Rejecting Reality

Dream WorldAs an activist one of the most frustrating things that I hear when I discuss things that I think should be changed is “Well, that’s just reality.”  Maybe I’m talking about the way that fat people are discriminated against in hiring and pay, or the way that we are mistreated by doctors, or that I wish we could choose our singers, actors, and dancers based on their talent instead of their looks.  It never fails that someone says “Well, that’s just reality, deal with it.”

I agree, that is reality.  My issues is that,  in this context, “reality” is thought of as a fixed state and “deal with it” typically means “acquiesce and conform” or suffer the consequences of a reality you “can’t change”.

And that’s where I disagree. Conforming is not our only option.  We could refuse to conform and, in doing so, dismantle stereotypes, confound expectations, and  change popular culture. “Reality” is not unchangeable and I know that because I was wearing pants when I voted for the first time, because we no longer put people under house arrest for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun, because I stood witness when my best friend married his husband.

Obviously, not conforming comes with sacrifice.  If you love your body and focus on your health instead of your weight, if you refuse to be a “good fatty“  – always self-deprecating,  trying to be thin and telling everyone how you struggle with your weight, or if you stop wearing make-up, or speak your truth, or refuse to participate in “fashion” or do anything that challenges the status quo, then you probably will get less job offers, you probably will get paid less than your culturally conforming co-workers, you might get kicked out of the doctor’s office, you may get fewer dates.  People might very well be nasty to you.  Those can be big sacrifices and you might not want to make them, and that’s totally ok.

But for change to happen somebody has to do it. Somebody – and then more somebodies – must buck the system.  In the course of changing “reality” I notice that a lot of people to sacrifice a little, some people to sacrifice a lot, and a few people to sacrifice everything.  None of those people has to be you, but they could if you choose.

I am very clear that I stand on the shoulders of thousands of people who sacrificed time, money, relationships, personal comfort, and even their lives to create parts of reality which I now enjoy.  I don’t take those sacrifices for granted and I can’t think of any better way to show gratitude than to become part of that tradition.

And remember that it doesn’t have to be something huge.  Every little bit helps.  So consider organizing a “No Make-Up Monday” at your school or work, or wear a sleeveless shirt and proudly show your arms, tell people your real weight.  To be clear, I have nothing against those who choose to wear make-up, or try for intentional weight loss cover their bodies, or lie about their weight.  If that’s what you want to do then I respect your choice just like I want my choices respected – what I’m interested in is having the opportunity to choose things just because we want to, without the consideration that if we don’t choose them, the herd will say we’re baaaaaaaad and we’ll suffer consequences.

Maybe things in my life would be easier if I was willing to accept “what is” and conform, or was at least willing to be a good, self-deprecating, I’m-trying-to-lose-weight- so-you’ll-find-my-body-acceptable fatty,  Maybe people would think I was less weird. But I, and a lot of other people, have had enough. We are standing up and saying “No more.”

And maybe the sacrifices my friends and I are making will change the world.  Maybe we’ll see a fat woman as a leading lady in a movie that never even mentions her weight, or have a National dialog about health that doesn’t center around just trying to have a smaller body.  Maybe we’ll see a world where we accept and respect the diversity of body sizes,  and we’ll feel the same pride that suffragettes felt when they watched women vote.

Or maybe not.  Maybe we’ll just know that we lived a life of integrity and strength, part of a tradition of people who didn’t just want things to be different or complain about their reality, but worked and sacrificed for the reality that they wanted.  Maybe we’ll just know that we refused to be whittled away trying to trim ourselves down to suit somebody else.  And maybe that’s enough.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

 

Should We End Fat Talk?

my name is
Name courtesy of hatemail from someone who didn’t realize that I would love this so much I would consider changing my name.

A clip has been leaked of an interview with Barbara Walters and Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence. Walters asked her “You’ve criticized people who judge people on the red carpet. You’re very sensitive to that. Why?” Lawrence responded:

Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?

First of all let me say how much I appreciate Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about this, I’ve written before about how ridiculous I think it is that, on a night that people have dreamed of and waited their whole lives for, we choose to trash them because their dress or shoes or hair don’t meet the fickle and ever changing requirements of the fashion police.  To me this applies to red carpet critique, who wore it best articles, best and worst bikini bodies and more but that’s a subject for another blog.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard the idea of ending fat talk.  Often when it is discussed “fat talk” is short hand for negative body talk.  Above Ms. Lawrence seems to be suggesting literally not calling people fat. though I think that it’s couched in hyperbole for effect.

The issue here is that, however well meaning, saying that we shouldn’t call people fat suggests that being fat is such a terrible thing that we shouldn’t utter the word out loud.  Fat people are not Voldemort and making fat seem like the “physical descriptor that must not be named” actually further shames and stigmatizes people who are fat whether we call them/ourselves that or not. The trick is to end body shaming and negative body talk full stop – not to suggest that we should abandon the use a perfectly good physical descriptor because people have been allowed to heap stereotypes onto it.

Here’s what I think:  We don’t need an end to fat talk, we need an end to fat stereotyping, fat stigmatizing, fat bashing and fat-based healthism (along with all healthism while we’re at it.)  We need to realize that public health means creating access to options for the public, not making people’s health the public’s business.  We need to acknowledge that bodies come in lots of sizes for lots of different reasons and that people of all sizes deserve to be treated with respect – which includes the absence of stereotyping based on physical appearance.  I think that we need to end body snarking and body bashing of all kinds, and I think part of that is creating a world where calling someone fat isn’t either.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Are Fat People at Higher Risk?

Ask QuestionsI received an e-mail from reader Emma today who said that she had seen sources that said that obese people were at a higher risk for a number of health conditions and asked  “are you and I at increased risk of that scary list of diseases and health conditions simply because we are overweight/obese?”

In order to understand the context of the research around fat and disease risk, it’s important to look at it from the lens of the current social climate and the confirmation bias that comes with it.  Fear mongering around being fat is a national past time and  researchers design studies from a bias about fat and fat people, and with the goal of proving things about fat and fat people, often funded by companies that profit from their findings. When we examine research around population groups and health we can’t do so without taking into account the stereotypes and prejudices of the culture in which they live.  There’s also the issue that people are much less likely to read a piece like this than a statement like “the disease risks of obesity are well known.”

Let’s begin at the beginning. The statement that fat people are at a higher risk for some health conditions means that these conditions occur more often in fat people based on the current counts, it does not say that fat has been shown to cause these conditions.  There are a number of things that can influence this.

The current counts can be biased.  Imagine that I test brunettes for ingrown toenails early and often, and I never test those with other hair colors. Then I publish a report that just states that brunettes are at a higher risk for ingrown toenails.  If you knew what my research methods were, you would scoff at my findings.  But if you didn’t know, you might accept my conclusion that brunettes are at a higher risk for ingrown toenails, especially if the media picked up my report with headlines such as “Brunettes Ingrown Toenail Costs are Bankrupting the Nation.”

It sounds ridiculous but research about disease prevalence in fat populations that relies on reports of doctor’s diagnoses falls prey to exactly this issue.  We don’t know anything about research until we know everything about their methods.  Without a representative sample that controls for variables that could otherwise be confounding the research can’t even begin to claim to be conclusive. Doctors often test fat patients early and often for these diseases, even in the absence of any symptoms, testing thin people much less often. Some thin people have been misdiagnosed by doctors who believe that that diseases correlated with being fat  aren’t possible for thin people, which leads to incorrect diagnoses for thin people as well.

But let’s say that these diseases do happen more often in fat people.  There are still a number of issues with concluding that all fat people are at a higher risk, or that being fat causes the risk, or what can be done to mitigate it.

First of all, many conditions that cause the health problems have also been shown to cause weight gain – PCOS for example leads to weight gain and insulin resistance.   There is a chicken and egg question that is very often ignored in the rush for headlines.

There is also the issue of access to medical care. In a study by Maroney and Golub called “Nurses’ attitudes toward obese persons and certain ethnic groups found that 31% of nurses said that would rather not treat obese patients, 24% said that obese patients “repulsed them” and 12% said that they prefer not to touch obese patients.  Considering the fact that nurses are responsible for almost all day to day care in hospitalized patients and primary care in many clinics, their personal bigotry can interfere with fat people getting appropriate care (imagine how different your medical care might be if your nurse was actively trying to avoid touching you).  In another study more than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned described obese patients as “as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and non-compliant”. One-third of the sample further characterized obese patients as “weak-willed, sloppy, and lazy.”

Not only does this bigotry call the standard of care into question, but there are the many many reports from fat people (me included) having their actual health concerns ignored in favor of a diagnosis of fat and a prescription of weight loss.  (My personal experience includes being prescribed weight loss for strep throat, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken toe.)  Which means that fat people don’t get early interventions that may prevent the development of health issues later. Also,  instead of being given interventions specific to health issues as thin people are, fat people are often given a generalized recommendation to change their body size.  In some cases this may actually put them at higher risk for disease.

For example, if a thin person shows elevated blood glucose and a risk for diabetes they will be given lifestyle interventions to affect glucose levels and that risk.  A fat person is much more likely to be told to attempt to become thin.  If they attempt to do so by eating a low calorie, high carbohydrate diet and/or by waiting a long time between meals  it can make their blood glucose numbers worse even if it results in short term weight loss.  In this way the number of health incidences for fat people could actually be increased by following the advice of health care practitioners.

There’s also the issue of not being able to get adequate treatment because of inappropriately sized equipment.  My partner had a knee injury and at a number of different appointment (including for x-rays and MRIs) the office didn’t have any armless chairs and she was told that she would just have to lean against the wall (in one case for almost an hour.)  Everything from too-small blood pressure cuffs to too-small MRIs and CT scans cause us to get inaccurate test result, or preclude our being tested to begin with which can cause issues with early disease prevention and diagnosis, and could raise disease incidence rates.

There is also the fact that fat people live with a tremendous amount of shame, stigma and oppression in our society which have been shown in studies to be correlated with many of the same diseases as being fat.  Further, campaigns that make fat people feel shame and hatred toward our bodies have been phenomenally successful, and in convincing us to hate and be ashamed of our bodies, they have also convinced many fat people that our bodies are unworthy of care.

Add to that the social stigma that comes with being fat and being diagnosed with one of these diseases, and the fat shaming and poor treatment that we can experience from healthcare professionals, and fat people can be much less likely to engage in our own healthcare.  This spills over to many areas of health.  Movement has been shown to have health benefits for many people of all sizes (though there are no guarantees and, of course, there is no obligation to engage in movement.)  Yet stigma can also affect fat people’s ability to engage in movement – everything from the absence of appropriate workout clothing in our sizes, to people who moo at us and even throw eggs at us for simply being fat in public can create barriers to movement for fat people.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that society in general, and some researchers and doctors and the media in specific, are content to state assumptions about fat people as if they are fact, which means that the research in the field is highly questionable for a number of reasons.

In short, there are no easy answers where this is concerned, and from my perspective there are way more questions than answers.  But even if being fat puts us at greater risk for disease that doesn’t mean that if we could become thin we would reduce our risk (bald men are at a higher risk for heart disease but giving them hair plugs won’t prevent a heart attack.) We still wouldn’t know if the fat causes the disease risk or if the disease risk and the fat are caused by something else or are unrelated.To me the research is clear that, though there are no guarantees or obligations, healthy behaviors are our best chance for a health body regardless of our disease risk.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Rebel Without a Carrot Stick

Biggest Loser Baby CarrotsYesterday in the comments Linda said “I recently saw an ad for veggies that said something like ‘not all 100 calories are the same, go big’. The presentation of veggies as a diet food make them more unappealing to me. Anybody else have that reaction?”

Yes, yes I do.  I was recently at the store trying to buy some baby carrots for a recipe, and the only bag that they had was Biggest Loser endorsed.  What the Actual Eff?  First they fill the airwaves with a show that mentally and physically abuses fat people for entertainment, then they try to pass it off as “inspiration,” then they take over the baby carrots?  What fresh vegetable hell is this?

It’s not just the carrots, I know for me and lots of of recovered dieters I have heard from, we were really messed up from a lifetime of being told that everything we do – what we eat, what movement we participate in etc.  – should be done for the express purpose of being thin and that if these things didn’t make us thin we are failures who aren’t doing it right, or liars who lied about doing it at all etc.  Dieting messages like “If you’re still hungry try eating salad with lemon juice” or “if you’re not losing weight you aren’t working out enough etc. repeated ad nauseam for decades (without success, as we would expect from the research)  can damage our relationships with food and movement, and we can start to actually rebel against not just the messages, but the food and movement as well. When we give up dieting, can end up giving up things that we associate with dieting along with it. Or the aggressive marketing of things as “diet” can turn us off from them.

To be clear, nobody is obligated to eat vegetables, or to exercise, or to prioritize their health a certain way or choose any specific path to get there.  Lots of people choose not to eat vegetables or exercise (or whatever else we’re told that we “should” do for our health) for lots of reasons and all of those choices are valid.  The public health issue is about access to options, not about making personal health decisions the public’s business. Health is not entirely within our control and decisions about health are intensely personal.  I’m not trying to tell anybody how to live or to cast judgment on anybody’s decisions. What I am interested in doing is looking at how a culture that abuses and shames us “for our own good” affects our ability to care for ourselves.

The phrase “just eat less and exercise more” activates my face punch reflex, but there have been many much more subtle issues as I’ve left the weight loss world behind.  Years of being told that if I’m hungry I should eat a salad (with lemon juice for dressing and no carrots because they have too much sugar) made me hate the idea of salad.  Years of using the gym to punish myself for being fat made me forget the things that I loved about movement and working out.  In what is a completely natural reaction to being harmed the way that weight loss culture harms us, I rebelled, choosing not to do things that diets told me to do just because diets told me to do them, whether I liked them, or they supported my health or not.

For me finding peace with myself and choosing my prioritization and path to health involved making peace with my dieting past and realizing that I had been negatively impacted in a lot of ways and that I wanted to tease apart the diet industry that had abused me for profit from the behaviors and foods that they had used as tools to do so.

I made a project out of trying every food (that I’m not allergic to) again as if I had never had it to see what I actually liked.  I ended up being really surprised by the results. Then I did the same thing with working out – doing a bunch of different workouts and classes to see what I really enjoyed doing and what I didn’t.

Sometimes people get confused and think that they should use this as a matrix to tell me what choices I need to make (ie: You shouldn’t have done a marathon because you hate distance walking, or you should have bought those baby carrots because you like them even if they were Biggest Loser brand.)

Neither the process of looking at ways that weight loss culture affected me, nor my choice to practice Health at Every Size locks me into certain choices.  On the contrary, they allow me to make choices from a much more authentic place.  I don’t buy products that advertise themselves as “diet” whether I like them or not.  I think that social change requires sacrifice and I’m not willing to give my money to the companies who did so much harm to me and are currently hurting others – so I’ll find another brand of baby carrots or I’ll go without.  I hate distance work but I wanted to do a marathon so I did it, even though there was very little of the training or the marathon that I actually enjoyed, and I was astoundingly bad at it.

In the end, for me, it came down to a decision that I didn’t want the diet industry to harm me any  more than it already had, and part of that was making sure that I wasn’t hurting myself by rebelling against them.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Tacky Spammy Diet Peddlers

One of the small annoyances of having a blog is when other people spam the blog to market their crap with a comment that says something like “generic lip service unrelated to actual post.  http://www.mycrappyproduct.com”  Yesterday a diet company owned by two women named Donna and Tora did this in the most tacky way possible.  They provided the perfect opportunity to call this behavior out, and to play with gifs which I’ve been wanting to do for a while  Here’s what happened:

I get tacky comments on two of my blog posts from them (website removed throughout to avoid unnecessary publicity):

“Great article.  Your writing style is very pleasing to read.  http://www.ourdietwebsite.com”

“Great tips, thanks a bunch for sharing your blog site.  http://www.ourdietwebsite.com”

24 Things Single People Are Tired Of Hearing

“Thanks a bunch for sharing your blog site”?  WTF does that even mean?   So I go to their website and send them an e-mail:

Hello ladies,

I just dropped by to tell you how completely unprofessional and tacky I find it that you spammed my blog about completing a marathon as a way to attempt to market your product.

I imagine if your product worked as well as you say it does you wouldn’t feel the need to “market” by spamming legitimate bloggers.

Since you take great pride in answering every e-mail I’ll look forward to hearing back from you on your reasons for engaging in such an  unprofessional practice.

Sincerely,

Ragen Chastain
www.danceswithfat.org

wait

I get a return e-mail:

Hi Ragen

I’m sorry but I have no idea what you’re talking about?

Tora

24 Things Single People Are Tired Of Hearing

I e-mail back:

Here are the screen shots of the comments.

~Ragen

Donna and Tora

Donna and Tora 2

Suddenly, they DO have an idea what I’m talking about:

Sorry to hear that you consider a comment spam. It looks like you are able to approve or not approve comments on your blog, so feel free to not include the comment on your site.

Many thanks

Tora

I finished up the conversation:

Of course I’ve already made sure that the comments will stay off the site and that your e-mails and ip addresses are reported for spam. I just wanted to give you some direct feedback on your unprofessional tactics.

~Ragen

This is your community too, if you have thoughts about Donna and Tora spamming this space to sell us their weight loss crap product, feel free to send your feedback to toracullip@gmail.com

Subtle Fuck You

Just a final point, every time I talk about something this this, someone feels the need to come along and tell me that I should have just ignored it.  I think that ignoring it allows tacky spammy diet peddlers to operate without consequences so I’ll pass on the ignoring it option, though of course I totally support those who choose it for themselves.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Fat Holiday Sing-a-Long

ShamelessOne of the most frequent questions I get from people who celebrate holidays during this time of year is about how to deal with family and friends who are behaving badly. For me the secret is boundaries. I wrote a more expanded piece about it here, but to serve as a musical reminder, last year I re-wrote the lyrics to “Oh Christmas Tree” to be an ode to boundary setting. Now it’s a danceswithfat holiday tradition.

Below you’ll find lyrics and videos from two blog readers actually singing the song, if the holiday spirit moves you feel free to record yourself singing and send the me the link (ragen at danceswithfat dot or) or leave it in the comments and it will become part of the holiday fun.

Note: In order for this to work, you have to pronounce boundaries as a three syllable word (BOUND-ah-rees) If this is an affront to your sense of poetic license I completely understand, I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog sans song….

Without further ado here is my fat holiday song:

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

Don’t talk about my weight or food.
Why can’t you see it’s hella rude

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

You know I love my family
But I will leave if you fat-shame me.

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

My body’s fine, I don’t need your rants
You’re not the boss of my underpants

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

Don’t say a word to my fat kid
Or I’ll leave so fast, my tires will skid

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

Yes I do “need” that second plate
It’s not your business what I ate

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

Quit saying someday I’ll get sick
Last time I checked you were not psychic

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

The holidays are great family time
If you don’t shame, food-police or whine

Oh Boundaries! Oh Boundaries!
You help me deal with family.

Two Readers (so far – hint, hint) have taken up the challenge of recording this piece, enjoy!

Jeanette DePatie (aka The Fat Chick) gave us an amazing opera/jazz rendition:

and Nadja killed it a capella in the middle of the night in her PJs:

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

First and Foremost

facepalmI love the show The Sing Off, it is an a capella singing competition.  As with most reality shows of this type there are three judges – Ben Folds, Jewel, and Shawn Stockton from Boys to Men.  Last night on the first episode (no real spoilers…) everything was going well and then it was time for the all girl group.  They sang their number and it was Shawn’s turn to critique.  He said “First of all you guys all look beautiful. First and foremost you all look great.” then continued with his critique.

First and foremost. Foremost:  before anything else in rank, importance, or position; in the first place.

The most important thing,  in Shawn’s estimation, in this singing competition in which these women just sang complex harmonies over a wide vocal range, including vocal percussion, sound effects and choreography, is that they “look great.”  If he hadn’t decided that they looked “beautiful” would he have scored them differently? Would the fact that they didn’t, in his estimation “look great” be the thing that is first and foremost in his mind.

Now, before someone freaks out in the comments about how I’m way over reacting to this comment and how he may just have been looking for something to say or trying to create a “compliment” sandwich or whatever that may well be true, and yes this is just one comment, but it’s certainly not the only time it’s happened.  If you watch singing or dancing reality shows, check out how many more times the female contestants are complimented strictly for their looks, or first or their looks, vs. the male competitors (though men are certainly subject to being judged by how they look.) I feel strongly that a world where women are  judged first and foremost based on how we look regardless of what we’re actually trying to do is fucked up.  It also means very real ramifications for fat women since, in this culture, there are many who believe that “looking great” and being fat are mutually exclusive.

If we take The Sing Off for example, other women who want to compete on the show just heard a judge say that looking great was first and foremost – how will that influence who they choose for their group?  It makes choosing an amazing singer who is also fat, or in any way not stereotypically attractive, a risk.

We can see the effects of this everywhere.  At least once a week I see a video on facebook that I’m told is a “shocking performance” that I “won’t believe” but turns out to be just a talented person who is not stereotypically beautiful. Talented fat people are not actually shocking, we’re just hidden either by those who want to judge us, or kept out  by those who don’t want to be judged for their association with us.  But the single stereotype of beauty has been shoved at us so hard by Hollywood and the music industry that people are legitimately shocked when someone who doesn’t fit the mold can sing, or act, or dance, (or do anything), I call it the Susan Boyle effect. Imagine how different the world would be if we chose our singers based first and foremost on their ability to sing, or our actors based first and foremost on their ability to act.

I think that if we want to change this the first step is to be aware of how often we are judged first and foremost on how closely we can approximate the current stereotype of beauty, whether we call it out when we see it or just make a mental note that some bullshit is happening.  We can also choose to stop participating in it – refuse to make guesses about people’s abilities based on how they look, consider that if we don’t see the beauty in someone it means that we are deficient – that we haven’t yet fully developed our skill set for seeing beauty. We can also push to do the things that we want to do – sing, act, dance, etc. – whether it’s in main stream environments or by creating our own spaces and opportunities.  First and foremost, we should get to decide what is first and foremost about us.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

What Does the Bra Say?

what does the bra sayThe band Ylvis created a runaway hit with their ridiculous song “What Does the Fox Say?”  Microsoft is attempting to do the same with women’s underwear.  They are developing a bra with sensors for heart rate, respiration, skin conductance and movement.  The bra helps alert people with seizure disorders if they are in danger of having a seizure.  Just kidding! Why would they make a bra that helps people with actual health issues?  The bra tells women what our mood is, and whether or not it’s ok to eat.

Mary Czerwinski’s team, which failed at making a similar product out of men’s underwear, told reporters “It’s mostly women who are emotional over-eaters, and it turns out that a bra is perfect for measuring EKG (electrocardiogram)”  It’s mostly women who are emotional over-eaters?   Where is she getting that information?  Is she sore from pulling it out of her ass?  Anyway, the bra will send the data it collects to your cell phone which will, I imagine, yell “STEP AWAY FROM THE MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP YOU MOODY, MOODY GIRL!”

Of course, it’s highly likely that the bra is an expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.  The whole idea of women eating their feelings and then becoming *gasp* fatty mcfatfats is based on a series of correlations and rectal pull guesses.  It is yet another example of how anything that seems “common sense” when it comes to fat people quickly becomes entrenched and defended as if it is scientifically proven, after which companies sell solutions to the non-problem (or to those who fear the non-problem) that are expensive and have no proof of efficacy, which are soon recommended to fat people by physicians as if they are as safe and proven to work as Aspirin, which leads to me going to the doctor for an annual exam and subsequently requiring treatment for the concussion and optical strain I get from all the face palming and eye rolling.  And don’t forget that it is all based on pretending that a ratio of weight and height constitutes a health diagnosis. Jeebus.

In fact, the author of a recent paper on the subject said:

Stress eaters should not be considered at risk to gain weight by default. Our results suggest the need for a dynamic view of food intake across multiple situations, positive and negative. Furthermore, our findings suggest rethinking the recommendation to regulate stress eating. Skipping food when being stressed may cause additional stress in munchers and could possibly disturb compensation across situations.

But who cares about research when you can sell woman bras that will tell us how we feel and when we should eat?  Don’t rush out to buy your new nanny bra, the item is on hold because the team can’t figure out how to make the battery last more than four hours. I’m shocked that it doesn’t use a battery powered by women taking endless cardio kickboxing booty bootcamp classes.  Of course, by an unusually literal application of the underpants rule, women are allowed to let their bra tell them how they feel and when to eat, but I think that’s really more than I want out of my underwear.  With any luck at all, they won’t make them in my size anyway.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Why Don’t You Like My Studies?

credible hulkOne of the reasons that I’m no longer interested in attempting weight loss is that my review of the literature informs me that it simply has no basis in evidence as being an effective way to either lose weight or become more healthy (which are two separate things).  When I say that, people often object insisting that there are studies where people have lost weight.

The problem is that any old research where a couple of people lost weight won’t do.  The research we would need for weight loss to meet the criteria of an evidence-based medical intervention is twofold.  First, we would need a study where the majority of the participants lost the amount of weight that we are told we need to lose to change our health and maintain that weight loss long term (over 5 years).  If we had those studies – and we don’t –  we would then need some proof that weight loss actually caused health improvements – and a new study already brings that into question.

This rules out the National Weight Control Registry because they’ve chosen to study 10,000 people who experienced weight loss while completely ignoring the up to 800,000,000 failed attempts that happened in the same time frame.  When they say things like “eating breakfast contributes to weight loss” what they actually mean is that they asked the 10,000 people who succeeded what they did, and a majority of them said that they ate breakfast.  Note that they didn’t ask how many of the up to 800,000,000 people who did not lose weight also ate breakfast – that would be important information to have since if a majority of the people who didn’t lose weight also ate breakfast then breakfast may have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Imagine if I got together everyone who had survived a skydiving accident when their parachute didn’t open and started looking for things they have in common.  Even if every single one of them wore a green shirt and had oatmeal for breakfast, I cannot say that wearing a green shirt and eating oatmeal will allow you to survive a skydiving accident, or start Ragen’s school of skydiving without a parachute, free green shirt and oatmeal with every jump.  When your sample is the statistical anomaly your research is useless, and when all you’re looking for is random coincidence among a select group of participants you probably shouldn’t call what you do research at all.

Other times people bring up studies where phase 1 was weight loss and phase 2 was maintenance, the study lost between 40% and 70%  of participants during or after phase one, and then the researchers continued on as if the remaining people were the complete study group.  Not ok. Why did all of those people quit?  How will their experience be accounted for? Often the remaining subjects start gaining back the weight they lost so that at the end of phase 2 the average participant has gained back half of their weight with a net loss of less than 10 pounds.  Or they only follow up for a year or two when we know that most people gain their weight back by year 5.

People list study after study and all of them have one or more of the above problems, which I, or someone else in the discussion, points out.  At that point, the person listing the studies often gets frustrated and says something like “Why don’t you like my studies? ” or “You just don’t want to believe.”   If they examined it I think they’d find that their frustration isn’t with me, it’s with the fact that they’ve been sold a lie and they bought it at full retail price.

I certainly know that frustration, when I did my first literature review of weight loss research I expected to find that all diets worked – I was just looking for the “best” one, the one that had the most solid success.  I was so shocked at what I found that I read through all of the literature again.  I simply couldn’t believe that this thing – weight loss – that had been marketed to me more aggressively than anything else in my life had no basis in evidence.  I couldn’t believe that doctors had been giving me an intervention which had been shown repeatedly to almost always end in failure, and the majority of time had the exact opposite of the intended result.  When I found out that there weren’t even any studies that showed that weight loss caused changes in health I was just stunned.

It took me a lot of time and a lot of work to accept the truth.  It was hard to find out that I’d been lied to (on purpose and inadvertently), it was hard to find out that the thing that I’d been promised would solve all of my problems was never going to happen.  In many ways, at least for me, Health at Every Size was about giving up, but that’s what I do when I find out that I’ve been harboring a mistaken belief.  That’s what scientists (well, good scientists) do when their evidence does not support their hypothesis (however strongly held or widely believed it might be.)  They don’t suspend the rules or research and logic and argue for a belief that they can’t support with evidence.   It’s not that I don’t like your studies, it’s that they are insufficient to change my mind about my personal prioritization and path to health.  Of course, nobody is obligated to do the same things that I do, only to respect my choices.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Anatomy of a Trolling

Truth GI got trolled at a talk I gave, and it was kind of hilarious.  Here’s what happened:  A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called The Positive Body.  The talk was open to the entire University as well as the public.

When I got to the part of the presentation where I discuss the research around the failure of dieting, behaviors rather than BMI as the best predictor of future health etc. a hand shot up.  Someone sitting in the farthest corner of the very back row, reading questions out of a notebook.  These are all the red flags of a troll. Though it doesn’t happen often, this has happened before – someone comes with the intent of interrupting my presentation as often as possible and debunking what I’m saying.  It’s fine with me because it allows me to show that I’m a professional, to engage them respectfully, and they invariably help me strengthen my position. Plus they encourage questions from other participants – win, win, win.

When I got home I found out that this guy was from a specific fat hate site and that he and his fat hate buddies had spent literally all day prepping- them telling him questions to ask, everyone speculating about how I wouldn’t be able to deal with the interruption. Everyone forgetting, apparently, that I’m a professional who does this for a living and they are just a bunch of bullies in a forum on the internet.

His account to them of what happened was a fascinating, if not altogether accurate, testimonial.  I thought that they would make a lovely post to give people an idea of what this kind of trolling typically looks like.  If you are reading this and you are one of the people who helped prep this young man, I’m sorry to say that I think he failed you.  Even having written everything down in his notebook he still wasn’t able to properly match research to questions, and though it wouldn’t have changed the outcome if he had, I thought you should know that he wasted your time and efforts.

Trolling 4This actually never happened.  What I said was that health had many components and that we are not in control of all of them.  Then I listed off the examples of including genetics.  He asked a question about staying at the same weight but didn’t include anything about genetics in the question.  I don’t want to accuse the young man of lying so I’m just going to assume that his recall is as faulty as his listening comprehension.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice that even in his own internet forum, where his behavior is celebrated and supported, he still remains anonymous.

Trolling 3

I fumbled alright, because – as often happens when you’re reading questions that someone else told you to ask – his question didn’t make sense.  The study I was discussing was Matheson et. al. I had just finished explaining that smoking and drinking were variables that were studied within the research.  A confounding variable is an extraneous variable, the presence of which affects the variables being studied.  I fumbled because I was trying to decide if I wanted to stop the presentation and give a remedial vocabulary lesson to this dude or just move forward.  I told him that it was explained in the study, which he could read, and moved on.

Trolling 5Poor guy, it seems like he just had a lot of trouble understanding what was going on.  (My apologies for his ableist slur, it seems sadly par for the course.)  My explanation was that when the body loses around 10% of its weight a number of mechanisms kick in with the express purpose of regaining and maintaining weight – including changes in hormones like ghrelin, leptin, and metabolic changes, and that studies have repeatedly shown, and an NIH panel of experts has confirmed, that almost everyone regains their weight within about 5 years and this changes might be why. There is a more full explanation here. 

trolling 1“Dances with Diabetes” Man, what this dude lacks in reading and listening comprehension he sure makes up for in hilarity, amirite?

This sort of happened.  Though it wasn’t I who got mad.  It seems to me that at this point he was quite frustrated (maybe because his questions were helping me support my position and he couldn’t really understand what I was talking about.)  Perhaps because of the frustration he forgot to mention that he was asking the question because studies show that people’s accounts of their caloric intake are not accurate, so he just said “Have you kept a food diary?” in a way that seemed frustrated, accusatory and inappropriate for the space, and so he just came off as angry and rude.

In his account, he left off the second part of my sentence.  What I actually said was that my eating disorder had made me a virtual calorie calculator, and that yes, I had kept a food log.  He said “you did?” I said “yes” he had no follow up. I can’t confirm that he shook his head in disgust because I couldn’t see him well – hiding, as he was, in the corner of the very back row.

After that a reader in the audience talked about how she has two fat sons and gave me a lovely thank you for my work.   The group applauded and, though I had remained calm an composed in the face of views that didn’t agree with mine, he proved himself incapable of the same, slinking out under the cover of the enthusiastic applause.

The moral of the story?  I’m not really sure, maybe it’s that if you’re going to send people to troll my talk you should probably try to find someone who can keep up with the conversation.  These are complicated issues and there’s no shame in struggling to understand but if you came to the talk to repeatedly interrupt and try to debunk it then you might want to have a really good grasp on what’s happening.  In my talk the previous day to a group of wellness care providers several people there were childhood obesity researchers and, despite our disagreements, we had very productive discussions, some of which we’ve continued over e-mail.

For me the fact that I’m upsetting people who are benefiting from the status quo is a sign that I’m doing the right thing, so I consider these incidents proof positive that I’m doing the right thing in my work.

Like my blog?  Looking for some holiday support or gifts?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

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

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

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!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen