Athletic, Fathletic

Thanks, as always, to the amazing Kate Wodash at the Mindful Body Center in Austin.

I had coffee yesterday with the amazing Jenni Schaefer.  She wrote the books Life Without ED and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me (both about overcoming Eating Disorders). She is a hero to many of the women with eating disorders who I’ve  worked with (and therefore a hero of mine) and I remember how much buzz there was that she was going to be moving here.  I was so excited to sit down with her and she was just as awesome as you might imagine.  We got onto the subject of online dating.  (If you’re a long-time reader you already know about some of my misadventures in dating, and with online dating in particular.)

This conversation focused on the “check the box body type” box that is typically required when setting up a profile (ie:  thin, average, athletic, voluptuous, curvy, BBW).

The one I want to talk about is “athletic”.  My understanding of the perception of athletic (as verified by two of my heterosexual male friends)  is “thin, possibly with muscles, definitely small boobs”.   But the idea is obviously problematic.  I’m an athlete but if I checked the box for “athletic body”, the person I ended up on a date with would likely feel that I had been disingenuous.

Cheryl Haworth is an Olympic medal-winning heavyweight weightlifter. In a typical workout she lifts as much as 25 tons – the weight of an F-15 fighter jet. Cheryl holds a record for clean and jerk of 355 pounds.  That means that I could hold a 71 pound weight and then Cheryl could push me and the weight OVER HER HEAD.  Who would like to tell Cheryl Haworth that she does not have an athletic body, please step forward…

That’s what I thought.

Then there’s my BMI double Refrigerator Perry,  and my hero Po from Kung Fu Panda.

When did being an athlete become more about how a body looks and less about what it can do?  And who gets to dole out the title of athlete.  I’ve met plenty of people who thinks it’s their right, but none of them had a sash or a gavel or anything. These are probably the same idiots who say that I don’t have a dancer’s body. Bite me.

Why are there requirements to call yourself an athlete?  Why does the title of athlete need to be protected?  If every person in the world thought of themselves as an athlete, what bad thing would happen?  It doesn’t make anyone’s work less valuable because other people are doing different work.  If you feel that you lose something because someone else gets to identify as an athlete too, then you’ve missed the point.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the Athletes of Every Size Flickr account and add your pictures if you are so moved!

I believe that you are an athlete if you believe you are, and your body is athletic if you say it is.  Athletes come in every shape and size.

37 thoughts on “Athletic, Fathletic

  1. There is an old joke from military basic training that goes something to the effect of:

    The Drill Sergeant had just finished giving the the troops a severe chewing out. When he stopped yelling and turned his back, a voice from the center of the formation whispered, just loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’m told the Sarge really has the tender heart of a gentle child. In a jar. Under his desk.” The Drill Sergeat heard this, shook his head, and said to the other sergeant, “Damned if these recruits don’t find out everything about you.”

    I think if I was surrounded by uppity “fit folks” talking about their “athlete’s bodies,” I’d have to say that I have an athlete’s body, too. A taxidermist made it into a coat rack for me.

    Sometimes, the best way to deal with narrow-minded people, is to just leave them wondering if you’re really joking or not…

  2. The titles people get help to separate them from everybody else. If you’re an athlete you’re special, you do what some people can’t or won’t.
    But that all falls apart if anybody can get the title. You’re no longer one of the elite, you’re just like everyone else.

    Of course that’s the cynical way to look at it. You could also see that the title means you’ve achieved something great, and that the other people with the title have also done great things.
    A person is also more than just the title, and it’s only one of the things that make them special. Awfully tough to remember that sometimes though it seems.

  3. I’ve always hated, this particularly about online dating (which is where i met my current partner),

    I perceive the term “athletic” to describe not only my body’s appearance, but also to give some clues as to how I prefer to spend my time. Because of this, in most situations, I believe “athletic” to be the best descriptive option for my body.

    And yet, and yet.

    The number of times I’ve been messaged — whether my status includes a “looking” descriptor or not — to be told that a fat/plus-size/curvy/little-extra body CANNOT be an athletic body.

    Well, let’s just say that it parallels the number of folks who message me solely for boob pics.

    1. Jinkies, neither of those is good (I’ve never been messaged for boob pics. What the hell?) It really is quite ludicrous to say that being an athlete doesn’t make you “athletic”.


      1. Well, there is one distinct plus to the boob pic requests. You won’t have any doubts when sticking that potential date on the “reject” pile…

        (What boggles my mind are the stories I’ve heard of guys responding to date-site ads by sending pictures of their junk. Are they just going for some sort of cheap shock thrill, or do they REALLY think a woman is going to be impressed?)

  4. When I think of athletic, I think of someone who either does some kind of sport and is toned. There are very few athletes that I have seen that don’t have some kind of toned look about them, unless they are newer athletes, but like you said, they come in every size as well.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      Right, that’s exactly my point. I’m an life-long athlete but if you look at my body you probably wouldn’t consider it “toned” because all the muscle is covered in fat. But that doesn’t make me un-athletic.


  5. Likewise, someone can call themselves athletic because in their opinion they look “fit” but might not actually have a particular skill set, strength, or sports ability. “Athletic” as an adjective is far too tied up in body image when “athleticS” really means sports and active hobbies. You only need a body to DO those activities, you don’t do them to GET an athletic body, that doesn’t even make sense.

  6. As I have commented before I am a Belly Dancer. As in a LOT of Dance Forms it is a LOT harder then it looks. I had someone bash me JUST the other day with this comment

    “You say you’re healthy and fit but if that were the case, why are you not toned? Belly dancers have very toned bodies and a tiny bit of belly. You’re flabby stomach is just distracting and not graceful and that’s coming from a belly dancing teacher. ”

    And that was just me saying I am a Strong Healthy, Fit Dancer despite the way I look.
    Obviously this person is NOT for real. I have EVER heard such hate spewing from a fellow Belly Dancer before in my life, well at least not about size. In this Dance form it’s just one of those things. One of our first rules is that ANYONE can belly dance, age, height, weight, doesn’t matter.
    My Point I consider myself an Athlete? Well I can use muscles in my body which are VERY strong and toned, though are often not as easily seen due to the fat covering them. I have VERY strong endurance. I can keep UP these movements which are the same impact on the body as running and not get winded. I train, practice take workshops and master classes that are usually no less the 3 hours long and sometimes 4 hours but multiple workshops in a day, so I could take 6 hours of workshops and then do a Performance. So does this make me an athlete?
    I don’t know if I would consider myself an Athlete or not, I guess I could fit into the category, but I do like being a dancer. But as your picture examples shows, athletes come in MANY shapes and sizes. And though I may have a soft squishy belly I can crack a walnut with the muscled abs underneath.
    So Me Personally I don’t care if someone considers me an Athlete or not being a dancer, I would just take acceptance that I am strong health and Fit. Or Hell for that matter a great dancer! Because I have the technique, strength and creativity, not the “perfect body”.

    1. Hi! I’m a little late to this thread but I still wanted to comment. I too am studying” belly” dance and for the “instructor” who told you that “Belly dancers have very toned bodies and a tiny bit of belly” doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The origin of the dance form was actually for women themselves. In the Middle East, where “belly” dance was born, women dance for each other during celebrations, since their social activities are largely segregated by sex. This type of dancing is thought to help the birth process and I can see that, as most of the movements are very round, curving, flowing and comforting. It’s a dance that’s very connected to Mother Earth.

      It is a Western concept that a “belly” dancer should only have a tiny belly. In fact, old-school, classically trained dancers don’t refer to the dance form as “belly dancing” (they consider it to be vulgar) but by the correct name, “Oriental Dance”. Also, in some cultures, when the women do dance for a mixed-sex audience, their costumes are extremely modest, long dresses with long sleeves. The only hint of their figure might be through a sash worn around the waist. It’s the skill of the dancer that tells the story of the music, not the appearance of her midriff!

      1. You are correct. I have studied Middle Eastern Dance, or Oriental Dance for about 11 years now. Luckily this person did NOT say this to my face, she hid behind the internet as most haters do. I LOVE my body and am not ashamed of it. I know were I to go to these countries where this dance form originated I would be accepted with open arms. It is sadly the perversion and “mainstreaming” of belly dancing that has brought about such mindsets. You are also correct in that the dance form originated from women who were priestesses of the Goddesses of Fertility in pre-Islam nations. And only were forced into the more “sex and fantasy” realm when the new religion took over. But it is still held in high esteem. Sadly it is the Americanization of the dance form that has caused problems. I have had the OWNER of one of the studios that I go to in a PROFESSIONAL DANCE TRAINING CLASS tell em that we are “competing with MTV” pardon me but WTF? We are not “The Fantasy” we are strong women. And ANYONE that would teach a class about a dance form with such rich culture and has the audacity to tell her students or even other dancers that they are not the right shape should lose the privilege of teaching, and perhaps even dancing. That may be harsh, but I have gotten SOO much hate from this video, and I am simply dancing in a park because I enjoy it.
        Yes I have myself veered off form the Traditional styles and gone to Tribal and ATS, ITS, Polynesian etc, but that is no different then a jazz dancer exploring Lyrical, or contemporary or Ballet or even Tap. If you are a dancer like myself you know that one must always be learning and expanding to perfect the craft as our host of this Blog I am SURE knows as well. Here is a link to the video, and you can see in ALL my performances I do NOT hide my stomach. There is no reason to. I am strong beautiful and have the technique to back up me even being on the stage. This woman (who probably is full of it and isn’t even a real dancer) was just spewing hate. I have NEVER been asked NOT to perform because the way I look, or the shape of my body…ever. So she can take a flying leap for all I care. I know where I stand with myself AND my dancing, as well as the proper origins. Thank you for your support and showing me that there ARE still people out there that know and understand what Middle Eastern Dance really Is.

  7. What these websites really mean when they ask for “body type” is whether a person is a mesomorph, endomorph, or ectomorph, or some combination of them (mesomorph with large breasts, for instance). And you’re right, Ragen – any one of these “body types” can be athletic!

  8. I hate those damn descriptors. I’m sorta an inbetweenie. Where the hell is the line for “more to love”/”a few extra pounds” vs. “overweight” vs. BBW? I dunno. Its totally in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I suppose the scientific thing to do would be to set up the exact same profile (same pictures, etc) and only change username and descriptor and see the difference in types of messages you get.

    But I totally hate online dating anyway. Its an enormous time suck and for me it hasn’t been an efficient way to sort through potential matches. It doesn’t matter how carefully I describe what I am looking for, I get people messaging me who obviously didn’t read it. Then, when a likely candidate does appear, there’s a bit of an online feeling-out period to make sure they aren’t psycho or just looking for a hook up. Then there’s a meeting, and there is rarely a second date. I’m cool with people deciding we don’t jive or there’s no physical chemistry, but the amount of time the process takes with reading profiles, messaging, etc is exhausting for my introvert self.

    Sorry for the rant, its just been on my mind lately!

  9. This reminds me of the time my rm tried to tell me that people incorrectly use the word toned. To her to be toned you have to have visible muscles showing, ignoring that you can get toned by exercising. Trying to explain that it has nothing to do with how someone looks but how someone feels went flying over her head.

  10. I’ve tried online dating, several times. Was never successful.

    Rather than body type, I’d like to see drop-down options or check boxes for such questions like “Are you divorced and hiding it?”, “Are you extremely bitter and cynical?”, “Do you have kids that you’re not telling me about?”, “Are you a terrible kisser?” Because I’ve run into all of the above and then some. Body type be damned. I’d rather know about what’s hiding in the closet than what’s under the shirt.

    1. Also, “Have you ever done one or both of the following on a first message: a) solicited boobie pics; b) sent photos of your junk?”

      Even as someone who’s had relative success with online dating (some boring dates, but no creepy meets; current long-term relationship), that question would have allowed me to use my “block” feature ever so much more effectively. 😉

  11. What timing – I just filled out a waiver for a trip I’m taking, and one of the questions was “Are you physically fit?”

    Vague, much? Fit for WHAT exactly? 🙂

    I wrote ‘yes’ and then entered my height and weight as 5’2″ and 240 on the next two lines, and imagined the raised eyebrows that’s likely to produce on the other end, even though it totally shouldn’t. ;P

    I love seeing the photos of you dancing and doing your thing – keep it up!

    1. Fit for WHAT exactly?

      I’ve had similar experiences (usually with group hiking/camping/canoeing/etc. trips). The most helpful one I’ve ever seen was something like, “This trip involves hiking 2-3 hours at a time, for 6-8 hours per day, over uneven terrain with occasional steep grades. You will be expected to carry a daypack with your noon meal, snacks, and water, along with any personal items you may need. Are you physically capable of meeting the demands of this trip?”

      Which was *excellent* because: 1) it allowed me to make a detailed assessment; 2) it gave the trip coordinator more assurance that I was making an informed assessment.

      Now that I’m teaching some differentiated yoga classes at my school, I’ve tried to model class descriptions after a “specific scenario” example like this one.

  12. LOVE this! I have a really hard time with the idea that larger people can’t be athletic. I am considered “morbidly obese” by doctors…I was considered this even 45lbs ago when I was not eating enough to sustain small children and working out like a madwomen. In other words, I was unhealthy.

    However. My body does all of the things I want it to do. I do landscaping for a living (24-32hrs/wk) I hike, I kayak, I do hot yoga, I roller blade and I bike. I am athletic. I am working on getting stronger because then some things (like work!) will be easier and I will have more energy to do more fun things. I’m going to start jogging with my girlfriend just because I can. I am athletic. at 5’0″ and 178lbs.

    1. Hear hear! 45 pounds ago I couldn’t walk up stairs without feeling light headed and winded, I couldn’t get up in the morning, I couldn’t make it through class without falling asleep on my desk, and then I couldn’t fall asleep at night. Now, I wake up early, get through a productive 9-10 hour workday, go to the gym for 2 hours, cook when I get home, and then get a deep, restful sleep.

      My fat butt that slim unconditionally equals athletic or fit.

  13. Thanks, as ever Ragen! I Kindled the two Jenni Schaefer books. Thank her for me, will you? I’m so grateful to you for mentioning them. They’re exactly what I needed right now.

    I was telling your bestie tonight that one of my favorite things is to turn off the morning alarm on my blackberry and immediately pick up your blog.



  14. Athletic is the desctriptor they are using because women are not supposed to be visibly muscular and strong.. .who me bitter at beauty standards? Nooo…. it’s the saae as with all the useless “how to tone without bulking up” crap :/

  15. Ugh. Ragen, I hadn’t read your ‘dating adventures’ before – just, ugh.

    I’ve never used online dating, but I met my first husband through computer dating, as it was back in the late 1980s. Seven years later, after I’d left him, we met up to discuss tying up financial loose ends, and he said ‘You know, I always preferred thin blonde women anyway, but I took you on because I figured you’d lose the weight.’

    I was a UK size 14 when we met (and a natural brunette). This was the first time he’d mentioned his ‘preference’, I should point out. There wasn’t a ‘build’ box on the form as I recall – there was an ‘attractiveness’ box (I’d ticked ‘average’). I’m guessing that this was his excuse for basically giving up on any kind of relationship – ‘She doesn’t put any effort into her appearance, why should I share the cooking and cleaning/fix the house/take her out/please her in bed/anything?’. I’d also bet good money that he’s now somewhere on MyFatSpouse bemoaning the same thing about at least two other women. (Because one, he wasn’t the kind to ever admit he might have been wrong; and two, he’d still be looking for a wife he could fob off the care of his psycho elderly mother onto. But I digress.)

    As for ‘athletic’, I’ve never either been athletic nor had the expected build for that adjective…but I have had issues with the ‘dancer’ thing. Apparently if you’re 140lb and do ballet, you are not actually a dancer, therefore are automatically disqualified from school plays and so forth, no matter how good your dancing may actually be. To the extent that they’ll hold auditions behind your back to stop you actually showing them what you can do. Who knew?

    1. Gah! A big problem on all sides of relationships is the, “This person isn’t what I really want, but I can change them to suit me.” People need to remember that relationships tend to be a WYSIWYG situation – if a person isn’t happy with their date’s build when they first meets, it’s not likely that it will change as the relationship progresses. We either learn to love the person for who they are, or we need to move on.

  16. Oh, Cheryl Haworth is my favourite Olympian! I first heard about her in Sydney 2000 and always look out for her whenever there’s weightlifting on TV. I love that picture. I love when stereotypes are challenged.
    xx Katie.

  17. Are there any positive dating stories you could share? I’m quite new to FA and frankly, one of the things that’s terrifying me about accepting my body the way it is is the fear that I’ll never have sex again! Previously I’ve had a lot of big weight fluctuations and I’ve only ever started relationships when I was a lot thinner. Does anyone have any reassurance to share about this?

    1. Well, I don’t know if it will help or not, but my wife has had the build that all of our medical people class as “obese” for most of our married life (we’re coming up on 32 years now). It sure hasn’t dampened my desire for her at all – for HER. It isn’t a deal of, “Okay, she’s here, but in my mind, I’m thinking of a Victoria’s Secret model instead.” I enjoy looking at her, and she still excites me after all these years. Not all of us guys are obsessed with women that fit the narrow (no pun intended) standards of the popular media. A woman (or man, for that matter) doesn’t have to be skinny to be sexy.

    2. I’m at 3 and a half years dating (and intending to marry) a wonderful man I met while at close to my heaviest weight ever (5’9″ 260ish). He’s 6’2″ and 300+ pounds himself, so there’s hope out there even for the big, geeky guys.

      I have a friend who is 6′ and probably over 300 pounds who has been married for close to 5 years in an open relationship. She has no shortage of male companionship.

      I saw a comment from someone else a while ago that really, being fat is just an easy first screening to weed out the jerks. Caveat: only works if the dude is being honest. May not apply to dates with guys who’re just hoping you’re desperate enough to be an easy lay.

    3. I am about to marry the man I love, I am 5’3 and 262, and he loves EVERY inch of me. He has dated smaller girls in the past, and such but what he sees in me is not just the outside but the inside as well. He is actually quite small, muscular but short for a guy, and pretty lean. But he loves my curves, and how I can fill out certain outfits that a smaller woman couldn’t. I guess the advice is there are PLENTY of men out there that will see you for you AND the way you look. I am not trying to say “just bank on your personality cause guys won;t dig you cause of your looks” Dear lord no! I am saying that if someone likes you, they will most likely enjoy ALL of you. And if there is attraction, it can lead from there. I know you said you are new to this, but a positive image of yourself will help. in that if you feel sexy, it will show and people will notice 🙂
      I know you will find that special someone ❤

    4. I’m 5’11” and somewhere in the 250-260lb range, and I’ve been married to (or at least living with for the first three years) a wonderful man for the last 17 years. I can’t speak for dating, because I never really have (I don’t think you can call meeting on a single blind date and moving in and never leaving much of a dating history), but I think it’s safe to say that there are men who are attracted to women who aren’t the same shape as those featured in the magazines.

    5. Yes – there are men out there that are not shallow and do not like only skinny women, but ALL women. 🙂 I always feared sex too until I finally let myself have it while fat, because I knew that I would never be thin. Boy, was I glad I did! And having it helped my body image because I thought, “hey, he and I just had a very enjoyable night, and he thinks I’m sexy, and I do NOT look like the woman on the cover of this month’s Glamour!”

  18. I’d like to see anyone who tells you that you’re not athletic attempt the pose you’re in on your main page! I work out and take dance (and happen to be thin) and my hamstrings hurt just looking at it!

    Love your blog, btw. Have an awesome long weekend!

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