Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dances With Fat: Learning to Love Yourself

Warning...this is another crazy post where I'm all over the map, basically working out my own issues as I go along...

While at a Twirly Girls event recently, a lady pulled me aside to tell me about Ragen Chastain, a curvy lady who writes the blog, Dances with Fat.  Being a larger girl, people often show support and/or amazement that I choose pole dancing as my outlet.  I always appreciate referrals, though, and immediately looked Ragen up.  I loved her immediately. 

I think I most appreciate that she tries to take away the shame often put upon overweight people.  It's not okay to be a dick to a fat person!  I don't care if you think your tax dollars go to fund obesity related issues.  My tax dollars also fund programs having to do with your smoking habit or your children or your drug problem.  

Here are a few of her posts that I would suggest you check out:

Now, here's my beef, if you even want to call it that.  I still can't decide if I think Ragen is encouraging people to stay overweight.  Okay, not encouraging but maybe giving people a reason to say, "hey, it's okay that I am fat" (mostly, because I catch myself doing that).  I'm not even saying it's not okay to be fat (I'm fat!).  I just know that there are so many health problems related to obesity.  At the same time, for those who ARE overweight (like myself), it's nice to have a reminder that you are still a person and you have worth.  The stigma of carrying around a few extra pounds can be ridiculously heavy (no pun intended).  So many people think that another person's weight is their business.  I've heard comments that should never leave another human being's mouth.  But, for whatever reason, it's socially acceptable to humiliate and harass a fat person.  

Here's an example.  A few years back, I was dating a large guy.  He was 6'5" and close to 400 pounds.  We went to an expensive hotel for a holiday dinner once and parked in their underground parking.  When we came back to the car, someone had carved the word "obese" into the trunk of his almost brand new car.  Wow.  That is not okay under any circumstances.  It is illegal to destroy someone's property and pointless to even say.  Just needed to point out the guy is fat?  Well thanks there, cowboy, he wasn't aware of his physical stature until you pointed that out!  Idiots.  Sadly, the hotel did nothing about the crime committed on their property either. 

While I think that ALL people should feel loved and accepted, and I DO NOT want to be viewed as shaming anyone, I do believe that our bodies are not made to weigh 500, 600, 700 pounds.  I know for myself, I feel a lot of extra pain when I am overweight.  I am currently overweight and I currently hurt.  A lot.  However, I don't believe that shaming people into losing weight is EVER the way to go.  And each person needs to make their own choice as to whether they want to lose weight.  

Anyway, it's a slippery slope.  I'm sure the previous few paragraphs offended at least a couple of people.  It wasn't my intention.  I know it's my own fucked up filter telling me *I* shouldn't be fat.  I guess my point is, FOR MYSELF, I know my body hurts and my health suffers when I am carrying too many extra pounds.  I really do try to watch what I eat and exercise regularly so that I stay at a healthy weight...healthy for me anyway (which many people would still consider overweight).  However, sometimes I do catch myself reading stories and thinking, "oh see, it's okay to say overweight because this article says I can be healthy even at 350 pounds."  I am also susceptible to the opposite and sometimes see lame, airbrushed models and wish to myself, "why can't I look like that?!"  I am not the right role model for the curvy chicks, or anyone really.  I'm the first to indulge in self-deprecation.  In fact, I often say that part of why I publicize my fat pictures and weight is to "shame myself" into eating less and losing weight.  That's working out really well for me. 

I wrote this blog about being fat and fit awhile back:

Author Jess Weiner has always been an advocate of loving your body at any size, but ended up having to lose some weight due to health issues.  Once she lost the weight, she worried there would be a backlash for being a "hypocrite:"

I had been so worried about their reaction to my new healthy-weight message. Indeed, when I first talked about it in a keynote speech at a Binge Eating Disorder Association convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, this past spring, a woman approached me afterward. “So now you’re saying that my life will begin when I lose weight?” she chided. But I didn’t feel the same hurt and embarrassment as that night so long ago in the bookstore. “Not at all,” I said. “There is no shame in carrying extra weight, but there’s also no shame in wanting to be healthy. The more we support one another in that thinking, the better off we’ll be.”

And guess what? Women were more supportive than I’d ever expected, and many of them even admitted that they too wanted to lose weight to improve their health but had, like me, felt trapped by the stigma that confident, heavy women weren’t supposed to think about weight at all. Like me, they felt liberated by the idea that it wouldn’t betray their ideals to value their physical health.

I understand why women are so fed up with being told by society (and doctors) that they need to get to some “ideal” size. I get why they’d want to rebel and no longer care about weight—I’ve been there too. But we also can’t pretend illness doesn’t happen to us. Health matters, and paying attention to markers like your cholesterol, blood pressure and, yes, your weight doesn’t mean you’re giving in to some societal ideal. It means that you’re listening to your body on the inside, which is a crucial part of loving yourself

So, it's okay to love your body at any size and it's also okay to listen to your body and take care of your health when the time is right for you.  Even though I come off sounding like a crazy person who can't choose a side, I do hope that everyone can learn how to accept themselves, no matter what they look like.

I have been taking photos over the last couple of years, with the intent of having a great "before" picture while losing weight.  Having gone in the opposite direction, I still got to watch my transformation.  It wasn't the transformation I was hoping for but it was still kind of fun to watch my body change.  And now I will do the unthinkable.  I will share my bikini photos.  On the internet.  My "before" photo has gotten larger and larger over the last two years but now I will have a few great "before" photos ready for my next "after" photo.  

Here's another great blog I like to read, Big Beautiful Wellness.  Check it out too.

How do you balance loving your body with wanting to be healthy?  Sure, many times they sync up but sometimes they don't.  I know I will never be a size 0 super model but I don't need to weigh 250 pounds either.  My current goal is to just get back to 225 pounds.  With all of the muscle I recently added, that would make me a solid size 14 (instead of the size-16-pants-are-too-tight-in-the-thighs-and-size-18's-are-way-too-baggy size I'm rocking right now).  And I can live with that.


  1. "So, it's okay to love your body at any size and it's also okay to listen to your body and take care of your health when the time is right for you."

    You say (and Jessica has indicated) that loving your body at any size and taking care of your health are mutually exclusive. They are not. Possibly you have not read enough of Health At Every Size literature, or enough of Ragen's blog, or just got confused. The point is that when someone loves and appreciates their body, they are more likely to take care of it, regardless of size and regardless of weight loss. If we do healthy things only for weight loss and these things do not cause weight loss, what is the reason to continue? If we do things to promote health and those things make us healthier (which generally happens more often than weight loss) we will be more likely to continue to do those things. Research has born this out.

    You seem to have discovered for yourself that taking care of yourself through exercise and healthy diet have had positive effects on your health regardless of continued weight loss. That is the point trying to be made. :) Accepting one's body size and being willing to live fully in that body (not waiting to start living until one loses X lbs) is an important component to improving health. Loving one's self is not the first step to "destruction by fat", it is the first step to resurrection and health.

    1. DeAun, I am fairly new to Ragen's blog and am still catching up but I love what she has to say. I was the only fat kid among ... a bunch of kids ... and I grew up hearing that fat wasn't okay. So I have years of programming to try to tune out. I was also the oldest and a lot of responsibility was heaped on me at a young age, which wasn't fair, and I clearly learned to eat my feelings. At the same time, at six feet tall, I was already possibly predisposed to be bigger than everyone else anyway. A perfect storm of circumstances to help cause a girl not to love herself at any size. In my 30's, I am sadly still learning how to accept myself. Thank you for your comments and for reading my blog. I really do love Ragen's blog and her war on taking the stigma away from being a fatty. :-))))

    2. You're not alone. I grew up with the same messages that being fat was NOT OK. My mother wasn't exactly diet-obsessed, but she was definitely weight-centered. It is indeed a lot of programming to tune out and you can't "unhear" it - it's always going to be in your head somewhere. The trick is learning how to stop it when the tapes of shame start playing back.

      Today, for the first time in a very long time, I had a man stop in the store to tell me that I was a pretty lady. It made my day because in this size-conscious society I do not often hear such words. But do you know why he said them? I do.

      He said them because he saw a beautiful, confident woman in a cute outfit being herself. He saw today a different woman than he would have seen even six months ago. I walk straighter, more confidently, and with more true self-awareness than I did six months ago. I wear cuter clothing because I know now that I'm worth it, and I don't apologize for not wearing makeup because that's just who I am. I take care of my hygiene and my body because I know now that I'm worth it and I am becoming OK with me. I'm liking myself just as I am - for the first time in 42 years of life. This PROFOUND difference would never have happened without Ragen.

      My life is different because I saw a woman out there who lived the way I wanted to live - happy and confident and perfectly OK with herself just where she is. Ragen is not some perfect person, but she is an amazing role model for women like me who never thought we were valuable. She told me that it was possible for me to live this way, too, and because she was doing it herself, I BELIEVED her. I believed it was possible for me to love myself.

      Those of us who have come to love Ragen - we didn't dress ourselves well because we didn't believe we had the right to waste nice clothes on our shabby bodies, we didn't carry ourselves well because we were ashamed of our bodies. We had no confidence because we didn't believe we deserved to be confident. We couldn't think of our bodies as beautiful because we bought into the made-up societal rules that said our bodies were unfit to be seen by humans.

      We were wrong.

      Sometimes it takes someone living the dream to show us that it's possible for us. That is the gift she gives. Because I love myself more today, I take better care of myself. Does she encourage people to be fat? Heavens no. She encourages people to be WHO THEY WANT TO BE and reminds us that we have the right to be respected, accorded dignity, and treated the same as any thin person. And you know what? I've come to believe that at last.

    3. Confidence really is key. And I KNOW this! That's the frustrating part. You know, in the last two years, I really have let some of the simple things go. I stopped wearing make-up very often and just put my hair up in a bun. I wear yoga pants and a tank top pretty much 24/7. I think I need to stop doing that and start taking care of myself again. Thank you for responding. You sound like an amazing person!

  2. I grew up being the bigger girl in my family, my cousins are all smaller than me and my younger sister is also smaller than me. I spent a lot of my life feeling like I HAD to lose weight in order to be better, to be happier, to have the life I wanted. I realized that none of my reasons for wanting to be smaller had to do with my health, it was all because I had been conditioned by my family and by society to hate myself because my body was bigger. When I changed my priority from weight loss to health I was surprised to find that I *did* lose weight. No, it wasn't the insane amount I felt like I needed to lose in the past but it was what my body needed to do to be healthy. I built muscle and increased my stamina and made myself more flexible and suddenly I was happy being a size 16. I didn't care much what anyone else had to say about my body because for the first time I was healthy. I also realized I didn't need to wait to live my life until I reached some arbitrary weight, life is so much more than the number on the scale. If you're healthy enjoy it because health doesn't always last.

    1. I definitely agree. If we all waited for everything to be perfect before we jumped, we'd still be waiting!! I have always joked that I must have been adopted because I am so much taller than any of the girls in my family. I am a gigantor, even when I'm thin(ner). ;-)

  3. Thanks for the mention in your blog!
    Have a Big Beautiful Day!!
    Liz McCallum