Ladies and (possibly a handful of) gentlemen, I give you…..Ragen! Many of you probably already know her. She blogs at Dances With Fat, and she is fabulous. She inspires me. So without further ado:
“My feet hurt today. My knee has a sharp pain when I bend it, my hip aches, and my left hamstring still hurts.” Normally I wouldn’t admit any of these things, but I was I explaining this to my massage therapist. She was running late, so I had offered to talk in the lobby while her previous client was getting dressed so that I could speed us along.
I’m fat – 5’4, 280lbs. According to World Health Organization BMI scale I’m “Class III – Super Obese”. I’m as fat as you can get on the BMI Scale – maxed out as it were. According to what I read about people my weight I should probably be dead of fat, so the fact that any attempt to be ambulatory at my size only ended up with a little foot, knee, hip and hamstring pain should probably have me thanking my lucky stars.
According to the BMI chart it would seem that all of my problems would be solved by getting taller. Seriously, since BMI is just a ratio of height and weight, if I could find a way to get taller that would also apparently solve all of my pain. What they recommend though, is losing weight. Since this medical document also says that, were I “normal weight”, I would be “considered more attractive than [my] overweight and obese peers”, it’s possible that it would solve my dating problems too…although my quirky personality would remain, so I suppose there are no guarantees there.
At any rate, I don’t like to admit to hurting because I’m always afraid that people will think it’s because I’m fat. In reality it’s because I’m a …
“I used to be big too.”
I looked to my left and the gentleman, who I’ve never met before, is looking at me and whispering conspiratorially. I must have given him my patented “Oh what in fat hell?” look because he repeated himself in that same stage whisper “I used to be big too…” Undaunted by my heavy sigh and utter lack of interest he went on…”The hardest thing to do is start” he informed me earnestly, “it’s all about exercise. I know it’s hard but you can just start walking 5 minutes a day, then increase to 10. I walk 45 minutes a day and I’ve lost 45 pounds”. He executed a crescendo on the last sentence so that when he said “45 pounds” he was almost shouting and sticking out his chest with a level of pride I would personally reserve for the day that I cure cancer or climb Kilimanjaro.
I quelled my rage by reminding myself that he’s a product of our culture. You can’t swing a CNN news video without hitting an infomercial about how obese we all are and how it’s causing everything from cancer to global warming.
He doesn’t know that I’m a professional dancer. Every other dancer I know complains about pain all the time. They joke that it’s not that the injury goes away, it’s just that it moves around. They are wrapped up, braced, iced, heated and rested. I don’t want people to think that I hurt because I’m fat, so I rarely admit to being in any kind of pain to people outside of my close circle.
He doesn’t know that my feet hurt because I’ve danced 27 hours this week and was choreographing until 4am this morning. He doesn’t know that my knee hurts because I increased my leg press to 30 reps at 420lbs yesterday. He doesn’t know that my hip hurts because I have been jumping in the air and falling on it for a contemporary piece I’m working on, or that my hamstring hurts because I did a jump split without being properly warmed up (yup, that was dumb but that’s hardly the point right now…). He doesn’t know that his entire workout wouldn’t be a suitable warm-up for what I do. He’s taught not to consider those as possibilities. I silently prepare for a teachable moment, starting with gently enlightening him as to some of the aforementioned things that he didn’t know about me.
It turns out he was about to know all of those things, because my thin, quiet, massage therapist was opening a can of Whoop Ass. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t completely follow it – suffice it to say that she became some kind of Tasmanian Devil of Body Positivity. She started with a big How Dare You? There were middle bits about being closed-minded, uneducated and ignorant, a whole series of exasperated hand gestures, something about that if we started running he would be dead in a pile before I was warmed up, and she ended with “the next time you think about opening your mouth and spewing ignorant assumption at one of my clients…don’t”. His massage therapist, having heard this exchange as she walked around the corner, quickly called him back. As he went back she, also traditionally thin, admonished him for being rude, then walked back to me and apologized, saying that some people just don’t understand the difference between health and weight and that she would give him a free education with his massage today.
I got three lessons in about three seconds.
First, that I am grateful beyond words for my allies. The Body Positive Community needs all the allies that we can get and the way to do that is by treating all bodies the way that we would like ours to be treated. Both of these massage therapists have shared with me situations in which people my size said something nasty to them about being too thin. We who seek body acceptance must not try to make other people feel worse about themselves so that we can feel better. We need to hold ourselves to a much higher standard. We should be just as livid and vocal at someone saying that “real women have curves” (as if non-curvy women are somehow not real) as we are at someone wearing a No Fat Chicks shirt.
Second, I was reminded that I don’t get to choose who I’m an example to, only what I’m an example of. I try to live my life out loud and I keep finding that everything I hold back ends up holding me back. I’m a dancer. I’m in pain a lot. It’s part of the deal, it comes with the territory. It’s not because I’m fat, it’s because I ask my body to do extraordinary things and it does and the only price it extracts is a little pain. Henceforth I will stop hiding any pain that I’m in, and if people assume that it’s because of my size I’ll have an opportunity for a teachable moment. Maybe somewhere another woman will be inspired to accept the pain that comes with athletic activity without feeling shame that it’s because she’s fat.
Third, I remembered how profoundly grateful I am to my body and the amazing practitioners who keep it running. My massage therapist isn’t taking on any more clients so she’s asked not to be named in the blog. But I am also incredibly grateful to David Jones of Austin Healing Herbs and Acupuncture who has helped with everything from pulled muscles to insomnia and Kate Wodash of the Mindful Body Center Pilates without whose help I could never have done the splits in the in the first place, and who helped me develop the core strength that makes my speed and grace possible. And my body – thanks for breathing, walking, doing the splits, and moving all that blood around all the time – you do a great job and I really appreciate you!
So my feet hurt today, and that’s ok.
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Un-Roast: Today I’m in love with my whole body. I love the shape of it, I love all the crazy athletic things that it does, but most of all I love the millions of things it does for me without me even having to ask: breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, blinking, the list goes on and on and I am a million times grateful for all of those million things.
Ragen Chastain resides in Austin, Texas and is a three-time National Dance Champion, Motivational Speaker on the topics of Self-Esteem and Body Image, and Executive Director of Body Positive Dance, a non-profit that encourages healthy habits, high self-esteem, and friendships through dance. She teaches public classes and private workshops and choreographs, directs and performs with the the Body Positive Dance Team – an International Award Winning adult jazz company made up of people of all sizes.