Breaking news: Fat people are not permanently attached to couches

Remember Kate Dailey’s extensive coverage of fat issues last week (aka the Newsweek fatsplosion), and her call for photos of fat people engaged in healthful activities? Well, the first round of pics are up in the Newsweek gallery, aptly titled Happy, Healthy, and Heavy. The introduction says, among other things:

Are all fat people athletic? No. But neither are all skinny people. The point is, weight doesn’t preclude the ability to put one’s body to work in fun and challenging ways.

The photos are terrific (I especially love the underwater one), and the people quoted are fat-positive (there’s even an acknowledgment of disability issues). There is a bit of thin-shaming and good fatty/bad fatty talk that mars an otherwise fabulously body-positive presentation.

Dailey tells us that the photos are still pouring in and that the gallery will be updated to include more in the future. Meanwhile, check it out — and thanks for helping to bust stereotypes, Kate Dailey.

Read ‘Em

-Lauredhel: Fat acceptance and Oppression Olympics fail on The Gruen Transfer 

An excellent elaboration of Rule 11, among other things.

The critique of the panellists completely fails to connect this one simple fact: That arguing “you wouldn’t tell racist or homophobic jokes, so why tell fat jokes?” misses the point that people do tell racist and homophobic jokes. Bram Williams alludes to this near the end of the segment, but the dots are not connected. These jokes are everywhere. The jokes in the this advertisement all have resonance because we’ve all heard them all before.

So how is the ad supposed to work? “We’ve conquered racism, now let’s work on fatphobia?” “We’ve conquered homophobia, now let’s work on fatphobia”? “Fatphobia is the last acceptable prejudice”? We haven’t, and it’s not. And it’s downright offensive for a bunch of white sexist blokes working on their personal growth to try to create traction by stomping all over other oppressed groups.

-NYT: Striking a pose for girth

-So much wrong with that headline, but it’s a pretty good article on Yoga for Fatties. (My only real gripe is the line about the use of props in a plus-size class, which implies that said props are unique to those classes — fatties can’t hack it! — as opposed to being a staple of beginning Iyengar yoga that about a zillion different schools have adopted.)

Anyway. I’ve heard this “we shouldn’t be shunting fat folks into separate classes” argument before, and while I do think it’s true that ALL yoga teachers should be trained in modifications for fat bodies, the reality is that even if they are, they won’t necessarily have the time to devote to helping fat students in a big class. And a lot of them aren’t trained, and have never thought about how fat might interfere with the typical expression of some poses. And a lot of them are teaching at gyms where body shame is the norm. And probably most importantly, plus-size yoga classes provide a safer space for fat people who want to try yoga but are intimidated by the thought of walking into a room full of thin people in spandex. So I’m a big fan of the concept, but I would absolutely like to see more awareness of fat people’s needs among general yoga teachers. (Thanks to a Damsel writer for the tip.)

-If you missed it, Obama thinks workplace “wellness” programs are a swell idea and has a team studying the “best” ones and “explor[ing] the feasibility of developing such a plan for federal employees and their workplaces.” FANFUCKINGTASTIC. That totally won’t fan the flames of employment discrimination against fat people or bring yet more fat-shaming into yet more offices. It’ll just make us all HEALTHEEEEEE!

As Zuzu, the first person who sent this to me, said in an e-mail:

If we had single-payer, these things wouldn’t be tied to keeping your job, and if doctors didn’t have to deal with bill collecting instead of providing care in the first place, maybe there would be enough resources for prevention of the kinds of diseases that doctors are always associating with being fat and overlooking in thinner people. Which would mean lower costs, since things would be caught early, what with people not having to do things like walk out of the ER with head injuries or refuse necessary treatment because it’s too expensive.  Or wait until a condition becomes life-threatening and expensive to treat before seeking help.  

I can’t really top that.

-This has been up on the sidebar via Twitter for a couple of days, but Marjorie Ingall wrote a terrific essay on dealing with kids’ curiosity about fat people — how do you teach them not to scream, “Hey, look at the fat lady!” without reinforcing the message that fat is bad? We discussed this topic a bit on the thread about Joy Nash’s “Staircase Wit” video, but I’m still not sure I know what the answer is.

All right, that’s all I’ve got right now. Reminder to Chicago Shapelings: I’ll be selling/signing books and hanging out at Vive la Femme, 2048 N. Damen, tomorrow evening (5/15) from 6-8 p.m. There will be awesome fat people, awesome plus-size clothes for sale, and refreshments! And if you’re interested in hanging out afterwards, let us know over at the Ning site.

Quick hits: The physical cost of beauty

Two more reminders of the cost of the ideal of the perfectly toned, perfectly thin body:

1. A Daily Mail reporter (I know, I know — they’re a thin-loving nightmare, but that also means that they publish a lot of articles that unintentionally reveal the cultural pressures behind that) works with Madonna’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s trainer for five weeks and her life becomes a living hell. She nearly passes out, almost vomits on the treadmill, loses the ability to walk up stairs, and — most crucially — loses all desire for any semblance of a social life, because she is so damn tired.

Unexpectedly, this is turning into a booze-free few weeks as well. Working out at this intensity means I cannot drink at all; I simply wouldn’t be able to train properly.

As for dating, it’s completely hopeless. I’ve definitely seen the last of Finance Guy, the man I’d been seeing on and off for a few weeks. Our relationship was already stretched, and my refusal to drink seemed to push him over the edge. Could this be what drove Guy Ritchie away?

At the weekend, I take a much-needed mini-break to Dublin. I am looking forward to three days away, out of town and away from the gym.

I am lazing around in my suite at one of Dublin’s poshest hotels, when I get a text from Jonathan reminding me to do my cardio workout.

I bet Madonna and Gwyneth get text messages like this, too.

Two hours a day, six days a week, with your personal trainer sending you intrusive text messages while you’re on vacation: just the cost of being thin and female, right? As Margaret at Jezebel puts it,

Though you might expect that Pearson would realize after going through this “nightmare” that such a gym routine wasn’t worth it or condemn the society that demands our celebrities obsess about their weight, all Pearson takes from this experience is that we should have more respect for Gwyneth and Madonna. “Their tightly honed bodies were not achieved by swallowing a pill, from cigarettes, or cocaine. These ladies didn’t take the easy way. They are in the gym every day sweating their guts out,” writes Pearson. Apparently having a lower quality of life is worth it, as long as you’re 10 pounds skinnier.

Remember, y’all, things are only worth doing if they improve your life. You don’t have to do this.

(SW warning on comments at both the Daily Mail and Jezebel.)

2. Remember that Campari ad that photoshopped away Jessica Alba’s already astonishing figure? Apparently she got that post-baby figure by torturous workouts and the help of a girdle. (I can’t access the original Elle article on this, so I’m relying on a summary here.) Not really surprising, but it makes it all the more ridiculous that the ads are so incredibly photoshopped.

I know you know this, but it’s always worth a reminder: these images are lying to you. Ads are lying to you. Magazines are lying to you. Posters are lying to you. They will never stop. Nobody looks like Jessica Alba — not even Jessica Alba.

Quick Self-Promotion/Good Article

My sister-in-law just sent me this article that she first saw in the print version of The Toronto Star. She sent it because it mentions the blog, the book, and my Dear Oprah post (woo!), but I’m actually posting it because, holy cow, it’s really good.

Well, mostly. I think the “vanity sizing” detour is crap, since the underlying belief there is once again that fat people don’t know they’re fat. The numbers on the tags stay the same, so they’ll never realize their asses are getting bigger! Which totally makes sense, if you think about it. I mean, I know that once petite clothes became more widely available, and I could just put on a new pair of pants without having to hem them, I started looking in the mirror and thinking I must be about 5’8″. 

That aside, check this out:

A U.S. survey tracking substantial weight loss found that individuals had to do the equivalent of 40 kilometres of walking every week just to maintain any weight loss.

“That’s a pretty big commitment,” says [University of Guelph obesity researcher Paula] Brauer. “We really underestimated how much it takes to lose substantial weight and keep it off.

“The big thing, really, is not the food,” she says.

“It’s the degree of physical activity that people have to do to keep the weight off. Most obese people are not overeating,” Brauer stresses.

And then the article ends with quotes from the Dear Oprah post — instead of with the usual quote from an obesity researcher saying, “Well, that’s all well and good, but fat people still need to lose weight for their health.” Awesome. Thank you, Diana Zlomislic!

ETA: Do I really still need to tell you people not to read comments on newspaper articles about fat? Sanity Watchers warnings always apply!

The Candidates on Obesity

Paul covered it so I don’t have to. Yay!

Here’s the McCain quote from last night’s debate that sparked his post and this one:

The rise of obesity amongst young Americans is one of the most alarming statistics that there is. We should have physical fitness programs and nutrition programs in schools. Every parent should know what’s going on there.

As Paul notes, “the rise of obesity amongst young Americans” has already leveled off. There’s that. As for the other stuff, well, I covered what I thought of that back in July:

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

Also, it’s worth remembering that 90% of nine-year-olds get “a couple of hours of exercise a day,” making the panic over the millions of supposedly sedentary children glued to their computers and Wiis a mite puzzling.

Paul also calls out Obama, as well he should, for featuring THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA in his health care plan. The fact is, there is no politician on the national stage who’s clued in to Health at Every Size at this point, and I imagine it’ll be some time before there is one. That’s why I’ve long said I don’t even factor fat policy into my voting decisions, because everyone’s fucking policy is still that fatties are destroying America. Having said that, Obama’s plan offers one thing that stands to benefit us, even if the focus on “prevention” (which experience tells me to read as “weight loss” — just like “wellness program,” as Paul points out) makes me queasy: Under his plan, insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. That could make a big difference — although it would depend on whether they’re still allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions exorbitant prices.

Anyway, to sum up: McCain and Obama both suck on fat. McCain sucks more.

This thread is open for discussion of that and anything else that struck you about last night’s debate. I actually didn’t watch this time, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

From the Mailbag: Good News, Bad News

A Shapeling writes:

I am a biologist attending a large, well respected conference on insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

All the experiments were well designed, good solid data, and a lot of it correlates EXACTLY with the message of your blog, like the factoid I gleaned that fully 25% of Coronary Artery Disease cases diagnosed have no known risk factors- not high cholesterol, not obesity, not smoking, not type II diabetes. The fact that exercise and activity level is a better predictor of long term health than fat. That pear-shape fat (subcutaneous fat) releases adipocytokines that protect against metabolic disease, improve lipid and glucose metabolism, and positively correlate with increased longevity and quality of life.

The problem is the huge disconnect. It made me want to curl up into a ball and cry- which is what I did as soon as my husband joined me at the conference.

  • The slide that had a picture of an obese man with the caption “homo stupidus.”
  • The news that the AHA reclassified anyone over 27* (me!! me!!) on the BMI scale obese with the attendant scare-the-crap-out-of-you warnings.
  • The obese diabetic (ob/ob db/db) mouse model- google for images if you’re curious- which is considered a great way to model the metabolisms of healthy fat people like you and me and then tell us we’re all going to die and its ALL OUR OWN DAMN FAULT.


Sigh, indeed. Also, as I said to the Shapeling, HOLY CRAP, are they seriously moving the cut-off for obesity down to 27?!? Ten years ago, that was the cut-off for overweight! If this is true, people with a BMI of 26 have now gone from being a healthy weight to overweight to just shy of obese, without ever gaining an ounce.

You’d think things like that would make people wake the fuck up. You’d think.

And seriously, “Homo Stupidus”? Charming.

Anyway, Shapelings, have at it. And thanks to the sender-inner, as they say over at CO.

*Update: The Shapeling who says this in now says she thinks she must have misheard or misinterpreted this — or the presenter might have been from a different country. The Wikipedia page on BMI notes international variations in keeping with what she heard, but as far as we know, the AHA hasn’t changed anything recently. So if you’re American, you can exhale. A little.

Three to Four Hours a Day

Did y’all see this?

Maybe you CAN blame being fat on your genes. But there’s a way to overcome that family history — just get three to four hours of moderate activity a day.

Seriously. Just exercise moderately for three to four hours a day, and you won’t be fat! LIKE MAGIC. 

The best part is where they tell us that that’s really not as much as it seems, and offer the same old list of ideas that’s offered in every article exhorting us to just get twenty minutes of exercise a day, or half an hour, three times a week, or one hour, five days a week — whatever the hell the recommendation du jour is. 

Instead of watching TV for a few hours at night, take a brisk walk, he suggested. Or use stairs instead of elevators, walk instead of driving, or take up a structured exercise such as swimming.

Or, you know, just park your car farther away from the mall! Like, 15 miles away!

Seriously, we’re supposed to walk briskly or take the stairs for three to four hours? I have walked briskly for three to four hours on occasion, but only on occasion, because it’s a fucking huge time investment. People are supposed to work at least eight or ten hours a day, then go home and say, “Hi, family, lovely to see you, off for my brisk walk now! You’ll be in bed when I get back, so see you in the morning!” And that’s without getting into the fact that a whole hell of a lot of people in the U.S. don’t live somewhere where they could take that long a walk if they wanted to — unless they just did hundreds of laps around their backyards or living rooms. Today, theoretically, I could walk over to the lakeshore path and take it downtown, then turn around and come home, and that would be just about four hours of brisk walking. But when I was growing up in the suburbs, my only path from home to anywhere involved highways and no sidewalks. Also, fuck if I’m going to take that walk every night of my life, throughout the Chicago winter and the Chicago summer, instead of actually spending time with Al and friends, unwinding from writing all day. And I love walking!

Fortunately, though, the article also offers another way to get your three to four hours a day: become Amish. The study of this particular genetic variant — thought to affect 30 percent of people of European descent (so I’m not sure if people of color are off the hook or expected to exercise even more) — focused on an Amish community in Pennsylvania, where the lack of cars and modern technology means folks are pretty active in their daily lives. In that context, people with the genetic variant in question often were getting three to four hours of moderate exercise every day, and they were no more likely to get fat than people without it.

Which… bully for them. There’s a lot to be said for that lifestyle. But most of us aren’t fucking living it. 

Study co-author Dr. Soren Snitker of the University of Maryland acknowledged that it’s unrealistic to expect most people to shun modern conveniences and return to a 19th century lifestyle for the sake of staying trim.

Ya think? 

Look, I’m a fan of movement. I don’t own a car and live in a pedestrian-friendly city. I have a flexible schedule and am not working multiple jobs. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to devote three to four hours of my day to exercise unless somebody starts paying me for it. The idea that I should be doing that — that 30 percent of white people should be doing that — solely to avoid being fat pisses me off like nothing has pissed me off in… I don’t know, at least 45 minutes or so. I cannot fucking believe that instead of writing the obvious story — i.e., “people who have this genetic variant would have to do a tremendous, totally unrealistic amount of daily exercise to be thin” — they went with “people who have this genetic variant can be thin if they just work in three to four hours of daily exercise — easy peasy!” Seriously, you guys! It’s not as bad as it sounds! Just break it down to 48 five-minute sessions throughout the day! 

There was one thing that amused me about this article, right at the end:

Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, a genetics and obesity researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, said people should not interpret the study to mean, “I don’t have this gene variant so I don’t need to be physically active.”

I love it. It’s the flipside of the inevitable, “People shouldn’t take this as a license to eat whatever they want!” that ends every fucking article suggesting that fatness is not a death sentence. What the hell is up with this assumption that everyone, fat or thin, reading articles about THE OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA is really just looking for permission to lie in bed all day or eat “forbidden” foods? Is that really the American dream? No movement at all and a steady diet of (baby-flavored) Krispy Kremes?

The thing that really pisses me off about this particular motif in TOCBBB articles is that it just reinforces the idea that exercise is onerous and eating veggies is gross, so the only reason any sane person would do either is to be thin. Which may have been how I felt when I was about 6 (not counting running around the backyard, tree-climbing, dance class, or swimming as exercise, of course, because those things were fun and even then I knew that Exercise Is Not Fun), but I eventually grew out of that mindset. I kinda think most people eventually do. And if they don’t, it’s probably because of the kabillion fucking articles propagating the notion that exercise and veggie-eating are miserable burdens one must undertake to avoid the dreaded sin of fatness. Way to promote “health” there, media.

Dance Dance Party Party

You guys, I have found my new favorite form of exercise.

Or rather, I have found the perfect circumstances for engaging in one of my old favorite forms of exercise.

Last night, Tari, OTM and I went to Dance Dance Party Party, which is the most brilliant “Why the fuck didn’t I think of that?” idea I’ve encountered in a long time. It’s like a dance class without the class, or a dance club without the club. Basically, a bunch of women get together in a dance studio, somebody brings an iPod stocked with an hour and a half of fast songs (and a bit of cool-down music), they turn the lights low, and we all flail around like happy jackasses until the playlist ends. For five bucks.

It is pretty much the exact opposite of why people hate the gym. The Chicago website says there are only three rules: “No boys. No booze. No judgment.” And they make a seriously big deal of the “no judgment” part, making it clear that if you even look like you’re judging someone else, you’ll be out on your ass. Nice! The “no boys” and “no booze” rules mean you don’t have to deal with any of the unpleasantness of going dancing at a club — and from our very scientific poll of Al and OTM’s husband, we’ve scientifically determined that straight guys think this is a ridiculous idea anyway, so fuck ’em. (The funny part is, I think Al would actually have a blast. He not-so-secretly loves dance music, and he has even been known to suggest going out dancing, as opposed to having to be dragged. But then, the conspicuous lack of a “no booze” rule at the places where we’ve gone dancing contributed substantially to his willingness.) In any case, the “no boys” rule means there’s no chance of unexpectedly getting a stranger’s dick smashed into your back, so I’m completely on board with that. 

There’s also a fourth rule they don’t mention on the website: No talking. Naturally, when I first heard this, I panicked. WHY DON’T YOU JUST ASK ME NOT TO BREATHE FOR 90 MINUTES? But once we got started, I realized how brilliant that rule is. If I’d been allowed to talk, I would have spent the first ten minutes giggling nervously with Tari and OTM about how weird and awkward it was, babbling about how I’d worn the wrong shoes and the wrong bra, etc., and never getting out of my head and into the groove. As it was, there was nothing to do but dance, so I just spent the first five minutes feeling weird and awkward, then got over it and cut loose. Which was apparently exactly what everybody else did, too.

The other plus to the no-talking rule is that it allows for introspection about your own response to the no-judgment rule. Even though I have a pretty good relationship with my own body, and there were women of all sizes there, I found myself occasionally looking at some thin, buff girl who danced better and/or more boldly than I did, and automatically thinking, “Show-off!” But then, that thought would immediately be followed by, “Hello, that was a judgment of another woman, based largely on her body and your own insecurity, you hypocritical bitch. Why do you assume she’s showing off and not that she’s just getting down and having fun like you? Or like you would be doing if you weren’t judging other women and having this conversation with yourself. DANCE!” 

And then I would just dance. And it was a fucking blast. It was also one of the best workouts I’ve had in a while, and a perfect example of everything I preach about exercise: To wit, if it’s fun, you’ll want to keep doing it, and if you go at your own pace and honor what your body’s telling you, you will have more fun. The DJ of the week (more on that in a mo) started off with a few songs I really loved, so I went apeshit, only to realize I was panting and feeling a twinge of a headache — which was a bad sign, because I’ve been known to trigger exercise-induced migraines by attempting to do too much cardio, too fast. But for once, I recognized that I was overexerting myself and slowed down a bit, instead of calling myself a wimp, trying to keep up that pace, and leaving to barf my guts up after 20 minutes. All of the songs were fast, but it was easy enough to take it down a notch until I felt better, which I soon did. The group leaders also made sure to point out that we should take a break if we felt like it. I was kind of surprised I didn’t feel like it, actually — I don’t think I’ve ever danced for an hour and a half straight without at least leaving the floor to get another beer — but I just varied my pace as necessary and never needed or wanted to stop moving.

Okay, nuts and bolts stuff for those who might be interested.

Location: There are chapters in lots of American cities, and a couple in Canada and New Zealand. If there’s not a chapter in your city and you want to start one, you can email founders Glennis and Marcy at dancedancepartyparty[at]gmail[dot]com. (As far as I can tell, all you need is a cheap space, an iPod, half-decent speakers, and a willingness to show up every week and abide by the rules.)

Music: Could be anything. After you’ve gone once, you’re invited to “DJ” for a future DDPP — which means putting together a playlist of about 20 fast songs and one slow one. (Ideally, you put this on your own iPod and bring it. If you don’t have one, you can burn a CD and bring it to your leaders, who will put it on one of their iPods for a future date.) Last night was a lot of seventies/eighties stuff and hip-hop, which was perfect for me, but it varies according to different DJs’ tastes. 

Cost: As I said above, five bucks, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than an actual dance class.

What to wear: Workout clothes, gym shoes, and a sports bra. I wore a tank top and a vaguely athletic skort, which were fine, but my shoes and bra were major fails. I rejected the idea of gym shoes, because I usually find dancing in rubber-soled shoes to be a pain in the ass — I like to get a little slidey in the feets, and you can’t do that with good traction. But that’s when I’m dancing for 15 minutes, then sitting on a barstool for 15 minutes, then dancing for 15 minutes. The flats I chose really did not cut it for 90 straight minutes of dancing. I noticed a lot of the regulars were doing moves that looked a little more aerobics-like than dance-like (e.g., lifting their feet/knees a lot), which is probably because those are easier in gym shoes — so there’s a bit of a trade-off, but my feet and knees really would have appreciated the extra support. As for the bra, I went with a good, supportive everyday bra, but once I started sweating and bouncing around, it felt like nothing. Again, it’s an actual workout, not half-assed club dancing, so a sports bra is in order.

Pain factor: none, as long as you listen to your body. You’re not required to do anything you don’t want to, and you’re very much encouraged to do whatever feels good.

Next day pain factor: slight for me, probably because of the shitty shoes. I can feel it a little in my knees and my hips today.

Fun factor: Off the charts, if you like to dance.

Intensity: Totally depends on what you want to/can do, but due to the fun factor, I felt like I got a way better workout than I do riding an exercise bike or swimming laps.

Fat friendliness: High. Granted, the three of us dramatically increased the percentage of fat chicks in the room, but the regulars came in many different sizes, and the strictly enforced no-judgment rule makes it about as fat-friendly as you can get.

Why People Hate the Gym

So, we recently got rid of the car. It’s no huge hardship in a city with good public transportation, but of course, in the first few weeks of going carless, you become aware of all the places that are suddenly much more of a PITA to get to. 

Over the last several months, I’ve been trying to pick a real gym — specifically, one with a pool — to go to. Before that it was Curves, the yoga studio, or the Pilates studio for any workouts beyond walking. But I really wanted to take a regular water fitness class and maybe start swimming laps, so I started hitting classes at various local gyms on guest passes and non-committal punch cards. I’d narrowed it down to two favorites and was just about to buy a membership at one of them. Then we got rid of the car, at which point I realized that getting to either of those two gyms would require riding at least two buses for a travel time of about 45 minutes, even though they’re pretty close as the crow flies. And I realized that realistically, that meant I would never go to the gym, especially in winter.

So I made with the Google and found a gym that’s a mile away from home, so I can walk when it’s nice and take a bus that goes practically door-to-door in 15 minutes when it’s not. Took a tour, bought a membership, done and done. It’s pretty no-frills, but that means it’s pretty cheap, and they have a pool, which is all I really care about. 

Last night, I went to my first water fitness class there. I was all excited, because this one was called “water Pilates” — but if there’s one thing I should have learned from sampling different water fitness classes at different gyms, it’s that they’re all pretty much the same. I went to one that supposedly involved an element of “water yoga,” but all that meant was that the teacher reminded us to breathe deeply a lot. Likewise, “water Pilates” means you get reminded to engage your abs a lot. That’s about it. Fortunately, I like plain old water fitness, so I can live with that, even if I am inclined to grumble about false advertising.

ANYWAY. All of that is background for the point, which we’ll get to now.

So, the instructor is friendly, the class is going along fine, and then it starts. While we’re doing arm exercises, she babbles: “It’s really easy to fatigue the triceps, because they’re smaller muscles and we don’t use them as much. You know what’s funny? We use our biceps all the time, because —” [mimes bringing fork to mouth]. “If we just did this –” [mimes pushing plate away] “–more often, we’d all be better off! Best diet in the world, and you’re using your triceps!”


Really? Pushing food away is the best diet in the world? But okay, a certain amount of that crap is to be expected from people out in the non-Fatosphere world, especially fitness instructors. Shake it off, Kate!

And then.

“Wow, the pool’s pretty empty today! Usually, we have to deal with lap swimmers splashing everywhere — and since the Olympics started, of course we’ve got a lot more of them! Everybody watches Michael Phelps and thinks, ‘Oh, someday, I could do that'” [makes face]. “And I’m just like, no, you couldn’t, and you don’t look as good in a Speedo, either!” 

I’m sorry, WHAT? I know you’re making what you think are innocuous little jokes here, lady, but seriously? FUCK OFF. First, you’ve got two new students in class today, including me, and you think it’s wise to give the impression that the instructors at this gym make fun of newbies for both technique and HOW WE LOOK IN SWIMSUITS? 

Second, nobody in their right mind looks at Michael Phelps and thinks, “I could do that.” Personally, I wouldn’t look at a freshman on a high school swim team and think, “Someday, I could do that.” I’m never going to get up at the crack of dawn to train for hours, let alone every day. I have zero interest in athletic competition, and even less in trying to sculpt my body to look “better” in a bathing suit. And yet, it was indeed the Olympics that inspired me to finally commit to a damned gym membership so I can spend more time in the pool. Because when I watch swimming on TV, half the time, I’m not even looking at the athletes. I’m looking at the pretty blue water and thinking how much I want to be in there

I fucking love to swim. I especially love to just splash around for fun, which is why water aerobics appeals to me, even if I’m 30 years younger than the target market. But for over 15 years, I almost never got in the water, because I was too ashamed of how I looked in a swimsuit. I could not bring myself to do something I knew to be incredibly fun and good for me, because I didn’t have the kind of body that I believed would earn me the right to appear in public mostly naked. And that’s in part because of assholes constantly commenting on how other folks look in bathing suits (or yoga pants, tank tops, miniskirts, you name it), and who has the right to wear them, and who should really just stay home until they magically become thin enough that their flesh won’t offend right-thinking people. 

For over 15 fucking years, I just stayed home. 

“Harmless jokes” like that are neither harmless nor jokes to me. 

And wait, it gets better. After class, I stopped to talk to the teacher (about the towels, nothing at all loaded). I knew I should say something about how much her remarks had bothered me — if nothing else, point out that joking about pushing your plate away being “the best diet in the world” might not be such a great idea in case she’s got someone recovering from an eating disorder in the class — but frankly, I wasn’t up to it. I do not always have the energy to confront people about this shit, and last night, I just wanted to get dressed, get out of there, and try a class with a different instructor next time.

So she asks how I heard about the class, and I say, “Well, I just signed up here because we got rid of the car, and it’s the closest gym with a pool for me. I knew I wouldn’t keep going to a gym that was hard to get to.” 

Her eyes light up, and she starts telling me how she’s actually a wellness coach — specializing in weight management! — and she’s always telling people stuff like that, how you’ve got to make it easy for yourself and get rid of all the excuses if you want to keep going. At first, I’m nodding, ’cause yeah — obviously, I agree. Then she fires off 85 other tricks — all of which I’ve heard before, and/or done myself — with the strong implication that she assumes this is the first time I have ever considered exercising in my life, and I have actually just asked her for help in learning how to haul my poor flabby ass to the gym. 

And then. AND THEN. Unbidden, she tells me more about her weight management services. “You know, I always tell people there’s no magic bullet –” OH REALLY YOU DON’T SAY “–but you have to change your behavior over time and really find a way to stick with it…” 

Fortunately for her, she did not say the words “lifestyle changes,” which meant I didn’t have to deck her. But man, did I ever want to, especially when she wrapped it all up with this:

“So, do you have any particular… concerns?”

To her credit, when I said no and glared a little, she covered — asking specifically about injuries and whatnot, stuff she should know about as a teacher. 

Me: Nope, thanks, I’m good.

Her: Okay, so you’re… healthy?


Me: Yep. Thanks. BYE.

So. It’s my first class at a gym where I just signed a 12-month contract, and I have to listen to pro-dieting, anti-fat, anti-FOOD commentary throughout (there were more examples than the ones I gave), AND get an unsolicited pitch for “weight management” services before I’m allowed to hit the goddamned shower. AWESOME.

Of course, there are other water fitness teachers at the gym, and I will certainly be trying out their classes. (Though it irks me unreasonably that if I don’t show up to this one again, this woman will write me off as a “typical” lazy fatty who couldn’t stick with it.) I’m also thinking of taking some swimming lessons to improve my strokes and learn how to make lap swimming seem a little less mind-numbing to me — so I can eventually get my water fix without having to interact with other human beings at all. And, if I’m feeling strong enough, I might just go back to one of this woman’s classes and tell her privately that I’m a body acceptance activist who believes in HAES, and I find her patter really troubling and alienating. To be fair, apart from everything I’ve mentioned above — which amounted to maybe 5 minutes altogether, out of an hour — she was a good teacher, and I liked her. So maybe it’s worth taking up my teaspoon for this one. I just hate having to do that, you know? I spend all fucking day reading and writing about this shit, and I want to get in the pool to clear my head, not fill it with more work to be done.

And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits — as opposed to appearance “benefits” — of it. I’m really, really hoping this woman is an anomaly and does not actually represent the culture of the gym. I’m hoping every other instructor I meet will be more of a Terry. But I’m not too optimistic, frankly. And if I do have to deal with little arrows of fat hate coming at me every time I go to a class or work with a trainer there, it is going to be a lot harder to drag my ass there on a regular basis. Not because I don’t like exercise, but because I don’t like the default assumption that any fat person who darkens a gym door hates her body, wants to lose weight, and will give up if professionals don’t take it upon themselves to “motivate” her to work harder. For fuck’s sake, SHUT UP AND LET ME ENJOY MYSELF, and I’ll actually come back here without you having to do a thing.

More Olympic Fever

And I mean the kind of fever that makes people act batshit crazy, because that’s the only excuse for the latest round of “It’s more important that female Olympians be jerkoff fodder than world-class athletes.” Are you sitting down? 

“Gymnast Alicia Sacramone an Internet ‘Hottie’ Despite Screwups.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me. Even for Fox News. First, WTF is up with saying twice that Sacramone “cost her team the gold,” when the scores were such that they couldn’t have beaten China even if she’d been near-perfect? And second… well, just read:

In the moments after the team’s heartbreaking loss to China on Aug. 12, Google searches for “Alicia Sacramone is hot” were at volcanic levels, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Olympicsviewers logged on to find photos of the 20-year-old Massachusetts native.

Oh, thank God someone thought to do that important research!

But hey, why the focus on Sacramone, as opposed to her teammates? 

A comment on one of her Facebook tribute pages could explain why: “SHE’S 20, so she’s not jailbait!” a post reportedly said.

That’s the last line of the article. As Astraea, who gets the hat tip, put it, “Yeah! We like to watch her because fucking her wouldn’t be RAPE. Now that’s a compliment!” 

You know, if the media wants to offer Alicia Sacramone a consolation prize after blaming her for everything from a medal loss she couldn’t have prevented to just not being Michael Phelps, how about something like this: “You are a stunningly talented and jaw-droppingly hard-working young woman who has already achieved more than about 99.99% of people in your sport — let alone the rest of us schlubs. You are a pleasure to watch because of your grace, skill, and effort, not your face. And as an ordinary American, let me say that my heart is not, in fact, broken over your losses. I know it sucks for you personally, and I wish for your sake that that weren’t so, but you did a fine fucking job of representing your country. Thank you.” 

Now, how difficult was that?