Myths and Stereotypes Are Ruining My Zumba Class!

Photoshoot Outake.  Photo by Richard Sabel
Photoshoot Outake. Photo by Richard Sabel

My partner and I are members of our local YMCA.  One of the reasons we chose it is because there are way less fat-shaming messages and weight loss propaganda than at other gyms.  I started taking a Zumba class for a fun way to get in some movement, but it has been hampered by weight loss myths and fat stereotyping and so my j0y is less than full.

Nobody, of any size, has any obligation to do movement of any kind.  But everybody, of every size, should have the opportunity to do things that they want to do in a space that is physically and psychologically safe, with an instructor who is knowledgeable. If only…

The first time I took the class the teacher kept saying that we should move our hips to help “whittle our middle.”  Since we’ve known for many years that spot reducing is not actually possible, I went up to her afterwards and asked what made her say that. She looked at me and said “When you move your hips it heats up your waist area and the fat melts away.”  It happened so quickly that I was not able to control my “WTF Face.” I recovered and said “Sorry, do you mean that literally?  The fat melts away?”  She answered “Yes, the heat from the workout makes the fat melt.”  I explained that spot-reducing has been disproven in a number of ways (including a study where they measured the playing arm and the non-playing arm of tennis players and found that the had the same amount of fat despite one arm doing a ton more work).  She said that she didn’t understand what that had to do with it. As politely as possible I asked her  to consider doing her research, and not give any more workout advice until she does, since she is a fitness professional and people  will believe what she says.

My fun is also compromised by stupid myths from classmates.  Last night it was really warm in the room, there are fans on the wall and about 15 minutes in everyone turned on the fans for their row. As a couple of us moved to turn our fans on, one of the women in our row insisted that we leave them off because it would help us all lose more fat.  Ok, first of all let’s not assume that everyone on the row wants to lose fat.  Second, does she think that the fat is coming out of our pores? A little reality for you:  we’re not losing more fat, we’re just sweating our asses off. Turn on the damn fans.

Behind me were a girl (who mentioned being a college freshmen) and her mom. Halfway through the class I overheard her lamenting to her mom that she couldn’t keep up. Her mom tried to console her by saying “It’s your first time, you’re doing fine.”  I was thinking how awesome her mom was for reacting that way when the girl said “I’m not!  Even that fat girl [points at me] is doing better than me!”

Ok, dude, I am not the low bar (I can, however, simultaneously hear you and see you in the mirror so you might want to watch that.)  Seriously though, look around, I can say with humility and honesty that I’m doing better than just about everyone in the class – which is likely because I have, like, a hundred million hours of dance training and practice. I would suggest not comparing yourself to others at all, but assuming that the fattest person in the room is the worst at whatever you are doing is simply stereotyping and bigotry.

Then the cherry on top of the crap sundae – I was on my way out and a girl from the class said “You’re a great dancer, keep working and, I promise, you’ll get there!”  I responded, with absolute innocence, “Get where?”  She said “You know…reach your goals.”  I asked, with a smile “What goals?”  To her credit she then said “Well, you’re an amazing dancer.”  I smiled and said “Thanks!  See you next time!”

Despite all the crap, I will see her next time.  I’ll say it again – nobody, of any size, has any obligation to do movement of any kind.  But everybody, of every size, should have the opportunity to do so in a space that is physically and psychologically safe, with an instructor who is knowledgeable. Unfortunately not everyone has that, and for fat people it can mean that those who want to move or get involved in various activity don’t.  (If you haven’t ready Tiffany’s blog about Practicing Yoga While Fat  over on the More Cabaret Blog I recommend it.)   One of the ways that I try to do activism around that is to keep showing up fat.  Some days I have the energy and desire to challenge these myths and stereotypes directly and try to make things better. Other days, I just do single-single-double-cha-cha-cha, know that I’m doing something that my body likes, hope that by being the fattest person in the room I might have made life a little easier for someone who was worried about being the fattest person in the room, and knowing that,  just by being fat in that space, I’m giving some people the opportunity to challenge their stereotypes.  And on those days, that’s enough.

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89 thoughts on “Myths and Stereotypes Are Ruining My Zumba Class!

  1. Thank you!

    “…hope that by being the fattest person in the room I might have made life a little easier for someone who was worried about being the fattest person in the room, and knowing that, just by being fat in that space, I’m giving some people the opportunity to challenge their stereotypes. And on those days, that’s enough.”

    THIS is awesome. Thank you so much for all that you do.

    1. I hate that this even happened to you. Zumba is not supposed to be about that. It’s a fitness party. You move at your own pace, but most importantly enjoy yourself. Just find another instructor.

      1. ‘Zumba is not supposed to be about that. It’s a fitness party. You move at your own pace, but most importantly enjoy yourself. Just find another instructor.’ So true. I’m a Zumba instructor, and I actually market a body positive Zumba: no mention of calories burned; no mention of weight-loss. I want my students to de-stress, to grow in confidence and to have a fun workout; they know I don’t care about anything else. Wonderful to hear it from the student’s perspective. Thank you for writing this blog post.

  2. This makes me love my Zumba group so much. They may be silly and try to sell me neon shirts all the time, but the owner hires instructors of all sizes and no one ever gets made to feel uncomfortable in the class.

  3. I have a personal trainer at my gym who is brilliant and size accepting and doesn’t go on about weight loss, and knows that isnt my goal. But there are women in the gym, mostly in the pool who assume my goal is weight loss and come out with some real crap. And there are skinny folk who really hate it that I am way faster than they are down the pool! Gives me lots of opportunity for size activism.

  4. Can we clone you and make enough versions for all the gyms in the country? No, I guess not. I guess all of us are just going to have to do this, too, until THIS is a normal attitude.

    Here’s to the kind of “active” ism that means something!!!

  5. It really distresses me how brainwashed people seem to be about fat and weight and fitness – when I read your blogs, I realise how crazy it is. I keep trying to challenge other people’s views. Thanks for helping me!

  6. “hope that by being the fattest person in the room I might have made life a little easier for someone who was worried about being the fattest person in the room” This struck me too. I actually laughed in happiness when I read it. I am the fattest person in my yoga class. I never thought of this as a good and helpful thing before – thanks!

  7. I used to have a membership at LA Fitness, which I let lapse for financial reasons. Anyway, I used to go to a Monday yoga class that I LOVED because the instructor was so awesome. I have been doing yoga off and on for years, and I know a thing or two. I’m not an expert, by any means, but I know my way around.

    I am also pushing 300.

    And the great thing about this instructor was that she would point me out as an example of how to do certain asanas right.

    Or, if I was doing modifications, how to modify the pose properly.

    I ran into her at the store a few days ago and she was really glad to see me. I hadn’t been in months and she said she was wondering what happened to me, and glad to see that I’m still in town.

    She also asked if I ever did that yoga teacher training that I wanted to do because I would be totally GREAT at teaching. And that she misses having me in class because she would always use me as an example of proper form.

    I’ve been meaning to go back, once I get my finances in order. Running into her has given me even more motivation.

    She is a shining example of a group fitness instructor doing it right.

      1. My yoga teacher was awesome too! It was all about correct form and getting only as deep as your personal body could on any given day. Don’t compare one body to another, don’t compare your body on one day to your body on a different day.

        Her advice when students asked about weight loss was always that if you eat well and practice yoga your weight will settle where it needs to be. So not to worry about your weight.

        It was really a class in learning to let go of expectations and demands. It was one of the best classes for my mental health I could have ever taken.

        Also, one of the instructors at the studio was overweight. She ate healthier than anyone I know and was a serious yoga practitioner. She was also incredibly pleased with her body and the joy she got from her job was obvious.

  8. I’d point out the idiot instructor to the management. Sounds like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she needs some additional training if the Y wants to stay a positive place for all its members.

  9. Yay! I also love being the fattest person in class and try to talk to and support the slightly less-but still-insecure-fats. I also kinda enjoy schooling the judgmental.

  10. Wow Ragen. All I can say is, you are nicer than I am. I think I would have walked up to the college student and said, “The reason I’m doing better than you is because I am a professional dancer. Also, I’m fat not deaf.”

  11. I am a RN and when i was 26, I took a massage therapy certification course, and the instructor said while explaining the benefits of massage, “massage helps break up the fat and it goes to the kidneys to be expelled”. And then she went on to say , “Beverly has Firm Fat”.. LOL i didn’t have the wherewithal to tell her she was full of it..

  12. I had to quit a fitness place for similar reasons. It was a great work-out, but there was a lot of talk about weight loss and the instructor (who I had become friends with) starting making comments about my weight and accusing me of not working hard enough. She also had some weird thing about making the room incredibly hot. I sweat more than the average person – it was hell for me. On top of that, she would try to limit the amount of water I could drink during class. Is that good for you? I doubt it. She said something about conditioning your body for when you don’t have any water. I’m not planning on visiting a desert anytime soon, so I’m good. I was having issues with me knee and I was still being pushed to do rapid squats, which I didn’t believe were safe for me. On top of that, she was insistent that my knee problem was due to my weight and my shoe choice (high-heels), which I found odd, especially because only 1 knee was bothering me. Does one side of me weigh more than the other? Was I only wearing 1 high-heel shoe? Eventually, I realized that she was just the type of person that felt uncomfortable about anyone that didn’t adhere to her body standards and accepted themselves as is. Probably because when she looked like me, she hated herself. Her problem, not mine.

    I switched from that to more ballet classes, which, believe it or not, does NOT focus on my weight and only focuses on technique. I get really bored with exercise if I’m not working on a specific skill. I can’t go to a gym and get on an elliptical for an hour, I will never improve riding an elliptical machine. It’s just mind-numbingly boring to me.

    I’m really wondering about the lady that said “you’ll get there”… Where? A professional Zumba dancer? Is that a thing? I think more people should just stop talking all together. It would save them some embarrassment and others annoyance.

    Great post, sorry for the rant.

    1. Well, to play devil’s advocate, high heels can mess with your knees because they throw your pelvis out of natural alignment and can co tribute to other muscle imbalances. And it can only affect one knee because that is probably your weaker side or the side that you favor when you walk.

      There have actually been several studies on the affects of heels on body alignment. I can’t post them now because I’m on my tablet. But heels truly do cause, or exacerbate existing, knee, hip, and lower back problems.

      Whether or not you wear them is your choice, I’m just pointing out that your instructor wasn’t completely full of it.

    2. No, it is NOT good that your instructor was keeping the room hot (!) and also restricting your water-drinking!

      I’ve done conditioning programs that included heat conditioning — it was in high school, and it was the summer conditioning program for the football players. We would go outside and do sprinting drills in the heat, but 1) we wouldn’t go as hard as we would in nicer weather, and 2) if it was TOO HOT, or a bad ozone day, we’d stay inside and run up and down the stairs or do plyometrics instead.

      Also, those coaches made sure to tell us that we could take a water break whenever we needed it. Dehydration does nothing good for you, so why court it? You’re trying to build yourself up, not run yourself down.

      (I don’t like high heels myself, due to balance issues, and my knees feel bad if I have to do much walking or standing in them, but if you’re used to them they might well feel more comfortable for you than flats… I dunno. I don’t think your instructor was being full of shit when she told you the shoes might be wrecking your knees, though she is definitely full of shit about everything else you mention in your comment!)

  13. Love your response to that patronizing ‘pep talk’ about ‘reaching your goal.’ When being asked to clarify what you are saying by someone who is not being confrontational, becoming uncomfortable with verbalizing your precise meaning is a good sign that what you were saying was monumentally douchy. Here’s hoping she now understands that and thinks before she says something like that to a stranger again.

    It’s a hard lesson to swallow, but sometimes medicine is bitter. I’ve had to swallow one or twenty of those bitter pills in the past, and I’m a much better person for having done so.

  14. Im suprised they didnt say “you are so light on your feet”, I get that alot. But I am ready for them the next time. I can translate, “I cant belive you can move like that being so fat and all”. It was nice of her to say you are a good dancer. I hope you are able to enjoy your class. You are great.

  15. This is why I now refuse to do any of the Zumba classes in the city. I will do it by DVD at home. All classes I have been to weigh you at the beginning and the end of class to see how much you “lost”. Mine always stayed the same. Reason? I kept hydrated, I wasn’t to the point of fainting like some of these other women in the class.

    Needless to say I got tired of the bs and being told I wasn’t trying hard enough, so I demanded a refund and went and bought a DVD, as fat-shaming as it may be at least I can use the mute button.

      1. Yep they do. Funny part is I was the only one with dance training prior to the class and the only fat one. The other women were in it to lose weight and make sure they didn’t “let themselves go”, sad part they were all smaller then me and I was like “what?”. I found it very degrading to be weighted at the beginning and end, then mocked when you were the same weight.

    1. I ran into two women at PF Chang’s today who had just come from a Zumba class. I asked them about this, and they said they’d never had a weigh-in at a class. If you ever decide you want to get back into going to a class for whatever reason, maybe call and find out if they still do this? The women I talked to saw how crazy the before-and-after weigh in idea was right off the bat.

      1. I am never going back because I don’t have time for that crap, and I live in Canada, so it doesn’t surprise me that other women have never heard of them.

  16. The scary thing with that misinformation about fat melting is then class participants start to believe it and are setting themselves up for dehydration and overheating issues. So now it is dangerous.

    Also, if heat made fat melt then there would be no fat people in Arizona. And I had no problem getting fat in Arizona.

    There used to be a gal at my gym who constantly greeted me when I walked in with “Good for you!” It is like nails on the chalkboard for me. How patronizing. But I feel like I have to let it go and not say anything because she is just being nice but still, how annoying? And seriously? I’m in there three times a week. When will she just start treating me like any of the other people working out rather than some kind of underdog story? She also stopped me once to tell me “it was working.” She could see some weight loss in my face. It felt like such rudely personal thing to say to me. I don’t exercise to lose weight. In fact, focusing on weight loss is a huge trigger for me and begins all that disordered thinking that works against me in every way in the end. My reaction to what she was saying was probably rude but I don’t know how to react to that.

    What do you say? “You are very kind to compliment me but my focus is on health and talking about weight loss cheapens everything I do down to a Jenny Craig commercial.”

    1. “Also, if heat made fat melt then there would be no fat people in Arizona. And I had no problem getting fat in Arizona.”

      OMG. You made me laugh and my co-workers are looking at me funny!

      We live in a society in which the highest compliment a woman can give another is “you look so much thinner.” This is depressing.

    2. Nice or not, she has no business saying those things. No doubt she means them to be encouraging, bless her heart (said in true Southern fashion). While I understand feeling like you “have to” let it go, I want to remind you that is just a perception, and not fact. The truth is that the only person who says you “have to” let it go is you. 🙂

      I think you could very politely answer the “Good for you!” with “Yes! Movement is great for everybody!” and then just wave cheerily as you go on.

      As for the “It’s working,” comment, my response would be to look at her cluelessly and ask, “What’s working?” When she responded with the weight loss comment, my response would be, “Oh. Well, that’s not what I’m here to do. I just really enjoy doing healthy things for myself, so I do that and my weight lands wherever it lands. I believe people can be healthy at every size and I’m healthy at mine. Have a great day!” And then just walk away.

      Those are my thoughts, but of course what works for me may not work for you. Good luck!!

      1. I posted on FB a few days ago that I was bummed because I came home from my workout with lunch and dumped my soda into the sink by mistake and lost it all down the drain.

        A friend posted that it was a sign because the soda would have negated all my hard work.

        Really, now?

        Two weeks ago, after a long absence, I could barely stand doing the elliptical at 1 for 20 minutes, now I’m doing it at level 8. And you’re telling me a coke is gonna undo all that?

        :eye roll:

    3. This makes me think of the time I was on a medication that was negatively affected by a food allergy I was not aware of and the side effect was chronic diarhea and extreme weight loss. I lost it so fast I was freaking out (read that as ‘eating all I could and still loosing plus having anxiety”). Co-workers and aquaintances at the gym kept complimenting me on the loss. I finally just would look at them and say.. .’gee, thanks for sharing, but I think I’m dying… 50 pounds in 4 months is dangerous. I hope my doctor gets a clue soon’. What a huge scene of backpedalling they did! But the breaking point for me was when the dr. said I should be proud of the weight loss. I told her (she was also a large woman) that I wasn’t proud, I was horrified. I felt like I was dying and that I looked so aweful due to my skin not being able to respond to the loss that there was no way I could look at myself and find myself sexy, so why should I expect my husband to. She gave me a deer in headlights look (she must have thought that people my age didn’t have sex). I began a search for a new physician not long after that.

      1. Jeez. Like in “Thinner” by Stephen King. Thanks so much for sharing.

        My mother wants me to be the weight I was eight years ago. Which is when I was drinking five nights a week and unable to hold any food down for the first 10 hours each day due to hangover. It showed in my skin and my hair and my teeth and my mental health but I was skinnier. Yay?

        I had a friend who was trying to lose weight, then she got meningitis and nearly died, and when she finally got out of hospital she was weak and frail and her brain was affected but she was thin. Yay?

        1. When I was up North visiting my parents last Summer and attending a family reunion, I got a low-level virus that gave me really bad runs, and I was unable to keep food in. We stayed with my parents for about 5 days. I couldn’t take my kids to the park or go tour DC with them or do anything but sit and try not to fall over. Part of it was stress–my mother decided to try and goad me into fights, like she used to do when I was younger, then threatened to throw out anything I had left in the house, including my baby book, then told me how I deserved the way she was treating me, etc.

          By the time I left, I had lost about 10 pounds and felt wretched. The day we left, I was in tears from having a wasted trip, dealing with my mum, putting my kids in such a toxic environment, and feeling so sick. My dad commented, “Well, at least you slimmed down a little…” I said, “Dad, I’ve been really ill, and all the stress hasn’t helped..!” He shrugged and said, “Hey, however it gets done, as long as it does.”

          1. That is awful, I’m so sorry.

            I had a friend who lost a lot of weight during a painful divorce. People would compliment her & say “what’s your secret?” and she’d say something like “Stress” and they’d *still* say “well, good for you!”

    4. Did she work there, or was she another member? If the latter, I’d be strongly tempted to catch her before she has a chance to say anything, and chirp “Good for you! It’s great to see you here trying to improve yourself!” then swan on my merry way.

  17. Awesome!! Thanks for all the work you do! I’ve been itching to try Zumba but it’s unfortunately out of my price range right now. My mother, who is a yo-yo dieter but very fit, tries to get me to do Zumba and always always always tells me about the one woman in the class who “started out fat” and “looked a lot like you” (i.e., me) but “lost a ton of weight and now she teaches the class!” Oh, is that a requirement to teach the class? Ugh.

    1. Nonsense. I’m no longer a member of the Y. At the Y, the best Zumba instructor, most popular, is a big girl. The other classes have fifteen students at best. She has over 50 most classes. Being a great Zumba instructor isn’t dependent on size.

  18. My boys used to take drum lessons at a community school. In the main are of this small building there was a dance aerobics class going on while my boys were in their lesson. I’d sit and watch and thought that maybe I’d sign up. I might as well be moving whie I’m waiting on the boys and it looked like fun. The instructor had really good music. Then one evening I was sitting there and the gals were all coming in and chit chatting before they started and they all started talking about weight loss and comparing themselves to one another. They were doing that thing where they couldn’t take a compliment. Like one lady would say “Oh, you are looking so great” and the other would say, “No, I still need to lose some fat off my thighs.” That kind of crap. But the kicker was when a new lady walked in. Another lady said, “Do you live over on such and such street” The lady nodded. This other lady said, “YOu’re my neighbor!!” Then she was like “Wow, you look incredible. I almost didn’t recongize you.You used to be huge!” Another woman in the class kinda laughed and made some comment–I think to imply that was rude, and the woman turned and held her hands out wide and said, “No, seriously, she was really fat.” I was stunned. This was the woman’s first day of class. I never saw here there again. Can’t say I blame her. I wouldn’t go back either.

    1. Wouldn’t it have been great if you had been able to ask “Wow, was her fattness as great as your insensitivity to other people’s feelings? Because your are fast approaching douchy-ness”

      1. If only I were that witty. 🙂 The worst part is that this woman thought she was saying something nice. She kept saying how different this woman looked and how it was great. All I could think of is how terrible that woman must feel and how she’ll feel even worse if the weight comes back because now it is clear what some people (one idiot neighbor anyway) thought of her.

  19. The instructor is a key part of whether a group exercise class works for you, and Zumba is a real crap shoot. You know how they “certify” Zumba instructors, right? Anybody can sign up for a day long workshop, survive it, and call themselves a Zumba teacher. I quit Zumba because the instructor I had knew NOTHING about warming up, cooling down, stretching, or how to modify for low impact. Also, I kept getting bored because the choreo was the same thing over and over. But the final deal-breaker was all the twisting and turning in sneakers! Ow! My knees just said NO.

  20. Ragen, what another great post and prompted me to mention a few things I’ve seen lately, though not to do with classes specifically. It’s interesting what you say about movement/exercise and that we don’t have to feel, “we have to do it” and of course most people who suggest it/mention it, if you are larger, seem to always have the agenda that implies they expect you to agree with them in doing movement in order to lose weight! i

    I used to watch quite a lot of QVC UK shopping channel, for my sins, mostly for jewellery and clothes as I liked some of their clothing range& they went up to 3XL. But it all got very boring, the p&p on every item was an issue and I found other TV channels that sell real gemstone jewellery. Recently I watched a couple of clothing shows and it drove me insane and it reminded me why I got hacked off with them. The presenters(almost all women)and the guests selling the clothing ranges, all go on endlessly about those clothes disguising and hiding your “wobbly bits/worst parts” and various other stupid adjectives, but all presuming all women want to do this and or are horrified by their bodies. I then noticed that many of the shows they have and likely always did(apart from beauty/nail shows, which I hate!)were an off shoot of this, recent ones are called, “Slim Me, Shape Me”, “Women With Control Fashion”, “Get in Shape-Skweez Couture”(someone from New York)and is a new range of “shapewear, “Shimmy Your Way To Fitness”(billed as “getting in to your slinky summer outfits)Of course we all know that any of the fitness/exercise/dance stuff(they do Zumba too)are not really about getting fit, enjoying movement etc., it’s always about losing weight, looker thinner etc.? I actually purchased some sale price leggings from them recently, so I got a small paper TV guide and it said that unlike the High Street shops, they brough you something different every day/week, well I disagree strongly, they’re constantly going on about how amazing they are. But then again, many women here in the UK buy into this and I had to stop posting on their Facebook page as people were insulted when I said I was hacked off at them saying a presenter looked great as she “must have lost weight”!!So I’ve realised that I musn’t watch it as I get agitated and there’s enough other awful stuff going on in the UK at present, especially around disabled people, so need to save my real anger for that!!

    I could always go on their website and look at and or buy their clothes that way, if I was really that inclined.

    Marion, UK

  21. Gah gah gah gah GAH. This kind of thing is so infuriating. An instructor at my gym (thankfully not for Zumba, which I love, and which at my gym is taught by—gasp!—a woman whose dress size I’d estimate at 16ish) actually has said during class, “If you’re happy with the way your body looks, you can walk out the door right now.” I can’t say I’m happy with my body, but the next time I hear it from her mouth, I’m going to take her up on the offer.

  22. I LOVE how you react to people doing the “Oh good for you fat girl!” ‘supportive’ speech. I’m totally going to use that sometimes.

    I’d like to get more active. I’ve recently started HAES and reading your blog (and book) helped so much! I have bad experiences at the gym myself. My worst came from family members.

    I’d been going to the gym for a few weeks and loving it. After a particular work out, I checked my phone and decided to post on Facebook, “Don’t we all just wish working out was easier?” Jokingly. What followed was an onslaught of horrible comments from my own family members who said things like, “You just need to get started!” and “Get off the computer fr once and go for a walk!” None of them ever realizing I was posting from my phone, at the gym.

  23. The heat makes the fat melt…

    This is so hilariously awful. Working out at the gym is not like cooking sausage. And who has to clean up all the grease off the floor after all our fat has melted off?

    1. Gold.

      Are the fans kitchen grade extractor fans? Because then they should definitely be on to suck the fat out of the room.

    2. That is so funny. Still laughing, And by the way, wouldnt there be only skinny construction workers? They sweat all day long. They dont leave any grease on construction sites, I could be wrong.

  24. If any of these stereotypes are true, then why are so many large men recruited for football and girls of all sizes have proven to be good at sports? I was on a size-friendly swim team during my teen years, and girls ranging from very small to very large were very strong swimmers. Fortunately, the team was all about fun, and they were accepting of my limited motor skills and they also treated the larger swimmers equally. It’s sad that so many fitness programs are so narrow-minded, including the ones at my college as I mentioned in a previous thread. I’m providing a link because I found that they promote fat-burning via Zumba and Pilates just like Ragen described.

  25. as the official skinny girl in this group, i gotta love my gyms. what WE have is a lot of people who can’t zumba their way out of a paper bag…and nobody cares! mind you, i go to a zumba gold class, which is in theory for us old fogies, and is taught by a 50-60-something, but is a great workout! maybe the ageism makes people think we don’t care about shaping our thighs. if so, it’s fine by me! i did watch a substitute yoga instructor watching white-haired me to see if i could really do the poses. and the idea that one takes yoga like one takes aerobics…well, i am so glad none of our teachers (including the 50-something, way heavy guy who is everyone’s favorite) suggests that weight loss or toning is why we do yoga. because it isn’t.

  26. Go, Ragen! I can’t even count the number of gyms and fitness activities I have slunk away from, never to return, due to similar comments.

  27. When I was still going to college a couple of years ago I had a class in an old building, I hated the old elevator so I always took the stairs. I got to be friendly with a girl in the class, and we used to walk to class together. We used to part at the elevator, she’d use it, and I’d take the stairs. One day she came with me on the stairs, and when we got to the top she looked at me and says oh wow, I can’t believe how fast you are on those stairs. I thought I’d have to wait for you. I was confused so I asked her why she thought that way, and without missing a beat she says oh well because you’re so fat. I mean fat people usually can’t get up and down the stairs. I always just thought you took them to help you lose weight. I just stared at her dumbfounded, told her my job included walking for 5 hours a day all over the city I live in and believe it or not people of all sizes are capable of going up and down stairs. We didn’t talk anymore after that.

    Some people just don’t know how to think before they speak.

  28. I enjoyed this article Ragen. Sometimes I just get exhausted by the seeming constant barrage of messages that we’re not okay. Women at work constantly talking about their bodies, their weight, the weight they’ve lost, the weight they’ve gained, the weight-the weight-the weight. Then if I bake banana bread and take it in to share, they tell me (in a playful way) how bad I am, and how I’m trying to corrupt them (to which I say, “keep walking then, nobody’s twisting your arm to get a piece”, then they stop and get a piece) I couldn’t even get out to my car the other night without a co-worker (I hardly know) stopping me and saying “you’re coming down nicely”, I looked at her puzzled (cuz I haven’t weighed in ages, and I’m certainly not trying to lose anything) and shrugged. She apparently wasn’t happy with that, so she made hand movements as if to show me that I’m large, and said, “you know, you know” she stammered, “’cause you look like you’re losing weight.” I couldn’t hide the disgust on my face, I guess, and she didn’t seem to be getting the reaction she wanted. I just shrugged with an awkward forced smile, and hurried out to the garage. But then I cried in my car. I know she “meant well”, but it pissed me off that she felt she had the right to comment on something so personal as the size of my body. Now this surprised me that I cried over this because I’m not a wee babe when it comes to having worked on this for myself. I even have published a novel that deals with weight discrimination and size acceptance. And it seems like the deeper I get into FA, the more I see it, and it’s very shocking and unbelievable. And once in a while this stuff just hits me upside the head. So…I have to hand it to you Ragen for having dedicated your waking hours to fighting the fight for us. I don’t know how you do it, but THANK YOU! And…lastly, how do you react/comment when someone “means well” and says that you look like you are losing weight?

    1. Hi Tracey,

      Thank you so much for your comments and for your kind words! I’m so sorry that this happened to you, I think that no matter how far along we get things that people say can still be hurtful, especially when we’re not expecting them. When someone asks if I’m losing weight I typically say “I have no idea – I never weight myself” or “I don’t know, I focus on healthy habits and let my body settle where it wants so I don’t weigh myself” or, if I’m feeling frisky, I say “Gosh, I hope not!”

      Hope that helps!


  29. [tw: eating disorders]

    Wow, you amaze me, Ragen. You don’t know me, I basically just admire from afar (non-creepily), but you just strike me as such an awesome bad-ass, and as an ex-dancer, I always LOVE seeing new photos of your form/line/flexibility – especially your lines, they’re beautiful. You have great spatial awareness. (In fact, I wish my ballet teacher of 14 years who thought only skinny girls could have good lines could see your pics.)

    Anyway, that aside, on the actual topic of this post, thanks for the work you do in educating people in the fitness sector. I know it’s not the same, but as a recovered anorexic, I have given up on finding a gym with classes where the instructors consistently do not talk about weight, size, eating/food, body shape/size, or fat, and where they trust the participants limits (i.e. not trying to guilt/shame people into pushing themselves harder, rather than trusting them to know where their body is at). The last two exercise classes I tried before giving up, I sent an email in advance asking them whether they were appropriate for a recovered anorexic, with a list of bullet points of what that meant (mostly the things above, spelled out more clearly), they both said yes, and at the first class I showed up and the instructor did basically all of the things listed above (shaming herself for what she had eaten that day, talking about burning fat off your stomach, etc).

    At the second class, where they had responded to my email by asking me to meet with the instructor beforehand (a perfectly reasonable request when someone has told them about a potentially serious health condition), the instructor told me that I was obviously well over the anorexia now (my weight has settled in recovery at a B(ullshit)MI of 20.2, give or take – I’m tall and still on the slim side – but even if I had a BMI of 50, that wouldn’t be her call to make), and that she could see places where I could “tone up and work on my body”. I should have told her that my body was untoned because I had been unable to exercise for 3 years while recovering from years of abusing my body through compulsive exercise, but I didn’t. I stayed and did the class because I was too embarrassed not to, and she was OK as a teacher, but I already knew I would never, ever be going back. I avoided her at the end and ran for it.

    Anyway, I had been hoping that fun, light exercise might be a way to have my exercise regulated for me (in terms of time/type/intensity) so that I didn’t fall into over-exercising again, and so that it was done in public, for the same reason (it would be easier for me to abuse exercise if I was going on runs of indefinite length, by myself, at night, for example). But even the yoga class I tried wanted to discuss what things about body shape and weight. Argh.

    I just don’t think it’s too much to ask that a gentle move-your-body class doesn’t discuss fat, weight, size, shape, or diet. So anyway – sorry about the long post, but thanks soooo much for all you do – you are probably affecting people in ways you don’t even realize. You don’t know who in your classes might be recovering from an eating disorder and are learning really positive lessons from your example.

  30. After I finished laughing at the absurdity of the Zumba instructor’s comments, I realized that it would be helpful to clarify something about many Zumba instructors. Anyone who pays money and shows up for a Zumba training session becomes “certified”. There are no tests of fitness knowledge, of teaching skills, absolutely nothing – just pay $$$ (and keep paying money to Zumba) and you are “Zumba certified”.

    This is very different from the majority of instructors of other types of fitness classes who have studied for hours to pass certification exams – both written and practical.

    If a Zumba instructor also has a nationally recognized group fitness certification, then he/she will know their stuff. Some clubs will only hire Zumba instructors who also hold a professional group fitness certification but sadly, many others don’t seem to care.

    You can always ask an instructor what fitness certifications they hold (you can verify the info on-line) and if the answer is “just Zumba” then they would not considered fitness professionals by industry standards.

    I hope this is helpful information.

  31. The funny thing about the concept of heat ‘melting’ fat with a hot environment is that it’s backwards. As warm blooded creatures, our metabolism will speed up to keep our body temperature stable in cold environments.

  32. I also belong to a YMCA and find it more accepting than other places but certainly not devoid of weight loss comments. One day last week, I was pulling my cart and oxygen tank out of the car, saw my water class friend get out her walker, and along came another woman who was walking with a cane. She commented “look at us!” and giggled. We all smiled. By being there in our full and fat bodies, we can give encouragement and comfort to other fat folk and also make a point that we are entitled to be there. So it goes for old and disabled people too. I have certainly heard “good for you.” Yup, chalkboard. Most of the time, I do my best to re-direct and educate in a non-confrontational way. Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy. The people in my water class are pretty much aware of the size acceptance philosophy. Instead, our food discussions are usually about holiday meals and recipes. Fun and positive food talk. I think that it is difficult to think of the intelligent witty replies at the moment when the stereotyped comments are launched. After all, we are trying to concentrate on our movements.

  33. I am a belly dancer and many of the most talented, experienced and physically conditioned people in my classes are plus-sized and even “obese” by the mainstream media’s standards. As a person who has struggled a lot with body image in the past, it is unspeakably great to have the opportunity to take a movement class where all body types are valued and seen as healthy and beautiful. I wish everyone could have this opportunity.

  34. Really liked this article. It’s weird (well, it’s not weird, but it is annoying) how nodes of physical activity–gyms, pools, fitness classes, etc–act to push out people who are fat.

  35. A year ago, I would very likely have been the last girl in your story: Well-intentioned, but woefully foot-eating and assuming.

    Please be assured that finding your blog has COMPLETELY changed my perspective. I’m now the one in class encouraging the other fat girls that the numbers on the scale are less important than how they feel when working out; that their bodies are just fine however they are now and will be fine whatever they look like tomorrow; that the only person to whom they’re responsible for their exercise habits (or lack thereof) is themselves. And honestly, making those changes has made ME think differently about working out, too.

  36. Simply Amazing!! You knocked this out of the park, as usual. I am a fat Zumab instructor. I teach at my local YMCA, and absolutely love this style of movement. I am a very creative person, am very social, and love attention. For me, being a Zumba instructor gives me an outlet to engage members of my community, and, as I often joke, have a captive audience for an hour a week to hear my silly jokes and watch me do something I love. There are 3 classes a week at my centre; I have the largest turn out in my class. I have so many beautiful women, of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels in my class, and often, I am the fattest one. For me, having this creative outlet, the sheer joy that the music and movement brings me, and having the opportunity to be a positive fat role model are what keeps me coming back, week after week to teach my class. Thank you for being such a positive, inspirational and unappologetic voice!!

  37. Two moves ago (about 2 years ago) I was working with a personal trainer who became my friend since I’d worked with her 2-3 times a week for almost 2 years. (Sorry if all of the 2s are confusing!) Anyway, one day right before I left, I could tell she was frustrated and when I asked her what was wrong, she commenced ranting at me for 20 minutes about the fact that I’d not lost more than 10 pounds since coming to her.

    I was crushed. I’d worked so hard. I’d gone from barely 5 minutes on the elliptical to almost an hour at a run. I’d gone from barely 5 modified situps to 30 regular on the floor. I was doing the ropes, weights, yoga, pilates, and Zumba just for fun. Although I never did it for her, she was someone I trusted and the fact that she so completely dismissed my accomplishments simply because I hadn’t lost weight made me want to throw up.

    When we moved, I joined the YMCA and took some water movement classes, but other than that, I haven’t set foot in a gym since. I have completely gone backwards in my flexibility, endurance, and mobility. It isn’t that I blame her, because I alone am responsible for the choices I make. But, man, my health might look different today if that day had gone another way.

    I just really, really wish that things were different. And that people might think before opening their mouths.

    1. The woman is nasty to the core, I am so sorry she hurt you like that. I hope you can find a nice trainer again. I am so lucky with mine, he is really encouraging and understands I am not doing this to lose weight.

  38. I really love the message in your blog. I’ve struggled with depression and self-hate my whole life. Now I have been trying to become more active because I realize I’ve held back most of my life because I’ve been scared of what other people think of me. I haven’t gone to the gym or participated in sports because I was scared of how people would look at me. I insisted that it was because I hate athletics (which in some cases, I do. lol. I hate running. Unless I’m being chased by something I don’t see the point). Thanks for giving me the motivation to do something active for ME. ❤

  39. And while we’re on the topic of myths and stereotypes, can we PLEASE let go of these stupid (and dangerous) ideas about what constitutes “real” exercise.

    I have a friend who had WLS and has lost a shitload of muscle mass. She hates exercise, and some of that hatred probably has to do with the fact that the weight loss mentality says if it doesn’t raise your HR to near-coronary levels and make you sweat buckets, then it’s not “real” exercise.

    Anyway, her idiot DOCTOR told her that walking isn’t exercise. Apparently, it’s an activity.

    I have no idea if she likes walking but, if she does, then she has been avoiding it all this time because it’s not “real.” Meanwhile, she’s still losing muscle mass. A loss that she could have mitigated by actually using her leg muscles.

    She thinks my calling him an idiot is harsh because he’s one of the best WLS doctors around. Well, he’s certainly NOT an exercise physiologist, that’s for damned sure.

    So maybe he should stick with discussing the best ways to mutilate a perfectly good digestive tract, and leave discussions of what constitutes exercise (and why) to people who actually know what they are talking about.


  40. My YWCA works really hard to make sure all sizes feel welcomed and accepted. Sometimes people are stupid – one girl pointed to me, saying “If she can bother to make it in I guess I can!” and her friend immediately called her out on her jerkiness. But I’ve had some problems over the years – I distinctly remember my elementary school gym teacher grading me down when I could do the physical work as well or better than any of the other kids in the class.

  41. I want to thank you! I recently moved back home due to family crisis ( uncle died, family member has cancer etc) and food has been my comfort. I finally have gotten to a place where I feel I can focus on myself a little bit and was debating joining the YMCA Yoga and kickboxing classes. I, however, have been thinking I would need to lose weight before I can join because I would be stared at and wouldn’t keep up! You have completely convinced me to go for it! THANK YOU!

  42. All I can say is wow. It is true about certain so called fitness instructors tossing around myths as truths. My goal is to get everyone moving as my area of interest is cardio dance. Received my certification with AFAA for Group Exercise and now have Zumba license. First of all, everyone has their particular goal…and I would not dare to assume what their goal happens to be…it could be stress relief, weight loss, improving cardio fitness, or learning some easy dance steps. That being said, there is a reason to have a certified group instructor or certified personal trainer who knows what they are doing.

    Goodness, it is important to keep the room cool! You don’t want a person’s core body temperature to rise too high and there are people who have health problems that are aggravated by heat. Drinking water is encouraged! Dehydration leaves you weak and can cause fainting.

    Anyways, I enjoyed reading your opinion and you have the right attitude. By the way, two years ago, I visited a Zumba class and the girl looked at me as we were leaving and said ‘good job’, ‘you are doing great’…I think she was trying to encourage me and took it that way…but some women just love to hand out the canned encouragements!

  43. Thank You for this!! I am fat and guess what? I am a great dancer! and I am confident in my dancing skills. Friends and people have always loved the way I move.

    I have danced my whole life but I sometimes get discourage to teach others or even be a dance teacher because I feel that they will judge me because of my weight. Being able to Dance comes from the heart and even if you have a “great body” it does not mean you have the skill to dance. Being of bigger size does not immobile you movement. I know this and hope that I get the courage to become what I always wanted and that is to be a dance teacher.

  44. I’m a Zumba instructor, and the biggest problem I have with Zumba is…it’s the easiest certification to get. If you show up, you’re certified. You don’t have to demonstrate any kind of knowledge or skill.
    I’ve gone on to get my Group Fitness Certification through AFAA, and that required passing both a practical and written exam.

    Many Zumba instructors never get any other continuing education because Zumba doesn’t require it. I see instructors doing moves that are flat our dangerous (knees are expensive to replace, people!)

    I recently had a larger woman in my class, and as I was watching her…she moved beautifully. I thought to myself “She is either an instructor or has a dance background, because she can MOVE”. After class, she came and introduced herself to me and said she was a Zumba instructor who had just moved to the area and was trying to get hired at the gym but was afraid because she was bigger. She asked if people would take her class even though she wasn’t thin. I told her she obviously had skills and that’s what mattered. She starts Friday 🙂

  45. I was looking some info up and your blog came up. Having just read this one entry I want to give you a high five. I had issues at a “boot camp” class. I did what a could, but after being friggin’ shamed at not doing a crab crawl I just quit. I couldn’t take being singled out when I knew I couldn’t do something and that it would cause injury (I couldn’t have done the crab crawl even when i was think b/c of a joint issue that no amount of exercise will “cure”). It very much wanted to go back b/c I was able to keep up quite well for the first 40 minutes of the 55 minute class and wanted to get to the point where I would kick rear end. But I also didn’t want to be singled out as the fat chick who stood to the side for a few minutes here and there and got shamed for it. It was all done in “good spirits” with encouragement and “you can do its” but it didn’t stop when I said no. Honestly, as someone paying 10 dollars to be in the class I’d think that I’d at least have the privilege of the customer being right if nothing else. Or they’d want to humor me to keep my 10 bucks rolling in twice a week.

  46. For some reason I never liked practicing any exercise that included more than 1 person so I took up running since I was 10 years old. I’m 38 now but people all the time ask me how much weight I’ve lost, when is my next race and what I special proteins I eat. I just run because I like the activity, no other reason. I imagine that it is similar to what the writer says about Zumba enthusiasts.

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