What My Body is Not

Doug 5
Photo by Doug Spearman

I get so many messages about what a fat body is, I thought I’d talk about some of the things that my body isn’t:

My Body is Not Embarrassing

Being fat (or being called fat) is no more embarrassing to me than being (or being called) brunette.  These are just physical descriptors. It’s not that “fat” is bad in and of itself, the problem is that people attach all kinds of stereotypes to the descriptor.  If someone is to be embarrassed, it’s the person who wants to mistreat a group of people based on how they look.

Often when fat people get fat-shamed or fat-bullied we get embarrassed.  Let’s put the embarrassment where it belongs.  It’s not embarrassing to be fat, and it shouldn’t be embarrassing to be fat-shamed.  It’s embarrassing to be a fat-bigot and it’s embarrassing to be a fat-shamer.

My Body is Not a Crisis

Fat people are subjected to experimental medicine without our consent, fat kids are subjected to completely untested “anti-obesity” experiments  Fat people are given stomach amputations that massively increase our mortality rate and have incredibly serious side effects. We are told that all of this is necessary because being fat is just so unhealthy that we need to try to be thin by any means and if it kills us well, at least we’ll leave a thinner corpse.  This is ridiculous.  Fat people have and will continue to exist, our bodies are not crises that call for the suspension of scientific method, evidence based medicine, and all logical thought.

It doesn’t matter how much a doctor (or someone who watches Dr. Oz and thinks they are a doctor) believes that being thinner will improve my life, because that doctor does not know how to make me thin.  There is not a single study where more than a tiny percentage of people successfully maintained weight loss and there is no study that shows that those people are healthier than they would have been without weight loss. Even if someone believes that a fat body is a medical diagnosis (and I don’t think it is) weight loss as an intervention simply does not meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine, since evidence-based medicine requires that we have some reason to believe that a “treatment” will be successful.

People who have bad knees would be helped tremendously if they could fly, since that would take the pressure right off their knees.  No matter how much a doctor believes that to be true, she cannot recommend that they go home, jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard because “it hardly ever works, but think of the benefits if it did!”  Luckily there is good evidence that, for those interested in improving their odds for health (which is never guaranteed, is not entirely within our control and is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness) behaviors  have a much better chance than attempting to achieve a specific height/weight ratio.

My Body is Not Immortal

Having seen the state of the research around “obesity” and mortality, I am painfully aware that If I die because an alien ship drops a futuristic piano on my head, it will be marked down as a death due to “complications of obesity.”  Everyone is going to die, but if you die in a fat body someone – likely someone who should know better, often someone in a position of authority – is going to blame it on your fat.

The threat of death due to fat is used to sell fat people products from diets to stomach amputations. If I were one of those piano-dropping aliens and I listened to the conversations around weight loss and health, I would think that thin people must be immortal.  In fact, thin people get all the same diseases that fat people do, and people of all sizes get sick, and people of all sizes die (and there should be no shame or blame in that.). There’s even something called the “obesity paradox” which is the name given to explain that in certain chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and chronic renal disease, being fat is associated with better survival than in “normal weight” individuals.  Of course it’s only a “paradox” if you didn’t fuck up your conclusions in the first place, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Still we are told that we should see our fat bodies as large, soft death traps (like the doctor who was quoted by a reporter saying that he’s worried that Kelly Clarkson “won’t live to see her daughter grow up” when, by his own calculations she’s likely to live until almost 80,) and that the key to health is to feed our bodies less than they need to survive in the hopes that they will eat themselves and become smaller.  What they never discuss is the fact that they can’t control for the effects that constant shame and stigma have on fat people (like being the subject of a war waged on us by the government based on how we look.)  The brilliant Deb Burgard wrote an amazing piece that speaks about other aspects of this.  We don’t know how to make fat people thinner, but we do know how to stop shaming and stigmatizing them so let’s give that the old college try and see what happens.

Fat people’s bodies are no less valuable and amazing than any other bodies, and we absolutely should not have to climb over a mountain of stigma, shame, oppression, and bullying just to be forced to fight for the ability to actually like ourselves, but that’s the world we live in now. For me, the solution to this isn’t to change fat people, it’s to change society, until then it helps me to remember that the world is messed up, but we are fine.

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Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

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New Nightmare for Fat Flyers

WTF are you doingA company called Zodiak Seats France has applied for a patent for their “Economy Class Cabin Hexagon.” In this air-born nightmare some seats (including the already horrible middle seat) are turned backwards allowing airlines to cram even more people in (and undoubtedly creating an upcharge to sit in a seat facing in a direction that doesn’t not make you violently motion sick.) I don’t see any place for a tray either but that probably doesn’t matter since, according to their drawing, not only will you spend the flight making awkward eye contact, but you’ll also either sitting on some strangers’ hands – or having your hands sat upon by strangers.  FUN!

To take better advantage of space on an airplane, this patent arranges passengers in a hexagonal pattern.

To take better advantage of space on an airplane, this patent arranges passengers in a hexagonal pattern.

Obviously this is just a patent and with any luck at all this will never come to be (one person having to go to the bathroom would cause practically half the plane to have to stand up, and I don’t know how they plan to deal with an emergency evacuation so it seems as though there are some un-addressed kinks.) This is one more example of people designing things that exclude fat people from the outset  With this configuration, fat people could not be accommodated, even if we were willing to pay twice as much as a thin person for the same service (the service here being travel from place to place in a seat that accommodates us)

The truth about the people who are in charge of building and configuring planes is that they put them together pretending as if fat people don’t exist, and then the airlines try to make it our problem when we, very predictably, want to be able to access the same travel options as everyone else. (And that doesn’t even touch upon the ableism inherent in this seating configuration. I don’t want to speak for Disabled People/People with Disabilities but for those who use wheelchairs, those with limited mobility, those who need utilize mobility aids, oxygen and more, this seating configuration seems to me to be a complete mess.)

This same thing happens everywhere from transportation, to restaurants, to healthcare facilities.  The larger someone is, the more trouble that they have simply trying to access the world in ways which those for whom the world is built may never even consider – whether they want to travel across town on a city bus, across the country on a plane, have lunch with friends, or get basic healthcare services. That’s not by accident – there are solutions that accommodate people of different sizes – it’s because much of the world is built excluding fat people from the ground up.

The issue isn’t that accommodation is so difficult, it’s that we’re not even trying.  As a culture we’ve chosen to look for justifications to exclude people, rather than being committed to inclusiveness and access. It doesn’t have to – and it shouldn’t – be this way.

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Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

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Public Health Without Weight Stigma

Public HealthIt’s become popular in recent years to act as if “public health” means making fat people’s health the public’s business, or at least that most public health messaging should include some kind of fat=bad element. Many people insist that it’s impossible to talk about public health without talking about body size.  I disagree.  I think that we can have a complete discussion of public health without ever discussing weight, and I think it would be far superior to what we are doing now.

There are times when a discussion about weight might be indicated – like if there are large fluctuations in weight without explanation, or if a prescription is dosed by weight.  I don’t think there is any need to discuss weight in general public health messaging at all, but I get a lot of push-back on this.

Before I get too far into this, the usual disclaimers about health and size acceptance. and about health in general, apply.

The first argument that I typically get is that weight loss makes people healthier and we need to get the word out.  Since public health messaging needs to be evidence-based, there are a couple of problems with this.  The first is that, based on the evidence that exists, there isn’t any reason to believe that more than a tiny fraction of people can achieve long term weight loss.  And the fact that some people survive jumping out of a plane without a working parachute does not make “Don’t use a parachute” a responsible public health message.  In fact, by far the most likely outcome of a weight loss attempt is weight gain so even if someone believes that being thinner will make people healthier, the fact that we don’t know how to get that done means that “lose weight” is not an appropriate public health message.

Then there’s the discussion of fat people and our knees. In this instance prescribing weight loss is like prescribing levitation. Even if levitating would be help people with knee issues (since floating will likely take the pressure right off the knees) suggesting that people jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard isn’t an appropriate public health message because – much like weight loss – we have no evidence to suggest that it will work, and there’s a significant downside if it doesn’t. And let’s remember that there’s only about a 5% greater chance of losing weight than of successfully levitating. Also, there is no study that shows that those who maintain weight loss long term are healthier than they would have been if they had stayed fat and simply practiced healthy habits – the idea that losing weight makes you healthier long term is a hypothesis, not a conclusion.

Another common argument  I get is that companies are specifically manufacturing processed food that manipulates our brains into always wanting more food and never being satisfied without giving us nutrition, and that it’s important  to let people know that those foods exist and may make people fat.

I think that you talk about foods without tagging on the “fat bogey man” message, and that it would be both more ethical and more effective.  Suggesting that part of the population should make choices in an effort not to look like another part of the population is highly problematic and creates an environment where people are encouraged to stereotype and shame others for how they look, which isn’t healthy for anyone. The concept of “healthy” foods is complicated and fluid (it varies based on many individual circumstances) But even if someone believes that there are clear cut “healthy and “unhealthy” foods it does not follow that there are separate healthy and unhealthy foods for fat people and thin people.  It’s not as if some foods are healthier for people who can eat tons of it and not gain weight.  I think that an effective public health message would be to let people know that companies are trying to manipulate their brain chemistry to make them buy more food, and let them decide if that’s ok with them, not tell them not to eat this food because it might put them into a class of people who are being actively stigmatized and oppressed, thereby reinforcing that stigma and oppression.

Finally is the notion that fat people aren’t aware that they are fat and/or aren’t concerned enough about being fat so we have to tell people to worry about their weight.

To this I can only ask “What in the hell are these people talking about?”  All of this FAT IS BAD EVERYBODY PANIC public health messaging has done one thing well – it has successfully stigmatized fat bodies.  Not only isn’t this supported by the evidence, it’s actually contraindicated by it.  Peter Muennig from Columbia has found that “The difference between actual and desired body weight was a stronger predictor than was body mass index (BMI) of mental and physical health.”  The truth is that we will never know how much healthier fat people could be if we weren’t constantly shamed and stigmatized, until society stops shaming and stigmatizing us.  So how about we roll the OMGDEATHFAT messaging back and try making public health about giving people information and access to options and resources, and then respecting their decisions and their bodies.

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Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

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

The War on Obesity – Even if it Kills Us

Stand up speak up fight backI often talk about the war on obesity in terms of the way in which it’s goal is to eradicate fat people.  Every once in a while someone will object to my use of the term eradication. They say that even though these people are vocal about their desire for a world without fat people, they’re not actually trying to eradicate us since they would allow us to exist in peace if we became thin people.

I disagree. First of all because suggesting that they don’t want to eradicate theoretical thin me (only actual fat me) is some bullshit. I’m not a thin woman covered in fat, I’m a fat woman, and so a world without fat people is a world in which I do not exist.

But a look at the reality of the situation shows pretty quickly that the people who want a war on obesity want a world without fat people by any means necessary – they are ok if we become thin, but they also seem totally fine if we die trying.  Let’s look at some examples:

Consider the drug Belviq, which was approved by the FDA and is being prescribed by doctors for weight loss not because it won’t kill fat people, but because killing fat people is deemed an acceptable risk. (You can even get a coupon online – first one’s free!)

Another in the “acceptable risk category,” among its many, many dangerous and life-altering side effects, Weight Loss Surgery also carries a serious risk of dying.  “By best estimates, bariatric surgeries likely increase the actual mortality risks for these patients by 7-fold in the first year and by 363% to 250% the first four years.

Or how about when doctors were trying to convince fat people to eat 500 calories a day and get urine injections?

Then there’s Devon, UK where they decided that in order to save money they would just deny healthcare to fat people.

And that doesn’t even take into account all the fat people’s lives that are put on hold due to the shaming, stigmatizing, bullying, lack of access, and oppression that we face so that even if they don’t manage to eradicate us, they keep us from living the life we dream of.

Often when people object to my use of the term “eradication” they say something like “this isn’t genocide” and I absolutely agree with that. [Edit:  Let me reiterate and clarify because there seems to be some confusion – I am not saying that this is genocide, I am not comparing it with atrocities that have happened to other groups, I am only talking about what is happening to fat people now.]  This is something different – they want to eradicate fat people, but they want us to do their dirty work for them.  You want a world without fat people? Feel free to find another world because I’m not going anywhere. Me and my fat are here to stay.

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Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

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

Having Your Bullies Surgically Removed?

What Will you DefendI’ve been asked a lot about a couple of articles that have been making the rounds. In one, a woman says that she’s decided to have weight loss surgery after her interaction with an online fat hate group.  In another a young girl had surgery to pin her ears back, from a plastic surgeon who created a non-profit dedicated to performing this procedure. He says “This isn’t just free cosmetic surgery – this is a charity that helps combat bullying secondary to having large ears.”  People have been asking me what I think about this.

First and foremost, people are allowed to make these choices (because Underpants Rule!) If someone wants to have a perfectly healthy organ amputated, or have a surgery to change their ears they are allowed to do that, as a way to try to satisfy their bullies or for any other reason.

From a more meta analysis, I’m always troubled by the idea that the solution to bullying is for the person being bullied to change. I’m concerned when the “solution” to bullying is to give the bullies what they want – not just because it’s not fair to the person being bullied, but also because many people being bullied aren’t able to change. 

Often when people  – including laypeople, medical professionals, policy-makers, and especially drug/diet/medical companies trying to profit from this – discuss reasons that they believe fat people should try to be thin, one of the reasons that they include is the stigma, bullying, and oppression that fat people face. Except the problem isn’t that we’re fat, the problem is that we’re stigmatized (often thanks to the drug/diet/medical companies profiting from this) and the solution is to end stigma, bullying and oppression of fat people, not to end the existence of fat people.

Going back to the doctor’s quote, he says “this is a charity that helps combat bullying.” That’s simply not true. It’s not combating bullying at all, it’s accommodating bullies by changing their victims (through a painful process) to look how the bullies want them to look.

When people suggest that those being bullied should change themselves, what they are really saying is “that bully has a point – there is something wrong with your ears/body/haircolor/sexual orientation/whatever”  Go ahead and fix that.  Of course then they’ll start bullying you about something else so please feel free to start a savings account for all the surgeries your’re going to need.

To combat bullying we must create an environment where bullying behavior is unacceptable, not where it’s a good reason to undergo surgery. We need to stop saying that the solution to bullying and stigma lies with changing the victims and not the perpetrators.

In my life when I’ve spoken out about the bullying, harassment and oppression that I’ve experienced because I’m fat, often people have said “Why don’t you do something about it.”  Meaning that I should become thin so that people didn’t treat me poorly for being fat.  I’m calling bullshit on that, I’m “doing something about it” and for me that means standing up and speaking out, not trying to squeeze myself into the mold my bullies made for me.   I’m not the problem, they are.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

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

Lies, Statistics, and “Childhood Obesity”

You Forgot Your BullshitSeveral memes have been making the social media rounds based on a New York Times headline: “Obesity Dropped 43% Among Young Children In Decade, Study Finds”   When you look up the study that’s referenced, the conclusion states “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012”

So just what in the Sam Hill happened here? It’s something that my favorite reporting methods professor in college used to call “fun with statistics” and it most often occurs when someone (a researcher, reporter, company, or *cough* First Lady *cough*) wants a particular outcome and so they just finesse the numbers to get it.

In this case, what the researchers found was that (to quote the NYT article) “About 8 percent of 2- to 5-yearolds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.”   (In actuality the study states right there in the abstract that it was 13.9% to 8.4%  which is a delta of 5.5% rather than 6% but why would accuracy be important here?)  So how did a 6% (actually 5.5% but who’s counting) difference become a 43% change in the New York Times headline?  Through the magic of absolute vs. relative change!

Absolute change is the difference in the item being studied at two different times:

[% of fat 2-5 year olds in 2012] – [% of fat 2-5 year olds in 2004]  = Absolute change

.08 – .14 = -.06

Relative change is the absolute change calculated as a percentage of the indicator in the first time period.

([% of fat 2-5 year olds in 2012]  – [% of fat 2-5 year olds in 2004])  / [% of fat 2-5 year olds in 2004] * 100%

(.08 – .14) / .14 * 100 = -42.85% (they rounded to -43%)

Often when someone is trying to make something seem like a bigger deal than it is, they will use relative change rather than absolute change. And this doesn’t even take into account the margin of error, number and effect of dropouts etc. That’s all the formulas in this post,  I promise (though if you want to see further discussion of the fuzzy math, there’s a good piece in Forbes, though trigger warning for obesity epi-panic language). Something that is worth noting is that for all of this talk about OMGDEATHFAT increasing so much, this study actually found no significant change since 2004, but that’s a subject for another blog.

This is certainly not the first time that this has happened.  Allergan has used “Fun with Statistics” to try to sell lapbands. We’ve even seen this kind of reporting be not only crappy, but actually dangerous. So why am I talking about this now?

First of all, because it’s making the rounds again and every time I see it, it pisses me off. Also since focusing on the weight of children has been a pet project of Michelle Obama, who’s time at the White House is winding down, I expect that we may see a lot more attempts to suggest that focusing on the weight of children – and telling fat kids that we’re all trying to create a world where nobody who looks like them exists – has been a fantastic idea, despite the evidence.

This kind of reporting drives the discussion and policy – including policies that body shame children as a substitute for actually supporting their health – so it’s important that we know that it’s always reader beware, that we can and should ask questions, and that we can and should hold the people doing this reporting accountable.

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Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development, you can follow the progress on Facebook!

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

If We Really Cared About Kids’ Health

Wrong RoadYesterday I blogged about a terrible program designed to give kids a grade for their body size. Unfortunately this is not the first experiment foisted upon children.  I think that some of the people behind these programs may actually care about children’s health, but that doesn’t excuse their irresponsibility.  Still, I don’t want to criticize without offering suggestions.  So if we really care about kids health here are some things that we could do:

Foster Healthy Relationships Between Kids and Their Bodies

Someone told me today that their school weighed kids and wrote their weights up on the wall. When the kids with low and high weights got (so very predictably) bullied, they were told that the bullying shouldn’t bother them because they were too young to worry about their weight.  That’s exactly what we don’t want to do.  It’s time for school to stop creating situations that enable bullies, and then blame the victims and excuse themselves by saying that bullying shouldn’t happen.

Health is a complicated thing, it’s difficult to define and difficult to measure. That doesn’t make it ok for schools to ignore those facts and just lazily and inaccurately substitute body size for health. Kids don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies.  Helping kids have a healthy relationship with their bodies helps them see those bodies as worthy of care.  Trying to get kids to hate themselves healthy (or allowing other kids to “bully them healthy”) isn’t the way to go.

Foster Health Relationships between Kids and Movement

I work a lot with people who are trying to repair their relationships with movement after a messy breakup with exercise.  Typically this came at the hands of gym class (dodge ball, the President’s Physical Fitness Test, and asshole PE teachers I’m looking at you.)  Wouldn’t it be great if people weren’t pushed into hating the whole idea of movement from the start? Nobody is obligated to exercise, but everyone should have options for joyful movement made available to them as kids.  I’m for physical education that comes with tons of options, where kids are encouraged to try and then if they don’t like something try something else.

I’m for having competitive sports leagues as well as non-competitive leagues where kids who want to play for fun can do that. I’m for exposing kids to “non-traditional” movement – video games, larping, marching band, swing choir, gardening etc. I think it’s important to understand that some people never really enjoy fitness and that’s totally fine, we won’t convince kids who hate it to love it by creating a situation where they feel like failures and are ridiculed and are taught to hate their bodies, or where they are made to believe that exercise is punishment for their body size.  We won’t make kids healthier by continuing to insist that what we are doing works while actively ignoring tons of people who are saying “Gym class was fucking terrible!”

Foster Healthy Relationships Between Kids and Food

First of all, I think our focus should be on making sure that all kids have enough food to eat that nourishes them and that they enjoy, rather than trying to manipulate the height/weight ratios of kids. Again, I work with tons of people who are trying to fix a relationship with food has been really messed up, and it doesn’t have to be that way. We could help kids try a wide variety of food, and learn to trust their hunger and fullness signals.  We could stop food moralization, we could give kids good information, and support to make choices that take care of them.

We could stop defending that completely ridiculous idea that it’s not stigmatizing or damaging to tell fat kids that the world will be better when kids who look like them don’t exist.  We could look at the results of the experiments that have been tried and we could make the informed decision that what we are doing not only doesn’t make kids healthier but, in fact, is damaging their health. The people involved in implementing these programs could find a way to care more about their kids than about saving face by insisting that it’s anybody’s fault but theirs that programs that are supposed to be about making kids healthy are leaving them with deeply held body shame, hating movement and terrified of food.  We can do better, and we should.

Like the blog?  More Cool Stuff!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

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New Way to Give Fat Kids a Failing Grade

grade on curveAn article in the New York Post today shows us exactly how screwed up our society has become when it comes to weight, health, and kids:

“Gwendolyn wound up on The Post front page in May 2014, when she was listed as [overweight] on her DOE-issued “Fitnessgram” — despite being 4-foot-1 and weighing just 66 pounds at the time.”

The knee jerk reaction to this is often “How could they classify a girl that size as overweight in the New York City Department of Education issues “Fitnessgram” that was sent home to her parents?”  The question I have is – why, why in the world, is the DOE sending “Fitnessgrams” home in the first place?

The annual fitness reports, meant to evaluate students’ health, were revised with more sensitive words that won’t diminish a child’s self-esteem.

Categories of “underweight,” “health weight,” “overweight” and “obese” were swapped out for the groupings of “very low,” “healthy fitness zone,” and two different categories of “needs improvement.”

The fuck?  How is telling Gwendolyn that her body  “needs improvement” better than telling her that she’s “overweight?”  As I remember “Needs Improvement” was what we got in kindergarten when we failed to keep our desks neat, or has less than admirable penmanship (it was part of a pre-letter-grade grading convention – Satisfactory Plus, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement)  So instead of an arbitrary word for an arbitrary ratio of weight and height, they are giving kids a bad grade for an arbitrary ratio of weight and height.  Celebrating this is like pulling kids out of one hole, shoving them into another hole, and then patting ourselves on the back that they are in a different hole.

Also, “healthy fitness zone?”  What, precisely, in the hell is that?  Are they trying to say that all kids with a certain height weight ratio have the same health and fitness level?  Because that’s completely ridiculous and should be a sufficient indictment against this entire misguided program. Everyone with any amount of sense knows that body size, health, and fitness are three separate things. In terms of statistics, being underweight is correlated health issues so why aren’t underweight kids found in “need” of “improvement”?  To be clear, I’m adamantly against that happening, I’m simply pointing out yet another way that this policy is yet another example of government sanctioned weight bias.

Also, when did the NYC education system become so well funded and problem-free that they have time to body shame kids? Every teacher I know is overworked and underpaid and would rather teach math than use it as a way hurt kid’s self-esteem with things called “Fitnessgrams” that don’t measure fitness at all – just a simple ratio of weight and height.  Especially considering that:

Research from the University of Minnesota found that: None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.

A Canadian study found that eating disorders were more prevalent than type 2 diabetes in kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12) There was a 15% increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in all ages across the same time period.

Another study found that “school based healthy-living programs”  had some pretty big problems.  It turns out that these were and are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that there is almost no research on the effectiveness of these programs or any inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health. This study found that these programs are actually triggering eating disorders in kids.  Dr. Leora Pinhas said “The programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy…We live in a culture that stigmatizes fat people, and we’ve turned it into this kind of moralistic health thing.”

So tell me again what we have to gain from the NYC Department of Education declaring that a kid’s body “Needs improvement” (not to mention misleading kids to believe that if they can get to a certain height/weight ratio they’ll be magically healthy and physically fit regardless of their habits)?  Tell me again why we can’t focus on providing an environment and options  that let kids have a chance to develop not only habits that take care of their bodies, but where they can develop healthy relationships with their bodies, food, and movement.  Gwendolyn and her mom opted out of the NYC DOE’s Super Official Government Childhood Weight Shaming Program, and that’s something that I hope more parents do for their kids, because there is for damn sure a need for improvement here, and it has nothing to do with kids’ bodies.

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