LGBTQ Fat PRIDE!

For the first time ever, my local area had a Pride march!  We had a small rally with three speakers who represented a range of ages and experiences, and then we marched a short loop.  I carried the bi pride flag, which made me ridiculously happy.  We had at least 50 or 60 people, a pretty good turnout for the first year, especially when a lot of people went up to Capital Pride instead.

After the ugly reception that a prior Pride event had gotten (people felt the need to tear down flyers and to put up anti-LGBT religious signs in their cars near the event), I was worried we’d be catching some kind of flak from the religious haters.  Particularly as motivated as they were to cause a stink about library sex ed because (gasp!) the teacher was queer.  But, there was no pushback that I saw.

For me, the best moment was when one of the speakers, a genderqueer teen, talked about the depression he’d* gone through as a kid. He mentioned how part of accepting himself was accepting being fat as a good thing and reclaiming that word.  I applauded, he pointed at me and grinned, and it turned into a round of applause.  I was really happy to be able to kick off an outpouring of support for a fat teen, that yes, it is okay to be fat, your body is awesome, and you are awesome.

*He was introduced by someone who knows him personally using he/him pronouns, but he didn’t actually say those were his pronouns. I’m going with he/him/his based on the info I have. So, awesome genderqueer teen, if you happen to be reading this and you go, “Wow, that’s me…but those aren’t my pronouns!” please let me know & I’ll make corrections.

Sweet, blessed apathy

It’s January, New Year’s resolution season, and a number of my coworkers have a diet pool going, with weekly weigh ins and a cash prize for the winner.  I’m moving to another office on Monday, and you would not believe the whining when a coworker brought in goodbye donuts.

The best thing about this for me was the realization that I. Do. Not. Care. I don’t feel like maybe I should join in, or wonder what people will think about the lunch I’m eating.  It just rolled past like any other workplace chatter that I wasn’t interested in.  That all by itself is kind of freeing.

Baby Diet Purgatory

TW: Dieting and intentional weight loss (no numbers or specifics)

I just spent the last couple weeks on a diet. Which, as committed as I am to FA, feels kind of like saying “Hey, I changed my voter registration to Republican, signed up for an atheist conference, and joined the Justin Bieber fan club.” I’ve been going through fertility treatments, and there’s an arbitrary BMI cut-off for intra-uterine insemination, which I was just barely under at the start of the last cycle.

Now, there may well be perfectly valid medical reasons to not want to do IUIs on patients over a certain weight or body fat percentage, but I stand by my statement that the cut-off is arbitrary because it’s BMI based, and that’s arbitrary by definition. The awesome (not really awesome) thing about these limits is that they encourage either doing risky or harmful things to make sure the weight comes off, or pulling tricks out of the high-school wrestler’s play book in order to “make weight.” (For example, I estimated that my hair weighs 2 ounces, and if I’d been close enough to the cut-off for that to matter, there was definitely a pixie cut in my future. And I was also planning on not eating or drinking the morning of the procedure.)

Fortunately, they *aren’t* actually going to weigh me the day of the procedure and pull the rug out from under me if I’ve gained weight. I wish I’d known that *before* I spent two weeks eating way too many salads and feeling lousy all the time, but I’m sure the weight loss I did get will look good to them. Yay, I’m pretending to be an obedient, compliant fat chick.

I have to say, it’s a very weird mental place to be on a diet, while thinking it’s complete BS. There’s an extent to which it’s easier, because I wasn’t shaming myself for being hungry or for “needing” to lose weight, but I also didn’t have all the warm fuzzies of a “positive lifestyle change.” I was actually a lot more successful in sticking to my plan than I’ve been on other diet attempts, which I mostly attribute to a mix of sheer stubbornness and a fixed end date. Kind of like that episode of Voyager where the holographic doctor is being an ass to everyone about their various complaints, and he gives himself a simulated illness to prove that they’re all a bunch of crybabies. He handles it just fine until he reaches what’s supposed to be the end time and he’s still sick. At which point, he loses it. And Kess tells him that she added a couple hours to the simulation because it’s not accurate if he knows when it will end. That was pretty much me on the diet. As long as I knew it was temporary, I could slog through.

And there was still that weird feeling of being “good” when I stepped on the scale and the number was lower, and the lingering thought that maybe I could keep this up indefinitely and lose significant weight. (Yeah, probably not.)

The one real positive of the experience was that giving up diet soda (out of concern that it would lead to more sugar cravings than just “no sweets ever” by itself) dramatically reduced my fibro pain. Note, there’s no scientific evidence that aspartame causes fibromyalgia pain or cutting it out fixes it, just some anecdotal evidence that some people report that it helps. (The third study gets serious side-eye for determining that “aspartame-induced fibromyalgia” is a thing that exists based on a sample size of *two.*) There’s also this one, which sounds like, oh, yes, MSG and aspartame totally cause fibro, but I also can only read the abstract, so I can’t tell if they did anything to rule out the nocebo effect.

I feel better, so I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to misrepresent it as some magical cure. Particularly since I’m definitely not “cured.” I still have random pain, and the trigger points are still very much an issue (and my cat Haley is awesome at jumping *right* onto them). But I haven’t had a bad pain day since I stopped drinking diet soda, so I’m going to call that a win. (I had heard the suggestion about cutting out artificial sweeteners for fibromyalgia, so it could totally be psychosomatic, but pain is largely subjective anyway, so what the heck.)

“All I want for Christmas is fat-shaming”—said no one ever.

Ragen has a new post up on combating holiday weight shame.   This is really timely for me, because I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with family members, a couple of whom have been all about the “fat=lazy/stupid” memes on Facebook lately.  To their credit, neither of them has given me personal grief about my weight in years, but the generalized comments are irksome all by themselves.

I will admit, fully and freely, to being oversensitive about other people’s crappy, thoughtless comments.  If someone makes a vague, general statement, and there’s a way for me to take it personally, I’m probably going to do just that.  That’s my own issue to work out, and not anybody else’s problem.  But at the same time, it’s also not my job to take comments that are explicitly nasty toward fat people in the best possible light, and jump straight to “Oh, they didn’t mean it in a *bad* way.” or “Oh, they think that way about fat people in *general* but I’m sure they make a special exception for me.” I’ve said before that I’m pretty convinced that if you’re an asshole online, you’re an asshole in “real life” too.  You may be an asshole with more tact in some situations than others, or an asshole with a good sense of what you can get away with, or an asshole who’s good at compartmentalizing, but that doesn’t make you not an asshole.

I’m still working on whether it’s worth saying something, privately, when people spew ugliness on Facebook that implicitly insults me. Commenting to the post itself is pointless; I’ve learned that many times.  In addition to immediately putting them on the defensive, it usually means you get a ration of crap from *their* friends too.

Fortunately, people tend to have better manners in face-to-face interactions than online ones, but not necessarily by much.  In Ragen’s post, she mentions a poll where 42% of people 18-24 would hesitate to tell a loved one they should lose weight, for fear that they’d hurt their feelings.  So, this means that 58% of 18-24 year-olds are sufficiently lacking in tact that they think unsolicited inexpert medical advice is not just acceptable, but that they’re doing the recipient a *favor.* Admittedly, they’re only believing what they’ve been told. They live in a culture that preaches 24/7 that fat is the worst thing ever, while simultaneously pretending that it’s possible to be fat in that same culture for ten minutes and somehow be unaware of it. They live in a culture where articles like the one Ragen cited can actually say ““if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life” with a straight face.  Well, six different kinds of diets didn’t work, but now that you’ve *mentioned* it, that will magically make things better. You’re also totally the first person who’s ever told them this.  Sure, you are. You might be the first person who’s told them *today*, at least if they haven’t watched any television or flipped through a magazine.

I think the answer, online or off, is boundaries—what Ragen refers to as the Underpants Rule, where you accept that other people get to make decisions for their own lives, regardless of whether you like those decisions.  And, another thing people get to choose for themselves is what they’re willing to put up with. Frequently, if you actually enforce boundaries, people will back off.  They don’t necessarily mean to be rude; they’re just living in a culture that tells them that as long as they mean well and are “sensitive” (whatever that means) that giving you grief about your appearance is okay.

And the awesome thing about culture is that, as much as people are affected by it, they also create it. You can’t, all by yourself, rewrite the cultural narratives about fat, but you can add your own message into the mix. It’s not always much. Sometimes it’s like throwing pebbles into a huge lake, but the ripples do spread.

Fat-Positive Filmmaker Being Bullied

Ragen Chastain posted this morning about Lindsey Averill. Lindsey is making a really cool fat acceptance documentary called Fattitude. She still needs about 20,000 to make her goal, and has a little over a month to do it.

And of course, some jackass (or group of jackasses) decided that the best and most mature thing they could do in response would be to steal her trailer and post it on YouTube, interspersed with 9/11-related hate speech. When she reported them, they tracked down her phone number, as well as her husband’s business phone and her family’s phone numbers. They’ve also been posting backer info online, but I think that’s been taken down.

The ringleader of this little crew of scumbags uses the handle GODBLESSADOLFHITLER on YouTube and Twitter. He also likes to steal people’s photographs from the I STAND campaign. Because nothing says, “I don’t have a life” like hanging out on YouTube and Twitter all day harassing and mocking people.

So, I’m working on publicizing the project as much as I can, trying to get positive comments, money, and suggestions for dealing with the asshole brigade sent her way.

Real Food, Real Life

Michele, the Fat Nutritionist, has a fabulous post on why the idea of “real food” is problematic. She talks about how, for every food that’s viewed as unhealthy, worthless junk, there’s someone who depends on that food in one way or another.

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

I think this is hugely important and can’t be stated enough. People vary. People’s needs vary. And just trying to get yourself fed is hard work sometimes. Trying to navigate your own particular health stuff, combined with your preferences, your time and ability to cook, all the messages you get about food. It can be overwhelming. And then, after you’ve done the work of making what really is the best choice for you at the time, and someone takes you to task for that choice, it’s incredibly discouraging.

One time I was out for dinner with family, having recently decided to cut out alcohol (interferes with meds) and caffeine (screws up my blood pressure and ramps up my anxiety). Everybody else was getting beer or wine or soda, and I missed being able to have the occasional drink. So, I’m sitting there pondering what can I actually drink. I settle on ginger ale. And my mother-in-law makes a comment about how she’s not sure she can approve me drinking soda. (I didn’t snap back with “That’s why I didn’t ask you,” but it was tempting.)

I feel like that, in a nutshell, is a perfect summary of our screwed up food culture. It doesn’t matter how “good” I’m being in avoiding things that aren’t good for me, it’s never going to be enough for the self-appointed health police. And my mom-in-law wasn’t even being mean–it’s just such an accepted thing to judge and moralize about food that it was a completely natural comment for her to make.

Predictably, a bunch of commenters on Michele’s post wanted to distance themselves from judging people who kale or low sodium is going to make horribly ill, but still judge anyone who “could” eat better (for that commenter’s definition of “better” of course).

There are, of course, lots of problems with that. First and foremost, adult human beings get to decide what they want to put in their mouths, and someone who *can* eat organic, free-range, whole grain homemade everything is under no obligation to *want* to.

Secondly, “sick” and “healthy” are not binary conditions. Neither are “rich” and “poor.” There’s a whole spectrum of both. Just because someone won’t die if they eat kale doesn’t mean it may not give them a little indigestion. Just because someone makes more than minimum wage doesn’t mean they feel comfortable paying twice as much for organic, or buying fresh veggies that may spoil before they can use them.

A side piece of this is that lots of people move in and out of those conditions throughout their lives. They may go through periods of illness interspersed with periods of relative health. You can go from being a broke college kid to a comfortable white-collar professional to a suddenly unemployed professional living on ramen all over again.

And the messages you absorb stay with you. If you cross that border from well-off to poor, or from healthy to sick, there’s no switch in your brain you can flip to turn off all the guilt and moral judgment you’ve picked up around food.

And, last but not least, as Rachel Held Evans is fond of saying in a completely different context, if your gospel isn’t good news for those who are struggling, then it’s not really good news. If your food gospel doesn’t work for people who are broke, or stressed out, or sick, or tired, then it’s not really the one true way of eating, and perhaps you should stop trying to preach it to everyone who will listen.

The Fat Chick Works Out – Week 1

I’m going to blog my way through Jeanette DePatie’s awesome exercise book, The Fat Chick Works Out. Jeanette is one of the co-founders of the Fit Fatties Forum, a discussion spot for fat athletes at all ability levels–everybody from the gym rat who does a marathon every few months to the person who just wants to try out this whole “exercise” thing without it being conflated with weight loss.

A main focus of the book is starting slow and not breaking yourself. There are a lot of activities to find out what your starting level of fitness is and guidelines on how to ramp up (no more than 10% a week, *if* you’re feeling good). I tend to do that to myself a lot–I push too hard, I regret it, and I get out of the exercise habit. Then when I come back, I forget that I’m out of practice and expect things to be as easy as they were before, and the lovely cycle starts up again.

So, here we go with Week 1. The first step is to pick an exercise and set up a schedule for yourself. I’m skipping the “Rock the Block” exercise because I’ve done it before, but it’s a really neat way to figure out your current level of fitness. You walk for 40 minutes, or until you’re tired, whichever comes first. Then you take that distance and duration, and that’s your starting point.

My plan is to walk 5 days a week, for roughly half an hour a day (getting my weekly 150 minutes of exercise) with a goal of 5-ish miles per week to start. My standard walking days will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but that will flex a little bit depending on my weekly schedule.

The theme for Week 1 is coping with panic and managing expectations:

We’re terrified of being fat, or out of shape, or headed for serious health problems. We’re terrified that we’ll never be slim enough or fit enough to be accepted by our peers or approved by our doctors. We alternate between despair from the failure of all the previous exercise programs we’ve started and discarded, and wild optimism that this will be the one time that everything is perfect. This time we’ll lose the weight, achieve fantastic muscled bodies like Greek Gods or Goddesses, attract a rich and gorgeous spouse who wants to sweep us off to a fantastic yacht in Monaco where visiting Hollywood producers will discover us and put us in blockbuster movies as long as this time, we don’t make one small mistake and blow everything.

So what happens next? We lose all perspective and fueled by equal parts panic and fantasy, try to do way too much too soon. This leads to pain, injury, frustration, burn out, and ultimately drop out. Which leads to more panic. Which starts the whole thing up all over again.

I love her focus on doing what you can do, then building on that one step at a time. It’s very realistic, and it has a much better chance of helping someone be active for life than a program that asks you to start with a ton of exercise all at once. And I really like the way she shoots holes in the Fantasy of Being Thin right from the get-go.

So, this week, I’ve walked twice so far, Tuesday and yesterday. (I didn’t start on a Monday, darn the luck.) Today is a rest day, but I may get in some yoga and PT stretches. Tomorrow, I’m thinking I’ll walk in the morning before work, hopefully before the temperature cracks 80, since it’s been in the 90s all week. Since I missed Monday, I’m shooting for two walks over the weekend, subject to change if my ankle gets cranky. I’m visiting my brother, four hours’ drive away, so that may make it tricky to squeeze a walk in. But I’m pretty sure I wake up earlier than he does, so I can get in a walk in the morning. He’s even got a treadmill, so I’m in luck if it’s stupid hot there too.

My assignment for the week is to come up with a little mantra that encourages incremental thinking, and say it to myself as I’m working out. Something upbeat, like “Every little step gets me there” or “Each step brings me closer” (the ones Jeanette uses). I’m kind of blanking on that, so I may just shamelessly snag hers. I may also use “I am already an athlete.” Although it doesn’t explicitly have the focus on each little step, it’s a way of accepting the skill level I have right now and working from there.