The Great Fat Debate

Nothing to proveWe often hear about “debates” about fat rights, size acceptance, and Health at Every Size. Though I often take such opportunities to get the word out about Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, there’s something that I want to make clear. There should be no debate.

The reason that civil rights in the United States have been and continue to be up for debate is not that they should be debated.  It’s that they have been, and continue to be, stolen from groups of people through a misuse of privilege and power, and those people are forced to fight to get them back which often involves debating. When people forget or refuse to acknowledge that, you get situations in which people actually believe that they should get to vote on whether or not someone else should be allowed to get married to the person that they love, while insisting that nobody should get to vote on their marriage.

This is often reinforced by the idea that successful oppression is self-legitimizing – suggesting that because people’s rights were successfully stolen in the past, that’s a legitimate reason to keep doing it.  Except, it’s absolutely not. It’s a great reason to rectify the issues as soon as possible, preferably right damn now.

The idea that it’s ok to discriminate against fat people in hiring, or college selection, or employee benefits is just wrong. The claims of the “cost” of fatties are questionable at best, but those calculations should never have been made. The idea that it’s ok to try to calculate the cost of a group of people who share a single physical characteristic and suggest that based on your calculations that group of people should be eradicated to save society some money is not ok.  It. Is. Not. Ok.

It is not ok for the government to wage war against a group of people for how they look, whether or not they could look differently if they tried. The fact that fat people have to fight for our basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that we have to “debate” about our right to exist, is not an interesting meeting of the minds, it is yet another gross transgression against our civil rights.

There is absolutely no outcome that justifies the oppression of fat people.  As I’ve said before, fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies regardless of how we got fat, what being fat means, or if we could be thin through some means – however easy or difficult. There are no other valid opinions on this – we have the right to exist without shaming, bullying or stigmatization, period.  This is not debatable.

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!

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

Size Acceptance in Kind of Crappy Graphics

I often have the desire to create fabulous graphics to express Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size concepts.  Unfortunately, the tools that I am working with are Microsoft Paint and my wits so this is the reality!  The first four basically stand alone. the second four may be best explained in the articles that accompany them – you can click a graphic to get a blog post with more information:

BMI Graphic Final

Underpants boss

Success and Diets

My Body My Business

 

Cookie Monster Truvia
Just to clarify, I’m not trying to food shame those who eat Truvia. My issue is that they market it using self-hatred and serious misinformation. I created this graphic to accompany a blog about it that you can see by clicking on the graphic if you want the full scoop.

 

Before After

Can't believe I'm not butter

Gatorade Body

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!

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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

Weight Loss is Not Revenge

Angry FrustratedReader Rachel let me know about a new show called “My Big Fat Revenge” where women are encouraged to lose weight to “get revenge” on people who bullied them for being fat. Here are some quotes from the press release:

After being discounted, humiliated, and rejected because of their weight, these women are ready to take control of their lives, put their painful pasts behind them, and finally stand up to the people who inflicted the hurt.

The premiere episode features Jennifer, who met Hiren on a plus-size online dating website. At first Jennifer thought she was living her fairy-tale romance with a man who accepted her, but Hiren soon started suggesting she lose weight, dye her hair blonde and change other physical characteristics. After never introducing her to his friends or family, he finally told her they could never truly be together because she was fat

For these transformed women, this is their golden opportunity to settle their scores and hopefully get the apologies they deserve.

From their intense workout regimens to dietary changes and weigh-ins, the [companion] web series will reveal the powerful transformations and show how the two women featured in that week’s episode lost the weight and found their confidence.

I was contacted for this show – or a show like it. they didn’t give me a name – and I asked the PA what the weight loss had to do with it.  She said it was “the point.”  I said that if I were going to confront my bullies I would demand an apology because they were wrong to bully me and that it had nothing to do with my weight then or now.  She said she didn’t think I was a fit for the show.  No kidding.

I’ve seen this done on talk shows and I’m not a huge fan of revenge shows for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m not sure if someone who would meet a woman on a plus-size dating site and then not be willing to date her because she is fat  is going to be capable of grasping the message.  It can also do more harm than good for the person who was bullied when it turns out that they have been thinking about this incident and that this bully has been affecting their life since 10th grade but the bully doesn’t even remember being their lab partner.

Even if I was excited about an “eye for an eye” revenge show, the women losing weight has literally nothing to do with it.  The show would work perfectly well without the dieting, and mixing weight loss with confronting bullies comes dangerously close to suggesting that weight loss should be the cure for social stigma when, in fact, ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma. I do not think that losing weight is getting revenge on someone who bullied you for being fat  – I think that it’s the equivalent of giving the bully your lunch money and then insisting that they apologize for demanding it.

It also sets us up for having to deal with people saying “See, bullying ultimately lead to these people “getting healthier” (because people are confused that weight loss and health are the same thing) so bullying fat people is a actually a great idea, and for their own good – giving people and corporations another chance to be  “brave” and make the sacrifice of bullying fat people.  This is not hypothetical, it’s already happened. People are allowed to do what they want for the reasons that they want, but I think making a television show about this is wrong.

Finally, this show, like all weight loss shows, is setting these women up for all kinds of later issues.  First, by reinforcing the information that changing one’s body size is the same thing as, and the only way to, improve one’s health. Then by encouraging and cheering short term weight loss which at this point everyone should know almost always ends in weight regain. Finally by tying their “confidence” and willingness to stand up to poor treatment to being thin.  None of this is doing them, or anyone else, any favors.

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

Ignored, Invisible, Erased

Truth GIn response to my post about how fat hate is often about things other than our actual fat, I received comments and e-mails from people who had experiences where they were ignored, erased, or made to feel invisible. This is just another effect of the war on fat people, of the government encouraging our employers, families, friends – even fat people ourselves – to stereotype us based on how we look, and to hate the bodies we live in 100% of the time.

We get ignored and made to feel invisible- by people who work in shops, by people on the street, by doctors, by hiring directors, by teachers in everything from community classes to Masters level college courses.

We also get erased.  This can happen physically  – Blog readers have told me about attending  weddings but finding themselves completely left out of the hundreds of pictures, fat people have been told by brides (who clearly don’t have any home training) that they are not being asked to be bridesmaids because they’ll “ruin the pictures.”  Yesterday commenter Maggie talked about how she had been at a workshop for a week with classes that only had 8 other people that was shot by the town’s tourism rep – who didn’t include her in a single picture.) I had a little kid say “Mom, that lady is fat” and the mom’s response was “Don’t look at her!”  This is not an episode of Dr. Who and I am not an angel statue so it’s totally ok to look at me.

Erasing can also happen emotionally. It happens when people insist that the above things don’t happen, that’s it’s all in our head.  When people’s response to hearing about the stigma, bullying and oppression that fat people deal with is to try to discredit us.  It happens when people try to replace our actual experiences with their made up ones about what it’s like to be fat. (I was once on the news with a celebrity personal trainer who was saying that nobody at 300 pounds could move comfortably.  I responded “What he is saying does not apply to me…” and he interrupted me and said “I beg to differ.” Seriously. He disagreed WITH ME about what I SAID does and does not apply TO ME.  This can be even worse for fatties with multiple marginalized identities – queer, trans*, disabled people, and people of color for example.

This isn’t fair, it isn’t something that we should have to deal with. It’s not our fault but like so much fat hate bullshit it becomes our problem.

There are some things that I do to combat this – obviously these are just my ideas – your mileage may vary, please feel free to ad yours to the comments.

  • Take pictures and post them on social media (I even have a gallery on this blog)
  • Get in front of the camera at events you are at
  • Say something when you see people replacing other people’s actual experience with their own stereotypes/prejudices etc.
  • Stand firm in your right to be the best witness to your experiences.
  • Share your experiences – tell your story.

Of course nobody is every obligated to do any activism at all, I think that in the end the most important thing to remember is that it’s other people’s behavior that’s the problem, not our bodies.

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

It’s Not Even About My Fat

conflictEver since I posted about doing a marathon I’ve been getting tons of hate mail. I got an e-mail that said “A part of me sincerely hopes you die doing that marathon so that others will see you can’t be over 300lbs and act like it doesn’t matter, you need to lose weight!”

This illustrates something that people who fat bash for fun, profit, or pleasure often try to disguise behind claims that it’s “because of our health” or “for our own good.”  A lot of fat bashing has almost nothing to do with us being fat per se.

For starters, let me take a shot at re-wording this person’s comment:  “A part of me sincerely hopes you die doing something that you like to do, so that other fat people don’t get the idea that they can do things that they like to do, as if the shame and stigma that I want to heap upon all of you doesn’t matter.  You need to hate yourself like I want you to and do what I say!”

A lot of this type of fat hate is about insecure people who have put all of their self-esteem eggs in the thin basket, people whose only method of feeling good about themselves is to try to find someone who they are “better than.”  For many people, that’s fat people.  If fat people don’t play along by hating ourselves and valuing these people’s bodies above our bodies, then it can lead to an angry response.

A lot of the social stigma that fat people face can serve to make us second class citizens – clothing stores use our purposeful exclusion as a marketing strategy, hospitals don’t bother to purchase equipment that will help keep us alive, the government is actively encouraging our employers, friends, and families to stereotype us based on how we look.

When we refuse to bow to this and we live the lives we want to live – doing a marathon, wearing a fatkini, going to see that band we like, eating at the new restaurant- or engage in activism to make the world better for us, this can be seen as “rising above our station”.  There are people who count on fat people trying to solve social stigma by changing ourselves.  When we decide to solve social stigma by ending social stigma, the people who profit – monetarily and/or emotionally – from our attempt to change ourselves can start to get antsy.  Or completely panicked and pissed off.

There are people for whom conforming to societal norms by getting as close as possible to the stereotype of beauty is incredibly important, and something at which they throw a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. People are absolutely allowed to do that.  It goes wrong when these people start to resent and become angry with those of us who make different choices.

I think that one of the most powerful types of activism fat people can do is live our lives unapologetically.  In the world we live in, waking up and not hating ourselves is activism. So going to that show, or wearing the awesome sweater we crocheted, entering a 5k, getting a scooter and going to Vegas, or whatever we do that isn’t hating our bodies – are acts of revolution.  Every single time a fat person refuses to be silenced, hidden, kept away, or kept out of an activity it is a revolutionary act.

There are many fat people who are afraid to do the things that they want to do and that’s totally ok and understandable.  Outside of not trying to take away people’s civil rights, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live.  As I have said before, if someone reads my work and realizes that fat people deserve to be treated with respect that’s great, but the goal of most of my work is to suggest/remind fat people that we deserve to be treated with respect.

I don’t do things to inspire people (that’s way too much pressure) I do thing that I like to do.  So I don’t care if I ever “inspire” anyone to do a marathon, but if my doing a marathon, or wearing a bikini, or stubbornly refusing to hate myself, helps another fat person go to bingo, or join a quilting circle, or go read a book in the park, or do anything that they want to do, then I’ll be thrilled.

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

Compliment Minefield

complimentEvery time I see someone being complimented for “looking so great” after their recent weight loss, I cringe a little.  People who undertake weight loss attempts are often encouraged to motivate themselves by hating their current bodies.  When they are successful at short term weight loss, they are encouraged to look back at their “old body” with shame, scorn, and hatred.  And that’s a big problem.

Not just because at some point the person will probably start to think “if everyone is talking about how great I look now, how did they think I looked before?” but also because the vast majority of people gain back their weight in two to five years.  Then they are living in a body that they taught themselves to hate and be ashamed of, remembering all of those compliments. Yikes.

I’ve also had friends and blog readers who’ve lost weight because they were sick, or stressed, or in some other unintentional way, who’ve said that this kind of compliment was horrible  It made them wonder what these people thought of their bodies before, it created friction when they regained the weight, and it created an incredibly awkward situation when the person said “You look great, what’s your weight loss secret?” and their answer was “chemotherapy.”

So compliments can be a minefield.  But they can also be awesome.  Here are some guidelines that might help.  Of course, your mileage may vary and these are just suggestions:

Avoid Body Comparisons

Bodies are beautiful all the time.  People’s body size changes over their lives, sometimes on purpose, sometimes through extraneous, even undesired, circumstances.  Either way, it’s impossible to tell people that they look better without telling them that they looked worse, and that’s no good.  So, maybe don’t do it. Try this:

  • You’ve always been beautiful and I’m glad that you are happy.
  • You are beautiful at every size

No backhanded compliments

Some of these might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. A compliment should probably never include:

  • “For a” as in “You’re really pretty for a fat girl”
  • “I guess”  as in “If you like that dress I guess I like it”
  • “such…but” as in “You have such a pretty face, but you need to do something about your weight.”
  • “brave” as in “You’re so brave to wear a sleeveless shirt”.

Drop the “for a” and “I guess”. Drop “such”, “but” and everything after, consider adding an adjective.

  • You look very pretty.
  • I like that dress too.

Any mention of “brave” that is not followed by “for fighting off those wild animals” is a bad call.  Try “You look great in that shirt.”

Complimenting the clothes

  • Those jeans make your butt look great.
  • That dress is very flattering.
  • That shirt is so cute.

Compliment the person not the clothes

  • Your butt makes those jeans look great (maybe save this for people who are not co-workers and are close friends)
  • That dress really compliments your rocking body
  • You have fantastic taste in clothes

Ah, that’s better.

No putting yourself down as part of a compliment

  • You look great, I wish I had legs like that
  • Wow, great job, I could never press that much weight
  • I love your hair, I could never pull off that look

It tends to ruin the compliment the person feels like they have to make you feel better at the end of it. This fix is easy, just drop the part about you:

  • You look great.
  • Wow, great job.
  • I love your hair.

Easy peasy.

So go forth and compliment fearlessly!

Meet me in Chicago!

The Abundia Conference is coming up November 1-3rd in the Chicago area.  There will be amazing women, lots of fun and fatty fellowship, plus I’m the speaker this year and we’ll be talking about everything from being our own medical advocate, to improving our relationships with our bodies, food, and movement, and of course we can dance if we want to (which is to say that we will have an optional dance workshop!)  They have a sliding scale, lots of options, and an empowerment fund to help with finances.  You can get info and register here!

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

The Problems With Food Policing

AuthorityOne of the most frustrating things that I deal with as part of our fat bashing society is the idea that my fat body is a signal that I need other people to tell me how to live my life – what to eat and what not to eat, how to exercise etc. In fact there is a whole lot of food policing and food moralizing by and against people of all sizes.  I think it’s important that we each be able to make our own choices about what we eat, and have access to information if we want it.  But I wasn’t always this way.

Several years ago I was in a very different place than I am now.  I believed strongly in the moralization of food – I could have written those truly awful Truvia jingles. I shared my thoughts, opinions and judgment with others like I actually had a Food Police badge.   It was at that time that my best friend Kelrick told me about his discovery of Jamba Juice.  In his words I “screwed up my face and said ‘ewwww too much sugar'”  We repeated this scene several times. This is the kind of thing that I’ll be hearing about from Kel for the rest of our lives. Those chickens came home to roost today when I made what I thought was a funny post to my Facebook page:

I’m told that as my training sessions for the Marathon get longer I’ll have to put more thought into hydration. Gatorade was on sale today so I bought 10 different flavors in the hopes of finding some that taste less like flavored sweat and more like anything else. But what is with the flavor names? What the effing crap is “Riptide Rush”? How about naming it something that gives a clue as to the flavor?

I have literally no idea why I capitalized “marathon” by that’s a psychoanalysis for another blog. I had intended for this FB post to be somewhere between “this is funny” and “share my pain.”  Unfortunately some people took it as an invitation to lecture me about what I should put in my own body and broadly moralize about food.  I completely understand how their could have been confusion since I was talking about advice that I had received.  I later posted to clarify and the policing and moralizing immediately stopped.

I’m sure everyone who posted was well-intentioned, I’m sure they believe that they are right and giving me helpful information, hell a few years ago I would have done the same thing. After a lot of studying and soul searching, I’ve come to believe that food policing and moralization, however well-intentioned, are not helpful, and in fact can be quite harmful.

Food policing happens when we decide that it’s not enough to make our own choices about food, we have to help others make choices as well.  Policing other people’s food is a slippery slope – who gets to decide?  Does someone who believes that veganism is the healthiest (and therefore lowest cost-on-society option) get to insist that everyone is vegan?  Do they get to not pay for the healthcare costs of non-vegans?  What about someone who thinks Paleo is the healthiest?

Food policing can take overt forms “Your juice has too much sugar!” or subtle forms “I know you love your bod – please find something healthier to drink!” Subtle or overt, I’ve never met anyone who wanted to tell me what and how to eat, who also wanted someone to be telling them.  Well-intentioned or otherwise, I think it’s a bad idea.

Food policing has any number of problems.  First, it’s arrogant to assume that other people need us to tell them what and how to eat.  It’s also dangerous when the policer doesn’t know everything about the policed.  People recommended that I drink pineapple juice – I’m sure it’s great except I’m allergic to it.  People told me that I should eat peanut butter as a snack.  I’m sure it’s great, except my best friend, who is running with me, is deathly allergic and just having peanuts around him is dangerous. There are some people who can’t digest certain foods, there are food allergies, there are any number of personal issues that might inform how and what a person chooses to eat and unless someone is asking for advice it’s not our place to give it.

Food moralization happens when we assign moral value to food – good, bad, guilt-free, sinful, crap, clean etc.  It’s problematic because it can cause and/or reinforce unhealthy relationships with food.  It also doesn’t take into account individual needs or circumstances, some of which we may not even be aware of. What each person can afford, what they are capable of preparing, any health issues/concerns they may have, and what they like all factor in.

So how does this work in real life?  We have the right to decide that food has a moral value in our own lives, but it’s not ok to try to apply those morals to someone else (just like some people don’t eat pork for religious reasons but it’s not ok to suggest that stores should stop selling bacon.) If we think that a certain company or food should be taken off the shelves, then I think we should consider focusing on the company or the law and putting information out on our own spaces (blogs, FB pages, Twitter etc) , or join spaces where these discussions are encouraged, rather than focusing on individuals and their choices and using other people’s spaces to “educate” them when it’s not been invited.

I’m off to have a Gatorade Jamba Juice.

Las Vegas Area Readers:

I’ll be in Las Vegas in October for the awesome Size Diversity Task Force Retreat.

If you are in Las Vegas I would love to meet you, let me know  If you know of a college, business, or organization that might like to have me as a speaker while I’m there, I would love to reach out to them, feel free to e-mail me at ragen@danceswithfat.org

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