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Tag Archives: fat acceptance
A couple of interesting things happened at the gym today.
When I first started training, I had the goal in mind of being ready (and able) to join a boot camp program when we move this summer. I saw it as a step toward my athletic goals.
The things I’ve learned between then and now, about myself and about FA and HAES are amazing.
The thing about learning and growing: sometimes it makes something that might have been easy two months ago more complicated.
If I decide to take part in this boot camp program, I have to step out of my own comfort zone and carve out a place for myself in a situation where I have to risk not only being triggered, but also (the reason we all hate leaving our comfort zones, right?) being uncomfortable.
On the flip side, putting myself in a vulnerable, visible position might encourage people to talk to me and ask me questions about what I’m doing.
And if they’re asking questions, it’s a good bet that they’re listening. And if they’re listening they can learn. Just like me.
Kaia F.I.T. is a women’s only functional training program in Northern Nevada and some areas of California. (WARNING: The video below has mention of weight loss.)
Basically, you sign up for 6 week blocks where you meet up for an hour a day and do interval training. They also have a running program. I mentioned Kaia F.I.T. the other day and someone posted a really thoughtful comment about how joining a boot camp might be triggering, especially because I struggle with wanting to weigh myself.
And they’re right. It might trigger me. Joining a program where one big way they measure success is with the size of my body is sure to, actually, on some level.
But is there a time when it’s okay to risk being triggered in order to put yourself in a position of possibly bringing about even a small amount of change? When you’re fighting for change, can you isolate yourself from triggers entirely?
I called and spoke to a woman who is part of the program and she spent some time answering my questions. She said that the program usually weighs and measures you three times every six weeks, beginning, middle and end. When I asked if there would be a problem with me choosing not to measure my progress this way, she said “absolutely not.” She didn’t seem to think I’d lost my mind or anything, which is a good sign.
Weighing myself is something that’s hard for me. In fact, of all the triggery things involved with joining a program like this, the weighing and measuring is my most triggery. However, I’m already triggered in this way by going to a gym that has scales in every bathroom and having a tape measure in my house.
I’m going to have to find a way to be athletic in a world that equates success with reduced body size, no matter what. I went a year without even thinking about weighing myself before two months ago, but I spent that year in my house or at my job.
I can’t live totally isolated from every scale and every mention of weight loss in the world without limiting my participation in the things I want to do. It’s access to a scale and talk of weight loss that triggers me. Maybe training without daily or almost daily access to a bathroom scale would be less triggering to me than my current situation.
I asked if there is a lot of encouragement during the workout to “feel the burn” or “burn those calories, ladies” and she said that most of the women who are there want to lose weight, and that the trainers do stay upbeat (her word) and try to push you a little harder. I tried to pin her down on whether the push was to work harder or to burn more, and was not entirely successful.
I finally asked whether someone who was there to train athletically and didn’t want to focus on weight loss, even though the trainers might assume they needed to do just that, would be comfortable in the program. If I told a trainer that I don’t want to be encouraged to lose weight, would my request be respected? She said yes, it would. Again, she didn’t sound like she thought I’d lost my mind, even when I told her how much I weigh.
The Kaia F.I.T. program also offers a “nutritional plan”, encourages a one week detox at the start and another week at the end of every six week block, and access to a nutritional expert (the woman I spoke with said she wasn’t sure if the expert was a certified nutritionist, but that she had a college degree in nutrition.)
This, I think, would be more triggering for some people than just about any other aspect of the program. And this is what made me think about the idea of sort of infiltrating a lose-weight arena, because diets don’t trigger me as much as they might someone else. I won’t look at the diet and be tempted to follow it to the detriment of intuitive eating.
The woman I spoke with said that “clean” eating is encouraged. I told her that I’d done a lot of work on learning to eat intuitively and that the detox weeks or following any kind of a diet would not be something I’m willing to do. She said that was fine and that I wouldn’t be the only one.
If you have the opportunity to join a community where most of the people don’t know the message that means so much to you, do you do it? What if that community is offering something you need to meet your goals? I’m not likely to find any kind of training program with adult women in it where weight loss is not somewhere in the picture.
But maybe I can make space for myself in one that isn’t filled with people who already agree with me, and in the process spread the word about FA and HAES and what it means to be a defiant athlete. (That makes me sound like a FA missionary, doesn’t it?)
To be honest, I’m a little scared. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen, while the group seems diverse in age and shape, I will be the largest woman by quite a lot. I’m also not good at confrontation. It freaks me out and makes me want to cry. What if I show up, and people are mean to me when I say I don’t want to be weighed or look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m not there to lose weight?
It would be easier to stay home, to keep walking by myself at the gym or in my neighborhood, to find my camaraderie here, with you. But is that what’s best? If my personal set of triggers/hang ups/healing wounds are such that this kind of group won’t damage me—or at least that the risk of damage is worth taking for me–maybe I can find a space there. Maybe a teaching space.
The woman I spoke to said that when we go to Carson City next month for a few days, I can come to a couple of training sessions. I’m going to do it. I am going to test drive being a F.A. missionary.
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Silentbeep posted a couple of weeks ago about fat acceptance as counter culture.
I haven’t ever really thought of myself as counter-cultural before. I mean, I’m a white woman with a family income that’s just about exactly equal to the American median. I’m not physically or otherwise disabled, I’m educated, I’m heterosexual and I identify as the gender my body was born with. I have three kids, a husband, and a safe place to live.
In other words, I have a whole trunk full of privileges. I am a pretty good representation of non-counter-culture.
I can walk into a store without being watched as a possible shoplifter.
If I contact a real estate agent, I am automatically shown houses in safe neighborhoods with decent schools. If I look at a house in a ‘bad’ neighborhood, I can expect that someone will stop me from trying to live there. (We took a trip to Carson City and looked at a rental house there. Everyone we spoke to about it, including the person who owned the house, warned us against renting it. Why? Well, one woman Kevin works with said that it’s a “gang area.” Her proof? She used to live in the neighborhood. There are a lot of Mexicans there, and they knocked on her door everyday trying to sell her mangos or corn.)
When my daughter was ill and in the hospital this winter, I expected to be treated well, even though we had no insurance. I was not disappointed.
I was able to marry the person I fell in love with. Twice. And have children with no one questioning my right to parent them.
I am not, of course, perfectly privileged. I’m a woman in a man’s world. And I’m fat.
But I’m privileged enough that even the things that might reduce my bag of goodies, like having spent several years as a poor single mother or coming from a broken family or having my dad in prison when I was a teenager, haven’t.
And then there is being fat.
Being fat comes with a set of perceived cultural obligations, right?
As a fat woman in America, I am expected to want to take up less space than I do. I am also expected to live with and take responsibility for whatever problems come from taking up too much. For instance, if I’m uncomfortable in an airplane seat, or make others uncomfortable by encroaching on their very limited space, then conventional cultural wisdom says that I am expected to accept that it is my fault and what I deserve for lacking the discipline to be smaller.
I have a cultural obligation to believe that I’m fat because of a defect in my character. That if I just made the decision to be thin, and then was willing to do the work to get there, I would be less of a burden on society, would take up less of the country’s health care and would live forever.
I am expected to have a gym membership, but if I use it I am expected to understand that the other people at the gym will either wish they didn’t have to look at my jiggling fat so often or gush over-enthusiastic pride at me for my dedication to doing something about my body.
I am expected to cultivate behaviors that in smaller women would be causes for concern. There are dozens of books, shelves of pills, commercial programs and white-coated surgeons all dedicated to helping me do this.
As a fat woman, I’m expected to eat less than anyone else in social situations. While thin people are praised for having big appetites, I’m expected to have a less than normal one, at least publicly. Stuffing myself full of snack cakes and bacon in private is pretty much assumed, whether it is true or not.
And as a fat woman, I am expected to try to lose weight.
Arguing against the other examples of what is culturally expected of a fat person doesn’t feel like I’m really flying in the face of much. I mean, fat acceptance is full of fairly radical ideas, but they aren’t totally outrageous. But this one, that I am expected to want to lose weight, is so universal that not trying to lose weight does feel like a counter-cultural act.
It’s so counter-cultural, that I have had to work up into it myself. I can say without hesitation that I deserve enough to eat or to live my life without ridicule. But it isn’t easy to look someone in the face and say, “I’m not trying to lose weight” when you weigh 340 pounds. It isn’t even easy to say it to myself. Not yet.
The desire to lose weight underlies all the other cultural obligations I’m expected to conform to as a fat woman. It’s okay if I need to ask for a seat belt extender on an airplane, as long as I’m doing what I can to shrink. And it’s okay to expose other gym-goers to my jiggling fat when I’m doing it to lose weight.
Not trying to lose weight puts me counter to the cultural norm that says that fat people, especially fat white women, must attempt to take up less space.
Culturally, it is far more acceptable for me to complain about the oppression that fat people are forced to cope with, if I can also say that I’m fat because of a metabolic or glandular problem, or if I have an eating disorder, or anything–as long as I can say that I am doing what I can to try to change my situation.
It’s a little scary, this being counter-cultural. I sometimes get anxious that I’m doing it wrong. That I’m going to offend someone. Or that with all the privileges every other part of my life affords me, I don’t have the right to feel oppressed by being fat. And it isn’t a simple thing to unravel decades of buying into the culturally normal idea that as a fat person, I am obligated to try to lose weight.
But then there is a little voice. It says that I have the right to my space. I have the right to be an athlete if I want to be. I have the right to eat enough. I have the right to stand up for myself and for other people who feel marginalized by what our cultural currently has to say about fat people. When I add my little voice to all the other voices, big and small, out there saying the same thing, it’s exhilarating. I get stronger everyday. That little voice gets bigger everyday.
When I was a kid, I used to wonder a lot about what I would do if I were ever in the position of having to fight oppression. I knew–deep down–that I would have been a freedom rider when I read about Rosa Parks. After I read The Diary of Anne Frank, I knew that I would have hidden Jews in my attic. I wished I could have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. or stood arm and arm with the hippies protesting the Vietnam War that ended as I was born.
I was a sensitive kid who read–a lot–and who was also white, middle-class, protestant and disability-free. I was, in elementary school, bullied to the point of needing therapy as an adult. But, once I left Kettering Elementary, I was not part of any oppressed class, with the exception of being female.
So when I thought about standing up and fighting the good fight, it was always about standing up in defense of someone else.
But now there are billboards like these going up in Georgia:
And doctor’s supporting this kind of thing. And the first lady standing up against bullying, except against fat kids who I guess deserve it? And daytime talk show hosts running to fight against fat kids.
And I’m wondering if maybe this unbelievable lashing out against obesity–in kids, but also in adults who are not only ridiculed for their bodies, but blamed for having fat kids, too–is the place where I can do what I thought about as a kid. Where I can stand up and scream, with my fist raised, this is wrong! This is wrong, yo. It just is.
It is not okay to stigmatize people. It was not okay in Nazi Germany, it was not okay in the Jim Crow south, it isn’t okay in the places around the world were genocide happens and it is not okay for fat people.
In her book Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry, Laura Fraser says, talking about the shift from fat to thin as a cultural ideal in the late 1800s:
Food became more accessible and convenient to all but the poorest families. People who once had too little to eat now had plenty, and those who had a tendency to put on weight began to do so. When it became possible for people of modest means to become plump, being fat no longer was seen as a sign of prestige. Well-to-do Americans of Northern European extraction wanted to be able to distinguish themselves, physically and racially, from stockier immigrants. The status symbols flipped: It became chic to be thin and all too ordinary to be overweight.
The late 1800s were a long time ago, right? How many people today realize that we are still using fat vs. thin as a way for the most privileged of classes to lift themselves higher, while the rest scramble and scrape to follow suit?
It’s even more pronounced today. The very poor are often resigned by a lack of money and transportation to eating from dollar menus and convenience stores, while the privileged shop at high-end organic markets and declare that the fat poor could be thin if only they didn’t eat so much crap and weren’t so damned lazy.
Despite evidence that even the very wealthy, if they are not genetically wired for thinness are unlikely to remain so for very long (Oprah, anyone?), we are made to believe that all we need is more will power, the right diet, the right exercise, the right determination–and we, too, can be thin.
Not just thin. Healthy.
The thin are healthy, or so it goes. The rest of us are on death’s doorstep.
And even if a fat person has low cholesterol and normal sugar levels and blood pressure–then these anti-obesity zealots only nod and say knowingly that it’s only a matter of time. Because it’s only the BMI that counts.
A person who jumps off a Empire State building might insist that they won’t die when they are only half-way down, but that doesn’t change the inevitable, right?
Thin people, just by virtue of being thin, are assumed to be healthy, even though they can also have diabetes, heart disease and a myriad of other ailments. Some are healthy, some are not. The same as some fat people are healthy and some are not.
The current war on fat kids suggests that thin kids are thin because they aren’t sitting in front of computers or playing video games. That they are thin because they don’t eat McDonald’s or potato chips or chocolate whenever they can get their hands on it. This is blatant bullshit.
Everyone–every human being–benefits from exercise and eating nutritious food. Thin people don’t magically extract health from a hamburger just because their bodies don’t store the calories as efficiently as mine. They don’t somehow build muscle and stamina and lung capacity from watching TV, just because a lack of it doesn’t result in fat for them.
That hamburger has nutrition and is not inherently bad. Food is morally neutral. Food is food, no matter the size of the person eating it. And exercise is exercise, no matter the size of the person doing it.
It is absurd to have a huge, wide spread campaign against fat people. As absurd as it was to drain a pool because a black person swam in it.
It is as absurd to have our president put his young daughters on a public diet, and his wife campaigning for a war on fat kids, as it was for the Arkansas National Guard to have been called out to keep the Little Rock Nine from integrating a white school.
It is as absurd to believe it’s okay to publicly humiliate fat kids (or adults) as it was for America’s leaders to put the three-fifths compromise in the United States Constitution.
I truly believe that my grandchildren will look back at this time and ask themselves, and maybe me, how it could have happened. How could anyone have thought this was okay?
I want to be able to tell them that I stood up against it.