Arguments about fitness and fatness

If you’re fit, then you’re thin

You’re not thin

So you aren’t fit.

That’s usually the way it goes. It’s a pretty good argument as arguments go. It’s valid. The reasoning works just fine.

The truth of premise one is questionable but that’s been the subject of a few posts. See here and here and here and here.

And so when people recognize that I’m not thin they think I’m new at the fitness activity in question. People mistake me for a beginner, someone who is out of shape etc. While I’m not an elite athlete and I’m always trying to get fitter, faster, stronger, I’m far from a beginner.

Sometimes I think that’s one of my motivations for trying to be leaner. I want people to recognize me, to see me for who I am. I actually think that’s a lousy reason but I detail some of my better reasons here.

I’m always amused when people who see that I’m fit and believe that “fit= thin” reduce the cognitive dissonace the other way, by claiming I’m not not fat/large/big whatever. This usually happens when someone is committed to the fit-thin reasoning but is forced to confront my fitness. Something has to give so it’s the belief about my size.

Recently it was a debate about competing in the Clydesdale/Athena category at a triathlon. But that’s not your category, said the acquaintance. The cut off is 150 lbs, I said. I thought this would just end the debate.

I actually think about half the women competing could be in that category if they wanted to be. Unlike rowing, it’s optional. There’s no lightweight category. It’s either the open/competitive category or Athena and so very few women use it. It’s a problem. See Why is the Athena category so useless?

The debate continued with further insistence that I wasn’t fat, big, large whatever, that I was normal sized. Fine. Sure. Depending on your definition of plus sized, I don’t wear plus sized clothing. I’m a pretty solid size 12 but I’m more than 150 lbs, lots more in fact.

I’ve got an ambivalent relationship with the term “fat” but it’s pretty clear to me that I’m a big person.

The discussion ended with the person surprised I wouldn’t take the compliment. Funny.

People want to hang on to false premise #1, the one that equates thinness and fitness so they argue with me about my size. I mostly don’t care. But it fascinates me the length people will go to to hang on to premise 1.


Image from http://www.messynessychic.com/2013/08/02/americas-forgotten-pin-up-girl/

19 thoughts on “Arguments about fitness and fatness

  1. Literally just wrote about this in ‘How to; exersise your way into obesity’ (hyperbole obviously) really enjoyed the post, I think people and also the media, need to present a more realistic viewpoint of athletes and body shape!

  2. This has been my experience for years! I’ve been given advice on how to start working out, because people assume from the way I look that I don’t know how. I had someone comment recently that another runner was a ‘real’ runner, not sure if that means I’m a fake runner?? I was stunned, because this came from a ‘friend’ that knows how much I run.
    My husband receives comments all the time that he’s in great shape, but actually he’s thin and has an okay fitness level. A co-worker of his came to our house and saw the weights in our spare room and he assumed they were my husband’s. He corrected him and said “I don’t go near them, they belong to my wife.” I’m not sure the guy believed him, because they aren’t the little 2pound pink weights that I own. 🙂
    But with these experiences, at least I’ve learned to stop making assumptions about other people.
    I’m glad your blog and others like it exist to explain that to be fit you don’t have to be thin. It’s helped me to stop chasing thinness and focus on my fitness only. What a difference to pursue activity because I enjoy it rather than to lose weight!!

  3. Well, I think the question here, or one many questions, is certainly what the heck “fit” means. I rarely say someone’s fit. It means nothing to me. I say someone’s strong, someone’s fast, someone’s good at x sport. You can tell how much I’m into crossfit…

    But not to digress–I have this issue in a certain way. I’m quite small. A lot of people don’t look at my body and think “strong.” I deadlift more than women in weightclasses three or four sets up from my own, and I’m not a terrible squatter or bencher for 114 either. But I feel marginalized in my own sport/at events in which fellow powerlifters “size one another up.” Because I’m not a tank.

    You’re just never going to win. Once I realized I don’t fit ideals in the powerlifting world OR in the non-fitness-related “female sex object” world OR in the “figure athlete/physique competitor world”, among others, I finally just threw my hands up. I don’t know what everyone wants. Apparently I can’t make it happen. So it’s time to just get away from ideas of what defines someone who does something based on image and just do the thing. End of story. Be great at what you do and perhaps reset standards and ideals–I’m not sure that’s something I’m interested in, though. I don’t think about bodies that way.

    1. I like your point that “fit” really means nothing in the contexts we are talking about. Even “healthy” really is a very nebulous word that is more often than not used to mobilize moral opprobrium and, many times, coercion.

      I agree that we should all try to make it a habit to think more in terms of specifics– what sport is x good at? is she fast? What specific skills does she have? What can she do? Etc.

      1. Totally agree with you on the distinct lack of specificity that makes up the term “healthy.” Ughhh. And yes, “fit” has kind of been commercialized into a neat little box to make the Fitness Industy turn bucks. No one likes to deal with the fact that it’s never that simple.

  4. That “people want to hang on to false premise #1, the one that equates thinness and fitness” at all costs really reveals just how moralizing/judgmental terminology like “fat” and “fit” really is.

  5. When people tell me “Oh, you’re not fat”, the comment has little to do with my actual size, and more to do with the commenter feeling like I don’t necessarily fit the awful stereotypes they believe about fat people. When I say “no, really, I am” they are horrified.

  6. With all due respect it’s fundamentally IMPOSSIBLE to be both fat and fit. If you’re fat, you’re NOT fit It’s that simple. Losing weight is simple math, physics and chemistry. You take in less calories than you expend, ergo you will lose weight. Apply the Laws of Thermodynamics. Fat people grossly underestimate the amount of food they consume and substantially overestimate the amount of exercise they get. Most engage in “sneak eating” and delusional denial.

  7. I do not know whether fat people have historically always faced prejudice, and if so, what the reason for that is. But in our image-driven, celebrity-fixated society, such prejudice is a fact. And it is true prejudice, and so hatred begins to boil when fat people express themselves. Fat people must stay quiet and try to take up as little space as possible, to avoid hatred. People do not want fat people to be fit. And they definitely do not want fat people to be more fit than are they. It’s all no different than what we were supposed to learn as tennagers in English class when we read To Kill A Mockingbird. Just like the poor whites couldn’t take a black person having more than they, or a a white woman wanting a black man (over them), people can’t take a fat person being more “fit” than are they. So if they see such a thing, the person isn’t “really fat” – she’s actually fit but maybe just has to lose a few pounds. For otherwise, what does that make them? Just how useless are they then? It would be interesting to read an accurate historical account of prejudice against fat people. Does anyone know whether there are good books on the subject?

  8. I find it … unpleasant to read a feminist blog that has a pinup at the top of a post. Just sayin’– the answer to women’s oppression via beauty standards is not to adjust those beauty standards, but to challenge them and abolish them. Beauty– however it is defined, whoever it is “expanded” to include or whatever “alternative” bodies it finds itself able to sexualize– should not define women’s worth. Pinups, whether “plus-sized” or not are feminist or friendly to women. Being sexualized, in a patriarchal society, is not a prize or privilege.

    To paraphrase Meghan Murphy, the need to “perform” sexiness publicly in order to be viewed as an authentic sexual woman is a problem that pinups, whatever “size” the women in them are, can not solve.

    1. typo: second to last line of second to last paragraph should read “are NOT feminist or friendly to women.”

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