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April 25, 2012 / Katie

Boringly Obvious HAES Principles Terrify Us

One of several theoretical orientations in which my counseling practice is rooted is that of Health At Every Size. The phrase was coined by Linda Bacon in her book Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. The phrase took off and is now used by many folks in a variety of helping professions, particularly health care workers, who have pledged their support for HAES as defined here:

Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.

From a purely logical standpoint, these principles are wholly uncontroversial.

And yet, somehow it still seems that controversy around these principles, and the theoretical orientation of HAES as a whole, abounds. Those of us who support HAES, and call into question theories, diet plans, studies, etc. that privilege body size/weight over health, offering instead these very reasonable and boringly obvious principles, are routinely responded to with an emotional strength—and sometimes viciousness—that we find surprising. But if we search deep down in ourselves, even some of us HAES supporters and practitioners sometimes have trouble really integrating the principles. We accept them logically, and yet it is hard to really feel like we believe them deep down.

I have given a lot of though to why this might be, and I believe it’s because HAES shines a light into the dark corners where we cling to power and control, and ultimately illuminates our unconscious terror of death.

Now I would bet that I might have just lost you. I would bet that while some of you reading this might agree that you are afraid of death, many of you would say that you do not worry about or fear death, or even really think about it. And I believe that’s true, albeit on a conscious level. But I am not talking about conscious thoughts or worries, I am talking about unconscious anxiety and terror.

One of the things that sets humans apart from other animals is that we have a deep capacity for self-awareness. Self-awareness—being aware of the existence of the self in space and time—brings with it an awareness that we will some day cease to be. That one day we will die. Therapists and philosophers might use the term “existential terror” to discuss the unconscious anxiety this provokes.

And I think this is why conversations about health and body size/weight are so emotionally charged for many of us. We are not conscious about our anxiety that ultimately we are not in control of these bodies in and through which we experience the world. We are not consciously aware of the existential terror that we feel about the prospect that our bodies will get old, broken, ill, and eventually, we will die.

This is all unconscious because facing the reality of the inevitability of illness and death is scary and painful. It is much easier to avoid, ignore, repress that awareness and the feelings that come with it. And one of the best ways to do that is to convince our conscious selves that we are in control. That if we eat the “right” foods, in the “right” amounts, and we move in the “right” ways for the “right” duration, that we will be able to control our bodies. We will be free of illness and injury. The rational part of us is convinced that by doing these “right” things we will die peacefully in our beds at a very old age while we still feel healthy and young. The irrational part somehow believes we won’t die at all if we can be good enough at controlling this body we inhabit.

The problem is that it’s all ultimately an illusion. Careful examination of the real data suggests that the correlation between body size/weight and health is tenuous (recent research covered here, Big Liberty has a great collection of resources here, and I am working on my own list of resources here). Consistently, we are faced with evidence that we cannot control the size of our bodies, as any studies that show weight loss do not include long-term follow up. Consistently, we are faced with the reality that people doing all the “right” things still get sick—they get diabetes, they get cancer, they get injured. And they die. We all die. I will die. You will die.

In terms of rationality, HAES is the only logical way to approach our bodies. HAES says we make good choices insofar as our abilities, finances, time, etc. allow. It says we control what we can control, and we let go of what we can’t control. But the reason that HAES is so controversial is that its boringly obvious and unswervingly rational principles do not ultimately address our underlying terror about illness and death. We have to work through that before we can allow ourselves to let go of what we can’t control, which is that we will get sick and/or old, and we will die.

The cultural myth that we can control our bodies through “right” behaviors is so very powerful because deep down we are terrified that we have no control over our bodies at all, especially the fact that ultimately our bodies will fail us (i.e. die). HAES elicits defensiveness, fear, and anger precisely because it questions that powerful cultural myth. But we don’t have to remain stuck in the anger, fear, and defensiveness, because HAES provides a third way of relating to our bodies. HAES says that we can’t possibly have total control of our bodies, but it’s also not true that we have no control. HAES says there are some things we can control. There are some choices we can make. Choices that support our holistic wellness, including all facets of being human: physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social.

If your initial reaction to HAES is one of defensiveness, anger, or fear, take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to be present to your feelings. Acknowledge them. Honor them. Feel what it is to be fully human. And see if you can let HAES teach you how to hope. See if you can let it show you that you don’t have to beat your body into submission, or berate yourself for being imperfect. See if you can let it show you that your body is a precious gift that deserves to be treated well and allowed to simply be what it is.

This post is cross-posted from my counseling blog. Comments are turned off here, but please feel free to comment there! Also, feel free to add my counseling blog RSS feed to your feed reader.

August 26, 2011 / Katie

Fat Mary

 

I found this awesome depiction of a fat mother Mary on the Fat People Art Tumbler (originally via I Wear What I Wanna Do, who discovered the statue in Faro, Portugal).

 

August 6, 2011 / Katie

Shocking News: TSA Scanners Ineffective

Who’da Thunk’it?

German Study shows TSA scanners are “useless”

Body scanners being tested at Germany’s Hamburg airport have had a thumbs down from the police, who say they trigger an alarm unnecessarily in seven out of 10 cases, a newspaper said Saturday.

The weekly Welt am Sonntag, quoting a police report, said 35 percent of the 730,000 passengers checked by the scanners set off the alarm more than once despite being innocent.

The report said the machines were confused by several layers of clothing, boots, zip fasteners and even pleats, while in 10 percent of cases the passenger’s posture set them off.

Not to mention the things are like Disneyland for skeevy TSA agents and other onlookers. From Postsecret a few weeks back:

image of woman and male TSA agent with the text "when I see a hottie take off her boots and belt for TSA, I get an erection"

*shudder*

 

Our bodies are sacred; our right to privacy supreme. We should not be subjected to unhealthy radiation and have our constitutional right to privacy eroded just because we want to ride a plane George Soros and Michael Chertoff want to get richer.

July 6, 2011 / Katie

On Rational Arguments

I’m noticing a trend lately in a lot of liberal blogs that deal with issues of oppression and privilege, in which people are not bothering to make an actual, cogent argument demonstrating their claims of oppression

There’s this trend of saying, “I’m oppressed (or that other group over there is oppressed) because I say so, and if you don’t believe me, it’s because you’re privileged.”

But this can degenerate quickly. By this logic, anything can become an oppression. I can claim I have non-Android-user oppression because my spouse has access to all kinds of awesome apps that aren’t available on my iPhone and sometimes I feel sad or frustrated about that. Never mind that I have awesome apps not available to him, and that having a smartphone in the first place could never be related to an oppression that I face, but rather a privilege.

But I mean, seriously. If we don’t have any standard beyond “I feel bad and therefore I’m oppressed” then all of this becomes nonsense. If we can’t make a rational argument demonstrating, with evidence and clear logic, what that oppression consists of, then how can we even be sure it exists ourselves?

There are a lot of things I feel bad about. They are not all oppressions. There are a lot of ways people hurt me. They are not all oppressing me. The claim of oppression is weighty, and it requires serious intellectual weight behind it. No single one of us has to do that work alone, but we also can’t throw the value of that work out the window ala conservative anti-intellectuals claiming that logical discourse and information gathering aren’t as important as personal feelings.

July 5, 2011 / Katie

On Safe Spaces

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate over the years, particularly among Feminist and Fat Liberation blogs, about safe space. There are so many discussions examining the nuances of what safe space is, who it’s for, how it can be created, if it’s even possible, and whether it’s useful or harmful. I have seen well-reasoned, compassionate arguments on all sides, and I’ve seen snotty, hateful arguments on all sides.

I’m thinking about safe space today, because I do actually think safe space is important, but I think it’s also important that, like in all things, we are reflective about it and continually assessing and re-assessing the way we behave that creates safe space for people.

One thing I’m thinking about is how different spaces, times, places, and persons call for different standards of safe space. To illustrate this, I’m going to share (some of) the standards of safe space I uphold in my counseling office and then look at the standards of safe space that I enforce on this blog.

In my counseling office, clients can expect:

1. They will be treated like a human being, a person of great worth

2. I do not hold secret judgments about them. If I think I may have a correct interpretation about their intentions or feelings in a particular situation, I will check that interpretation with them to make sure I am on the right track.

3. I fiercely guard their confidentiality, not sharing information with others and taking extraordinary steps to guard digital information. I disclose—verbally and in writing—the exceptions to this (such as discussing cases with my supervisor or situations of legal mandatory reporting).

4. If I disagree with them about a belief or value that they hold, I will respect where they are coming from and will only challenge them if I have good reason to believe that their belief or value may be harming them in some way. I trust the client, however, and if they tell me I am wrong, I let it go.

5. I trust my clients to know what is best for them. I am the expert on psychotherapy in general, but they are the expert on themselves.

6. They will never experience ridicule or shaming behavior from me.

7. If a client is unhappy or concerned about something in therapy, they are free to share that with me without me becoming defensive, angry, or otherwise deflecting from the issue at hand. Their concerns are honored.

8. I will take responsibility for maintaining appropriate boundaries, both online and in “real life.” If a client attempts to initiate an inappropriate dual relationship, I will take responsibility for not crossing the line. I will communicate clearly what appropriate online boundaries are and will kindly enforce them when necessary.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. And as I said, I am continually re-assessing how I create space that is safe for clients. This world is so unsafe in so many ways, I want their experience of therapy to be an oasis from that. But being safe does not always mean being comfortable. In fact, it is in safe spaces where we become truly free to explore our painful emotions. Therefore, sometimes, within the safe space of my counseling office, I may challenge clients to re-think something that has become a stuck point for them. Sometimes they may need to sit with painful feelings or memories to find the healing that they need.

And on this blog, safety does not mean that you can literally say whatever you want without getting called out on it. The safe space of this blog is different from my counseling office in a number of ways. The most obvious one is that we have not created a therapist-client contract. Thus, I expect more in return from you. I expect more respect, kindness, compassion, and open-minded consideration of my viewpoint. I expect good faith reasoning, sticking to the facts, and avoiding personal attacks. I expect you to respect my boundaries.

On this blog, readers and commenters can expect:

1. While harder than in the counseling office, where I have a flesh-and-blood person sitting in front of me, I try my best to be mindful that commenters are human persons of sacred and inestimable worth, who deserve to be treated with respect.

2. I will not make judgments about motivations or intentions of a commenter without checking with them (e.g. “When you said ___________ I couldn’t help wondering if you are angry with me. Am I reading you right?”)

3. When I disagree with the commenter, I will stick to the facts. I will not use personal attacks, straw men, or other diversionary tactics. Therefore, when you comment here, you are not “safe” from critique of your arguments, but you are safe from personal attack by me and others. I will respond to and/or delete (depending on the severity) any comments which level a personal attack against another commenter.

4. All commenters will initially be assumed to be decent people responding in good faith unless they demonstrate reason for me to believe they are not.

5. I will clearly communicate my boundaries in a way that doesn’t attack you personally. If you have crossed one of my boundaries, I will clearly state that and tell you what actions I am taking in response (e.g. “I do not tolerate personal attacks against myself that are not substantiated with evidence. Because you are doing that in this comment, you will be temporarily put on moderation and I will not let such comments through in the future”). Thus, you will always know where you stand with me.

6. If I have done something that has hurt you or contributed to your oppression, you are safe to contact me and discuss it. I do not want anyone to leave here feeling hurt or rejected. This includes if you feel I wrongly put you on moderation, you were misunderstood, personally attacked, or felt that a post I made was oppressive to a privileged group of which you are a part.

7. I will not make accusations against you and attempt to keep you from responding. It is rare for me to make posts criticizing other bloggers in a personal way (beyond just the ideas of their posts), but in the extremely rare case that I do, I will contact that person privately first to see if the issue can be worked out. When I make the post or comment about what was said, I will quote the person exactly and in context to as accurately and respectfully as possible portray their viewpoint. I will always remain open to dialogue and will never ban someone from commenting on a post I have made about them.

Again, like with the counseling office examples, these are just examples and not an exhaustive list. I am still fleshing this out and thinking about what safe space means in the various contexts of my life. I’d love to hear from you, readers, how you negotiate the creation and maintenance of safe spaces in your life as a blogger, a professional, a friend, a spouse, a parent, etc.!

July 4, 2011 / Katie

Prayer for peace on the 4th of July

a sketch of a dove by PicassoI have mixed feelings about the US Independence Day, given that I enjoy any excuse to gather with loved ones but I also am fiercely not nationalistic.

Today in celebration of the US Independence Day, then, I give you this portion of one of my favorite hymns, This is my Song, sung to the tune of Finlandia. The author of these words is Lloyd Stone and it comes from the United Methodist Hymnal:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine,
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine,
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

July 4, 2011 / Katie

Class-Based Oppression: “Are Scottish People Oppressed?”

Update 7/8/11:

Two things of note. Sociological images has some great videos helping to explain what’s really going on with the Britain, and how Scotland is situated within it. What The Bleep is the United Kingdom?

I also want to highlight a great comment I got to this post by Johnny from Edinburgh, who shares his perspective as a 53-year-old Scottish man who has lived in both Scotland and America. Here’s a portion of his comment, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Thanks Johnny for your perspective!

From my perspective and experience, there’s a small amount of oppression directed against Scots *as* Scots in Europe, chiefly the UK. It seems to me to be largely the remnant of old stereotypes, and during my lifetime (I’m 53) I’ve seen it fade and become much less than it once was.

I didn’t encounter significant anti-Scots prejudice in the States, living there from 1980-2005. Mainly I encountered “cheap” jokes (by which I mean not poor quality jokes, but rather jokes about Scots being cheap), which again are a wee small annoyance rather than a major life issue.

 

————————–

I recently took some heat for questioning the idea that Scottish people, as a class, are oppressed. Someone had made a prejudiced comment about Scottish people and fried food. Another person was deeply incensed by this, claiming that it was oppression.  I am not convinced.

Now, fat oppression does exist. Fat people, as a class, experience demonstrable harms in a fatphobic society.

But prejudice is not the same thing as oppression. Not every prejudice is oppressive. If I am prejudiced against someone, it means I “pre-judge” them. I’ve got a confession: I am prejudiced against corporate CEO’s who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in companies that have terrible track records on fair wages, employee health benefits, etc. If I were to meet such a person, say a CEO of Wal-Mart, I would be immediately prejudiced against him.*  I will make judgments about his character—and not very nice ones—because I don’t think good people tolerate working in a place where they earn more money than they need off the backs of the poor.

I’m not “oppressing” mr. Wal-Mart CEO because I pre-judge him; because I am prejudiced against him. I have no social power with which to oppress him. The reason I have no social power to oppress him is that I don’t belong to a class which has social privilege over the class he belongs to.

This is why only people of color can be said to experience race-based class oppression. It doesn’t mean that people of color can’t be prejudiced against whites, but it does mean that even if they are prejudiced against whites, they are not oppressing whites.

image of "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers films

He's hated and ridiculed because he's fat, not because he's Scottish

So back to Scotland. Yes, it’s insulting and prejudiced to say hateful things about Scottish people as if they’re all grease-eating fat people ala Fat Bastard.*** But to do so is prejudiced—not oppressive—of the class of Scottish people. It’s oppressive, sure, but not oppressive of the class of Scottish people. Oppressive of the class of fat people. 

In fact, let’s think for a second about thin Scottish people. They may be offended by the stereotype that they and their people are all fat. But to jump to their defense as if a terrible insult has been leveled at them is in fact to say that it is a terrible insult to call a thin person fat. Thus the defense of Scottish people is then, itself, fatphobic!

I have seen no demonstrable evidence that Scottish people, as a class, are oppressed.** They may be subject to some pretty rotten discrimination, and that in itself sucks and is terrible. And fat Scottish people experience fat oppression because they are part of the class of fat people, not because they are part of the class of Scottish people.

It’s important to make the distinction between class-based prejudice and class-based oppression. Prejudice is arguably useful in some cases (see my Wal-Mart CEO example), and in other cases it is not loving or pro-community. In some cases it is harmful. But it is not materially the same thing as oppression.

Actually, I think this distinction is more than important, but rather it is crucial. Because if we don’t make this distinction, and we don’t give oppression the proper import, then we will never be able to move forward in the work of liberation. If prejudice against thin people is elevated to the same level of “problematicness” as oppression of fat people, then the conversation is over. If prejudice against people of color is elevated to the same level as racism, then the conversation is over. If any prejudice is elevated to the same level of import as any other oppression, then why bother?

In fact, seems like that would be a pretty useful tool of those who are privileged to divert energy away from liberating conversations, eh?

———————————————–

* I say “him” NOT because I have sexist connotations of all CEO’s as men, but because Wal-Mart has demonstrated itself to be an incredibly hostile work environment to women and the heads of the company are almost all, if not ALL, men.

** as always, I am open to new information to change my perspective

*** I had a terrible time finding an image of Fat Bastard online in which he was fully clothed and his whole body was shown. Most images of him were near-naked, many highlighting his breasts. Yet more evidence of the dehumanization and ridicule fat people experience.

March 12, 2011 / Katie

I am starting a mailing list

Hey folks, I am starting up a mailing list in my capacity as a psychotherapist and United Methodist Deacon. It will consist of monthly newsletters and the occasional announcement/informational email between, but no more than 2-3 emails per month. The newsletters will deal with a variety of topics relating to spirituality and mental health, with reflections and tips that I believe will be of value to readers.  Not every issue will deal with fat liberation, but some will (March’s issue addresses a question I received via formspring that is related to eating disorders).

If you’re interested in signing up to receive these emails, click here and fill in the form at the bottom of the left column.

You will receive a confirmation email, with a link you will need to click to confirm your subscription. You will be able to easily unsubscribe at any time.

And while I’m at it, let me also ask you: what sorts of things would you find of value in a monthly newsletter from someone with my unique combination of expertise in spirituality, mental health, and fat liberation?

March 11, 2011 / Katie

Fleshy Fridays: hugs & cuddles

Welcome to Fleshy Fridays, a place I set aside to talk about a specific thing I am grateful for about my body.

Today I am so grateful for my body’s ability to connect with the bodies of others in the form of hugs and cuddles. I’m not generally a big fan of touching people I won’t know well. But once I trust someone and consider them family or a close friend, I absolutely adore hugs and cuddles. I’m one of those people who can literally feel the physiological effects of touch within seconds. My blood pressure drops, my breathing slows down, and my heart rate decreases. That my body allows me to connect with the bodies of others in such a loving and life-giving way is an incredible gift.

Even better is that with a big, fat body the hugs and cuddles can be even more comforting. Talk about “fleshy”! When someone hugs me, they’re not just hugging a stick, they are hugging something that is solid and soft and envelops them in ways a thinner body never could. So hugging or cuddling with people whose bodies are my size or fatter is even better!

March 11, 2011 / Katie

Dear Lane Bryant, it’s over. It’s not me, it’s you.

I’ve noticed myself going to Lane Bryant less and less often for clothing. I don’t need to enumerate the problems with Lane Bryant’s styles, fabric choices, pricing, etc. But I at least still went there for bras, because I liked their periodic bra sales and I know exactly what size I am in Cacique, which makes bra shopping much easier. So I’m on the mailing list and I’ve been thinking about taking myself off of it, but I left myself on because of the alerts to the lingerie sales.

But this morning? I wake up to the following email subject from Lane Bryant: Tighten Your Tummy Instantly + Get Free Shipping.

I get enough body hate from other places; I don’t need it from LB too. So it’s over. No more of my money is going to support their overpriced, polyester-loving, ugly-pattern, body-hating business anymore.

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