Monday, April 5, 2010

Playing Friday Night - America the Beautiful

The Feminist Action Project is partnering with Body Positive Dance to bring the documentary America the Beautiful to campus for an open-to-the-public screening followed by a Q & A with the director himself, Darryl Roberts. Additionally, Roberts and Body Positive Dance founder, Ragen Chastain, are combining forces to participate in a panel discussion at the conference on Saturday, April 17th, focusing on the effects of idealized beauty in the lives of women. This discussion will include particular focus on the experiences of fat women and expose participants to the growing fat activist and health at every size movements.   

America the Beautiful explores idealized and unattainable standards of beauty. Roberts interviews a range of people including models, everyday people, cosmetic industry master minds, plastic surgeons, fashion photographers, and those in the marketing industry. These interviews are used to seek answers to questions like, “Why does America have such startling rates of body dismorphia, eating disorders, and poor body image?” and, “Who benefits from a culture of body shaming?” Roberts’ findings are a compelling introduction to the panel discussion and exploration of female perfection, fat activism, and feminism’s role in creating necessary change.

Fat activism and body positive activism are critical movements that reject and revise the photoshopped and airbrushed images that we see on a daily basis, understanding that these are unrealistic and harmful images to all people, particularly women. These movements seek to raise awareness to the various vehicles of body shaming and offer critical tools for all women, particularly fat women, to live healthy and happily in their bodies, no matter what size or shape they are.

The members of the Feminist Action Project recognize that the harmful effects of idealized feminine beauty effect women disproportionately. These effects include but are not limited to: discrimination, bullying, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and unhealthy lifestyles. Women make up 85 to 95% of those with anorexia nervosa and bulimia as stated by the Love Your Body project. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, breast augmentation and liposuction ranked first and second respectively as most popular cosmetic surgery procedures in 2008. Men composed 8% of the total number of plastic surgery patients. With these numbers in mind and your own experiences, it is glaringly obvious just how pervasive the messages are that we receive and their negative influences in our lives.

We are pleased to bring the Body Positive revolution to the 2010 conference. Raising consciousness to new thoughts and forms of activism is our goal. We believe that unlearning myths and stereotypes about fat people and the internalized fat phobia that many folks hold is an essential step in changing the current image of female beauty. Please join us in our steps to create a world where women are empowered and fully valued.

Who is Ragen Chastain? (Excerpts taken from a personal interview with Ragen)

Ragen is the founder of Body Positive dance, a non-profit designed to foster healthy habits, high self-esteem, and friendships through dance. She has started two successful businesses, is a National Champion Dancer, and recognizes her greatest accomplishment to be learning to love herself and her body, and to be truly happy living completely outside the cultural beauty norm. She self-identifies with the word fat and says:

It's always interesting to me (at 5'4 280lbs) when I say I'm fat and people say "no you're not".  Obviously I am fat and what those people are trying to say is "you're not all of the stereotypes that I have about fat people" - I think it's important to divorce the word fat from the stereotypes.  I absolutely reject "overweight".  Over what weight?  By whose standards?  It goes against my lifestyle of making healthy choices and letting my weight take care of itself.

She has seen success time and time again in her body positive approach to dance. She works with people with eating disorders, people with bigger bodies, beginning exercisers, college students, seniors, and anyone interested in learning to love the body they are in. She believes that the future of fat activism and body positive ideologies is hopeful. As the images of women portrayed in the media become more and more absurd, there seems to be a breaking point:

I do believe that body positive will go mainstream… At this point we have Ralph Lauren promoting an image of women who are photoshopped such that their heads are larger than their pelvises.  I think eventually no woman will be able to measure up and that's where you'll start to see a lot of pushback from a lot of people.

            You can find more information about Body Positive Dance and Ragen Chastain on her personal blog and the official Body Positive Dance website.


  1. @Rebecca

    The screening will be in Main 212 on the University of Texas campus. There is limited seating, so folks wishing to view the documentary should purchase tickets through Ragen and Body Positive Dance, or be registered with the conference.