged and elderly men and women indicates that obesity (as assessed by increased BMI) is not related to an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, but low-level LTPA [leisure time physical activity] and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability are … In conclusion, in contrast with our initial hypothesis, obesity was not found to be an independent predictor of mortality among middle-aged and elderly men and women. However, low-level LTPA seemed to predict and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability predicted an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality among both men and women.”
International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 2000

See the rest of this list of quotes here. (Warning, the list of quotes is good but this site may be triggering for some).

Why do we not hear about the vast benefits of exercise?  Maybe because it’s not proven to lead to weight loss.   In fact, while the diet industry spends billions of dollars on marketing and funding “scientific” studies to mislead the public into believing that its solution works, there’s nobody pouring billions of dollars into the message that movement is likely to make you healthier even though it probably won’t make you thinner.

When studies came out saying that exercise did not lead to weight loss, a litany of “news” sources published reports that overlooked the benefits of exercise entirely and told people that they might be better off NOT exercising since it didn’t help lose weight.  What with the who now?  The most egregious to me was  a Time Magazine article which lost any modicum of credibility as far as I’m concerned by writing: “after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement…”  A major achievement indeed since it’s physically frickin impossible.   I get that this is stated a lot and that many people believe it, but how does someone who wants us to trust him as a reporter make this mistake?

The ways in which this article gets science wrong are so numerous that they would require an entire blog post so I’ll just leave it for now with the thought that the reports all mention that study participants didn’t lose weight, but they fail to discuss what health benefits participants may have received.  Based on all the research available, we would expect to see improvements in one or more of the following:  blood glucose, blood pressure, triglycerides, insulin use by the body, cholesterol , strength, stamina, flexibility, and self-esteem. But I mean, if it’s not going to make my body smaller then why would I do it?  (sarcasm meter is a 10 out of 10 here)

Back to the point of my first paragraph.  Plenty of people who develop heroin habits lose weight but they don’t experience increases in their strength, stamina or flexibility as a result. I am ginormous but I have the strength, stamina and flexibility of a professional athlete.   I think that if you want to be healthier, it couldn’t hurt and might help to find some form of movement that you enjoy and do a little more of that than you are currently doing.  Garden, dance around your living room, take a walk, whatever. If you are going to work with a fitness professional, I highly recommend finding one who works from a Health at Every Size approach and who is not grossly incompetent.

Listen to your body.  If you are somebody who thinks of you and your body as two separate things,  then  consider the radical idea that your body is a friend and supporter rather than a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness.  Celebrate EVERY victory – did you switch from 10 to 12.5 pound weights? Were you able to lift your grand kid for the first time?  Booty shaking happy dance time!

If you’re struggling with this, or even just with the word exercise which, because of the way it’s used in our society can be really  triggering, you might check out this post for more specifics.

And finally, just to make sure that we understand each other: I am not trying to tell anyone how to live or what they “should” do.  My goal is, as always, to provide options and information while being very clear that:
  • Health and fitness are multi-dimensional and include things that are in our control and things that are out of our control
  • Health and fitness are not moral or social obligations
  • Your mileage may vary – bodies are different so what works for me, or anyone else, may not work for you
  • Everyone deserves to be treated with respect

CNN Covers Fat Fashion Week

When I saw that CNN was covering Fat Fashion week I got nervous.  When I saw that the title of the article was Plus-sized women: It’s our turn for fine fashion I got excited.  It turns out that I was right on both counts.  Like so many articles in the mainstream media about fat positivity, this one is a little from column A, a little from column crap.

Let’s start with the Column A:

The title is pretty awesome. Also:

“Wedding dress sample sizes are all size 10,” says [Mara] Urshel, explaining that plus-sized brides previously could not try on gowns but could only look at them being modeled.  But a bride is a bride is a bride, no matter what. She shouldn’t have to be destroyed because some other woman has to try on dresses so she can decide how she wants to look on her big day.”

That quote is from the owner of the wedding dress salon that is now featured on TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress”. They stock plus size dresses so that big brides can try them on.  Awesome.

“They say we don’t spend money on clothes? That’s bananas. We’re a very loyal customer. But we don’t buy the magazines because we don’t see ourselves in them. We don’t go to their shows because we aren’t invited — and by the way, neither are you.”

So says Gwen DeVoe, the executive producer of Full-Figured Fashion week.  Rock on Gwen,

Robin Givhan, has one of my favorite quotes.  She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast who said:

“High-end designers should be making size 14s. That’s lunacy if they’re not. But as the population as a whole has gotten bigger, the idealized model has gotten smaller. It’s a way of denoting its rarefied status and exclusivity, in a sad way it reinforces the status of thinness.”

Well said Robin, I couldn’t agree more.  I personally don’t think it’s accidental or coincidental, I think that in a world where photoshop creates a standard that no woman can meet, people are trying to keep others down to make themselves feel better and I think that this is just another sad example of that.

Then there’s a little from column crap.

The article’s author adds:

“The United States is continuing to fill up with those larger-than-size-14s. Remember those numbers out of the CDC that say that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese and in need of a good workout?”

And Robin falls out of my favor as quickly as she fell in with this little gem of a quote:

“How big is too big? The average person knows the difference between voluptuous and obese.”

These made me angrier than any of the troll comments that I get or any of the negative articles I read and I was trying to figure out why.  I think it’s because I feel like I was set up.  The title, the pictures, and the first part of the article all said CNN was going to cover a fat-positive event in a fat-positive way.  But it seems like anytime we get coverage in the mainstream media that isn’t lies about dieting or lies about how much we cost society, or horrible advice about how to not bother thin people, or terror alerts about how just being my friend will make them fat, they feel like they have to say something to acquiesce to the people who want to forward an OMGDEATHFATISCOMINGFORUSALLEVERYBODYPANIC agenda. These bits are so far into the article that it felt a little bit like getting a massage and having the therapist punch me in the stomach 45 minutes into it.  It kind of negates all of the good the massage had done so far.

Seriously – “in need of a good workout”?  First of all, it’s epically dumb and insulting to assume that nobody over a size 14 works out.  Beyond which to go from a size 14 to a size 12 that “good workout” would likely need to burn 70,000 calories  etc. etc.  It’s nothing more than catering to the lowest common denominator, it’s ludicrous, and Amy Wilson should be embarrassed that she wrote it.

And do not get me started on the “how big is too big.  The average person knows the difference between voluptuous and obese” debate.  So if I’m voluptuous I deserve clothes that fit and look good on me but if I’m obese that I need to shop at Mumu Town because it’s the fashion industry’s job to punish me for my fatness?  The answer is that it’s a stupid question.  Further I’ll bet asking 10 people the difference between voluptuous and obese would get you 10 different answers.

My guess is that CNN is making sure to drop a couple of fat hating statements in an effort to avoid having to defend themselves from the dreaded “promoting obesity” charge.  This is the bullshit idea that by suggesting that fat people deserve nice clothes that fit our bodies, they are somehow encouraging thin people to want to be obese, because obviously it’s all fuzzy bunnies and rainbows on this side of the BMI chart.  I would think that if the “average person” could figure out anything it’s that this is sheer idiocy. And they still got accused of promoting obesity in the comments, so they contributed to a dangerous culture of body hate for nothing.

Regardless, as far as I’m concerned, know that you do deserve nice clothes that fit your beautiful body and that if you have trouble finding such clothes the issue is with the clothing manufacturers and not with your body, which is amazing just as it is.

Here’s the full article if you are interested.  As always, beware the comments.

The Big Fat Authority Problem

When I do break the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and read the comments, I’m always shocked at the authority with which complete strangers tell me things about myself that, apparently, I did not know:

  • You cannot be healthy at [arbitrary] weight
  • Obesity causes [insert disease never proven to be caused by obesity]
  • Everyone who is fat will eventually get sick from it

These three things are common comments that are proven false but I think that one of the things that gives them power is that they are stated with authority.  Never mind that they are being typed out by someone who gets their information from diet commercials and wouldn’t know the difference between correlation and causation if it bit them in the ass. We live in a soundbite society and this type of comment is perfectly suited for that.

I think that one of the issues is that the more you learn, the more you know how very few things are certain, and how much is grey rather than black and white.

This leads to people like me saying things like:

Health is multi-dimensional and includes access, genetics, environment, stress, and behaviors.  The evidence that I’ve seen shows that 95% of intentional weight loss efforts fail and so for me, I think that if I want to be healthy the best course of action is to practice healthy behaviors rather than trying to change the size and shape of my body.

Then someone else who has not done one one-hundredth of the research I’ve done about this says:

It’s impossible to be fat and healthy

So I sound like I’m hedging and qualifying and trying to talk around an issue and they sound direct and authoritative.

This also applies to emotional intelligence.  I notice that the more emotionally intelligent and mature a person is, the more they realize that their experience is not everyone’s experience.  So I say

We celebrate X Games athletes who risk their lives everyday for a sport.  We celebrate people who jump out of helicopters wearing skis, who push their bodies to the limit running Iron Man Triathalons even those things are physically risky.  I value health but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to make it a priority, or that people who do the same things that I do will have the same results.   In the end, I believe in giving people correct information and affordable accessible options, and then respecting their choices as I expect them to respect mine.

And somebody else says:

 I lost weight and I’m healthier and so all fat people should lose weight and they’ll be healthier to.

Again, I sound like Wordy McWorderson while they appear to be brief and to the point (however erroneous that point might be).

So what is there to do?  Rarely do you get points for appearing to complicate an argument.  But the situation isn’t black and white and I don’t want to act like it is.  So I’ve tried to find statements that are short, factual, and that I can say with equal authority:

  • You cannot look at a person and tell how healthy they are
  • There are healthy and unhealthy people of every size
  • I am fat and healthy
  • People of all sizes deserve to be treated with respect

I believe in the power of discourse, and I have the intellectual humility, and emotional intelligence to know that I don’t know everything and to understand that my experience is not extrapolatable to others.  I do not want to overstate or overgeneralize but I also think that in a soundbite society, it’s important to have some brief statements that we can make with the firm authority that Body Positivity and Health at Every Size deserve.

Shapewear Challenge My Ass

In  another incidence of body shaming advertising this week, I received the following almost unbelievable e-mail:

Subject: A Shapewear Challenge

Body:

Hi Ragen,

I hope this finds you well.  My name is Nina Lxxx and currently I am interning with Sassybax for the summer.  I came across your blog post about your displeasure with Spanx, and couldn’t help but notice all of the reader comments that went along with it…We would love to challenge you to try our shapewear products, and let us know what you think! … Here at Sassybax, we are committed to solving real women’s problems such as muffin top or bra bulge.  We would love to send you some samples to try out and see what your reaction to our product is.

All the best,

Nina

Nina, if you read my blog about Spanx  and this is what you’ve arrived at, I welcome you to read that blog again.

“We are committed to solving real women’s problems such as muffin top or bra bulge”   You. Cannot. Be. Serious.

If you are trying to convince me that calling these things problems when we live in a world where 10 year olds are making themselves throw up to lose weight  (not to mention cancer, hunger, poverty…) you are barking up the wrong fat girl.  I think that marketing like this is a real problem and that muffin top and bra bulge are pretend problems created by your industry in an attempt to steal our self esteem and then sell it back to us at a profit.

And really, challenge? I am a three time National Dance Champion pursuing my first World Professional title.  That is a challenge.  Wearing underwear – not so much.

I’m not going to challenge you to stop wearing shapewear because I absolutely respect everyone’s right to choose what they want to wear.  If you like wearing shapewear that’s totally cool, rock on. However, you targeted me because I said publicly that I was happy with my body without Spanx.  Your goal was to change that, make me scared of “muffin top” and “bra bulge”.  Had you succeeded you wouldn’t have just sold me some underwear, you would have chipped away at my hard won self-esteem. So I challenge you to ask yourself – are you proud of what you’re doing?

And it seems that the intern doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I went to the Sassybax website and found this gem from the “about us” section.

“Fear is a great motivator,” said Amanda [creator of Sassybax].  “A few years ago, when fashions got slimmer but I hadn’t, I suddenly became afraid for the first time of looking my age.”

So rather than work on her body image issues, Amanda chose to try sell them to all of us!

Then I read her biography and was stunned, saddened, and sickened:

Shortly after my 31st birthday, I re-entered college and finished my degree with a BA in Psychology. I earned my Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and became a therapist. My main objective was to help women with an issue I had now come to know intimately, self esteem.

I have created Sassybax as a way of helping women look and feel more confident and comfortable in the fashions they love. Sassybax gives women the freedom of a more natural non-restrictive kind of support. The stretchy smooth microfiber moves and breathes with your body, allowing you the freedom of being more of who you are. Now isn’t that where self esteem comes from?

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that made my skin crawl this much.  It’s so slick that it would be easy to miss the manipulation  “I’m a therapist and an expert on self -esteem.  I think that to feel better about yourself you shouldn’t work on your self-esteem, you should buy my underwear.”  Allison, if that where true it would be called underwear-esteem, not self-esteem.  If you want to feel better about yourself I recommend this exercise, which is free.

Nina is a a summer intern and as such is likely just doing what she is told. Since Nina noticed my reader comments I assume that Sassybax is interested in what you have to say.  Nina’s an intern for the summer so let’s not bother her. If you have feedback about this marketing campaign I suggest that you contact Sassybax Media Contact: Rebecca Barrouk:  Rebecca@sassybax.com

Boy, You Really Buck the Mainstream

I was at a business networking meeting where everyone gets to give a 30 second introduction.  I talked about the work that I do with Health at Every Size.  After the meeting, someone came up and asked me what my “schtick” was all about.  I explained that my goal is to let people know that one option that you can choose when trying to be healthy is to focus on healthy habits rather than focusing on having a smaller body. He furrowed his brow, tilted his head a bit and said something I’ve heard many of times before: “Boy, you really buck the mainstream”.

Yup.  No doubt about that.  But let’s not talk about me.  Let’s examine the mainstream for just a moment, shall we?

According to sources sited on the non-profit National Association of Anorexia and Associated Eating Disorders website:

•47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.

• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

According to a Study (warning:  Link leads to a Glamour magazine article that can be triggering)

• 97 percent of 300 women reported having multiple negative thoughts about their own bodies. The average number was 13; many had as many as 35, 50 or 100 per day.

And it’s not like we’re hating ourselves thin or healthy, all we hear about is how we are more omigoddeathfat and less healthy each and every day.

So someone will have to explain to me, using very small words, what about the mainstream I would not want to buck.  The mainstream seriously sucks.
At least it did for me.  I used to be in the mainstream. It was a whole lot of hating myself, desperate to be thin, sure that if I just tried harder I could change the size and shape of a body that I despised and was ashamed of, and win the approval of a fat hating society.  That lead me down a very bad road to self-hatred, unhealthy behavior, even an eating disorder when I completely forgot to be healthy in the pursuit of thinness.  So yes sir, I had to bite scratch and claw my way out of the mainstream and I will fight to stay here because I’ve never been this healthy mentally or physically and I’ve never been this happy.

Have you ever heard the phrase “If everyone is thinking the same thing then somebody’s not thinking”?  I have.  I tend to agree.  And when everyone’s thinking 13-100 negative thoughts about their body a day, I will damn sure be bucking the mainstream.