More on labels in light of recent conversations. This time it’s me worrying about smaller fat voices like mine crowding out others in difficult conversations. It’s also about why I want people to know that when they’re talking about “obesity” they’re talking about me. Judging by numbers on the scale, and it’s a numbers on the scale measure, I’m very much in. I’m still thinking about all of this stuff. Your thoughts are welcome.
When I think of my body, it’s not the first adjective to come to mind. I don’t feel fat, usually, whatever that even means, given that Tracy, who is by my standards tiny, can feel fat. (What are my standards for small? Your clothes size is a single digit. Arbitrary, I know, but there it is.)
The words I like, the words that feel right to me, when it comes to describing my body are big, brawny, husky, large, substantial, and curvy. That I don’t just see myself as fat is the result of years of effort. I’ve come to see my body through the eyes of those who appreciate it as it is, not as a potential fixer-up-er.
(Hi folks– sorry for the late Weekends with Womack post; technical difficulties down under. Thanks for your patience. Now to the post…)
We use a lot of words to describe large (or large-ish) bodies:
For instance: fat, plump, hefty, bulky, rotund, pudgy, chunky, portly, heavyset, stout—I found 46 synonyms here. Roly-poly may be my favorite one.
Here’s one I don’t think we should use anymore:
Why not? In some ways, “obese” seems less pejorative and less judge-y than those other words. In fact, it’s really just a clinical word, with a precise definition; nothing to be upset about. Most adults with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese by medical definition. It’s also easy to determine when it applies. I can weigh myself, measure my height, consult my handy BMI chart (like the one below) and determine reasonably accurately my BMI.
CW: talk about body weight, obesity, weight stigmatization.
While I was busy grading last December, a report came out in the New England Journal of Medicine that predicted an almost 50% obesity rate in the US by 2030. The report also predicted that almost 25% of Americans would, by that time, be “severely obese” (a term I’m not going to use again, but which means a BMI of at least 35).
Climate change is not the only source of dire projections for the coming decade. Perhaps just as terrifying from both a health and an economic perspective is a predicted continued rise in obesity, including severe obesity, among American adults.
Brody interviews experts who point to increased snacking, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, eating out more, and increased portion sizes as contributing culprits of the trend.
They make the usual policy recommendations, including taxes on sweetened sodas and other sugary beverages (which, in this recent study, found a reduction in sales after being implemented, but may mean that people purchased them in other places); working to create policies to promote reduced meat consumption, reduced portion sizes, and lower-calorie foods. These are the standard responses, and I think old news.
Reading through the original article, though, a number of things struck me that Jane Brody didn’t mention at all. I’ll share them with you, and I’d love to hear what you think as well.
First takeaway: the projected distribution of increased average BMI is not uniform throughout the US. We see it graphically displayed below, with darker colors indicating higher percentages of BMI30+, and BM 35+, respectively.
Second takeaway: the NEJM article talks about increase in “severe obesity” (I promised I wouldn’t use it again, but this is really the last time) but that term just means BMI 35+. We know that not all BMIs 35+ carry the same medical risk profiles. The authors of the article mention the need for more information across the BMI spectrum, but their analysis represents a shift only from BMI 30+ to adding BMI 35+. It’s also important to know the distribution BMIs 35–40, 40–45, 45–50, and so on. Why? Because they represent different health needs, and mandate different approaches to health promotion. I’m talking not only with respect to medical conditions that often go along with say, BMIs 50–55, but also with respect to responses that help citizens of those sizes navigate life, work, medical, educational and other public spaces. Which gets me to my next point.
Third takeaway: if we expect many of our citizens to be much larger in the next 10 years and we want them to be healthier, we need for them to be able to be active and present in the community, not barred from participating in ordinary activities of life. Yes, I’m talking about literally making space for larger and heavier populations (from restaurant chairs to hospital gowns), but not just that. We need a variety of ways to make physical activity accessible, easier, and safer for larger people. This means exercise machines that obviously handle larger weights, wider yoga mats, bikes with higher max weights. This also means more outdoor spaces tailored to physically accessible and satisfying activities (e.g. shorter nature trails with benches, railings, surfaces with less steep grades, etc.).
Last takeaway: the NEJM article acknowledges that medical research hasn’t been successful in developing weight-loss methods that will be able to reverse this trend on a nationwide level. The authors suggest turning to prevention as the most important strategy for health. I disagree. I think the most pressing agenda item is reducing weight stigmatization, especially in health care. Health care workers are the second-most common source of weight stigmatization, and the effects on people are a real hazard to their health. We know that stigmatizing weight doesn’t motivate people to lose weight, but instead reduces self-esteem, increases depression and anxiety and social isolation, and often results in increased body weights among those stigmatized. The Lancet published a series in 2015 (I wrote about it here in the Conversation) in which they made a number of recommendations for reframing obesity. One of them was to treat obese patients better. Yes, that sounds right. Let’s do that.
What do you think about these takeaways? Do you have other thoughts about this news? I’d love to hear from you.
We’ve had our fair share of blog posts about having to defend your boundaries and territory at the gym, the climbinggym, oh, and did I mention the gym? Yeah, it’s a problem. Staring, unsolicited advice, making you feel uncomfortable and like you’re invading a space you don’t belong in… all of it is regularly on the cards for female-presenting athletes. Confronting the starers, mansplainers and territory defenders of our sports spaces is annoying, nerve wracking, and, frankly, often scary.
So, wouldn’t it be great to have a tank top to do the talking for you (like yesterday’s candy hearts! ❤ )? I’m crediting my co-blogger Marjorie with the idea: she came up with it in our FIFI-blogger internal Facebook group. “I’ve been thinking about making a set of gym tank tops with sayings like, ‘I’m not doing it for you,’ or ‘Look somewhere else during your rest periods.'”, she wrote. What a brilliant idea!
I thought about what my own tank top would say and quickly realised I needed a whole set, depending on the occasion and how outspoken I’d be feeling on a given day. “Staring is rude”, “Fit feminist at work”, and “Mind your own business” are just a few ideas that instantly occurred to me. I also asked my fellow bloggers. Here’s the round-up:
“I’m 55 and I can lift you” (Cate)
“Frigger, don’t kill my vibe” (Christine – she’s actually already in possession of said tank top, which is just awesome)
“Fitisafeministissue.com”; “Don’t be that guy” (Tracy)
“Patriarchy got me drove”; “Eat, Sleep, Smash the patriarchy” (Martha) – she also added, “I often think about the marketability of “Do I l👀k like I need your ‘help'”?” and lamented the lack of a sarcasm font to make it feasible.
Sam likes Fit and Feminist (another, sadly now defunct, blog)’s motto “It takes a strong woman to smash the patriarchy”.
“My body, my business” was another entry from Marjorie, and she has actually made one saying “Action Figure” with a woman’s profile in double-bicep pose.
That’s quite a collection already – but how about you? What would your feminist fitness tank top say?
Then I turned 55. And — hyperbole alert — I broke a hip.
Not really. I did something unpleasant to my SI joint in my lower back.
Here’s what happened:
I was doing a personal training thingy with my favourite coach, and it was all full of joy. I warmed up, then did some front squats, and some pike shoulder taps, and some skipping, and some cartwheels-into-handstands, and some freestanding handstand practice. Then I was trying to get the rhythm right for double-unders in skipping, and suddenly bang, sharp horrible pain in my lower back ow ow ow wobble lie down.
This Week of Being 55 is giving me some Things to Think About regarding my body. I’m super strong, and committed to fitness, and MAYBE before I hurl myself upside down or add more weight to that bar, I really need to pay attention to that little hip tilt I’m noticing in my squat as I come up. (Turns out it’s all because of an immobile ankle. Which I’ve known about for years. Fix these things, kiddos!). Because there’s nothing to make you feel more like an old lady than to lumber around with your hand on your lower back going “oh my hip.”
At my birthday party, my friend Jenn joked that I could uniquely be a person who takes up roller derby at 55, with the derby name “Seniors’ Discount.”
The scope of my menstruating life has been quite epic.
I started in the Are You There God, it’s Me Margaret era of belted maxipads, switching to the first adhesive (thick, bulky) napkins in my first year or so. Periods 1 through 24 or so, pads. Periods 24 – 59 or so, cardboard applicator tampax, with an occasional foray into the plastic applicator tampons (scented! plastic that washes up on beaches!)
For most of my menstruating life, from period 60 to … what, 550? or so? I’ve used non-organic, non-applicator tampons. (I have a theory that this is in 98th percentile of Total Number of Periods for One Person in history, given the dropping age of menarche and that most women in earlier eras had years and years of no bleeding because of pregnancies and breastfeeding and starving and suchlike. Yay overachiever.)
Among those trusty OBs, I’ve had the occasional eco-feminist dip into reusable products. (Of the era of sponges and pads bought at the store that sold crystals, we shall not speak).
As I wrote in my initial post, there have been an explosion of period trends in the past decade that have passed me by — the diva cup, IUDs and birth control pills that stop periods altogether, the explosion of period absorbing underwear. (An ad for which was filmed — full circle here — at my gym. All these millennials with all these menstrual options to sit alongside their climate anxiety and intergenerational tension).
Tampons, topical analgesic, advil. So what I’m saying here is, so far, being 55 hasn’t been a picnic from a physical perspective. On top of the cramps, and the lumbago (okay, fine, torqued SI joint), I’ve had a weird cold that has made my eyes stream, and a persistent headache from the valtrex I’m taking from the accompanying cold sore.
But here’s what I do know: this is just one week in February, not The Rest of My Life, and I’m still a person who has loved exploring handstands and heavy lifting this year, for the first time ever. I have some pretty good triceps and my calves are pretty damned awesome. And I have an amazing community of middle aged peeps who are also weathering waning strength, disruptive injuries, and a deep desire to live fully and joyfully in our bodies.
To quote the immortal Leslie Knope, Happy Galentines Day, peeps. You beautiful land mermaids. Thanks for being such a great community.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is happy to have birthday carrot cake in her freezer.
(Update: It’s snowing really hard out there. My plan is to ride my fat bike. It’s also going to be cold. Here’s the forecast: Sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 8. Wind chill minus 26 in the morning and minus 13 in the afternoon. Brrr! Wish me luck!)