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Fatties aren’t supposed to enjoy physical activity

July 30, 2014

Halfway-There

Thanks to everyone who has gotten us this far. Please support Casey in improving her mobility while fighting the fat haters by donating whatever you can afford. Read more here or click the image above to donate.

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseMy Boring-Ass Life

Trigger warning: Exercise and cultural constructions of what exercise means, as well as brief discussion of weight loss.

I’ve been semi-regularly going to this awesome yoga class for the past couple months.  By awesome, I mean that the people and the instructor are awesome. The class is specifically marked as an inclusive space, striving to be an anti-racist and fat-, trans*-, and queer-positive space.

A fat-positive fitness space! It’s one of my career goals to help make more fitness spaces open to bodies that don’t fit the norm, so I love it when I come across something like this.

Casey Yoga

Casey doing tree pose on a rock in Lake Superior in 2006. REAL

It’s an all-levels class, and the instructor reminds students that modifying the pose or picking an alternate pose is always an option. For example, downward-facing dog is a common pose that she uses in between various sequences, but offers table pose or child’s pose as options if our bodies need it.

As someone who used to do some intense physical activities, including very athletic and balance-intensive yoga poses, I sometimes have a mental block when it comes to actually listening to my body’s needs. It’s a combination of living the Good Fatty stereotype for so much of my life, my body’s inability to tell me immediately if something is wrong (from nerve damage), and a sincere love of feeling like a badass.

The thing is that I’m not in love with the way I have to do yoga with this baby cyborg body (19 months post-spine surgery now). Standing is a balance pose in and of itself, so picking one foot up of the ground like in the photo … not happening unless it’s a good day and I’m leaning against a wall, and even then I will likely put my legs and/or back into spasms that ruin the rest of the class, plus the next couple days. No backbends, whether they are cobra, up-dog or wheel. Bridges are on my spine’s no list as well. Hell, I can’t even do savasana (relaxation pose) without nerve issues. I can, however, hold a plank for over a minute and a half without much effort (take that Dr. Jerkwad!) and am working on a handstand variation that makes me feel epic.

While there’s both good and bad things in my recent yoga adventure, I’ve noticed that people’s reaction to my critique of yoga is tied directly into assumptions about my body size. Heck, it happened when I was belly dancing too. There’s this assumption that these activities are beginner activities that are gentle and great ways to burn calories (when in reality, both activities have a range of styles and skill levels, plus both require specific postures to protect against injury).

There’s also an assumption that physical activity isn’t enjoyable, and that joy is particularly irrelevant for fatties like me. The assumption that physical activity is only a means for weight loss means that a lot of people are missing out on a component of a healthy lifestyle that has been repeatedly shown to help people become healthier if they choose to pursue it. Health research has shown that positive outcomes increase adherence to health-related behaviors … so why is our society reinforcing this idea of exercise is some punishment for eating something that tastes good?

Basic behaviorism y’all — positive reinforcement works the best, and punishment not so much, so let’s work on making the world a more joyful place to move all sorts of bodies in a variety of ways. If you want to do physical activity, but you find something you don’t like, find something else! If you hate the dreadmill treadmill, give something else a try. Explore and experiment. It’s your body after all … forcing yourself to do something you dread or makes you hurt will only keep you from living as happily as possible.

Casey Sig

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    July 30, 2014 9:58 am

    Also, when are we going to get past the concept that exercise is only exercise if it’s specifically done as exercise?

    A couple years ago I was in a restaurant where the server at my table just couldn’t seem to open her mouth without engaging in body shame and fat-talk. It drove me up a tree, but nobody else at the table even seemed to notice at all. Anyway, at one point she was talking about how lazy she had been lately and she wasn’t getting any exercise at all. I pointed out that as a server in a busy restaurant, she was spending eight hours a day several days a week walking, carrying heavy trays of food, and a lot of other things that are quite physically demanding. Wasn’t that exercise? She looked at me as though I’d suddenly grown horns and a third nostril and then said but she hadn’t been to the gym in two days and she was getting all disgusting and fat.

    Me? If I take a ten minute walk and do a little housework, I can see where that’s exercise. And I do that enough that I’m quite fit enough to do walk-a-thons on a fairly regular basis. I can also carry my twenty-five-pound sacks of flour (I buy in bulk) easily and toss my Le Creuset cast iron pots and pans around like they weigh virtually nothing. All that and the last time I darkened the door of a gym was almost forty years ago.

    If you’re moving your body, you’re moving your body, whether you’re wearing spandex or not.

    • July 30, 2014 12:46 pm

      Exactly! That’s why most kinesiologists have a really broad definition of physical activity. There are many ways to move one’s body that most people don’t see as exercise….yardwork, gardening, commuting by walking or biking, et al.

    • Jennifer Hansen permalink
      July 31, 2014 12:21 am

      I started shoulding on myself today about going to water aerobics, which feels good but has not been possible for me lately due to not actually being able to be in two places at once (grump grump grump). Then I realized that I was clambering through a half-wild raspberry patch, stooping, stretching, scrambling up and down a slope, and pushing raspberry canes out of the way in order to pick berries, and had been for most of an hour. And I laughed at myself.

      Picking fruit to sell at the farmers’ market for an hour a day, five days a week, = exercise. Even if there is no soundtrack and nobody up front urging me on!

    • Mich permalink
      August 4, 2014 10:11 pm

      I totally agree. I worked at McD’s for a year, and it was all “go go go” no rest. I even got called off breaks due to “there’s a rush”, but when I got there, there was no one. I think it was the “trying to help me on the job, fatty”. I was also mistreated by the management every shift, and when I announced that I was quitting at the end of the summer before uni., I got no more shifts for 3 months.

      Wow.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    July 30, 2014 1:26 pm

    My husband’s doctor has finally quit recommending exercise as a way to lose weight and/or control his blood glucose. For the last 20 years, ever since he retired from the Navy and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, every job he’s ever had required that he stand and walk the entire shift (other than breaks, which on one job, he was lucky if he got). She’s finally come to the conclusion that the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week that he’s working as maintenance is exercise enough and he doesn’t need to do any additional exercise on his days off. But it took him 15 years to convince her of that, which is 15 years too long.

    • Mich permalink
      August 4, 2014 10:09 pm

      That sounds like the job I had at Safeway. Except it was always on your feet, not moving for the entire shift. By the end of each day I was in excruciating pain, and took 10 mins to get to the back to sign out, and then longer to get to the car. Some days I just sat there waiting for the throbbing to end before I could drive. On avg. it took over 5 hrs for the pain to dissipate.

  3. July 31, 2014 12:09 am

    Ahh yes, the old “fatties hate exercise” song. That’s one tired tune! I like exercise that I like, and don’t like exercise that I don’t like. If I don’t think it’s enjoyable, I won’t be doing it. Otherwise, try and stop me!
    There’s also an idea that exercise isn’t “real” exercise unless its super duper uber strenuous. I’m almost 50 years old, have bum knees, sciatica, fibromyalgia, and a mitral valve prolapse. The mitral valve prolapse means it isn’t a good plan for me to work out so hard that it feels like my heart is going to blow up. It’s a benign condition, but nonetheless, one should be smart about it. I tend to prefer swimming and aqua aerobics because I can do things in the pool that I can’t on land, at least not without risking a trip to the E.R.

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  1. For People who Hate Exercise | Adventures of a Part Time Wheeler

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