Jumping to Conclusions is Not Great Exercise

When it comes to weight and health, our society has a tendency to get a little bit of information and then jump to conclusions that only seem obvious based on our stereotypes and myths about weight and health.  Let’s look at some examples:

According to studies from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, about 50% of overweight people and 30% of obese people are metabolically healthy. These fat healthy people are called a “paradox” and are ignored in discussions about health and weight.  According to basically  every weight loss study since 1959,  about 5% of people successfully maintain weight loss (and there is no guarantee that they are healthy). They are seen as proof that weight loss works, as successes,  and great effort is being made to study them to see how to make us all thin.  So we ignore 50% and 30% to study 5%.

There are all kinds of articles out talking about a study that found that fat doctors don’t talk to their patients about their weight (thanks to reader Lyn for sending this along).  Everyone jumps to the conclusion that this is a bad thing and that the doctors aren’t discussing weight loss because they are embarrassed of their size.  But what about the possibility that these doctors are living the abysmal success rate of weight loss.  Consider that doctors who don’t recommend weight loss are the only ones who are practicing evidence-based medicine.  You see, when it comes to weight loss there is not a shred of evidence that would lead those doctors who are pushing it to believe that it would work.  But hey, let’s jump to conclusions and criticize fat doctors for not giving people a prescription that fails 95% of the time?

Another one we hear a lot is how many fat people have type 2 diabetes.  What they don’t tell you is that doctors test fat people early and often for diabetes based on diagnostic criteria that have been recently lowered.  On the other side, thin people are not tested until they have severe symptoms and some doctors even mistakenly think that it’s not possible for thin people to get type 2 diabetes.  So, if Group A gets tested for a health issue very earlier and very often, and group B doesn’t get tested unless they have severe advanced symptoms,  how is it news that more people in group A are diagnosed with the health issues.

We have to rise above “everybody knows” and the way to do that is to question the status quo (in the wise words of Dr. Horrible,  “the status is not…quo.”)  The thing that makes great thinkers great is their ability to look at the world with a fresh eye.  We all have capability to do that – to look at the evidence and consider everything that it might be suggesting rather than just jumping to conclusions.

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

Excuse Me, Can I Get This Validated?

Long time readers know of my undying love for Kung Fu Panda. Today I watched the sequel again and, in what may be my favorite scene, (very minor spoiler alert) Po’s master, Shifu, says that when Po was name the Dragon Warrior it was the worst day of the Master’s life.  But then Shifu realized that the problem was with him and not with Po and that allowed him to work through it. (end very minor spoiler alert)

And wouldn’t it be just dandy if everyone had that kind of self-awareness?  But that’s something we’re still working on as a society.  In the meantime there are still people who think it’s their job to decide who else is worthy. And we buy into every time we look to someone else to tell us if we’re beautiful or sexy.  Y’all, let me suggest that parking is the only place where you have to look to someone else for validation.

My lovely blog wife Karen (once in a fit of liking my blog she asked me to marry her in the comments and I accepted) posted an awesome quote from Gabourey Sibide “People always ask me, ‘You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl.”

I think that’s the deal.  You give power to the posers every time you ask them if you’re pretty enough or if you’re sexy.  I’m not saying that it’s not cool to have people who tell you that you are beautiful and sexy, I’m suggesting that you let those people restate what you already know for sure. I’m ok if people don’t find me attractive, that’s not my thing to decide or change.  There are people who think I’m attractive and sexy and I will live alone with a herd of rescued Great Danes before I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t.

If you don’t claim and own your awesome, you leave your self esteem in the hands of the kind of people who try to make you feel bad to make them feel better and that doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.  If it’s not my parking slip, nobody’s validation is required.  If they can’t see that we’re beautiful and sexy. I think that’s sad for them.  If they figure it out then that’s great for everybody but all that is extraneous to us realizing it for ourselves.

I think that one of the things that can really help this along is noticing the beauty in other people.  When I started my journey it was easier to realize that other women who looked like me were beautiful and sexy and then it just started to seem dumb that I could see it in others but not myself and one day it just clicked.  Like “Oh, right …I’m beautiful and sexy.  Cool”.  It didn’t stick 100%  right away but the more I could see the beauty in others, the more I could see it in myself. I suggest trying it, if you decide you don’t enjoy feeling sexy and beautiful and appreciating the beauty and sexiness in others, you can always 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

Stealing Our Dreams Back

Prejudice against people of size tries to dictate the things that we’ll never be – dancers,  actresses, athletes, pop stars, proud of our bodies, married, not on a diet etc. Remember Jennifer Hudson’s Weight Watchers commercial where she said “Before Weight Watchers my Whole World was can’t” when before WW she had been a finalist on American Idol, starred in a film and won an Oscar and a Grammy?

As a fat person, the message that I hear loud and clear is that the only thing society is interested in me achieving is weight loss.  This fat hating culture steals dreams, sometimes even before they can be dreamt.  Little fat kids like me who sing and dance for crowds of millions in our bedrooms are not encouraged to pack up our dreams and move to LA, we’re encouraged to pack a Lean Cuisine and hit the gym until we are thin and that then, and only then, can we start dreaming of anything else.

That’s why I love to see fat actors, actresses, athletes, dancers, and fat people who love their bodies – because they are stealing their dreams back, wresting them from strangle hold of prejudice, bigotry and oppression. Every time somebody refuses to base their self-esteem on whether or not they meet a cultural stereotype of beauty, every time a fat person wakes up and doesn’t hate themselves, every time someone refuses to acquiesce to the tremendous pressure to shut up and conform or at least acknowledge their “failure”, they start stealing their dreams back, and they become role models for others. Some of my favorite reader feedback is when someone sends me an e-mail to say that they took a dance or karate class, or tried something that they weren’t doing because they were fat.  This is one of the main reasons that I wanted to create the Fit Fatties Forum

If you had asked me three weeks ago I would have said that I’ve stolen all my dreams back, but it turns out that was a lie – I was playing it safe. Two weeks ago I took a trip to LA.  I traveled there to speak at CalTech which went really well, (I even convinced a Masters in Public Health group to change their focus from obesity prevention to health promotion).  While I was there I got to see Jennifer Jonassen perform and she was fantastic.  I got to see the amazing Jeanette DePatie give a great talk at her book signing.  I also got to meet Julianne and the awesome women from NAAFA‘s LA chapter who were inspiring in their support of each other, their work in the community, and their activism.  After I got home and started thinking about my trip,  I realized that I was cutting myself short on what I truly want in my life because I wasn’t sure if it was possible.

I’m extremely lucky in a number of ways.  I’m lucky that the things I love most (speaking, performing, and writing) are things that I’m good at, and fit well with the thing that I most want to accomplish with my life (fighting for civil rights and against weight bullying and oppression to make the world better for people of size).  So I made a decision.  I’m going to pack up my dreams and move to Los Angeles where I can continue my World Tour as well as looking for more opportunities to get on stage as a performer (where I love being more than anywhere else) and give people the chance to question their stereotypes about fat performers, and really steal back all of my dreams.

I’m looking forward to working with Jeanette, Jennifer, and NAAFA-LA and using the platform of LA to make a difference. (Thanks to every movie ever made about moving to LA and chasing your dreams, I know that you shouldn’t hide your money in a baggie in the toilet because it’s the first place thieves look – I’ve always wondered why those girls didn’t just get bank accounts).  Of course this means that I’m not moving to San Francisco and I’m sad about that because there are so many fantastic people there who I would love to work with.  But if I’m being honest, the truth is that I really want to roll the dice and see what kind of hell I can raise in LA.  Wish me luck!

Activism Opportunity

I’m doing a slideshow for iVillage called “Pictures of Health – Diet Quitters”.  It will involve a picture of you and answers to some questions about your experience going HAES.  If you are interested 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

Fitness and Fatties – Super Secret Blog Project Revealed

One of my biggest frustrations as a fat athlete is the lack of safe, comfortable forums that exist for me to discuss fitness goals, achievements, training tips, clothing options etc. There are lots of forums out there that discuss these things, but there are some major issues for me.

The first is overall goals: many of the people in these forums engage in fitness for the sole or very predominant purpose of manipulating the size and shape of their bodies.  That’s absolutely their right, but my goals are sport-specific performance and health from a Health at Every Size perspective and I don’t want to have to slog through a whole bunch of diet talk and weight loss challenges to read what interests me.

Also, while some are accepting of fat athletes, many spaces online are highly un-fat-friendly (remember the Runner’s forum comments when 400 pound Kelly Gneiting completed a marathon).  Finally, while I don’t mind being the token fat girl or token HAES practitioner, I really wanted a community chock full ‘o fatties and HAES practitioners

I started talking about the idea with Jayne Williams (Slow Fat Triathlete) who was kind enough to lend her time and expertise to shaping the project.  Then my now-good-friend,  fat fitness professional Jeanette DePatie (The Fat Chick) and I started talking about it and I found a get-shit-done soul mate!

In early January I told you that I was doing a super secret blog project and I asked for pictures of fat people doing physical things.  The response was awesome and we got over 150 pictures and they are absolutely amazing.   Today Jeanette and I are launching this project,  that has been months in the making, and that I’m as excited about as I have been about any project I’ve ever done.

Introducing The Fit Fatties Forum! 

The forum, which is free to use, is a place where people of all sizes and abilities can get support for being fit by their own definition (whether that means walking to the mailbox or finishing a marathon) in a safe, Health at Every Size  environment. It is a moderated forum that includes:

  • Discussion threads (you can also create your own)
  • Groups devoted to specific topics (and you can create your own)
  • A Photo Gallery (you can add your own pictures)
  • A Video Gallery (you can add your own videos)
  • Ask a Fit Fatty – you can ask your questions about anything and get an answer from an expert

To join just go to www.fitfatties.com and follow the simple login process. (Even if you don’t join, I recommend checking it out to see the awesome banner of fit fatty pictures!)  If you have any problems please let me know. When you log in you’ll see all of the sections in the navigation bar at the top, you can see the community intro and agreements down the left hand side.  Read the agreements, then dive in, get involved, and make it your own!  We did a beta test so there are already a some members.  We are absolutely open to your feedback.  If you are so moved it would also be really fantastic if you would pass this information along to other super-cool people who might want to be involved.

Several people have asked us about the name – why we called it the “fit fatties forum” when we intend it to be for people of all sizes.  The reason is that when it comes to  fitness and athleticism, fat people are often ignored, erased, hidden, discouraged, and called liars.  The forum name was created to give fat people a tangible place in the fitness world, not to indicate exclusivity.  We are proud to be  fit fatties claiming our rightful place in the world of fitness, and we are happy to welcome people of all shapes, sizes and abilities to join us.

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

I Can’t Believe I’m Not Butter!

I was on a panel for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. At one point the dietician decided to remind us all that a pound of fat is the same as four sticks of butter and then went on to talk about how losing a half pound is “losing two sticks of butter” (said with disgust and grabbing and shaking her upper arm for emphasis.)

I pointed out that it might not be the wisest thing to suggest that people think of their bodies as sticks of butter to lose (especially not, you know, on an EATING DISORDER AWARENESS panel!).  This is one of the side effects of focusing on weight instead of health that I think is both really dangerous and overlooked.

When the focus is on weight, then people are often encouraged to like part of their body and hate part of their body, the idea being that the part of them that is fat is “the enemy” to be fought.  The problem with that is that people walk around with their bodies 100% of the time and hating part of themselves is not necessarily the best thing for people’s mental health.

One of the things I like about a Health at Every Size Perspective is that the focus is on habits and choices and nobody is encouraged to hate any part of themselves.

I think that as a society we have a dangerous tendency to completely overlook the mental aspects of health when it comes to people of size, often ignoring the toll it takes on people when they are told that until they get thin their bodies are proof that they are unhealthy, lazy, lacking in willpower, less intelligent, less productive, etc.), or that they should think of their bodies as gross, or thinking that if there is any chance that constant shame, stigma and humiliation will make them thin then it’s worth it and I don’t believe that’s the case at all.

When we take the attention off weight then we get to focus on health with none of the hate, which seems to me like the best of both worlds.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Interviews with Amazing Activists!!  Help Activists tell our movement’s history in their own words.  Support In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History Project!

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

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

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

Our Place at the Table

One of my life goals is to be named to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.  The Council’s mission is “to engage, educate and empower all Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition.” I think that “all Americans” includes people who look like me and that Health at Every Size is a “healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition” and I think it would be amazing to be able to have influence at that level.  Especially since in 2002 the PCFSN (then the President’s Council on Physical Fitness) said “The health risks of obesity are largely controlled if a person is physically active and physically fit.”

But it’s not just the PCFSN,  there are thousands of “obesity intervention” programs going on that don’t have a single obese person as a member of their team.

Thousands of people who think that we need them to “save” us by telling us how to make our bodies look like they think everyone should look

Thousands of people and programs deciding what constitutes “appropriate” treatment of fat people in the process of eradicating us from the Earth.  Groups of thin people who are empowered by grants from federal, state, and local governments, insurance companies, public health non-profits, and their own exaggerated sense of self importance to decide what to do about, for, and to fat people..

Groups of thin people who decide, for example, that they should only use images of us with no heads, or fat kids looking depressed and dressed in ill-fitting clothes.

Then they get to dictate that the only appropriate response for fat people to have to these interventions is to agree with them that we are a plague upon the Earth and do what they think is right until we are thin and can participate in as many unhealthy behaviors as we want, as long as we don’t get fat again, and nobody will bother us.

If we refuse to obey and speak out that that those images are shaming, stigmatizing, or humiliating, then a group of people – that does not include any fat people – tells us that we’re wrong for feeling those things, and that the only correct way to feel is how they say we should.  I saw an article by a thin pediatrician who saw the Disney Habit Heroes Ride and said with certainty that “nobody’s vacation would be ruined” by seeing it.  How the hell would she know?  What is she, the fat-person whisperer? Back off lady.

It’s not that these people are ill-intentioned, or that there is anything wrong with them because they are thin, the problem is that if someone is thin then they have NO IDEA what it’s like to be fat in this society, and trying to create interventions to help people, especially people who haven’t asked for your help, without actually involving those people is horribly (and I would think obviously) misguided.

Compounding this problem is the fact that obesity has been so mischaracterized and overblown as a health problem, that people aren’t even required to show evidence that their intervention will be successful, or at the very least not more harmful.  Programs can make a guess (like “putting pictures of depressed looking fat kids in ill-fitting clothes on billboards will help kids be healthier”).  Then they throw around a bunch of scary statistics about obesity and nobody bothers to ask if they have any statistics to show that their intervention has any chance of success, or to prove that it’s not likely to harm the people it’s supposed to help.  We have studies (by Peter Muennig from Columbia University) that women who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illnesses than women who are fine with their size, regardless of their weight, and that the stress of constant stigma is correlated with the same diseases that are correlated with obesity.  So we are aware that public health interventions that cause people to be concerned about their weight may actually be causing the exact problems they purport to solve but somehow this isn’t important and the people who are likely being harmed aren’t given the opportunity to speak up.

This is ridiculous.  It’s a system built upon the idea that fat people aren’t the most credible witnesses to our own experiences, that we shouldn’t have a say in the way that we are treated, and that we need people to save us.  And that’s bullshit. We need to demand our place at the table.

Like my blog?  Here’s more of my stuff!

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

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

Interviews with Amazing Activists!!  Help Activists tell our movement’s history in their own words.  Support In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History Project!

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

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

 

Three Not-So-Little Things

I’ve talked before about the three things that I think are most important for public health:

  1. Fight for access
  2. Make your own choices
  3. Respect the choices of others

Today I want to expand on this a little bit:

Fight for Access

Lets look at four areas of access: food, movement, information, healthcare

When it comes to food I’m talking about people having access to the foods they would choose to eat (not the foods that anybody thinks they should eat).  That means that they can both acquire and afford them. Just a thought – if we stopped giving 60 billion dollars to the diet industry (an industry that has to say “it doesn’t really work” every time they even suggest that their project works) we could build 60,000 million-dollar farms including land, buildings, seed, and tractors.

With movement I am talking about making sure that people have safe movement options that they enjoy.  Safe includes physical safety and emotional safety.  For example, fat people may want to work out in a pool but in this culture being fat in a swimsuit in public can be terrifying – that doesn’t qualify as safe.  People who practice from a Health at Every Size perspective are not in a safe space if they are being pummeled with a “burn those calories, lose that weight, fear the muffin top” message while they are trying to enjoy moving their bodies, for me it also ruins my enjoyment of movement. Again, if we stopped giving 60 billion a year to the diet industry we could build 60,000 community centers for $500,000 each and use the other $500,000 to make them sliding scale so that everyone can afford them.

Access to information is tricky. I think that it would be awesome if there were trained researchers who were paid to simply put research in layman’s terms, including a discussion of the limitations of the research so that peole know what’s going on.  I think it would be a good first start if our information about nutrition, fitness, and health wasn’t funded by and reported by people with strong financial investment in the outcome. I wish more researchers were like Linda Bacon and would look at the existing research through a more critical eye and question the status quo. I wish that people could take classes in “how to read a study” so that they could get studies and understand them.

Access to good evidence-based healthcare is perhaps the most difficult under the current culture.  First, you have to be able to afford it – made more difficult if we, as fat people, can’t get insurance or can’t afford the insurance for which we qualify because our body size is held against us (can you imagine the outrage if tall people were charged more?)  You also have to be able to get off work to go see a doctor, afford to take the time off work, and have transportation to get there.  If you can overcome those challenges you have to find a healthcare provider who can actually offer good evidence based healthcare (rather than just diagnosing us as fat and prescribing weight loss). Then, if you want to take the medications the doctor recommends, you have to be able to afford the prescription medications that are priced to support the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry’s need to maintain fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders.  To be clear I think that people should have access to the healthcare that they choose and that includes doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors etc.

Make Your Own Choices

Use whatever methods you prefer – do your own research, work with professionals, do whatever comes into your head.  It’s your choice.  It’s your body, you are 100% the boss of your underpants.

Respect Other People’s Choices

Regardless of how much we might disagree with their choices.  We are 100% NOT the boss of other people’s underpants. People’s right to punch ends at the tip of someone else’s nose.  If you find your nose unaffected that’s how you know it’s not your business.  This is for everyone’s own good.  One of deeply problematic arguments that I hear about this is  “Other people’s behavior costs me tax dollars so this is about me”.  Here’s the problem with that:

Personal responsibility does not mean that we are personally responsible for doing what other people think we should and it’s quite a slippery slope when we start to decide whose healthcare we should pay for.  Should vegans only have to pay for the healthcare of other vegans?  I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs – should I not have to pay for the healthcare costs of those who do?  Can I say that I’m willing to pay for the healthcare of the victim of a drunk driving accident but not the drunk driver?  What if I don’t want to pay for accidents of people who drive in the merge lane?  As a professional competitive dancer I train strength, stamina, flexibility, and dance 15 hours per week, should I not have to pay the healthcare costs of thin people who are sedentary? What about people who choose stressful jobs and don’t get enough sleep? What about people who choose to mountain climb, BASE jump,  bungee jump, luge, or not look both ways before they cross the street?  What about people who speed, or choose cars that have less safety features, or choose to live in highly polluted areas?  Who deserves healthcare?  Every single person participates in behaviors that other people think that they shouldn’t.  I believe in compassion and in giving people preventative healthcare when they are well, evidence-based healthcare when they’re sick, and the opportunity to believe that their bodies are worthy of care by creating a body-shame-free world.  Then, as previously mentioned, respect their choices.

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