Answering HAES Critics and Questions

Later today (at 6pm Eastern) I’m doing a talk as part of Golda Poretsky’s HAES Masterclass (click here to register) called “But But But…Answering HAES Critics and Questions.”  Sometimes people ask why we should answer these questions and critics at all – why not just say that our health is our business, and every body of every size and ability deserves respect?  That’s an absolutely valid response.  It’s a response that I use sometimes.  For me it’s also important to answer these questions sometimes for a number of reasons.

First, because there are people who are genuinely misinformed (by a media machine driven by the 60 billion dollar a year diet industry) and giving well meaning people true information can change their minds and present new options. People come up to me after my talks all the time and tell me that they had no idea about the evidence that I presented and that it’s made them rethink health and the way that fat people are treated. When this much of the world is being actively and constantly misinformed, it’s important that someone gives correct information.  I believe that’s why Galileo stood up and said that the earth revolves around the sun.

One of the reasons that people suggest that we not try to challenge stereotypes is that it can hurt those who happen to be the stereotype and are seen as “living down” to the stereotype.  So if someone says that fat people can’t be athletes, there is a school that suggests that a fat athlete should say “it doesn’t matter if there are fat athletes or not, every body deserves to be treated with respect.”  Again, that’s a valid response.  It’s also valid for a fat athlete to point out that the stereotype doesn’t apply to them. Research shows that challenging stereotypes is effective in civil rights activism, and here is an example of it in real life.  Plus, dismantling the stereotype and pointing out that there are people of all sizes at, for example, all levels of athleticism or health, means that there is no stereotype to “live down to” and so can benefit everyone.  I think it’s important to combine the two – challenge stereotypes while asserting that whether people are the stereotype or not, that doesn’t make them better or worse, they still have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness including being treated with respect.

Next, fat people are told constantly that what we have to say is not valuable, that we are not the best witnesses to our experiences, and that we should allow thin people to speak for us.  So it is crucial that we be empowered to stand up to those who try to speak for us and who suggest that we not speak for ourselves.  Each of us can only ever speak for ourselves and fat people who practice Health at Every Size and those who choose to be athletes are allowed, and should be encouraged, to tell our stories.  Much of the most-often referenced writing about HAES is done by Linda Bacon, Lucy Aphramor, Paul Campos, Sandy Szwarc, and Gina Kolata.  These are all great writers producing important work. (I’ve had the honor to meet Lucy Aphramor and spend time with Linda Bacon and they are both fantastic.)  They are also all, as far as I can tell, “normal weight”/thin individuals.  This in no way negates their fantastic work, but when it comes to being a fat athlete or a fat HAES practitioner it’s important that we also make space for the experiences of people who are fat athletes and fat HAES practitioners to tell their stories in the first person.  This does not demean or negate the experiences of fat people who aren’t athletes or HAES practitioners, there is nothing wrong with being fat and not choosing HAES or athletics,  and everybody of every size, health, age, and ability does deserve respect and the world should hear the full depth and breadth of our stories.

Finally, I think it’s important to answer questions and critics because there are fat people out there who have only heard the stereotypes and the critics.  If someone suggests that it’s impossible to be fat and healthy and the only answer we ever give is that it doesn’t matter if fat people are healthy or not because every body deserves respect, then what those fat people never hear is that it IS possible to pursue health/healthy habits without pursuing weight loss.  Of course healthy habits don’t guarantee health for anyone at any size since health is multidimensional and not entirely within our control but at least once a week I get an e-mail from someone who believed that since they couldn’t get thin there was no chance of being healthy. You don’t have to want to prioritize your health but I think it’s important that people know all of their options, be allowed to make choices for themselves, and then have those choices respected.

Each of us gets to choose if/how we answer the critics and questions that come at us, and we may choose different answers in different situations for different reasons and that’s just fine.

Remember there’s still time to sign the petition to tell Disney and Barney’s that Minnie Mouse doesn’t need to be made into a 5’11 size 0 just to “look good” in a dress.

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out:

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I’m excited to say that my book was just endorsed by Linda Bacon: Whether you are fat or thin, Fat: The Owner’s Manual will educate you about life in a fat body. It includes top notch information, solid science, support, and general inspiration to help all of us navigate a world rife with size prejudice and weight stigma. Ragen’s style is to provide ideas, without moralizing – and she does a particularly good job of separating the civil rights movement of Fat Acceptance from the health practice of Health at Every Size. Highly recommended!  Dr. Linda Bacon, professor, researcher, and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight.

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I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider  becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

11 thoughts on “Answering HAES Critics and Questions

  1. My experience is valid. I know it is because I EXPERIENCE IT. So why the hell shouldn’t I talk about it because it might not match the experience of another fat person?

    As you say, the entire population is being lied to on a daily basis by newspapers, magazines, television, internet news sources, doctors, and choruses of ‘everybody knows’.

    It’s a perfectly valid thing to choose not to tell your individual story. It’s your story to tell or not. Me? I figure the point of stories is to tell them. I want to tell mine. I want the world to know that I’m an individual. I also want the world to know that I’m not a particularly unusual one.

    Otherwise, I’m letting Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Dr. Oz, Michelle Obama, weight loss surgery providers, and the authors of endless dubious articles about how fat people don’t have lives tell their story and paste my name on it. I’m letting down the millions of eight year olds starting their first diets because I’m not sharing the fact that being fat isn’t the end of the world.

    What we have in common here in this space is fat. We come in different colors, different heights, different measures of fat, different levels of ability not just physically, but intellectually as well. We come from different places, belong to different political parties. We have different family experiences ranging from Rockwellian to Orwellian.

    And that’s the thing. Prejudice says we’re all alike. Dr. Oz tells his viewers that we’re all the same and what we are is lumps of fat, period.

    But that’s not the case. We’re athletes and we’re couch potatoes. We’re vegans and omnivores. We whip up gourmet creations in beautifully appointed kitchens and we use our ovens to store important documents. We’re straight, we’re queer, we’re asexual. We pray to different gods and goddesses, and to nobody at all. We’re science geeks and we’re wafty artistic types. We’re fashionistas and we don’t care what our clothes look like as long as they cover our naughty bits enough so we don’t get arrested in public.

    In short, we are so much more than the sum of our fat, and the vast majority of the world isn’t hearing that fact.

    So yeah, I’m going to talk about my experience. It’s incomplete. I have privilege from being white and straight. I don’t know what it’s like to be black or gay or to have Aspberger’s or to use a wheelchair. I didn’t grow up in an abusive household. I can’t tell the world what it’s like to be you. I can only tell the world what it’s like to be me, and that I believe that all bodies – and the people inside them – are deserving of respect.

    That’s my story. I choose to tell it. And if I can get just one person to listen and to decide to get off the diet treadmill of futility, then it’s worth everything.

  2. It is difficult for me to tell my story. From a small child I was trained not to assert myself and to be quiet partly because I was female but especially because I was fat. I was a disappointment to my parents because I was fat instead of “pretty”. (Yes, I’m aware of the semantic fallacy there.) I was trained to think that since I was fat I should be ashamed and because I should be ashamed I should hide that which was shameful: my fat. Every time I share about my experiences living as a fat white woman in America I hear my mother saying, “Shut up, don’t make waves. Go sit down.”

    I’ve been cutting my eye teeth tryng to learn how to tell my story in spaces such as this one around the fatosphere and a little on Facebook amongst my family. But every time I do, I still hear my mother. I hear her even now as I type this very sentence.

    Sorry Mom, but I’m going to hit enter now. I love you but about this you were wrong.

    1. I had trouble telling my story the first time, but as with most things it gets easier with practice. I’ve now started making my regular spaces more accepting and am slowly changing minds just by being slightly different from the stereotype and speaking up.

      I’ve had it easier as my family is fairly supportive, but hitting enter that first time is one of the bravest things you can do, be proud of yourself.

    2. I wasn’t fat as a teenager (even though I thought I was) but I was also taught that as a female I didn’t have the right to assert myself. This led to me saying yes in circumstances where I really wanted to say no with boys. I always regretted it.

  3. Beautifully said, Ragen. As always, I enjoy your elegant logic. And, as someone who frequently answers the fat/fit question with, “That doesn’t matter. What matters is my humanity and my right to be treated as valid no matter the stereotypes,” I acknowledge I am only half of the equation. I can say what I say because I know others are addressing the misinformation. They can do what *they* do because they know people like me are appealing to folks’ emotions (and sense of decency).

    Our movement needs many type of people. I’m glad we can count you among them. 🙂

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