bodies: fat

Trigger warning: this post contains examples of negative comments used in attempts to rhetorically negate the evidence of Ragen’s physical abilities, and they may be upsetting or triggering for some readers.


Society hides people like me – fat, healthy people.  We don’t fit into the popular misconception that you can look at somebody and tell how healthy they are, we don’t make the diet industry any money, and we won’t just loathe ourselves like they want us to. I’ve found that when people are faced with a real live healthy fat person they often try to solve their cognitive dissonance. Sometimes they do this by just calling us liars, as in this comment from a total stranger on my blog:

5’4 and 280 pounds is not healthy and you’re just deluding yourself if you think it is. There is no way that you can work out the way you say you do and eat the way you say you do and still be that fat.  You are not healthy and you need to get real, stop gorging yourself and get to the gym.

Sometimes they use the VFHT (Vague Future Health Threat). This occurs when people try to convince me that it’s less likely that I’m fat and healthy and more likely that they are psychic and that my “fat will catch up with me someday.”  My fat’s already here.  What is there to catch up with me – my healthy eating?  My exercise?  My numbers, strength, stamina and flexibility in the top 5% of the country?  For the record I know plenty of old, healthy fat people, but even if I’m wrong I still feel that I’m making the right choice.

Finally, if you are a fat person who says you are healthy or physically active, you will frequently be asked to prove it.

After working for a year to obtain a level of flexibility that I didn’t even have as a (relatively thin) kid, I was thrilled to accomplish this heel stretch:

[Photo by Richard Sabel]

Among the supportive comments were a group of very prolific writers who make a total of 127 comments in three hours.  One comment that was fairly representative of the group stated,

You are a stupid bitch.  You are a liar to say that you are fat and healthy, there’s no such thing. Nobody cares how flexible you are (this move isn’t even that hard) or how well you dance because you’re still a fucking fattass.  I bet your ankle shattered 5 seconds after this was taken.  If I see you in the street I will slap you across your triple chins you dumb fat bitch.

Someone posted information about me on a listserve of people who, at first, were being reasonable and curious. I was e-mailed and challenged to state my numbers to prove beyond doubt that I am, in fact, healthy.  I posted my cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure etc., all in the exceptionally healthy range. But, a random stranger on the internet asked, what could I do physically?

So I posted pictures of my strength and flexibility:

They said that holding that same 284 pound body (the one that surely shattered my ankle) up in an arch and doing suspended pull ups isn’t that hard.  They said I must be flexible because I’m all fat and no muscle. They asked why I didn’t show something more athletic.

After several other attempts to counter their arguments, I posted a video of me dancing:

They got mean. They called me a whale, they called me a hippo, they said that it doesn’t matter because I’m still fat.

Several things about this incident stand out to me. First, many of the people who posted weren’t satisfied with disagreeing with my Health at Every Size lifestyle or calling me a liar, but actually felt the need to diminish my accomplishments. I can only assume that they were trying to avoid some sort of cognitive dissonance. In addition, the comments reflect an intense desire to convince me that no amount of accomplishment is enough if I am fat — as if being fat is such an utter failure that it eclipses anything else that I could possibly accomplish. Their core belief is that accomplishments only count if you’re thin, so since I’m fat no amount of proving it will ever be enough.

At first I was shocked by these comments. But I wonder if they are simply the end result of the constant marketing messages that the diet industry makes billions of dollars imbedding into our collective consciousness: The idea that anyone who chooses to focus on healthy habits rather than having a smaller body must be stupid and should be ridiculed. The idea that no accomplishments matter until you are thin because, if you are fat, you aren’t worthy of feeling happy or successful. (Remember Jennifer Hudson’s commercial where she said “Before Weight Watchers, my world was can’t” even though before Weight Watchers she had won a Grammy for her first CD and an Oscar for her first film?) Finally, the image of trainers like Jillian Michaels physically, verbally, and emotionally abusing fat people and treating them as subhuman “for their own good” might even make these people feel like they are somehow good Samaritans rather than run-of-the-mill judgmental abusers.

In the end, I’m over it. Don’t like what I write? Don’t believe me? Fine. I’m not here for you. When I do something that is counter to someone’s stereotypes, I’m not asking for their approval — I’m doing them the courtesy of giving them the opportunity to challenge their preconceived notions. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. I believe that every person of every size deserves respect. After that it’s all about presenting options, letting people make their own choices, and respecting those choices just like I expect mine to be respected.

Ragen Chastain, of Dances with Fat is a corporate CEO, choreographer for and a principle dancer in Fat Bottom Cabaret, and a three-time National Champion partner dancer currently seeking her first World Professional title;  but all of that pales in comparison to her greatest accomplishment – learning to love her body.  She is a strong advocate for Health at Every Size, and she unwaveringly believes (and is living proof!) that health is not about body size and that every body deserves respect.

Ragen agreed to write a post about her own personal experience with an issue facing many fat people: the insistence of other people that anyone who says you can be fat and healthy is mistaken, deluded, or actively lying, and the hostility and aggression often aimed at fat people who challenge these social assumptions (including on previous posts on our blog). She has previously posted parts of this article here and here.

Many Westerners are constantly reminded that (very) thin women are sexy to men and (even slightly) chubby women are not.  In fact, men’s desires vary quite tremendously and often include a much wider range of body types than the media would have us believe. This is often kept secret not just by media executives, but by men themselves who might feel “weird” if they don’t prefer the culturally ideal type.

Both of these facts are nicely illustrated with this single example, from PostSecret, in which a man feels the need to confess that he prefers his wife chubby, even though she diets to try to “look good” for him.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sociologists have shown that rates of “obesity” correlate with economic class. That is, the poorer you are the more likely it is that you will be overweight.  This is, in part, because healthy, low-calorie food tends to be more expensive that calorie rich, nutrient poor food; and also because poor neighborhoods have fewer grocery stores, forcing the poor, especially if they don’t have cars, to shop for groceries at corner stores, gas stations, and fast food restaurants.  When there are so many other things to worry about, like not going hungry, food quality is not prioritized.  Level of fitness, then, correlates with social class (and the time and money it affords you) and the things that correlate with social class, like level of education.

The American College of Sports Medicine has released data showing these correlations, if measured at the level of U.S. metro areas, as reported at The Atlantic and sent along by Tracie Hitter, a doctoral student at New Mexico State University.  First, fitness level is correlated with average income in these areas:

Second, fitness level correlates with average level of education (here called “human capital”):

And fitness level correlates with overall well-being, a measure related to both fitness and socioeconomic class:

Here are some selected metro areas plotted in relation to one another:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

While some bodies are socially-defined as For Display, others are defined as embarrassing or disgusting.  Indigo and Artemis sent in a great example of these distinctions being reinforced. This series of billboards appeared in The Netherlands with the tagline “The Sooner You Advertise Here, the Better”:

The billboard humorously advertises the billboards availability for advertising, a clever version of “Your Ad Here.”  It does so, of course, by suggesting that the model’s body is so repulsive that the threat of simply seeing it should be enough to make us reach for our wallets.  While cultural beliefs about who is and isn’t attractive are often framed as biological or evolutionary, it can’t be denied that, at least in this case, we are receiving a strong social message as well.

Via Copyranter and The Daily Dish.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Michael M. sent in a news segment from WBTV, a CBS affiliate, about the video game Portal 2. The segment focuses on a scene in which a character is ridiculed for being adopted, with another character saying kids who were adopted suffer from a “lack of parents.” In addition, the game includes the line, “Alright, fatty. Adopted fatty. Fatty, fatty no parents” (at 55 seconds in). The news crew expresses dismay as they introduce the segment (and again at the end), which features a father who was upset when his family, including his adopted daughter, encountered the scene:

What struck Michael was the framing of this story by the news outlet, and the focus on ridiculing adopted children while entirely ignoring the use of “fatty” as a put-down, implying that insults based on body size aren’t problematic or hurtful. As Michael puts it,

In a story entirely about insensitivity, this statement, which is even subtitled on screen, seems to be parsed to only be an insult to the adopted. For some reason the weight-based [insult] is completely ignored…What makes one outrageous and another not even cause us to blink?

I took this snapshot at a mall in Glendale, CA. I want only to point out the size of the mannequins decorating this store for “Large Size” women.  I am not going to belabor this point.  Just.  Ugh.  This is what we are being told is “so fat we have to have a special store for you.”

See also the bewildering look of “Plus Size” at Frederick’s of Hollywood.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A number of celebrities, including Meghan McCain — daughter of Senator John McCain of Arizona — recently posed naked (visible from the shoulders up) in a skin cancer prevention awareness ad. Meghan’s father had to have melanoma removed from his face, prompting her interest in the issue. Here’s the ad:

Christie W. sent in a segment (via The Pragmatic Progressive Forum) from Glenn Beck’s radio show in which he reacts to the video, and particularly to the image of Meghan McCain in it…by pretending to throw up violently. In this 8-minute clip from his show (audio only), Beck repeatedly pretends to puke, and someone says, at about 5:28, “Has she thought about, like, a burqa, so she’s extra safe?” and “I’m not sure that covers enough, because you can get skin cancer of the eyeballs” (I can’t distinguish all the voices, so I’m not sure who is speaking). They say she looks like “John McCain with long blonde hair” and, at 6:35, mockingly refer to her as “luscious” repeatedly:

Criticizing Glenn Beck for being mean-spirited is really a pointless task — I might as well go yell at the tree in my yard for shedding leaves — so I’m not going to expend much energy on it. But it’s a good example of policing of women’s bodies and fat-shaming (when McCain is described as “luscious,” it clearly isn’t a compliment). Who cares about the message? Never mind about skin cancer! Those women are so gross they make me sick!


Meems, who blogs at The Inbetweenie, recently received an email from Barnes & Noble with suggested books for Mother’s Day gifts. She was distressed to notice that the most prominently-placed book, listed under the “top reads for every mom” category, was a diet book:

Yes, a diet book is an appropriate gift for every mother.

Meems says she can’t imagine giving her mother a dieting book for Mother’s Day. I have had the misfortune to witness this type of gift-giving, since my mom gained a significant amount of weight when she was pregnant with my two sisters and never lost it. She didn’t like the way she looked and was often trying out various diets or exercise routines. And every so often someone would give her a weight-loss-related gift for her birthday or Christmas. I presume they thought they were being nice — she’s always on diets and wants to lose weight, why not give her something to help? But she found it incredibly embarrassing, since it reinforced that other people agreed that her weight was unacceptable and meant her weight often became the subject of open discussion among everyone there. It also meant if she tried whatever it was and didn’t lose a lot of weight, she had the normal feelings of failure plus the fear that the person who gave her the gift would be disappointed in her.

Weight-loss related items are, generally, problematic gift ideas. They put the recipient into the position of having to acknowledge in front of anyone watching them open the gift that their weight is considered unacceptable, and that the person giving the gift agrees with that. Even if a person wants to lose weight and is actively trying to do so, they may not wish to have their weight brought up unexpectedly and opened up for public discussion.

If you are stumped on what to get your mother for Mother’s Day (assuming you get anything at all), if my own upbringing is any guide I can tell you with absolute certainty that moms love receiving a pet goat for Mother’s Day.*

* Soc Images does not actually advocate giving live animals as surprise gifts.