Tag Archives: privilege

Not Jolly and Not Sorry (Letting go my need to make everybody laugh…)

EnvironmentalAw1

I recently spoke at the Environmental Awards in Irwindale.  My speech was called No BODY Left Behind–Workplace Wellness for All. I talked about workplace wellness in terms of four “i-opening” words–information, incentive, invitation and inspiration.  I must give credit where it is due.  Jon Robison and Rosie Ward and their fabulous new book “How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work” helped to transform my thinking.

I shared a lot about what I thought was working and wasn’t working in workplace wellness.  I talked about how many wellness programs feel unfair because they ARE unfair.  They reward the already privileged in a way that is subsidized by the less privileged.  They only accommodate the needs of the folks that are in least need of the program.  They use shame and peer pressure to try to shove employees into a single vision of “health” which is largely driven by media-fueled unrealistic expectations and the personal bias of the program creators and managers.  They could be inviting.  They could be inclusive.  They could make every BODY feel welcome.  But they usually don’t.  And they often end up causing more problems than they solve.

I think I did a good job at the talk.  But it was weird.  As a speaker, I mostly give upbeat, Rah-Rah, body positive and funny speeches.  And this kind of speech is instantly rewarded.  People watching and hearing the speech cheer and laugh and clap.  People smile and have a good time.  It’s a pretty strong, emotionally positive feedback loop.  And I usually leave the stage feeling awesome.

This talk was different.  People were paying attention.  But people were thoughtful.  Listening carefully.  Letting my words sink in.  This talk was serious.  I had a positive takeaway.  There are ways we can do this better.  But this speech was not fun and it was not funny.

And as I walked off the stage, I wondered.  “Did I do okay?  Did I get through.  Did people hate it.  Did they learn something?”  I felt very insecure.  Sure, there was applause at the end, but no positive, laughing, feel-good feedback loop.

I always feel a little unsure when I release my need to entertain–to be funny–to be jolly.  But I’m always kind of amazed at the response when I do.  As I sat back at my table a woman immediately asked for my card.  Not because she wanted me to do a fun and jolly speech at her workplace (a local college).  But because her school has implemented a wellness program modeled after The Biggest Loser television show.  And my talk made her think that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.  I’m hoping to speak with her soon.  So I could see a very positive result from straying outside of my comfort zone.

And this was a good reminder.  Being upbeat and positive and funny are great tools.  They are some of the colors with which I can paint.  But when communicating with others about size acceptance and body positivity and social justice for people of all sizes, it behooves me to use ALL the tools at my disposal and all the crayons in the box–even those that aren’t my normal favorites or the most comfortable ones to use.

Which leads me to this point.  I’d like to straight up invite you to attend the Fat Activism Conference.  Some of the people there will be taking a “fun and funny” approach to fat activism.  Some will be serious.  Some of the testimony may be full of pain and not so much fun to hear.  Some of it will be LOLROTF funny.  But what the conference allows you to do is hear a variety of voices coming from a wide range of perspectives all speaking on the topic of making the world better, safer and more inclusive for people of all sizes.  And frankly, today is the last day you’ll be able to get the lowest possible price to attend the conference.  Our super earlybird pricing ends tonight.  So if you’re up for hearing all different kinds of voices sharing using all the tools at their disposal and all the crayons in the box, while sharing ways to make the world better for Every BODY why not register now?

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
Register for the Fat Activism Conferenece!

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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)

P.S. Want me to come to your school and talk about bullying?  BOOK ME!

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What are the odds?

Hey there!  Sorry I haven’t blogged in a few days.  I’ve been on the roller coaster and hanging on for dear life.  Seems like that’s the way of it, doesn’t it?  First you’re on top of the world, and then BOOM, sick in bed with a terrible, nasty, icky head cold.

It’s not like I haven’t taken prophylactic measures.  I’ve been taking lots of vitamin C, drinking lots of water, washing my hands raw and all of that good stuff.  I’ve been doing my very best to get good sleep and trying my best to manage stress.

Ever since I felt a sniffle, I’ve been rubbing menthol on my feet and sucking a zinc lozenge every few hours and drinking massive quantities of tea.

I’m doing everything that statistics suggest I should to prevent and minimize colds.  So why am I still sick?

I got sick because I got sick. No matter how many steps you take, you can stick get sick at any time.  Does that mean I shouldn’t have taken those steps to try to minimize my risk and minimize my symptoms?  Well no.  The steps didn’t have many potentially negative side effects and weren’t too difficult.  And they might have worked.  And who knows, things might have been worse had I not taken those steps.

But this is the thing about statistics and health.  If there’s a 1% chance of getting sick, that means that out of every 100 people, about 1 will get sick.  And no matter how many remedies you try, no matter how strong your immune system may be, that one person might be you.  And as tempting as it might be to believe you didn’t get sick because of the mouthwash you used, or the special ritual you followed, you might not have gotten sick because of dumb luck.

So as much as we may wish to believe that we are “healthy” because we are virtuous people who eat whole grain cereal and do yoga, I think we need to give at least a passing nod to all the other stuff that goes into it.  As Fall Ferguson writes in her post on the ASDAH blog: there are many, many factors that go into whether or not a person is healthy.  Doing healthy stuff is just one of those things.  So where does this leave us?

We may wish to do stuff that increases our odds of being healthy.  How much stuff we are able to do may well be decided by our socioeconomic status or access to good healthcare.  How effective those healthy behaviors are may well be decided by our genetic makeup.  How much stuff we choose to do is up to each and every one of us.  It’s time we give up the notion that being healthy is “virtuous” and being sick is a sign that we are “weak, lazy, undisciplined or unconcerned”.  Sometimes we just got sneezed on by the wrong person at the wrong time.  There are no guarantees.

So even though I feel tired, and cranky and stuffed up and sneezy and sick, I choose not to bother feeling guilty.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S. Still waiting to hear when our Katie Couric episode will air.  Will keep you posted!  oxoxoxoxox

 

The Energy Balance: Simple Arithmetic or Differential Calculus?

One thing that makes me crazy as a fat person is people spouting the old energy balance equation at me.  They say, if you’re fat, the reason is simple.  You eat too much and you exercise too little.  They suggest that body mass is a simple equation that looks like this:

food=exercise means stasis

food>exercise means fat

and food<exercise means thin

They suggest that it is “simple arithmetic”.  Seems logical right?  And blessedly simple?  All I have to do is exercise more and eat less and I will be thin, right?  Except in the real world, things are rarely, if ever that simple.  But if you’re thin and enjoy all the societal benefits that come with being thin, like being considered healthy, righteous and disciplined by most of your peers, you want to believe this math don’t you?  Because believing that the benefits you derive are completely under your control and that anyone can have them, allows you to feel the maximum of A) control over your environment and B) self righteousness about your situation.

I think there is some similar math going on out there about the question of wealth.  If you are a wealthy person or even a reasonably well off person, there’s a tendency to believe in an “energy balance” when it comes to money as well.  It looks sort of like this:

spending=hard work means stasis

spending<hard work means rich

spending>hard work means poor

But when we look at these equations, we start to wonder.  What about people who didn’t have parents who saved for them to go to college?  What about people who are born rich?  What about people who face prejudice because they are the “wrong” height or the “wrong” color or they speak the “wrong” language, and find it difficult to find a job?  We all know people who work very, very hard and are really, really not well off at all.  Maybe this whole energy/wealth balance arithmetic has some problems.  Maybe it’s just not that simple.

The real story about energy balance and whether or not we are fat is a lot more complex.  Just take a gander at this amazing chart that documents many of the things that can influence our weight.  There’s so much stuff on this chart, I can’t even see it all on one page.  On my laptop, I have to scroll all around to see it.  And there are new factors that influence body fat being discovered all the time–from fat genes, to fat hormones, to compounds in plastic containers to environmental pollutants to more and more complex drug interactions.  Looking at this chart, one might start to think that whether or not we are fat seems far beyond simple arithmetic.  With all of these factors swirling around, maybe it’s a little more like differential calculus.

As a society we desperately want to believe that being thin is simple.  Because simple problems cost less to solve.  Simple allows us to maintain the illusion of complete control.  And I think we desperately want to cling to the illusion of control because we are mortal beings.  We want to believe that we can control our health because we want to believe that if we follow a few simple rules, we can control whether or not we get sick and when we will die.  We want to believe that if we work hard, we will be rich.  Because it seems almost unbearably unfair that some people will work very hard for their whole lives and not have enough to eat while other people will be born to a large amount of money and will never need to work a day in their lives.  We don’t want to face the fact that some of us who have a lot of money were at least in part, incredibly lucky. And we don’t want to believe that some of us who don’t have much money at all, never will, no matter how hard we work.  And we want to believe that if we just ate a little less and exercised a little more, we would be thin, thin, thin.

The illusion of control and desire for simplification is, in many ways, hard wired into our societal systems.  But we can overcome this programming if we desire it.  We can choose to dial down the self righteousness and dial up the empathy and understanding.  We can choose to resist the urge to oversimplify our privilege in a way that makes us feel better about ourselves.  We can take on the challenge of doing the hard math problems that contain a lot more variables.  And if our situation challenges the “simple arithmetic” view of the world, we can choose not to buy into the rhetoric privileged people use to feel better about themselves.  We can embrace all of life with all of its complexity and richness.  Because true health and happiness rarely boil down to simple arithmetic.

Love,

The Fat Chick