Sex, Politics and Michelle Obama’s Posterior

You’ve probably already heard it but if you haven’t, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) was overheard on the phone saying that Michelle Obama “Lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”

I’ll admit that my first thought was “seriously – he used the word posterior?” But that doesn’t seem as important in the situation so I soon moved on.  This is exactly why we do not conflate weight and health.  You can’t tell what Michelle Obama eats, or how much of it, by the size of her…posterior, or the size of her at all.  That goes for everyone, of all ages, including children if you catch my drift.  This is why I think it’s so important to be for giving people healthy options and access, and against judging their choices or their bodies.  Let’s stop all the body shaming, and instead we can focus our attention on giving people information, options and access, then butt out (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

It’s not the first time this has happened.  In February, Rush Limbaugh said:

The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice…I’m trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.

How can I put this delicately… no woman’s health can be measured by whether or not Alex Rodriguez wants to fuck her. Ok, that wasn’t delicate at all, let’s try again.   I would like to see us stop measuring the beauty and value of women’s bodies by whether men want to ogle us on the cover of a magazine, or want to take us back to their hotel when their team comes through town.

A Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model is one type of body. It is not inherently better or worse than any other type of body.  The only thing we know about that body from looking at it, is that it’s the type of body that is currently put in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. We don’t know anything about how those women eat or how healthy or physically fit they are.

Model Josie Maran was a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.  It soon became apparent that strength was not her strong suit (I am on fire with the bad puns today).  Her partner put her into a dip from which she was unable to stand back up.  As he perplexedly said “…use your legs…” they cut to her saying “being a model you only need to look good, you don’t have to train the strength”.  Then they they cut to her partner saying ““(she is) deceptively unfit”.

She is only “deceptively unfit” if you assume that because she is the cultural stereotype of beauty she is also strong/physically fit.  The problem isn’t Josie’s – she doesn’t need to be strong to do her job and she’s under no obligation to meet anyone’s definition of fitness.

The problem, that we see repeated over and over again, is that we try to get information about someone’s health and physical fitness by looking at them fully clothed. That does not work.  It has never worked.  It will never work. Health and body size are two completely separate things. Let’s grok that and move on.

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you have an issue with my selling things on this site, you are welcome to check out this post.

Avoid Holiday Weight Shame

Reader Kathryn sent me an article called, and I am not kidding,  “Tell Loved Ones They are Overweight This Christmas”.  I will not be linking to it because I have no desire to increase traffic and there is no opportunity to comment. I will say that should my loved ones take this advice the follow up article will be “I Told my Loved one She Is Overweight and She Told Me to Sit Down, Shut Up and Mind My Own Damn Business.”

The article says that in a poll of more than 2,000 people, 42% of 18 to 24-year-olds would not tell a loved one they should lose weight because of a fear they would hurt the other person’s feelings.

According to the article, this suggests that ” too many people shy away from the issue”.  According to me this proves that 42% of 18-24 year olds have common decency and/or realize that it is impossible for a fat person in our culture to not know that society has a negative opinion about our size.  Stated another way, 58% of 18-24 year olds did not eat their bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes on the day that the poll was taken.

According to their so-called expert (who works for an organization that appears to make money pretending that they successfully treat obesity), “if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life.”

No, it won’t.  Discussing it with them will do nothing for their health but may very well ruin their holiday and your relationship, so there’s no need to put on your “Concern Troll Man” tights and cape and self-righteously pretend that you are the super hero who saves fat people from ourselves.

We decide how other people treat us, either by setting boundaries or by not setting them.  I respect however you decide to allow people to treat you.  You are, as always, the boss of your underpants.

But let me suggest that you don’t have to put up with holiday weight shame. You don’t have to put up with body snarking, body stigma, or concern trolling. You don’t have to allow a running commentary on your body, health, or food choices from anyone.   You don’t have to accept treatment you don’t like because people are your family, friends, or because they “mean well”.  And you don’t have to internalize other people’s bullshit, you don’t have to buy into the thin=better paradigm or be preached to by people who do.

We are not the first group of people who have been treated like second class citizens in a wave of public hysteria.  But no group of people has ever risen above this by buying into the mistaken belief that they are inferior.  Loving your body is an act of sheer courage and revolution in this culture. Instead of another article about how to avoid holiday weight gain, here’s what I would like to see all over Facebook, and hear on the radio, television and at gatherings all over the world this holiday season:

My body is not a representation of my failures, sins, or mistakes. My body is not a sign that I am in poor health, or that I am not physically fit. My body is not up for public discussion, debate or judgment. My body is not a signal that I need your help or input to make decisions about my health or life.  My body is the constant companion that helps me do every single thing that I do every second of every day and it deserves respect and admiration. If you are incapable of appreciating my body that is your deficiency, not mine, and I do not care. Nor am I interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter so, if you want to be around me, you are 100% responsible for doing whatever it takes to keep those thoughts to yourself. If you are incapable of doing that I will leave and spend my time with people who can treat me appropriately.  Please pass the green beans.

As always I think that preparation is the best friend of the fatty. If you suspect that you may be the victim of holiday weight shame then be prepared.  Here are some suggestions:

Know what your boundaries are and decide on consequences that you can live with.  Don’t threaten things that you won’t follow through on.  So try something like “My body is fine, your behavior is inappropriate. If there is one more comment about my weight, I am leaving.”  The common thread among my friends who have done this is that they’ve only had to do it once and then their bodies were respected, and they all report feeling incredibly empowered.  Contrast that with saying “if you say one more thing I’m never speaking to you again” but then not following through.  Now you feel like a failure, and you’ve taught people that your boundaries aren’t real and that your consequences are idle.

Consider talking with members of your family who have been repeat offenders prior to the holiday.  Or send out a holiday newsletter e-mail explaining your commitment to Health at Every Size and that comments about your weight are not welcome.  Remind yourself (as often as necessary) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you – their concern trolling behavior is inappropriate.  Have a HAES buddy you can call for sanity checks. Be brave, be strong, and  teach people how to treat you appropriately.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

A Study in Paradigm Entrenchment

I have seen some crazy things when it comes to study interpretation but this one may take the cake.  The full article is here, but here are the high points:

The study looked at weight loss in post-menopausal women during and after a five month diet. They found that:

  • the women lost about 12% of their body weight
  • within a year more 3/4 of the women had regained their weight (some having gained more than they lost)
  • the weight that they lost was twice as much fat as muscle
  • the weight that they gained was four times as much fat

To be clear, this study did not include a control group and so they aren’t sure if the proportion of weight regained is because of the dieting, or due to the natural change in body composition over time.

They are sure that, yet again, dieting left most people as fat or fatter than when they started -after one year 75% of the women (and we would expect it to be 95% after two years) were as heavy or heavier, and had more fat and less lean muscle than when they started.

So what does researcher Barbara Nicklas, PhD, professor of geriatrics and gerontology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine say?

I think there are huge benefits to losing weight. When older obese people deliberately slim down, their osteoarthritis improves. They can get up out of chairs and climb stairs more easily. Even if they eventually regain all of the weight, she says, it usually takes a few years to do it.

Ok, there is confirmation bias, which is a bad enough trap for a scientist to fall into, but then there’s sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling LALALALALALALA.  I feel pretty strongly that this is the latter – this is a special kind of stupid. First of all, nothing in her data proves that weight loss will help osteoarthritis, stair climbing or getting up out of chairs.  But even if it did, this woman really thinks that a “huge benefit” is to have these improvement for a year before you gain the weight back (and then some) while losing muscle mass, thus leaving you in worse condition than when you started for the rest for the rest of your life?

You know what helps people get up out of chairs and climb stairs more easily?  Movement and increased strength  (of which weight loss is a possible, but likely temporary, side effect).  You know what doesn’t help getting out of chairs, climbing stairs, or osteoarthritis?  Being heavier than you were a year ago with less muscle mass.  Would we give someone medication that prevents heart attacks for a year and then INCREASES their heart attack risk for the rest of their lives?  Would you take birth control that had a near 100% success rate for the first year but then made you MORE likely to get pregnant for the rest of your life?

Nicklas also notes that “There are a few very vocal geriatricians who are totally against an older person losing weight,”   Which is to say that, apparently, there are only a few geriatricians who posses both a basic understanding of human anatomy and the ability to do very simple math.

The title of this article is “If Postmenopausal Women Lose Weight, They’re Better Off if They Keep It Off”   Which is the equivalent of saying “If Postmenopausal Women are in a Plane Crash, They’re Better Off if They Can Fly.”  Nothing in the study suggests that the researchers have the slightest clue how to keep these women from regaining their weight, only that when they regain it, they may be gaining fat and losing lean muscle. Were we not so entrenched in a weight loss paradigm, a more reasonable title would be “Study Shows that Weight Loss Attempts May Not be Beneficial in Post Menopausal Women”. Somewhat unbelievably that would likely be controversial, but the ridiculous conclusion that “there are huge benefits to weight loss” is what we expect to hear despite no actual benefits being proven by this research.

I’m not just talking about this because I love a good rant (although I do).  I say it because this is the kind of thing that gets picked up by the media with the headline “Huge benefits to losing weight in later life, says researcher”.  We have to remember to keep a very critical eye and ask questions because people are very seriously entrenched in the weight loss paradigm and clear evidence, even evidence that they created, cannot always shake their belief in the mystical, magical power and likelihood of weight loss.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Water the Flowers We Think are Beautiful

This lovely quote came from Susan Huddis Koppelman, author of “The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe” and Other Stories of Women and Fatness during a Facebook conversation.

A few days ago I wrote a blog about dealing with weight loss compliments.  The comments on that blog got me thinking about the way that we compliment in general – how many of our compliments deal with appearance.  On Facebook discussions about the event, some people defended the idea that if someone asks “have you lost weight” it’s basically the same thing as saying “you look good” and should therefore not be an insult.

I have a problem with that because it continues to feed into a culture that says that thin is better.  One of my readers returned to work after losing a great deal of weight due to stage four cancer and a coworker said “boy, cancer looks great on you!”

It’s not just weight loss though.  We compliment on clothes that are “flattering”, where flattering often has the meaning of “makes you look closer to the cultural stereotype of beauty”.  I have a friend who told me that he didn’t like my outfit because it made me look bigger.

I’m not saying that compliments about appearance are bad, but they can be tricky since so often they reward conforming to social stereotypes rather than authenticity.  Also, they are easy and they allow us to avoid finding out anything deeper than those that we can see during a handshake.

As a society we water the flowers that we think are beautiful, and often that defaults to the flowers that conform.  Roses are beautiful but so are sunflowers, carnations, tulips, daisies etc.  But if you only water the roses it doesn’t matter how beautiful the other flowers could have been.  There are a whole lot of beautiful flowers that aren’t being watered in our culture because they don’t happen to be roses.

I happen to think that all the flowers are beautiful and so I’m a fan of watering them all. (Don’t worry- I’m at the end of my use of the flower metaphor now).

While you may enjoy compliments about your appearance, your weight, etc., it’s important to realize that  because of a history of not being complimented, and being shamed and stigmatized or other personal reasons, many people do not enjoy compliments about appearance.  So it pays to be able to compliment something else.

Try asking someone “what have you been up to” and then listen with interest.

Instead of complimenting specific clothing, try complimenting fashion sense. Compliment intelligence, wit, athleticism, work achievement. Commenter Sharon suggested saying “It is always so nice to see you!” as a substitute for “you look great”.

Again, I’m not suggesting that you give up on appearance compliments altogether.  I’m a fan of saying “hello beautiful!” or “I love that outfit, it looks fab on you!”  I’m just saying let’s challenge ourselves to see beauty in all sizes and shapes (including, perhaps, our own) and let’s temper our appearance compliments with other compliments.  Let’s water all the petals on all the flowers (ok, I was almost done with the metaphor).  What are your favorite non-appearance compliments?

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

I Am Not a Fat Unicorn

Click picture for source

A reader yesterday asked a question that comes up a lot for me.  She asked if, like the very small percentage of people who are able maintain weight loss,  I might be an anomaly… that most obese people are not capable of my athleticism.

It’s possible  that my athleticism is the result of my being a physical anomaly, but I seriously doubt it.  First of all, while the reader asked me the question respectfully, often this is a way to solve cognitive dissonance while avoiding questioning one’s personal stereotypes.  People see a fat person being athletic and instead of questioning their stereotypes about fat people and athleticism, they chalk it up to the athletic fatty being an “anomaly” and hold onto their preconceived notions and whatever it is that those stereotypes buy for them.

The comparison to weight loss doesn’t hold. Current intentional weight loss methods have been thoroughly tested for decades and they have a very long track record of failure.  Athleticism in fat people have rarely been tested at all but in the existing research activity leads to improved health although not to weight loss.  Unfortunately we spend so much time trying to figure out how to make fat people thinner that we neglect to look at what would make fat people healthier.

Let’s examine what our culture does:

  • tell fat people several times a day, every day, that they can’t be athletic
  • Make sure that they never see anyone who looks like them who is athletic
  • Act super surprised that fat people aren’t athletic
  • Point to the lack of fat athletes as evidence of the unlikelhood

That is messed up.

So if I am an anomaly, I don’t think that it’s my physical characteristics. I think it’s my ability to ignore the hundreds of thousands of negative messages that I get from society every day and just be an athlete anyway.  And let’s not pretend that I’m the only one – there are tons of fat athletes. Unfortunately  you don’t see us that often right now because every time someone puts us in the media they have to deal with the truly ridiculous accusation that they are “promoting obesity”.

I hear a lot that bodies just aren’t “meant” to carry [insert some random amount of weight], or that it’s just too much for the joints of fat people.  I think that the human body is an amazingly adaptable thing. Look at professional athletes.  There are joint issues with very tall bodies but we aren’t telling the NBA to shut it down. Thin people have join issues and there are protocols that treat them that do not involve weight loss. Those protocols involve looking at muscle tightness and imbalance and movement patterns among other things.  I’ve had joint pain at various times and various weights and it has always been solved by fixing the mechanical issues that exist around the joint and they have never been solved through weight loss.

To be clear, if you are looking for better health, then based on the research about 30 minutes about 5 days a week ought to do it – walking, dancing in your living room, whatever.  If you want to take that farther because you are interested in a sport or athletic achievement of some sort then you probably need to do a little planning .  Physical fitness is based on three pillars – strength, stamina, and flexibility. Each sport needs these things in different combinations.  Then you have the skills/techniques for whatever your particular sport is.  No matter what you weigh, if you are new to a sport you want to make sure that you have the necessary baseline fitness which will help prevent injuries.  My friends who work in emergency rooms talk about all the injuries that come in when the weather warms up and people in their thirties, forties, and fifties decide to get back into sports all at once.  If you haven’t played soccer since you were seven, you probably don’t want to join a spirited pick up match tomorrow.  But consider the fact that it’s not because of your weight, but because of your baseline fitness. When I give classes to the teachers at dance studios, often they will make assumptions about the abilities of their fat students. My rule is that you have to examine the problem and exhaust strength, stamina, flexibility and technique before they even THINK of blaming an issue on weight.

Look, nobody has a moral, social, or personal obligation to exercise.  You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, I’m not going to judge you and nobody else has the right to.  But I am damn tired of so many things being blamed on body size without proof.  And I think it’s unconscionable that fat people are warned away from something that actually is shown to make us healthier, while being inundated with the message that we MUST do something that is shown to lead to worse health.  But let’s not pretend that fathletes are unicorns. We do exist and there are a bunch of us and there’s no reason to believe that you can’t be one too if you want.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Wading Through Weight Loss Compliments

Thanks to reader Su for the topic suggestion.  Oh this is a tricky. Let’s examine two scenarios: You are interacting with someone who has lost weight, and someone is talking to you about your weight loss (either real or perceived)

You are interacting with someone who has lost weight

I suggest that you resist, with conviction, the urge to tell them how good they look now – it sounds like you are saying that they looked bad before.  It’s no secret that our culture thinks that thin=beautiful.

While they are probably really proud of themselves, I know that there is a 95% chance that they are going to gain the weight back.  For that reason I try to comment in a way that will lessen the self-esteem hit if they end up in the majority.

If they don’t bring up the weight loss I don’t bring it up. Weight loss isn’t always welcome – it can be from medical issues, medication, stress, grieving etc. and I don’t want to bring up something painful. Plus this conversation is awkward enough, I’m not going to go through it if I don’t have to.

If they bring up weight loss what I tend to say is:

“Was weight loss your goal?” because I think it’s important to be clear that weight loss isn’t everyone’s goal.  If they say yes I say, “You have always been beautiful/handsome.  You still are, and I’m glad that you are happy .”

If someone mentions your weight loss:

I don’t know about you but I’ve had people do this as a passive aggressive way of pointing out that I haven’t lost weight.  So I cheerfully answer “Nope!”

If they are commenting on weight I’ve lost because I was sick I say “Yeah, I’ve been sick – I’m expecting to be back to my fighting weight soon!”

If you have lost weight intentionally and you want to support size acceptance it would be awesome if you said something like “Yes, I chose to lose weigh but I don’t want anybody to think that I believe it is the path for everyone.”  It would also be fantastic if you would point out and negate any attempts to make it seem like you are better than fat people who are still fat.  You are allowed to choose weight loss for yourself (as you are the boss of your underpants), it’s totally not cool to use weight loss as a barometer for personal worth, good treatment, or social acceptance.

I look forward to living in a world where bodies of all sizes and shapes are completely accepted. But until that time we need to be mindful how we talk about these things.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

A Year Without Diets

In the year 2012, Americans will likely spend more than sixty billion dollars on diets.  95% of those diets will result in people being as heavy or heavier than they started, with the medical dangers involved with weight cycling, and having taken the self-esteem hit of trying and failing at a diet.

Or, according to numbers from Marilyn Wann’s Awesome Fat!So? Dayplanner we could:

  • Fund the Environmental Protection agency for 5 years (based on their 2011 budget)
  • Spend 9 times what the US did in 2010 on foreign AIDS funding
  • Increase annual spending on plus size fashion 3.6 times

There’s some other stuff we could do:

  • We could build 60,000 million-dollar community centers that accept a sliding scale fee and give people in 60,000 communities safe movement options that they enjoy
  • We could buy 60,000 hundred acre tracts suitable for sustainable farming and supply them with a barn, fences,  tractor, implements, improvements, animals, and seed
  • We could give full scholarships to 1,819,505 students to four year public colleges to study health separate from weight, fat studies, and a million other awesome things
  • We could buy a pair of good, supportive athletic shoes and a one year membership at a HAES friendly gym for every person who wants them (even if that included every single person in the United States)
  • We could spend $10.75 more on every school lunch (According to the USDA the national school lunch program serves 31 million kids a day for the 180 day school year.  Currently we spend about $1 for every school lunch so this could dramatically increase the quality of kid’s food)
  • Instead of serving one $1 meal to 31 million kids, we could serve three $3.58 cent meals to all of those kids every school day. Or we could serve those same 31 million kids three $1.76 meals every day of the year.
  • We could give $522 to every US household
  • And that’s just the US – imagine what we could do for the world if we re-captured the money that we throw out the window on pills, shakes, and “lifestyle changes” that leave us less healthy than we started.

Instead of continuing to pour money into an industry that has to include the phrase “results not typical” anytime they suggest that their product might actually work, and that has a success rate that barely rivals the lottery, we could do any of the things above (or a combination of them!) and focus on healthy habits for ourselves – for which you don’t not have to pay $12 a week, get weighed in public, drink nasty soy protein shakes, or buy special expensive highly processed food.  If we just eat a little healthier and move about 30 minutes 5 days a week, not only would we accomplish something with our sixty billion dollars, but we would actually have a chance of ending the year healthier than when we started it.

Just some food for thought.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen