Posts Tagged ‘fit bodies’

This article showed up on my facebook newsfeed recently and it is so awesome I can’t not share it here:

There’s No Morality in Exercise: I’m a Fat Person and Made a Successful Fitness App

The whole thing is really, really worth reading. That said I also love this paragraph near the end:

What I’ve learned is: the story I got told about what it meant to have a fat body, that it must mean that I sat around all day eating deep-fried stuffed-crust pizza and watching TV—that story just wasn’t true. The story about how people who look like me hate to exercise just isn’t true. It’s so easy to let the media you see or the discourse you hear define who you are before you’ve even learned about yourself. And I bought into it for too long.

And the Successful Fitness App mentioned? Zombies, Run! I already loved this app and now there is so much more to love about it!

When we came to make Zombies, Run!, I deliberately put a line in the very first mission, when you, Runner Five, are just arriving at Abel Township, the tiny, shivering remnant of humanity left after the zombie apocalypse. I had one of the characters say: “If you can move above a slow shamble, we can use you.” Why? Because I am so sick and tired of the best and nicest exercise-based treats being reserved for people who are already in peak physical shape, and I’m sick of the notion that having fun while exercising is something you have to earn; that, until you look a certain way, moving ought to be boring and unpleasant if not outright painful. Your body is there right now. You did not have to earn a thing. It is a gift. You are a hero every time you step out of your front door to do some exercise.

I’ve heard that line before, but I never gave a whole lot of thought to it. But so much more love for the fact that this was purposeful to say running is running, even if you are slow! Especially since I run super slow and I’ve been playing zombies, run! before and thought “thank god there aren’t really zombies chasing me, because I’m not sure I’d really be successful in outrunning them for real”.

I do love this app though, not only is it just really fun to play while running, I’ve actually been meaning for awhile now to write about Zombies, Run! in terms of their representation of queer characters. I won’t say too much more on that now, because I still plan to write that post some day. So this is just one more in a long list of reasons to love the app.

And to sum it all up:

And, to be clear, there’s no moral component to exercise, no matter what the magazines might try to tell you. You’re not a better person for doing it or a worse person for not.

I want to talk about something that has been bothering me and that is the moralizing of eating. Not food (that is a different issue), but eating itself. This comes up in terms of the “why are you eating?” pieces of advice around identifying if you are hungry or bored or stressed or sad or eating for any reason other than physical hunger. And let me be clear that I have no problem with this topic or advice on understanding why we eat or crave certain things in and of itself.  What bothers me is simply when this is treated as if we all have some moral imperative to only eat when physically hungry. That it is some sort of sin to eat for any other reason. And that, I do disagree with.

I am all about understanding our relationships with food, understanding why we eat, why we crave certain things, and just all around being better in touch with our bodies and minds. I talked before in my post on intuitive eating that I tend to crave sugary drinks if I get dehydrated and that is really just me being dehydrated and what I really need is water (though I could get this through either plain water or other drinks). Along a similar line I’m all about understanding why I am hungry or craving any particular thing at that time. I think the more in touch we are with our bodies and minds the messages they send us the better off we are.

I also believe very strongly in my life in prioritizing what my time, energy, and mental focus. And I’ve talked a lot here before about how fitness is not my top priority in life, and neither is eating or my body size or any of that.

This means, that sometimes what I’m eating or why I’m eating is not my priority at that time. And I for one am done feeling ashamed of that. I stress eat sometimes. And I know that it’s because of stress, but it also takes energy and some mental focus to go through the “I just want cookies because I’m stressed, I’m not actually hungry” and resist eating the cookies. No, not a lot of energy or mental focus,  but when I’m rushing against a deadline to get a paper done, or proposal submitted on time, or anything else like that, my priority for all my energy and mental focus is on getting that done as well as possible on time. And that means, no, I’m not going to commit the mental resources to avoiding munching on some cookies while I do it. Because at the end of the day, not eating cookies is not that important to me. I don’t really give a damn if sometimes I eat cookies when I’m stressed. I do not think that is a moral failing, a character flaw, or some sort of sin.

And if eating some “junk food” when I’m stressed about getting something important done for a deadline is the reason I’m fat, I still don’t give a fuck. I’m still ok with the fact that I ate those cookies and I’m still ok with being fat.

This is one of those things that is said all the time in fitness forums, articles, and books, and it usually makes me want to scream.

Usually it comes in the form of reassuring women that weight lifting will not make them “bulky”. But it can take other forms as well, and regardless of the reasoning it still annoys the hell out of me.

A lot of women who lift and want to build noticeable muscle do find this to be true. But not all women are the same.

The reasoning behind this is that women don’t have enough testosterone so building any muscle for us, all of us, takes a long more work and takes a lot longer. But fun fact, “hormone levels” aren’t actually exactly equal among all women. In fact, they can vary quite a lot from woman to woman. We are not actually all clones.

Sometimes I wish that I could see muscle growth more quickly, but overall I don’t usually feel like I have a very hard time building muscle. And never have. It’s always seemed like I could see more muscle growth more quickly than this well known fitness fact seems to imply I should.

I mentioned recently some changes I’ve seen with my body from weight lifting. Which is also what got me thinking about this topic today. Because according to many folks, what I notice is just not possible because I’m a woman.

Besides being fairly intimately familiar with what my body looks like and feels like, I take measurements semi-regularly, and noticed first awhile back that my arms (measured around my bicep) were getting surprisingly bigger (especially surprising given I don’t specifically train biceps) meanwhile my arms look and feel more ‘toned’, more recently my thighs have increased in size at the same time I can notice that my hamstrings look and feel much larger.

Which I’ve actually been told by random dudes (actually all men- which makes sense because clearly they are the experts on women)  even though they don’t know me, that this is just not possible. As a woman, I have not been lifting long enough to build enough muscle for me to have that significant muscle growth. Clearly I’m just getting fatter and lying to myself about it.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because unlike them I know my body.

And to be clear, it’s not that I need to prove to anyone that I’m not getting fatter or that it would be any of their business if I were. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is that it’s really annoying to get excited about building muscle (because I get excited about that!) and being told that I obviously just don’t know my own body and can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle because women just can’t build muscle like that (source: everyone just knows that).

This whole idea that all women’s bodies work exactly the same such that we can make this universal claim that women don’t build muscle easily just needs to die already.

So since my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that disability issues play out in fitness. And it keeps bringing to mind the “supercrip” stereotype. This something I’ve been thinking a lot about but struggling to put into words my thoughts. Particularly because those identified as “inspiring” are typically folks with different disabilities than me- typically folks with visible disabilities. All my disabilities are invisible, people look at me and they see a healthy, able-bodied girl. That’s not who I am, but it’s what people assume because I don’t use a wheelchair or a cane or have any other visible identifier of disability. That assumption is frustrating, but that’s a topic for another time, right now I merely am trying to explain that my experiences with disabilities are very different than those who have visible disabilities.

Still, there something that doesn’t often sit right with me about the frequent use of photos and videos of people with visible disabilities engaged in various fitness activities as inspiration. It does bring to mind this quote from the bitch magazine article though:

Supercrip provides a way for non-disabled folks to be “inspired” by persons with disabilities without actually questioning—or making changes to—how persons with disabilities are treated in society.

I think this hits the nail on the head for what makes me uncomfortable. For all the times I’ve seen photos or videos of people with disabilities lifting/running/swimming/doing yoga/et cetera with commentary on how inspiring it is, I’ve never seen those posts include commentary on the experiences of people with disabilities in the fitness world. Especially given barriers to access, stereotypes, and discrimination that people with visible disabilities often face. There are many who would assume those with visible disabilities are not capable of engaging in these activities, and so I doubt that these individuals have never run into problems with gyms of people, possibly even staff, assuming they shouldn’t be there or using certain equipment. Given the issues of accessibility people with certain disabilities (especially those who use wheelchairs) face all the time, it would be odd to me if gyms and fitness related events where the one area where this is never a problem. But this is never the discussion. Rather, it’s people without disabilities sharing images/videos of people with disabilities, for the purpose of inspiring other people without disabilities. It treats people with disabilities as people who exist solely to make people without disabilities feel good.

And it also veers often into assuming that all disabilities are the same or can be hierarchically ranked. I mention in my most recent post on spoons, the experiences of a particular disability is different for different people, and can even be different for the same person at different points in times. As well, as I’ve discussed before, different disabilities are different. It’s not always a matter of better or worse, just different. I don’t have the same experiences as a person who uses a wheelchair, and they do not have the experiences as I do. The experiences are simply different.

I’ve always hated the terms “fit” or “athletic” to describe a body type, though I’ll admit to having fallen into it myself. But the thing is “fit” and “athletic” do not describe a type of body but activities. Fit and athletic bodies can take many different shapes and sizes.

What athlete’s bodies look like.

I’ve written some a little about this before: when Prince Fielder posed nude and got fat shamed for it, my problems with the phrase “strong is sexy” because it ignores strong women who are not conventionally attractive and thin, and a post on the difference between “muscular” vs low body fat. Looking at the athletes mentioned in those posts and you will see that fit and athletic bodies do not all look like fitness models.

Now the other day I came across someone online telling a story. It was a thin woman talking about how a fat friend of hers dared to think she (fat friend) was more fit just because when doing physical activities the fat friend had an easier time doing it. This person was very confused how anyone could think a higher body weight could be more fit than a lower body weight.

Meanwhile I stare at my screen in disbelief that someone could not understand that being better able to do various fitness activities would mean being more fit. Obviously this is not black and white because not all fitness activities are the same, take two athletes and have them compete in a different sport and they won’t do as great at it. If we took all the folks pictured above and had them compete in one athletic activity, it would be an unfair measure because they are athletes in different sports. And certainly it’s possible to be fit in general and have a bad day where it may not seem like it. But still, fitness is activity based, not body size based. Being thin does not automatically make you fit if you aren’t actually engaging in fitness. And fat people can be fit and athletic too. So yes, a person with a higher body weight/BMI/body fat can certainly be more fit than a thin person.

Though I think we should aim for not tearing others down to make ourselves feel better, such as pointing out another person being less fit to feel better about your fitness. But I can also understand that fat people are expected to prove their fitness in ways never expected of thin people, so I can understand why someone would feel good about being able to outdo thin friends in physical activities as a counterweight to the typical message that fat folks are always worse at physical activities than thin people.

So if you haven’t seen yet, former Detroit Tigers baseball player Prince Fielder posed nude for ESPN magazine’s body issue. 

I feel like I should preface this to say that I don’t follow baseball at all, so prior to seeing this I didn’t know who Prince Fielder was even though he previously played for the baseball team in my area (The Detroit Tigers).

But I just thought I should share this because I love it. More than the image itself I love his comments:

You don’t have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete. A lot of people probably think I’m not athletic or don’t even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I’m not going up there trying to be a fitness model. (source for quote)

Love it!

Just to recap:

Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete.

Apparently this has lead a lot of people to freak out, because it’s still so inconceivable to some people that fit people don’t only look like fitness models.

Honestly the accusations that he doesn’t look athletic boggle my mind. Even if one was going by appearance alone, he looks pretty fit to me. I mean, he’s got serious muscle on his legs clearly. But just because he has a little bit of a beer belly instead of a 6 pack means he’s not athletic? Seriously?

Of course, that is not how it works. Fitness ability is not based on how visible your abs are!

Again- not all fit people look like fitness models!

This is common to hear in a lot of fitness spaces. And often the message is plastered across photos of women who look like fitness models, or are fitness models.

Such at this:

Or this:

Strong is the new skinny! Of course the woman wearing that is very thin. Strong too, I’m sure, but she’s also very thin.

The message from these seems to be that “strong” looks only one way- and that one way to look strong is the be thin and conventionally attractive. I already talked about this a little in my post on being muscular vs having low body fat: strong is not one singular look. There are a lot of different ways to look and still be strong.

And it’s interesting the claim is that strong is sexy, yet all the images associated with it are of women who are thin and still meet the standard conventions of what is attractive. But if strong is sexy, then sexy would not be limited to these body types.

Where are my strong is sexy memes with Kristin Rhodes,  who won the United Strongmen Women’s World Championships in 2012?

If strong is sexy, Kristin is very sexy.

Or Holley Mangold, and olympic athlete who competed in the 2012 olympics in weightlifting?

Yet the message strong is sexy does not seem to encompass the wide range of body sizes and shapes that strong bodies come in, rather focusing on a very limited subset of strong bodies that are also thin and conventionally attractive.

So the message is actually less that strong is sexy, than that sexy can also be strong. That you can be conventionally attractive and still lift heavy and have muscles. But not that lifting heavy and having muscles necessarily makes you sexy.

It’s a pretty big difference. It’s a difference between celebrating women’s physical  strength and the beauty of that strength in all it’s body types, vs celebrating a very specific and restricted body type but saying you can still be strong with that body type.

 

I’d love to get behind the message that strong is sexy, I think it’s a great message. But I can’t get behind it right now because that phrase is not being used with a message that actually says strong is sexy.

I saw something recently talking about very muscular body types, and I realized the person seemed to actually mean low body fat (and muscular) body types. At the same time I realized that we often talk about these things as if they are the same and I know I have before too.

But the truth is, they aren’t. Being very muscular doesn’t always mean having a very low body fat percentage. And I think this is important to keep in mind for a few reasons. One of which being that when we conflate these two things the result is dismissing the muscle mass of those who aren’t very lean. When we see a person who looks larger sized, we don’t think of them as muscular. To the extreme this can lead some to outright denying that such a person has much muscle mass. I remember reading an anecdote on a fat acceptance blog from a fat woman who was going through a fitness test and did not get any credit for ab exercises she did because the person administering the test said she couldn’t feel her abs under her abdominal fat and thus couldn’t verify she was engaging them in the movements. I wish I could properly source who this anecdote came from but it was years ago and at the time didn’t seem something worth bookmarking.

The truth is that you can have a lot of muscle and still have body fat over it. When someone uses a descriptive of someone as very muscular I think a lot of folks think of bodybuilder physiques. Yet, at least from what I understand of bodybuilding, even bodybuilders don’t look like that most of the time- bodybuilders typically get down to a very low body fat percentage for their competitions and do significant “cutting” before the competition. When in between competitions they frequently, from my understanding, do not maintain such low body fat percentages. A competitive bodybuilder probably still looks fairly lean and muscular between competitions, but not the extreme of what is seen in competition.

And when you start talking about folks who are not bodybuilders, many people can have lots of strength and muscle and not fit the idea of what we think of as a muscular look because they still have more body fat over that.

Spending a deal of time on a fitness based social media website, fitocracy, I see folks posting on there often about cutting and getting body fat down, particularly in order to get those visible abs. This requires specific weight loss effort beyond strength training because building muscle in and of itself does not get most people down to very low body fat levels.

Also keeping in mind that bodybuilding is about physique. When you start looking at competitive powerlifters or strongmen/strongwomen you still see a lot more variety in what competitors body’s look like than with bodybuilder competitions because those competitions  are not based around appearance.

Googling for strongmen photos brought up dudes like this:

And in my googlings web results brought up people all over various forums asking why stongmen don’t look “muscly” but just big or even fat.

And here, fyi, is a strongwoman from google results:

Well, they don’t look “muscly” the way bodybuilders do because strongmen competitions are not physique competitions like bodybuilder and so the training and diets for each are going to be different. These competitors are without a doubt very strong, requiring a lot of muscle, yet they don’t fit the common image of what we think of as a very muscular person looking like, because we conflate that with very low body fat, and perhaps even more specifically with bodybuilder physiques.