Now We’re Spying on Fat Kids?

I saw this article in the New York Post (trigger warning for “obesity hysteria” talk, diet ads, and comments like you might expect).  The gist is that they are putting electronic activity monitors on kids as “reinforcement in fighting the obesity epidemic.” People in the article question the program. They ask if this is a privacy violation? They ask how safe the data on the website really is? Does the data pass along with the child from school to school? When will insurance companies want to get access to it? Will a school want to medicate a child that the monitor identifies as hyperactive?

I have some other questions:

The article said that the school in Long Island bought 10 of the devices.  Are they putting them on kids at random or are they actually singling out fat kids?

On what data are they basing the conclusion that monitoring students’ activity level in this way will affect obesity now and in the future?

What data are we using to determine a baseline for the amount of movement that a student “should” have?  How statistically valid is that baseline?

How accurate are these monitors?  How often do they malfunction?  How can they be tampered with or manipulated?

Since the program is non-optional and no parental signature is required (many parents had no idea that it was going on), how will it affect students with, or trying to recover from, eating disorders that the school might not be aware of?

Will this trigger eating disorders in students?

How will it affect the self-esteem of disabled kids?

What happens when the fat kids get lots of activity?  Do we finally start to question the simple calories in/calories out model or do we call the kid a liar and ask him how he’s cheating the system?

In one school “upper-grade students’ marks in phys ed are based in part on heart-rate monitors and activity sensors.”  What happens when there is a malfunction that affects a student’s GPA?  What about students with disabilities or those  struggling with depression or other mental illnesses whose symptoms include fatigue and lack of energy?

But mostly what I want to ask is: What the hell are we doing? We have lost our damn minds. Have you MET a teenager lately?  With the surliness and the rebellion?  There are much better ways to help kids develop a lifelong love of exercise than to spy on them electronically and threaten them with bad grades for non-compliance. Why are we not trying to develop intrinsic motivators when we know that research (Gneezy et al for example) shows that external incentives may work for the short term but they can crowd out the intrinsic ones that actually would have worked long-term.

I’ve talked before about the dangers that happen when we lose our rationality in a wave of  “won’t somebody think of the children” hysteria.  I think that spying on kids definitely qualifies. We can do better to help our kids honor their bodies signals and needs than to spy on them and threaten their grades.

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

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

This is the Size I Come In

I received a comment on my blog yesterday that I want to address here (trigger warning – if you just want to read my stuff and not the triggery stuff, skip the block quote below and the italics.)

Nona wrote:

For the most part I agree with what you’re saying, but there are times when being fat directly effects other people and that’s on public transportation and planes. I live in NYC, and while I know I have the right to ride its not fair to someone else when I need to take up 1.5 seats on a crowded train and part of my thigh invades someone else’s seat. This isn’t about rights or statistics, it’s about being annoying to others on public transportation and size functionality. I also travel a lot and there is nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight. I don’t really watch my weight per se, but I do use my ability to comfortably fit into a plane seat and fasten my seatbelt as a personal barometer.

Let’s take this bit by bit:

I live in NYC, and while I know I have the right to ride its not fair to someone else when I need to take up 1.5 seats on a crowded train and part of my thigh invades someone else’s seat.

In the subway the seat divisions are arbitrary. Some people take up less than one seat but they don’t pay any less.  The subway is a perfect example of paying for transit and not for space.  You aren’t even guaranteed a seat.  The people who get on first take up the available sitting space, everyone else stands.  That’s the deal. If I paid my ticket and there’s enough room for me to sit, then I get to sit.  People come in different sizes, this is the size that I come in, I take up this much space. and that’s just fine. We would never say that the legs of a really tall person take up too much space in front of them when they sit or that they should try to get shorter or pay more.  Because that’s what size they are and that’s how much space they take up.  I think that the best thing might be to have flat benches rather than seat divisions, so that people can take up as much space as they take up and everyone else can stand.

This isn’t about rights or statistics, it’s about being annoying to others on public transportation and size functionality.

This is absolutely about rights.  What are fat people supposed to do, stay at home so we aren’t “annoying” people with our big fat bodies?  My right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t exist if it includes public transportation?  That’s not how it works.  People can get annoyed by whatever they want but that doesn’t make it my problem.  I’m annoyed by people who are prejudiced against people my size, but I don’t get to kick them off the subway.

And the phrase “size functionality” smacks of ableism as well as the myth that you can tell how healthy someone is or what they can do by their body size.  [note:  In conversation with Nona, she did not mean size functionality as I interpreted it. In her words she  “was referring to being able to do things like fit comfortably into an airplane seat.”  I’ll leave the original text because I do think that people talk about size functionality in the way that I interpreted it as well, with my deep apologies to Nona for the mistake.] I’m extremely functional for someone of ANY size – I’m a dancer who can do the splits, press 1,000 pounds with my legs, backbend, leap etc. but that doesn’t give me any more right to public transportation than anybody else, so don’t worry I’ll still let you on the subway even if they can’t do all of those things.  It’s the subway, not the Olympics, and it’s called public transportation, not “thin functional body transportation”.  The job of public transportation is to get the public (which includes people of all sizes, ages, and abilities) from place to place safely, not to give people an opportunity to stigmatize and shame some of the public.

I also travel a lot and there is nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight.

Oh, let’s gain some perspective, there are LOTS of things worse than being squeezed in a seat next to a fat person for a flight of any length.  Like sitting next to someone with Ebola, or getting a cancer diagnosis, or spraining your ankle.  Let’s not hyperbolize.  The thing about airlines is that they try to have it both ways.  They say that we are paying for a seat and therefore if we take up more than one seat then we need to pay for more than one seat.  But it’s ok for men with broad shoulders to take up more than one seat. And it’s ok for people with long legs to take up more than one seat. We would never make them pay for an extra seat. But if you’re fat then you need to pay up?  How is that fair?

Also, when they overbook and people can’t sit in the seat that they were promised, they turn around and say that we aren’t buying a seat, we’re buying the trip – not the seat. And if that’s the case then it shouldn’t matter how much room anyone takes up since we’re paying for transportation from one place to another.  The airlines have made seats smaller and changed the pitch (the angle of the seats) which also means that there is less space.  Different planes have different sized seat and lengths of seatbelts so it’s impossible to predict what will happen.

I proposed some alternative solutions but in the end your beef is with the airline, not with people who look like me. People come in different sizes, this is the size I come in, it should be treated exactly like height.  I happen to fit in an airplane seat but when I’m stuck next to the tall guy whose legs and shoulders are in my space, he is always glaring at me as if it’s my fault while I’m not complaining because I understand it’s not his.

You should also know that they make it very difficult for us to buy two seats even if we want to. You can’t always buy two seats in the same name and so you have to call and book on the phone which often incurs a surcharge in addition to buying the second seat, then people have arrived at the airport to find that their seats are separated, or that the airline says that they can’t have two seats because they need to put passengers in, or they have to deal with the glare of passengers and the whispers that someone got left behind because the fatty needed two seats, it’s even worse if the person doesn’t take up very much of the second seat.  There are also the people who fly the first leg of their trip with no problem and then, stranded in a strange city, they are told that they have to buy another seat.  Believe me, it hurts us at least as much as it hurts you.  Here’s a video that really captures a lot of issues.

I don’t really watch my weight per se, but I do use my ability to comfortably fit into a plane seat and fasten my seatbelt as a personal barometer.

So you feel comfortable not watching your weight, but you feel that I need to try to change my shape and size so that I don’t “annoy people”? Let me recommend this post on thin privilege.  The problem for me is that every attempt at weight loss has a less than 5% chance of resulting in long term weightloss and a whopping 95% chance of leaving me the same size or bigger than I am now, and less healthy.  I’m not risking my good health because someone doesn’t want to sit next to me on a plane, nor should I have to.

This transportation argument that says it’s ok to be tall, have broad shoulders, long legs etc but that if you are fat then you are the devil incarnate get off my subway car. It’s bullshit and it has to stop.

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

Obesity and Smoking

I’ve had this post written for a while, but I’ve been really nervous to post it because smoking is a sensitive subject and this is one of those posts that may pull us off topic or upset readers, but hear me out.  I often see people saying that obesity and smoking are the same thing – that being obese is the same thing as being a smoker.  There is a whole debate to be had about smoker’s rights, but that’s not the point of this blog (and if we could avoid a flame war about it in the comments that would be great). The point that I am trying to make is that the two are not comparable.  Let’s look at the arguments:

Smoking and Obesity are Both Addictions

This argument assumes that all obese people must be food addicts, which is simply not true. Obesity is just a ratio of weight and height. Smoking is an addictive behavior.  Statistically there will be a small percentage of obese people who have food addiction issues but that does not make all obese people addicts.  There are also some smokers (I know one personally) who can smoke or not and have no withdrawal issues but that doesn’t change the fact that most smokers are addicted.

They can both be changed through personal responsibility

It is not certainly not easy to quit smoking.  The failure rates for smoking and long term weight loss are actually similar – according to a CDC study 6.2% of smokers succeed at quitting.  About 5% of dieters are able to maintain weight loss long term (however many of those people did not start out as obese, or did not lose enough weight to change their BMI category).  The big difference here is that a smoker is healthier for every day they don’t smoke – even if they start smoking again.  Every time someone loses wight and gains it back they become less healthy because of the effects of weight cycling.

Smoking and Obesity Both Cause Health Problems

Again, the main problem with this argument lies in the confusion between a body size and a behavior.  Every smoker breathes in cigarette smoke. The carcinogens in that smoke have been shown to have a causal relationship with cancer.  That is not to say that all smokers will get cancer, but all smokers, well, smoke.  Which they are allowed to do, but it’s not the same as being obese.

The only thing that all obese people have in common is our height/weight ratio. There are vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore obese people.  There are obese people who exercise and those who don’t.  There are healthy and unhealthy obese people (and let’s be clear that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control).  Also obesity is correlated with many health issues, but causation has not been proven.

If you believe that obese people shouldn’t be policed by society then you have to believe that smokers shouldn’t be restricted or policed

This isn’t comparable.  By being near me, people are not forced to take part in my obesity – my obesity has no direct effect on them. Someone could stand beside me and they would not catch fat.  If someone is near a smoker, they are forced to take part in their smoking, at least until they can get away.  In the interest of full disclosure, this one hits home for me because I’m sensitive to cigarette  smoke – it causes me to have breathing difficulties.  Both of my parents smoked and I can remember feeling tortured in a car filled with smoke with my shirt over my mouth and so I have strong emotions around this.  But let me set aside those emotions and make this argument:

I do not care if people smoke.  I do not care what people do to their bodies.  You can drink your body weight in whiskey every day, you can smoke ten cartons a day, you can survive on a steady diet of McDonald’s french fries and milk (with a little oatmeal or you’ll die).  You are the boss of your underpants – I do not care what you do with your body.

When it comes to personal habits (as opposed to things that help the common good like mass transportation), my right to punch ends at the tip of someone else’s nose. Smoking doesn’t fit this mold.  I had to go to traffic court which required me to walk past a row of smokers.  I wasn’t able to hold my breath for long enough and so I was forced to participate in their habit which caused me to have difficulty breathing and increased my risk for cancer according to the National Cancer Institute.  You can argue about whether or not it is my right to not be exposed to smoke or someone else’s right to smoke, but the indisputable fact is that a row of fat people standing outside the court would have no such negative consequences on passersby and that makes them incomparable to smokers in this way.

You don’t like to breathe smoke and I don’t like to look at fat people, it’s the same thing

This is just asinine. One is an issue of aesthetics, the other is a health issue.  You can look the other way any time you want, but you can’t just breathe different air.

As I said, there are arguments on each side of the smoker’s rights debate, but that’s not the point of this blog.  The point I’m trying to make is that people should stop comparing obese people to smokers because it’s apples and oranges.  Obesity is no more like smoking than tallness is like smoking. If you want to make arguments about obesity or smoking you can do that, but comparing the two makes no sense.

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Don’t Cry for Me Well-Meaning Concern Troll

Yesterday I revealed the super secret blog project that I’ve been working on  with some amazing people –  a video response to The Biggest Loser’s Campaign to love yourself only after/because you lose weight.  One of the responses that I saw a lot as it got posted around the web was “I’m glad that these people are happy but I’m concerned about their health”.

These people may be well meaning, but here’s the deal with this – my health is none of their business and is not discernible by looking at the size of my body. (Or for some of the serious whackadoodles who tell me all about my health without meeting me – from looking at pictures of me and reading my blog.)

This can be difficult to deal with because, since people seem well intentioned, we can feel obligated to appreciate what they are doing or accept it as ok.  Like everything, it’s your choice how to deal with it, but for me this is not ok.  People are allowed to be concerned about whatever they want, but it is not ok to unburden that concern onto me. Whatever my level of health, it’s highly unlikely that it will be improved by having people tell me over and over that they assume it’s poor. It can also be a quiet way to try to say that I am not a competent witness to my own experience, and let’s not forget that however well-intentioned it might be, this kind of “concern” is based on all kinds of myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation and conflates weight and health  in a way that is not appropriate.

There are lots of reasons that people may choose to express their concern.  There are some who are truly  well-meaning, for others it’s about feeling superior, feeding their ego, or just killing fatties with kindness.  It does not matter why someone does it, it does not fit within what I consider acceptable behavior.  The way that I handle this with people I care about is by setting boundaries.  Of course this is just how I handle it, there are many, many ways and they are all valid.  Take what you like, ignore the rest:

“I’m just concerned about your health”

Basic responses:

  • Oh, no need, my health is fine.
  • My health is great, thank you, and I’m not soliciting outside opinions.
  • My health is none of your business.

Data based responses, especially good for a teachable moment:

  • According to research out of Columbia, people who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illness than those who aren’t – regardless of weight.  So every time you try to make me concerned about my weight you may be putting my health in jeopardy.
  • Can you tell me how you justify your beliefs based on the findings of Matheson et al., Wei et. al, the Cooper Institute Longitudinal studies, and Mann and Tomiyama 2007 and 2013?
  • Are you aware that there isn’t a single study in which more than a tiny fraction of people succeed at longterm weight loss and that there isn’t a st single study where dieting is shown to lead to better long term health?
  • The most likely outcome of weight loss attempts is weight regain, so even if you believe that fat is bad, weight loss attempts are the worst thing that you could recommend.

The things I think but do not say when I’m having a bad day:

  • My path to health is something that I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching – are you an expert on this or can we just assume I know more than you about this than you do?
  • Really? Coincidentally,  I’m concerned that all of your worrying will affect your health.  Please feel free focus your concern somewhere that is else.

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Love Yourself As You Are – the Super Secret Blog Project

Reader Hedda sent me this video (Warning:  triggering in every possible way).  It seems that the theme for The Biggest Loser Australia is “Love Yourself”. Of course, they mean love yourself after/because you lose weight.  I found the video and its message absolutely sickening – I had to do something.  I decided to recreate the Biggest Loser video but instead of “love yourself after you lose weight” the theme would be “love yourself as you are”.  I put the word out on Facebook that I had a super secret blog project and the responses started pouring in.

Below is the result.  My undying gratitude to Patricia Washburn (who also set up my hatemail page) who took all the stuff I sent her and created an amazing video,  Darci Monet who let me not only use her beautiful song, but cut it up and rework it to accompany the video, and to everyone who participated.

No matter what you want to do with your body, there is just no reason that you can’t love and appreciate it, as it is, in every moment.  Your body will change over time and if you base your ability to love your body, love someone else, or be loved on achieving and maintaining a specific weight, then what happens when time changes the superficial? You are the only person who is in charge of how you feel about yourself, and you can choose to love yourself as you are.

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

Ball of Behavior Confusion

It’s just vaguely possible that you might have noticed that our current culture has a teensy weensy tendency to use weight as a proxy for health.  That, in and of itself, is an incredibly bad idea. But I think what’s worse is that it leads to confusing weight loss behaviors with healthy behaviors.  So people get the idea that any behavior that makes you thinner must constitute a healthy behavior, and that behaviors that don’t lead to thinness must be unhealthy.

This causes a number of problems.  The first one that comes to mind is the idea that a fat body means that anyone can be the judge, jury, and executioner of our health because they know we aren’t eating healthy because, the false assumption tells them, if we were eating healthy then we would be thin.  It’s just not true. There are people who eat the same diet but have vastly different body sizes.  There are people who have the same body size but eat vastly different diets.

Another problem is that people are lured to participate in behaviors that  that, if they were viewed outside of our current obesity hysteria, would perhaps not seem like such a great idea… Consuming reconstituted soy protein shakes 5 times a day with a small meal at night? Eating 500 calories a day and getting urine-derived injections? Partially amputating a perfectly good stomach?

This also gets me into discussions that I can’t even deal with – where I explain that I focus on whole, nutritious foods, lots of veggies etc. and somebody tells me that I should give that up and drink a thin chocolate beverage that can have a laxative effect, or eat a cup of diet breakfast cereal with skim milk for 14 out of 21 meals a week.

Of course everyone is free to choose whatever behaviors they want, for whatever reason they want to choose them. I’m simply suggesting that it might be important to realize that behaviors that are meant to lead to thinness (however fleeting or unsuccessful that attempt might be) are not necessarily – and are sometimes precisely the opposite of –  behaviors that can actually support, create, and/or improve health.

Project Update:  Georgia Billboard Project

This is a go.  We are going to put up a billboard in Georgia next to one of those horrible fat kid shaming billboards. I’m in the research phase now, once we know how much money we need to raise and the specs we’ll start the fundraising and design phases.  Right now I need to know the location of those billboards in Georgia – if you happen to know where one is (specifically) please let me know.  More details to follow…

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

Fat Vacation Deathmatch: Universal Studios vs Disney World

I have now ridden every adult ride at Disney World and I fit comfortably in them all.  Feeling confident from that experience we went to Universal Studios because my best friend really wanted to do the Harry Potter Experience.  We got there and, after going through Olivander’s Wand Shop, we got in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

We waited for about an hour and a half and as we were waiting the gentleman in front of us (who was at least 6’5) was pulled out of line by an employee so that they could see if he would fit in the seat.  I looked directly at her, assuming that if there was any question about my size she would pull me too.  She just smiled and walked away.  When it was time to board I got in the ride and fit comfortably width-wise.  Then the park employee pushed down the restraint and it became obvious that it would not accommodate me. He said “We are unable to accommodate you safely” and asked me to step off the ride.

As soon as I stepped off the ride every employee knew what was going on and I was directed to an area I’ll call the FGHA (Fat Girl Holding Area) where I joined 7 other women waiting for their friends and family to get off the ride.  Oddly, everyone but me was offered passes to get to the front of the line in other rides. I have no idea why they weren’t offered to me.

My best friend, his husband, and I decided that we weren’t interested in spending our time or money at a park that wasn’t interested in my experience and we headed to guest relations.

First let me say that I certainly could have done a better job researching this.  I absolutely would have researched this further but I fit into all the rides at Disney World with so much room to spare that it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem.  In researching it now I read articles that said that there were some seats made to accommodate larger passengers but this wasn’t offered as an option to me.  When we got to guest relations Samantha let us know that there were test seats available.  Unfortunately they were being blocked by a tour group and we didn’t realize that they were test seats at all (and the employees are told not to point them out to fat people).

The policy, as explained to us, is that employees can pull tall people out of line to test them in the seats, but they cannot even suggest to fat passengers that they do the same. So if you are fat and miss the test seats, nobody will say anything to you until you are sitting on the ride and an employee is bruising your stomach with a restraint. Again – I could have researched it further and the tests seats would have saved 90 minutes of waiting but would not have changed the overall outcome.

Samantha in guest services, a larger woman herself, was extremely empathetic and kind.  She offered to tell me which rides she thought would accommodate me, but I politely explained that I wasn’t interested in giving the park any money or time since they had chosen not to give me the full experience.  She went to bat with her manager and we received full refunds for our tickets and meal passes. So, what have I learned?

I think that this illustrates well the issues with attaching shame to horizontal body size that is not ascribed to vertical body size.  The cast is allowed to pull people who are too tall out of line, but not allowed to even suggest test seats to passengers who may be too wide. The women in the FGHA with me were all embarrassed and ashamed but the tall dude was just annoyed when he was pulled out of line after waiting.  If we correctly acknowledged that bodies come in different shapes and sizes then 1.  all the people who Universal doesn’t bother to accommodate on their rides would be treated the same and fat people wouldn’t have to wait until they are on the ride to get kicked off and  2.  People would rightly place the blame on the park for choosing not to accommodate them, and not their own bodies.  Some of the women in the FGHA were talking about diets but the tall guy never once talked about trying to be shorter, even though our heritability and likelihood of changing our body size is roughly the same.

If you’re not going to accommodate guests of size, how about you let us know before we spend our money. The test seats should be in the front – before I pay or enter.  The website should give me the height, width, depth and any other possible measurements that each ride fits.  At least there could have been an employee pointing out that the test seats were hidden behind a large tour group,  but even if I had known about the test seats I still would have had to pay for the cab to Universal Studios, pay for a ticket, and walk all the way through the park to find out that they didn’t care if I got to ride the ride.

I’m confused about why Universal didn’t just make the seats more accommodating.  I can understand if a ride uses a lap restraint that goes over a group of people, that having it accommodate those with large bodies can be a problem (since then the lap bar is then too high for the rest of the passengers).  But this was a single person restraint so it seems like it could have been made to fit a wider variety of people.  It can’t be an issue of weight and physics since a person of my weight with a different frame could have fit on the ride.  If Disney World can make all of their coasters work for someone my size, why can’t Universal?  Or why won’t they?

One thing that I was very happy about was that I did not feel embarrassed, ashamed, or bad about my body or go into dieting thoughts as I would have in the past.  I was crystal clear that the park had decided that it wasn’t interested in giving the full experience to guests of my size –  the park is wrong for me, I am not wrong for the park. All of this work on body image and HAES is really paying off!

It was obvious when we went to Guest Relations that this had happened before.  I don’t know how often (although I do know that there were eight of us in five minutes in the FGHA) but my Best Friend was so excited about going that he had planned to spend what he called “an embarrassing amount of money”.  He fully intended to buy every food and drink and a ton of clothing and souvenirs – basically any clothing that was available  and other toys and trinkets as well.  Instead we stood at guest relations while they refunded over $300 of our money and we didn’t buy so much as a butter beer.

My research shows that the park has been aware of this issue since before the ride opened and had options to be more accommodating, so I wonder if they did a cost benefit analysis and found or bet that most fat people would be too embarrassed or ashamed to make a fuss, and would spend their time and money in the souvenir shops and food court anyway.   I’m guessing that there are fat people who can’t fit into the rides and happily make the decision to stay and spend money at the park and that’s certainly their valid choice.  As for me and my house, we will spend our money at places that have proven that they deserve it.  I believe in hitting a fat-hating company hard in the checkbook and then kicking them in the bank account when they are down.  I had a fantastic experience at Disney World (my one regret about Disney was that I couldn’t find any merchandise with the dancing hippos from Fantasia. That jackass editor really made me want to collect stuff with them on it but it looks like they are out of vogue.), other than that everything was fantastic, they obviously wanted me to have the full experience, and that’s who will be getting my money now and in the future.

Blog Poll: I talked yesterday about the Georgia Body-Shaming billboard campaign, and  the brilliant Well Rounded Mama gave me an idea.  What if we did some fundraising and put up a billboard or two with our own slogans (for example instead of “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” something like “State-sponsored bullying and stigma takes the fun out of being a kid”.  We could even have a design contest and include a url to a resource list. I would be willing to coordinate the project, I just want to get a sense of the level of interest (if any) in supporting something like this before I do a ton of research.  What do you think?

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

Georgia, Disney, and the Wave on My Mind

Perhaps you’ve heard of the ads about Georgia’s Strong4Life “anti-childhood obesity campaign.”  If not, suffice it to say that it is pictures of fat kids with sayings like “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid”.

First of all, I’m 5’4, 284 pounds, and 35 years old and I dare you to tell my Mom that I’m not her little girl.  So surely other people can get past the idea of little in little girl not necessarily being dependent on body size.  And I was a fat kid and had lots of fun, and I know other fat kids who have lots of fun.

Maybe the ads should say “It’s hard to be a little girl when the state of Georgia is shaming and bullying you.” and “Being the victim of state-sponsored bullying and body shaming takes the fun out of being a kid.”

I saw the play “Beauty and the Beast” at Disney’s Hollywood studios yesterday (stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this).  In the play, Gaston convinces the townspeople to kill the beast – who had been living there for years without anyone trying to kill him – but giving a speech about how he was going to come after their kids.  I’ve seen this used in other political fights as well.  Can’t whip people up into a big enough frenzy about two consenting adult men who love each other?  Just say that they are coming after your children.  I worked on the No on 9 campaign in Oregon in 2000.  The ballot measure Prohibited “public schools from providing instruction on behaviors relating to homosexuality and bisexuality in a manner that encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors”.  They trotted out teachers who said that gay teachers were infiltrating schools and teaching kids to be gay and people lost their minds.  The phrase “Won’t somebody please think of the children” is iconic.  When kids get involved we have to be careful to hold onto rationality.

I think that if we really thought it through, we would realize that shaming and stigmatizing fat kids is not the way to go.  You cannot have a war on childhood obesity without having a war on obese kids.  We can be for healthy kids without being against fat ones. Being for healthy kids means that we avoid the double whammy of giving fat kids the erroneous idea that healthy habits don’t “work” unless they make you thin, while giving thin kids the dangerous idea that they don’t need to worry about being healthy because they are thin. With hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 up 119% we can do better for our kids’ health than bullying them, shaming them, and making them terrified of their bodies and of the state-sponsored bullying and shaming that will be heaped upon them if it decides their body is the wrong size.

I saw something else at Disney’s Hollywood Studio that gave me hope.  We were at the fireworks show.  Like many of the over 1500 people crowded into the standing room only space, we were hungry, exhausted, freezing cold, and cranky.  Five kids two rows below us decided that they wanted to start the wave.  They tried repeatedly but only ever managed a five person wave.  They stopped for a while and then one of them said “let’s try again”.  They did a couple more 5 person waves and were about to give up when someone a row behind us yelled “Do  it again!”. This time it was a 10 person wave.  The person who yelled had caught the attention of people two rows below the original wave group.  Now they joined in.  Within a couple of minutes the ENTIRE STADIUM did the wave.  But them something amazing happened – it came back around.  The kids who started it went NUTS, they were so happy they could barely form words except to say “Let’s do it again!” and again it went all the way around the studio and them came all the way back.  In the space of less than 5 minutes, 5 people influenced 1500.  To me it was the perfect example of grassroots activism.  A small group of people can make a difference.

So if you agree that the Georgia campaign against fat kids is wrong, there are some things that you can do:

Sign the petition

Contact the people involved:

Kevin McClelland (PR Director of the campaign)

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Stephanie Walsh (medical director, handling interviews)

Children’s Foundation
1687 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Fax: 404-785-7355

Tell other people what’s happening and let them know what they can do to get involved. The key word in activism is “active”  We can make a difference.

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

Awesome Fatties on Parade

Belly Bumping my hero Marilyn Wann was a definite highlight of my year!!

Happy New Year!  I hope that this is the start of the exact year you are hoping to have!  I want to let you know about a series of really cool telesummits that the brilliant Golda Poretsky is coordinating that I am part of.  But before I do I want to talk about something really cool about the fat activist community.  I’ve done a lot of activism with a lot of communities and one of the things that has really struck me about the this community is how unbelievably friendly, open, and supportive everyone is.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet Marilyn Wann, Dr. Linda Bacon, and Dr. Deb Burgard who are straight up heroes of mine and they were all welcoming and supportive.  In other communities I’ve worked in, people like Linda, Marilyn and Deb have been more worried about protecting their “territory” than the work –  and I’ve seen those communities suffer for it.  The willingness of people in the SA and HAES communities to set their egos aside and work together for change is really powerful.

Here’s a perfect (and relevant!) example:  I am scheduled to be on the health panel for Golda’s telesummit with Dr. Linda Bacon.  When I first found out I freaked out a little bit – the woman has three post graduate degrees and wrote one of the books that first taught me about the Health at Every Size (r) concept. So I was talking to two of my amazing fat activist friends (Jeanette DePatie  of The Fat Chick and Jayne Williams of Slow Fat Triathlete) and I said that my main concern was that, since these discussions take place on the phone, people would think that I wasn’t there since my plan was to smile and nod while Dr. Bacon talked. The two of them were super supportive and immediately gave me an awesome little pep talk and now I’m excited instead of freaked out.

So as we all move into the next year, I wanted to stop for a second and say thank you to the people I had a chance to meet and/or work with this year:  Dr. Linda Bacon, Marilyn WannDr. Deb Burgard, Jeanette DePatie, Jayne Williams, Golda Poretsky, the women of Big Moves San Francisco,   Darryl Roberts, all the people I met at the film premieres and fatty n’ friends meet-ups, all my blog readers and commenters, and anyone I’m forgetting! Thank you!!!

And while I’m at it a huge thank you to all the fat-o-shere bloggers, everyone who is out there standing up to fat stigma, challenging stereotypes and refusing to buy into the notion that our worthiness is weight-dependent, everyone who passes size acceptance and HAES stuff along on Facebook and Twitter, participates in social activism projects, and inspires me.  We are making a difference and we’re doing it together.  So awesome!

Now, without further adieu, here is the schedule for the 2012 Body Love Revolutionaries Telesummits (all times are Eastern Standard)

Register for access details at

Tuesday 31 January, 8pm EST
Peggy Howell, Amanda Levitt and Marilyn Wann.

Thursday 2 February, 7pm EST
Linda Bacon and Ragen Chastain.

Tuesday 7 February, 8pm EST
Marie Denee, Rachel Kacenjar and Yuliya Raquel.

Thursday 9 February, 8pm EST
Hanne Blank and Virgie Tovar.

Thursday 16 February, 8pm EST
Marianne Kirby, Margitte Leah Kristjansson, and Brian Stuart.

Tuesday 21 February, 8pm EST
Jeanette DePatie and Anna Guest-Jelley.

Thursday 23 February, 3pm EST
Bevin Branlandingham, Jessica Jarchow and me.

Tuesday 28 February, 8pm EST
Paul Campos and Amy Erdman Farrell.

Register for access details at

If you want to let people know about this stuff you can add yourself to the Facebook Event and use it to invite your friends, you can Tweet about it using the hashtag #blrev

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