Dances With Fat, FitFatties, Ironfat, and Sized for Success are a few brands known to the world spreading body positive content and motivation all over the world. CURVY sat down with the woman behind it all, Miss Ragen Chastain. It was a pleasure learning about what inspires her to keep her head up and do exactly what she wants to do while facing adversity from online threats to stalkers showing up to her events. She is the embodiment of love and positive self-expression. Keep reading to find out what makes Ragen tick as she tells all to CURVY.
So learning about you and who you are, was there a particular event in your life that made you turn on the switch to make dancing a part of your life ?
Ragen Chastain: I loved dancing as a kid. I stopped dancing in college and then as an adult I had decided that as soon as I lost weight I was going to do all the things that I ever wanted to do, which included dancing. So I was spending a lot of time sitting around waiting for a different, thinner body to show up. One day I got sick of waiting for a thin body and decided that I was just going to take my fat body out for a spin. That coincided with me starting to take dance lessons with a friend. People suggested that we should consider competing and we went to a dance competition and got totally hooked, got ourselves a coach and stated competing.
With the recent popularity of the plus size community in the fashion world, do you think this movement is having a positive or negative effect on our community?
Ragen: I think that fashion is such a big part of so many people’s lives and that it has historically been created to exclude, often specifically and purposefully, plus size women. It’s important that people of all sizes have access to the clothes that they want to wear, whether that’s yoga pants and a sports bra, or haute couture, and I appreciate the people who are working to make that happen in the fashion world.
I think that fashion, used as a way to express ourselves can be an amazing thing for those who are interested, but I also think that we need to take care not to suggest that people should have to take an interest or to use fashion as a method of oppression or to keep existing marginalization – like sizeism, classism, and racism – in place. We should be for everyone having the same options, not for telling anyone who the have to dress.
I am also concerned with the way that the discussion is often led by “plus size models” who are either on the small side of plus sizes, or who, in fact, don’t fit into plus sized clothes at all, who are anxious to shed the label of “plus.” I think that before we talk about getting rid of the idea of “plus size” we should first focus on making sure that plus size people have the same clothing options as straight size people – including selection, style, price points, the ability to get clothes in stores and not just online so that everyone can wear what makes them happy.
When beginning your blog “dances with fat” did you originally seek out to spread a message or personal chronicles that blossomed into something bigger ?
Ragen: The blog started as a way to chronicle my experiences as a fat dancer. The more I wrote about my experiences the more I realized that they were part of a more global experience that people of size were having. As a queer woman I had done a lot of work around queer rights activism, but I had never thought about the fact that I experienced oppression and marginalization as a fat person and that I had every right to speak out about that as well. So I started using the blog to look at my experiences and at the larger treatment of fat people, and I started to learn more about the histories and the people who were involved with Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, and my blog blossomed into something much bigger.
Do you have a favorite style of dance that you personally enjoy ?
Ragen: I love the Country Western ballroom dances and competition two-step, though it doesn’t look anything like the two-step that you might see at a bar, is definitely a favorite.
Give us a few of your favorite songs to bust a move to.
Ragen: One of my favorite routines that I’ve ever choreographed is to the fabulous Ruth Brown’s “If I Can’t Sell It” and one of my favorite partner dance routines (choreographed by Rowdy Dufrene) was to Bette Midler’s “I’m Beautiful Damn It” (https://www.youtube.com/
How do you handle criticism, I know it’s 2016 but people are always going to have their opinion whether it’s legitimate or ignorant. How do you normally react?
Ragen: I get what (used to be, to me) a shocking amount of hate mail. I get e-mails and blog comments every day, online forums and even websites dedicated to hating me and spreading lies about me so I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with this. Sometimes I laugh at it – I have a special website dedicated to making fun of them (www.danceswithfat.com/hate) Mostly I ignore it – I think that the best defense is often to let people see how ridiculous these people are. When things start to affect my life – they e-mail people who book me to speak trying to get them to cancel, or when they start cyber stalking me (posting maps from my house to where I work out) or when they stalk me in person (showing up at triathlon I’m competing at and taking pictures and video of me and my family etc.) or when they send threats of physical violence or death threats, then I monitor (there are a group of people who help me with this so I don’t have to read all of it) and report it.
I’m certainly not the only person who deals with this – other fat women who do size acceptance work get the same type of treatment and I think it shows the state of sizeism that exists in the world. I also think it’s important that I don’t let them affect my life because that teaches them that their tactics work.
What would you say to someone looking to get into dance but not quite secure in their own skin ?
Ragen: Do it! If you’re not ready to take a class, you can find lots of classes on video or Youtube and just have a dance party in your living room. And then consider going out and taking that class – every time we go out into the world and do our thing – whatever our thing is – we become role models for other people who’ve been told by the world that they should put their lives on hold until the have the “perfect body!” So whatever the thing is that you want to do – whether it’s dance, or joining a knitting group, or going to punk rock camp – do the thing!
What’s next for you girlie ?
Last words for the readers
Ragen: If you’re sitting around, waiting for another body to show up – if you’ve put your life on hold until you look a certain way or weight a certain amount – then consider taking the body that you have out for a spin and living the life you want in the body you have today, and tell anyone who tries to stop you that they’ll have to sell their body shame somewhere else, because you’re not interested.
Learn more about Ragen Chastain on www.danceswithfat.org