Tag Archives: Dances with Fat

Why I Heart GIRLS & Lena Dunham’s Body

Lena Dunham GIRLS HBO

I’m a little late to this game since the first season of HBO’s GIRLS ended Sunday night. But if, like me, you don’t schedule your life around appointment television, then you’re probably very appreciative of the fact that I waited a respectful three days before blogging about this so as to avoid spoilers. You’re welcome.

At any rate: It is high time that I expressed my fervent appreciation and admiration for Lena Dunham and the amazingness she has created with this here show. The poor girl experienced all manner of backlash when it first premiered — how could she not? She’s approximately twelve and she’s been put in charge of a prime time comedy at HBO. She’s writing, directing and starring in a show about being a New York-based twenty-something all the while actually being a New York-based twenty-something. Most of whom are generally lacking in the perspective you would need to do such a thing. So everybody had to get up in arms about whether she was accurately capturing the experience of being poor and pretentious during your twenties. Are their jobs appropriate? Do they dress too fashion-y? Why aren’t there more black characters? Who eats cupcakes in the bathtub? Is Bushwick just too… Bushwick-y? And so on.


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Michelle Obama’s Biggest Mistake

Michelle Obama on The Biggest Loser

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am usually a pretty big Michelle Obama fan. I’ve defended her right to wear un-American fashion designers, because she’s the First Lady, not First Barbie Doll. I had a whole lot of feelings when Rush Limbaugh called her fat. And there is a lot about her MyPlate program and the whole Let’s Move campaign that is just great. 

But then, last month, Michelle Obama went on The Biggest Loser. And that’s where she lost me.

Because TBL is a show that glorifies pretty much everything we’re doing wrong about obesity in this country. It’s about getting thin at any cost. It’s about no pain, no gain. It’s about public humiliation. It’s definitely not about health, no matter what the coaches scream as “motivation.” 

My friend Ragen Chastain, the amazing fat dancer and activist, has written a wonderful piece explaining exactly why Obama’s decision to appear on TBL was a mistake. I’m reprinting it here with her permission because she’s had trouble getting traditional media outlets to publish it (they’re afraid of pissing off the White House — really, guys? First Amendment, anyone?) and we need to get the word out. Just because a show glorifies weight loss doesn’t mean it’s good for your health. 

Here’s Ragen: 

When I heard that Michelle Obama was going on The Biggest Loser to congratulate the participants on being role models I knew that I had to do something.  So I e-mailed my friend Darryl Roberts, filmmaker of America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments. We wrote a well-researched article pointing out the problems with Mrs. Obama endorsing the contestants as role models.  That article is below.

It wasn’t meant for this blog, but it’s now been turned down by three major media outlets.  Not because they disagreed with us, in fact all three said that they agreed with the article.  It was denied in all three cases because the White House wouldn’t like, they were worried about damaging their working relationship with the White House, and it it made the First Lady look bad and out of touch.  That confused me since I think the problem is that the First Lady IS out of touch, not that I’m pointing it out. And why does the media believe that, in America, we should be scared to question our government?

So I’m using my little forum here to get this out.  But before I do, I want to make an invitation:

Michelle Obama – have lunch with me.  I believe that you are a good person and that your intentions to improve kids’ health are good, and I don’t believe that you intend for the media to be too scared to publish pieces that are critical of you.  I’m a champion athlete, a trained researcher, and a real live obese woman and I think that a good place to start is for us to have a conversation.  Tell me where and when you’d like to have lunch and I’m buying.

In the meantime, here’s the piece that the media was too scared to publish:

Michelle Obama’s “Biggest” Mistake

By Darryl Roberts and Ragen Chastain

DARRYL: I have had the opportunity to get to know Health at Every Size proponent Ragen Chastain after interviewing her for my documentary America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments.  I was coming home from a screening of the movie when I received an email from Ragen alerting me to the fact that our first lady Michelle Obama was going on The Biggest Loser to proclaim the contestants as role models.

I will admit that initially I didn’t quite believe this. The Biggest Loser is a show that’s exploits a very dangerous aspect of American life, the unhealthy ways in which we attempt to lose weight. Surely the First Lady had to know this. But it turned out to be true and, knowing what we know about health and weight, Ragen and I decided that we had to respond.

Mrs. Obama, we know you love our youth as much as we all do and that you want to see them healthy, but we would ask you why you chose a game show like The Biggest Loser as a platform to promote “getting healthy,” and why you continue to push weight loss even though it doesn’t meet the criteria of evidence based medicine.

Have you vetted what happens to some the contestants one of two years after the show?

The New York Times did some digging and this is what they found:

“The Biggest Loser has produced some amazing results for its obese contestants, but at what cost? Many see the pounds come right back, and it’s likely because they engage in dangerous, damaging behavior in the first place in order to win the weight-loss reality show, the New York Times has learned. Season one’s winner, who’s almost back to his original weight of 330 pounds, dehydrated himself to the point of urinating blood. “I’m just waiting for the first person to have a heart attack,” says a doctor.

This season’s first episode resulted in two hospitalizations, which is scary given the content of a release form obtained by the Times. It reads: “No warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals [on the show].”

Shockingly, contestants who talk about being completely inactive sometimes for years have to attest that they are “in excellent physical health”. And while the Times got some tidbits — contestants apparently work out in as much clothing as possible when the cameras are off — few were willing to talk. After the paper started digging around, former contestants were emailed a reminder of the serious consequences that come with unauthorized interviews: fines of $100,000 to $1 million.”

A lot of our youth actually start off exercising and eating better. But when they don’t see the “desired result” on the scale, they stop because they mistakenly think that if their healthy habits don’t lead to weight loss then they can’t lead to health.

From my travels with the film and Ragen’s work as an expert speaker on Health at Every Size, we can produce health professionals from Harvard, Princeton, Michigan State, the University of Denver, UCLA, who will tell you exactly what we’re telling you.

RAGEN:  This is an illustration of good intentions gone horribly awry. Calling these contestants good examples of health and fitness is deeply problematic. There are already firsthand accounts of Biggest Loser contestants being encouraged to engage in incredibly unhealthy behaviors, including working out against doctor’s orders, and manipulating their weight through dehydration.

According to Golda Poretsky’s interview with former contestant Kai Hibbard:

“They start teaching you that because you are overweight you are sub-human …There was a registered dietician that was supposed to be helping … but every time she tried to give us advice … the crew or production would step in and tell us that we were not to listen to anybody except our trainers.  The doctors had ordered us to take [a solution to re-balance our electrolytes] and the trainers were like, “Throw it out, right now.”  So I got to a point where I was only eating about 1,000 calories a day and I was working out between five and eight hours a day …   And my hair started to fall out.  I was covered in bruises.  I had dark circles under my eyes … My period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping three hours a night.  I tried to tell the TV show about it and I was told, “Save it for the camera.”

Exactly what’s wrong with the “lose weight” to be healthy approach?

RAGEN: Teaching kids about healthy eating and helping them develop a lifelong love of movement are excellent intentions.  Focusing on the weight of kids in order to do that is simply horrible execution.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated recently that a program that shames kids carries  “a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating),” and also said:

“Studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge-eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmatization of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.”

Hospitalizations for eating disorders in children younger than 12 years old rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006 according to a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published in the journal Pediatrics.

It’s not just that focusing on kid’s weight might hurt them, it’s also that it doesn’t help.  According to research from the University of Minnesota “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.”

Meanwhile there is not a single study that shows that weight loss works for more than a small fraction (about 5 percent) of people.  The cold hard truth is that there is absolutely no evidence that supports the idea that the majority of fat people can become thin through diet and exercise.

Is There a Solution?

RAGEN:  Absolutely.  The fact that I’m a healthy fat athlete isn’t a surprise or a paradox, there are lots of us.  A great deal of evidence (Matheson et. al., Wei et. althe Cooper Institute etc.) points to the conclusion that healthy habits make healthy bodies in a wide variety of sizes.


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Human Bodies: Living Fabulous, Not One Size Fits All

Yes, chickens, today I am showing you a video of Shaquille O’Neal’s appearance on The Daily Show from Monday night. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. It’s funny because John Stewart interviewing weird celebrities is always better than John Stewart asking very thoughtful questions of smart celebrities (see: anyone remotely affiliated with any government or Bono). And because Shaq describes himself as “living fabulous” and is getting a PhD. Well, alrighty then!


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The Georgia Billboard Project Reached Its Goal!

Another quick one. Sorry guys, Horace was back in town for most of last week, though I think he finally packed his bags today. But even with his nonsense, I couldn’t wait to get online and thank all of you who donated a Solidarity Dollar (or more!) to the Billboard Project.

Because Ragen reports: “Exactly a week and a day after we started the Georgia Billboard campaign we have 1010 donors and $21,721.20. Enough to launch a good campaign in Atlanta.”


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Support the Billboard Project with a Solidarity Dollar

Just a quick one to say that the STAND Campaign’s Billboard Project is thisclose to its fundraising goal — and y’all can totally help us get there by donating a buck. Yes, just a buck! Or more, of course. But they need 217 more donations to unlock a $5,000 matching grant, so right now, it’s all about the Solidarity Dollars.

Here’s the scoop from my girl Ragen Chastein of Dances With Fat fame, who is organizing this awesomeness:

Support All Kids Billboard Project Update


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Awesome Doesn’t Have a Size.

Usually, I try to spread the advocacy posts out a bit, so as to not burn you guys out — standing up for things is hard work after all. But this is a blog first and foremost about body politics — and this week, a lot of our core issues hit a boiling point. So we’ve been standing up for salon workers’ health, and for Planned Parenthood and women’s health in general. 

And today we’re taking a stand for children’s health. Which really blows my mind because, really? We have to have a debate about that? 

Virginia & Kate Stand for Healthy Kids


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[Never Say Diet] Body Image Baggage and the Holidays


I actually wrote this Never Say Diet post back before Thanksgiving, but I somehow missed posting about it here (maybe this was why). (Un)Fortunately, it’s what we in the news biz call an “evergreen” because, well, mountains of holiday food + family members who press all of your body image buttons can = mayhem at Christmas or Chanukah just as easily as at Thanksgiving. I could probably also make a note to repost this at the 4th of July. See also: Arbor Day.


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[Never Say Diet] America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments

iVillage Never Say Diet America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments Virginia Sole-Smith

Quick disclaimer: It’s iVillage (not VA) style to turn headlines into rhetorical questions. Of course you all know that my answer to that question is “a thousand times, yes, good Lord, stop asking me that!”

So the critical tone of my review of America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments isn’t about finding fault with its premise. Director Darryl Roberts and I are five by five on all of that. So much so that I was a little hesitant to be critical out here in blogland — I want to unabashedly support such a big, bold step for body positivity in general and not get caught up in semantic debates. I hate when activists waste time arguing with each other that could be better spent working for the common good.


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Pretty Price Check: Enough With the Fat Hate (05.13.11)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty this week.

Ragen Chastein Dances With Fat Photo by Richard Sabel

It seems like everywhere I turn this week, the news is about how much our culture hates fat people. So this a special theme edition of the Price Check. Because people, this has got to stop.

  • My beautiful friend (and amazing blogger and dancer — that’s her above!) Ragen Chastain received over 260 hate-filled comments on her blog this week from evil Internet Trolls who think she should die in appalling and violent ways. (And if you think she must be some strange, isolated example, check out #thingsfatpeoplearetoldon Twitter — and prepare to lose your mind.)
  • Kirstie Alley, the formerly Fat Actress, won “Dancing With the Stars” this week despite admitting she was eating just 150 calories while dancing for hours per day. Naturally, the world is celebrating her dancing-fueled weight loss instead of worrying about her health. (Via ABOUT-FACE)
  • Psychologists found that 72 percent of overweight and obese individuals depicted in the media are stigmatized, often appearing shirtless or headless, according to a study (PDF) published in the Journal of Health Communication. (Via Good)
  • As I reported yesterday on Never Say Diet, when new research showed that only 69 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight (down from 77 percent last year), nutritionists threw up their hands in a state of panic that we might just be accepting our fat selves and preparing to die. (Note that 69 percent means that more than half the population is on a diet.)

This is on top of a major, multi-country study published in the journal Current Anthropology in March, which found that fat stigma is increasing around the world, even in countries where larger bodies have previously been celebrated. (See Tara Parker-Pope’s column and Michelle Segar’s blog post for great analysis on why increasing fat stigma will do nothing to actually “fight obesity.”)

And the Seattle Times is reporting that Georgia just launched a new “Stop Childhood Obesity” campaign featuring fat kids saying things like “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents,” and “Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did” and generally ensuring that they’ll be teased on the playground for the rest of their days.

So. What the f*ck is going on? Read more…

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[Never Say Diet] Be Nice to Your Before Body

Never Say Diet Be Nice to Your Before Body Virginia Sole-Smith

I’m talking about how Before & After Photos mess with your head — and disconnect you from your Always Body today on Never Say Diet.

One quick note. [And a warning! This might be triggering for some folk. Skip it and go read today's post if that's the case for you.] Otherwise, keep on reading… Read more…

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