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Onion Rings —

August 8, 2012
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First and foremost, if you haven’t checked back in on our collection from the Year of the Olympic Fatty, be sure to check it out. I have updated the post three times since erylin’s original, and we now over 100 photos of over 100 fat Olympians whose bodies defy the traditional assumptions about weight and health.

This brings us to the explanatory part of our post: what is a “fat Olympian”?

When erylin first shared the story of Holley Mangold’s Olympic ambitions back in March, I was stoked. An Olympic athlete who looks fat? That’s amazing! Finally, a person we can point to and say, “See, you can be fat and healthy!”

Then we learned about Holley’s teammate, Sarah Robles, another super heavyweight on the women’s weightlifting team, and we knew we’d have to cover these Olympics and their quest for the gold.

The thing that amazed me about Holley and Sarah is that these are two Olympic athletes who “look fat.” If the average judgmental person were at the beach and saw this…

… they would no doubt assume that the woman on the left was a lazy fatty who was less healthy than her three friends. But they would be wrong on so many levels.

For instance,  if we’re using body composition as our metric, then Holley Mangold is not fat. As her former coach, Dan Bell, explained to us:

Holley does struggle sometimes to be at her most competitive bodyweight. Too small and she isn’t strong enough, too big and her positions and flexibility suffer. She does carry a huge amount of muscle. When she had her bodyfat done on the Rachel Ray show, she had a lower bodyfat percentage than the model to whom she was compared. [emphasis mine]

So already, we learn that Holley may have less fat in her body than her three companions in the photo above. If that’s the case, then what is “fat”?

Sunday, after the women’s weightlifting competition ended, I went to check out the #weightlifting hashtag on Twitter. The comments were predictable:

And these were two of the most benign comments I found. There were an embarrassing amount of hateful comments about how the women’s super heavyweight competitors weren’t women. These comments pissed me off, so I went on a Twitter rampage, responding to those who littered the hashtag with hate:

Zach went on, at length, to try and explain how my responses to the haters was the real hate. Zach, and many others, tried to justify their comments in one of two ways: “I don’t know who you are, leave me alone!” and “It’s just a joke.”

Posting something to a Twitter hashtag takes it from the realm of personal comment to public ridicule. That’s the whole point of hashtags. So, if you don’t want complete strangers taking your “jokes” out of context, then stay off the damned hashtag. More importantly, that hashtag was intended to catalog and celebrate the weightlifting competition, not to indulge the fat-hating bullshit of dumbasses and dipshits. You may have intended it to be “just a joke” but 1) it wasn’t funny and 2) you told your “joke” in a public forum, where people are allowed to tell you that your joke wasn’t funny.

In any case, my favorite tweet of all came from a man named Mo, who shared this brilliant insight:

Do tell, Olympic athletes… why would you even attempt to participate in sports, let alone excel at them, if the end result doesn’t score you million dollar endorsements?

I don’t want to put words into the mouths of Olympians, but I”m going to take a stab in the dark and say that perhaps “the point” of participating in a certain sport has something to do with having fun. At least, that’s how it would begin, I imagine. What motivates an athlete to pursue their sport to the Olympic level is something else entirely.

What I can guarantee, however, is that furthest from the athlete’s mind is whether participating in their sport will make their body “healthier, better looking.”

But this is the culture in which we live now. Sports serve one purpose: improving one’s health and casting off fatness. And in this context, a thin person who makes an Olympic team becomes an icon, while a fat person is a sideshow, a freak of nature.

And to a certain extent, I felt like Holley and Sarah were a kind of positive sideshow. I mean, there are hundreds of Olympians, and Holley and Sarah are just two women, right?

Then I saw this on Facebook…

This turkey-leg munchin’ fatty is Reese Hoffa, the third greatest shot putter of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

My memory cast back to my childhood. Our Catholic school had a track team and I joined, but I was too slow for racing, so they put me on the shot putting team. I recall learning that bigger people make better shot putters.

This began my search, and I was shocked by the sheer number of fat Olympic athletes. And by “fat,” I don’t mean body composition. I mean that judgmental people on Twitter would see them competing in the Olympic games and say, “What are all these fat people doing at the Olympics?”

The answer, of course, is that they are there to win the gold.

Having found over 100 fat Olympians so far (I’m not done yet), I decided to declare the 2012 London Games as the Year of the Olympic Fatty to raise awareness of the fact that not all Olympians are thin or chiseled or petite.

In fact, it seems that the reason why Olympic Fatties don’t get much attention is that the media coverage, and our national preoccupation, tends to hover around a handful of events that are almost exclusively the domain of thin, chiseled, traditionally-attractive competitors.

That’s why Australian swimmer Leisel Jones and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis drew criticism for their weight, despite the fact that they are very clearly not fat. When you compete in a sport known for a certain physical look, straying even slightly outside the norm will make you a target.

The same strict standards apply to both gymnastics and ballet. As a result, eating disorders abound in both gymnastics and ballet.

But what happens if we detach the sport from its aesthetic?

We assume only thin people make graceful dancers, but Ragen Chastain smashes that stereotype to bits every single day.

Does Ragen’s dancing look identical to a thin person dancing? Nope. But she is just as graceful and just as talented as her thinner counterparts.

The same goes for Olympic sports. Lightweight judo looks nothing like heavyweight judo. Lightweight judo is faster and more of a competition of speed and agility. Heavyweight judo is slower and more of a competition of strength and agility.

Don’t believe me? Check out the full stream of men’s and women’s heavyweight judo when you have some time to spare. No, these judokas look nothing like the hummingbird judokas in the lightweight category, but the lightweight judokas are not competing on strength as much as speed.

The heavyweight judokas lock up, attempting to leverage their opponents weight and strength against them, as Pattie Thomas explained to me. The fact that both judokas are attempting to leverage the other makes heavyweight judo more of a chess match. Competitors wait for just the right moment to expose a weakness and execute a fierce maneuver to bring down their opponent.

So maybe the problem isn’t that fat gymnasts aren’t as graceful. Maybe the problem is that the grace of a fat gymnast simply looks different than the grace of a petite gymnast. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we allowed fat gymnasts to compete with each other on their own strengths and their own abilities.

As a demonstration that no one body type owns gymnastics, check out this fat guy backflipping like a champ!

Until the day when society unhitches body size from athletic ability, I’m happy to celebrate those who defy stereotypes and excel in the body they have today. Many thanks to all the Olympic heroes who inspire us to achieve greatness, but a very special thanks to the Olympic Fatties who show the world exactly what fat bodies are capable.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. lexiedi permalink
    August 15, 2012 2:22 pm

    My brother’splaying Star Wars: The Old Republic and said he picked a female and gave her the biggest body type possible. She’s very hour-glass shaped and fits well into social beauty standards. He said “I think they don’t make fat characters because fat people can’t jump.”

    “Fat people can jump!” I said.

    “Well… yeah. But fat people can’t FLIP. Like do back flips and stuff.”

    So yeah… had to show him this.

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