Monthly Archives: April 2011
The L.A. Times has an article today about a woman who went from went from immobile to being able to do a modified Zumba class in the last year.
It’s a human interest piece that I’m positive is meant to encourage people to, you know, get out and do something about their fat. It even ends with this gem:
It’s true, Gerlette said. “When people tell us that they’re too tired or hurt, we tell them, ‘Too tired? Come on — we have a woman who can’t even walk and works out.'”
The woman in the article, Pam Newman, wants to be a role model. And the truth is, she so could be. In my book, she gets a gold medal in the regaining mobility Olympics. The article talks about what a big accomplishment walking 18 steps unaided was for her.
What makes me sad is that instead of focusing on how training has improved Newman’s life, the credit is given to weight loss. She’s lost 100 pounds. She’s stopped eating “four chicken nuggets” (is that four orders, or is the article really demonizing four bites of chicken? She talks about what it takes to burn off those 250 calories, so I think we really are talking about a Happy Meal portion of nuggets) and eats carrots and strawberries now.
I’m not sure if Pam Newman is actually dieting, or if she’s just taken on a more intuitive way of eating. She says:
“I’m going to dance, ride a bike, go kayaking, go hiking with my husband, go camping with my grandchildren. They call me a ‘gym rat’ in here, because I love to exercise so much. It’s amazing, looking back, that I didn’t always think this way.”
The point is not that this woman managed to shrink her body by eight inches or five dress sizes. Because who knows if she’ll be part of the minuscule percentage of human beings that are able to lose 100 pounds and keep it off.
And what if she hadn’t lost weight at all? What if she doesn’t lose any more weight? What she has chosen to do has so much worth outside of the size of her body.
While the woman herself talks about all the amazing things she wants to do, that regaining mobility will make possible for her to do, the reporter talks about how at over 300 pounds (gasp!) she still has “a long way to go.”
The part of her story where she talks about feeling like Jabba the Hutt and how feeling ashamed of herself made her stop being social and caused her to “center her world on food” was glossed over. As though there was no other possible response to being fat. As though there is no argument against fat people dumping that kind of hate on themselves.
Of course she felt like Jabba the Hutt–she looked like him, too. Right?
As I was reading this article, I kept thinking about how her weight loss is not the point. This woman can walk. She couldn’t, and now she can. That didn’t happen because she lost 100 pounds. There are 440 pound people who don’t have mobility issues. There are some who do, and it has nothing to do with weight.
It happened because she started training and her body wonderful body responded. Even if she didn’t lose any weight, building up her muscles and improving her flexibility would have helped her mobility issues. Even if she never loses another pound, her body will continue to respond to training.
The most important part of this story to me is the bit about how she got into the gym in the first place. She was sitting in the car, waiting for her husband to work out, and the gym owner took the time to invite her in. He made the gym a safe place for her. And then the Zumba teacher modified the class for her and started training her in other ways as well.
Weight loss isn’t the star of this story, no matter how hard the reporter tried to make it so. But, in a world that has declared war on obesity, there is a message here that I think needs to be pointed out.
Shaming fat people isn’t winning the war. Neither is blaming us or every Tom, Dick and Michelle Obama calling our bodies moral failings. If feeling like Jabba the Hutt made people thin, there would be very few fat people.
Pam Newman is a shining example of what could happen if a truce was called on that war, even if she doesn’t know it. Even if the war is still raging for her.
Make exercise spaces safe environments for us and movement becomes accessible. Stop putting moral value on food and eating has the chance of becoming intuitive.
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You’re familiar with the weight room, aren’t you?
If you belong to a gym, it’s probably tucked into a corner some where. No matter where you are in the gym, you can hear the plates clanking and a distinctive, almost sexual chorus of grunts. The weight room, in my experience, is a space that traditionally is populated by men.
My gym serves a very small town. I have never seen a woman in the weight room there. When I lived in Las Vegas, my gym had a room that was just for women with some treadmills and elliptical machines, and a set of free weights. In all the time I went there, I only ever saw a woman use the free weights once and I never saw a woman in the regular weight room. I know there are women who use free weights, but I think even they would conceded that the weight room is generally a male space.
The weight room is something of a mystery to me. I don’t know how to use free weights. I know enough to know there is a technique that needs to be employed to keep from doing damage to yourself, but I don’t know the techniques.
I am also not a man.
I consider myself a feminist, but I also believe that pretty much every group should have a safe space. Things like men’s lodges don’t bother me, for instance. (Do they even have those anymore? Mentioning them makes me think of Fred Flintstone) Poker night with the boys doesn’t bother me, either. Neither do women’s workout rooms.
But, I don’t like being excluded from public spaces by virtue of being a woman. And, I especially dislike the feeling of excluding myself from them.
I hadn’t actually thought this through before. Like the rest of the women who belong to my gym, I don’t go into the weight room. I think I’ve posted here before that I didn’t want to expose myself to the grunting, sweating men. I laughed off the idea of using the weight room. That’s exactly what the woman who owns the gym said to me when she gave me a tour. She didn’t even take me into the weight room, just pointed it out and said, “that’s where the grunting, sweating men work out.” And I just smiled and nodded, and didn’t think much of it.
This week our friend Albert offered to work out with me so that he could teach me how to lift weights. And I realized I really wanted to learn. And not on the machines, either–which, incidentally, may be more girlie, but are often used by the same grunting, sweating men.
So, here’s what I came smack up against this week when Albert and I went into the weight room the first time:
I needed him there with me. And not just because he knows what he’s doing and I need someone to help me figure it out.
I would not have been able to go into the weight room, lay on my back on the bench and lift that bar, without him. There was no feeling of threat, physically or emotionally, from the other men in the room. No one laughed at me or made me feel like I shouldn’t be there. But I still would not have walked into that room alone.
Also, I felt a weird kind of deference to the men who were already in the room. I fought it, but it was there. This feeling like I needed to show that I was still a girl and not trying to be a man by being in their space. And apparently, smiling shyly and keeping my head down was the way to do that.
It was disconcerting.
It doesn’t happen to me often that I feel like I need a man. It’s uncomfortable. It makes me want to go and prove myself wrong.
It never, ever happens that I feel the need to turn into my mother, who once waited in her car on the highway for five hours for a man to finally stop and change her flat tire for her.
I have had that slightly sick-to-my-stomach feeling that I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be before. You know, the one that says that at any minute the cool kids are going to realize you’re there and turn on you? It sometimes pops up out of the blue. It’s a feeling I dislike enough that I have avoided situations where I think it might come up. For instance, I would love to go to Burning Man. I know someone who is involved with a group that goes every year and it probably wouldn’t be very difficult to get myself invited. But I haven’t tried because, deep down, I know I’ll have that uncomfortable feeling that I don’t belong.
That’s how the idea of being alone in the weight room makes me feel. Being there with Albert makes me seem a girl that a man is indulging. Being there alone makes me a woman who thinks she belongs there.
Where the hell is that even coming from?
Learning to lift weights is pushing boundaries of my feminism that I wasn’t even aware of. I didn’t quite expect that. I’m not even sure how to handle it, because it’s one thing to recognize what’s going on and another to stop it. I mean, I can keep myself from the deference thing, but I can’t turn off the fact that the urge is there in the first place.
I can refuse to give in to the instinct to stay off of the boy’s playground. And I can face the weird shit as it comes up, forcing myself to keep my head up and behave as though I belong in the weight room the same as they do. In fact, this is what I’m going to have to do, because the alternative is to retreat. The idea of not lifting weights if I want to gets my defiant athlete up. And that’s good.
I can do all that, and refuse to retreat, but the truth is that I would be really uncomfortable going into that weight room without Albert today. And I’m not sure what to do with that.
I’m curious if this has ever happened to you before. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? What did it feel like? How did you handle it?
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten weeks already.
I’m still not up to 800 training points, but I feel like I made real progress this week.
I was able to do 18 minutes on the elliptical, when I could only do 3 in week one. (That’s not a typo!)
I walked for thirty minutes at 3 mph, which was another first. It felt awesome. No pain, just a tiny bit of stiffness. I went 1.5 miles in 30 minutes. I’m getting closer and closer to doing a 5K in less than an hour.
I’m still not at the point of running. I want to be so badly, which I guess is good because it keeps me going. I can jog slowly for two minutes at a time and a little less slowly for one minute. My recovery time is improving, which I think is a good sign. My legs hurt less.
I also started lifting free weights this week. Our friend Albert really knows his stuff in the weight room and he’s helping me learn how to lift without hurting myself. I surprised myself. It took some bravery to venture into the room full of grunting, sweaty men–to bench press the bar without any weight on it (that sucker weighs 45 pounds!), to put myself in a vulnerable position. Yeah, I was proud of myself this week.
I think the dynamic of the weight room is a whole post of its own, don’t you? It irritates me that I felt safer with a man in there with me. It is definitely a place where I feel ‘other.’ Other than a man. Other than hugely muscled. Other–even though no one seemed bothered by me being there. Yes, this needs a post. Expect it soon.
I moved up to 15 pounds, from 10 for arm work (which I’d already been doing, just not in the weight room.) I even did one set of curls with 20 pound weights.
I was able to do dead lifts with 65 pounds. Four sets of ten. I still have spaghetti legs, but I felt like a warrior. It was awesome.
This week I seem to have at least relaxed my need to weigh myself. The thought is there, but not as strong. A couple of times I was home before I realized that I didn’t step on the scale.
I kept a food journal all of this week, and was not triggered by it. I’m going to continue next week. I’m also going to try a week of dairy free to see how that makes me feel.
I’m pretty sure that my blog has been accidentally dropped from the Fatosphere feed. My last two posts didn’t show up there. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon.
I’m really excited by a couple of things that happened this week, blog-wise.
I found out that my post about the importance of language is slated to be syndicated on BlogHer in the next few days.
I’m also going to start blogging at Shameless. I’m so honored for the opportunity. I’ll give you more information on that early next week.
How was your week?
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It’s okay to feel comfortable in your skin.
No, really. It is okay.
Even if you are fat.
Even if you are slow.
Even if your mother gives you a disapproving look every time you lift a fork to your mouth.
Even if you are afraid that no one will ever love you if you don’t look like the women in the magazines.
Even if some real brave jackass calls you a fat ass from a moving car.
Even if a whole murder of media mavens insist that there is something wrong with your body.
There are very few universals in the world. Oh, sure, we talk about rights, but we all know that they don’t apply to everyone. Not everyone in the world gets to have enough food to keep from starving or to marry the person that they love or to live free of fear, even though many people consider these things rights.
But one thing that is universal is that it is okay to feel comfortable in your own skin.
You are under no obligation to hate your body for not being what someone else thinks it should be.
You are also under no obligation to love your body.
But you can. If you want to, you can. And it’s okay. If you need permission, I officially offer it. Go ahead and feel comfortable in your own skin.
Refuse to apologize for your so-called imperfections. Just try that on for size and see how it feels.
Or, eat when you’re hungry. Don’t try to analyze why you’re hungry. Don’t wonder if it’s nerves or stress or PMS. Just eat when you’re hungry, without apology. Give yourself permission (or take mine, if you aren’t there yet) to eat without feeling uncomfortable. How does it feel?
Here’s one I struggle with: Get dressed up today in something that draws attention to you, if you’re used to dressing for anonymity. Wear fishnets under your dress. Wear a dress. Or don’t wear a dress for once. Wear a swimsuit in public. Or, maybe try dressing for physical comfort or your own sense of style or in a way that matches how you feel on the inside if you’re stuck in the trap of believing that you owe the world as much conventional beauty as you can give it. You are no one’s viewing pleasure, unless you want to be.
It’s okay to be your own damn viewing pleasure.
It is okay to appreciate all of the wonderful things your body can do. And it can do wonderful things. Yes, even yours.
It is okay to disagree with the notion that being fat is a grave moral imperfection that will surely lead to your death at some point, and in the mean time may cause the downfall of society as we know it.
It’s okay to refuse to hurt yourself to conform. It’s okay to feel empowered by refusing to hate your body. It’s okay to be revolutionary.
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Cat and cow.
The Rad Fatties Project is a body-positive silent self-portrait celebration of what is fine and wonderful about the wide diversity of human bodies.
Conversation is encouraged, but this is a judgment-free zone, even against yourself. Don’t apologize or explain away your supposed defects. They are beautiful here.
If you’d like to participate, post a titled self-portrait or series of self-portraits on your blog . Post the link in the comments and direct your viewers back to this post so that they can see all of the other rad fatties. If you don’t have a blog, but would like to participate, email your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can support the Rad Fatties Project by getting the word out. Thank you!
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I’m so incredibly excited!
My post If You Are, Then What Am I? is going to be syndicated on BlogHer.
This excites me on so many levels. I mean, what writer doesn’t want more readers? That’s the purely selfish level.
But also–a body positive post on the front page of a major media outlet for women? That’s just awesome all around. Talk about being an FA missionary.