Holy Mixed Messages Fatman

The jerk whispererI’ve noticed a lot of mixed messages that are given to fat people when it comes to movement and athletics, most of which shouldn’t be messages at all.  It came to mind today because of some of the responses to the petition to keep The Biggest Loser from having kids on the show – responses that we got specifically because Jeanette and I created the petition on behalf of the Fit Fatties Forum

To give you some background, the forum’s stated purpose is “to be a space where people who are interested in fitness from a Health at Every Size perspective can connect, get support, and make friends.” Apparently some people just can’t get behind this idea.

Nobody is under any obligation to exercise.  Whether or not, or how much, we exercise is nobody’s business.  While fathletes, and those of all sizes who enjoy movement, have every right to talk about our experiences, of course they don’t make us better or worse than anyone else.  As a fat person, I find that I’m constantly barraged with the message that I need to exercise – typically based on the assumption that I don’t exercise at all.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told, by everyone from friends, to doctors, to strangers,  to “eat less and exercise more” by people who have no idea what I eat or how much I exercise in the first place.

So people can’t stop yammering about how fat people need to exercise, but when we do then they moo at us, they tell us that we obviously aren’t doing it enough, or we’re not doing it right, they continue to suggest that we need to start, they assume we’re beginners etc. Then today I received e-mails like this:

“I looked at your fat people forum – I think you people need to stop running marathons and start focusing on losing weight.”

“Who cares what you can do if you’re still fat?”

“There’s no such thing as a fat athlete, take down your forum and join a real forum when you’ve lost enough weight to actually be an athlete.  I don’t say this to be mean, I just want you to be healthy.”

Obviously many of these people are trying to fill the moat around their tower of fat bigotry.  Also, has anyone else noticed that “I just want you to be healthy” is the “bless your heart” of fat bigots?  (If you’re not familiar, in the Southern US, the phrase “bless your heart” is often used immediately before or after saying something rude, as a way to suggest that what you just said is actually ok.)  Someone can want me to be healthy all they want, they can even want to help. But I don’t have to care about that and I don’t have to accept their help, nor the premise that I need help to begin with.

These mixed messages and the idea that the only “successful” outcome of movement is thinness not only go against the evidence (which tell us that movement is great at helping people be healthier and horrible at making people thinner), but they also create an environment that is custom made to create resentment of hatred of exercise and movement.  One of the reasons I typically use the word “movement’ on this blog instead of exercise is that I know people who are triggered just by the “E” word.

I wish that instead of spreading mixed messages heavily influenced by fat bigotry, we could focus our attention on making sure that people of all sizes have safe, affordable movement options.  Safe means both physically and psychologically safe – so every person should be able to show up at a swimming pool without even a chance of being shamed or bullied or teased.  Every person should be able to confidently walk into a class appropriate for their level knowing for sure that they will be welcomed and that they will be not experience weight stigma, shaming or bullying. Then each of us can make our own choices or our own reasons and leave everybody else the hell alone.

If you are looking for shame free support for your movement practice at any level, you can check out the Fit Fatties Forum here!  It’s a free forum for people of all sizes and abilities, there are discussions, a photo and video gallery and absolutely no diet or weight loss talk.

also, please consider signing the petition to keep kids off The Biggest Loser!

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34 thoughts on “Holy Mixed Messages Fatman

  1. “These mixed messages and the idea that the only “successful” outcome of movement is thinness not only go against the evidence (which tell us that movement is great at helping people be healthier and horrible at making people thinner), but they also create an environment that is custom made to create resentment of hatred of exercise and movement.”

    This exactly. I hate exercise and it’s extremely difficult for me to find any movement that I enjoy anymore. These days, “exercise” is only exercise if you run. I am not a runner–I positively hate running. I spent hundreds of dollars on a treadmill earlier this year in an effort to force myself to like running like my sister seemingly has accomplished. It has not worked and my treadmill is collecting dust instead. I’d like to sell it and buy an indoor bike instead, but that’s a long ways off money-wise.

    What I WANT to do is go swimming all the time. It’s the only thing I actually enjoy. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s no pool where I live. The nearest one is a half hour away through a mountain pass, and it costs a LOT of money to join the club. Figures.

    I was going to a little sport (or “activity” as I call it, since my boss made fun of me for calling it a “sport”) called Pickleball once a week. But it’s only once a week, and I can’t practice it and I suck since I’ve never played tennis, and I’m the fattest person there, so I quit going. I’ve gone into the stage where I think “I’m too fat to exercise in public” and “I’ll join the gym when I’m fit enough to join a gym.” Messed up, right?

  2. My wife has commented to me on a number of occasions, how all these “well meaning” experts want fat people to get more exercise and get in better shape, but when she goes shopping for appropriate clothing to exercise in, it’s not available in sizes for people that aren’t already at the size and shape that the pop media wants us to believe is ideal.

    As far as “there’s no such thing as a fat athlete”? I’ve been on a number of organized long bicycle rides, up to over 100 miles, and on just about every one, I’ve seen people with ample derrieres and bellies pedaling their bikes the entire distance. If they want to claim that’s not athletic, then I challenge them to pedal their carcass up thirty five miles of steady climbing, and see how they’re holding up by the time they reach the first summit (and facing another sixty-five miles or more of rolling hills).

    By the way, my awesome wife pedaled her recumbent trike for the 42 mile option of El Tour de Tucson this year. I know a lot of thin people that couldn’t have done half that distance without having a cardiac episode.

  3. “I just want you to…”

    You know what, skippy? I don’t give a flying feck what YOU want me to. In the world that is my life, your wants and needs don’t matter, since you’re not actually in my life.

    “I think you should…”

    I think you should STFU and MYOB already. Nobody cares what you think when it comes to managing his or her own life.

    “You people need to…”

    No, YOU PEOPLE need to STFU. If you don’t like what other people look like, don’t look. But you have no business insisting that other people change to conform to your aesthetic standards.

    “I don’t say this to be mean…

    Yes, you do. You say “this” not only to be mean, but to validate your notion that you are superior to others (for whatever twisted reason).

    “Who cares what you can do if you’re still fat?”

    What can you actually do, other than being a snotty prick? Since you’ve obviously failed a Decent Human Being 101, I’m thinking, “Not much.” Therefore, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think, or what you can do.

    All of the above statements are hideously paternalistic and offensive. To paraphrase Ragen, these jerks are not the boss of my underpants, and I refuse to let them pull this shit on me any more. I bought into it when I was a fat, unhappy teenager, but I haven’t been that person for a long time now.

    If you want to exercise, do it. If some asshat gets in your face for it, go confrontational on them (if you can). Seriously! You do not have to justify your existence in the world, nor your pursuit of an activity – any activity! – that gives you pleasure. Whatever you do, do not slink off ashamed of being who you are, or doing what you do.

    Too often, mean and rude people get away with being mean and rude because nobody calls them on their behavior. Too often, fat people don’t call the mean and rude people on their behavior because we have bought into all the propaganda about how we are not worthwhile, or aren’t allowed to participate or comment or whatever until we are no longer fat. Screw that!

  4. We are homeschoolers and have come across an interesting mindset among people who don’t understand homeschooling; they don’t accept learning outside of a classroom as “real” learning. If my son learns about constellations while sitting outside in our backyard with me, that is cool but it doesn’t really count because he didn’t learn it while at a desk with a teacher in front of the classroom.

    I see the same thing with exercise. I’ve noticed that a lot of movement doesn’t seem to count. If I spend the afternoon kicking the soccer ball with my 9 yr. old, that is great but, to some, that doesn’t count as exercise. If it isn’t done in a gym or with a trainer or isn’t high impact or doesn’t cause you to turn beet red, sweat like crazy and increase your breathing, it doesn’t count.

    I have a friend who cleans houses all day. She is constantly moving. Her doctor told her she needs to exercise more.When she told her doctor what she does for a living, she was told that is great but she needs to actually exercise.

    I am really tired of the current mindset. The idea that exercise is defined as a specific type of movement or it doesn’t count. The “motivational” posters that show sculpted bodies and say things like “What’s your excuse”. The current trend to criticize every morsel of food someone eats. That has gotten out of control. I eat most a paleo diet because of my thyroid disease but I don’t think that makes me better than anyone and I don’t criticize people around me for eating grains. But eating has become like religion; everyone has their own beliefs and think theirs is the only right way.

    Ok, I’m rambling. Sorry to completely go off track. Just so tired of everyone expecting their standards to be MY standards.

    1. AmeliaJade, I see the larger problem as too many people being in too many other people’s business! You are right, too many people see the way that they live as the One True Way ™, and are out to police the world and make others conform.

      Include me out! 🙂

      Far as I’m concerned, if you can kick a soccer ball all afternoon with your 9-year-old, you win! And so does your friend who cleans houses all day!

    2. I’ve even heard anecdotes that for some doctors, walking and jogging suddenly cease to be exercise when 1) someone is doing it to actually get somewhere (so my walking around town ceases to qualify as exercise if I buy a $1 pack of gum) or 2) a parent brings a child with them (at which point the child is getting exercise but the parent traveling the same distance at the same speed is not, by some strange logic I do not understand at all).

      I really wouldn’t be surprised at this point if someone out there argued riding a bike with 60 lbs of weight hanging off the back is good exercise but not exercise at all if the weight is name Susie and in elementary school.

      1. “I really wouldn’t be surprised at this point if someone out there argued riding a bike with 60 lbs of weight hanging off the back is good exercise but not exercise at all if the weight is name Susie and in elementary school.”

        That was gold. Thank you.

    3. Oh yeah, you and your friend are definitely exercising. And your son is definitely learning (as I’m sure you know). And it’s very frustrating that you (and I) have to hold our own convictions against those that feel that “they know best”.

  5. Flii the moat around their tower of bigotry– again Regan, your way with words is perfect.

    And I too, have been told my daily activity does not “count” as exercise- my doctor told me I should try to take about 10,000 steps a day. I reached into my purse, and got out the pedometer that I wear ONLY at work and it was at 14,000 for last night. Any other great ideas, doc?

      1. No, she was quite stunned when the 14,000 steps was brought out. She backpedaled somewhat by saying I am obviously getting enough steps (cardio?) in but I also needed to strength train. I didn’t even bother telling her about the cases of beer I lift, the 40 pound boxes of syrup I toss around, and the 200 pounds of ice I scoop two or three times a shift. Plus stretching to reach the top shelves, squatting, bending, reaching, etc. I get so much movement at work. And I don’t pay for a gym.

  6. There are so many places where we are assailed by hatred, that I try to note when someone does it right. My gym, a YMCA, is stellar at providing a size-friendly environment. Although there are scales in the locker rooms, and people use them, I never hear any Bad Body talk. No one has EVER made a comment about my size, and all the literature for classes and activities is geared towards fitness – i.e. learning how to DO an activity or do it better. The pool lifeguards are of diverse sizes, shapes (and genders and races), and I thrill a little every time I’m swimming and look up to see a fat lifeguard keeping us all safe. I try to communicate all this to the management at the gym regularly, in the hopes that they’ll keep doing what they do. And, btw, they offer scholarships for families who can’t pay the full rate, and are extraordinarily gracious in how they administer this program. I feel very, very fortunate to have this resource in my community. I wish this for all of us.

  7. I love this forum! It is great to see posts from like minded indiividuals. I soo agree with everyone here, especially about who cares what these rude people think? I think home schooling is a beautiful way to teach kids, I too am tired of the bogotry, the rudeness and the “Kind hearted people” that just want to save me from myself. I have ot say that swimming is my preferred excercise too. I have had 3 operations on one leg and two on the other due to a congenital health problem that results in my knees dislocating- after all these operations the knees still dislocate- go figure. Anyway, I do get people who say walking is healthy, etc, and it is, but it is also extrememly dificult for me to walk any distance. My point is, I actually do have one, is that people who do not know your circumstance, seem quick to comment, or criticize. I am glad to find a place where we can talk freely about the bigotry and share our stories! BY the way Kudos to hoomie 2 about his wife! She is a major athelete. Kudos to all of you who are here, stil standing and still standing up for each other.

  8. The recent talk about body bigotry has reminded me how useful the phrase, “Go fuck yourself,” can be.

    (Actually, I tend to say, “Go fuck your mother,” but I’m not known for being politically correct. Anyway, self-fuckery is a pleasant, intimate experience with a loved one, whereas fucking one’s mother is seventeen kinds of awkward and wrong. Fortunately, I’m a lot faster than I look. :D)

  9. That one about stop running marathons made me laugh out loud! That’s just plain silly! And when I say silly I mean that ‘ridiculous’ is too serious and grown up a word to apply to that comment.

    Ragen, I’ve thanked you before for the work you do here, and now I have a reason to thank you again: it’s because of reading this blog, and the integrity and passion with which you write, that I see those comments for the nonsense they are. What’s more, my reality is so far from that silliness that I find it hilarious. Seriously, I’m going to be cracking up over that one all day!

  10. I think I broke my brain…”stop running marathons to focus on losing weight”?!?!?!?

    Buh…if someone can…you see marathons are…*whimper* Grrrrrr…

    *Urge to kill, rising….*

    If they think exercise = weight loss and someone is running a freaking marathon and still not losing weight, then how in all that is holy do they not see that as an exercise = weight loss causality fail?

    In what universe is losing weight better than running a marathon?

    Oh yeah, this screwed up one. 😦

    Those have got to be some of the stupidest things I have ever read. No logic from them = no respect from me. They shake their head at me and say “poor fatty”, I shake my head and say “poor idiot.”

  11. They want us to exercise, to “get off the couch and move” yet at the same time, they don’t want us to because we’re too fat to do it. Do these idiots ever stop and listen to themselves?

    And I’d also like them to come along with me the next time I go to New York City while I pound the pavements for six hours and dare to tell me that’s not exercise. Just because there’s no weight loss involved doesn’t mean there’s no benefit from it.

  12. Ragen, maybe you could make a collection of “beginner” posts, which cover a variety of issues, e.g., evidence which suggests that behaviors are more important predictors of health than weight, the negative effects that shame has on health, fat acceptance as a civil rights issue (e.g., separate from HAES), etc. You could tell anyone who sends you negative e-mails to read all of the beginner posts, then follow your blog for two months, and after they’ve done those things, you *might* read and respond to subsequent e-mails that they send. People who are ignorant, but not cruel, might have the potential to be swayed. And those people might then work to enlighten other people, and so on. Or am I naive?

    In fact, if you were to compile a “beginner posts” collection, I would love to refer people to them…but if you don’t have the time, I might take that up as my own project (go through the archives and bookmark beginner posts).

    1. Ooh, yes please. I love pretty much everything you write here, Ragen, but sometimes it’s hard to find when I’m looking for something specific (takedowns of BMI, links to research on the 95% stuff, American Diabetes Association saying obesity is not a contributing factor, etc.) A whole section of “here are the basics” would be really helpful to look up info, or just to direct people to (my friends who need to hear grace, and my mom who needs to LAY OFF) :).

      And in that vein, in light of the holidays, could you go over again, please, why “calories in < calories out" is not "the key to weight loss", so that I don't get stuck going for hour-long "walks" ("faster, swing your arms more, let's go around the block one more time") with my mother…Thanks 🙂

      Also, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your using the word "movement" instead of "exercise". I didn't even realize how much of a trigger word "exercise" is for me, until just a couple weeks ago. I've started the "Couch-to-5K" plan, because I want to, so I have something to do in this podunk town where I have no friends, and because, I don't know, it seemed like the thing to do. My dad is a physical therapist, and I've been calling him occasionally about knee pain or why my head feels like it's about to implode when I run in the cold, etc. After helping solve my problem, he always tells me, "good going on the exercise". And I always want to reply, "Shut. Up. This is not about 'exercise', as though the only reason I might be taking up running is because I need to 'burn those calories'." Ugh. So thanks for saying "movement" instead, is my point.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ragen, for all that you do!!

  13. You are right on here. And I think the big problem is that people truly believe that health = thin. That you can not actually be healthy if you are fat. Since this is the prevailing view in our society & (unfortunately) our medical community, it is not really surprising. It’s amazing, however, that people cannot see the mixed messages they are giving.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  14. I’ve been ill for a while and have been leaving the house less and less due to the illness and because I’m not willing to deal with people who want to tell me what my problem is or treat me like a side show freak, part of it is to do with developing Rosacea which appears to be triggered by the birth control I use. This has had a knock on effect on my health and fitness levels, I’ve not really put on any weight but I’ve lost a lot of stamina and my fitness level is the lowest it’s been ever.

    My greatest stressor at the moment is Christmas, I’m not in the mood for body shaming and food policing, the worst thing is because I have low level depression which gives me a heightened stress response (I cry when I get seriously stressed) my family wont do it much to me, but I will see them ask my youngest sister if she really needs the extra potato, or to grab something off the table before the meal formally begins. She has the same body type as me but is several sizes smaller. Nobody will do it to my other sister who has a thin build although I get to hear her go on about how fat she is when she over indulges. If I comment on that I’m being over sensitive.

    I want to get as much of my health and fitness back as is possible, but I’m gonna spend 4 days of the joyful season surrounded by lots of concern trolling and unintentional harassment while being fed lots of food I don’t usually get. Not to mention I didn’t bother telling my family just how bad my health and fitness has become as I wasn’t in the mood for the weight loss messages.

    If I’d had a choice when I was younger not to put on as much weight as I have I’d have taken it, but that was not my choice to make, my body reacted the way it did and it’s still worth taking care of. Since I can’t choose to have the body people want me to have I’m gonna have to look after the one I have and love it as best I can.

    Sorry for being so rambly, but sometimes you need to talk to people who will actually listen and get things out of your system and this is one of the few places I feel safe doing that.

    Thank you Ragen for all you have done and all you keep doing ❤

  15. I’m feeling the kind of hopelessness and sadness about humanity that I felt after the Newtown shootings. it’s like trying to discuss the need for gun control with irrational people. Yes, I’m thin, but you have my support; let’s not make this a partisan (thin vs fat) split.

  16. [not sure if this warrants a content note: some reference to weight loss language]

    De-lurking to share a minor success story.

    The caveat: I happen to be relatively thin, and as such absolutely cannot comment on the experiences of those who have to deal with weight-based shittery. At least not any more than any female in the culture. Not trying to speak for anyone here. Also not looking for cookies.

    Just about ten minutes ago, a dance instructor friend posted an event on Facebook entitled ‘fight the holiday flab!’ and invited me to it. I was actually in the middle of watching that youtube video of a woman talking about her seriously messed up experience with Southwest Airlines at the time that the invitation popped up, and I almost viscerally reacted to the fat shaming and weight loss message inherent in the title. My friend is generally a really progressive person, and I was kind of dismayed.

    I spent a little while vacillating back and forth on whether to say anything, but finally realized that if I didn’t say anything, nobody else probably would, and then I would be passively condoning that kind of message. Not okay. Drawing courage from all the reading I’ve done on this blog and a few others, I wrote up a message pointing out that while I get that she’s trying to encourage people to get moving and be healthier, the title she chose has really unfortunate and damaging cultural narrative reinforcing implicit in it, while erroneously conflating weight with health. Plus that it will discourage fat people from participating, and that a more accepting environment helps everyone feel welcomed to get moving and have fun and be awesome if that’s what they want to do.

    I was kind of scared to push send, but I did, and she wound up thanking me for reaching out to her on the issue and promised she’ll change the name. It turns out that she is even a huge proponent of combating eating disorders in the dance world, but she still didn’t spot the problem before I pointed it out. Hopefully she’ll be a bit more sensitive to that kind of language now.

    So, totally not looking for cookies for acting like a baseline non-fuckwit person, but I wanted to share this little success story. Thank you, Ragen, for giving me enough awareness of these issues and enough courage to point out these problematic themes.

  17. “Who cares what you can do if you’re still fat?”

    This quote just says everything. No one cared how smart I was, how kind I was, or what kind of magnificent things I could write or do until I was thin.

    Now that I’m thin, my accomplishments somehow mean something. This actually makes me question myself even more. Am I really sweet? I have always acted this way, but now that I’m thin I am ‘sweet’ rather than ‘simpering’. Am I really smart? I have always had smart things to say in class, but now that I am thin I am ‘smart’ rather than a ‘nerd.’

    It is the stupidist thing in the world. People who don’t think there is fat prejudice have simply never felt it.

  18. I had to start taking notes, there were so many things to say.

    “I think you need to stop running marathons and start focusing on losing weight.”

    Translation: It makes me uncomfortable to think you can do this brutal exercise and still be fat so I need you to stop that.

    “Take down your forum”

    Seriously? *Seriously?* “Please take down your website, you living your life differently from mine is actually offending me.”

    And then my brain hurt so I had to stop.

    I hate this mixed message crap. “Exercise, but not in a way we can see you/makes me uncomfortable/makes you better than me at anything.” “Exercise, but we won’t let you have cute workout clothes.”

    uggghhhhh. I had so many people ask why I was running a 10k in jeans. BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO FUNCTIONAL CLOTHES.

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