Peace Treaty in the War on Obesity?

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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