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Why I Forgive Holley Mangold

September 12, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseDiet TalkMy Boring-Ass LifeFat News

Holley competing in an Olympic qualifying match.

Trigger warning: Discussion of the desire to be thin and what it takes to get there.

A few things happened over the last couple of weeks that have me thinking about Body Acceptance even more than I usually do. Which is a lot.

I started lifting weights again with my friend Albert. It’s been almost two years (!) and I’d forgotten, somehow, how much fun weight lifting is. I love the social aspect of working with a partner. I love that I feel no competition with Albert — he’s so much stronger than me that he’s often lifting three or four 45-pound weights on a bar while I’m just lifting the bar. I love how good I feel afterward.

I love less that even after years and years of advocacy and personal work toward self-acceptance, I cannot turn off my brain’s ability to instantly calculate how much I’ll weigh at a certain point in the future if I just can manage to lose five or ten or twenty pounds a month. I could need a new wardrobe by Christmas! I could be in a size 10 by next summer’s writer’s conferences!

I have to fight every day to hold on to the self-acceptance that I’ve gained through Health at Every Size® and being involved in the Body Acceptance community. I have to fight against getting on the scale at the gym. Fight against giving in (again) to Weight Watcher’s commercials and the little voice that is waiting in the wings of my brain to whisper that maybe this time — maybe if I had more willpower — maybe — maybe — every time I let my guard down.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that while I feel great when I exercise regularly, and my health depends on eating in a balanced way to control my low blood sugar — I don’t lose weight. Sure, I might lose a little — maybe as much as 20 pounds — but then my body gets used to its new normal and my weight goes right back to its last post-baby normal. Maybe even a few pounds heavier.

The second thing that happened in the last couple of weeks was a conversation with my younger brother that was prompted by a Facebook post I made about loving the weight lifting thing. He and my dad have been working out, too. He’s lost 30 pounds and my dad’s lost 20. When I mentioned that I don’t lose weight, but it sure feels good to be lifting weights again, he argued with me. “Calories in/calories out, Shaunta. It’s pure physics. It’s IMPOSSIBLE not to lose weight if you expend more than you eat. Impossible!” My brother loves me. He wants me to go on a diet with him. I have a feeling that he  thinks I eat half a dozen Big Macs and a box of Little Debbie’s snack cakes every day, with lard and potato chips to fill in the chinks. Because he really believes it is impossible for a person to eat a normal amount of food and  get regular exercise and still be fat.

Here’s the thing about negating a person’s lived experience: it sucks. Even when it’s done in absolute love, it sucks. It’s no different than me looking at the members of my family who are thin, but have severe substance abuse problems that I don’t have to deal with, and telling them that not being an addict is as simple as not using. Just be sober! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to be an addict if you just don’t drink/smoke/shoot up. Impossible!


So, in the middle of this, Holley Mangold, one of my absolute idols, goes and joins the next season of Biggest Loser. My first instinct was to be angry. How dare she? She’s supposed to be a pillar of the Body Acceptance community. She’s supposed to be someone I can look to when I need a reminder of how internal a lot of the limitations of the body are. She’s not supposed to want to be the “in-shape, smaller girl”! She’s supposed to be big like me, and healthy and strong inside and out. She’s not supposed to have doubts.

But wait a minute.

If NBC called and offered me a place on Biggest Loser, would I say no? I am positive that it wouldn’t be an easy no. I’d try to justify saying yes. I’d be the fat advocate on The Biggest Loser! I’d be the Gloria Steinem of the weight loss community! I would be different. I wonder if that’s what’s going through Holley’s mind. Is she trying to make her desire to be thin, to fit completely into her athletic community, to fit society’s beauty standard, by telling herself that she’ll show that weight loss and strength can go together? Is she hoping that she’ll somehow rise above the thin-at-any-cost atmosphere of the television show and somehow have her cake (strength, ability, athletic amaze-itude) and eat it too by being conventionally pretty enough for some product to endorse her and make her life easier?

I don’t think Fat Acceptance is about denying that the urge to be thin doesn’t exist. All I wanted when I was a kid was to be beautiful like my sisters were, even though I was an athlete and I LOVED being an athlete. My body did things then that I can only remember fondly now, and I still hated it. Really hated it. Because it wasn’t small. I would have traded all of my athleticism for my sisters’ natural slenderness because I lived in a family that placed a high value on athleticism, but an even higher value on thinness, in a society that encouraged the same.

I still do.

And so does Holley Mangold.

I can almost feel her excitement at the prospect of being smaller. How strong must it be for her to be willing to go against everything she’s ever said about herself and her body? I feel for her. I want to hug her and tell her that I forgive her. That I don’t blame her, even though I think she’s doing the wrong thing. My hope is that as she starts the show and feels the changes in her body that the kind of weight loss Biggest Loser promotes eats away at her muscles, she’ll recognize what she’s doing to herself and she’ll see that being thin for however long she manages to keep off the weight isn’t worth it.

I don’t think that joining The Biggest Loser and giving in to the enormous pressure that even regular, everyday women have to be thin makes Holley a bad person. I think it makes her human. And I don’t think that making this colossally bad decision demands that I no longer support her or her career. In fact, I think that when she finally realizes what she’s done and the consequences of her monumentally bad choice, she’s going to need the Body Acceptance community to hug her and tell her we still love her.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. mrbigmuscles permalink
    September 12, 2013 1:57 pm

    First off I agree that TBL is crap, for all the reasons you and others have given. But…

    “I wonder if that’s what’s going through Holley’s mind. Is she trying to make her desire to be thin, to fit completely into her athletic community, to fit society’s beauty standard, by telling herself that she’ll show that weight loss and strength can go together? Is she hoping that she’ll somehow rise above the thin-at-any-cost atmosphere of the television show and somehow have her cake (strength, ability, athletic amaze-itude) and eat it too by being conventionally pretty enough for some product to endorse her and make her life easier?”

    Why the tendentious questioning about thinness and prettiness (words Mangold has never used), when Mangold has already stated her reasoning? “I feel like that was my limiting factor the last run for the Olympics is I was too big for the super heavyweight . . . I needed to be smaller so I could train harder.”

    • Theresa permalink
      September 12, 2013 5:17 pm

      She also said (in her interview on USA Weightlifting): “They’ve talked about how I was inspiration for big girls,” said Mangold, 23, in a video on the show’s website (full video below). ”I felt like I never got a chance to be the in-shape, smaller girl. I never had that chance. This is kind of like my second chance to do that. I wanted to show all of them you can do it.” That sounds much more like an appearance-based goal to me.

      • mrbigmuscles permalink
        September 12, 2013 6:27 pm

        I don’t see the problem. She wouldn’t be the first SHW competitor who leaned out to see what they could achieve at lower bodyweights. She isn’t obligated to remain at a high bodyweight for the sake of body acceptance. It’s not helping her performance – she is outlifted by women 60lbs lighter than her.

        Don’t forget we’re talking about an elite superheavyweight athlete. “Small and in-shape” for her is probably still pretty heavy by conventional standards.

        • September 14, 2013 6:59 pm

          …And nobody prizes “conventional standards” more than the pushers at TBL, I’ll bet.

          So even if she meets her goals in her own eyes and in yours, I bet we’ll never know because the show won’t include it in their storyline. If she can’t get skinny, she’ll be hustled offstage. The End.

    • September 15, 2013 11:29 am

      If Holley wants to get fitter so she can train harder and place higher at competitions, that’s totally understandable. My concern for her is that the way TBL treats contestants isn’t healthy, mentally or physically and in the long run it will hurt her. Holley is the boss of her own underpants, but I wish she’d chosen a different path, and I don’t think this experience will go well for her, but I hope for her sake I’m proven wrong.

  2. September 12, 2013 2:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    I forgive Holley. I also forgive Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Fisher, Kirstie Alley, and anyone else who has ever succumbed to the pressure to attempt to achieve the socially acceptable body type at any cost.
    The truth is, and I may catch some fire for this, if I found a way to magically make myself have a socially acceptable body, I would.
    To this day I look in the mirror and loathe what I see, though I try not to. To this day, I sometimes consider having weight loss surgery, even though I know that many times it turns out bad. To this day, I believe myself to be unlovable as I am, and I believe that I always will be unlovable unless I’m able to be thin.
    Of course, I also thought this when I weighed 130 pounds…when I weighed 120 pounds…when I weighed 110 pounds.
    Body hate is so conditioned in modern society that even being an award winning Olympic athlete can’t stop it.
    I’m really sorry that Holley got sucked into The Biggest Dickweed, of all things. I hope she learns that she doesn’t have to be thin to be a winner. It may be a long, hard road for her.

    • September 13, 2013 3:02 am

      But I love you Cie ❤

      I feel the same way, honestly. Sometimes it is hard to put on a brave face as I walk out of my door to endure the stares, the glares, the tones, and the negative energy that is flung at me. Sometimes I daydream that I am thin so I don't have to deal with crap society has labeled me with which in turn I unfairly blame myself for.

      What helps me, though, is thinking about the other "disadvantages" I have; namely being a woman and non-Christian. Not once have I ever wished to be a man or a Christian in response to discrimination, ignorance, or bigotry. I feel that being a woman is profoundly (and personally) sacred and that being a Pagan is central to my rebuild and rebirth and that no matter what, I wouldn't want to change myself to conform or escape.

      Holley… I will watch her and when this whole fiasco is done and over, I will welcome her with my big, fat arms open. I agree that she will need a friend when all is over.

      • September 16, 2013 11:46 pm

        Hi Kitsune, I ❤ you too!
        It is often hard overall being a woman in this society. I think that we're objectified more than ever these days.
        I'm also a pariah for being some sort of agnostic something or other. I believe there's some sort of higher power(s), I take bits and pieces from various religions, but I get slammed by believers for not believing as they do and slammed by atheists for believing anything at all. You can't win!

  3. kellee permalink
    September 12, 2013 2:45 pm

    Perhpas it’s just her simple desire to take a once in lifetime journey and see what she can learn from it emotionally and spiritually? What’s on the outside, regardless of what it looks like, isn’t always what’s on the inside.

  4. September 12, 2013 3:21 pm

    I love this post. I just felt sad when I heard about Holley’s biggest loser stint. Sad because we all hear the siren call of thin and beautiful each and every day. The Real Cie, you aren’t the only one who would trade it all in for thinness any day of the week. I think you’re being very real and genuine.

  5. Dizzyd permalink
    September 12, 2013 4:59 pm

    Cie – I think we all would if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s sad we live in a society that pays lip service to ‘love yourself’ (latest example – ‘Nurture Yourself’ by Special K, of all things!) and subtly undermines it by encouraging stigmatization of anything that’s different to the point that ppl literally hate themselves for being that way. (I just happened to be eating lunch w/ my hubby at McDonald’s where they had a talk show on where the guests talked about hating themselves for being of a certain race. One woman went so far she was trying to change her looks to appear less ‘black’.) I don’t totally blame Holley Mangold for doing the TBD stint – it’s easy to give in – but I can’t support it in any way. Maybe it will prove to her once for all she already IS good enough on her own, she doesn’t need to ‘improve’ just to impress the trolls.

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 13, 2013 8:28 am

      Skin bleaching products are a big seller in the African-American community.

    • September 16, 2013 11:49 pm

      Special K–Urgh! I could go on an hour long diatribe about how much I hate them. Be a size “sassy,” so long as by “sassy” you mean “skinny.” Make a chocolate cake, but then don’t let yourself eat any of it. They just couldn’t be any stupider or more annoying!

  6. September 12, 2013 5:18 pm

    It reminds me of times when parents of autistic kids say that their kids suffer from autism … I always want to say no, they really don’t most of the time, they suffer from the ignorance of other people! There’s a whole lot more autistic people who can live happy, healthy, productive lives if we get the compassion and help that we need, instead of ignorance, assumptions and mockery.

    The same is true for fat people. I would like to not be out of breath going up two flights of stairs, but I don’t truly and honestly suffer from being fat unless I’m being confronted by someone else’s fatphobia. I still feel angry at Holley, but I pity her more than anything else.

    • September 16, 2013 11:50 pm

      Going up two flights of stairs has always put me out of breath as I have asthma. Now that I’m almost fifty and have worked in jobs that require me to be on my feet for most of my working life, my knees are starting to give. I dread if I have to get knee replacements, because I know the doctors will blame my weight.

  7. Dizzyd permalink
    September 12, 2013 6:32 pm

    ‘If NBC called and offered me a place on The Biggest Loser, would I say no?’
    Sorry, the answer would be yes. If ever anything smacked of being a ‘deal with the devil’, this would be it. I know the desire to fit in is so strong, but it sounds too much like what the Bible warns about – ‘gaining the world and losing your soul’. No thanks!

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 13, 2013 8:31 am

      I really identify with those who say “if I could be thin,” and I would add “if I could be thinner and STAY thinner.” But TBL? No way. Unless you are into BDSM, I can’t imagine being abused and then seeing yourself being abused on national television. And I would never ever treat my body that cruelly.

      • September 16, 2013 11:52 pm

        Hell, I’d sooner appear in porn than go on The Biggest Dickweed. I mean that sincerely, and I don’t even particularly like sex. I know that sounds crazy but I don’t. Still, I really and truly think porn would be less abusive. Hell, there might be someone out there that would actually want to see me and Ron Jeremy go at it.

  8. Duckie permalink
    September 12, 2013 11:42 pm

    Thank you for this, Shaunta. Thank you for highlighting the importance of reminding ourselves that our heros are human as well as the incredible importance of forgiving one another. Thank you.

  9. Rolly permalink
    September 13, 2013 6:41 am

    Using Holly Mangold for this is ridiculous. Holly competes in the unlimited (i.e. 105kg+) class, and therefore SHOULD be as big as possible insofar as it helps her lifts (which is pretty damn big). The rules are the same for male unlimited. They aren’t making some statement about fatness, they’re trying to be the world’s strongest – for her it means fat, for those in other weight classes it means being super lean. You can bet your ass if Holly had a smaller frame, she would be cutting weight to hit her class because she competes to win.

    If losing fat and gaining muscle would help your performance at the gym, and you enjoy making gains at the gym – then change your body. You might not lose WEIGHT, but size, and that’s just OK. Do what makes you happy, even if it means changing your shape.

    • Rolly permalink
      September 13, 2013 6:44 am

      Note – I forgot to mention that IF Holly is joining the biggest loser, she has (a) decided to drop into the 105kg weight class or lower, because she would crush them – and she can make $$$ being on that show, funding her lifts; or (b) decided to retire and wants to cut the weight that she held ONLY because it helped her perform.

      You used the phrase “supposed to” a lot, when describing Holly. You think she’s doing the wrong thing? No, she’s doing what she wants – which is likely getting money and pursuing a gold medal at the same time. It’s smart.

      • September 13, 2013 10:51 am

        Good comments. She could also intend to work her way back up to SHW with a better body composition (and therefore stronger).

      • September 13, 2013 9:13 pm

        And allowing herself to be made an object of scorn and ridicule on national TV. Talk about selling your soul.

    • andresarpi1995 permalink
      October 5, 2013 9:02 pm

      The unlimited class in women is +75. See my bellow post (SHW shouldn’t be as heavy as possible)

  10. September 13, 2013 9:38 am

    I can’t for the life of me think of ONE single positive comment to make about Holley allowing herself to participate in The Biggest Loser. So like my grandmother always said; “If you don’t have anything nice to say…….”

  11. elengendros permalink
    September 15, 2013 1:24 pm

    Perhaps you should contact her and tell her “I forgive you Holly, for you had sinned”. And you would not sound condescending at all, nope.

  12. elengendros permalink
    September 16, 2013 4:15 am

    Oh, forgive me for the misspelling of Holley Mangold..

  13. fatactivist permalink
    September 16, 2013 11:57 pm

    I think I’ve just lost too many role models in my 3 decades here on this Earth to really give a shit any more. My heart has been broken too many times. This last one left me dead inside when it comes to “role models”. I’m tired of losing body positive fantastic fatties to the pressures of society to be small (most regain it back and try to embrace body acceptance again, but who cares after that, spit on me and my body type once, shame on you…) I can’t muster up the desire to give a fuck any more. A person can only have so many great role models do this shit over 30 years before one just stops looking for people to look up to. I look up to myself now. The rest of the “role models” I’ve had over the years who spout fat acceptance messages and then turn around a couple years later and get weight loss surgery or hire personal diet chefs and trainers to get skinny, fuck them. I’m doing the best I can to just not care anymore. Because it just gets to hard to care.

  14. October 5, 2013 7:58 pm

    Holley’s desition makes a lot of sense to me. Is TBL the best way to lose fat in a reasonable healthy way? Hell no. However, apart from the obvious health reasons, Holleys decition is the correct one from a sport perspective. Soviet research showed that the optimal weight for a SPH male was around 140 kg (there are exceptions, Salimi the current olympic champions is 160 and Pisarenko was 125) but its a good rule of thumb. more than that and the bar path wont be optimal. This 140 kg rule was for males. A male SHW is usually around 1.90m. Holley is female and 1.73. If she wants to do better in weightlifiting she needs to be around 110 kg. 130 tops.
    All the best,
    Andres Arpi

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