Fighting to Speak for Ourselves

Design by Kris Owen
Design by Kris Owen

Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Lescaze’s film “All of Me” about a group of women who have weight loss surgery is going to be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens.  As part of that she had the opportunity to create some documentary shorts, and she chose to do one about me and More Cabaret (an all plus-size cabaret dance company that I created in LA.)

The five minute video tells a bit about my story of becoming a fat activist juxtaposed with More Cabaret’s first show.  I think that she and her team did an amazing job and I’m really excited and grateful to be part of it. (The video is here and also embedded at the bottom of this post.)

One of the things that I think is incredibly important in Size Acceptance activism is the chance to talk about our experiences.  We know that all too often people are happy to substitute their stereotypes and preconceived notions for our actual experiences.

For those who are invested in the oppression of fat people – whether that investment is financial, emotional, because they get their self-esteem from tearing us down, or for some other reason – keeping the status quo is incredibly important.  Hence, when we do get a chance to talk about our lives, they have to jump in and insist that they are a better witness to our experiences than we are.

A perfect example is in a comment made by Duke Nukem which says in part “…it simply makes me sad for her to see how deep in denial she is about her eating disorder…”

A number of people including Alexandra, Deb on camera, Kevin on sound,  the editing team and the folks over at PBS worked very hard to give me the opportunity to speak for myself about my experiences, but apparently we needn’t have bothered, we could have just asked Duke Nukem and saved ourselves the time and effort because he knows better than I do about my life. Or, you know, maybe not.

Often oppression is enforced by replacing actual experiences of marginalized populations with the stories created about them by their oppressors.  But not for the next five minutes.

For the next five minutes I get an opportunity to speak for myself as a proud fat activist.  Obviously I don’t speak for all of fatkind, we are as varied as any group of people who share only one physical characteristic, I can only ever speak for myself as a proud and happy fat woman and activist.  I’m certainly not the only one, there are more of us every day and we will shout so loudly that our voices won’t be able to to silenced or replaced by Mr. Nukem and his ilk.

So feel free to check out the video, and if you’re in the mood to support it you could share it, leave a comment or a thumbs up (and many, many thanks to those who already have!).  No matter what you do, please consider that loving your body not a crime – it’s the world that’s screwed up, you are fine.

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If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

29 thoughts on “Fighting to Speak for Ourselves

  1. I just have to that I love this comment “Often oppression is enforced by replacing actual experiences of marginalized populations with the stories created about them by their oppressors.”

    As part of another group (adoptees) that is so marginalized as to have been entirely erased and ignored in the laws and discourse, your wording is just perfect. Thank you.

    1. Pardon me for jumping in to hug and blubber all over you, but I’ve been on the other side of that “marginalization” myself. My third pregnancy was not just unplanned – it happened precisely at the worst possible point in my life to attempt raising another child. Instead of getting a hasty abortion, I decided to make a gift of his life rather letting it be a burden or a never-was.

      Nine months is a long time to “think it over,” during which time I developed a rather disdainful opinion of adoption agencies and their… marketing strategies. Even the “nice” ones came on so strong with the ass kissing that their sales pitch smelled kind of funky. Even though this was almost fourteen years ago and I was broker than the Ten Commandments, I had the internet and it’s a miracle that I did. Otherwise, I might have fallen for their supportive shows of “respect,” and possibly even accepted one of the very tempting offers. It would have been illegal (not to mention fucking insulting) for any of them to offer me money, but they promised me a world of “benefits” in the form of lavishly comfortable accomodations and top-notch health care… a couple of them even promised to extend their hospitality for up to two years, for the sake of emotional recovery.

      Without the internet, I might not have been able to learn that a very predatory trap was being laid before me. So many traumatized women were able to warn me that not only would every penny they spent be used as leverage to secure an extremely business investment, all their promises about follow-up care and the “freedom” to change my mind at any time was pure bullshit. Even though it’s all kinds of illegal for an adoption agency to demand repayment of their (purely speculative) expenditures, it didn’t stop some of them from threatening some kind of vague “legal action.” Coincidentally, all of the “facilities” being offered to me were one state over – close enough not to be “across the world,” but far enough to have me isolated in their influence.

      That was enough to turn me off to the idea of using an agency. Sure enough, as soon as I informed everyone of my decision to handle the process myself through an independent search., they started in with the accusations and scare tactics – nothing but perverts and weirdos on those adoption websites and how much were they offering me. Anyway, I don’t mean to go on and on about myself – I just wanted you to know that even without the profiteering opportunists, there are plenty of “regular” people who hear that I gave a child up for adoption and immediately assume that anything I say about it is just a defensive rationalization to cover my ass. To them, I am just a lowlife hussy who had S-E-X outside of wedlock and abandoned my child on somebody’s doorstep. It wasn’t like that.

      I don’t pretend to know what it’s like on that side of Smug Bullshit River, but I hope that at least sometimes, you feel blessed to have two sets of parents – the ones who brought you into the world and the ones who carried you through it. Anyone who treats it like a shameful sort of secret is an asshole who’s projecting their assholery into your situation. Again, I’m sorry to babble and blubber… I just wanted to hug you and tell you that you’re loved.

      1. Thank you. 🙂 I’m so glad you were able. To see through the agency lies and bs to protect yourself. Even today, so many find out the hard way.

        I’m not only a product of the closed adoption era, I’m also an LDA (late discovery adoptee) who didn’t find out until my mid-20’s when my bio mother came looking for me. I’m finally starting to deal with all the emotional fall-out, so things with both my mothers are ….complicated (both my fathers died shortly after I found out, within a couple years of each other), so thank you again.

        1. I hate all those stories on tv about the kid or mom looking for each other and it was a closed adoption, and the system just doesn’t give a damn to help them. I feel really bad about them, and I feel bad for you too. I’m not adopted, but I want to adopt a child. Unfortunately, I want a foreign kid and that country is no longer allowing adoptions overseas (according to the newspapers).

  2. I hope you won’t mind that every once in a while (and only for a moment) I genuinely fucking hate you. I’m telling you this (and asking for your indulgence) because it’s nothing akin to genuine dislike. It’s the reverent sort of revulsion that has two sources. One is just your everyday green-eyed monster… envy. Not so much of the beauty and talent you have in abundance – I am not lacking enough in either of these qualities to feel inferior in your “shadow.” On the contrary, everything you say and do just makes me feel prettier and more intelligent – it’s less like standing in your shadow than basking in your sunshine. What makes me envious is the grace and genuine courtesy you show toward those against whom you speak. I am in awe of the way you can wade through wave after wave of hateful bullshit without letting any of it stick to you. I don’t know whether you genuinely have the soul of a saint or you’re barely restraining the urge to go on a verbal shooting spree – either way, it is quite beyond my foul-mouthed temper to accomplish. I’ve observed you being harsh and downright scathing, but never cruel or hateful. It’s a humbling thing to behold, but I can’t decide whether it makes me want to be more like you or to be even more vehemently expressive about exactly how syphilitically some people can go fuck themselves. All too often, I end up sinking right to their level, but only long enough to drag them right down to mine.

    I guess it’s best that we both keep doing what we do – in every war, there are diplomats and there are soldiers. Still, I suspect you resort to my tactics FAR more easily than I could maintain your patience and poise. It’s not often that I meet someone who shines through my curtain of arrogance brightly enough to make me readily admit they’re a better person than I am, but I really think you are. In all probability, the emotion I am calling “hatred” is nothing more than humbled admiration – I don’t experience either one often enough to be sure of the difference. I just know that most of the time, my love of you is a warm and cozy feeling, but every once in a while it rides up in my butt and itches a little, but that’s hardly your fault.

    Also, I’ll admit to maintaining a bit of carefully nurtured disdain for no other reason than to keep me from following you around like a smitten puppy trying to be your “bestest buddy ever.” I’m pretty sure my friendship will be most beneficial from exactly where it is – over here out of your way. Still, you should know how much I love and admire you… so much that every once in a while (and only for a moment) I walk away from this blog thinking “just… fuck her.” If it’s any consolation, the word “syphilitically” is never used. It’s more of a candlelight and roses sort of fuck you, but still… may the fucking of yourself never fail to rock your world!

  3. Ragen, you are just…. amazing. I read your blog every day- well, every day you post (ohhh, how disappointed I am on days you don’t post! :D)- an you never cease to amaze and inspire me. It’s incredible how calm and articulate you are in the face of just pure bigotry and ignorance. Your posts always lift me up and I really hope you never stop doing what you’re doing- dancing, speaking, educating and just generally awesome. I feel like I’m gushing but I just can’t stress enough how much of a role model you are to me. Thanks for being you! 🙂

  4. I’m so glad you were part of that program. Do you know, by chance, what angle they filmmaker took on the issues of weight loss surgery? Were they focusing on the dangers/risks or kind of promoting it?

  5. I hope to see the rest of the film.

    I went over to YouTube and asked Duke if he also offered psychic readings. I couldn’t help myself.

  6. Ragen- I just wanted to say that this video made me so happy this morning! Thank you for the work you do and thank you for leading the way.

  7. In the video, you describe being hospitalized for a restrictive disorder.

    Duke then responds with a routine “have you tried eating less” post.

    Sometimes no commentary is necessary.

    It’s a great video, too. Concise and informative, and those blue dresses are gorgeous; they make me think of Alice in Wonderland.

  8. This is fantastic!!! I adored this video and your dance routines were fabulous! nice work and bravo. Such an empowering yet simple message. I’m a huge fan so hopefully I’m not gushing too much.
    I’ve sent it to all my friends and family!

  9. That video was wonderful. Thank you for sharing that and for all that you do. You make the world a better place. 🙂

  10. Ragen, the video captured you and your voice beautifully 🙂 I am VERY excited for you that you are getting the platform that Independent Lens offers. I am not sure I want to see the documentary about WLS but your piece will be savored and shared with everyone I know. ❤

  11. The video is perfect for introducing people to FA…so much information and inspiration in a relatively short video! I hope it reaches lots of people and changes their lives. 🙂

  12. I cannot remember the number of times I was interviewed, only to have the majority of my message land on the cutting room floor so that the content could be skewed to reinforce stereotypes. Congrats to you for getting your voice heard as intended….

    1. I always assumed Duke Nukem’s last name was created to sound like “nuke ’em.” When my brother played the original shareware version he would always exclaim “Nuke ’em!” while blasting the bad guys away, and he ended up carrying that phrase over into other computer games like Commander Keen and Pickle Wars.

  13. I just watched the Independent Lens video All of Me. The filmmakers did an excellent job of just letting the women tell their stories. Okay, I don’t know what editing choices were made, but there wasn’t anybody interpreting what someone else said.

    Still, the video made me sad. Some of the women had struggled with dieting for years and consequently ended up very heavy. Getting involved with men who were attracted to them because they were fat, not because they were great people. Getting surgery because they felt it was the only way to get healthy.

    One lady commented on how she felt there wasn’t enough follow-up with the bariatric surgery, since you have to modify how you eat and so forth. Another women kept being congratulated on her weight loss after surgery, even though she threw up everything she tried to eat.

    Some people felt they ate the way they did before surgery because they hadn’t learned any other way to cope with serious life issues. At least one person had the procedure reversed. Not everyone dropped the weight.

    Nobody talked about things like blood pressure or if anyone was getting plenty of nutrition or anything like that.

    The only movement mentioned was one woman who studied to become a yoga instructor after she lost weight after the surgery.

    I don’t know if mobility issues were directly caused by weight or something else. Certainly everyone had experienced discrimination due to the weight.

    They did talk about how they felt about themselves and how their relationships changed with their weight changes.

    I really wanted to hug them all and have them read this and other blogs. Maybe find good counselors to help them deal with the emotional pain some of them were clearly carrying. Hire the Fat Nutritionist to help with their relationship to food. Maybe get Ragen and other fat athletes to show them how to move at their existing weight. Take all the men attracted to fat women and teach them that these are PEOPLE dammit, not your own personal fetish toy.

    I’m going to call my friend again and see if she and her daughter want to go to the park.

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