I’m a big fan of sharing things that are worth being shared. Especially when they have the ability to make a real change in one’s mindset, because mindset is everything. If you’ve read a bit by me, you’ll be acquainted with today’s Awesome Somebody: Ragen Chastain. Ragen is not only an awesome person, but she’s also got a heart of gold and is standing up and fighting back against the stigmatization of folks who do not fit into the “norm”. Ragen is a Size Acceptance Activist, National Dance Champion, Health at Every Size practitioner, trained researcher, and author of “Fat: The Owner’s Manual”. Here’s what she had to say:
From reading your book and blog, Dances With Fat, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what a Fat Activist is. Unfortunately, most people have never heard that there can be such a person. Can you tell me what you consider a Fat Activist to be? What activities does a Fat Activist do?
I started out doing queer activism and I remember when it occurred to me that as someone who is oppressed because of my size, I could be a fat activist in the same way. Then I discovered that there were tons of fat activsts already doing it. To me a Fat Activist is anyone who engages in activity with the goal of making the world better for a fat person/fat people (including themselves). It can be anything from refusing to talk badly about their own body to posting something body positive on facebook to running a huge National Campaign around body positivity.
I also want to be clear that while I talk about fat and health because I think we’re being given tons of misinformation, there is absolutely no size, health, or healthy habit requirement to demanding to be treated with basic human respect. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not size, health, or healthy habit dependent.
You freely use the word “fat” to describe yourself, in spite of the stigma associated with it. Tell me why.
I like the word fat because it doesn’t pathologize me based on my body size (like the words “overweight” or “obese” do) and as a reclaiming term I use it as a way to let my bullies know that they can’t have my lunch money anymore.
From your writing, you talk about how you were thin when you were younger. Can you tell me what was the craziest thing you have ever done trying to stay/be thin? What were the consequences/outcomes?
I started an extreme diet and exercise regimen that ultimately ended up with me being hospitalized for an eating disorder. Not every diet leads to an eating disorder, of course, but every eating disorder starts with a diet. It’s one of the many reasons that I think that if people are interesting in support their health (knowing that there are no guarantees or obligations) a focus on health, rather than using food to manipulate body size as a path to health, is a better public health message.
What is your biggest personal challenge to being a Fat Activist?
The most frustrating thing for me is that there is a need for Size Diversity activism at all. It’s frustrating that people seems to think it’s ok to question my right to exist. Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could become not fat by some means however easy or difficult. The idea that it’s ok for the government, or anyone else, to suggest that everyone who looks like me should be eradicated, against our will if necessary, is deeply troubling.
As a Health at Every Size practictioner, the most challenging this is when I make a point based on a careful and thorough review of lots of research and evidence and someone thinks that saying “everbody knows that…” carries equal weight.
What are your future plans, if any, with your Activist ventures (Actventures)?
I’m doing another marathon in LA next March, working on the Fat Activist History Project (www.fatactivisthistory.org), I’m working on an online Size Diversity Activism conference, and I have some other surprises in store (people can get always follow my exploits at www.danceswithfat.org)
How can other fat people claim their fatness and become Fat Activists as well?
I think that in this society just waking up and not hating ourselves, no matter what size we are, is an act of revolution – so learning to love ourselves and appreciate our bodies can be a great place to start. For me it all started when I realized that I had spent so much time hating my body for not fitting into some social stereotype of beauty that I hadn’t had a second’s worth of gratitude for everything my body does for me. In that same vein, refusing to participate in body snarking/shaming/negative body talk of any kind is a really fabulous way to be a Size Diversity activist.
People can post Fat Positive things to their social media (if they want support with posting body positive things on body negative spaces on the internet they can join the Rolls not Trolls community on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollsnottrolls), they can “come out” to family and friends as Size Acceptance Activists, they can start their own blogs, I think that the most important thing is to let each of our voices be heard.
Thanks, Ragen, for being awesome!
For more, check out the following links:
Ragen’s blog: Dances With Fat
Ragen’s book: “Fat: The Owner’s Manual”