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: