You Gotta Give Them Hope

I was having a meeting with a publicist to talk about the possibility of a Dances with Fat World Tour (which nobody knows about yet because it’s super secret, shhhhhh!) and she asked me who I would like to debate in public appearances.  I said that while I was open to that I would prefer to have the opportunity to tell my story.  She thought that was odd and asked me why.

Well, it has a lot to do with Harvey Milk.

Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a major office (San Francisco City Supervisor) and he was assassinated in his first year. His story was told recently in the movie “Milk” which I highly recommend.  In the special features one of the men closest to him in his campaigning years said “He was a regular guy.  His personal life was often in disarray, he wasn’t a genius and he died penniless.  But he changed the world.”  I think that’s real power.  He understood that the work he did wasn’t about him or his ego, but was about the movement.

While in office he brought together women, unions, senior citizens and the GLBT communities in San Francisco.  After his assassination over 10,000 people held a candlelight vigil for him.  In my favorite of his speeches he said:

Without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

Harvey Milk is absolutely one of my life heroes and, as a bisexual woman, he is a reminder that people died for the rights that I enjoy today.  But Harvey’s main work wasn’t what he did to change the minds of those who disagreed with him – it was what he did to galvanize the community.  He made people realize that they had the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to which their adversaries laid claim.  He helped people realize that the treatment that they were receiving was not ok and that they deserved better and could fight for what they deserved. He gave them hope that their situation would be better someday.

I get e-mails from readers saying that it seems so hopeless that they’ll ever know a life lived outside of constant cultural stigmatization.  It gets hard sometimes for me too, some days I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel and then I get a bunch of death threat e-mails and suddenly it seems that the light is probably an oncoming train.

This is why, while I love a good debate, it’s not my first choice for a public appearance.  Because I’m not so concerned that Meme Roth or Jamie Oliver or internet trolls think fat people deserve to be treated well; and I’m much more concerned that fat people know that they deserve to be treated well.  It’s tough to lead a civil rights movement of people who aren’t sure that they deserve civil rights. And my goal is to let as many people as possible know that Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are options so that they can make an informed choice.

You deserve to be treated well right now, whether or not you are trying to conform to the cultural stereotype of beauty.  You deserve respect, and you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right now. In the body in which you currently reside.  Even if you want to eat differently or move more or whatever, I’m asking that you consider the possibility that your body is amazing and deserving of love and respect right this minute.  Remember that no matter what your body looks like, there’s an extremely decent chance that you are the standard of beauty in some culture somewhere.  Consider that the cure for social stigma is not weight loss, it’s ending social stigma.

One of Harvey Milk’s main political tools was getting people to come out of the closet to their friends and family.  It turns out the more out gay people someone knows, the more likely they are to see us as humans, deserving of equal eights. Obviously there’s no need for us to come out as fat, but I think that there is another coming out that we can do.  We can come out as fat and happy.  Allow me to demonstrate:

My name is Ragen Chastain and I am fat and happy.  I love my life, and I love my body.  I eat to nourish my body a lot of the time, and sometimes I eat because I like orange sherbet.  I went to the gym tonight for the pure joy of moving my body and I didn’t even consider weighing myself because I don’t care.  If you don’t like my body and/or want to make unsolicited suggestions about how I should treat it, then may I suggest you practice the ancient art of looking in another direction while keeping your mouth shut.  ~Ragen Chastain, Happy Fatty

I believe that in my lifetime I’ll know what it’s like to live in my body, in this culture, without constant societal stigmatization. But even if I don’t, I believe in doing whatever I can to move us as far down the path as possible in the time that I have.  I was 2 years old when Harvey Milk was shot and killed and I’ll bet he wouldn’t believe all the progress that has been made in queer rights.  So even if it looks bleak now, we have no idea what the landscape will look like 20 or 30 years from now.

There are people out there who hate their bodies solely because they don’t think that there’s another choice. They think that their shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness starts 50 pounds from now.  Somewhere there’s an 8 year old girl about to start her first diet because Michelle Obama is waging a War on her.

Those of us who have made it to the other side of all the hate and stigma can help.  We can let people know about the Health at Every Size (r) option.  We can debunk ridiculous studies that try to say that obesity costs the US elebenty gabillion dollars every two minutes. We can be an example of standing up for ourselves. We can let them know that if you are struggling with your relationship with your body it can get better.  There are options that will allow you to love your body more right now.  (Might as well try, if you find that you don’t enjoy loving your body you can always go back to hating it if you want.)

We gotta give them hope.  We gotta give each other hope. There’s a light at the end of this crazy cultural stigma and shame tunnel it’s NOT a train!

Here’s a video of the entire Harvey Milk speech. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for this man’s courage and what it has done for my life:

72 thoughts on “You Gotta Give Them Hope

  1. You’re amazing!
    You definitely need hope. Hope is so important! When I was in high school I tried so hard to eat really well and do more than the needed amount of exercise, etc, and I didn’t lose weight. (And I know that is not the point of your blog and that post.) What happened was that after a while I lost hope. I couldn’t see anything helping. I decided there was no point in the exercise or the healthy eating, because it didn’t help. This relates more to the post you made the other day “born on third”, many naturally thin people don’t consider that bigger people might have lost hope of ever looking “right”.
    Luckily I have a better attitude towards eating well and exercise now – I do it because I want to be healthy. That keeps me going because I am looking for different results from before. But my past experiences are an example of what happens if someone doesn’t have any hope.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that a lot of people give up on exercise because they consider weight loss the only measure of success. Congratulations on finding your own path to health 🙂


  2. Amen, sister!

    You are really on your game with the motivational speaking, can’t wait for the tour. Way to go, that was so inspirational. I feel inspired to be HAPPY!

  3. Ragen, this is one of your best’s and it leaves me way more willing to go into my day, and my life’s work with a clearer commitment to do so with a certainty that what I stand for is possible. You are a gift!

  4. I’m Rachel, and I’m fat, happy, and healthy. And I’m so glad that at some point, I learned that those words DO go together. All in a row. Thanks for the work you do and- you’re right. I’d rather hear someone tell me their story of self-acceptance than debate someone else on why it’s ok that he/she does accept him/herself. Rock on!

  5. Regan — didn’t know how else to contact you & no reason (obviously) to post this comment, but you have a bad link on the “ridiculous studies” link. Missing the colon after the http.

    Love your blog. 🙂

  6. Ragen, you are in the top five of my list of heros.

    Preach it, sister. And thank you – for your courage, and for living your truth out loud. You are a daily inspiration to me, and to so many others.

  7. That’s fantastic Ragen! Instead of debating a fat-hater with no life experience or nutritional expertise to back up their vitriol, I would love it if there would be an event with curvy dance classes, yoga classes, basketball games, cooking classes etc. It could be a fun way to actually show the media that we are capable, athletic, people (though I’m sure they really don’t want to know that). I think telling your story is a great way to communicate that body size and physical fitness are not linked 100%. There is a commercial for Weight Loss Surgery that keeps playing on my local stations in which a woman says, “I weighed X pounds, I couldn’t even walk 8 steps”, as though it’s completely logical that that weight makes it impossible to walk a few feet. I wish more people could hear your message so they’d know that the number on a scale does not necessarily mean being out of shape. Overweight people who are out of shape and unable to move well may learn that they can participate in fun and healthy activities that are appropriate for their current level of fitness without first losing weight. As a yoga teacher in training, I thank myself for taking a risk and going to my first yoga class several years ago, even though I initially wanted to wait 6 months and lose weight first!

    1. I loathe that commercial. I scream at the TV I weigh 297 lbs and I go up and down the stairs umpteen times a day and walk a mile and ride my bike. ugh…

    2. In my town there used to be a billboard by the highway advertising a local hospital’s bariatric clinic. The tagline read: “Weight lost. Life gained.” It always really pissed me off. I have not lost weight, but I have a life already, thank you very much.

  8. Great essay, thank you. I really wish more people would talk about the parallels between queer rights and fat liberation work.

    I noticed a small typo here: “Remember that no matter what your body looks like, there’s an extremely decent change that you are the standard of beauty in some culture somewhere.” I think you mean chance, not change.

  9. This post made me laugh and cry. You are such an inspiration to me and so many other people. I recently signed up for a modern dance class (which I’ve been wanting to try for AGES) and can’t wait to dance with my fat! 🙂

    Thank you for everything you do and say and are and dance.

  10. “I’m not so concerned that Meme Roth or Jamie Oliver or internet trolls think fat people deserve to be treated well; and I’m much more concerned that fat people know that they deserve to be treated well. ”

    Thank you for that. Thank you for being you. Thank you for every word you write. Thank you for leading me on my journey out of the hate and into the love. I love you Ragen 🙂 You are my hero.

  11. Whoa. Keep us posted on this “tour”. I would love to attend such a “debate”! I can’t find as much hope as you for that kind of world yet so it’s always great to hear.

  12. I’d love to see a Moth-like (see storytelling event, with you and other “happy and fat” folk just telling stories, short and honest ones, in a room full of other folk who may or may not yet be happy with themselves.

  13. My gut-level reaction: “Oh, I don’t want to go to a talk to watch Ragen up on a stage having to argue with fat-haters and refute stupid anti-fat prejudice yet again — I want to see Ragen talking about being Ragen and about how she got to where she is now and what’s important to her!”

    1. Personally, I’d like to see Ragen dance. Have you checked out her videos? Unfortunately there is next to no chance of me getting to Austin to check out the cabaret anytime soon; I wish a dance competition would bring her to Florida.

      1. Hi Kris,

        Careful what you wish for 🙂 I will be competing in Panama City Beach October 28-30. I’d love to do some talks or even dance workshops while I’m there, if you know of anyone who might want to set anything like that up (community groups, colleges etc.) please feel free to connect us! I don’t know where you are in Florida but if you want to hang out let me know what as well. I’m ragen at danceswithfat dot org.

  14. Oh I love this post! I agree wholeheartedly. We can be so powerful and inspiring when we all work together. Lexica said exactly what I’m feeling too.
    AND, You have given me hope. From the moment I first visited your place there has been a stirring inside of me. I found the courage to challenge my doctor and the ideas he was pushing and when I didn’t like his treatment of me, I found the courage to find a new doctor(a lovely woman!). I’m slowly learning to love myself and to fight for myself. I’m encouraging others to do the same thing too and its all because a friend pointed me to your blog.

    1. Hi Lael,

      thank you for your kind words. You are amazing – it is awesome and incredibly inspiring that you found the courage to stand up for yourself and go out and find a doctor who can treat you appropriately. You rock!


  15. Today I saw a 12 yr old girl, whose weight was off the charts. She was referred by her doctor, supported by her concerned parents. And here’s what I told her, because I believe it to be true:
    Her place on the wt chart is likely the right place–for her. Since the age of 2 yrs she has paralleled this curve at the 95%ile, (and is only just 5 ft tall). Pretty normal for her makeup, I’d say. She is an active, healthy girl–more active than most thin girls, and boys, I see, with no apparent suggestion of health issues. She eats well–appropriate portions, as I’d expect for her need, a healthy balance of foods, including those I’d call “junk” food, and she eats the same when she is alone and when with others. Most importantly, she feels good about herself, and the last thing I wanted to do was add mental health issues to any perceived, but non-existant risk of physical health issues.

    In other words, I’m with you. Except I’m thin. So don’t expect a debate from me ; )

  16. A world tour?? Really truly?? PLEASE come to New Zealand!! I LOVE the idea that TsuKata puts forth ~ a “Moth-like (see storytelling event, with you and other “happy and fat” folk just telling stories, short and honest ones, in a room full of other folk who may or may not yet be happy with themselves.”

    Oh do that! I would be right up on that stage with you telling my story. Your story and my story and every single fat and happy person (it’s not just the ladies, as you know!) needs to be able to tell their story.

    And it’s not just America – there is misinformation all over the world, even way down here in NZ. We get the exact same bollocks from our “health professionals” about the OOOGABOOGA obesity crisis/epidemic/YOU WILL DIE YOU BIG FAT FATTY. *sigh*

    Failing that, just come for a visit! I’ll put you up, and I know all the best cafes!!

  17. Thank you for all your fabulously inspiring posts, this is just such a cracking piece of activist thinking and sharing, thank you!
    Happy Fatty! I spat coffee!
    I remember an 80s film ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk’ (that might be the British release title) I cried so hard at so many points in that film, being reminded of how we have a right to be who we are, how we are, how scary it is to the haters when we do that… just now I was struggling with someone putting me and my artwork down, even “correcting” a personal statement I’d made, and reading this reassures me, of course she needs to correct me, I make big, bright, bold work that celebrates variety, how scary am I!
    Please film your talks/presentations, and sell them as downloads, I’ll buy them for everyone I know as the perfect birthday present – the best invitation to be yourself, live large, whatever your size, shape, style!
    Again,thanks! You rock!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’m always a bit amazed at how people need to put others down to make themselves feel better. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that. The idea of filming the talks is a really good one, thanks 🙂


  18. Wow. You totally choked me up on this one. Good, good stuff. Thank you. Let me know when you get to Chicago. I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee (or tea or water or whatever lol)

  19. If you do a World Tour, PLEASE come to Australia!!!!
    I too love the moth-like story telling event!!! Talk about empowering – that would blow my mind. I would drag everyone I know to an event like that!

    I often need hope, and reminding that I am okay and I am entitled to respect because I’m a human being.

  20. Ragen, since I found you a few weeks ago I have been inspired to start exercising again. I had given up, over and over, because I wasn’t getting THAT result – I wasn’t losing weight. During the years of not exercising my muscles became so weak and tight that I was having tremendous daily knee pain that made it difficult to do anything, and I have four young children to care for! A week and a half ago I started exercising again and my constant knee pain is already gone. I can’t believe it! I’m able to move better and I feel better. Because my motivation is coming from a completely different place I know that I’ll keep it up. I don’t want to live that life of chronic pain and disappointment (always telling my children I couldn’t do things because it would be too uncomfortable) any longer. I want to be healthy and strong, regardless of my weight. You have inspired me to make this tremendous change and this most recent post brought tears to my eyes. You, my lady, are fighting the good fight and I would love to see you in upstate MA if you were to tour! Thank you, thank you , thank you!!!!

    1. Megan,

      That is amazing, your comment absolutely inspired me and made my day! Congratulations on finding your path to health and standing up for who you are. I’ll keep you posted if I get to Massachusetts!


  21. Every time someone tries to tell me I need to lose weight or is rude about my size I wanna hide in the house with icecream or chocolate and nibble until my serotonin levels are high enough to stop me feeling crappy.

    Every time I read this blog I am reminded I love swimming and occasionally going to the gym and I feel better when I am fitter.

    I think it might be time to tell some of the random commentators that, should make life more interesting…

  22. Ragen, lately I’ve been having my husband tell me that maybe I shouldn’t ‘stick my head in the bucket’ quite so much. By which he means, spend time around haters trying to convince them that maybe hate is a bad idea. ‘Just get on with your own life,’ says he. (He’s a darling, but he’s thin, and me being an in-betweenie, he sees that I don’t actually have it that bad considering, and doesn’t tend to see how bad some fatter people have it – or that it pervades the whole of our culture and actually, one way or another, affects everyone, including the thin.)

    So, I think to myself that maybe he’s right, and then I see this, and I realize that there is a way I can focus on the positive side. And for this, I thank you. You are an inspiration – and please, will you be coming to the UK any time? (It doesn’t rain as much as everyone makes out. Honest.)

    1. Hi Emerald,

      I think that it’s awesome that you are doing activism and that you are finding a way to make it work for you! I also love the phrase “stick your head in a bucket” since it often feels like that to deal with the haters. I definitely want to come to the UK and considering I can’t actually remember that last time it rained here, but I do remember that it was over 100 degrees for 80 days IN A ROW, I wouldn’t mind if it rained the whole dang time (although I might actually have to buy a sweater…)


  23. This is a wonderful & much-needed post. I have been part of FA for well over 30 years & have always believed that the most important thing we can do is get FAT people to stop hating FAT people, which will make the rest of it a lot easier. There are a lot of us, as the media & the diet mongers love to remind us, if we were all in this fight…well, we would be a majority in the United States anyway & might actually GET somewhere.

    And, god, don’t get me started on how much I HATE the ads for various weight loss methods, the claims of being unable to do anything when fat, etc. Weight Watchers has one with a man yapping about how Weight Watchers saved his LIFE! I am not sure how much WW is paying him to say that; what frightens me more is that he might actually BELIEVE it.

  24. This is one of the most moving things I’ve ever read on your blog, Ragen.

    When I think about Martin Luther King, what made him the face of the Civil Rights movement was that his dream wasn’t just for black children, it was for ALL children. It was completely inclusive. That’s the reason the gay marriage movement has gained so much support so quickly – by design it leaves no one excluded. Debate, on the other hand, simply steels people’s resolve.

    So I would applaud you for not debating anyone. Be the change you want to see, and spend as little time as possible arguing with anyone.

  25. Ragen, please let us know your schedule if this tour should become a reality. Can you swing by New York?
    @Berry – you said “I really wish more people would talk about the parallels between queer rights and fat liberation work.”
    There are people who have remarked on some parallels between fat rights and other civil rights movements. What generally happens is that some member of the other movement comes by and says that the comparison is way off base because his/her movement is serious and we’re not. They get mightily offended. For a good example of this attitude, check out a guy named Dan Savage.
    In other words, just as in other social groups, nobody wants to play with the fat girl lest they lose major social cachet. And other groups whose members are also fighting to be treated as respectable citizens do not (as a whole) wish to be associated with a movement that many of them consider a joke.
    Like it or not, we’re on our own.

  26. Ragen, I really enjoy your blog posts, but this one is just amazing. While struggling to be accepting of my body, I spend a lot of time hating it (not too surprising after a lifetime of being taught & encouraged to hate it!). This post made me realize what I was missing – hope. Not hope that I would lose weight or even that I would be more athletic or stronger, but hope that I could actually accept myself as I am. I’m going to save a link to this post so I can reread it whenever I need to. Thank you.
    — Buffy (not the vampire slayer)

    1. Hi Buffy,

      First, I’m very glad that you are finding a path to health that works for you! In an unrelated topic, I love that you include (not the vampire slayer) in your signature.

      ~Ragen (not the exorcist)

  27. Hi Kell,

    Thank you for your comment. First of all, while I referenced the movie, you’ve made too big a leap to assume that’s where I’m getting my information. While there is controversy as to whether this was entirely about his sexuality, I think that you’re far over-reaching to suggest that it had “NOTHING” to do with it.

    Harvey Milk was killed by Dan White, a conservative member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. White quit the board immediately after they passed the city’s gay rights law (which Mascone signed and for which Mascone was held largely responsible) saying that he had suddenly decided that his salary wasn’t high enough – though it was reported by his constituents that he told them the he had quit in protest of the legislation.

    After quitting he asked to be re-appointed and was denied. He returned and killed both the Mayor and Harvey Milk, and nobody else. At his trial, in addition to the dimished capacity “Twinkie Defense”, White’s lawyers used Milk’s sexuality in an attempt to diminish any sympathy the court may have had for him, and White received the lightest sentence possible for someone who admitted to killing two people. Some places to start for information:

    Krakow, Kari. The Harvey Milk Story. Ridley Park, PA: Two Lives Publishers, 2002.

    Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.

    Weiss, Mike. Double Play: The San Francisco City Hall Killings. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1984.

    Can you please cite your sources that say with the certainty you’ve suggested that this had “NOTHING” to do with his sexuality?


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