Exorcising Exercise?

Oops – I thought that I made this title up but it turns out that it was actually coined by the brilliant Golda Poretsky.  I got a linkback from her blog and realized my error.  If you don’t know of Golda and her work then I would definitely recommend a visit to her site –  she is amazing!

Several studies have indicated that physical fitness is a much better indicator for health and longevity than weight.  I am a fan of exercise and I do it a lot (it’s a big part of being a competitive dancer).

However, the word “exercise” bugs me, and I hear the same thing from a lot of people of size.

I think it’s because we hear it so many times from people in the context of losing weight. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told that I need to “eat less and exercise more”, I would never have to work again.)

Or maybe it’s that we’ve been sold the “Biggest Loser” exercise concept where you have to be grunting, sweating, screaming, and puking while being emotionally abused by an egomaniacal trainer for exercise to have an effect.

I can absolutely see how people in the Body Positive Movement who’ve been pummeled with the concept of exercise as a weight loss tool, or a punishment for their weight,  might reject it along with their decision to reject the diet industry and the concept of intentional weight loss.  I can see how I could have easily ended up there.

For me, though, exercise is important because I’m a dancer.  It’s also important because I am committed to my health. I don’t have to be thin to be healthy, but in my experience I need to participate in healthy behaviors to be healthy. For me exercise is one of those.  Except I almost never call it exercise anymore – I prefer “movement”, or “working out”, or “going to the gym”.   I hate euphemisms for fat (I am not “pleasantly plump”) but I prefer euphemisms for exercise, a little weird perhaps but there it is.

To be clear, I don’t think that exercise is a moral imperative – people have the right to be sedentary just like they have the right to drink like fish, be bad drivers, or never look both ways before crossing the street. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to live.

I’m talking to people who may desire to move their bodies more, but are  not doing so as a retaliation or rebellion against everything that society is throwing at us about exercise and out weight.  We can certainly choose that, but in the end we are the ones who are likely to suffer.

If you find yourself stuck in a bad relationship with exercise, I would suggest finding an activity you like and doing some of that.  If “traditional” exercise (step aerobics, anyone?) isn’t your thing, find something that is.  Gardening.  Dancing around in your living room.  Tai Chi.  Cleaning your house. Whatever floats your boat.

I would also suggest choosing the activity each day (“I think I’d like to do some gardening today”) instead of making grand future plans (“I’m going to work out 2 hours a day, 6 days a week”).You can block out time in your schedule for movement ahead of time, but consider picking what you most feel like doing to fill that time as it comes around instead of way in advance. That way it will never feel like you are slogging through something that you don’t like.

One of my favorite things about making healthy behaviors my goal rather than a specific weight or size is that I get to succeed early and often.  If my goal is to move three times a week and I do some gardening today, then I hit part one of my goal.  Time for a butt-shaking happy dance of success and victory!  If I dance around the living room on Friday and take a pilates class on Sunday because that sounds good to me, then I’ve kept my commitment to my health, had three awesome successes, and enjoyed myself in the process.  Now I’m in a healthy place mentally and physically which supports me in keeping my commitments to health tomorrow and the next day.  Woot!

You can make whatever choices about your health that you want.  I just suggest that you be certain that they are truly your choices and that you’re not making them because of, or to spite, anyone else.

Not about the Marie Claire Mess

Instead, it’s about why I’m grateful for the Marie Claire mess…

If you haven’t heard, a blogger at Marie Claire posted a blog in which she talked about finding fat people gross.  (I’m not quoting the article and I’m not linking to it from here. For all of those waking up wondering “What grand and glorious adventures will I have today?” that’s just not how I want to start their Monday. Nor will I give this girl more publicity by publishing her name.)

The reaction is what is interesting to me.  Suffice it to say that there was a huge outpouring of pissed-off-ed-ness.  There were over 3000 comments, almost all of them negative.  I heard somewhere (unverified) that 28,000 negative e-mails were sent.

And here’s why I’m grateful:

One of the things that concerns me about the Body Positive Movement is the number of people I meet who think that they deserve to be treated poorly because of their size.  An article as ridiculous as this can perhaps galvanize us and draw a line in the sand that says “Ok, now you’ve gone too far” and I think that with where we are as a movement, right now we need that line.  Here’s what I’m hoping people got out of this experience:

You deserve to be treated with respect

In every interaction.  By everyone.  That doesn’t mean that people will always treat you with respect, it just means that if they don’t it’s an issue on their end, and you don’t have to make it your issue.  Can you imagine picking up somebody else’s baggage at the airport and thinking – “I don’t know who this person is, or how they came to pack these things, but no matter what’s in here, I’m going to wear it!”  So there you are, wandering around the airport in bondage pants and a paisley shirt rethinking your strategy.   That’s exactly what we do when we choose to take on someone else’s issues as our own.

You Do Not Need to Measure Yourself with Someone Else’s Ruler

I know someone who claims to have a phobia of little people.  Some of her friends entertain this  –  offering  her understanding and solace.  I find it abhorrent – these are not spiders, they are freaking PEOPLE.   I once had a  dance judge tell me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me” because my arms were too fat (hi Cindi).   It is my firm opinion that anyone who has that kind of issue with people  – whether it’s because they are little, big, disabled, a different color etc. is fully responsible for doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to overcome that issue, or just shut up about it.  Of course we’re not the boss of everybody’s underpants, just our own.  So while we can’t control people vomiting their issues all over us, we can deftly step aside and not get any on us.  You get to choose how you react to what people say. So instead of internalizing someone else’s prejudice (“if she says I’m gross, I must be”);  try something more like “Wow, she’s a crazy bigot and her prejudice is not my problem”. How you allow something to make you feel is your choice.

You are Not a Stereotype

Some of my favorite responses were people who fought back against the myths the blogger had clearly bought into about weight and health. This is where I think people really allow  themselves be affected by society.  As a fat person I am constantly sold the idea that someone can look at me and ascertain my eating and exercise habits and general health.  Well, that’s just bullshit.  But fat  people choose to buy into it.  They hear over and over again that all fat people eat too much and are lazy and sick, so they think “I must eat too much and be lazy and sick.  That’s my fault and so I deserve to be treated badly”.  May I just suggest:  NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo.  First of all, more and more research is finding that people’s natural body size varies widely.  Of course, that research is being drowned out by the diet, pharmaceutical, and weight loss surgery industries who want us to believe that omgdeathfat! is coming for us; and by people who want to feel superior by putting us down, and by well-meaning people spouting myths because they’ve not done their research.   If you feel that you would like to be healthier, then I would suggest looking for ways to add more healthy behaviors to your life (eat a little better, find movement that you love to do.).  In any event, you are not responsible for making your picture fit anyone else’s frame, and the only thing that people can tell by looking at you is what you look like.

So thanks, crazy prejudice blogger, for giving us an opportunity to come together as a community, I really appreciate it.

Speaking of my fat arms, I was part of a photo shoot today with Richard Sabel, an incredible talented (and more than a little bit patient) photographer.  I’ll be blogging more about it later, but for now here is the first picture.  This is the dress that I was wearing when the judge (hi cindi) said that she couldn’t stand to look at me.  I wish my feet were more pointed (I think in this frame I am coming down and relaxing them to land on the oh-so-comfy-concrete floor) but I love my 284 pound healthy body in this picture, un-photoshopped,  as it should be!