the HAES® files: Dana in the Lion’s Den

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Dana Schuster, MS

Dana & LionsHere I am again, headed into another lions’ den. A lone HAES® believer who will knowingly and with advanced warning, find herself amidst a crowd of anti-obesity warriors for a full day or longer. The dilemma that usually leads me to take this on (over and over) is fairly simple. I think, “If I don’t go, who will speak up with the healing truth of the Health At Every Size® paradigm and challenge the damaging lies of the fat-must-be-eradicated viewpoint?” Regardless of the specific focus of the event, which could be anything from conquering childhood obesity to promoting workplace wellness, the culturally embedded and unquestioned belief in the benefit of weight loss will undoubtedly be prevalent in the presentations, breakout sessions, and/or casual discussions. After all, these events do carry an “obesity prevention” label so this isn’t exactly a quantum leap of awareness.

While I do consider my available emotional resources and reservoir of sanity points before signing up for these types of events, it is almost always the case that in the calm of registering several months out from the workshop or conference in question, I will think “SURE – I can do this!” As the event gets closer however, and particularly in the day or two immediately preceding my in-the-flesh attendance, it is not uncommon for me to experience growing fear and trepidation creeping in. That’s when my inner voices start the debate:

  • I just don’t know if I can endure a room full of fat-hating people right now (You already paid—you can’t waste the money!)
  • I really don’t feel I have the energy or bravery for this (But it’s a perfect opportunity to speak up for the HAES model!)
  • I’ll probably just get totally pissed off and not be effective anyway (If you don’t go then everyone will only hear the status quo BS!!)

Interesting how I experience the rebuttal voice in bold with exclamation points, isn’t it? Perhaps it is because the wavering voice feels to be mine alone, while the other voice is bolstered in my mind by the brave voices of colleagues I know who also take on these types of challenges.

Another pre-event trap that I tend to set for myself: the ensnarement of “you have to be armed with the latest research references so you have absolute proof of others’ wrongness.” While I am well aware (on some level) that this is definitely not my personal area of strength, I may still let this one whack me around for a while as if it was part of some written commandment tied to becoming a member of the HAES community. Hand-in-hand with this research review is the “responsibility” of finding out as much as I can about the conference sponsor(s) and the presenters. All with the hope that any comments I make will be so targeted and evidence-based that they will be clearly irrefutable once others have heard the “truth”.

Now, really, I know better than to believe this type of BS. My personal experiences of witnessing those of you who are brilliant research- and data-oriented HAES advocates, more than refutes this as a potential infallible strategy. The blank looks and the staunch resistance of the”true believers,” not to mention those with careers that depend on promoting weight loss, remain remarkably present even when you have so convincingly and clearly presented the evidence disproving their approach.

And, of course, there is my awareness that my fat-bodied presence in itself is likely to be judged as problematic and/or proof that my size-supporting point of view is simply self-serving. This can lead to additional little tendrils of uneasiness trying to wrap themselves around the doubting side of my inner debate.

For the most part, I do not succumb easily to this last particular form of bullying and instead, remain confident in my absolute right to be who I am, and to share a perspective that is both factually valid and liberating in the face of oppression. In addition, I am, without a doubt, buoyed by knowing there are so many of you out there stepping up and making a difference by your HAES presence day after day. So, as I face my strongest doubt that night before whatever event is the next on my list, I make the following promises to myself:

  • I agree to make the final decision in the morning and ensure that I have enough time for the answer to be yes or no
  • Assuming I attend as planned, I will arrive early enough to not have to rush around parking, walking to the venue, or finding a seat of my preference
  • IUntitled will take notes and write down the egregious things presenters say with sidebars about my feelings such as “this is bull$*&%” or “WTF?!” or little angry frowning faces
  • If I feel myself slipping closer to homicidal thoughts, I will send a text or email to my HAES colleagues and ask for their support
  • I will leave early if I need to

As Fall Ferguson noted in her recent post, there are times when “it feels harder to do the harder things.” And so sometimes I know I will forge ahead and face those lions, and other times I will choose to stay home and regroup.

This time, the morning came, and off I headed to promote peace for my body and for the besieged bodies of others…and I have well illustrated notes to prove it.

10 Comments to “the HAES® files: Dana in the Lion’s Den”

  1. As one of the many others living in besieged bodies, who are served by your courageous ventures into such venues, I acknowledge, appreciate, and am grateful for you and every such step you take. AmpleThanks, Dana, for your bravery and dedication. Kudos, too, for modelling such lovely balance between forging ahead and exquisitely, sensitively, taking good care of you.

  2. Dana, You’ve been inside my mind (especially, “I must have the latest research” for me it must be memorized (doesn’t happen–even when it’s in my head, nerves cause it to leave). It was comforting to read my thoughts/fears so eloquently reflected in your words. Thank you! Doris

  3. Thank you so much for your hard work! *HUGS*

  4. Thank you. You are a blessing to so many of us.

  5. Grateful, grateful thanks to you, Dana. And happy to be walking this path with you!

  6. “And, of course, there is my awareness that my fat-bodied presence in itself is likely to be judged as problematic and/or proof that my size-supporting point of view is simply self-serving. ”

    I find that I can no longer debate disbelievers on the topic of weight loss (formally or informally) because I can no longer “pass” for a close-enough-to-normal sized person to be taken seriously on this topic. They already believe that no matter what I say, it is all part of my own (which they are SURE is part of my problem) “denial” and self-delusion about the alleged emergency-style dangerousness of my own body.

    A corollary to that is that I can no longer get any kind of health care other than weight loss advice because whatever issue I present to my health care provider, she regards me as just “avoiding” the MUCH MORE CRITICAL fact that I am fat.

    Maybe if I have a heart attack or die or something, they might notice that. But probably the only thought/comment anybody will have is, “Well, what did she expect? She’s been OBESE for a long time and SHE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.”

  7. You’re inside my head. Hang in there. Or don’t. Do what works for you. We love you.

  8. I’ve done this at conferences too, and it certainly is a difficult place to be in. Sometimes it’s better for our sanity and well-being to not go, but it’s so important to plant those seeds of cognitive dissonance. What to do?!?

    It’s hard to balance those two priorities. Whatever decision you make we support you!

  9. Dana, thank you so much for sharing this. I think we all have our own insecurities and doubts, especially when we feel outnumbered by the opposition. When I met you, I remember being so impressed by your confidence and poise and wishing I had just a fraction of that. It’s empowering to hear you’re not alone when all these thoughts go through your head. It’s also a good reminder to be self aware enough to evaluate where we are emotionally before jumping into battle. Excellent post, as always.

  10. Dana, I really appreciate this piece! As an event coordinator in our community I’d love to hear about what practices can be put in place to make events more comfortable – emotionally, psychologically and physically. Given that you are putting yourself out there, doing the work of showing up and being visible – what could the organizers do to make your experience safer or in the very least less difficult. What are the ways to better support the (possibly lone) dissenting voice and encourage diversity?

    I am in awe of your courage and strength – and I’m thankful that people like you face these challenges to get the message front and center.

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