Holley Mangold and The Biggest Loser

MangoldI got a note today that Olympic weight lifter and glorious fat athlete Holley Mangold will be appearing on the next season of The Biggest Loser. This breaks my heart. I don’t know Holley’s reasons for accepting their invitation (or even if she actively pursued it), but I do know one thing: Holley does not accept herself for who she is. If she did, there would be no reason for her to step on the show. I don’t know what she dislikes about herself that she thinks needs improving. I mean – for crying out loud, the woman’s an Olympic champion! She should be on top of the world! But clearly, she feels something is missing, and that it has to do with her body not being what she wishes it were.

So I wrote Holley a note:

Holley, I am so very sorry to hear that you are supporting The Biggest Loser as it continues its reign of hatred degrading and humiliating people who don’t fit society’s vision of perfection.

I don’t know and cannot judge your reasons for doing so, but I can tell you what I see when I look at you.

I see an athlete.

Beyond that, I see a world-class, gold-medal champion athlete, an amazing warrior who has shown the world that you don’t have to be thin to be strong, athletic, fit, and FIERCE. I see a trendsetter who has given so many of us a new role model to look up to and emulate. I see an Amazon Warrior Goddess who didn’t merely break the fragile mold society has tried to fit you into, but who exploded out of it and said, “I’m here and I’m awesome!!”

Sadly, that message will be damaged, perhaps irrevocably, by your willingness to submit to the ugly, bodyshaming pressure of Jillian Michaels. The message you will be sending to boys and girls of all sizes is that others have the right to speak to them hatefully, torture their bodies, and browbeat them into submission to outrageous demands. This message tells kids that fat people do not deserve respect, do not have the right to make their own choices, and do not even have the right to govern their own bodies. (This also lays the groundwork for furthering the notion prevalent in rape culture that a woman’s body is not her own, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax.)

I am so sad to think of the message this sends to young female athletes who may also not fit society’s mold. I am really heartbroken to think that they will be learning – or, more accurately, being reinforced in the social belief – that they are not good enough just because they don’t fit an arbitrary societal standard; that their skills and passions and dedication are worth nothing if those things don’t also make them thin. What a sad and pointless message.

I really hope and pray that I’m being melodramatic here and that by some miracle this show comes off with the understanding that fat and fit are not antonyms, but considering their track record, I sorely doubt it.

My Internal Clock

Broken ClockDancer and fat activist blogger Ragen Chastain wrote a blog post yesterday about “looking the part” of a dancer. That led, as it always does, to some wonderful tangential conversation in the comments section. A couple of those commenters mentioned eating disorders (EDs), primarily in disparaging tones, and that led me down a rabbit trail of my own. I started to respond.

“So many of us battle EDs. It’s tragic. I’m with you – I’ve been fighting with mine for over 25 years,” I wrote, and then I had an epiphany. This isn’t about fighting or battling – this is about living with. So I started re-writing.

So many of us – men and women; fat, thin, and in-between; old folks, young folks, and the middle aged all mixed together – live with EDs of varying types. I’ve been living with mine (ED-NOS, compulsive eating) for over 25 years.

I could still say that I’ve been fighting with it, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Oh, I’ve done battle with it in fits and spurts, it’s true, and I’ve fought it for supremacy of my heart, mind, soul, body, and spirit, but here’s the truth: ED has been my best friend and confidante for most of my life. I have loved ED with all my heart. I have wooed ED like a lover and allowed it sovereignty inside of me. I have railed against it, abused it, cajoled it, accused it, and developed a deep and abiding relationship with it. The fighting is only a small part of that. I have used ED to comfort myself, to maintain an illusion of control, and to avoid handling what I didn’t want to deal with. ED has done a remarkable job of doing exactly what I’ve asked it to do time and time again.

SurvivalHere’s a radical thought about ED: anyone with an ED is to be commended for developing it. You know why? We survived. We were faced with untenable or unpalatable situations and we needed to figure out how to survive, so we developed a coping mechanism all by ourselves to help us get through. We didn’t have help; we had to do it on our own, and we did it. That’s not sickness, that’s ingenuity; that’s creativity; that’s survival. We figured out a way to survive, and we are to be applauded for that.

So here’s another new and radical thought. I don’t need to look at ED as if it were an evil entity out to overpower me and possess my soul. ED is not out to control me; ED was designed to protect me – it’s just doing a lousy job of it these days because it’s worn out. It’s a broken piece of internal machinery that has outlived its usefulness.

Think about a broken clock. A clock is a helpful item and tells us what time it is and helps us get where we need to go on time. A clock is a clever invention and a good thing to have. Once that clock breaks, however, it can’t do its job anymore. It can’t keep us on track, and it can’t get us where we need to be on time. If we stubbornly insist on trying to use that broken clock, we’re going to miss out on a lot of life.

So what do we do with a broken clock? I don’t know about you, but I don’t get mad at it and smash it to splinters or scream and cry about how much I hate it because it’s caused me to miss out. I get a little sad that my nice clock broke, but then I get up and throw the it in the trash and go out and buy a new clock.

Why do I treat ED any differently? Why haven’t I recognized before how much of my precious time and energy I waste when I choose to hate and berate ED and focus on all the pain it’s caused me – as if it were all ED’s fault? (What’s that, Attila? It doesn’t matter why? Oh, yeah. Right.) Ahem. Attila the Ass-Kicking Therapist says that the why doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take my new knowledge and reflect on it and then do something about it. Attila is right. (Don’t tell her I said that.)

So I’m going to take a moment and reflect on what a waste of my precious energy it is to spend so much time and life in hating ED. It’s time to change that paradigm. It’s time to thank ED for all the service it’s done me in helping me cope with and avoid difficult situations for 25 years. It’s not ED’s fault that I haven’t used its services appropriately; it’s done its job to the best of its ability, and I feel like I need to step back and acknowledge that and acknowledge that I loved my ED.

And then I need to let it go.

Maybe I shouldn’t personify ED, but at the moment, that works for me. And I’m not saying everyone needs to embrace my idea of looking at ED the way I’m trying to (I mean – remember the Underpants Rule, y’all), but I haven’t found that hating it has helped me much. In fact, it seems to have kept me obsessed with disordered eating, much to my chagrin. So it’s time to let it go and find something healthier to replace it with.

Anyone up for crocheting?

weigh down

Update on Confidence

Update: I received a very polite response this evening from the magazine’s editor. Here’s what she had to say:

Hello Amy and thank you for your email – I am very interested in your story.
I concede I didn’t realise a small group of larger women would take this so literally or seriously. The ‘rock a swimsuit’ is a rather flippant frame of reference, which is a relatable scenario or imagining for most women.

We will all be confronted with images of ‘perfect bodies’ in swimsuits over the next few months. And, with very close experience with near-fatal effects of body-bashing, my mission was to undermine the mentality that you are your body, or that it is any indicator of one’s worth.

Let me be clear on my personal belief, that you are as worthy as I and vice versa. The right to feel good about yourself is a birth right I hate to think could be taken from either of us. Yet, as individuals we also have limited control. Reality will not go away, so we must choose how we respond – noone can make us feel bad without our permission.

I appreciate your experience and views and feel they suggest a debate that needs to be had separately.

To quote you, “Peace”, Amy.

I really appreciate that she took the time to respond to me, and that she spoke so well about her mission. I responded.

I really appreciate your answer today. Thank you.

I am incredibly sorry to hear that you have had such hideous experiences with body-bashing as well. I have lived through a lot of that kind of ugly in my life. None of us deserve it. I truly love that your mission is to undermine that negative mentality. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do in a broader sense.

You say we have limited control – I presume you mean limited control of what occurs outside of us, and with that I heartily agree. I disagree, however, with your assertion that “reality will not go away.” The fact that you work in this arena tells me that you don’t truly believe that. I think we both believe that we have the power to change reality one person at a time by challenging assumptions and societal standards and bringing them up for free and open debate. Even you who are working in this arena – which is tremendous! – were challenged by several of us about the arbitrary requirements of this program. The very fact that you didn’t realize the way this might be taken by larger women is indicative of the fact that the status quo IS changing because we DID challenge it, and I think that’s pretty phenomenal. Keep on that mission, Rebecca – in all its forms.

Again, thank you for taking your time to respond.

The Truly Confident Woman – Me

So today I ran across an ad from an Australian health magazine looking for “body image-spiration from confident women!” Well, that’s me!

Or not.

Turns out, I am not their vision of a confident woman. Apparently that descriptor doesn’t apply to those of us outside their target range of sizes 12-16. I find that a bit appalling and unpleasant. What does my size have to do with my confidence level? In the months since I gave up hating my body for being too fat for society and stopped trying to change my body to conform to unrealistic societal standards, I’ve grown to see just how prevalent this debilitating trend is for women. We do not only have worth when we are below a size 12. We do not only have worth when others tell us we have worth. We are not beautiful because we have an athletic frame. We are beautiful because we exist.

So I responded to the notice. I doubt I’ll hear from them, but that’s beside the point because they needed to hear from me.

As a size 32, I rock my swimsuit. I love my body because I no longer believe that my body is anything but deserving of love, respect, and dignity, and I no longer believe that my value is based on an arbitrarily numbered one-inch square of fabric sewn into my clothes. Apparently, however, you don’t share my sentiments as you have locked your size requirements at 16. Basically this screams to me and so many other folks that you believe that those of us outside those very narrow parameters don’t have the right to wear swimsuits, or that if we choose to wear them, we could not possibly “rock” them, as you’ve put it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I behold beauty as something so much deeper than just a body size. That is the shallowest determinant of anything. Body size and shape tell you nothing of the person inside. Beauty is who you are. How do you treat people? Are you interested in others, or only yourself? Do you believe in yourself? Do you judge others based on superficial characteristics? Do you have integrity? Do you choose to do the right thing even when it’s difficult? Beauty is strength, passion, courage, energy, positivity, and so much more. Beauty has nothing to do with what’s on the outside.

Am I fat? You bet your butt I am. I’m also healthy, beautiful, kind, sensitive, passionate, courageous, bold, positive….the list just grows. That is what makes me beautiful, and it has nothing to do with a size or a swimsuit. Peace.

What I Behold


I named him Mervyn, and he's beautiful to me.

Whenever someone calls me beautiful, I feel so amazing that I glow for hours, so from now on I’m going to start every day by looking in the mirror and calling myself beautiful.

I have self respect; your argument is invalid

I wrote this today as a comment to a gentleman who indicated that the lush and luscious model Tara Lynn “needed” to go to the gym and that she was only gorgeous because she happened to have a beautiful face. To that I say, “PFFT.” I liked what I wrote so well that I wanted to preserve it so I can refer to it myself when I need a reminder of who I am and what I am. I didn’t relate this piece to who I am in Christ, but that certainly forms the basis for these beliefs about myself.

Tara Lynn

The glorious Tara Lynn

Sir, you state your opinions as if they were objective fact, and you state that my being nice doesn’t make me “correct.” Of course it doesn’t; being nice has nothing to do with being correct. The problem, however, is that in matters of opinion, “correct” doesn’t exist, and neither does objective fact.

For the record, no, there actually is no such thing as “ugly.” There’s no such thing as “beauty,” either, and for the same reason – even in a conformist society, everyone has an individualized ideal of beauty. Your statement, on the other hand, makes it sound as if you think there’s some unbiased determination of what constitutes beauty, but that’s a position born from your privileged paradigm as a heterosexual White American male living in a patriarchy. Beauty is nothing more than a socially constructed, culture-centric concept that we internalize through socialization. It’s often based on economics as much as on personal aesthetic sense. In poor societies, weight traditionally has been prized as a measure of wealth. Look at what was considered beautiful 500 years ago, or even 50 years ago. For that matter, check out contemporary standards of beauty in Jamaica, Polynesia, West Africa, India, and other cultures. VASTLY different from Eurocentric standards. Nothing about that is objective.

Today, in this country, it costs more to be thin, so thinness has become the prized standard of wealth here, particularly as applied to women, followed closely by the ability to manipulate the body into unnatural forms through costly medical procedures and chemical treatments. (All of this is also still based on the construction of patriarchy because it’s generally women who are subjected to these standards of image as adjuncts to the men in their lives, but that’s a whole ‘nuther can o’ worms).

Back to the main point, let’s compare the works of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Jackson Pollock. I do not find their work uniformly beautiful, yet each one has his passionate devotees. For example, while I adore most of Van Gogh’s ouvre, and can recognize the fascinating perspective of Picasso, Pollock’s work, to me, has no rhyme or reason. The beauty in their work eludes me, but that’s simply my opinion. I don’t get to determine their appeal to everyone. You may think they’re brilliant artists. Who am I to tell you that you’re wrong? It’s about you and what you think and me and what I think – as individuals. We do not have to agree on anything, and that’s the beauty of living in a diverse world.

Van Gogh, "Café Terrace at Night"; Picasso, "Girl on a Pillow"; Pollock, Unknown

Body size-wise, I  know several fat professional dancers. They eat nutritiously, work out strenuously an average of 5 hours a day yet are not thin. Their leg presses are out of this universe. Their labs are clean, their blood pressures normal. They have incredible stamina. In short, they are perfectly healthy. Thinness is simply not in their genetic makeup and they do not feel a need to cave to arbitrary social standards and are, in fact, deliberately challenging those standards. You may think they are ugly because they don’t fit your ideal, but you do not get to state that as fact because it simply isn’t fact.

Tara Lynn (the model in the photo) is absolutely gorgeous as is, and that’s not just my assessment – she works as a professional model, so clearly there is a significant portion of a particularly harsh image-related population that disagrees with your evaluation. She doesn’t “need” to hit the gym or some man’s bedroom (patriarchal subjugation rears its head again) in order to be validated because she’s happy with who she is and she doesn’t see her value in terms of how others view her. She doesn’t need anyone’s approval to be OK with being herself. She has no obligation to live up to anyone’s standards of beauty, character, size, or health but her own.

I recently made the choice – and it is absolutely a choice – to view people as individuals and to celebrate their individual beauty. As a result, I have found more joy in the world, more peace within myself, and contentment with who and where I am. I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be myself and I’m content to let others make choices for their own lives. I no longer feel that I need or even have the right to set standards for others to follow because I’m happy with myself where I am, a position that I fought long and hard to achieve, and recognize that others have the same right of self-determination that I do. But still I choose to fight against stereotypes and narrow ideals of beauty – not to tell someone that his ideal is wrong, but to point out that there are other ideals out there. It’s hard to command  respect as a fat woman in this world because we are so often denigrated, but I will no longer accept less.