Tuesday, 31 May 2016

So You Don’t Like Looking at Fat People

I'm here to helpI couldn’t help but notice that there are people who don’t like to look at fat people – maybe it’s fat people in swimsuits, or in short shorts, or spandex, or revealing dresses, or at all, whatever.

I’ve also noticed that these people seem to think that the right way to deal with this is to make sure they tell people about their preferences as often as possible, and to suggest that the solution is for fat people to dress the way that they want fat people to dress, or to simply not be seen at all. Obviously, this is ridiculous but since these folks clearly have a skills gap where this is concerned, I wanted to help.  If you are part of this group, I offer the following appropriate options for dealing with your desire not to look at fat people:

First, regardless of which option you choose make sure to acknowledge that this is your problem to solve, not fat people’s problem to solve.  Nobody owes you aesthetically pleasing by any definition. Understanding that, let me help you out with some options:

Option 1:  The Simple Solution 

Stay home alone and read books with no pictures. There, problem solved.

Option 2:  Take Some Advice From The Band Chicago

Look away, baby. Look away. Seriously.  This is the perhaps the easiest path, it doesn’t require any self-examination or personal growth, and you get to leave your house. If there’s someone you don’t want to look at – for whatever reason – there are always at least three other cardinal directions in which you could look.  Choose one, look that way. Boom! Problem solved.

Option 3: Don’t Hand Me No Lines And Keep Your Thoughts To Yourself (With apologies to the Georgia Satellites…)

If you don’t like looking at fat people and you don’t want to work on it, that’s your right. But there’s no reason to say anything about it out loud or online since what you want to see should never have any bearing on what fat people do, and the suggestion that there is something wrong with fat people because you can’t see their beauty is just contributing to the shame, stigma, bullying, and harassment  that fat people face. And, of course, you wouldn’t want to do that, because you’re not a bigoted asshole.

Option 4:  Think It Through

Maybe take a second to ask yourself why you’ve chosen to buy into the idea that only certain bodies are worthy of being looked at. Consider that the ability to appreciate the beauty that exists in everyone is actually a skill set.  Perhaps right now your skill set is pretty limited – you can only see the beauty in the stereotype that has been spoon-fed to you all of your life.  That’s not surprising, it’s by the design of industries that make billions of dollars from the idea that we should all do our best to look like a photoshopped picture of someone else. But you can opt out of that.

You can decide that you don’t want to be part of a world that perpetuates size-based bigotry.  You can decide that you want to expand your skill set for perceiving beauty. Once you’ve spent some time really looking at your own prejudices and preconceived notions, I’ll bet looking at fat people will be a whole new experience.

Finally, For The Fatties

If you’re a fat person who has to deal with someone like this is your life, I just want to remind you that you are not the problem, there is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with your body, there is nothing wrong with your choice of clothing. Fat phobia is the problem, size-based bigotry is the problem, the people who perpetuate them are the problem.  You? You’re fine.

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 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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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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Monday, 30 May 2016

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Trope Deep Dive: Fat Men and Thin Women after Marty: Only the Lonely (1991, dir. Chris Columbus); I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2007, dir. Jeff Garlin)

The impulse to revisit old stories is a strong one that long pre-dates the advent of film, but it’s not hugely controversial to say that many movie remakes and adaptations usually pale in comparison to the original.  Sometimes a change in setting and/or time can be a welcome take– A Fistful of Dollars is considered a classic right along with Yojimbo, for instance– but often, the remake speaks to the continued relevance of the original, whether intentionally or not.  Both Only the Lonely and I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With are heavily inspired by Marty, focusing on the emotional lives of fat bachelors in their thirties who live with their mothers.  Marty is widely regarded as, to use the words of I Want Someone…’s protagonist James, “a perfect movie,” so it’s not surprising that these films that pay homage to it don’t reach its artistic heights.  However, both are interesting when seen in conversation with Marty, as they respectively take their inspirational concepts to more romanticized and more cynical places.

I was looking forward to, and then disappointed by, Only the Lonely.  Its character motivations and development are simplistic, especially relative to the scale of the action.  Marty may seem overly modest with its timeline of one weekend in which two people meet and decide whether or not to see each other again, but the tight focus on the characters’ inner lives is a much more potent draw than Danny (John Candy) and Theresa’s (Ally Sheedy) courtship where their second date is on Halloween and their wedding scheduled for Christmastime.  Only the Lonely is also less equitable in sympathy for its characters, focusing more on getting the audience to root for Danny than build any potential complexity into the situation. Marty’s mother experiences anxiety triggered by her niece and nephew wanting her widowed sister to move out of their home to make way for a new baby.  Motivated by fear of abandonment, she criticizes Marty for wanting to date Clara, but in prior scenes, she is portrayed as a kind woman who wants her son to be happy.  Compare this to Rose Muldoon (Maureen O’Hara) in Only the Lonely, who is similarly afraid of abandonment, but is depicted more as an obstacle to Danny’s happiness than a grounded, relatable person.  Rose has a long history of not only “telling it like it is” (i.e. making insensitive remarks to whomever she pleases, including critical remarks about people’s ethnicities), but uses guilt to manipulate Danny to the point where the audience sees his vivid, anxious imaginings of her dying horribly because he wasn’t there to protect her.  Her fear of abandonment is not without grounds, as Danny’s brother Patrick (Kevin Dunn) is unwilling to let her move into his home in the suburbs, but she also has the potential for companionship from her neighbor Nick (Anthony Quinn), who is in love with her (and whom she initially rejects for being Greek).  Instead of Rose being frightened by the plight of another widow, Danny is spurred into seizing the day by an elderly bachelor friend (Milo O’Shea) who implores him not to end up the same way.

only the lonely

Danny and Theresa on their first date, a picnic at Comiskey Park.  Even though the filming location for Danny and Rose’s house is a 5 minute walk to Wrigley Field.  Pick a damn side, executive producer John Hughes.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With also has a wider scope than its predecessor, in that the focus is on James’ (Jeff Garlin) career troubles as well as his desire for love. Marty tells Clara about his dream of buying the butcher shop where he works, but we don’t see it plague him to the extent that frustration with acting does James.  Acting shares a significant similarity with relationships:  both pursuits require making oneself vulnerable to judgment and rejection, as both require the approval of other people to happen.  James finds that his fatness explicitly affects his success at both.  He books a job on a mean-spirited candid camera-style show; when he expresses doubts about the show’s ethics, the director (Paul Mazursky) encourages him by saying that he’s “got the whole fat guy thing wrapped up.”  Later, James is shocked to discover that not only is a remake of Marty being cast, but that he was passed over to audition for the title role, which he’s confident he would be great for.  His bewilderment is only exacerbated as seemingly nobody he talks is familiar with Marty, which he describes as “a perfect movie.”  He storms the auditions, where a group of conventionally beautiful women are waiting to read for the role of Clara, and discovers that the titular role has been given to Aaron Carter, and Gina Gershon will be playing Marty’s mother.  “Marty’s mom is hot?” James asks in disbelief.  “She is now,” the casting director (Roger Bart) replies.  James’ skill or lack thereof is a moot point, as he is disqualified from substantial roles due to his age and appearance.  Although James’ story includes more comedy than Marty’s, it’s fairly obvious that Garlin is also creating this film from a very personal perspective.  

As with Marty, Only the Lonely and I Want Someone… feature protagonists who live with their mothers.  Both films also suggest that their protagonist are fat and reluctant to move on to a more independent lifestyle at least partly due to these overly close relationships with mothers who provide food.  James’ mother (Mina Kolb) cooks food that he can’t seem to resist, including a scene where he tries to leave the dinner table due to frustration with her nagging, yet doesn’t because he’s still hungry.  James admits that he lives with his mother because it’s “comfortable,” but also because he worries for her safety.  His mom, however, isn’t as stagnating a force in his life as she appears at first glance:  she encourages him to crash the audition for Marty, and when he tells her that he wants to move out, she expresses relief.  In the denouement sequence where James is getting his shit together, he mentions that not only is he living alone now, but he sees his mother infrequently, suggesting that they are both happier with independent lives.  As mentioned above, in Only the Lonely, Rose smothers Danny to a hyperbolic degree.  In the opening scene, she picks on him for eating yogurt for breakfast instead of his usual Danish, saying he’s “anorexic” and that yogurt is “sissy” when he tells her that he’s “trying to cut back.”  Paradoxically, by encouraging him to maintain a masculinized attitude towards food (ie. prioritizing taste over health concerns), she emasculates him by passively controlling his choices.  His later inability to cook dinner for Theresa shows that he relies on Rose to cook for him.

As much as living with his mother at 38 suggests that Danny retains a childlike dependence on Rose, any immaturity is tempered by virtue. He fails at making dinner for Theresa and is a low-ranking police officer, but later in the film he talks about becoming a cop and living with his mother as choices he made in the wake of his father’s death to take care of his family, re-casting a seemingly pathetic life as the result of selflessness.  His size becomes a symbol of his ability to protect Theresa, as shown in a scene where he helps her sneak out of the house by using his larger body to hide her from Rose’s view.  It’s played for laughs, but speaks to the way in which Only the Lonely gives Candy’s fat body romantic potential.  Protection is what Theresa wants from a romantic partner:  someone who “will always stand up for [her], who will never let [her] down.” Their size disparity is also gendered, as his largeness also calls attention to how petite she is, how appropriate her physique is for a female love interest. When Rose meets Theresa, she criticizes her for being too thin (the Hollywood screenplay equivalent of saying that perfectionism is your biggest flaw during a job interview).  Even his seemingly humble job has perks, as he has connections all over the city that allow him to, among other things: picnic on the field at Comiskey Park, commandeer a fire truck on short notice in the middle of the night, and get an Amtrak train to make an unscheduled stop.  His ability to be a provider proves nothing short of magical in his quest to win Theresa’s heart.   

i want someone

James’ meetcute with Beth, in which she gives him a free ice cream sundae.

In I Want Someone…, James’ fatness is suggested to influence every change in his love life over the course of the narrative.  A woman he is dating breaks up with him at the beginning of the film, in part because he’s “in terrible shape,” although she then denies that it has anything to do with him being fat.  Later, he goes on a date with Beth (Sarah Silverman), a manic pixie dream girl who works at an ice cream parlor. He can’t quite believe he’s on a date with her, as he explains, because she’s a “hottie” and he’s “Baron von Fat.”  She responds by assuring him he’s not fat.  A more thoughtful response from her might have been to reassure him of her interest– James is told a few times throughout the movie that he isn’t fat, which comes across as obvious bullshit given the influence his size has on the narrative.  After they sleep together, she reveals that she had never been with a fat man before and she wanted to experiment, before telling him that she doesn’t want to see him again.  James’ fatness is something that his potential romantic partners must treat as an exception, whether positively or negatively, usually the latter.  The positive interaction is with Stella (Bonnie Hunt), who he meets in the jazz section of a record store.  He feels confident flirting with her after her coworker (Amy Sedaris– this cast, right?) lets it slip that she’s a “chubby chaser.”  Although flustered and full of denial when he asks her about it, the James-getting-his-shit-together sequence includes her at a performance of his, watching him with admiration.  Their romantic potential is ambiguous, but their rapport is undeniable, having mutual interests and easily joking around with each other.  Compare this to Danny: he hasn’t dated in a while before Theresa, but his fatness is never explicitly mentioned as an influencing factor.  Even after he proposes to Theresa, his brother suggests that he could do better than someone as “plain” as her; Danny must convince his family (regarding his brother, by “convince” I mean “punch so hard he flies halfway across the room”) that she is worthy of his love.  As with Marty, there is pressure to not commit to a “dog,” but if Danny has had any similar experiences to Marty or James striking out with a woman because of their appearance, it’s glossed over by the film.  Theresa’s “baggage” is shown in a charming light.  She is extremely introverted, which both makes her seem like someone in need of a big protector, and also feels like an echo of Sheedy’s most famous role as Allison in The Breakfast Club.  (Consider that at this point in her career, Sheedy was a few years post-Brat Pack; compare to Betsy Blair, who had been blacklisted by HUAC during the production of Marty).  Her job at her father’s funeral home is talked about as being a turn-off (Rose calls her a “ghoul”), but she is able to express her quirky, artistic side by doing the deceased’s makeup to make them resemble old movie stars, which is totally appropriate for a ritualized expression of grief.

There’s a fine balancing act that goes into portraying marginalized characters, as far as how to show them dealing with with social obstacles and how those experiences affect their internal worlds.  On one hand, we have James, who can only find some form of acceptance professionally or romantically when put into a box based on his fatness. Women are interested in him as a novelty or a fetish, and he is relegated to specific roles by his size and then denied them in preference of a younger, thinner actor.  On the other hand, we have Danny: his fatness is not ignored by the film, but just as far as it makes him a cuddly teddy-bear.  His extended bachelorhood is squarely blamed on his family dynamic, which feels like an unrealistic oversimplification.  Even unapologetic, confident fat people have to deal with haters, and that has an impact on how anyone navigates their professional and love lives.  On the other hand, lots of fat people are in happy relationships and/or have successful careers (including Garlin himself, who was making Curb Your Enthusiasm by the time he was the same age as James).  But even in real lives that are more complicated and nuanced; one take or the other can feel more resonant.  Sometimes we want the soft edges of a Hollywood rom-com, other times the gruffer indie comedy feels more appropriate.  So while I didn’t necessarily feel that these films are equal in terms of the amount of thought put into their creation (I mean Theresa tells Danny she’s trying to learn how to assert herself then she asserts herself when Rose insults her and then immediately BREAKS UP WITH DANNY BECAUSE SHE WAS ABLE TO DO THE THING SHE DIDN’T THINK SHE COULD DO AND HE DIDN’T DO IT FOR HER COME ON WHAT IS THAT okay I’m done now I promise), on a macro level, we need to have access to both points of view. Although dialing back the mom-hate just a notch would be nice.



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Sunday, 29 May 2016

David Wolfe Fat-Shames Adele

Reader Jeannie clued me into this Facebook post by David Wolfe (which has subsequently been deleted.)

david wolfe adele

My first question- as I assume many people’s first question will be – is who the hell is this guy?  Let’s start with who he thinks he is, from his website:

David “Avocado” Wolfe is the rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe. The world’s top CEOs, ambassadors, celebrities, athletes, artists, and the real superheroes of this planet—Moms—all look to David for expert advice in health, beauty, herbalism, nutrition, and chocolate!

Right, sure, we’ll go with that for right now.

My second question, then, is that if so many people are clamoring for his advice, why is he forcing it on Adele using Facebook?  That’s just tacky as hell.

At first glance this looks like basic fat shaming with a side of complete incompetence. David wants us to think that he is a credible health and wellness expert, despite the fact that he is peddling spot reducing using a cheesy clickbait title and before and after drawings in lieu of pictures (probably because we’ve known for years that spot reducing is not possible  – which is to say that there is no exercise that will “target” and remove belly and back fat) and he wants us to think that something that a credible health expert would do is fat shame Adele on Facebook.  I’m sure he is the hero of internet trolls everywhere.

But look again.  He’s not just fat shaming, he is trying to trade on Adele’s actual fame to get attention for himself (which you wouldn’t think he would need to do, considering how famous and in demand his bio suggests he is.)  What happened here is that Adele, an extremely talented not-thin person, managed to rise above the oppressive systems that work to keep not-thin people from being able to share their talent.  And David decided to use her, to try to trade on her hard-won fame, to..what…prove that he doesn’t understand how the human body works? This is bullshit and it’s wrong.  As far as I’m concerned anyone who is an actual health and wellness expert would not want or need to spend their time fat-shaming talented fat people.

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 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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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

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



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Friday, 27 May 2016

The Right Way to Wear a Fat Suit?

Actual SizeI received this question today from reader Suzanne about the practice of wearing fat suits to better understand the experience of fat people:

I was doing some research on the idea of wearing a fat suit and I came across the thing you wrote about some dancers who did it.) I agree with your criticisms of the dancers. It’s just that it seems that if wearing a fat suit helped someone empathize with the plight of fat people then it would be a good idea. I guess I’m wondering… are there any circumstances under which you would support someone wearing a fat suit?

It’s a good question and there are a lot of layers to this, I’ll try to break down my thoughts.

First, I do understand that it’s possible that wearing a fat suit might help someone better understand the oppression that fat people face, and I definitely appreciate their good intentions.  But my question is – why couldn’t this person believe the many accounts of what it’s like to be fat that have been written by actual fat people?

If someone finds that they can’t believe and/or empathize with people’s accounts of their oppression unless they actually “dress up” like them, then I would suggest working on empathy rather than donning a fat suit.

Still, to answer the question (and with the reminder that, as always, I’m only speaking for myself here and other fat people may disagree) I would suggest that they do it as an entirely personal experiment with a very clear understanding of the limitations

First and foremost it’s important to realize that pretending to be fat gives someone a very narrow and limited view into what it’s like to actually be fat, and depending on other identities the person holds, it may not give them insight into what it is like to be a fat person with multiple marginalized identities (for example fat people who are also People of Color, Disabled/people with disabilities, older, Queer, Trans etc.) Also, pretending to be fat for a little while will not give someone the experience of fat people who have faced years of oppression. (These reasons are why I’m suggesting that it will likely be better to read about the experiences of lots of fat people, believe them,and respond to requests for support, rather than having a singular, limited experience of pretending to be fat.)

When the experiment is over, I would suggest that the person not give interviews where they talk about what it was like for them to be fat. (If they do that, they take up space talking about being a pretend fat person when they could center the experiences and voices of actual fat people.  Despite the limitations of their experience they are more likely to be listened to because part of sizeism is the belief that thin people are more credible than fat people, even when it comes to the experience of being fat.)

Instead, they could center the voices of fat people by saying something like “As a personal experiment I wore a fat suit for x days and it reinforced the things I’ve read about from [links to accounts of sizeism by fat people, including fat people with multiple marginalizations] and the need to end sizeism and celebrate the full diversity of body sizes. Here’s some stuff we can do…”

So those are my thoughts. Thanks for asking!

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 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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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

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

 



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Thankful AF Thursday: BIG NEWS!

It’s 11:00 pm PST and I am in shock!

After nearly 1 year and 1 month (5 days shy)…

I’m officially EMPLOYED!!!

I just wanna thank those who have been cheering for me and praying for you and encouraging me and just being there through this difficult period. It lasted much longer than anyone could have ever predicted. I really didn’t know what would become of me. But I never gave up! I kept at it and shit if stubbornness doesn’t pay the fuck off eventually! Ha-ha!

I start on Tuesday, in the big city, at a startup. This will certainly be an interesting endeavor! I’m ready, darling…bring it!

Talk about Thankful As Fuck?!?!??!?!?!

I am thanking my lucky stars and the moon above, too!

*******************************************************************

What are you feeling Thankful AF for/about today? Lemme know in comments!

Thankful AF Thursday
Share something you’re thankful AF (As Fuck) for! It could be anything, but gratitude is important and sharing that gratitude may inspire others to as well…how rad is that?! Wooo!

Do you have something to say about fat acceptance/fat liberation? Have you been wanting to start a blog but afraid to take the plunge? Consider guest posting at NotBlueAtAll.com! We all have a story to tell. Share yours! Or maybe you’re great at reviews or have an independent business you think my rad fatty readers would enjoy…let me know!

For submissions:
Please include the name you’d like used for the post (I will often thank the poster or comment about the story at the bottom of a submitted post). You’re welcome to include something you’d like to plug like an etsy shop, event or other such things. Posts submitted by individuals are always free, but businesses will be charged a fee based on the type of post they’d like to submit. Please also consider submitting a photo of yourself, even if the post isn’t about you specifically. People love to see pics of other awesome people, simple as that! For outfit pics, please include sizing for reference as well as links or retailers where readers may procure their own goodies to shop your style!

We love newbies to fat community as well as tried and true rad fatties. This blog is a safe space for folks to share their stories, celebrate themselves and their journies, and connect with one another. This is an open minded and respectful environment where we may disagree but are never mean to one another. Please refrain from any negative body talk, diet talk/discussions, or any negative judgements. Have fun and Enjoy!

Rad Fatty Love,
<3
S

I’m looking for guest posts!!! Please consider submitting!

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Thursday, 26 May 2016

MRAs vs. MRAs (TM): The Difference

Content note: Discussion of sexism and MRA douchebags. There was a time when I identified as both a feminist and …

Continue reading



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Trifecta of Fat Hate with Bonus VFHT

 

What a Load of CrapWhen fat people try to talk about, well basically anything, online (and sometimes in person) it seems like someone always has to bust in with the trifecta of fat shaming, often with a bonus VFHT. This happened in a conversation that I was involved with on Facebook yesterday.

The conversation was about how plus size costumes are often not available at dance conventions with vendor fairs. Somebody decided that their contribution to the conversation would be to say that they hoped companies did not make revealing costumes for fat dancers because “some things shouldn’t be seen.”  Roughly a million people responded to let the person know that their fat shaming “Its not you it’s me mistake”making bullshit was not welcome.

Someone else jumped in to suggest that it’s not about aesthetics, it’s about health.  It was pointed out that size and health aren’t the same thing and that, even if they were, the idea that someone’s current state of health should dictate whether or not they can wear revealing clothes (and/or the idea that it promotes obesity, or creates unhealthy role models) is completely ridiculous.

They then went for the trifecta, pivoting to a hand-wringing “won’t somebody think of the fat children” argument.  When that was shut down they finally shifted to the VFHT -The Vague Future Health Threat. It sounds like this “Well, you may be healthy now, but it will catch up to you someday”  (“it” here having the meaning of “being fat.”)

So for those playing the home game, we went “blatant sizeism and fat shaming” to “using healthism to justify blatant sizeism and health shaming” to “using a bullshit won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children argument to justify blatant sizeism and fat shaming” to “trust me I’m psychic.”

For fat shamers the VFHT seems to be their ultimate trump card because, basically, they are claiming to be able to predict the future, and who can argue with that?

I can.  I find this to be paternalist, ignorant, unsupported, and annoying for the following reasons:

1. The psychic friends network went out of business for a reason.  If we take a step back we soon realize that this whole mess is based on us believing that this person can predict the future of every fat person. 

2.  This seems to be designed to make sure that fat people never ever believe they’ve done “enough” for their health or healthcare which is neither helpful, nor evidence-based.

3.  Everyone is going to die. There is a 100% chance.  I just happen to live in a culture where if I die because a runaway truck drops 30,000 pounds of bananas on me – someone will blame it on my fat.  That doesn’t make it true.

4.  What if I changed the rules of the lottery so that if  you lost, you had to pay the lottery money as a penalty?  Now not only is your chance of winning almost non-existent,  but there is a near 100% chance that you’ll end up with LESS money than you had after you bought the ticket.  Would you play? Now imagine that this isn’t your money we’re talking about – it’s your long term health. These are the odds that we play when we diet.

The person VFHTing me is asking that I do something they can’t prove is possible, for a reason they can’t prove is valid, with a very high percentage that I’ll end up less healthy at the end.  I’ll pass. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that health isn’t an obligation, a barometer of worthiness,or entirely within our control regardless of our size.

So what do you say to the VFHT?

Here are some possible responses broken down by category.

Quick and simple:

  • Please don’t make wild guesses about my health.
  • My health is not your business.   (If, at this point, they bring up tax payer dollars or health care costs, I ask them for an itemized list of things for which their local, state, and federal taxes pay, or health problems that people develop for which causation cannot be proven;  broken down into categories of things they are happy to pay for, and things they don’t want to pay for. If they don’t happen to have that list on hand, I let them know that I’ll be happy to discuss it once they do.)

More detailed/scientific

  • I don’t know of a single statistically significant, properly controlled scientific study that supports that statement.  So, either cite your research or I’m going to assume that I know more about this than you do and you are just talking without actually knowing what you’re talking about.  (Or “talking out of your ass”, depending on my mood).
  • You have no way to know that.  Cite your research or I will assume that you are putting my health at risk by talking about things for which you have no actual knowledge or qualifications.

The pointed response (feel free to mix and match questions/responses with boundary statements)

  • How dare you make assumptions about my health?  You may not discuss my health with me.
  • I find you completely unqualified to make that statement. Please keep your opinions about my health to yourself.
  • My health is not your business and you are not allowed to comment on it.
  • You will immediately stop making guesses and assumptions about my future health or this conversation is over.

The snarky responses:

  • I had no idea you could predict the future!   If you give me tomorrow’s lottery numbers ‘ll split the money with you.
  • I totally forgot that being thin makes me immortal – thank god you told me or I might have died some day.

To put it quite simply, the VFHT is BS.

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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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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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the HAES® files: Introducing HAES® to My Team

by Julie Seale, RD, BA, BASc

In 2013 a friend (and colleague) introduced me to Health At Every Size® (HAES). As a dietitian, I had been struggling for years, thinking there must be a better way than recommending weight loss for “overweight” or “obese” clients. I use quotation marks, because they are medical terms used to infer disease…and are based on the BMI (which could hardly determine the health of an individual). What was the ultimate goal of recommending weight loss anyway? I thought it was for improved health, but I started to question that too. I have been practicing long enough to see people make changes (whether by a full-on diet or just restricting a little) and lose weight…and regain it…and lose it…and regain it. Each time they regained it, they would return to see me, and each time I struggled with helping them start the cycle all over again.

There had to be a better way!

I stopped weighing people a few years ago (well, I stopped doing it on my own…some patients still insist on it). It just broke my heart when I would pick up a patient from the waiting room and they were so excited to see me, so they could tell me all about their success with the goal they had set: walking twice a week; or eating more veggies; or drinking less juice. But then they would get on the scale, and would be upset (and even cry sometimes), because that is how they measured their success…and self-worth. Not by the accomplishment of their goals, but by the number on the scale. Why? Because it was reinforced…by me, their doctor, their family and friends, their barista, that woman in the cafe, the man on the subway…you get the picture.

I had to stop the cycle. I struggled with that though. Not focusing on weight went against everything I learned in university, and the clinic I worked in, and in my childhood for that matter. Could I actually just stop? Then along came my friend at the perfect time and showed me there is another way. After attending my 1st Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) conference I knew what I had to do.

It’s too bad it wasn’t as simple as changing my practice; that was the easy part, since I was almost already there. For me, the conversations with patients only changed a bit. When they started talking about weight loss, I started asking questions about what that would look like for them and what they hoped would change besides their weight. I also started to focus on Intuitive Eating, rather than being prescriptive (in as much as Canada’s Food Guide is prescriptive). Mostly what has changed is the language I use when referring to food as well as around weight and health.

Beyond making my own professional changes, a challenge has been that I work on a family health team; I work with 14 physicians, 2 nurse practitioners, 3 nurses, a social worker and several other practitioners. Plus we have 2 sites and 2 dietitians at the other site. What I do and say with patients affects all of their practices, and vice-versa.

I wasn’t na├»ve enough to think that all I needed to do was put on a lunch-and-learn and everyone would wholeheartedly agree to walk the line with me. But I was fortunate enough to find an ally in one of the dietitians and an open mind in the other. So we did a lunch-and-learn (and then a second). Our goal was simply to introduce the research on dieting and HAES. We also discussed weight stigma. We wanted to explain to the staff why we won’t be focusing on weight as an outcome measure any longer. I think, despite the relatively low attendance, these lunch-and-learns were successful because we introduced something that was very foreign to them. They asked some really good questions, and of course we were met with resistance by most. We did not expect anything different. The next thing we did was change the dietitian referral form by replacing Weight Loss with Healthy Lifestyle Changes. For the most part, we don’t get Weight Loss as the reason for referral anymore, but some still add it to the form. Our reason for the change to the referral form was to try to change the language our physicians and other providers use with patients. One of our physicians actually writes “mindful eating” or “please help with emotional eating” on the form, which I think is awesome!

It’s been a couple of years now since those changes were implemented. I know these things take time. I did not change my way of thinking overnight; it took a few years to realize I was doing more harm than good for so many people. Overall, our biggest challenge is still the popular idea that people will be healthier with weight loss, so those referrals for Lifestyle Changes are essentially for weight loss without dieting by many of our providers. Weight bias and fat shaming are predominant in our society, and my co-workers are not immune. I still have patients telling me about perceived or actual fat shaming at my clinic. In an effort to make my co-workers more aware of their own biases and what to do about them, I wrote a piece for our weekly newsletter. I provided a link to the Harvard Implicit bias test as well as the Rudd modules on weight bias in healthcare. I have not received any feedback about it, so I’m not sure whether anyone has taken the test or completed the modules. Recently, I attended the Weight Stigma Conference where a similar program called Balanced View was presented. Perhaps my next step will be to present some of the information from that conference to my coworkers.

Sometimes, it does feel like an uphill battle, but this is one battle worth fighting. And thanks to ASDAH, I know I’m not alone.

 


Julie Seale is a Registered Dietitian at the South East Toronto Family Health Team, where her practice is strongly entrenched in the HAES® principles. Julie uses a Heath at Every Size® approach when seeing clients, not only for weight concerns, but for all nutrition-related concerns, such as diabetes, heart heath, gastrointestinal complaints and nutrient deficiencies. She also has a part-time private practice, sealeNUTRITION. Julie currently serves as a board member At-Large for The Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). To connect with Julie on social media, you can: click here for Facebook and here for Twitter.



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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

On why I don’t care about health

As a Fat Studies scholar and fat activist, the issue of health is forever looming around me. In the background; in the foreground; off in the wings; waiting to pounce. Much of my scholarship has focused on fat identity and how it is managed in social media; much of my activism has focused on securing equal rights protection for fat individuals. And yet, when speaking to the media about weight discrimination in the workplace, or submitting an academic manuscript to a humanities journal, it is almost a guarantee that a reviewer or reporter will ask questions about fatness and health. “What about their health?” they’ll query, as though it has any relevance on whether fat people should be paid the same as non-fat people for work of equal value. “But isn’t fat unhealthy”, they’ll ask, as though someone’s health status has any bearing on whether they deserve to have a Facebook or Tumblr account.

Questions around health are always present in my work on/for fatness. Because health is one of the few lenses through which we, as a society, are capable of viewing fatness.

I spent much of my doctorate degree waging yet another war against my body. Even though I had been fat my whole life, and had a sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I still went to war with my body regularly. I had all the tools – the scales, the points, the counting, the gym membership, the calendar on which I would check each day where I achieved at least 30 minutes of exercise. At the same time I was waging this latest battle, I was researching how very fat women constructed, maintained, and revised their weight identity. All of the women in my work had similar stories to my own; lifelong fatness, lifelong dieting; lives spent chasing that elusive fantasy of being thin. One of the women I interviewed was different from the rest; she wasn’t ashamed, wasn’t afraid, and didn’t believe that her weight was holding her back from anything, including health. At the end of our interview, she casually suggested I read Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth. It was my first exposure to work that was critical of obesity studies. And from there it began; like many scholars, I fell down this new rabbit hole and read everything I could.

When I began, I was most drawn to understanding how tenable the links between weight and health really were. I spent a great deal of time reading empirical studies that disproved that weight was a reliable predictor of health, or that permanent weight loss was possible, even while concluding that weight loss should still be pursued by those who fell outside the desirable range. (This was before Health at Every Size; before scholars like Bacon, Aphramor, and Burgard, began revolutionising understandings of health and illuminating that keeping the definition of health as thin as it was ensured that many people of all sizes were excluded). This science, that never seemed to be at the fore of people’s minds when they casually dismissed fat politics, seemed to me to be the answer.

If I could just convince enough people that being fat isn’t automatically unhealthy, then things would change! They wouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their body sizes. They wouldn’t judge a fat person for eating at McDonalds while they themselves consumed the same food themselves. They would acknowledge that fat people deserved the same rights and dignity as non-fat people! I set to work doing just that: I facilitated workshops for healthcare providers, I wrote about the relationship between weight and health, I shared evidence through social media.

In 2012, I agreed to do a segment for 20/20 in New Zealand. By this time, my understanding of health as a social construct and a social contract had developed. When the interviewer asked me whether I was healthy, I first spoke to the varying definitions of health. Who’s health? Who gets to define health?  Who is excluded from these definitions? Then I moved into speaking specifically about my personal health. Was I metabolically healthy? Yes. Did I engage in health seeking behaviours? Yes. Did my BMI fall within what was believed to be healthy range? No. I then went on to speak on whether it should matter – did my worth of being a person with dignity and respect depend on my health status? Most of my response was edited down, and I cringed when the Me on TV began talking about my health behaviours. In my earlier work as a fat activist, I was willing to speak about my health, and the relationship between weight and health as demonstrated in the literature as I understood it. I kept thinking, one more time for the camera, and things will change. (I probably don’t have to tell you that they never have).

I no longer participate in this form of respectability politics, a term coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham to explain the efforts made by black women to demonstrate they were good enough for white society to overlook their flaw of being black (and women). In fat activism, respectability politics is often expressed in the performance of the good fatty; the fat person who apologises for their body, who demonstrates their efforts to seek health despite their size, who performs their fatness in ways that are most tolerable for the fat hating world they live in.

As a scholar and an activist, I’ve come to recognise that any conversation about health and fatness will be centred on physical health, and the ways that fatness impedes the achievement of health. And while increasingly conversations will include acknowledgement of the role of environments on health acquisition (the dreaded obesogenic environment), rarely does the conversation include a consideration of the impact of fat stigma and hate on the health and well-being of fat people. And for me, that’s the only interest of health that lives on in my scholarship and activism.

I am incredibly fat; death fat, as we like to say in the Fatosphere. In this way, I may have learned earlier than others that engaging in respectability politics wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It doesn’t matter how much I exercise or am seen eating a salad, the world will perceive me as incredibly unhealthy and incredibly unworthy. It doesn’t matter what my health status is, everyone, including healthcare providers, will treat me like a ticking time bomb that will, one day, implode and double-stomachedly take down public health care systems.

Health is the latest form of respectability politics for fat people. And I want no part of it.

 

Cross posted from the ASDAH blog

 



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Why soda taxes are BS

I went to school outside of Philly and still have a lot of Facebook friends in that area, so the city’s proposed soda tax is a hot topic on my friends list.  One outspoken friend is all for it, arguing that it will fund needed programs and will make people healthier. As you might have guessed if you’ve read this blog, I’m not a fan.

Soda, the argument goes, isn’t food. It’s a luxury, a vice, something no one needs, and therefore something that it’s harmless to tax. Technically speaking, I don’t think that’s true. Drinking less soda would probably be optimal for most people, but soda is most definitely food. It fulfills the first, most basic, function of food by providing energy. If you really think soda isn’t food, give one group of lab rats access only to soda and another group access only to celery and see which lives longer.

My biggest gripe with soda taxes is that your mayor or your senator or your fellow voters are the *last* people who should have any say in what your diet looks like. That responsibility is yours and yours alone.  Politicians aren’t doctors or dietitians, and I think they’re severely overstepping by trying to tax people into “good” eating habits, while playing on bias against fat people (because anything that makes there be fewer fat people, or that you can claim makes there be fewer fat people is an unmitigated good, supposedly).  But even if every registered dietitian on the planet had signed off on the idea, I’d still be opposed. Both because of the insulting paternalism and because it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to access a food without any attempt to allow them to meet that need in other ways.

And, as much as people may deny it, there are health and wellness related reasons to drink soda. Its primary purpose is pleasure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people for whom it doesn’t meet a need. There are people with jobs that don’t give them a real meal break or allow them to eat while working, for whom a soda is the only lunch they’re going to get. There are people who don’t have reliable access to sufficient food, for whom a cheap, generic soda provides needed calories.  There are people with stomach bugs and morning sickness drinking ginger ale because it stays down. There are people with eating disorders who can sometimes tolerate a sugary drink when they can’t force themselves to eat food. And no tax can distinguish between “buying this because it’s tasty” and “buying this because it’s necessary.”

Years ago, I was at an SCA event with a group of friends.  We were walking and talking, and when we looked back, one friend was no longer there, having dropped to his knees several feet back. He’s hypoglycemic, and his sugar was crashing. We headed to the soda machines, and the first machine took his money and didn’t spit out the promised sugary beverage. I was more than a little worried by this time, and I remember praying that God would *please* let the other machine work.  When it did, I joked later that it was my first miracle for sainthood, since I hit the button without actually putting money in it.  (I’m more of a deist now, and don’t really believe in a micromanaging God or a causal relationship between my whispered “Please” and the soda machine’s cooperation, but I know that it *felt* like manna from heaven.)

In the year or so between when I started experiencing major hypothyroid symptoms and when I found a doctor who would actually treat those symptoms, I self-medicated with caffeine. This wasn’t a good thing for my anxiety or my blood pressure, but at the time it felt like my only option. And I had a desk job with sick leave. For another untreated hypothyroid sufferer who has to stay awake to watch their kids, or keep their job, that caffeine could truly be a necessity.

Now, I’m sure the anti-soda folks will argue that any of the above uses of soda could be better met by a “healthier” source of calories like juice or fruit, or a less sugary source of caffeine, like coffee. But a tax designed to make it harder for people to buy soda doesn’t make it easier for them to buy apple juice, or to buy other foods to meet that calorie gap. Nor does jacking up the prices at the soda machine somehow necessitate that a workplace will provide coffee or add juice to the vending options. And, sure, pretty much every situation where someone *needs* soda has underlying issues, but nothing about a soda tax fixes any of those issues.  It’s one thing to point out that a broken pair of crutches, held together with duct tape, is unsafe and not optimal, but don’t take the crutches *away* without providing a safe and functional set, and pretend you’re helping. And even where soda isn’t a crutch, but simply a pleasure, pleasure isn’t evil, and people deserve to have food they enjoy, without an overzealous government trying to tax it away from them.




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This cake is great

I occasionally get comments about the “and believe me I am still alive” subhead on the blog and how “defensive you have to be to have that on your blog”.  Er, mostly it’s a joking reference to the Jonathan Coulton song. (Lyrics here.)  And it’s a way of metaphorically rolling my eyes at all the people who (still) say I’ll be dead at age 30 or 40.

(Never mind that I just turned 50.)

 

It also expresses that despite being very fat, I’m still alive.

It also expresses that I may not be always posting, but yeah, still alive.

 


Filed under: fat acceptance

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The “It’s Not You, It’s Me” Mistake

You Forgot Your BullshitA funny thing happened on the way to the fat hate forums, but it helps illustrate a serious issue.  I got an e-mail letting me know that there was a discussion about my headphones on an internet forum dedicated to hating me No, seriously. Apparently someone took the time to post this:

Each Selfie Sunday (or Monday, or Tuesday…whichever day actually posts), there is one thing that raises my eyebrow more than anything. Ragen’s headphones (among many other things about her) strike me as extremely non-athletic.  Has anyone else noticed this?  I could not imagine wearing that style of cheapie, over-the-ear-, hard plastic with foam covering headphones while biking or especially running.  I find it really strange that someone supposedly so into exercise and exercise gear could wear headphones that look like they’re from 15 years ago.

A little background – I have a blog specifically to talk about my IRONMAN triathlon journey (since plenty of the readers here don’t care about that and I don’t blame them!) On Sundays and sometimes Monday or Tuesday or basically wheneverthefuck I feel like it because it’s my blog, I post selfies from each workout for the week.  I find that it helps motivate me to take the selfie at the end, and I like have a little keepsake from each workout. For reference, here is a picture of me in the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad headphones.

mid distance walk run

For now we’re going to set aside the whackadoo nature of this situation – that someone has so much free time in their life that they not only spend time each week looking at the workout selfies of a blogger they don’t like (and I’ll admit I’m a little jealous – I don’t always have the time to keep up with bloggers whose work I do like! And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the traffic.) but they actually took to the internet to criticize the headphones I wear. In detail.

This is the kind of ridiculousness I deal with everyday, and in this case it’s obviously both funny and pathetic. But what I want to focus on for this blog post is the fact that, ostensibly, this person literally can’t grasp that there are people who like different headphones than they do – they are so perplexed by this that they had to take the internet to get some help working it out (which, if they had asked me, I would have been happy to give.)

I think of this as the “it’s not you, it’s me mistake.” This inability to understand that different people make different choices – and that’s ok –  is at the root of a lot of shame, stigma, oppression, and marginalization (both accidentally because people don’t realize that they are making the mistake, and sometimes very much on purpose.) I saw this illustrated on Facebook in a conversation that was shared by my friend Nikki, posted here with her permission:

J wrote:

Here’s what really bugs me.  I am 5’10 and a size 14.  I used to be heavier. To this day, I NEVER wear shorts, sleeveless or short-sleeve shirts, short tops that don’t cover the tops of my legs…I always wear cardigans if I wear a tank top, long skirts, etc…and I’m not that big.  I am always seeing women wearing stuff that it SO unflattering…Then complain abt what others say…Well what did you think they would say?  I don’t wannwa see my own flabby arms…I sure don’t wanna look at someone else’s!! And if I do see that, I myself will most likely think well damn, that looks bad. I won’t sneer or stare, but.

To be clear, J is allowed to feel any way about her body, and she is allowed to dress however she wants for whatever reason she wants. She’s allowed to think whatever she wants about what other people wear. She does not have to share my view about the concept of flattering.  And on some level she seems to understand that it’s inappropriate to sneer or stare at someone who wears clothes that she wouldn’t choose to wear.  All good there.

Where she goes wrong – and makes the same mistake as Captain Headphones above – is when she forgets that her way may be right for her, but that doesn’t make it the right way for everyone.  She goes wrong when she perpetuates the idea that women who make different clothing choices deserve to be treated unkindly – and should not only expect people to treat them poorly, but blame themselves when it happens.  She goes wrong when she perpetuates the idea that her choice is right, and other people’s choices are wrong. She goes wrong when she suggests that what she wants to look at should have any bearing on how other people choose to dress.

Nikki’s response puts it more succinctly:

I’ll be sure to keep my fat arms in a goddamn cardigan in the sweltering heat this year just because you feel insecure about your own body.

The fact that there are fat people who hate their bodies and/or feel that their bodies should be covered because they are fat, is often used as an argument against those of us who don’t feel that way. As in – “See, even other fat people agree that fat bodies should be covered.” And that’s crap.

In a world that constantly tells fat people to hate and hide our bodies, it’s not even mildly surprising that there are fat people who hate and hide their bodies. And they are allowed to do that, for whatever reason. But nobody is required to hate or hide their body because that body is fat, or because it doesn’t meet the stereotype of beauty in any way. My work isn’t about telling people how they have to relate to or dress their bodies, it’s about making sure that people know that not hating and hiding their bodies is an option (by whatever definitions they are using for those things, taking into account their preferences, religion, culture, values etc.)

So the next time someone tries to suggest that you have to hate your fat body because they hate theirs, you can remind them – it’s not you, it’s me.

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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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

You don’t have to figure out the universal truth of nutrition.

When I speak with clients, a theme that often comes up is the question of what is true and what is false in nutrition. Yesterday, an article about the demonization of fat made headlines, and along with it, whipped up that familiar confusion about nutrition and people asking a very familiar question: what is actually the truth?

It’s a good question, an important question, and one which will likely keep researchers and dietitians busy for decades. But the thing that always strikes me about this question is who asks it, and who seems to feel most tormented over the fact that there are, seemingly, very few answers: usually a person who is neither a researcher or a dietitian.

I’ve met many people who appear to be engaged in a one-person mission to discover the universal truth of human nutrition by conducting a series of uncontrolled experiments on themselves. It’s a very human, and very noble, undertaking, but one that always strikes me with its futility. It also carries with it a great deal of stress, and a great burden of effort with very little promise of reward for its champion.

I am fully supportive of people who enjoy conducting nutritional experimentation on themselves, though I’m not one of them, and it’s not a lifestyle I would recommend. Some people view it as a hobby, and come away with a few insights into their own body’s workings, largely unscathed. But this isn’t true for everyone, and my own clients (some of whom are people Ellyn Satter referred to as “Dieting Casualties”) are a great source of information on why this is.

When the foundational workings of your relationship with food are not yet in place (the lower tiers of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs), it can actually be destructive to that relationship to place the burden of experimentation on top of it. Nutritional experiments reside in the very top of the Hierarchy of Food Needs, under the label of “instrumental food,” which means eating in a way that gets you some symbolic or health-related outcome.

Hierarchy of food needs, in order: enough food, acceptable food, reliable ongoing access to food, good-tasting food, novel food, and instrumental food.

Certainly people can make instrumental food choices without damaging their relationship to food — but not before the lower-order needs are fulfilled and stable.

The unfortunate thing is, the way nutrition is communicated in our culture and even from our established health authorities, “instrumental” food choices are usually front and center, before (and often instead of) any of the lower-order needs. Thus, most people, when they start to think about nutrition, try to begin from this point rather than working their way up to it.

This results in people who haven’t already established, for example, regular mealtimes — or who don’t have quite enough money to buy more expensive “instrumental” groceries, or who feel guilty and ashamed for taking pleasure in food, or who only have a handful of foods that they know how to eat and like — attempting to impose upon their eating habits completely new and burdensome food rules.

Which usually ends in spectacular “failure” a little way down the road. (I put “failure” in scare-quotes because it’s hard for me to view it as an actual failure when an arbitrary set of diet rules falls by the wayside — your body probably views it as an unqualified success, but to the person making the attempt, it is demoralizing all the same.)

The bigger issue, of course, is this: it is literally not your job to figure out the universal truth of nutrition. Unless you’re a researcher who has been funded to do this, not only is your sample size too small, but you run the very real risk of hurting yourself and destroying your relationship with food. Please remind yourself of this when the temptation to conduct yet another uncontrolled experiment comes your way.

You are not obligated to uncover, all by yourself, with your mouth and your body, what holds true for all people with regard to nutrition. Your only job is to feed yourself faithfully, get comfortable with food and your enjoyment of it, and then to find out what is true for you. The only universal rule of nutrition that I’ve discovered in my many years of studying and practicing it, aside from eat or die, is that humans are massively omnivorous and nutrition is extremely individual. Your truth will be different than someone else’s.

That’s okay. Your truth counts too.

break50

Individual truths in comments.


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Prescribing to Fat People What We Diagnose in Thin People – The Biggest Loser

Angry FrustratedWe prescribe to fat people what we diagnose in thin people. I first heard this idea from the brilliant Deb Burgard, and I heard it again at the presentation that Hilary and Dana of BeNourished gave at the MEDA Conference. And I was reminded again when I saw Marilyn Wann’s petition to take The Biggest Loser off the air. It was prompted by a new admission to the New York Post by some contestants that they had been told to engage in extremely dangerous behavior while on the show. [Trigger warning for lots of eating disorder/disordered eating discussion throughout the post.]

Suzanne Mendonca from Season 2 told the NY Post:

People were passing out in Dr. H’s [Robert Huizenga, M.D, the show’s official doctor] office at the finale weigh-in. On my season, five people had to be rushed to the hospital. He knew exactly what we were doing and never tried to stop it….People would take amphetamines, water pills, diuretics, and throw up in the bathroom, they would take their spin bikes into the steam room to work up a sweat. I vomited every single day. Bob Harper tells people to throw up: ‘Good,’ he says. ‘You’ll lose more calories.’ ”

Joelle Gwynn from 2008 Couple’s season said

Bob Harper was my trainer, he goes away and his assistant comes in. He’s got this brown paper bag that’s bundled up. He says, ‘Take this drug, it’ll really help you.’ It was yellow and black. I was like, ‘What the f- -k is this?’…I felt jittery and hyper, I went and told the sports medicine guy. The next day, Dr. H gave us some lame explanation of why they got added to our regimen and that it was up to us to take them…

She also said that her trainer Bob Harper told her about her journaling

Lie and say you were following the directive of intaking 1,500 calories — but I want you to do 800 calories or as little as you can.

And of course this is on top of the excessive exercise and mental and physical abuse that they proudly show on every episode.

All of these are behaviors that would be considered serious red flags in a thin person.  Even if they were not part of a full blown eating disorder (which are complicated bio/psycho/social disorders and not defined only by behavior) they would certainly, and correctly, be considered dangerous and disordered.

But for fat people they are encouraged, even prescribed by so-called health professionals, under the pretense of “health.” Not convinced?  Consider that fat people are encouraged to take dangerous drugs that could kill us, to have dangerous surgery to have part of our stomachs bound or partially amputated to force us to restrict food in ways that mimic behaviors associated with eating disorders.

A fat body is not a sign that all the concepts of what constitutes a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and our bodies should be thrown out the window in the pursuit of thinness. As a study of Biggest Loser Contestants recently reinforced, the truth is that intentional weight loss hardly ever works long-term, but when the same behaviors that we diagnose and treat in thin people are prescribed to fat people, it makes weight loss not just a losing bet, but also a dangerous and even deadly one.

The bottom line is that the relationships and behaviors around food and exercise that are dangerous and disordered in thin people are not magically super useful and healthy for fat people. The Biggest Loser perpetuates behavior that is dangerous, and a culture of fat hate, and so it has to go. Take a moment to sign and share the petition to add your voice to the group clamoring for an end to this horror of a television show.

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 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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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

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

 



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Monday, 23 May 2016

Mull it Over Monday: Ashley Graham: DNCE Video *Yawn*

Worse Than Avenue’s Coupon Debacle

facepalmA number of readers have asked me to explain what the sam hill is going on with The Avenue (a brick and mortar and online plus size clothing store) and all of their coupon drama. In doing my research I found that the coupon situation is truly a debacle, mishandled by Avenue start to finish. But I also found something that I think is even more disturbing.  Still, let’s start with the coupon thing:

A few days ago, a coupon code started circulating for $90 off a $90 purchase with the following terms and conditions:

Cannot be combined with any other coupon.  Not valid on Celebrate Collection, clearance, outlet, shapewear, prior purchases, or gift cards.  Offer expires 11:59pm PC on 7/31/16. Order must total $90 before tax and shipping and after other discounts.  Promotion may end without notice. Terms may change at any time.  Limit on per customer.

According to people who used it, the coupon appeared on Avenue’s site, and on coupon sites that vet coupons for accuracy including RetailMeNot. A couple days later everyone who had used the coupon code got an e-mail from Avenue saying that their order had been canceled. The e-mail stated:

This letter is regarding your recent Avenue.com order.  It has come to our attention that one of our exclusive rewards coupons has been distributed for use in an unauthorized manner on our website. This coupon stated it was valid specifically for in-store use and in-store orders only.  Therefore, the coupon was incorrectly used as a promotional code for online orders.

The issue has been resolved and all orders associated with this coupon code have been canceled.We apologize for this inconvenience. Thank you for shopping at Avenue

Best Regards,

Nancy J. Warwick, Director of Customer Service

People were upset that the coupon wasn’t valid, but were more upset about the way Avenue was handling things, starting with the claim that the coupon was meant for use in stores which they found questionable because:

  • It was an alphanumeric code (which is how Avenue does their online coupon codes) not a barcode (which is how Avenue does their in-store coupons.)
  • The terms and conditions mentioned shipping which wouldn’t make sense if it was for use in-store
  • The coupon code worked online and there would be no reason for that to be the case if it was an in-store only coupon
  • When the orders were being held for processing, people e-mailed customer service and were sent promises that the orders would be shipped
  • People who are over a size 26/28 pointed that an in-store coupon would have left them out since their local stores only offer “extended sizes” online.

Here’s where the wheels came off.  Avenue corporate and their  customer service agents and corporate went with an approach that was some combination of “everything but the kitchen sink” and “blame the customer.” They claimed in various places and at various points in the situation:

  • The coupon was sent to a “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only”
  • The coupon was posted on RetailMeNot with the wrong terms of service.  People then said that they saw the comments on Avenue’s site.
  • Avenue then claimed that when they said shipping they meant if someone came to the store and made an online order from the store
  • Some people were told by customer service that the coupon code would be cancelled and that their payment method would be automatically charged full price. (Thankfully that turned out not to be true.)
  • A customer service agent told a customer that Avenue is “disappointed that our customers took advantage of this mistake”
  • Customer service agents used language like “those customers who used the fraudulent coupon” in a way that led some customers to believe that Avenue was suggesting that they had purposely perpetrated a fraud, rather than just using a coupon code.

Things got worse when people found out that Avenue had taken the money from their payment methods immediately, but would not be issuing an immediate refund. Some people were told that it would take 3-5 days, some were told 4-6 weeks, as of this post many people are saying that they haven’t received their refunds and that customer service is not ignoring them.

A number of theories about this have been floated – from those who think that it was an attempt to increase their mailing list (everyone who made the order had to create an account with e-mail and mailing address and people are reporting already receiving promo e-mails from Avenue) to those who thought that it was a method to get a quick cash infusion (since people had to have a cart balance and also pay shipping and Avenue took the money immediately but isn’t refunding it yet,) to those who think Avenue was hacked but they don’t want to admit it (since the coupon code worked, repeatedly, online and people are saying that they can’t find anyone from the “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only” who actually received the coupon to use in store – I didn’t see anyone during my research who claimed to be part of this group.)

Regardless of why it happened, the argument that most people made was that even if this was a mistake, a lot of the fault lies with Avenue since, despite the technology that could have prevented this (for example, by creating individual one-time use coupon codes) they created a code that could be used online (and  it turns out it could be used over and over again with some customers placing 20 orders, which was obviously against the terms and conditions as written.)  They were disappointed that Avenue seemed to be blaming and shaming customers, that Avenue’s apology came all the way at the end of the e-mail, that Avenue didn’t even offer some kind of discount or coupon in consolation, and that they would not be getting an immediate refund despite the fact that they had paid in good faith for clothes that weren’t coming.

Regardless of why this happened, I think that Avenue mishandled this mightily as evidenced by the fact that their social media has now been completely taken over by people complaining about the situation and posting places to shop for plus size clothes other than Avenue, and the hashtag #boycottavenue is gaining popularity.  And Avenue customer service seems to be curled up under their desks because according to those trying to contact them they don’t seem to be responding by e-mail or on social media to the outpouring of customer dissatisfaction. I’m no Olivia Pope, but I would think that some damage control (preferably with everyone giving the same message) is in order here.

When I went to the website to research this I found something that I think is more disturbing than the coupon debacle.  First, they sell a thing called “Tummy Tamers” and then I saw this on their dress page:

Avenue body shaming dress descriptions

Grey shapes describing dress shapes with benefits of each shape underneath. Diamond a flattering jacket dress conceals your waist. Hourglass a sheath highlights your classic curves with a proportionate silhouette, triangle a wrap dress draws attention upwards & enhances your bust, Bell a fit n’ flare dress slims your hips and thighs by showing off your waist.

I wish that companies that sell clothing to fat people would do so with out engaging in body shaming language. I understand that not everyone is a card carrying member of the f*ck flattering club like I am, and of course that’s totally cool. But selling clothes to fat people by telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough unless they are being changed into some other shape either by optical illusion or actual body-smushing clothes, or concealed in some way is just not cool. I talked about this before in an open letter to stores that sell shapewear, and it all applies to this situation. I wish the people who wanted my money also wanted me to feel great about my body just as it is.  I wish they told me to celebrate my body – not to hide it or squish it.

So, as far as I’m concerned, Avenue has a lot to work on.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the coupon issue:

Coupon on Avenue's site Promise to ship, sent hours before the cancellation e-mail was sent The official cancellation e-amil Customer service says they are disappointed in customers Avenue suggests that customers come to the store to make online orders

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 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!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information 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

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



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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Fat news through 5/21

February 2, 2016: Catherine Bouris urges feminists to add fat-calling and other forms of street harassment to the discussion which is currently centered on the cat-calling experienced by those who society considers stereotypically feminine and attractive.
http://ift.tt/27PeXIa

May 11, 2016: According to some experts, the UK National Health System should fast track patients for bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgeries in the UK have fallen by 31% between 2011 and 2015.
http://ift.tt/1TFU3ke
http://ift.tt/27Pf4mR

May 16, 2016: Deborah Savage suffered for years with a common condition that doctors ignored, possibly because she was fat. PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a disorder that, among other things, causes weight gain, but Savage’s doctors preferred to disbelieve that she was following a diet and exercising rather than look for the underlying cause of her continual weight gain.
http://ift.tt/1XeSQpE

May 17, 2016: Researchers conclude that defining good health is more complicated than just a few numbers. Creating a list of 54 key health questions, they find two categories for robust health for older adults, “robust obese” and “one minor condition” (average weight people with one minor health condition).
http://ift.tt/1TZtdn6
http://ift.tt/1qDCARY

May 19, 2016: A study of patients with colorectal cancer (the second leading cause of cancer death in the US) finds that overweight patients were 55% less likely to die from their cancer than average weight patients.
http://ift.tt/1WEwxLm
http://ift.tt/1qDCdag

May 21, 2016: Instead of dealing with the bullies, a school is banning certain clothing because fat girls are more likely to be bullied when wearing tight clothes.
http://ift.tt/27IgwHJ




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Fat men and thin women and a few thoughts about The Lobster (2016, dir, Yorgos Lanthimos)

I’ve been looking forward to The Lobster for quite some time.  I haven’t seen Lanthimos’ breakthrough Dogtooth (I know, I know), but I am a sucker for an unusual premise, and “a hotel where people are transformed into animals if they don’t fall in love” is just that.  The initial buzz has been good, but what caught my eye was AV Club’s review* that lingered on the description of Colin Farrell’s “doughy” body.

The Lobster takes place in an absurd distopia that is childlike in its rigidity, directness, and simplistic logic. A law that requires adults to be in a romantic relationship drives the entire film, as newly-dumped David (Farrell) finds himself at a hotel where he has 45 days to make a love connection lest he be turned into an animal, or choose to live in the wilderness with the hermitic Loners.  It’s a darkly funny critique of the idealization of romantic relationships, the belief that everyone is capable and desiring of a lifelong, monogamous relationship free of complicating factors.  This is a world where bisexuality has been phased out, where the basis of a “good match” means sharing a common characteristic like frequent nosebleeds.  The film criticizes conventional wisdom about falling in love, and casting an actor known for roles in action films and his good looks as a middle-aged milquetoast with a potbelly– and including ample scenes of him in states of undress– is made part of the film’s subversive tone as much as the sterile mise en scene and alienating dialogue.  Weight is added to Farrell’s body with the intention of depriving the audience of a (conventionally) handsome romantic hero.  His friends at the hotel are similarly characterized by physical traits that are meant to detract from them being ideal mates: a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and a man with a limp (Ben Whishaw).

colin farrell lobster

If having Farrell gain weight to play David is intended to suggest that the search for romance is bound to end eventually in disappointingly ordinariness, the visual language does not extend in the same way to his female costars.  Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Angeliki Papoulia and Jessica Barden all play characters whose words and actions embody the awkward absurdity of the film’s world, but visually, they retain more of the physical idealized qualities.  And as members of the Loner group, Weisz and Seydoux spend most of their screen time swathed in plastic ponchos with “no” makeup and messy hair, but all of these women are conventionally attractive and thin, as compared to not only a heavier Farrell, but also actors like Reilly and Michael Smiley who, unlike Weisz and Seydoux, probably aren’t landing any modelling gigs.

Overall, The Lobster is great.  It strikes a marvelous balance between being accessible and surreal, entertaining and thought-provoking.  I’d much rather see a film of its caliber that doesn’t use the cultural baggage attached to fat bodies (and bodies with disabilities) as easy visual language to convey its thesis, but then again, it would be foolish of me to come out of seeing The Lobster with the expectation of having my dreams come true.

 

*I’ve used AV Club before for examples of how fat characters and actors are talked about in pop culture discourse, and just for the record, I don’t mean to pick on AV Club.  They just happen to be a website that I frequent for film reviews, news, etc.,they do a fine job on the whole, and I don’t find them to be particularly toxic.



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