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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Activist Ragen Chastain talks weight science, body appreciation at IMU lecture

The talk, titled “The World is Messed Up, You are Fine,” was held in the IMU on Tuesday night.
Gabby Drees
The Iowa Memorial Union is seen at the University of Iowa on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022.

Ragen Chastain — activist, author, athlete, researcher, speaker, and Guinness World Records award winner for being the heaviest woman to complete a marathon — spoke during a University Lecture Committee event at the Iowa Memorial Union at 7 p.m. 

In her lecture titled, “The World is Messed Up, You are Fine,” Chastain spent the evening discussing not only her findings about weight science and weight stigma in health care but also emphasizing various mindset shifts for people to use to appreciate their bodies more. 

Chastain started by discussing the proper language to use when describing people with different body types. Chastain suggested that people should be called what they want to be called, whether it be “fat”, “overweight”, or “obese” to name a few. 

Chastain’s journey to where she is now stemmed from a comment she received about her weight when she was in high school. 

“A friend of my friend’s mom pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re going to lose that weight before you go to college because you don’t want to go to college fat, do you?’” Chastain said during her speech.

Being a successful athlete in high school, Chastain did not think much about dieting or weight loss, however, this comment shifted her mindset. 

“I was exercising more and it developed into a full-blown eating disorder for which I was hospitalized for a short time,” Chastain said. 

Chastain reflected that from her eating disorder diagnosis, doctors continued to tell her to lose weight which she argues is not in the best interest of her health. 

She went on to discuss the issues with using body mass index, or BMI, and its contribution to weight stigma. 

“It’s important to understand the idea of pathologizing higher weight bodies, the idea of weight stigma, and the body mass index are rooted from racism and anti-Blackness,” Chastain said. “We cannot have a conversation about weight stigma without having a conversation about race.” 

After trying numerous diets and weight loss interventions, Chastain finally decided to do her research on this topic. She eventually found that there were no studies supporting weight loss interventions that were effective in the long term. 

These findings caused Chastain to start embracing her body instead of thinking about all that it can do for her. Chastain counted and read all of the negative comments she would receive about her body on her social media. 

“I needed to figure out how to turn these negative messages into helpful messages about my body,” Chastain said. “That’s when I started curating my social media list by following people who gave me good information about myself and unfollowing people who didn’t.” 

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Additionally, Chastain spoke on how society values certain body types more than others. She did this by showing two photos of famous people, where one was the original and the other was photoshopped. 

Chastain showed the audience a photo of Kelly Clarkson and a photo of Kelly Clarkson being photoshopped on the front page of a magazine. 

“They want Kelly Clarkson on their cover because she is wildly talented and has a huge fan base, but that’s not good enough for these people to be on the cover of Self,” Chastain said. “To be on the cover of Self, you have to fit into a stereotype of beauty that is firmly rooted in thin whites.” 

Audience member Debra Grindley found this event to be insightful and eye-opening. 

“I was blown away by how extreme our society is in judging people by body size and how hard it probably is to be a person of size,” Grindley said. “I never thought about it this much but it’s really thought-provoking.” 

Another audience member, Heidi Wigand-Nicely, appreciated the discussion and was content to see people being interested in attending the event. 

“People need to hear this,” Wigand-Nicely said. “We need to hear about including everybody and that it’s okay to be yourself, whatever that is.” 

Wigand-Nicely claimed this event to be educational and informational. 

“I’ve got a lot of great ideas and information from this event, and learned how to use my own wordage differently.” 

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About the Contributor
Gabby Drees, Photojournalist/Videographer
Email: [email protected] Gabby Drees is a photo editor and film maker at The Daily Iowan. She is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and political science.