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

Repairing Our Relationships with Exercise

Me! 5'4 284 pounds. Picture taken by the Amazing Kate Wodash - owner/instructor at the Mindful Body Center http://www.mindfulbodycenter.com

I posted a couple of days ago about we get information about fitness and health twisted in ways that end up with people having less of both.  I mentioned in that blog that I had to repair my relationship with exercise and several people asked me to post about how to do it. To be clear, you can choose not to exercise – it’s a completely valid life choice. This blog is just about what to do if you want to exercise but you have some issues around it and/or are feeling stuck.

There are lots of ways that a relationship with exercise can go horribly wrong.  It seems like gym class is custom designed to reward kids who are into sports and shame those who aren’t so badly that their relationship with exercise is damaged well into adulthood.  I think that we can do better by our kids but for those of use who are just dealing with the aftermath we can still have a knee jerk reaction of never wanting to exercise again.

It could also have to do with unrealistic expectations.  One of the things that I think is the most damaging about how we deal with exercise is that people are led to believe that exercise will result in weight loss and that health comes from weight loss.  So people start exercising, they don’t lose weight, and they quit because they think it’s “not working”. In truth the research tells us that exercise will make us healthier but is unlikely to lead to weight loss (even if it does, the health and the weight loss are both side effects of the behavior – weight loss doesn’t make people healthier, it just makes them smaller.)  So if you are looking at weight (instead of metabolic health markers and/or intrinsic messages like how you feel)  you are likely to miss the actual benefits that you are receiving from your movement.

Sometimes a dysfunctional relationship with exercise is the result of rebellion.  If you are fat you are probably tired of hearing “just eat less and exercise more” or having people tell you that you should exercise without bother to ask you if you exercise to begin with.  Sometimes people just say screw it and don’t exercise as a way to give the finger to everyone who says that they need to exercise because they are fat.

So I think that if we want to repair our relationship with exercise the first thing is probably to let go of whatever way you got hurt around it in the past.  If you want health now then you probably have to forgive or at least forget your idiot gym teacher – unless you’re cool with them affecting your current health.

Next I think you have to figure out why you want to do this. If weight loss is your goal, you’re probably barking up the wrong treadmill.

You may want to decide who you are doing this for.  In my experience the problem with rebelling against people by being unhealthy is that we are the ones who suffer and we end up less healthy because of it, and the problem with doing healthy habits for other people is that we tend to resent them if we don’t like the habits.  But that’s just me.

Finally, decide what you are going to try first, set some reasonable expectations, and then decide what – if anything – you want to measure.

I always recommend figuring out what you want to try first in terms of exercise.  Then get a baseline and be totally ok with whatever it is.  So if you want to try walking, go for a walk.  If you make it 5 minutes that’s awesome.  It’s 5 minutes more than if you didn’t go.  Then set some kind of reasonable plan:  Maybe your goal is 5 minutes a day 5 times a week with the goal of increasing to 10 minutes in a couple of weeks.  Take it easy, you have your whole life to move your body and you do not want to be the fittest person in traction. You have nothing to punish yourself for and nothing to prove.  This is a whole new thing and this is the first day of it.

If you don’t like the first thing you try, try something else.  Try exercise with friends and alone to see what you like.  Consider mixing it up.  Consider not planning – Set aside the time to do the exercise, but allow yourself to choose whatever is appealing to you on the day.  Remember that you can break up the exercise into chunks – it doesn’t have to happen all at once to get the benefits.  Ten minutes in the morning, ten at lunch, ten after dinner is your thirty minutes – walking from the back of the parking lot or up and down the stairs totally counts.

If you are one of those people who just doesn’t like exercise I feel your pain – as a dancer I do stuff that I don’t like –  flexibility is really important for example but I do not enjoy flexibility work.  But it’s worth it to me to do it to meet my goals so I try to make cut down the misery as much as possible by listening to music I like or watching TV and I do it.  I also I find it helpful to remember that it’s me and my body tackling flexibility – not me against my inflexible body.

Maybe you want to consider getting a baseline of your metabolic health markers – blood pressure, glucose, etc..  Maybe you want to work with a health care practitioner (perhaps one who comes from a Health at Every Size(r) perspective.)

In my opinion the absolute best thing that you can possibly do is come to exercise on your own terms.

  • If you find the word exercising triggering, then substitute something else – movement, working out, whatever.
  • Celebrate every single victory.  Walked 2 minutes more today than yesterday?  Booty shaking happy dance – rock on!
  • Get the best equipment that you can afford.   Look for deals on shoes on ebay or zappos.com or whatever.  If you are going to walk regularly your body will thank you for having good supporting walking shoes.  Danskin has a line called Danskin Now that is plus sized and (a reader told me) available in Walmart.  Old Navy has some stuff, there’s also Xersion wear, so does Junonia.  I’m not associated with any of these, it’s just what I’ve heard about.  Sometimes you can find deals on ebay as well.
  • Stretch.  It does wonders to prevent joint pain (much of which is from muscular imbalances or tightness that pulls on the joints and has nothing to do with weight).
  • Consider adding a little strength training- more muscle will help you move that big body around, support your joint health (since the muscle will take the load and not the joints)
  • Consider adding pilates – core strength is has been key for me.  It wasn’t until I was working with a trainer that I realized how wrong I was doing the DVD – if you can’t afford a class or trainer, consider paying for one session with a trainer to show you proper form and create a workout for you,  then you can work at home. (Sometimes you can go with friends and split the cost) When you master that workout, go in for another session. (If you’re in Austin I highly recommend the Mindful Body Center – I workout there and they are amazing!)
  • Go slow and if you feel some discomfort, honor that and take it easy.  Remember that mixing up your workouts can help you avoid injuries due to repetitive motion.
  • If you have access, water workouts are awesome, even done once in a while to give your body a break from walking or other higher impact activities.
  • Decide what you want from this experience and create the entire experience to work just for you.

Exercise serves you, you do not serve exercise. You are the boss of your exercise underpants!  Occupy your exercise underpants!

If you are looking for a place to talk about fitness from a Health at Every Size Perspective, join us at the Fit Fatties Forum!

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

Can’t You Just Take a (Fat) Joke?

George Takei is awesome for many reasons. There’s the Star Trek awesomeness, the outspoken queer rights and anti-bullying advocate awesomeness, and the Facebook page with the very funny pictures awesomeness.  Yesterday he posted a picture of three actors who had played Star Trek Captains.  Two of them are more chunky and one is ripped.  The caption said “Apparently only one of the ships came equipped with a gym.” the accompanying note said “help me spread this like a virus”.

Before I get into the whole joke thing, one thing I will never understand is GLBT people who don’t support fat rights. I don’t know George Takei’s take (except that he was ok with making this fat joke), but Dan Savage comes to mind here as well as any number of non-famous gay people who I’ve heard and seen make this argument.  Let’s take a minute to examine this.

One argument often used against queer rights is that being queer is a choice.  GLBT people rightly argue that we are better witnesses to our experience than those who are not us, and that even if we could choose to be straight, we shouldn’t have to because we have the right to love any adults we want.

One argument used against fat people is that being fat is a choice.  Fat people rightly argue that we are better witnesses to our experience than those who are not us, and that even if we could choose to be thin, we shouldn’t have to because our bodies are our business.

Another argument used against GLBT people is that our “lifestyle” is unhealthy, both physically and mentally. Queer people rightly argue that physical health risks can be mitigated or eliminated in ways other than becoming straight (which is a good thing because the chances of that are very low)  and that mental health issues that exist are most likely due to stigma and the cure for social stigma is not becoming straight, it’s ending social stigma.

Another argument used against Fat people is that our “lifestyle” is unhealthy, both physically and mentally.  Fat people rightly argue that physical health issues can be mitigated or eliminated in ways other than becoming thin (which is a good thing because the chances of that are very low) and that mental health issues that exist are most likely due to stigma and the cure for social stigma is not becoming thin, it’s ending social stigma.

The comparisons go on but hopefully you get the idea. Get it together queer people and get on the fat rights bandwagon.

Anyway, back to George Takei.  I left a message on his FB saying “It seems inconsistent to me that you would be against bullying and shaming people for their sexual orientation and participate in bullying and shaming people for their size. Nobody hates themselves healthy and this kind of body stigma hurts everyone.”  I also posted it on my Facebook page and said that I would love it if other people who were bothered would comment as well.

And then it started.  Before I had left a comment plenty of people on George’s FB had made anti-fat comments about the people in the picture.  Once I and other people  made comments people said that we were oversensitive, lazy fatties who don’t exercise and are fighting for our right to a double chin, that we have a stick where normally there is not one, there were a bevy of fat hating and body shaming comments,  they are friends so it’s ok, or “I’m fat and I think it’s funny”  On my Facebook page someone posted that George Takei is a really cool and that we need to pick our battles – like worrying about the little boy who was ripped from his home because he is fat.

Ok, first I can “take a joke”. His Facebook post did not affect my self esteem.  I’m comfortable with myself and my choices, and I’m well aware that some people do jackass things.  That doesn’t make it ok to stigmatize me or people who look like me.  And isn’t it a problem when we tell some people that they need to toughen up and become better at being stigmatized and made fun of so that other people can laugh at our expense without having to consider the consequences?

If George is such good friends with these people and he feels the need to make fun of them for their size, he should call them up instead of body shaming them on Facebook.  Because then it’s not just about them, it’s about letting everyone who looks like them know that George Takei is comfortable stereotyping them and publicly stigmatizing them.

I think each of us individually needs to “pick our battles” since we can’t do everything, but I don’t think that as a community we should tell each other to  ignore people who stigmatize fat people because they are otherwise cool people, or we think the joke is funny, or if we don’t think it’s a big deal.  If people didn’t think it was ok to make the original fat joke, then there is no way that they would have thought all of the fat shaming comments were ok.  That 200 pound boy got ripped from his home because of an irrational wave of fat phobia and these kind of fat jokes are part of that wave.  What I think makes body shaming like this particularly harmful is that so many people defend them.  When we say that body shaming is ok if it’s funny, if it’s between friends, if it’s done by a person who is oppressed in another way, if it’s done by a person who is famous, if it’s done by a person who is generally cool,  all we’re really saying is that body shaming is ok.

People make mistakes.  I’ve made jokes on this blog that people pointed out could be offensive and I have fixed the issues. I think it’s important to point out these mistakes when people make them and I think we can see where they are at based on their response. I think that consistency is really important, otherwise we get stigma-creep wherein more and more things are considered ok, or a not worth the battle or whatever.  Once it starts it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so I think it’s far better to say that body shaming is never ok in any guise – then we don’t have to decide where the line is between body stigma that’s “hilarious” and body stigma that is shaming and wrong.

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

Fitness, Fathletes, and Thirty Minutes

Me, mid spin, preparing to sweep kick out. Photoraph by Linda Garber thanks to Marilyn Wann.

Today I want to talk about health, fitness, and being a fathlete. But before I do as always I want to point out that health is not a moral, social, or personal obligation, nor is it a barometer to judge anyone by.  People get to choose to be professional bull riders, climb Everest, and jump out of a helicopter wearing skis even though none of those things prioritize their health.  Each individual gets to choose how highly they prioritize their health and what path they take and nobody gets to judge anybody else’s choices or results.

That being said, if health is something that you want to prioritize, it’s interesting to note that more and more research is showing that the best thing that we can do for our health is be physically active.

(Source: Wei et al. “Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men.” JAMA. 1999;282: 1547-1553.)

And I’m not talking about running a marathon –  the research is showing about 30 minutes a day, about 5 days a week is all that’s needed.  It doesn’t even have to be 30 consecutive minutes, you just need to get your heart rate up 30 minutes a day most days.  I know that’s a lot different than what I used to think a few years ago- that I had to spend hours in the gym or it wouldn’t do any good.   I’ve got a video at the end of the blog that I think does a great job talking about this, but first I want to talk about how we get the idea of physical fitness so twisted in this society.

We celebrate people who run farther, go faster, push the boundaries of human endurance. Those of us who push the boundaries tend to be proud of the level of our athleticism. But is this the best or only way to be healthy?

No! Abso-freaking-lutely not.

In fact, we might be healthier if we just took a few walks every week.  Over a lifetime of playing sports, athletes usually end up with any number of injuries that a normal healthy person would never have.

That’s not bad, necessarily, but it concerns me that celebrating hardcore athleticism in society discourages people who could reach their health goals if they just moved 30 minutes a day on most days.  I worry that instead of happily getting their heart rates up 30 minutes a day, people feel like they need to run a marathon or they just shouldn’t bother moving at all.  I wonder what would happen if society would glorify dancing around your living room, gardening, hoop dancing, walking around the block – whatever kind of movement you would like to do, instead of glorifying only those at the most extreme. There are so many ways to be an athlete (and/or fathlete) and I think that we would do better to celebrate all of them!

There are people for whom testing the limits of their bodies is part of what they love about movement. That’s fine. Health at Every Size doesn’t preclude that, it just says that there are lots of movement options and all are equally legitimate.

I once heard an Ironman competitor say that “To make it through the Ironman you don’t need to be the best, you just need to be consistent and keep pushing forward.” I think that’s good advice for anyone who wants to incorporate movement.  If you feel like you’re not getting enough movement in your life, find some stuff you like to do and do it. Try something new. If you like it do some more of it.  If not, you don’t need to do it ever again.  If you like to run and feel like you’d like to try a 5K,  or whatever – try it.  If you’ve had a dysfunctional relationship with exercise (i know that I did – I don’t even like to use that word), then try redefining that relationship.

Remember that you get to choose what movement you want to do. You can do a grueling solo workout in the gym or go on a walk with friends in the neighborhood.  You can be healthy and happy even if you never run a mile, or you could run a marathon or triathlon or do any number of cool fathletic things!  If you want to be healthier and/or feel like you’d like to move more then try moving a little more and see what happens.

No marathon necessary.

I thought that this video did a fabulous job of talking about the benefits of a little movement:

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

The Measure of a Person

I recently had a huge dust-up on my Facebook led by someone who took exception to my Health at Every Size message because they were able to lose weight and so, they argued, anybody can.  This is an oft-repeated argument but it doesn’t make it any less wrong.  I explained that losing weight and keeping it off makes you a statistical anomaly, not proof of weight loss efficacy. Unfortunately at that point I got on a plane.  He started “accusing” people he doesn’t know of being sedentary.  As the conversation continued he mentioned that he “respected” me because I exercise.

This exchange represents a massive problem.

First of all, you can’t accuse someone of being sedentary because that’s a valid life choice – there’s nothing to “accuse” them of.  Being sedentary may not prioritize someone’s health but neither do being a professional bull rider, or jumping out of a helicopter with skis, or not getting enough sleep, or having a stressful job.  People have the right to prioritize their health however they want, and choose whatever path that they want.

We also need to stop acting like people’s health is entirely within their control and that it is completely changeable through their actions.  Health has a number of components including past behaviors that can’t be changed, genetics that are out of our control, access to the foods that we would choose, safe movement options that we enjoy, and appropriate healthcare which is a massive issue for many, and fat people in particular.  It includes our past environment which we cannot change, and our current environment ( including things like being under constant stigma) which we may not be able to change. We can obviously influence our health by our current behaviors, but acting like it’s appropriate to judge people based on their health because it’s entirely within their control is just plain wrong. Also, if people are dealing with health problems that are their fault it’s still not your business.  (And if you’re thinking of making a “but my tax dollars pay for…” argument then head over here.)

People who follow whatever you think is the correct path to health do not deserve any more respect than those who don’t.  Basic human respect is not reserved for humans who do what you think that they should.  Health, and any measures thereof, are  not a barometer by which we should judge respectability or worth.  The idea that we are all required to do whatever someone else thinks is the most healthy for us is deeply flawed.  The idea of the longest life being the most important thing is flawed. We in the US have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We do NOT have the obligation to pursue those things by someone else’s definition, and then be judged based on someone else’s scale.

This type of reasoning is doing nothing to increase our health or the quality of the discourse about it.  What if we took all of the time and energy we spend judging people and instead we put that into making sure that everyone has access to healthy food choices, safe movement options that they enjoy, and robust healthcare.  Then we can sit back and respect the decisions that they make just like we want our decisions to be respected.

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

Of Houston and Hoop Dancing

So, while I was in Houston for the America the Beautiful 2 Premiere  I got to do many cool things.

If you’ve been around the blog much you’ve probably seen comments from Karen R.  She is a prolific commenter (she even comments when she’s sick and on Vicodin).  My favorite comment of hers is “That, my dear, is the sound of a paradigm shifting without a clutch.”  Then, one fateful day, after reading one of my posts  about our ridiculousness with kids and weight, Karen asked me to “marry her” and she became my blog wife.  It’s been a running joke ever since.  She drove down for the premiere and we finally got to meet in real life where she is even more awesome as she is online:

I also got to see my friend Heather who just moved back to Houston from El Paso.  We realized that we have known each other a looooooong time!  Heather is a super cool woman who was brave enough to take a hoop dancing class with me (more on that in a minute)

Karen wasn’t able to come in until the premiere but we did a fatty and friends meet-up lunch during with the lovely and amazing Rowan (of Punk Rock Hoops) agreed to do a hoop dancing lesson for Heather and I.  It was so much fun!  We got to work in the beautiful Nia Moves Studio.

It turns out that I’m not a hoop prodigy, my record for waist hooping was six times before it dropped, but I did have fun trying this rollover.  For the record, this is in no way an instructional video, this is not how the move should look, I don’t care because it was super fun.

Rowan agreed to do a quick demo so that you could see how it’s really done.  She is a beautiful dancer, and a fantastic teacher.  If you ever have a chance to take class with her definitely do it!

You can’t stop me from posing though!

So, that’s enough of me, but what about you?   I’m always inspired when I see other fatties out there  doing cool stuff.  So if you feel like it leave a comment of something awesome that you have done.  Write about it, link to a video or picture, whatever!

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 becoming a member 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

The “Promoting Obesity” Myth

I was on the news with Darryl Roberts, filmmaker of America the Beautiful 2 for the Houston premiere.   As almost always happens when I’m in the media, they brought up the concern that I am “promoting obesity”.  I’ve observed that this happens almost any time a fat person is shown in the media being good at anything or having any kind of success not tied to weight loss.  This is among the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard.  As if someone will see me dancing and think “I wish I could dance like that.  The secret must be her obesity – screw dance lessons, I’m going to try to get fat!”.  It’s insulting to my years of hard work and training, and it’s insulting to your intelligence. Like’s it the new V8 commercial:  millions of thin people, who see the same 386,170 negative messages a year about fat people, will see one of us being successful in some way, smack their foreheads and say “I coulda been fat!”

Promoting a body size is what got us into this mess in the first place. I think that being thin might be the most aggressively promoted idea of my lifetime and while it hasn’t made everyone thin (in fact if you believe the statistics the majority of people are not thin), it has insidiously created a second class of citizens.  The (completely wrong) idea that the only path to health dead ends at a thin body has led to the mistaken belief that every fat person hates their body and wants to be thin and has put their entire life on hold, vowing not to be successful at anything unless and until they can be successful at weight loss.  And as soon as someone shows a fat person who doesn’t fit neatly into the story of  body hatred and weight loss goals above all else, they get shouted down and pulled out of view based on the ridiculous notion that they are “promoting obesity”.

Look, if you see a fat person and immediately think you know everything about their behaviors, choices, and inner thoughts then you have a problem – you someone who stereotypes fat people.  If the sight of a fat person being happy makes you angry, then you have some very serious issues to deal with. If you think that happy successful fat people are promoting obesity then you are a dangerously delusional. If they are promoting anything, they are promoting being happy and successful.

Not to mention that if we follow the “logic” that putting fat people in the public eye as anything other than a negative representation or an ad for stomach amputation is “promoting obesity”, then what we are actually saying is that fat people should never see anyone who looks like them in a positive light.  We seriously believe that the best thing that we can do is make sure that fat people should never see someone who looks like them being successful or happy.  How messed up is that?  How cruel?  First they tell fat people that they are all miserable, then they purposefully hide all the evidence to the contrary under the guise of not “promoting obesity”, then they use the lack of evidence that you created to “prove” that all fat people are miserable.  Step three:  Profits!  Sixty billion a year, in fact, for the diet industry.

We have GOT to stop promoting any body size at all.  We need to show, and celebrate, the diversity of the human experience and that includes all colors, shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, athletes and couch potatoes – everybody. Our diversity is what makes us strong – it’s what makes us survivors and pretending otherwise for your own profit ought to buy you a special place in hell.

I’m just happy that there are people standing up to this preposterous notion, who are brave and strong enough not to cave to the pressure, and who are getting fat role models out into the light where they belong. And I’m so proud and thankful for all the fatties who brave the responses – from ridiculous to utterly hateful – to live their lives out loud!

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