[Note to readers: please see the related post, Is Ragen wrong about everything?]
In Ragen’s recent drama post about “stalkers” at her IRONMAN 70.3, she claims the only criticism she ever receives is “trolls” demanding explanations for certain minor and unimportant details from her past. She goes on to theorize about why she receives so much “abuse”.
Often they try to justify their trolling – they say I deserve it because they disagree with me that fat people should be treated like human beings, or they disagree with the science behind HAES, or they believe me to be a liar/fraud/devil incarnate, one simile-happy troll recently compared me to Joe Camel.
This blog as well as Reddit and GOMI are overwhelmingly the main sources of true criticism about Ragen. Regular readers of all these sites will of course realize nobody agrees with the ridiculous notion that fat people shouldn’t be treated like human beings. However, the “science” of HAES as interpreted by Ragen is absolutely disputed, and Ragen has been shown to be a fraud and liar on many occasions. Both the latter points are completely valid criticisms of someone claiming to be an internationally recognized thought leader and expert on the obesity who has devoted her life to “activism” and is supposedly one of the most hated women on the internet because of her outspoken views.
Since Ragen appears to believe nobody has any valid criticism of her ideas and actions, we have compiled a list of issues we feel are important, most of which come from the archives of this blog. None of these criticisms hinge on Ragen’s current weight, nor do they disagree with or negate the positive aspects of fat acceptance and Ragen’s own activism. They do call into question her expertise on the science of obesity, her history of dishonest crowdfunding and solicitation of donations, the accuracy of her claims about a wide variety of subjects such as her athletics and the “harassment” she faces, and most importantly her profound lack of integrity. We publicly invite blog readers as well as Ms. Chastain to respond.
Medical Advice and Obesity Research
Dr. Ragen Chastain, MD
Ragen recently told a woman facing permanent blindness from from a medical condition that almost exclusively affects obese women to ignore her doctor’s advice and the position of the National Eye Institute, and demand a “thin person” treatment rather than attempt to lose just 5% of her weight. Ragen is totally unwilling to concede weight loss may improve a medical condition, or that significant weight loss is even achievable, so she told the woman that following her doctor’s recommendation of modest weight loss would most likely make her condition worse. A few weeks later, Ragen made it clear she had never even bothered to research the condition in a Dances with Fat post where she discussed the same condition with a different name.
This is only one of many examples of Ragen dispensing highly inappropriate medical advice. She even sells a postcard for people to show their doctors outlining her blanket denial of the health effects of obesity, and demanding they go against their medical standards and ethics and totally ignore body weight when diagnosing and determining the correct course of treatment.
Ragen does not believe obesity has any direct influence on health. Instead, health is dictated by genetics, environmental factors, blind luck, and the “healthy habits” of eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking, not drinking to excess, and occasionally getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise. Health is also not an obligation, so anyone should feel free to live an unhealthy life. Permanent weight loss is impossible, and any weight loss attempt will inevitably lead to regain and further weight increases. Since “correlation never implies causation” (Ragen’s abuse of this concept is a subject that deserves its separate post), it’s just as likely diabetes and other “obesity complications” actually cause obesity, rather than the other way around. And finally, any negative health effects of obesity that can’t be explained by another excuse are simply the stress of weight stigma from living in a fatphobic society.
The amount of doublethink necessary to accept so many conflicting ideas is quite astounding, but this sort of thinking forms the core of Ragen’s positions about medical science as well as society’s obligation to fully accommodate people of any size.
A good example of Ragen’s “research” is a study she frequently cites about the relationship between fitness, obesity, and health as proof obesity isn’t actually unhealthy. She fails to acknowledge the study subjects were at most mildly obese men, makes several inaccurate or misleading statements about the research, then inappropriately extrapolates the results to women who are hundreds of pounds overweight. Ragen’s armchair science analysis and cherry picking of this study and many others is fatally flawed by her own personal bias against admitting obesity may be unhealthy, but she refuses to address or even acknowledge any academic criticism. Instead she compares herself to Galileo and says she is bravely defending the truth in the face of all the evidence to the contrary from the fatphobic science community who are all in the pockets of the “sixty billion dollar a year diet industry”.
We also note Ragen generally only cites abstracts when referencing research, and since she has no position in academia, we question whether she actually has access to the full text of many of the journal papers mentioned on her blog.
Ragen titles herself with the academic-sounding credentials of “trained researcher”, says she “studied” various majors at UT Austin, refers to herself as a “UT alum”, and frequently talks about classes she took like “research methods” and “statistics”. University records and Ragen’s own Livejournal posts paint a decidedly unflattering picture of her lack of interest in academics, and show she attended UT Austin for a total of 7 years and never received a degree.
Ragen’s conduct in this respect is extremely misleading by even the most generous interpretation, and extremely dishonest in our opinion. She is presenting herself as a “trained” academic and expert on research methods, statistical analysis, and the science of obesity, who can be trusted over “biased” sources like the National Institute of Health. In reality, she is a college dropout who tried a number of different majors without achieving anything, and was proud of not having a single real passion in higher education.
Crowdfunding and Donations
Lack of Financial Transparency
It has now been 3 years, 8 months, and 16 days since Ragen promised full financial disclosure of the $21,000 raised for her “Support All Kids” billboards. Rather than posting this information as promised, she quickly removed almost all evidence of her involvement as well as the web site created for the campaign itself. Furthermore, the only evidence the billboards ever existed is a single photo of a bus shelter posted by one of her Facebook friends in Atlanta. This sort of lack of any real financial transparency as well as abandonment of projects paid for by others are typical of Ragen’s activism work.
Misuse of Donated Funds
In Our Own Words: A Fat Activist History was supposed to be a “verbal history” of the fat activism movement. On the GoFundMe page, Ragen promised to interview prominent fat activists as well as people of all walks of life underrepresented in fat activism. She posted a list of 15 women who had agreed to be interviewed, with the implication of further interviews to follow.
Instead, Ragen paid herself almost $2,200, and created a boilerplate WordPress site with a grand total of three short rambling interviews with atrocious video quality. She uncharacteristically broke down her expenses in great detail, but neglects to mention she spent $900 of the donation money on her salary and expenses for a trip to Florida to visit Lynn McAfee for an interview she never even conducted. At the height of the project while donations were still coming in, she claimed to have interviewed several other people such as Marilyn Wann, but as of today no further videos have surfaced. The last update was in October 2013, when Ragen said she planned to “continue working on the first phase of the project in ways that do not incur additional hard costs”.
Another infamous unfinished Ragen project funded by donations is the Size Diversity Task Force world record diet book papier-mâché ball, which was announced almost three years ago. Ragen accepted donations, organized a group to buy books and an “activism event” to create the ball, then nothing further happened. There have been no updates for almost two years, and as of today she is still asking for donations even though it is abundantly clear she has no intention of ever completing it.
A common theme in Ragen’s donation and crowdfunding is starting with big ideas, collecting as much money as possible, doing as little work as possible, then quietly washing her hands of the whole thing. In the past, Ragen made no secret about wanting “money for nothing and chicks for free“, her way of expressing a desire to live on passive income with as little work as possible. As with her disastrous IRONMAN attempt and almost all of her various achievements, she is judged on the idea and initial effort rather than the result, and never expected to actually fulfill her promises.
While soliciting donations in December 2012, Ragen wrote on Facebook that Size Diversity Task Force is a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which to the best of our knowledge is false, presumably making it a criminal offense. Since at present Ragen does not appear to operate a nonprofit or tax-exempt organization, we also question whether her donors realize they are funding Ragen’s personal income and for-profit businesses when they make a donation or contribute to her crowdfunding campaigns.
5,000 Little Lies
Ragen claims she was a victim of an organized attack campaign in 2012 where she was bombarded with 5,000 blog comments telling her to kill herself. She is totally unable to keep the details of this story consistent, and in every subsequent retelling she further exaggerates major details to the point it bears little semblance to the original. She recently started blaming Reddit for the “attack” even though it happened at least a year before the first time she was mentioned on the site. The evidence clearly shows Ragen didn’t receive anywhere close to 5,000 blog comments of any kind during this time period. This incident is a work of pure fiction and calls into question every single claim Ragen has ever made about the level of online harassment she faces from her “haters”.
Fat Shaming Doctors
Ragen is similarly inconsistent with the fat shaming knee doctor story. This encounter originated as a hypothetical story in her “Dealing at the Doctor’s Office” ebook, and quickly became a favourite piece she has rewritten several times. The narrative differences between each retelling are so great we don’t believe any version of this story is an accurate account of an interaction Ragen had with a doctor. There is also no plausible timeframe for this story to have taken place since Ragen’s activities are well-documented on her blogs going back as far as 2002. Finally, it is telling that neither Ragen nor her hypothetical doctor ever mentions highly relevant details like her shattered kneecap and knee implant.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with openly using a hypothetical situation to illustrate a point; Ragen presents this story and numerous other similar encounters with “fat shamers” in the medical establishment and society in general as faithful narrations. Given Ragen’s propensity for exaggeration and outright lying, it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is fiction on her blogs.
Misleading Claims and Outright Lies
Ragen’s Eating Disorder
One of Ragen’s most outrageous claims are the original details of her “eating disorder”. In recent years, she has been careful to not give specific numbers, but in the past she was extremely specific: for several years, she ate exactly 1100 calories (5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated) and exercised for up to 8-10 hours every day, before eventually collapsing on a treadmill at the gym and being hospitalized. Instead of becoming dangerously emaciated or dying like a normal person, she magically stopped losing weight and maintained the physique of a professional bodybuilder at 135 pounds and only 7% body fat. Upon her hospitalization and treatment for an eating disorder and “all the stress fractures”, she was placed on a restrictive diet by her doctors because they failed to recognize the exquisite specimen of the human form lying on the bed in front of them. She then gained 100 pounds within months.
When questioned by an incredulous host about whether she overeats and whether her eating disorder story was plausible during a 2009 radio interview, Ragen’s response was “my body does what it does”. Her entire weight loss history is full of similarly impossible claims, like gaining a pound a week during strict inpatient VLCD treatment while eating under 800 calories because she wasn’t allowed to exercise. Ragen uses her eating disorder as a major talking point in her activism, but it’s debatable whether she ever had an eating disorder at all, given most of the details she has shared about it are clearly impossible.
Fake Training Selfies
Throughout her IRONMAN 70.3 preparation, Ragen faced intense criticism over her lack of meaningful training updates, and skepticism over whether she was genuinely training as much as she claimed. Instead of sharing even the most basic details of her “proprietary” training plan, Ragen started posting weekly batches of training selfies to prove she was actually training. Analysis of GPS timestamps showed a number of her photos were taken only minutes apart, and Ragen had simply changed outfits and moved to different areas of her home to create the illusion of doing several different workouts. The evidence also showed she had specifically attempted to erase the timestamps to conceal her actions. She was caught doing the same thing in two further updates before finally learning how to properly strip image metadata, after which she was caught again by other means.
There is simply no defence because it was so blatantly obvious. It speaks to Ragen’s sincerity about her claims of weekly half-century bike rides, 24 mile long runs, “3-5 hours” of training every day, and so on. When questioned about it publicly by a Facebook “troll”, Ragen realized her followers had seen the comment before it was deleted and immediately shot back with a completely irrelevant straw man argument, followed by a litany of new claims of harassment to distract attention from what she did. She has yet to actually address the fake training selfies, and recently started posting more selfies with a huge disclaimer about removing all details to protect herself from “trolls” who want to rape and murder her.
Ragen has made some rather specific statements about how she spends her time doing activism every day. For instance, she writes detailed replies to an average of over 320 emails every single day (exactly 78,138 emails over 245 days); this may seem reasonable at first glance, but doing the math, it equates to an utterly ludicrous 11 hours of sustained effort, allowing just 2 minutes per email. She also says she spends at least 2 hours every day writing a blog post, 3-5 hours exercising, and significant amounts of time dealing with hundreds of abusive hate mails, several hundred Facebook messages, and all her other activism and athletic activities. Even her 30 small acts of activism every day add up.
Allowing even minimal time to eat and sleep, it’s simply impossible to reconcile these numbers with the 24 hours in a single day, but every month Ragen dutifully sends out a newsletter to her blog subscribers updating them on exactly how many new email requests she has replied to. This kind of ridiculous exaggeration of verifiably false details is indicative of the accuracy of similarly over the top claims only Ragen herself can verify, like the truly incredible volume of hate mail she supposedly receives.
“National Dance Champion”
Ragen describes herself as a “three time national dance champion” as evidence she is an elite professional “fathlete”. She has consistently refused to reveal any details about these titles when questioned, and the reason became obvious when her “haters” tracked down her results last year. Two of her dance titles are considered non-competitive social dancing for beginner students by the standards of the small pay-to-win dance circuit where she received them, and the third is at the lowest possible tier of novice competition. Ragen faced only one or two other couples in all cases because there is limited attendance at these extremely low levels. Also, the ACDA “national dance championships” have no pre-qualifying and are open to anyone who chooses to attend; they are “national championships” in name alone.
After 2005, Ragen spent several years attempting to compete at a more meaningful level without any success. Every year she posted about her plans to become a “masters champion”, or win big world championship titles, and every year she failed to win anything at any competitive event. On a number of occasions she bemoaned the fact her weight was making it impossible. Eventually she gave up on competitive dancing and simply declared herself a professional athlete. Ragen intentionally misrepresents how meaningful her non-competitive “national dance championships” are, and made every effort to keep their details a secret.Her CV is full of similar exaggerations, embellishments, and outright lies that go far beyond typical resume massaging. She also uses her dance titles to bolster the claim she is an elite fat athlete, when she herself admitted her weight was the reason she couldn’t advance further.
Ragen has made numerous claims about her athleticism over the years. As a child, she did ballet, jazz, horse riding, competitive figure skating, volleyball, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, and drill team. She was a cheerleading captain, multi-sport varsity athlete, and “all-state” athlete for all six years of high school. She was a lifeguard every year and “always won the annual lifeguard races”. As an adult she became a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer, and gym rat, spending several hours at the gym every day. She is now a professional athlete “in the top 5% in the country in strength, stamina, flexibility, and all medical markers of health” who maintains perfect bloodwork and blood pressure. She can leg press 1000 lbs, do hundreds of pushups at a time, complete 25 minute sessions of HIIT at 95% HRmax, and so on. She spends 3-5 hours training for her IRONMAN every single day.
And yet, whenever Ragen’s athletic abilities are on public display, her results are totally inconsistent with her claims. Her 5K personal record places her lower than the beginner baseline for an octogenarian. The only way she managed to complete a marathon was by specifically finding an event with no time limit and slowly ambling through the course in over 12 hours. She took 4 hours longer than the 77 year old woman who finished before her, but spent much of the race in a “blur of pain”. At her IRONMAN she didn’t even make it past the generous swim cut-off after over a year of intense preparation far beyond any typical half-IRONMAN training program. These are simply not the results of someone who puts in 3-5 hours every day, works with three separate professional trainers, and claims to have attained “what is considered to be an elite level of health and fitness“.
Ragen’s claims of health, fitness, and elite athleticism are a major component of her fat activism. As an elite professional athlete, national dance champion, marathoner, and IRONMAN competitor she considers herself living proof obesity has no impact on health or athletic ability. If she is truly training for as long as she claims, then we contend all she is doing is proving exactly the opposite, yet she is never expected to actually live up to her claims; showing up for an event she is totally unprepared for and failing miserably is somehow considered a major victory. The reality is Ragen’s claims about her athletic abilities and the amount of time she puts into training are just as fake as everything else about her manufactured persona.
Harassment and Stalking
Haters and Trolls
As noted previously, Ragen claims she receives around 73,000 hate mails every year, in addition to daily credible death threats and “graphic threats of violence and rape”. She also claims she has been doxxed, had maps to her home posted online, had people attempt to hack her Garmin Connect account, and so on. Conveniently, all her thousands of online trolls only contact her by email and blog comments that nobody else can see; meanwhile she is almost totally unknown on open social media platforms like Twitter where she has no control over the content. She may be the only public figure on the entire internet who is only trolled in private. Either Ragen’s “trolls” are remarkably stupid, or this is part of her continuing pattern of wild exaggeration about almost every aspect of her life. After the 5,000 Little Lies incident, all evidence points to the latter.
In her IRONMAN race report, Ragen claims a mysterious Redditor approached her and had a “creepy” conversation, then later speculates in “paranoia” the same Redditor may have assaulted her during the swim. She implies the mystery man is one of the authors of this blog and refers to him as a “stalker”, which prompted enormous concern from her followers, and calls to contact the police for her personal safety. Based on photos and accounts from several sources, Ragen spent the entire morning being followed by a camera crew recording everything she did, yet she can provide no evidence of this interaction, and fails to even mention the camera crew in any of her IRONMAN posts. In this case, Ragen’s response to criticism is to make vague allegations of extremely serious illegal activities to silence her critics, exactly as predicted beforehand.
Ragen also claims she reported the events of the day, and the perpetrators are being “monitored”. To whom or where she reported this, and whether she actually believes any crimes were committed remains a mystery. On a related note, Ragen claims the Long Beach Police Department doesn’t take credible threats against her life seriously and will only act on the death threats she receives every day if someone actually attempts to murder her. She later expanded on this point by making the totally ridiculous claim she may one day become a literal martyr for fat acceptance.
The level of “stalking” Ragen faces pales in comparison to the absolutely horrifying stories shared by real stalking victims on this blog. The most serious claim she can make backed up by any real evidence is that a curious local resident took a few photos of her at a public event and posted them online. Ragen has spun online criticism and a minor encounter as a public figure with a camera crew into a story where she faces constant danger from trolls, haters, stalkers, murderers, and rapists at every turn. Using false or exaggerated claims of stalking to garner sympathy is certainly a new low even by Ragen’s standards.
On a number of occasions, Ragen has provided detailed contact information to her blog readers, and instructed them to harass individuals and report them to their employers and accreditation organizations. She calls this “activism”, but turns around and complains of “harassment” and “stalking” if anyone attempts to contact her and express concerns or criticism. Ragen’s double standards for “activism” are remarkably hypocritical.
Continuing from the previous item, in recent weeks Ragen has been claiming that for the last few years, whenever she is hired to speak somewhere, she is the target of an organized “email writing campaign” where emails are sent to the entire staff of wherever she is speaking in attempt to discredit her. According to Ragen, she always emerges victorious because of her spotless reputation, which prompted the escalation to “stalking” by her frustrated trolls. As usual, there is no evidence for this claim other than Ragen’s word, even though it is easy to document and prove. There are no public petitions or campaigns to have her banned from campuses; no comments on Facebook or Twitter posts about her speaking engagements; no posts on Reddit, GOMI, 4chan, or Voat; no posts or comments on this blog. At this point we believe it’s safe to say the “email campaigns” are either another work of fiction or again exaggerated beyond reason for the purposes of manufacturing controversy.
Ragen has made some truly bizarre claims in the past. She completely seriously claims she was sold for air conditioners in Mali and can never visit or she will “not legally be allowed to leave“. At one time she claimed to be a psychic who could remotely assault people with her mind. She spent six years finishing high school because of a mysterious “no skipping grades” policy and then had most of the administration at her high school fired. She even claims she personally drew up the incorporation documents for Destiny’s Child. It just goes on. Everyone has things they’d rather forget in their past, but Ragen was a grown woman in her late 20s when she wrote all of this and more.
There is one particular forgotten item of Ragen’s past that merits further attention. When Ragen switched blogging platforms to WordPress for her Dances with Fat blog, she went back and carefully deleted over a year of Livejournal posts to conceal the fact she sold MLM weight loss products in 2002 and hoped to make an annual salary of over $250,000. Ragen constantly complains about the “sixty billion dollar a year diet industry” while concealing the obvious conflict of interest that she herself was a part of it until she realized it wouldn’t make her rich.
On a personal note, the authors of this blog find it particularly distasteful that Ragen frequently refers to herself as the “standard of beauty” and “a regulation hottie” in Mali, a country ravaged by poverty and malnutrition she once wrote would be better off if aliens took it.
After failing at college, Ragen flitted about from one business venture to another, leaving a string of failed businesses in her wake. Eventually she discovered Health at Every Size, realized it aligned with her own personal failings, and decided to monetize it. She now makes her living peddling her particular brand of slacktivism. She pretends she is an expert on obesity, dispenses shockingly poor medical advice, and accepts many thousands of dollars in donations for projects she has no intention of completing.
Above all, Ragen lies. She lies about her achievements, about her athletic abilities, about her credentials, and about her personal experiences. She lies about her eating disorder, about her IRONMAN training, and about all the “activism” she does every day. She constantly lies about the harassment she faces on all fronts for her outspoken views. Ragen lies, because in truth she is a sad failure who gave up on all her dreams and built a career around a carefully manufactured fake persona that is so pathetic nobody even thought to call her on it.
As we’ve said before, there are some positive elements to HAES and fat acceptance in general. These movements deserve a better “thought leader” than a con artist like Ragen. And that’s the truth about Ragen Chastain.