Later this month several plus size experts and celebrities will join Ragen Chastain for her annual Happy HAES Holidays Workshop. With tons of mixed messages around food and trying to set weight neutral resolutions, this group of speakers will give you information and ideas to support you having a happy holiday season.
In this interview Ragen Chastain opens up about the Happy HAES Holidays Workshop, Support All Kids Billboard Project and her journey as a plus size woman.
What made you get involved with the conversation on self-esteem and body image?
After recovering from an eating disorder I became determined to learn to love myself as I was. After evaluating my life I realized that I had spent so much time hating my body for not fitting a stereotype of beauty that I hadn’t spent any time being grateful for what it did for me. As I explored my relationship with my body further I started to see how that stereotype of beauty was an illusion and how beautiful my body, and every body, was. I become an activist when I returned to dance in 2004 and found out how much weight prejudice and bigotry existed in the sport which opened my eyes to the weight prejudice and bigotry that exist in the world at large. I couldn’t stay quite about it so I started my blog and became a Size Acceptance Activist.
What were you doing before becoming a public speaker?
I was a business operations consultant. I worked with clients from non-profits to mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 100 companies, including work as a turnaround CEO. I still do some consulting with businesses helping them work more effectively with employees and customers of size.
What were your feelings on size acceptance growing up?
I was always a big kid but I was also athletic and so I didn’t really think a lot about it. I now realize that as a kid I always had a much wider view of beauty than the social construct but at the time it wasn’t clear to me.
Please tell me about the Support All Kids Billboard Project?
When I found out that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta had created a billboard campaign that shamed kids in the name of making them healthier I wanted to do something. Well Rounded Mama left a comment on my blog saying that she wished we could have a billboard of our own. I loved the idea and so I decided to take it on as a project. I got a lot of pushback that it was impossible, I also got a lot of support from everyone from More of Me to Love who put up a $5,000 challenge donation, Marilynn Wann and Shannon Russell who helped with ideas and coordination, Sabrina Wilson and Elizabeth Tamny who did graphic design, even Allen Chanaberry from Adout Billboard company who helped us get a great deal on our billboards. The community came through big time. Our goal was to raise $10,000 to put up 1 billboard. Tens of thousands of people helped get the word out, over 1,000 donated and we ended up raising over $21,000 in 8 days and put up 6 billboards and 10 bus shelter signs around Atlanta that encouraged people to stop the weight bullying and sent them to www.supportallkids.com website. I’ve been told that it’s the biggest project in Size Acceptance history – I don’t know if that’s true or not but I was incredibly proud of how the community came together to support these kids.
Why are projects like Support All Kids important?
They are important to the Size Acceptance community because it gives us a chance to come together, accomplish something big, and realize how powerful we can be. They are important to society because they gives people an opportunity to see a difference perspective than that constant drumbeat of thin=healthy and learn about options like Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size. It’s also very important for companies to know that this won’t go unchecked – that people will stand up and fight back against weight stigma and bullying.
Tell me about the HAES Holidays Workshop?
During the holidays I get flooded with e-mails from blog readers – 200-300 a day – asking for support around things like dealing with family and work gatherings, setting New Year’s Resolutions that aren’t about weight loss, and dealing with the stress of all the extra dieting commercials and talk. I decided to bring together a panel of experts to give information to help support people and answer these questions. There are 5 experts covering everything from fat fitness resolutions, to fat fashion, to the family food police. Each talk will contain information and a question and answer session so that people can get exactly what they need. They’ll be done by teleconference so participants can call in from wherever they are, and they’ll be recorded so that people can listen to anything they miss or want to hear again. It’s really important to me that it’s accessible and so the registration is name your own price.
What type of impact do you want the workshop to have?
Whether or not someone actually celebrates a holiday during this season it can be extremely stressful. I hope that this workshop will give people support and information to help them get through it feeling relaxed and empowered to handle every situation.
What keeps you motivated to discuss this topic?
I get e-mails every day from people who are suffering because of weight stigma, bullying and oppression. I meet people all the time who hate their bodies because they think that there’s no other option. People who, like almost everyone, fail at dieting again and again, blame themselves and are starting another diet because they want to be healthy and they don’t even know that Health at Every Size gives them an evidence-based option to pursue health from a weight-neutral perspective. I am lucky enough to have heard about these options, have access to the information and evidence, and, I’m told, have a knack for explaining them – so I want to spend my life letting as many people as possible know about these options because I also get e-mails every day from people who took those options, did the hard work, and have much better lives because of it and that’s something I very much want to support.
What is your personal motto regarding size acceptance?
Every body is amazing. If you think about all the things that your body is doing right now to support you – breathing, blinking, heart beat. There are millions of thing that your body does for you without you asking, let alone allowing you to do every single thing that you do – smile, hug, walk or wheel around. Every body is amazing.
Does this message ever get old?
No. There are people who don’t even know about Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size yet. Each person is, of course, allowed to make whatever choices they want about their body image and health, but there are so many people who haven’t even had the chance to evaluate SA and HAES as options, so we’ve got to keep getting the word out there. I once did a quick experiment and found that a fat person gets up to 386, 170 negative messages about our body each year. People try to shame us “for our own good” in the logic-defying hope that we’ll hate ourselves healthy. The government is waging war on us because of how we look, the diet industry is making $60 billion a year selling a product to us that they are legally required to say doesn’t work each time they try to sell it. We can use every single positive message that we can get to fight the ceaseless negative messages that we have to deal with. Every person of every size has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the body they have now. Weight stigma, bullying, and oppression get in the way of that and so we have to end them, and we can’t say that enough.
For More Ragen Chastain
- Blog: www.danceswithfat.org
- Website: www.sizedforsuccess.com
- Co-founder: www.fitfatties.com
- Founder: www.BetterThanTheBullies.com
- Sign the Petition: www.change.org/petitions/barney-s-leave-minnie-mouse-alone