Body Love is not a Pant Size

Let me be clear.  I think people should learn to love their bodies, full stop.  I don’t think they have to wait until they lose ten pounds to love their bodies.  And I CERTAINLY don’t think they should “love their bodies enough” to lose ten pounds.  If you want to lose ten pounds and you can safely lose ten pounds and it makes you happy then you should go for it.  I mean, it’s your body and you should do whatever you think is best.  But let me be clear.  I don’t think body love means fixing up your body in a way that is more socially acceptable and then grudgingly deciding it’s okay.  And I don’t think insisting that other women do to their bodies exactly what you chose to do to your body in order to learn to love their bodies is okay either.  I think body love means being grateful and happy for your body the way it is right now.

Let me be clear about another thing.  Loving your body isn’t always easy.  We are surrounded by images and toys and directives and advertising that convinces us that we can only love our bodies after certain conditions are met.  We are told we can love our bodies after we get rid of stretch marks and cellulite and age spots and wrinkles and back fat and rolls and achieve a perfect thigh gap.  In fact we are encouraged to love our bodies ENOUGH to spend the gobs of money and time purchasing creams and potions and pills and exercise torture devices and DVDs and costly and painful medical procedures to ensure that our body no longer has cellulite or wrinkles or stretch marks or age marks or chubby thighs and is finally, eventually (for the moment) acceptable.

And  loving our bodies isn’t always easy, because as we age, our bodies change.  We sag in places we didn’t.  Strange marks appear on our skin.  Our bodies are sometimes less able to do things they could before.  We have to pee all. the. time.  And sometimes we get sick.  And if we get sick, there are plenty of people including medical professionals, large multinational companies, friends, families and complete strangers eager to tell us that if we had only tried their procedure or exercise or potion or pill or program or cleanse we wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place.  They tell us if we had loved our bodies enough to fix our bodies the way they said we should, everything would have been okay.   So sometimes it’s hard to love our bodies.

Body love can be a rewarding but often frustrating and deeply confusing process.  That’s why I get so angry about companies and experts that are taking the “body love” theme and turning it into a tool to sell their “body improvement” messages, products and other crap.  Because that ish is NOT OKAY.  If you want to sell body improvement.  Sell that.  Sell the heck out of it.  But don’t make body acceptance conditional on the thing or the process or the potion or pill or exercise torture device or major surgery you are selling and then call it body love.

There have been some striking examples of this in the past.  One that immediately comes to mind is Kellogg’s and Marilyn Wann.  You see, my dear friend Marilyn Wann came up with this amazing idea.  She makes bathroom scales that say positive words like “sexy” or “beautiful” instead of numbers.  Go to about 1 minute in to the video below to see what I mean.

Now a while after Marilyn’s wonderful Yay! Scale was released for sale, Kellogg’s released a scale that looked pretty darn similar.  What’s wrong with that?  Well aside from the fact they seem to have “borrowed” an idea from an inventor without giving credit or compensation, they were using their scale to promote the idea that you should replace meals with cereal in order to lose weight.  And the promotion around the new scales had the tagline, “What will you gain when you lose?”.  Check it out in the video below:

This strongly implies that those words on the scale will apply to your body only after you lose weight using their products.  You see the difference between the two messages?

Look, I don’t think loving your body means that you stop doing things to care for your body.  I don’t think loving your body means you can’t change anything about your body.  But I don’t think body acceptance should be conditional on those things.  It’s the difference between “I’ll love my body after I”, or “I love my body enough to change it” and “I love my body.  Oh and I’ll do this too.”  It’s subtle, but it’s important.

It’s important because we are seeing other companies and special interest groups using the power of the body love movement to dress up body improvement products and schemes.  And that’s not only confusing, but dishonest and wrong.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

 

New Beginnings Now vs. New Years Resolutions

Recently I saw a reporter request asking fitness and medical professionals why they shouldn’t wait until New Years to get fit.  And I imagine they were expecting a lot of talk about not gaining weight through the holidays, and getting  a jump on your all new body and blah, blah, blah dee blah.

I do think there is no reason to wait until New Years to begin a fitness routine.  If you want to start now, by all means do so.  If you think now is the last time you want to begin a fitness program, then don’t.  But there are some advantages to beginning a program now:

1.  The gyms and parks and fitness facilities are quiet.  Everybody knows that the first 3 weeks  in January are the worst times all year to go to the gym.  The place is PACKED!  It would be a lot easier to find your way around and get attention from the staff in November or December than in January.

2.  For many, the holidays are stressful.  As long as you are beginning a program as a kind and loving thing you are doing for your body, and not so you can tell your aunt to shut up about your weight and pass the stuffing already, exercise can be a great tool to help deal with holiday stress.

3.  It forces you to carve out time for you.  During the holidays so much of our lives can be focused on the needs of others.  Sometimes exercise can allow us to find a little bit of time for some loving self-care in the midst of all the holiday giving.

4.  It can be a new holiday tradition.  The holidays are a great time to begin new family or personal traditions around fitness.  Maybe you and the kids can walk around the neighborhood and  look at the holiday lights?  Maybe you could spend Saturdays sledding or ice skating.  Remember, fitness means moving your body in a joyful way.  This doesn’t have to happen on the trail or at the gym.

And perhaps the best reason to begin a fitness program now is:

5.  It divorces exercise from the panic of New Years.  Oh my goodness.  How many of us have fallen under the tyranny of the New Year’s Resolution?  How many of us have started January 1 watching diet commercials on TV and promising that this is the year we change EVERYTHING?  Then we go out too hard and too fast and are injured and despondent by Valentine’s Day.  Wouldn’t it be nice to begin a fitness program without that kind of pressure and panic?  For the record, you can begin a fitness program in January without buying into pressure and panic.  But it might be easier and less stressful to begin before the entire world goes into its annual body bashing frenzy.

Except it might not be a good time after all.  I can hear some of you out there saying that if you have to add just one more thing to your holiday schedule, somebody is gonna be ho-ho-hoping they never mentioned it.  And believe me, I get it.  So here’s a tip.  Take a second to consider starting a fitness program before January.  If now doesn’t feel like a good time to start a fitness program, then now isn’t a good time to start a fitness program.  There are at least 365 days in a year, all equally good for joyfully moving your body.  Pick the day that feels right for you.

As we embark (already) on the holiday season, I wish you peace, love, light and joyfully loving the skin you’re in.  Fa la la la la!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Fatshioning a Better Relationship with Clothing Companies

Plus-size model? Most of the world doesn’t seem to think so.

I was reviewing my email when this article from Digiday entitled “For brands,  marketing ‘plus-size’ is a tricky line to walk” showed up.  The article talked about the recent uproar about Calvin Klein model Myla Dalbesio’s interview in Elle Magazine where she referred to herself as a ‘Plus Sized Model’.  Social media outlets erupted in anger as many people rightly pointed out that as a very tall woman who is size 10 at most, she is considerably thinner than the average American woman.  And while she might qualify as “plus-sized” in modeling terminology (which can apply to any woman over size 6 according to the article in Elle) she certainly doesn’t qualify as plus-sized in the way that most of us understand it.  To be fair, I think it’s important to note that Calvin Klein did not label her as plus-sized.  It simply put her in a group of models of varying sizes to promote their new Perfectly Fit line of underwear.  Myla described herself as plus-sized.

But this pesky question of labeling has come up since the early days of the “husky” department and most retailers still don’t seem to get it right.  We had the kerfluffle earlier this year when some online catalog pages identified Wal-mart Halloween Costumes “Fat Girl Costumes”.  Many people took exception to this labeling as extremely rude, while at the same time, many people in the Fat Acceptance community who identify themselves with the word “Fat” thought it was just fine.  As a woman who calls herself “The Fat Chick” I wasn’t offended.  But many people were.

Walmart’s Halloween section before the site got changed and the company apologized.

Add to this, Dillard’s debacle which Ragen Chastain blogged about today and you have to wonder, who the hell is doing this marketing stuff anyways?  Who at Dillard’s thought it would be okay to put a sign that says “Dear Santa, This year give me a fat bank account and a slim body.  Please don’t mix them up like you did last year.”  Do they do any market research?  Do they understand how this will be perceived in the marketplace?  Or do they see it as clickbait with the idea that all attention is good attention as long as they get the URL right?

And then we have Old Navy, catching online flak for making their plus-sized clothing more expensive than the exact same garment in a smaller size.  There is now a national petition circulating on Change.org asking Old Navy to unify pricing for women’s clothing of all sizes.

What in the name of all that is retail is going on here?  How can these companies with so much money and such big advertising budgets and so much access to sophisticated market research continue to get this so wrong?  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but it seems to me that a few simple tips are in order:

1.  Lose the labels.

Why do you have to call these clothes anything at all?  Why do you need a plus-size department?  Or a women’s department?  That label always made no sense to me anyway.  Does that mean that all the other smaller dresses in the store are not for women?  Are they for dancing poodles or space aliens?  Why can’t we just say that we have clothing sizes 00-30 and call it a day?  If you are talking about tags for a search engine, then fine.  Tag away.  But you don’t need to call these clothes out in a special heading.  Because you are also following step two which is:

2.  Have more than a few token items in a variety of sizes.

The sad truth is that larger sizes are often relegated to their own department because such a small percentage of the store’s stock comes in any thing over a size 12. Larger people get really tired of flipping through cute and gorgeous things that don’t come in their size.  If most things on the rack had a size 14 through a size 30 or 32 or 40 on them, we wouldn’t need to go to the “plus-sized” department or the “women’s department” we would go to the clothes department.  The special sizes departments are just to keep us from hanging ourselves with a pair of stripy tights because we’ve looked at 85 fabulous things that only come in a size 4.

3.  Don’t charge a premium for larger sizes

You don’t charge more for a size 10 than a size 0.  So there is no reason to charge more for a size 16 than a size 10.  Just average the prices down the line and charge accordingly.  See?  That was easy!

4.  Treat all of your customers with respect

Treat your customers of all sizes, just the way you would like to be treated.  Do you want to see a sign suggesting that Santa bring you better judgement, more kindness and some freaking common sense?  No?  Then don’t put out a sign suggesting that Santa bring your women customers or your young girl customers a new body.  There!  Done!

I think everybody should be able to approach the holidays in some fabulous clothing that makes them feel comfortable and happy.  So retailers, listen up!  There are lots of people who aren’t size 4 or even 14 and have lots of money.  So if you really want to start the day after Thanksgiving “in the black”, get it together.  I think that is something for which we could all feel truly grateful.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  Want me to come talk to your organization about “plus-sized” clothing and fashion for folks of all sizes?  Click HERE to see some video, learn about my speeches and book me!

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Jillian Michaels Co-opts Body Love Messaging (This is why we can’t have nice things…)

Body love courtesy of Jillian Michaels.

In an epic moment of facepalm, my facebook feed threw up this little fact:  Jillian Michaels has published her “Top 3 Guidelines for Improving Body Image” at EverydayHealth.com.  (No, I’m not gonna link to that ish.  Nope.)  This seems in line with her recent move to distance herself from Biggest Loser after she made untold millions from screaming at fatties on the show.

Now the irony of Jillian Michaels would be really funny if it weren’t so very sad.  This woman styled her entire career on being the queen of mean.  She came into our living room every week screaming at the fatties–about how ugly we were and how we were killing ourselves.  And some might suggest that Jillian Michaels might be making a genuine change or shift in attitude.  And I might even consider believing her if she started pulling products like her “6-week Six Pack” or her “Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism” or her “No More Problem Zones” off the shelves.  Nope, no, nopety nope.  You don’t get to give advice like “Be realistic about your body type.” when you are actively marketing a product called “1 Week Shred”.  And you don’t get to advise people to “Stop negative self talk.” while marketing a product called “No More Problem Zones.”

And if that didn’t tickle my sarcasm zones quite enough, this little gem is posted on EveryDayHealth.com with the tagline, “Always choose well.”  Seriously?  You put the queen of scream in charge of body image on your site?  For REALZ?  Is that choosing well?  Look, I’m sorry guys.  Just because Jillian is wearing a nice soft stripy sweater, and you’ve got her on a white set with a soft filter, it doesn’t make her nice.  And it certainly doesn’t make her qualified to talk to women about body image.

But can we talk here?  This is really a bigger issue than the Biggest of the Biggest Loser Meanies trying to change her image.  The real issue is the co-opting of important messaging in the body acceptance movement by people who just see it as the latest way to add market share to their products.  And I think as we go forward, and we start to gain traction, this is likely to become a bigger and bigger issue.

Let me take a moment and disclose some facts about me.  First, I acknowledge that even as “The Fat Chick”, I have an awful lot of privilege.  I’m white, middle class, and heterosexual.  That makes a lot of things in this society a lot easier for me.  Also, in terms of my size, I’m what you might call a mid-size fatty.  I’m certainly “plus-sized”.  But my size and my shape make certain things a lot easier for me than for many other fat people.  I face discrimination, but nowhere near as much or as intensely as many of my brothers and sisters in the movement.  I don’t receive these privileges as a result of anything virtuous I’ve done.  I was born with them.  And thus, while I can sympathize with people of all sizes, I can’t say that my experience is the same as all other fat people.  It just isn’t true.

I also have to admit that, having been in this space for many years, some messages are easier to sell.  Some messages are more palatable for the general public and as such, are more fun to say.  I get a lot more rewards for telling people to love themselves than I get for saying that society is brutalizing entire segments of the population, and that it is not okay and it has to stop.  A lot of people look at my midsized status and nudge me and say, “Well you’re okay, you’re not THAT fat.”  To which I usually respond, “ALL bodies are good bodies.  And people thinner than me are okay and people fatter than me are okay.  You don’t get to decide what sized body is acceptable for the general population.”  I say usually.  Because sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to deal with it and I just walk away.  I am not a persona.  I am not perfect.  I’m just a person.

But I think it’s important going forward to acknowledge that it’s not really okay to co-opt body diversity, size acceptance and body love language just to soften a campaign of ongoing body hatred.  It’s not really okay to call yourself an activist against weight bias or weight stigma if you still adhere to the “fat but not that fat” ideal.  It’s pretty easy to accept that nobody looks like a supermodel.  “Not a supermodel” is a pretty safe position to take.  Only a few of us in the world look like that, and even those few are Photoshopped beyond recognition.  But true work against weight bias and weight stigma includes recognizing that weight stigma and weight bias are institutionalized, rampant and ubiquitous.  It includes recognizing that even if most of us hate our bodies, that stigma and bias are likely to be different at size 12, size 22, and size 32.  And that weight stigma is not allowed once you are beyond a certain size.  Body acceptance is not just loving your body, unless you are, you know, really fat.  Body acceptance is for EVERY BODY.  And this work demands that you accept that you can’t simply solve the problems of weight stigma and weight bias with a poster and a little boost to your self confidence.  Working on your own feelings and confidence are important first steps to coping with weight stigma and weight bias in your own life.  But they are only first steps.  If you really want to fight these problems, you have to move on to finding these oppressions out in the world and making things better–no matter how uncomfortable or unpalatable these messages might be.

And for those of you who want to feel better about your  body, here are three pieces of advice:

1.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

2.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

3.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to hire me to speak about size acceptance, weight bias and weight stigma? CLICK HERE.

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“Fall Back” in Love with You

I’m not going to lie.  I love fall.  It’s my favorite time of year.  And one of my favorite things about fall is that in the U.S. we get to “fall back”.  We set our clocks back one hour.  As I mentioned last year, this can be a terrific time to start a morning practice that you’ve always wanted to start.  In particular, I mentioned that falling back allows you to get up at the “same time” (sort of) as you did before, while starting your day an “hour earlier” (sort of).  Naturally it’s harder to get to bed on time as well.  But spring forward is a topic for another day–several months from now.  And last year I suggested the week that we “fall back” is the best week all year to start an exercise program.

This year, I’ve learned that isn’t necessarily true.  Since I’m still recovering from illness and injury, this week would be a terrible time for me to start a new exercise program.  And thus, I have to admit, my statement last year was naive and not all that inclusive.  It’s sad that life had to literally kick me in the pants to learn that, but so be it.  I’m sorry that I made such a sweeping, ablest statement.

But I still would like to mark this special time of year, when basking in the glow of whatever Halloween candy is still left, we get to turn back time.

So this year, in honor of the RASCAL challenge, I’d like to invite you to “fall back” in love with yourself.  Maybe it would be fun for you to take a little time this Sunday to remember just what is so incredibly awesome about you.  And maybe you could reward that awesomeness with some little act of self care of kindness or love.  Maybe it could even be a RADICAL Act of Self Care And Love.  It’s too late to join the RASCAL challenge for this year, but I’d like to invite you to take a look at the list just to get inspired.  There’s a list of over 100 things on there that you can do to take care of you.  Or you could come up with something of your very own.  Or not.  Every BODY and every life is different.

This year, I’ve made a new and different commitment.  As I fall back, I will make a special effort to fall back in love with me, take me out on a date, and cherish and care for me in some special way.  I’m not entirely sure what it will be yet.  But I have a feeling, it’s gonna be awesome.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Kids, Bullying and Plastic Surgery

plasticsurgeryI was somewhat floored this weekend as I listened to a brief radio report on my local public radio station about kids and plastic surgery.  The story (which made reference in the intro to Renee Zellweger’s altered appearance at a recent awards show) talked about the number of kids having plastic surgery and the reasons behind it.  The report opens by talking about the number of teenagers who have had Botox (TM) in 2013.  According to the report, that number is 17,958.  Now the report was careful to state that most of these procedures were for medical reasons.  Botox is used to treat migraines, strabismus (cross eyed) and facial spasms.  Yet when all was said and done, over 1,000 of these Botox procedures were performed on kids in America for “purely cosmetic reasons”.

Now I’m not going to tell any parent or kid what they should do with their own bodies.  It’s their body and their choice.  I don’t think I would let me kid have Botox treatments (if I had one).  But you know what, I think it’s a lot easier to judge if you are not in the situation.  In fact the report went on to state that cosmetic procedures are on the rise among young people, and experts suggest that the reasons for that rise probably include social media culture and the rise of the “selfie” as well as a rise in bullying in our schools.

My knee jerk reaction at the time was, why aren’t they fixing the BULLYING?  Why are kids undergoing the risks and rigors of plastic surgery all because kids can’t stop being mean?  And then I remembered my own school days.  There was a period in my school life, after I had moved to a new school where I was bullied relentlessly.  I was verbally abused and physically abused.  I had my property repeatedly stolen or damaged.  It was so bad, that I often got physically sick from the stress of it all.  My parents were extremely worried, but I felt that their involvement would  only make it much, much worse.  There was no surgery that could have fixed my situation.  And even if there were, I doubt we could have afforded it.  But I wonder, if there were a medical fix, that we could afford if we would have used it.  I was miserable.  My parents were deeply concerned.  Would we have undergone a medical risk if it meant that the problem would go away?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that not all people who are bullied can have that problem fixed by surgery.  The reasons for the bullying are not always physical or may not be easily physically corrected.  And even for surgery that is readily available, a whole lot of people cannot afford it.  And this lack of access to procedures that can make our social media selfie red carpet ready is just another gaping chasm between the haves and the have nots in our world.  So on the one hand I sort of feel like the families that are “opting out” of bullying by changing their physical appearance are making things even harder for the families that do not have that privilege.

It’s easy to heap scorn on the families who seem to take the whole notion of cosmetic surgery very lightly.  The report stated that husband/wife cosmetic surgeries are followed only by mommy/daughter plastic surgeries in popularity.  It’s easy to heap scorn on the privileged families who hand out boob jobs as high school graduation presents.

But I’d like to suggest that not all cases of kids and families choosing plastic surgery over bullying are quite that simple.  If I could have had a surgery to make the bullying stop, might I have done that?  I honestly don’t know.  And if I had done it, how would my life have turned out differently?  Would I be as strong?  Maybe not?  Would I be less fearful now?  Would I take greater emotional risks at this point because I spent less time as a target–less time being wounded?  And if my parents had chosen that route would they be wrong for perpetuating the need for perfection just because they wanted me to live my best life, be less in pain?

I don’t really know all the answers here, and I think that’s a good thing.  In my mind this is not a simple or black and white thing.  I sincerely believe that we need to change the culture of perfectionism, social media shallowness and cruel bullying among young people.  And I think that erasing differences by changing whatever faults the bullies choose to target in their victims ultimately make things worse for all of us.  But I think it’s important to view this subject through the lens of compassion.  Because if back then, when I was a kid, I would have been able to undergo a brief medical procedure that would make the bullying stop, even for a minute, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done just that.

Love,  Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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All the Comebacks We’ll Never Say

TRIGGER WARNING: I’m going to talk about verbal abuse.

So I don’t know if you got a chance to see this, but it’s pretty awesome. Chelsea Handler lays a stupid kind of mean spirited fat joke on Andy Richter and BOOM, he comes back with an amazing zinger that not only puts Chelsea in her place, but gets Conan laughing his fool head off. If you haven’t clicked on the video click at the top of the page yet, go click it. I’ll wait.

See??? BOOM! I mean, don’t you wish you could come back like this when somebody says something mean or stupid or obliquely snide to you about the size of your body? I wish I could. Usually I do, in my head, 20 minutes later. In the moment however, I don’t often come up with something wonderful and witty to say. I guess now, even after it’s happened to me and all my friends and colleagues so many times, I am still surprised. Afterwards I’m not surprised at all. But in the moment, especially when a complete stranger decides to comment on my body, there’s often that moment of shock. I’m not talking about when people make rude comments to each other about me so I can hear them, or make obnoxious mooing sounds, or shout things across the street. I’m talking about when people confront me directly and say mean, stupid or downright horrible things. There is still a moment of shock. Still a feeling of violation. I feel it in my body like a punch to the gut. And often I’m standing there, mouth flapping open and closed like a recently caught fish wondering WHY a person who doesn’t know me, who has no reason to hate me just threw verbal poo at my head. Sometimes I am able to recover sufficiently to say something reasonably intelligent, and sometimes I just walk away shaking my head. But it’s safe to say, I’m almost never as quick on my feet as good old Andy Richter up there.

Now I am a professional speaker. I have had extensive training in speaking off the cuff. I’ve studied improvisational theater. So I often feel I should have been come up with something witty to say. And so the verbal beating I have taken from a complete stranger is often followed by me beating myself up for not handling the situation better. I find myself, after the fact, reliving the confrontation, calculating and discarding dozens of “comebacks” or “burns” I should have used and feeling battered and miserable.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know. I want to share that even though I’ve been in the space of body love and size acceptance for decades, and even though I’ve been in public debates and had speech training and have given literally hundreds of public talks, I don’t always have a witty comeback when somebody publicly attacks me. I’m telling you this because I am trying to learn to focus my anger where it belongs–not at myself for failing to “burn” somebody who is mean to me, but at the person who was being mean to me! I tell you this, because you may be one of the millions of other people in this world who do not have a witty comeback ready when somebody is mean to you. And I want you to know that’s okay. We all love the fact that Andy Richter can come back at Chelsea that way. We cheer because he does something we all wish we could do in the moment that somebody is mean to us–execute the perfect, 10-point, sustained audience laughter burn. But I want to suggest that we can appreciate Andy’s talent while at the same time relieving ourselves of the responsibility to be him.  And I want to suggest that maybe instead of beating ourselves up for not being funny in the face of cruelty, we should focus our anger outwards and self care and love inwards.  Just a thought.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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