Dear Fat Kid – An Open Letter

LiesDear Fat Kid,

I hope that you are surrounded by people who understand that you and your fat body are amazing. If you’re not, then my first thought is to tell you that your body is amazing and that bullies are just people who are insecure or desperate to feel important. You are and they are but, if you’re anything like me, that won’t comfort you very much.  I want to tell you that “it gets better” and in my experience it does get better when you have the opportunity to choose who you hang around.  But the truth is that we live in a fatphobic society and I would rather give you tools to maybe make some things better now and maybe change the world in the future than suggest that you just hope things will be less crappy later (even though they likely will.)

This is what I wish someone had told me when I was a fat kid:

First of all, don’t believe everything you hear. There is not a single study where a majority of fat people lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off long term. There are plenty of studies where people improved their health through healthy habits without losing weight at all.  Almost everyone who diets ends up as fat or fatter than when they started.  “Weight Loss is possible for everyone” is to today what “The sun revolves around the Earth” was in Galileo’s time.  Something that people, including “experts” and high ranking government officials, believe fervently to be true, suggest that it’s heresy to disagree with, and for which they have absolutely no evidence basis.

Don’t take my word for it, read the research yourself – try to find a study where, five years after dieting, fat people were thinner and healthier than when they started. Research from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.

It helps me to remember that people are basically brainwashed when it comes to this and will often defend it with religious fervor.  How much you want to educate other people around this or work on changing it is entirely up to you, to me it’s helpful to remember that I’m not the first person to have to weather the storm of “everybody knows.”

But here’s the thing, the way that fat people are treated by our society is abhorrent and wrong.  Even if I’m wrong and everyone can become thin, the way that fat people are treated is still abhorrent and wrong.  There is no rational argument that says “Those people could look different than they do, and until they choose to do that it’s perfectly cool for me to treat them like crap.”

Suggesting that fat people should lose weight to avoid this treatment is totally and completely wrong on every level – the problem is not fat people, the problem is people who stigmatize fat people, and the solution to social stigma is ending social stigma, not weight loss.  You deserve to be treated with basic human respect. You have the same right to life liberty and pursuit of happiness that thin people do, and that should include the ability to grow up without the First Lady of the United States waging war on you for your body size, and the Boy Scouts keeping you out of the Jamboree.

In short, the world is screwed up, you are fine.

I don’t know about you, but people lied to me when I was younger.  They told me that if I cared about my health I would diet to get thin, they told me that diet behaviors were the same as healthy behaviors and that thin is the same thing as healthy, they told me that exercise should be miserable or it didn’t count.

If you are interested in being healthy, then you are in luck because you can pursue health outside of weight loss (though the diet companies who make $60 Billion a year in profits may not want you to know.)  It turns out that, though health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control and never guaranteed, the best way that we can help our odds for health is to pursue healthy habits.  Things like getting enough sleep, trying not to be super stressed, moving out bodies, and eating around the intersection of what nourishes our bodies and tastes good to us, and the situation that we’re in.

It turns out that movement tends to be great for most people’s health- even if we really enjoy it.  You can try out lots of different stuff – I know people who hated exercise and thought that they were totally un-athletic until they found their “thing”  – hoopdance, Olympic powerlifing, skateboarding etc.  I also know people who just don’t like exercise and that’s cool to – some choose to still do it for the possible health benefits and some don’t and both choices are valid.  At any rate, gym class is not the end all and be all of exercise and may actually be the worst possible example.

If you want my advice (and it’s cool if you don’t) I would suggest being really grateful to your body for everything that it does for you (blinking, heartbeat, breathing, waving, smiling, pushing your wheelchair, hugging people whatever.)  I would suggest doing what you want to do now, and not putting it off until you’ve changed our body size.  And I would suggest being angry at people who suggest that the path to health starts with hating your body, or who don’t treat you or your body with the respect you deserve. I would suggest searching on the internet for Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance and looking for places to connect.

People come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

So that’s it for now, except to say good luck, I’m here for you if I can help.

~Ragen

The H.A.T. (Health Assessment Test)

Sometimes I just need to put into perspective the whackadoodle stuff that people tell me would make me healthier.  For today’s blog I thought we would play a little game of “what’s really healthier”. It’s sort of like the S.A.T.s…maybe we should call it the H.A.Ts:  two choices, you decide which one is truly unhealthy:

Seeking out movement that I love doing or thinking of exercise as a punishment for not being thin

Mindful eating based on internal cues or eating 500 calories a day and being injected with hormones extracted from urine

Feeling like a success because I did my healthy habits or feeling like a failure because those habits didn’t lead to weight loss

Eating whole foods or eating low-fat and non-fat versions that are full of a chemical shitstorm of replacements for whole foods

Eating to nourish my body or eating to starve it in the hope that it eats itself and becomes smaller

Doing the best I can with the body that I have now or getting my stomach amputated in an effort to make my body do what it will not do naturally

Appreciating my body for how amazing it is or hating my body because it doesn’t meet a culturally arbitrary standard of beauty

Here’s my perspective: Health is not a moral, social, or personal obligation.  People can choose to prioritize and pursue health at whatever level they want but that neither guarantees it nor makes them better than people who don’t choose to prioritize or pursue health. Health has both physical and mental components.  Hating ourselves is not healthy.  Most of what gets sold to us by the diet industry is the exact opposite of healthy. Weight loss isn’t the same as healthy habits, thin isn’t the same as healthy, and appreciating your body is never a bad thing.

Help Fat Activists tell our history and their stories in their own words.  Support “In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History” Project

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Boy Scouts Discriminate Against Fat Kids

The Boy Scouts of America have decided to discriminate against Scouts based on BMI.  If your BMI is deemed too high, you aren’t allowed to participate in their Jamboree because they assume you’re not physically fit enough.  The policy is seriously screwed up and not, in any way, based in evidence, science, or logic.

First their explanation of why to use BMI as a screening tool:

The CDC suggests using a body mass index as a screening tool for obesity; it is easy and only requires knowing your height and weight. The BMI is a governmental calculation based on nationwide statistics that take into account variables that include geography, age, and sex.

It’s easy – if you know someone’s height and weight then you know exactly how physically fit they are.  Wait – no, you really don’t – all you know is their height and weight which are not the same as health or physical fitness.  Also – it is a governmental calculation?  Shouldn’t we be using something that we can at least pretend is a medical calculation? As the brilliant Jon Robison said at a talk I was at, it’s not that BMI is a poor indicator of health, it’s that BMI is not an indicator of health.   If they are using the exact same BMI ranges for scouts of all ages and adult staff and from all over the country, how is it possible that it takes into account age and geography?

So here’s the policy:

The Jamboree Medical Staff will review all applicants with a BMI of 32.0–39.9 and consider jamboree participation based on  1) health history, 2) submitted health data, and 3) recommendation of the applicant’s personal health care provider. For applicants with a BMI >31.9, a recommendation of “no contraindications for participation” by the applicant’s personal health care provider does not necessarily guarantee full jamboree participation. The jamboree medical staff will have final determination of full jamboree participation.

The national jamboree cannot accept for participation any applicant with a BMI of 40.0 or higher. (emphasis theirs)

Why are they doing this?

Anyone who is obese and has multiple risk factors for cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary disease would be at much greater risk of an acute cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary event imposed on them by the environmental stresses of the Summit. Our goal is to prevent any serious health-related event from occurring, and ensuring that all of our participants and staff are “physically strong.”

So based on a ratio of weight and height the Boy Scouts can tell if an applicant is “physically strong.”  and if they have multiple risk factors for cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary disease.  My BMI is 48.7 so thank god I have the Boy Scouts to tell me that I dropped dead of a heart attack in my dance rehearsal this morning. Come to think of it, maybe I should ask the Boy Scouts if blogging is too strenuous for me?  At 48.7 it sounds like they think I should just lie down.

Note that there is no action to be taken for underweight applicants, even though eating disorders among boys and men are increasing – if they’re going to make sweeping generalizations about health and physical fitness based on weight and height, shouldn’t they at least do it across the board?  Never mind that BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account, so using it as a measure of “physical strength” seems questionable. Never mind the mountain of evidence that shows that fitness is a much better determinant of health risks than body size.  Never mind that:

BMI Graphic Final

 

 

 

 

I seriously hope that a scout who lives in a city or state that prohibits weight-based discrimination is able to sue, or that fat scouts get some activism together.  This is so, so wrong.  This is why, though I am adamant that nobody is obligated to pursue fitness in any way, I think it’s important for fat athletes to tell our stories, so that fat little Boy Scouts and fat adult Scout leaders who want to go on hikes or be athletic aren’t discouraged by the bigotry that they face in an organization that’s supposed to empower them.

If you’re interested in talking about fitness without weight loss talk or weight stigma, or checking out awesome pictures and videos of fat athletes, you can always check out the Fit Fatties Forum – it’s a place for people of all sizes, shapes and abilities to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective, it’s totally free to join!  www.fitfatties.com

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

Help Fat Activists tell our history and their stories in their own words.  Support “In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History” Project

Become a member: 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

No More Talking About Us

Mail Chimp HeaderOur society talks about fat people, wages war on fat people, and dictates to fat people what’s “good” for us. Rarely are we talked to; rarer still are we given a place or a voice in discussions about us. Someone else is telling our story, other people are substituting their imagined ideas and stereotypes about what it’s like to be fat for the actual experiences of fat people and I’m really, really not ok with that.

I’ve had the tremendous good fortune to get to meet and talk to and hang out with my heroes in the movement, and those interactions really helped me understand where the movement came from, shape my views, and made me really proud of the rich history of fat activism.

About a year and a half ago I started having this idea about doing a documentary about fat rights – interviewing people from the history of the movement.  In the end I decided that doing it as a documentary was too limiting in terms of accessibility and scope.  So I decided to do in person interviews with activists starting at the beginning of the movement and moving through today, putting those interviews up on YouTube so that as many people as possible can watch it free of charge.

It’s taken a year and a half of work to get to this point, but the time is here, I’m announcing the project:  In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History.  A number of amazing activist have already agreed to be interviewed and I’m getting started next week.   I want to give us a chance to tell our own stories in our own words to as many people as possible and I’m asking for your help.  There are a bunch of ways to support this project from supporting it financially to helping get the word out. (If you’re not into this project then never fear, I’ll be back to my regular blogging tomorrow!)

Donate to the project through GoFundMe, funds will go to cover equipment, technology, travel and editing time.  (GoFundMe has a $5 minimum donation)

If you’re donating less than $5  (every little bit helps!) or you just like paypal better, you can donate using paypal.

Become a DancesWithFat Member.  Members are people who get value from the blog and choose to support my work with $10 a month. As a thank you they get discounts on all of my stuff, special deals that I work out with fat friendly merchants, first notice about things that I do etc.

Help get the word out!  Post http://www.gofundme.com/InOurOwnWords or forward this blog post along to your network on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc. (there are buttons at the bottom of the post that let you do that really easily)

Help me connect with fat activists who want to be interviewed – if you know, or are, a fat activist who may want to be interviewed for this project contact me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org.

Watch the videos and pass them along!  If you want to receive notifications as the project progresses and new videos go up, you can join the project mailing list at http://eepurl.com/BBXyX

Edit:

I’ve received questions about diversity and inclusion in the project and I want to address that. It is very important to me to make this project inclusive of people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, trans* people, and men all of whom often find themselves under-represented in fat activism.

The first phase is created to primarily include people who were active from the 1960’s through the 1980s, future phases will focus on activists from the 1980s through today.  From the beginning of my research I’ve been looking for activists from the above communities, sometimes with limited success. My process has, to this point, centered around asking people who were active at that time for suggestions and my hope is that by starting the project with the group that I have, others may feel more comfortable to become involved, or those who I haven’t found may find the project.  I intend to continue to diligently and proactively work to find members of these communities and I welcome suggestions for activists to whom I should reach out, or ways to more successfully reach out to activists in these communities.

Questions?  E-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org

Forced Walks for Fatties

fight backAn insurance company recently forced fat customers to choose between paying up to 20 percent more for health insurance (up to $2,000 a year) or exercising more and having their movement electronically monitored.  A study was just released touting the “success” of this program because “After one year, nearly 97 percent of the enrollees had met or exceeded the average goal of 5,000 steps a day – including the most resistant participants who disagreed with the financial incentives and found the program “coercive.”  They concluded that “Wellness interventions like this clearly hold significant promise for encouraging physical activity among adults who are obese.”

How fucked up is this?  Let me count some of the ways.

First of all, even if it was ok to coerce people into physical activity for the sake of insurance premiums (and I’m going to say that it’s not, but that’s another blog post)  it’s absolutely not ok for this to only be applied based on people’s physical appearance. If you’re an employee who is fat then it doesn’t matter if you run marathons in your free time, your physical activity has to be monitored by a pedometer connected to the internet or you have to pay 20% more than your completely sedentary but not fat coworkers.  If they are going to do this then the 20% discount (or, as I like to call it, 20% penalty) should be applied to everyone.

They don’t appear to have tracked these employees’ physical activity to begin with.  When they claim success, they are assuming that fat people didn’t walk the 5,000 steps before.  You can do that, but you shouldn’t call it research or science, you should call it bigotry because that’s what it is.

Exceptions were allowed if people got a doctor’s note.  Thank the gods that doctors are so careful to listen to what their fat patients are telling them and give them what they need. What’s that you say? It’s not opposite day?  Oh, in that case you’re probably screwed in the doctor’s note department.

The suggestion is that this needs to be done to save health care costs though health changes.  They admit that they don’t have any idea if this will lead to either. The study’s lead author states “Comprehensive evaluations are needed to determine whether participation in these programs translates to meaningful changes in health and costs of health care.”  So let me guess this straight, fat people are being forced to either pay 20% more than thin people or have their activity electronically monitored, and that program was implemented BEFORE anybody  even bothered to see if it will have any benefits?

Let’s just get super clear – we have reached the point where it is acceptable to people to say:  if you look like this, then you have to submit to electronic monitoring  or pay more for insurance than people who don’t look like that.

People who are ok with this because it’s only happening to fatties should really think again.  Not getting enough sleep is seriously detrimental to health – what happens when employees are told that they can either wear sleep monitors to assure that they are getting enough sleep or pay $2,000 more?  What about twice daily breathalyzers to make sure that an employee isn’t drinking too much?  Tests for nicotine?  How much electronic monitoring are you willing to submit to based on the guess that it will in some vague way save someone money?

People still scoff at the idea that fat rights activism is necessary – I imagine those are the people who aren’t asked to pay up or submit to electronic monitoring.

Pssst!  This is super secret – tomorrow I’m going to be launching the fundraising for my new project – In Our Own Words – A Fat Activist History.  If you want to be ahead of the curve, you can check it out (and maybe even support it?!) today: http://www.gofundme.com/InOurOwnWords

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

Become a member: 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

Shenanigans

WTFReaders have let me know about a number of really ridiculous things happening right now. Let’s talk about some of them:

A former Biggest Loser contestant is being sued by a company that endorsed her.  There were some copyright and conflict of interest issues, and the fact that she “gained far too much weight” which violated her contract which stipulated that she “agrees to maintain her current level of fitness and conditioning.”  Now, I ain’t no big city lawyer, but it seems to me that she agreed to keep a level of fitness and conditioning, not a body size.  This is often confused and it’s a pity.  People of various sizes have various fitness levels – the two are not synonymous.  You can’t look at someone and determine their strength, stamina, or flexibility unless they are putting on a display of flexibility, stamina, or strength.  Even if she had agreed to stay thin, had she or her sponsor read the research on dieting, they would have known that maintaining long term weight loss is a promise that almost nobody can keep.

Speaking of sizes and fitness levels, there was so much bullshit around Marion Barlolli’s Wimbledon win that it spun me into a state of pissed off that I haven’t reached in a long time. First a BBC commentator tried to win the Wimbledon Trophy for being a sexist jackass,  then a series of men took to Twitter to prove that sexism and misogyny are not just alive and well but are points of pride for some guys.  @Everyday Sexism collected a bunch of them starting at “Bartoli didn’t deserve to win because she is ugly” and  getting much, much worse.  Ok dude, your desire to have sex with someone or not has actually no bearing on their ability to do anything other than have sex with you (which you might just assume they don’t want to do.)  Seriously who are these guys who think that the entire world revolves around who they think is attractive?  Spare me. Spare all of us.

The pissed off continued when I found out that a former Australian Vogue editor is shilling a tell-all book.  I wrote about this for iVillage – to me what it comes down to is that she seemed happy to observe women slowly killing themselves for beauty and glorifying the process on the pages of her magazine. Now she’s happy to be paid to write about it in her tell-all book, all the while doing absolutely nothing to actually help these girls. Maybe she could donate all the profits from her book to an organization that helps people with eating disorders?  Maybe instead of buying the book, people could donate the $20 bucks they were going to spend on it to such an organization.  Maybe instead of being obsessed with reading about exactly how bad the world is for fashion models, we could ask ourselves what we can do to dismantle a system where a Vogue editor who watches a model starve herself during a trip would never decide that the natural thing to do is “lie her down next to a fountain to get the last shot” because the model could no longer stand.  When that happens, it’s time for an ambulance, not a creative pose. And to me it’s time for outrage, not supporting this woman by buying her book.

I call epic shenanigans on every bit of this bullshit!

But the news isn’t all bad.  A company called ByPost thought it would bring great hilarity to its Twitter feed to make a fat joke before suggesting that Twitter followers purchase postcards from them.  Why they thought this is really anyone’s guess, but I think they’ve learned their lesson.  In a great burst of human decency people went the fuck after them on Twitter and now they know how to apologize lots of ways in 140 characters or less, and why it’s probably a bad idea to hand the Twitter reins over to Skippy the marketing intern because Skippy is just so funny.

Also, the Big Fat Flea Market is going on this Saturday.  This is the Size Diversity Task Force’s big yearly fundraising and it helps fund scholarships for our Vegas Retreat (you should come!), the Guinness world record paper mache project, and all manner of other awesome activism.  You can attend live in LA and if you aren’t in LA you can watch the Livestream and even get a personal shopper (#findmyfatclothes) which is especially cool since Hips and Curves donated 74 stunning plus sized corsets in addition to the bags and bags of awesome clothes we have.  You can also participate in the raffle with it’s over $1,100 in prizes:  Donate to the SDTF and receive raffle tickets: $1=1 raffle ticket, $5=6 tickets, $10=14 tickets, $20=35 tickets, $50=100 tickets  PayPal: sizediversitytaskforce@gmail.com

Finally, a public service announcement:  If you read News from the Fatosphere you may have noticed that you’re not receiving it any more.  That’s because on the 30th of June it was moved from Google Reader to Feedly. All you need to do is go to Feedly.com, sign in with your google reader email and password, and follow the instructions to migrate your account from GR to Feedly.  If you don’t currently get the NFTF feed and want to do so, you can sign up at feedly.com for a new Feedly account. You will need either a gmail address, or a Google account for this. Then, once your account is set up, just type ‘notes from the fatosphere’ into the add content box and you’re done.

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

Become a member: 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

Love at Too High a Cost

I'm ok you're okI often get messages from people who are looking for help because their friend or family member has done something that hurt them.  Maybe they were fat shamed at a family dinner, or a friend who they thought understood size acceptance posted a fat phobic Facebook meme.  Sometimes it’s a friend or family member who challenges them every time they post something size positive.

I think it’s important to remember that Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are revolutionary movements.  If you espouse these things then at some point you are almost certain to meet resistance from someone in your life, maybe lots of people in your life. How you handle it is completely up to you and there are lots of options.

I have one friend who ended a friendship because the person posted a fatphobic Facebook meme again – after they had a conversation about how much those things upset her.

I have another friend whose boyfriend believes that to be healthy you have to be thin and doesn’t support her HAES practice at all.  He also tells her that he loves her for who she is “in spite of how she looks.”  I asked how she made that work and she said that they just “agree to disagree on the whole fat thing”

For me it comes down to a basic question.  One of my favorite songs is Defying Gravity from Wicked.  One of my favorite lines from that song is “Well, if that’s love it comes at much too high a cost.”   I always think of that lyric when this kind of situation comes up in my life.  I ask myself – at what cost to myself am I willing to maintain this relationship?

It may differ from relationship to relationship – for some people the concept of family is so important that they are willing to deal with poor treatment because the person is their mother – that’s totally reasonable.  I’ve never been like that – I have a threshold of respect and if people can’t meet that threshold then they don’t get to be in my life no matter who they are.  Anything else it just too high a cost for me.

In my dating days I had a number of criteria that were deal killers if they weren’t met – for example the person had to be supportive of my size acceptance practice, love me for my body and not in spite of it, and not give money to organizations (including churches) that actively tried to limit people’s civil rights legislatively.  I have friends who didn’t meet all those criteria and I was ok with that – that wasn’t too high a cost, but dating someone who didn’t meet those criteria was just too emotionally expensive.  I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I may have missed out on dating some incredible people, but for me it has all worked out in the end.

My point is that, as a revolutionary, there will be situations to negotiate with people who don’t get it, and you get to decide how to negotiate those situations and, like so many other things, it’s nobody else’s business how you do it.

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

Become a member: 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