My Body and Your Perceptions

I was watching America’s Got Talent (yup, I totally watched it) and there was a very young girl who did Aerial Silk dancing.  She was incredible and had she been older everyone’s eyes would have been locked on her, but all the judges spent their time cringing and looking away – their perception being that as a little girl she was going to fall and get hurt.  They missed out on her talent because of their preconceptions.

This caught my attention because I had just been featured in a fat hate forum where they showed my dance videos, pilates videos and pictures. They took the heel pull picture that you see on the left and put it beside a thin person doing a similar move – they claimed that because we looked different mine was wrong.  They said that I lumbered and waddled and that I lacked grace, which is interesting because the most common compliment I receive is about how graceful I am.

I see this often when fat people post videos of ourselves being athletic.  Even in the face of actual evidence of fathleticism, people deny it’s existence.

In some cases these people are just jackasses who enjoy bashing fat people.  But for others I think that people are trained to see fat bodies as awkward, graceless, waddling etc.  This image is so constantly repeated that I think people aren’t aware that they are operating from stereotype, rather than what they are actually seeing.

It doesn’t help that almost every person we see represented in the media being athletic, dancing, really in any kind of positive light, is thin.  When we are spoon-fed a stereotype day after day it’s not surprising that it’s what we spit back up.

Fat people can be vulnerable to this mistake as well.  We almost never see a body like ours shown in a positive light, shown dancing or being athletic, and so when we see our fat body doing stuff, it looks “wrong”. It’s an insidious form of internalized oppression that becomes a cycle because anytime a fat person dares to succeed at something (other than weight loss) we get accused of “promoting obesity” and anyone who dares to show us succeeding is called “irresponsible.”

So if you are looking for a way to fight back in the war on obesity, one thing you can do is just live. Commit public displays of fatness, be yourself and do what you want in the body that you have now.  Refuse to apologize for your body’s size or shape – ever.  Live your life based on your talents, ignore other’s perceptions.  Be you, change the world.

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19 thoughts on “My Body and Your Perceptions

  1. It’s just mind-blowing how deeply this stuff gets ingrained. The past few weeks, I’ve been really struggling yet again at the studio, especially in ballet, seeing my weight reflected in the mirror (along with my ridiculously poor extensions, sigh) and feeling like “who am I kidding, pretending I can dance?”. I do know better, intellectually, and I get TONS of positive feedback when I post any dance videos, but still it persists – I see my weight and automatically see *myself* as a waddling, lumbering, graceless lump. It makes me so angry – at myself for *being* so fat, at myself for not accepting my weight, and at society for putting me into this psychological position in the first place. (note that I am not blaming society for my weight, simply for the severity of my body image issues)

  2. I am so sorry that those ignorant, horrible people did that to you. I would far rather be fat than be nasty, that’s for sure.
    I have seen your videos and I really loved them. You ARE graceful and as a former semi-professional ballerina I can say with conviction that you ARE as graceful and talented as any other dancer of any other weight out there. Your technique is great, and you have that ‘quality’ that not everyone can bring to the dance. So what they did was just plain mean and wrong. It would be wrong even if you couldn’t dance.
    People are people no matter what they look like and that’s why I support your cause, because I will never, ever agree to hatred or bigotry in any form. Good luck and keep up your good work.

  3. It’s so frustrating what a double-standard it is that we live with day after day. Criticized for “not getting our asses off the couch” or going to the gym (or dancing, etc..) both have negative consequences if you’re fat, and they’re both considered “wrong” like you said. Where’s the incentive to lose weight if we’re criticized for exercising? Where’s the incentive to just be healthy if we’re discouraged from movement? It’s like the fat haters believe we should simply starve ourselves, alone in our homes, to achieve their vision of beauty. It’s the only way that’s acceptable.
    No thanks! Idiots.

  4. “I had just been featured in a fat hate forum”

    They really have forums dedicate to fat hate? I had no idea. I’m honestly surprised that the folks who go there don’t have better, more constructive things to do with their time.

    “They said that I lumbered and waddled and that I lacked grace, which is interesting because the most common compliment I receive is about how graceful I am.”

    You’re very graceful (and limber!), much more so than I am. I could never do the moves you do, and I can’t dance very well at all.

  5. A “fat hate” forum? SRSLY?? OMG, Ragen. I am so sorry you have crap like that happening in your life. Reading something like that would be really tough for me. Not only do I admire your physical grace, but I also admire your emotional grace 🙂

  6. Haters are jealous because they wish they had the balls to do the things you do…that’s when attacking with hatred comes in. They’re nothing more than ignorant trolls getting their jollies with idiotic cruelty. Been there, done that with the likes of them. And you know something? I wear my fatness PROUDLY in public and it pisses off a lot of self-loathers. What they think about me is none of my business! 😉

  7. The kicker is that most of these assholes probably couldn’t even perform that move, and ANY weight.

    These people are so stupid and delusional that there is no reason to give them any credence. And every time a fat person decides not to dance, not to go swimming, not to MOVE because of an asshole like this, you give their words credence.

    Every time a fat person stays at home because “nobody wants to se my fat as…” they give these people credence.

    So, yeah, the best thing you can do is live your life, in their faces.

  8. I am very angry at the fat hate forum. Taking your photos and videos without your permission is horrible and probably illegal and to use them in that way is lowdown, nasty, and sick. But thank you for facing them down. I don’t have the courage to do what you do yet but I hope I am gaining courage from the example of people like you.

  9. I am a dancer as well. Tribal Bellydance specifically. And whereas I am lucky in that the Belly dance community is welcoming and loving towards its dancers’ bodies, of every size and shape, when it comes to getting work, its hard. Everyone hears Belly dance and they expect a thin woman who is barely dressed. They are always astounded when I can do everything the thin women can do. They are always in shock at how much strength and muscle control I have, at how graceful I am. I strive to present myself as beautiful and confidant and joyful when I am dancing, so as to show other women that Big is beautiful and athletic and everything anyone ever told you we couldn’t be. I have been taunted and teased, harrassed and booed because I am a fat dancer. But after every show Someone comes and tells me how inspiring I am, and how they want to learn to dance, to have that same confidence. Trolls and Haters, ill-informed, media controlled sheeple be damned! I am dancing, in public, on stage, with my beautiful soft, round stomach bared and I want to instill a tiny spark of inspiration for the women who watch to stand up and recognize the beauty and power of their own bodies with every lift of my hip, every ripple of my abdomen, every stretch of my arms. Don’t wait until you’re a size whatever, don’t wait until you’ve lost X number of pounds. Do it now. Now is all we have.
    Ragen I applaud you in your convictions and determination to inform the public and inspire women and men to be their best. You are certainly an inspiration to me.

  10. Dear Ragen,
    What you say about the judges cringing while the young lady danced the silks… our culture often denies the natural physical competence of children and young people… (especially GIRLS) instead of encouraging children to climb trees and run for the joy of it… well, I’m sure you can imagine what the school district has to say to the teachers at my former charter school who *encouraged* tree-climbing…

    Children, and Not Children, need movement, balance, strength and play in their bodies. Parents and schools and lawyers need to hands-off children’s physical development. Let the kids play! And let them, girls and boys, all children, find their confidence and mastery in physical movement, let them conquer their fears, let the kids bang into each other and wrestle and dog pile and cuddle. Its healthy!

    And the fact that I have to argue, or feel like I have to convince people that kids Should Just Play? … 😦

    1. I totally agree.

      Fortunately, I was pretty much always encouraged by my family (not always by schools) to move and play and use my body physically. It gave me such a good understanding of so many things:

      — how strong I actually was, and how best to use said strength (e.g., lifting things with my legs)

      — how I liked to move my body (contact sports, yes; sports where I have to hold a bat or racket, no)

      — how best to take care of my body to prevent fatigue and injury (water, food, stretching, sunfuckingscreen)

      Even:

      — which injuries I should self treat and which require medical attention (super money-saving-skill to have that worked out right)

      Also, just giving me a sense of security and accomplishment in my ability to do things on my own. I mean, I can’t do everything independently, of course, but neither do I need to be dependent for all things.

  11. I love this & I loved reading the “public displays of fatness” post again. It made me think of something totally random. I remembered a friend wearing a t-shirt for something called the Big Latch On. Basically it’s “groups of breastfeeding women coming together at registered locations around the world to all latch on their child at a set time” to promote breastfeeding. Is there way we could all commit public displays of fatness together? No idea how this would work – just a random migraine idea!

    1. I would love to meet up with some other bay area fat & fabulous folks to attend one or some of the dance events around here.

      Also, I believe Big Moves dance troupe is having a performance June 8th or 9th at Laney college in Oakland and I’m going to try to go see them.

  12. Reading this article today reminded me of an experience I had in middle school. My best friend and I (both on the chubbier side) decided that for our 8th grade year we were both going to join the dance team. We did, and it was a lot of fun… but leaving practice each morning we had to walk past the spot where the “popular” crowd gathered each day. Most of the time they would leave us alone (because I was willing to help anyone with homework and some of the boys depended on me rather heavily) but one morning my friend got out of the locker room a little before me. When I got there the “popular” kids were making comments about her. I glared at them and said something like “wasn’t practice fun today? You’re looking fabulous, and I’m so excited that we can both do the splits now.”

    A week or two of floundering without homework help and a few apologies later and they never bothered us again. 😀
    ~RR from Flying Pig Apparel

  13. Ragen, My husband and I ballroom dance. (Havent in the last year.) I was told that I would never look as good as my thinner friends. I could never win a comp because they get points just standing there and being thin. You are beautiful. I have seen your pics. You encourage me to keep dancing. Thank you. Keep on dancing “as if no one is watching”.

  14. You are SOOOO Amazingly Graceful Regan! I ADORE Watching your videos. Heck em and some of the other Belly dancers watch them together and marvel at some of the moves you do. I know a LOT of dancers who can’t pull those moves off, no matter what their size is.
    Haters gonna Hate. You are awesome and you know it!
    I WISH I could do turns the way you do..I honestly do..they are SOO Lovely!
    And on the topic of Fat Grace, I was working on turns the other day, and my Fiance was watching (as I did EVERYTHING backwards, which made the studio owner crack up)
    But when I executed the turn moving across the floor he said “Wow..when you did that correctly you looked like you were as light as a feather, just whisping across the floor” He wasn’t making a weight comment, more of a comment about the movement. That he’s used to seeing me as more Earthy with my Tribal Dance, and hasn’t seen some of my other styles, and in a traditional just, Well I guess it would be a 2 point turn..Gah I can’t remember the name, anyway, in that movement which is just a regular dance movement, he was interested to see a different way of me moving.
    Not because I am Fat, but because it was just a different move..
    Kinda interesting IMO.

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