Big Fat Impossible Dreams

I try not to rant two days in a row but sometimes it’s a rule that I break.  For the second time in a week someone has told me that some type of fat activism that I was doing was impossible and a waste of time.

Here’s what happened: I said (in two separate incidences) that I want to help put up a billboard in Georgia to counter a hateful billboard campaign that shames fat children, and that I want to work with airlines (as an expert both in business operations and in fat activism) to figure out a solution to the issue of flying fat. In both instances, People felt the need to tell me that I should give up before I start because it’s just too hard/impossible.

I understand that I’m touchy about this because it’s been happening all my life:  I’ve been doing stuff that people said was impossible since before I entered kindergarten and as recently as yesterday.  I still remember that my senior quote was “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” by Emiliano Zapata  I really believed that when I got to be an adult, or did enough stuff that people said was impossible, that it would stop.  Apparently not.

But don’t be discouraged by these people .  It’s historically demonstrable that these naysayers are likely wrong.  I know that because I wore pants when I left my desegregated school to vote for the first time.  I know that because 42 years after the Stonewall Riots I signed as a witness at the legal marriage of my gay best friend and his husband.  When it comes to civil rights, history is on our side, and the odds are in our favor, and if we fail, we’ll be better for having tried, than to have spent our energy trying to discourage the people who are doing the work.

What’s the point of telling those of us who are trying to improve a situation to stop trying?  Are these people just looking for eventual “I told you so” rights?  Were they not able to make their dreams come true and so now they want to stomp on someone else’s? What is the deal with this?  If they think that they are doing this for our own good, it’s just another form of concern trolling and it’s just as unwelcome as any other form.  One of the core tenants of my activism, taken from one of my heroes – Harvey Milk, is “You gotta give them hope”.  If your motto is “You gotta take their hope away” then you’re allowed to do that, but I will never understand it.

I get hatemail everyday from idiots who tell me things from “You’re disgusting” to “I want to kill you”. But none of that is as annoying to me as people who tell me that I shouldn’t try to change things because it’s impossible.  You know who never makes anything better?  People who say “don’t bother trying to make things better”.  You don’t have an obligation to try to change things, I think it’s cool if you’re not interested in activism at all, but how about you don’t try to pull down those of us who are.

People tell me sometimes that my blog is too angry.  I AM  angry sometimes and I do not apologize for that.  I’m also happy, energized and hopeful much of the  time.  I saw something on the brilliant Marilyn Wann’s Facebook that pretty much sums it up for me:

I share this feeling, with Margaret Cho, that I have an endless fund of rage, a wonderful energy source, and like her, I will not set aside the option of directing a honed beam of that rage at people who — whether thoughtlessly and knowingly and venally — inflict their weight prejudice on others as if that’s at all okay. Disproportionate response, my fat ass.

I am treated like a second class citizen in any number of situations every day.  If people are shocked that I’m angry, then I’m shocked that they’re shocked.

If you are fat, then I know that you may have been encouraged to dream small, or not at all.  To settle for a partner who is less than what you want, or to expect that nobody will ever love you. To give up your dream of being a dancer, or an athlete, or a corporate CEO. To take a crappy job for less pay than you deserve and never try for anything more.  To just accept social injustice and being treated like a second class citizen. To stop “complaining” and just accept the status quo.

If you want to dream big then I say do it.  Dream big.  Really big.  Huge.  Tell me how I can support you and I’ll do anything I can.  I believe that we will see substantial change in the way that fat people are treated in my lifetime, and that will make everyone’s lives better. I choose to dedicate my time and energy to being part of that change.  If you disagree or if you don’t, that’s just perfectly fine.  If you think I can’t or shouldn’t,  that’s absolutely your right, but feel free to keep that to yourself because I don’t care, I will not tolerate it, and if you want to see how angry I can be then keep it up.

If you want to be part of the change then let’s go.  We’ll have fun, do cool stuff, and change the world. Here’s that Harvey Milk Speech one more time:

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.  And you, and you, and you, you gotta give them hope”

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

48 thoughts on “Big Fat Impossible Dreams

  1. As a juicy girl iving in L.A. and pursing a career in music and (recently) acting, you can probably imagine what I’ve had to listen to for over 20 years now. Sadly I believed it for a long time. But not anymore. No one gets to decide how I live my life but ME and no one gets to discourage me but ME (which I also don’t believe in anymore). I won’t stand for being ignored, bullied or passed over for bookings becauce of the size of my pants. No one should. I will be part of the change with you, Regan. Git it, gurl.

  2. My father told me no man would ever love me, because men didn’t like women who looked like me. When I fell in love with Liam (I was in the US, Liam in Australia), he said that I better be sure I had a return ticket because Liam would put me on the first plane back.

    Liam and I have been married over 7 years now.

    If you don’t dare to dream big and take the risk, then you never know what could have been!

    1. My father told my sister and I that guys did want to marry fat girls…lucky for me I married an amazing man who loves me for me and we’ve been happily married for almost 6 years. I pray that my older sister gets past the comments my father used to make and can marry soon.

      1. Go you! I’m hoping for your sister as well… it’s so hard to break out of the mindset that you’re not worthy. You know, if only the old saying were true “Sticks and stones…” Words hurt the worst.

    2. God, I heard that message that no one loves fat girls from the time I was 8 years old and not even really fat! Thank God, all those nasty-ass people were wrong! I stopped watching Dr. Phil when he said to an overweight 23 yo girl: don’t you ever want to get married? To be loved? Why do you hate yourself so much?

      Nope, Dr. Phil, she didn’t hate herself until people told her she had to. Ass.

      1. I think Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz need to take a long walk off a short pier. If it’s not bad enough that we hear it from others, having to listen to it from so-called ‘Professionals’, people who took an oath to do no harm. Disgusting.

      2. I kind of wish her response to Dr. Phil had been “don’t you wish I’d stop punching you in the face? Why do you ask to be punched in the face so much?”

        Ok, violence doesn’t actually solve anything but it was nice to think about for a second. What an asshat.


    3. I think that when people say “No man/woman will ever love you”, there’s an invisible footnote that says “at least, the people you’d never want to marry in the first place won’t.” Said it before, I’ll say it again – while I had my ED, I dated men who only went after skinny women, and it was both boring and annoying. It’s like the princess and the pea: people who will love you at a socially acceptable size are a dime a dozen; but people who will love you for yourself no matter what your size are worth their weight in gold.

      1. “people who will love you at a socially acceptable size are a dime a dozen; but people who will love you for yourself no matter what your size are worth their weight in gold.”

        I love this soooooooo much. Thank you!


  3. From the first essay of yours that I read, it’s been clear to me that the only effect of telling Ragen Chastain that she can’t do something will be to make it happen sooner. That plus the fact that the naysayer will have their hair blown back by a fierce, incinerating gust of brilliant sarcasm.

    I’m one of those people who have been taught to “dream smaller” (hell, my mom is still telling me that, at age 50) — and I’m trying hard to get over it. In the meantime, people like you make me believe that big dreams can come true, and inspire me to make it happen. Go after it! I’ll be behind you all the way, and anything I can do to help, just ask! If anyone can do it, you can.

  4. I should give up before I start because it’s just too hard/impossible

    These people are missing the point. If this was a tussle between politcal beliefs or religions then you might be able to stay out of it and go about your business to some degree at least.

    The problem with fat people is society is gunning for us with a false bankrupt and punitive ideology. They are imposing it on us in a way that bypasses any notion of our consent.

    Therefore we are increasingly being cornered and will eventually have no choice but to fight back. That includes those who recognise what an uphill task it may be.

    As for impossible, they forget that most of us have spent our lives pursuing a course with very low yield. We didn’t lose hope and continued only when we were throughly exhausted, mentally physically or both.

    We have form in fighting with the impossible, that’s who we are, no matter how beaten we may or may not feel.

  5. I was born with cerebral palsy & have spent my life being told that I could not do this, or do that…be physically active, have babies, be a good mother, get married, whatever. Add in my lack of classic beauty & my size, & of course the ‘you can’ts’ just multiplied. I haven’t done everything, but I never give up on life. If I had listened to the naysayers, I would likely either be dead or needing to use a wheelchair by now. If & when the day comes that I DO need a wheelchair, that will also NOT be failing or giving up, but instead another vehicle for living my life & pursuing my dreams. I too am in the fight with you, Ragen, & I will not give up fighting for fat rights, for respect, dignity, access, for fat people & for disabled people, for a better world in which our fat children may find greater peace & happiness & much less bullying. We are all…of all ages, genders, races, lifestyles, abilities…valuable human beings & we all deserve to live fully & pursue our dreams.

  6. Did you know you can get a billboard A BIG one for about 1000 a month. I would contribute to that fund and I bet others would to. To save kids from the misery of dieting at age 5 (my life) I would send some dough!

    I read your blog everyday and take something away that makes me stronger and proud to be who I am and to take up my space. I’m in the fight and will do whatever I can to make sure we have the space to be our sane healthy and fat selves. I have supported other civil rights causes my whole life and now I’m in it for me!

    PS starting a big girls dance troupe finally! So far there are just two of us but we have a choreographer and studio space. If you are in Western MA come by and we will dance.

    Anyone else in the Northampton area? Join us and lets dance!

  7. Are you still accepting/looking for fat people doing awesomely athletic things?

    Also, I’ve been emailing the medical directors in charge of that horrible shaming billboard campaign, in addition to whipping my coworkers and friends into a petition signing frenzy. So far I’ve only gotten one unsatisfactory response about “raising awareness” that people are fat. Anyway, will continue asking them for science backing that shaming somehow helps people! Keep up what you do- you’re amazing!

    1. Hi Rachel,

      I am still looking for pictures, you can e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org for information!

      Thank you so much for e-mailing about the Georgia campaign, you rock!!!!


  8. If we aren’t allowed to dream impossible dreams and we can’t be healthy if we are fat then, since long term weight loss is impossible for most people, does that mean it’s impossible for us to get fit and healthy and we should stop trying?

  9. Well said! There are two points I try to remember about activism: 1) every little thing counts. Every time we refuse to believe fat is bad, every time we do something positive for ourselves or others, every time we love our bodies or show someone how to love theirs, we are slowly moving the mountain (think erosion). It pisses me off when I hear activists saying “don’t bother; it isn’t enough.” Sometimes, that is all a person is capable of. And that IS enough. 2) The only thing that limits us is what we believe. And that belief can be infectious. The only time we fail is when we give up!

    Awesome post, Ragen.

  10. Dear Ragen,

    Do you have any advice on how to deal with people when all you seem to be doing is slamming your head against a wall of ‘wont somebody think of the children’?

    I am reasonably intelligent, articulate and (because of you) motivated to try to get through to at least 2 people on this billboard campaign – I think I’ve reached one, so halfway there – but I keep getting the ‘but it’s aimed at the parents’ line as if children are ignorant of the world around them.

    Yours in frustration


    1. “It may be aimed at the parents, but children are getting caught in the crossfire. My objection to this campaign IS thinking of the children.”

      Hope that helps inspire your own creativity.

      1. I’ve been saying that sort of thing repeatedly, I keep getting told that it’s aimed at the parents, like kids don’t have eyes or something…

    2. Here’s what I would do if I had the money to mount a campaign. I would get as much coverage as I could in places parents visit online and in meatspace. I would gather pictures of famous fat people: competitive weight lifters and other fat athletes, reformers and leaders, etc. Keep the ad simple. Fill the frame with the picture and over it print:

      Stop Shaming, Stop Blaming, Start Helping

      It won’t change the minds of neurotics who see fat as disgusting or of bullies who see fat as a target, but it might help actual fat kids who read it by making their parents think.

    3. Hi Pyctsi,

      It is so frustrating to me when people don’t get this. I say some or all of this: If you are a fat kid and everyday you see billboards of kids who look like you with slogans saying that they are going to get sick, that there is no fun in their childhood etc. that is going to affect the way that you feel about yourself, whether the ad campaign is “targeted” to you or not. Kids don’t take good care of things that they hate and that includes their bodies so we can be for healthy children of all sizes without shaming, stigmatizing and humiliating fat ones.


      1. Furthermore, those billboards give other kids and other people in general permission to bully fat kids. I mean, if those people in charge of our health are bullying fat kids and their parents, it’s gotta be the right thing to do, right? Besides, kids will use any excuse to tease and bully their peers. The billboards, which they see and they read, give them ammunition and excuses.

  11. I almost swallowed my tongue at that one…’raising awareness that people are fat’. Holy Captain Obvious, Batman!! How the HELL do these idiots get the idea that there can be ANYONE this side of the Amazon jungle who is unaware that ‘people are fat’? Guess what? People are also young, old, tall, short, black, white, able-bodied, disabled, mortal…do we need huge shaming billboards to remind us of that, too? Being fat is no more significant & no worse than any of the other things we are, but the way so many in this culture yap about fatness IS. We don’t need to fight because there is anything wrong with being fat (contrary to some of the lies some of these ‘associations’ come up with to justify their hatred & greed, like trying to feed us the bullshit that fat people die 7 years younger than thin people & that fat is as bad as smoking, etc.), but because we are fighting a huge tsunami of hatred, prejudice, & misinformation which keeps telling the world that there IS something wrong with fat.

  12. Two new phrases I’ve started using a lot in the past few days because of you Ragen: ‘Civil rights are for everyone’ and ‘This is the size I come in’! =>

  13. I think that naysayers naysay because they don’t want to get out of their comfort zones; the space between what we have now and what we want is full of uncomfy hard work and struggle. Folks don’t want that. They either want the revolution in an instant with no yucky bad feelings or exertion or they want to talk about wanting it, while projecting its revelation into a time that is “beyond their lifetime” or “50 years from now.”

  14. When my grandmother was born, women didn’t have the right to vote. People said then that it was impossible that women would ever be allowed to vote.

    My mother held elected office, and I voted for her in my very first election at eighteen. A few years after that, I had the option to vote for a presidential ticket with a woman running for vice president for one of the major parties.

    Impossible? It fucking happened. The impossible only ceases to be impossible when we decide to make it possible.

    The thing about changing the impossible is that it’s difficult and takes a very, very long time. But difficult and time-consuming are not the same as impossible. Given enough time, drops of water will bore a hole in solid rock. We are the water. We may not live to see the hole form, but we can damn well keep right on dripping.

    And if that makes me a drip in someone else’s opinion, so be it. I’m doing my best to make the job easier for the next generation.

  15. When I was in ninth grade, I had a t-shirt that had a picture of a globe, the peace symbol, and the quote “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” It was my favorite t-shirt until my aunt pursed her lips at me, shook her head, and said, “It will never happen, it says so in the Bible.” I was crushed; did God really mean for us to give up, sit around and wait to die so we could be happy in heaven? It took me years to figure out that even if perfection isn’t possible, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make the world better. Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll end up in the stars.

  16. I respect you for knowing your own capabilities and working on the things that are only considered impossible because other people aren’t doing them.

  17. It is a process Ragen, There are millions of us coming in behind you. I will do my best to push harder to open the door of change a little wider and so on and so on. Information changes the mind and the mind changes the heart. Change will come for the better. One thing I think is good and bad at the same time is the standard for being thin keeps getting smaller. That puts more people on our side. People who will speak up and say “enough”. Keep up the good work. I hope to meet you some day. We are only a few hours apart. Thanks for all you do. You are great.

  18. I know why people try to tell you change is impossible — it’s because they can’t think of a decent argument.

    Some years ago I worked for a school that was trying out a controversial program to help at-risk children. Someone who didn’t like the program was trying to tell me why, and the best she could come up with is “we shouldn’t try to improve schools because there are lots of crummy schools.” I mean really, that was her argument, and she said it with a straight face. She just couldn’t think of anything else.

  19. My mom takes every opportunity to tell me that my successes are a fluke. I told her the other day that The Bloggess was linking to me and that famous people would see my work (like Wil Wheaton) and she replied “Famous people or HasBeens?”
    I have such a hard time going for the best, and when I express that to my family they tell me it is all in my head, that I was never trained to be small, and quiet, and apologetic. I was and it sucks, and I don’t want to be anymore… and yet, every failure feels like, yup, they were right. *sigh* Reading things like this help, they do, and I thank you.

  20. It works on a much smaller scale as well. You have already made a difference in my life. I am not fat. I have been both larger & thinner than I am now, and I have always been quite tall. I have always had people feel free to comment on my body due to my height.

    I had never found that key mental framework on how to relate both to my body and the bodies of others. I wanted a healthy, judgement-free (as much as humanly possible) way to relate to the bodies of others, especially my yoga students. Thanks to your thoughtful, intelligent, well-researched articles, I feel like I have a much better understanding of how fat people are treated in our society. I feel like I am making progress in releasing my own judgement towards others’ bodies, and my own. I’m hoping I can use this to make my class experience better for my larger students.

    It goes on & on. I doubt I’m the only one with little stories like these, so you ARE having an impact. It’s radiating out all the time, I have seen changes in the attitudes of my circle, probably because I’ve started speaking up more too, armed with the facts I get from you. Keep going.

    Thank you.

  21. When I was a kid my sister was a cheerleader and I wanted to be a cheerleader so bad! I loved cheering and doing acrobatics. I was fat, but atheltic. I tried out for cheerleading in 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. I was told “no one wants a fat cheerleader so I didn’t vote for you”. Lots of people didn’t want me to try out, because who ever heard of a fat cheerleader? The last year I finally got to be a cheerleader. (granted my school was very small and only 7 girls tried out for 5 places). I was 12 years old and 220lbs. I was the only girl who could do the splits, both kinds. I could do front walk overs and front flips, cartwheels and round offs.

    For the “I STAND” campaign I chose a picture of me at 12 years old and 220 lbs doing the splits. That was me living my dream!! I was so happy.

    When I got to high school I slowly had my dreams and my self esteem crushed. All through grade school kids would say stuff, but it didn’t start to affect me until I was about 14 years old. Eventually because of bullying and constant negative feedback I stopped going to the pool every summer, and stopped riding my bike and roller skating everywhere. I stopped interacting with society because there is only so much hate one person can stand.

    I stopped being active. I stopped being fit. I am angry that I let myself become a hermit and hid away from the world.

    When people ask “how could anyone get so fat?” I want to scream “because they never leave their F@#$E#@ing house so they can avoid A@#holes like yourself.”

    Keep up the good fight and keep up with the message that you can be fit and active and FAT.

    Your dream is my dream.

  22. Is the lily of the valley more beautiful than a cabbage rose? I say they are both beautiful. And I say you all are beautiful just like my dearest daughter. How dull a place the world would be if all the flowers looked the same and the birds all sang but one tune.

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