Not Shaming Fat People is Not Enough

One of the things that the Georgia Project did was bring together some uneasy allies.  People like Jillian Michaels and Alton Brown who regularly deliver an anti-obesity, fat=bad thin=good message, but who felt that the Georgia Fat Kid Shaming billboards went too far.

While I am happy that they were at least able to realize that shaming kids is a truly horrible idea, I want to be careful that we don’t take our eye off the ball here.

Not shaming fat kids is not nearly good enough.  Not shaming fat people of any age is not nearly good enough.  The gold standard for me is that body size is not a barometer for anything- every body deserves respect.

Jillian Michael’s comment about the campaign is a really good example. She said “let me be really clear – shaming children is NEVER the solution for any problem. Leading by example is always your best bet with obesity.”  She used the hash tag #hateobesitynotobesepeople

I just want to make it clear that while I’m glad that she was able to step up the 2 inch curb of realizing that shaming kids is bad, the idea that obese people are lost and need to be led by someone’s example is offensive.  And you can’t hate obesity but not obese people – it doesn’t work that way.  If you hate obesity, then you hate me.  I’m not a thin woman covered in fat, I’m a fat woman.   You can’t love the thin person who you wish I was without hating the fat woman I am now.

Also, let’s remember that Ms. Michaels is part of a billion dollar business (The Biggest Loser) that emotionally and physically abuses fat people for entertainment and profit.  (Off topic a bit – Does anybody else wonder what would happen if they took the people on the biggest loser and had them do moderate activity that they enjoy 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and encouraged them to add healthier foods to their diet?  No screaming trainers, no lying to people by conflating weight and health, no working through massive injuries, no duplicating the activities that get people diagnosed with eating disorders, no manipulating the scales with water weight, no “weeks” that last 14 days.  I’ll bet that the health benefits would be the same, even if they didn’t experience weight loss.  Does anybody want to do a reality show of happy fat people moving 30 minutes 5 days a week?  Call me.) Perhaps it’s a commentary on what Jillian inspires vs. what she says that many of her fans responded to her comment in defense of the billboards “It’s not shaming to tell kids that their lives won’t be good if they are overweight” was a common theme.

As we move forward on the path to abolish weight stigma and end  the oppression of people of size, I think that we should be careful to maintain a goal of being fully respected, rather than just not being shamed, stigmatized, and humiliated. Let’s be clear that we deserve nothing less than full respect.

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

When Good Intentions Go Bad

As I was reading articles about the Disney Fat Shame Ride and why it should be taken down, I noticed something that I’ve seen a lot before that bugs me.  Articles would quote scholars – experts in the field of childhood development – and somebody, let’s call them “bully99” (since these folks so rarely put their actual names on their work) will say “This is a huge problem and we need to stop worrying about kids feeling good about themselves and start caring about them dying before their parents”.

Now, I’m not saying that we should never questions experts in articles about health – I do it all the time- but if you are going to say that the National Institutes for Health are wrong, then maybe you should come up with some research of your own.

An article in the Calgary Herald mentioned that the Disney ride was opposed by the Binge Eating Disorder Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Canadian Obesity Network and then went on to quote a Medical Doctor, Professor and Two Dietitians, an expert and author on food, and the doctor who chairs the obesity research and management at the University of Alberta who called the exhibit “appalling on so many levels.”

One response in the comments said “Disney did a superb job creating awareness to this disease. Is a shame not well intended people with attention seeking victim syndrome personalities are trying to slander Disney’s efforts.”

I’m sorry but is this person a moron?  Did they not read the article?  Do they really think that the University of Alberta chair of obesity research and management has attention seeking victim syndrome?

I’m a little bit tired of hearing that these type of people are well-intentioned because I think that having good intentions means that you do a little research and that if this many experts disagree with you, you consider that you might be wrong and if you continue to espouse your opinion you back it up with some research. “Good intentions” do not excuse actively being an uninformed bully.  If they weren’t so (choose all that apply):

  • Lacking in intellectual humility
  • Eager for the thrill of being mean to someone
  • Excited about putting someone down so that they feel better
  • In love with the sound of their own unsupported-by-research voice (or typed words)
  • Likely to profit from fat shame and hate
  • Ignorant of the benefits of their thin privilege

then they might take the time to see if there is a shred of evidence that supports their claims. If the commenters actually engaged in critical thinking they would realize that most of the experts in the Calgary Herald article are actively involved in anti-obesity efforts, so they are not Health at Every Size/ Size Acceptance people at all, and most of them are thin.

In fact, in other forums I would be pointing out that these experts have no evidence that any of their interventions are likely to lead to long-term body size changes.  The truth is that we’re really not sure of anything, so we have to make our best choice based on the evidence, also weighing what will happen if we are wrong.

The evidence suggests that shaming kids about their weight leads to disordered eating (both under and over eating), low self-esteem, and bullying. The evidence suggests that promoting weight loss behaviors in kids predicts eating disorders and weight gain but not weight loss.

So if we follow the evidence we would choose to focus on health, and promote programs that encourage kids of all sizes to develop health habits. If we are wrong about that intervention then kids health is the same as it would have been without the intervention.

Or, we could ignore the evidence, focus on kid’s weight and promote shame-based weight-loss interventions (it should be noted that there is no evidence to support that this would work, but many people are currently promoting it anyway.)  If we’re wrong, we end up with a generation of kids who are weight obsessed, have much higher incidence of eating disorders and are heavier and less healthy than they would have been had there been no intervention at all (which would seem antithetical if you buy into the idea that thinner bodies are more healthy bodies.  I don’t, but the people who promote this particular intervention typically do.)

So, we’ve been employing this shame-based weight-focused paradigm for a while now and hospitalizations for eating disorders are up 119% for kids under 12.  Eating disorders among boys are up. Girls are starting to be concerned about their body weight in kindergarten and the average age of dieting is 8.  I hate to go all doctor Phil, but hey – how’s that working out for ya?

Sigrún Daníelsdóttir, Cand.Psych., Deb Burgard, Ph.D., & Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, M.D. from The Academy for Eating Disorders wrote fantastic evidence-based guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs.  Toronto Public Health already has a health-based program in place – it includes self-esteem as a component of heath, and suggests things like eating a variety of foods without guilt and making movement fun.

Hey look, over there, it’s a BIG FLAMING SACK OF DUH!

So there’s this contingent of people who think that shaming fat people, including kids, is a good idea, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support that and a mountain of evidence that suggests that it will do more harm than good. I suggest that it doesn’t matter if they have the best of intentions or if they are part of an evil plot to destroy the world because:

They are hurting us.

They are hurting our kids.

I’m all for providing people with information in a respectful way, and I’m all for letting people make their own choices for themselves.  But when they’ve clearly been provided  information (like, for example, having just read an article that contains a [group noun] of experts saying that shaming is harmful to health), and they are still arguing for shaming other people, who are not them, based on their own personal “tough talking” style and a complete lack of evidence, then I think it’s time to say that their good intentions have gone bad, stand up for ourselves, and start pointing out the deeply flawed logic.

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





Disney and Georgia Billboard Updates!

If you haven’t heard by now, Disney has closed the Habit Heroes ride and it is rumored that they are going to revamp it. If you have a moment and are so moved, you can always send them an e-mail thanking them for doing the right thing!  The response to this atrocity was focused, fast, and widespread – a perfect example of Fatties and Friends Kicking Global Butt!

The voting is over and our billboard is chosen.  Thanks to Sabrina for a wonderful design and thanks to Shawn, Brandon, Geri, Jeanette, and Marilyn for their great work as well.

There are more really exciting things developing that may expand the footprint of our campaign and I’ll tell you as soon as I know for sure!

I’ll be in LA next week.  I’m speaking at CalTech on Wednesday. The event is invitation only so if you want an invitation please e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

Bad Magicians

Lately I’ve seen a lot of conpanies who seem to think that they are magicians instead of massive for-profit entities who are making money off the backs of the fat people who they are stomping on.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta tried to pull a rabbit out of their hat when they claimed that the fact that the National Eating Disorder Association, Kaiser Permanente, the National Institute of Health and many others had condemned their program as harmful to kids was actually a good thing.  It turns out, they desperately explained, that they were just trying to start a conversation and they want us all to say what a good job they did since everyone’s talking about it.

Of course in order to believe this you would first have to buy the ludicrous idea that people aren’t talking about obesity, then you would have to think it was ok to harm millions of kids in order to start a conversation that is meant to keep kids from harm.

Next Vivus waved their magic wand and got an FDA panel to reverse the decision of the full FDA in 2010 and recommend approval of a very dangerous drug, based on the testimony of experts who were paid by…wait for it…Vivus.  Dr. Michael S. Lauer, a cardiologist at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, was one of only 2 members on the panel to vote against approval.  He mentioned that the drug might increase risk of heart attack (because ostensibly people would be taking the medicine expecting  to lower that risk) I imagine that Dr. Lauer risked professional misconduct charges for going on the record and saying something that makes sense:  “The consequence of making a mistake here is huge.  We’ve unfortunately had many examples of having made mistakes before.”  Meanwhile, most of the stories have played out in the business world talking about the billions that Vivus will make if the drug is approved. Of course it will be more than enough to pay the lawsuits for the families of the people who die.

The trifecta of men behind the curtain was complete when Disney used their magic to stereotype fat people and claiming that it would help make kids healthy.  Of course, there’s not a shred of evidence to support that, and there is a ton of evidence that shaming kids and making them scared of being fat predicts disordered eating and decreased health. But hey, we’ve abandoned evidence-based medicine in our healthcare system so why would we expect Disney to hold themselves to a higher standard.

These tricks are all easy to see through.  But all of these would-be magicians have something in common – they want to make fat people disappear.  These people are actively engaged in the psychosis that they should get to decide what size people should be.  Then they make a ton of money on a campaign to rid the Earth of people who look like me. And the kicker is that all that money comes from people who look like me.  I refuse.  I say no.  My body is fine exactly as it is and the only magician who is allowed to try to make me disappear will be in Vegas,  and will have a plan to bring me back exactly as I was – I’ll buy a ticket for that.

In the meantime I was watching re-runs of The Sing-Off and saw this great number that combines one of the great protest songs of all time (or at least since I was in Junior High) with one of my favorite types of music – a capella.  Enjoy!

My work is supported by my 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 always completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Deeply Disappointed in Disney

Everyday people send me articles about the atrocities committed against people of size all over the world.  I get frustrated, I get angry, occasionally I yell at my computer, but I usually don’t cry.

That changed today.  As I sat in the tiny airport at Gainesville and read an article about Disney’s latest attraction “Habit Heroes” I couldn’t stop the tears.

This is a new game at Epcot wherein kids meet their “Heroes” Will Power and Callie Stenics and fight with them against “Enemies” The Glutton, Lead Bottom and Snacker:

And as I type I’m crying again. Disney is my absolute favorite vacation place. It’s where my Best Friend and I go for a week at a time to bond, go on rides, and watch the Lion King Show nine times in a row.   So I’m heartbroken that we may have gone for the last time.  I won’t go back now (except possibly in protest) unless and until they get rid of this.

But that’s not why I’m crying, I’m crying because I know how excited kids get about Disney.  Disney is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth and now fat kids – who are subjected to a barrage of shaming, humiliating, stigmatizing, and bullying messages from society on a daily basis – will go on vacation and find out that people who look like them are villains who other kids fight for points and bragging rights. Why doesn’t Disney just hold fat kids down and let park guests kick them?

At the end of the ride kids can have their picture taken and e-mailed to them at home.  So what happens when the kids (or their moms, friends, etc.) look like the “enemies? What happens to the vacation that they have been looking forward to since their parents first said “We’re going to Disney World!”?   Shaming kids does not lead to better health, why is that so hard for people to understand?  You can’t tell how healthy someone is, how much they exercise, or what they eat by looking at their bodies, you just can’t.

This ride is a partnership with the people at Blue Cross and Blue Shield.  Regional Market President Tony Jenkins said:  “As an insurance company, we have the information kids need to be healthier.  Our challenge was to tell that story in a fun, engaging way, which is what Disney does better than anyone.”  I think I might break my desk with my forehead.  What about their mental health? Do we really want to create more fear of being fat when we know that there is a 119% increase in the number of hospitalizations for kids under 12, UNDER TWELVE, who have eating disorders?  The National Institute for Health just issued a statement that said that programs that shame kids:

carry a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmatization of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.

Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity whenever possible.

So the NIH is willing to admit that it doesn’t have all the answers for kids’ health, but Blue Cross Blue Shield thinks that they do?

I’m going to do something, but I’m not sure what yet.  I’m very tired from 13 hours of travel today, and deeply saddened that my vacation respite is ruined and that 44,000 people a day are being exposed to weight bigotry and body shaming by the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth”, and so many ideas are swirling around in my head – Should we petition, protest at Epcot (dress like the bad habits and hold signs saying ‘I’m not the enemy’?), start a letter writing campaign? I’m open to suggestions…

You know, I understand where we are as a civil rights movement and I understand that there will be days like this but it doesn’t always make it easier.  In good news, our Georgia billboard campaign got a major article in Huffington Post, some of the commenters even get it!

UPDATE:  On 2/25/12 Disney closed the ride indefinitely.  There are rumors that it is being “reworked”.  Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it  is the only thing that ever has.

My work is supported by my 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 always completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

It’s About my Heart

It’s national heart health month and that means that every diet and weight loss company is trying to incorporate heart health into their ads.  Except the folks over at Vivus pharmaceuticals who say “screw your heart, buy our drug”.

Qnexa, a weight loss drug produced by Vivus, was rejected by the FDA in 2010 because of it’s pesky tendency to cause side effects like elevated heart rate that may lead to severe cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and arrhythmias, birth defects, psychiatric problems, kidney stones, decreased bone mineral density and memory impairment.

Today an FDA panel voted to recommend that the full FDA approve THE SAME DRUG which has THE SAME SIDE EFFECTS. The drug is made up of a combination of Topmax – an anti-seizure/anti-migraine drug that is supposed to make people feel “satiated” while it’s partner drug, and phentermine suppresses appetite.  If Pentermine sounds familiar you’re not alone – it was half of the drug combination Fen-Phen, that was linked to heart valve problems.  People died.

So what would make this panel decide that te drug is suddenly safe enough?  It would seem that most of the subjects lost 10% of their body weight while on the drug.  What the panel does not seem to care about is what happens when patients go off the drug, and what are the weight regain rates, not to mention those side effects we already chatted about.

Apparently they were swayed by testimony from people like Dr. Arya Sharma, who is a paid consultant to Vivus (you know, the company that manufactures and hopes to sell and profit wildly from this drug…).  Dr. Sharma said “Back in medical school, I was taught that when the risk of not treating the condition exceeds the risk of treating it, we should treat. We have an obligation to change how we measure obesity. Qnexa addresses an urgent and substantial unmet medical need for our patients.”

I call bullshit Dr. Sharma.  First of all, losing 10% of your body weight is possible with a variety of interventions for many people – the problem is that almost all of them gain that weight back, plus more in 2-5 years.  So we’re risking all those side effects for an intervention that is likely to last less than 2 years?  Also, weight loss is not really an appropriate treatment protocol since fat is not a diagnosis.  It’s a descriptor.  Obesity is not a disease, it’s a ratio of weight and height.  There are perfectly healthy obese people (and very unhealthy thin people).  Also, for many obese people, losing 10% of their body weight doesn’t actually move them out of the obese category so by Dr. Sharma’s your own logic (with which I disagree) their risk factors are the same as they were before, except now their risk factors include the risk of side effects from a weight loss drug, and from the yo-yo dieting that they are likely to experience.

There are no “fat people diseases”, thin people get all the same diseases that fat people get and there are behavior-based treatment protocols for all of these diseases that have nothing to do with weight loss.

Since we already know how to make people healthier (adding healthy foods and moving about 30 minutes a day about 5 days a week), and we have behavior based treatment protocols for every disease that do not involved weight loss, there’s no reason to put anyone at this much risk for what is not only little benefit, but also possible harm. And it doesn’t matter how much money Dr. Sharma is paid to say otherwise, or how much money Vivus will make if the FDA approves the drug,

But here’s the thing.  Even if the FDA approves this drug, we don’t have to buy it.  Some analysts have said that the drug company will have 10 million customers when it comes out.  That only happens if 10 million of us buy the drug.  If none of us buy the drug, it goes over like a lead balloon and we’ve made them irrelevant, and the drug company wasted all of the money they spent buying the testimony of doctors.  We can take this into our own hands and refuse to risk our health for someone else’s profit.  The bully only gets our lunch money if we give it him.  It’s time to stand up and say no.

The situation that Dr. Sharma is in is EXACTLY why my work is supported by my 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 always completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Fatties and Friends Kicking Global Butt

Our campaign against shaming and humiliating fat kids has now received media coverage in the US, Canada, England, and Ireland. As I do the interviews one question keeps catching me off-guard.  Everyone keeps asking “This campaign is in Atlanta, Georgia and you live in Austin, Texas – why do you care?”

It never occurred to me to care WHERE the oppression was happening.  And I’m not the only one, we got donations from all over the US, Canada, Ireland, England, Australia and Korea.

I think that the “why do you care if it’s not happening to you” question is indicative of the attitude that puts up fat kid shaming billboards to begin with.  The idea apparently being that if you’re not being directly hurt, who cares who is?

I’m really glad that the reporters got me thinking about this – now that I have, I’m even more proud of us.  We created a massive, multi-pronged,  global response to a social injustice.  In doing so we are sending a strong message that we are a global community, we are fed up, and we’re not going to take it anymore.  Come after one of us – deal with all of us.  That’s how change happens – each of us sure that all of us deserve better and ready to fight oppression wherever it happens and however we are able.   If you’re messing with fatties anywhere, you better be ready to deal with fatties and our allies everywhere.  It makes me really proud to be part of this community and it makes me confident that there will be real change in my lifetime.  We rock, that’s all I have to say today. (Except for:  Shout out to my new friends from the University of Florida, thanks for all of your fantastic questions tonight!)

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