When Better is the Enemy of Equal – Flying Fat

Dream WorldI am getting ready to take my first trip on Southwest Airlines in a long time.  They’ve recently changed their policy for fat flyers and I want to give them another chance.  I typically fit in a single seat but I’m traveling with my partner who needs a second seat and this gives me an opportunity to give their new policy a try.  Their new policy is that they would prefer people who need two seats purchase both of them in advance and then they will refund the extra seat after travel, but that “Customers of size who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat(s).”

My partner and I will be traveling to Austin in April and we’re planning to avail ourselves of the second option (not buying an extra ticket) and, if necessary, use it as an opportunity for activism.  I asked in a number of conversations  and communities with people of size if others had tried this and how it went.  I was a bit surprised by many of the responses I received from other fat people.  I was called an irresponsible trouble-maker, I was told that I shouldn’t be traveling if I can’t afford a second ticket, that I’m going to ruin it for everybody, that I should be bumped from my flight, that the policy is much better than it was, that I shouldn’t rock the boat, and many people told me that they are very happy to pay for the extra ticket since it gets refunded and I should be happy to do that as well.

Well, I’m not.

I simply don’t believe that fat people should be kept from air travel unless they have twice the money as thin people at the time of ticket purchase- I think that limits the opportunities of many fat people both personally and professionally because of their size and I consider that to be a form of size oppression that I choose to fight.

I think it’s nice that some people can pay for 2 seats every time they fly and wait for the refund with no problem and are happy to do it, but I don’t think that is everyone’s situation and I try not to be an activist only insofar as my needs are met.  I agree that the policy is better than it was, but I also try to be careful not to let better be the enemy of the equal.

Even if one is happy to pay double what a thin person pays at the time of ticketing, there are still issues with this. The fat person who is being flown to a job interview and has to tell their potential employer that their ticket will be twice as much up front as candidates who are thin. The professional speaker/consultant  who has to tell their clients that it’s going to be twice as much for their flight upfront than for a thin speaker/consultant.  The singer/comic/entertainer whose travel fees are twice as expensive up front as those against whom they compete for gigs.  The fat person who wants a job that requires travel by air and has to tell prospective employers that they will have to spend double the fees up front of a thin person competing for the same job, and that they will have to pay someone to deal with processing refunds, as they will be loaning the airline thousands of dollars every year.

Then of course there’s the simple fact that not every person who needs two seats can afford to pay double what other passengers pay and then wait around for a refund.  This is problematic both for the person who wants to book their travel well in advance and can’t afford to give the airline a long-term interest-free loan, and for the person who has to fly because of an emergency and can barely scrape together enough for one seat let alone two in the middle of an incredibly difficult time.

Also, let’s remember that this policy isn’t applied across the board.  First of all, the airline says that the armrests are the definitive border, but there are four armrests for 6 arms and so the airline has already created some issues with common space.  If someone takes up more than two seats because they have very broad shoulders or very long legs, they are not asked to buy a second seat, we’re all just supposed to be okay squishing in with them. At this time, I don’t take up two seats (it’s sheer luck – my fat goes front to back rather than side to side and I happen to have have narrower shoulders and hips) but I am constantly seated next to people whose arms, shoulders, or legs are in my space and I often wonder what would happen if I insisted that they needed to pay for a second seat based on the policy.

I have not yet found information on how Southwest handles bumps on overfull flights, but in general I believe that passengers should have the same experience regardless of body size. So if the flight is overfull, the policy to deal with that should have nothing to do with passenger size. Their policy should not be to bump fat passengers without compensation unless we give them an interest free loan of hundreds of dollars, while simultaneously giving compensation to thin passengers who they have to bump. It also shouldn’t be bumping passengers first due to physical appearance, rather than a fair and transparent system (volunteers, time of check in etc.)

I think it’s also important to note that it is the habit of airlines to overbook flights, so their policy is to sell more product than they have to begin with, and fat passengers should not bear the brunt of that. They should develop a system to let them know how many seats they need that does not require one group of people to pay twice as much up front as another group of people based on how they look, or to have one group of people have the highest chance of being bumped because of how they look. Anything else, as far as I’m concerned, is discrimination based on physical appearance and it’s not ok with me.

I believe in expecting the best and preparing for the worst, so in about a month my partner and I will go to the airport full of optimism that we will be treated well, and prepared if we are not.  Wish us luck!

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Mannequin Panic

Reader Melissa clued me into Swedish Mannequins slightly larger than the typical size 4 that we see in the United States that have started a crapstorm of people falling all over each other to wring their hands and shriek about “promoting obesity”.

We’ve already discussed the thoroughly ridiculous idea of promoting obesity and it’s just as dumb now as it was then.

Also, I’m actually fat – right at this moment.  I’ve not the inclination toward nudism and over-sized burlap sacks chafe,  so I find myself with a need to buy clothing in my actual, right at this moment, size.  It would be just dandy if the mannequin modeling those clothes could even fit into the smallest size at the store, let alone my actual size.  I don’t believe that this would make me fatter, I do believe it would make me more likely to try on clothes that I ultimately buy while becoming less homicidal throughout the shopping process.

I think that it is vital that we stop calling these ideas, derived by rectal pull as far as I can tell, to be valid public health interventions just because they say “anti-obesity,” as if that’s some kind of magical password that renders science, research, logic, and basic human respect irrelevant and unnecessary.

Where is there good research to suggest that very thin mannequins lead to thin people or to healthy people (remembering, of course, that these are two separate things?)  Where is there good research to suggest  mannequins in a size 8 somehow cause people to become larger?  How is it logical that fat people will become happier, healthier and thinner as long as they never see people or inanimate objects who look like them?  Basically this entire idea – that the best thing we can do for fat people is purposefully create a world without positive representations of them –  is an unsubstantiated claim rooted in size bigotry.

Even if this research existed, the idea would still be problematic – is it ethical to try to make people healthier by creating a world that is designed to make them hate themselves and feel hopeless about their future unless they are able to change their body size? Then, of course, there is the added layer of the fact that the vast majority of those who try to change their body size fail? Among those who succeed, even if their physical health was better, would their mental health ever recover?

This is why I think it’s so important that we put representations of ourselves out there using the means that we have at our disposal – Facebook, blogs, forums, media appearances, wherever we can get ourselves out there.  It can also be extremely affirming to look at images of people who look like us to remember that what we are spoon-fed by the media is a stereotype of beauty that is artificially narrow and limited and, thanks to digital retouching, is unattainable by everyone – often including the people in the pictures.  Here are some places where you can check out awesome fatty images – if I’ve missed any (and I’m sure that I have) please feel free to add them in the comments!

The Fit Fatties Forum video and photo galleries (look around and feel free to add your own!)

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW unless your W is super cool)

The More Cabaret Gallery (FSFW – fairly safe for work)

Joyce Mudd’s amazing sculptures

This post (check the comments for lots of amazing pictures of fat people doing awesome stuff from belly dancing to hammer throwing).

Works of Peter Paul Rubens (NSFW)

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Weight Loss So-Called Success

New and ImprovedSo we’ve all heard that weight loss succeeds for only a tiny fraction of people long term, but today I want to talk about what we even mean by success.  As dieting interventions have failed over and over again, the people researching them have continued to change the definition of success – from specific weights, to 20% of body weight, then to 10% of body weight, then to 5% of body weight (all of which were, at one time, accompanied by the phrase “an amount that is known to have a strong impact on health” thought it is actually completely arbitrary and without medical rationale.)

Often weight loss studies simply move the goal post and declare victory.  Weight Watchers own research showed that participants were able to maintain a 5 pound loss after 2 years (which means that participants paid about $254 per pound in meeting fees alone – not counting WW branded food, cookbooks, diet scales etc.).  Commenting on this in the media, Weight Watchers’ chief scientist said “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.” This word, validation?  I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

So is weight loss “success” achieving a specific weight?  Is it a loss of 20% of body weight?  10%? 5%?  Five pounds of weight loss over 2 years (a thing I could likely accomplish through regular exfoliation and without even a single spoonful of Weight Watchers 0 Points soup)?

It seems to me that if medical science truly believes in the idea of a “healthy weight” then success would be moving participants to whatever that weight is – so if they are talking Body Mass Index then success would be moving participants into the “normal” BMI category and keeping them there long term.   And if we’re miles away from finding a weight loss intervention that works for more than a tiny fraction of people, we are LIGHT YEARS away from a study where an intervention moved those considered “overweight” and “obese” into the “normal” category over the long term.

When someone, whether it’s a doctor or random person on Facebook, feels the need to suggest weight loss to me, this is were I start.  I ask if they feel that weight loss constitutes evidence based medicine. When they say yes, I ask them to produce evidence that would lead them to believe that I could reach and maintain the amount of weight loss that they are recommending.

Disturbingly often, medical professionals answer this question by suggesting that I try to lose less weight than they originally suggested, with absolutely no mention of the evidence I asked for.  So I ask them to produce evidence that would lead them to believe that I could reach the new amount of weight loss they are suggesting and maintain it, and I also ask why my question about evidence caused them to immediately change the measure of success, rather than provide me with, you know, research.

Typically this is met with something like “any weight loss is better than no weight loss” which typically isn’t remotely in integrity with their original recommendation.  So I asked them to produce evidence backing that claim.   Recently my partner was at the doctor and when she challenged his suggestion that she should lose weight by saying that only a tiny fraction of people succeed he agreed that it was between 2% and 5%, and then reiterated his recommendation for weight loss.  This does not smack of stringent science.

So let’s recap:

The amount of weight loss that medical science claims is necessary to create “significant health benefits” has been changed repeatedly and arbitrarily based on the utter failure of weight loss interventions over the last half century, and not based on science regarding weight and health.

Success by the definition of the people running the studies about weight loss is not the measure of success that they use in their marketing, and both goals are all but impossible based on their own research.

We have the right to health interventions that are evidence based and that have measures of success based one some kind of actual medical rationale.

NEW FAT ANTHOLOGY!

Praeger Publishing (an imprint of ABC/CLIO) has asked me to edit a multi-volume anthology “The Politics of Size: Perspectives from the Fat-Acceptance Movement”

My goal is to create a work with diverse perspectives including people of many races, ethnicities, dis/abilities, ages, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, those from an academic background, and those who do not normally write from an academic perspective. I am especially interested in those who write about intersectionalities and those who don’t feel that they are represented in my personal work and/or in the Size Acceptance work that typically gets attention.  If you are interested in submitting a chapter please e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org.

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How to Waste 1.5 Million Dollars

WTFSo let’s say that you are in charge of an agency that has $1.5 million to spend on health research.  Knowing that there are limited research funds, do you spend it on research for:

a:  a cure for any of the thousands of  diseases for which we don’t have a cure

b:  figuring out why lesbians are fat

Readers including Natalie, Darryl, and others let me know that the National Institutes for Health actually chose b.  Seriously.

According to the good folks at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., (BWH) who will be wasting $1.5M, 75% of lesbians are overweight or obese, 25% higher than straight women.  Gay men are 50% less likely to be fat then heterosexual males.  The BWH researchers, having perhaps too much free time and more money than brains thanks to the generous NIH grant, want to figure out why.

I, as you might imagine, have some questions around how this qualifies as research deserving of funding:

Where in the hell are they getting the data on obesity numbers within these populations? It has been my experience that a lot of the data around how many people are fat in any population are highly suspect at best.

As a bi woman am I counted as 1/2, or not counted at all, or is it a percentage based on my Kinsey scale score? Don’t get me wrong – I’m quite happy for them to ignore me in this particular instance, I’m just curious.

Why not just treat this like almost all the rest of obesity “research” and jump to a pseudo-logical conclusion:  “sex with men is the key to thinness.”  Good, we’ve got sorted, now let’s put that 1.5 million dollars toward research that isn’t patently ridiculous and go on our merry way.

If they find out that it’s because of negative issues within the “thinner communities” – for example, perhaps disordered eating is much more prevalent in straight women and gay men – will this turn into research to help those people or are they committed to just thinning out the fatties?

Are they trying to create more oppression for queer women and fat women and fat queer women or is that just a side effect?

Ok seriously, what the effing crap?  We are spending 1.5M in tax dollars to figure out why more lesbians than straight women are fat and more gay men than straight men are thin? Considering the fact that queer people are estimated to be at most 10% of the population is the idea to spend tons of money for lesbian-specific obesity interventions, or are they just hoping to tell straight women and men what not to do?

And finally, if this doesn’t make us realize that we have gone really far down a bad road with the war on fat people what will?

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Problem Areas, Goldilocks, and Bundt Cake

For some unfortunate reason I came into contact with several articles today about how to hide “problem areas” with clothing.  Just like the idea of having to wear clothes that are “flattering,” this entire phenomenon can bite me.  In case you’re not familiar (how lucky are you?) – “problem areas” that one can and, based on the article’s language ostensibly should, fix with clothing include big boobs and small boobs, big hips and no hips, too curvy and not curvy enough, pear shaped, apple shaped, square shaped blah blah blah.  WTF y’all?

This whole thing strikes me as a horrific re-writing of the classic Goldilocks story.  The first boobs were too small, the second boobs were too big. I used clothing to make them look the same, now they’re all juuuust right.  Soon we’ll all be Stepford people and it will be totes awesome, amirite?!?!

Worse is the fact that every single one of these articles starts with some version of the phrase “every body has problem areas.”  Shouldn’t this give us pause? EVERY body has problem areas?  Or, maybe it’s more that everybody is a potential customer of industries that take our self-esteem, cheapen it, and sell it back at a massive profit – beauty industry, diet industry, women’s magazines…I’m looking at you.

Then there are the super helpful pieces just for fatties that are called something like “From Fat to Flattering” but should be called: “How to Look More Invisible”.  Wear dark clothing that absorbs light so that your body is as hidden as possible, wear things that are not exciting so that if you accidentally reflect light you’ll still hopefully be ignored. Failing that, wear big necklaces to draw attention to your boobs  (which we assume are big because all fatties have a rack ‘o doom right?) since they are the only slightly redeeming part of your fat body (though if they are too big see the articles above), wear things that skim your body so that we can’t see how you’re actually shaped, but not too bulky because heavens forfend  you look bigger than you are. Wear big jewelry or fancy shoes to draw attention away from your body.  Carry around a flare gun that you can fire to distract anyone who is looking at your body despite all of your best efforts. Someone’s looking at your body and you left your flare gun in your other purse?  No problem –  yell “HEY LOOK, BUNDT CAKE!” point to the left and then run like hell to the right in the hopes that you’ll be gone before they turn around. (10 points for any reader who gets the movie reference)

As always, you are the boss of your underpants, your regular pants, and the rest of your clothes – you can wear anything that you want for any reason you want. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to live. What I’m saying is that I refuse to buy into this.  My body doesn’t have problem areas, it doesn’t have flaws.  My body does a perfect job of being my body – it’s not supposed to look like someone or something else and I’m not about to choose what I wear or how I wear it with the goal of looking like I have some other body, or trying to make my body look different or, worst of all, invisible.  They say that all bodies have problem areas, I say that none of us have to buy into that.  I believe that each body is an original work of art – one of a kind – and I think that comparing them at all, let alone holding them to a single standard of how they are “supposed to look”, whether we’re intended to achieve that through changing our size or changing our clothing or something else,  is ludicrous to me.

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If Obesity is a Disease

Bad DoctorLet’s be clear, obesity is not a disease.  By some medical definitions it is a simple ratio of weight and height that includes Tom Cruise, The Rock, and me.  By other medical definitions it is a body that is 30 pounds over “ideal” weight.  By it’s more colloquial definition it is just another word for what someone considers a very fat body.  Making obesity into a disease is simply pathologizing a body size.  While it’s been highly profitable for everyone from diet companies to pharmaceutical companies to bariatric surgeons, it’s a dubious idea at best.  Obesity is not a set of distinguishing signs or symptoms.  Obese people have as much diversity of experience, behaviors, habits, and health as any group of people with only one common physical characteristic but for the exception of our shared size discrimination, bullying, and oppression. I have suffered because I’m obese, but I’ve never suffered from obesity.

Still, even if obesity is a disease, let’s look at how it is being handled compared to other diseases:

Can you think of another disease with a treatment protocol that is prescribed to over 30% of the total population despite over 50 years of studies suggesting that the protocol is unsuccessful and often makes the disease worse?

Can you think of another disease intervention that fails almost all the time that is not only still prescribed to everyone with the disease, but whose failure is actually blamed on those who aren’t cured ? In spite of evidence that the intervention itself actually causes the disease? While those receiving the intervention are told that everyone who tries hard enough gets cured.

Can you think of another disease that is diagnosed by a single physical characteristic which has no distinguishing symptoms other than the physical characteristic itself, has widely varied health outcomes, almost none of which have been causally related to the single physical characteristic that comprises the entire diagnostic criteria?

Do you think it’s a good idea to shame, stigmatize, blame, bully and oppress people who have a disease and call it a public health intervention?

Can you think of a disease that often has zero major health consequences where people are nevertheless pushed to choose highly dangerous and very expensive interventions that can kill them?

Can you think of a diseases where doctors practice experimental medicine on millions of people while leading them to believe that the interventions are proven to be successful?

Even if obesity was a disease, there is absolutely no justification for the way it is being handled by medical science. Of course it’s not a disease.  The pathologization of fat bodies is just more size bigotry masquerading as “medicine” and those practicing it should, and perhaps do, know better than to call a body size a disease, and they should, and perhaps do, know better than to make all the mistakes that are happening after the first one. Sometimes it’s just lazy medicine, sometimes it on purpose for profit. Regardless of why it happens, until it stops the rest of us have the option to refuse to buy in, and to speak up and stand up against it.

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Does It Count If They Kill Me?

End the war on fat peopleReader Kathleen sent me an article today about a researcher who suggests using a stent graft to limit blood flow to the gut after eating as a way to decrease weight gain.  This made me think about all the alleged “obesity interventions” that have possible side effect of death.  So I have to ask myself – in this whole “let’s eradicate obesity” push, does it count if they kill me?

I know this sounds dramatic but I’m starting to think that the people who are supposed to be responsible for my healthcare want me to be thin so badly that they are happy to risk my life to get it done, and it doesn’t matter what I want.

Weight loss surgeries are  “likely increase the actual mortality risks for these patients by 7-fold in the first year and by 363% to 250% the first four years.” Then there are weight loss drugs kept on the market by powerful lobbying even as they injure and kill the people taking them.

Dear medical establishment:  When people catch on that the diet intervention you’ve been prescribing to everyone almost never works, the next step is not to start amputating, pumping, and change the blood flow to fat people’s stomachs.  What the hell? It’s time to put some actual health in our healthcare, and stop making healthcare about trying to make fat people thin by any means necessary – dead or alive.  Politicians could stop making political speeches about how they are leading the effort to eradicate a whole group of people based on how we look, as if that’s something to be proud of.  How about we make public health about providing health options, information, and access to the public, and stop acting like public health means  making fat people’s health the public’s business? Oh, and it would be nice if messages that purport to be about public health didn’t make me wonder if dead fat people are considered a public health success because it’s one less fatty to eradicate.

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Become a Member, Support My Projects, and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and 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.