body image · competition · diets · fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

Can you watch the Biggest Loser ironically?

No. That’s my answer anyway.

I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.

I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?

“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.

What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.

You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th‎.” But you don’t have to watch the show.

We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.

From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holly

TV shows, fitness, and weight loss: Love and hate

I know the mistake they made: The biggest losers just stopped exercising

More on the mistakes the biggest losers make: But what about muscle?

The biggest losers just did it the wrong way! They lost the weight too quickly!

Extreme Dieting and Metabolic Adaptation: The “Biggest Loser” Dataset (Guest Post)

Imagine if size didn’t matter. Can you?

So has Caitlin at Fit and Feminist:

THE ‘SHOCKING’ OUTCOME OF THE BIGGEST LOSER IS NOT ALL THAT SHOCKING

Don’t watch the Biggest Loser. Watch this great ad instead!

accessibility · body image · cycling · fat · fitness

Fat cyclists in the news

I loved seeing this in my newsfeed: They call themselves ‘fat cyclists’ — and they want to get more people, of all sizes, on bikes. It’s a lovely story of two women, Kailey Kornhauser and Marley Blonsky who connected on Instagram and who now pursue bike adventures and cycling advocacy together. They both wear size 2X and they’re not riding to lose weight.

Kailey says, “I was always trying to change the fact that I was a fat cyclist into being just a ‘regular’ cyclist,” the 27-year-old says on a recent afternoon. “Now, I spend my time loving myself and moving my body because I enjoy moving my body and not as a punishment to my body.”

They’re not alone, of course. See Big women on bikes here on this blog. Also, Fat lass at the front.

One of my fave fat cyclist images. From the Stocky Bodies project.
alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

body image · diets · eating · feminism · fitness · yoga

Tracy objects to “yoga for holiday baking”

It’s that time of year where unsuspecting yogis or gym goers can be subjected to diet culture (not quite as bad as what’s to come in January, but still a risk) in class. It just slides into the running commentary that instructors need to maintain to keep the class moving along.

Image description: Christmas cookies (various kinds): gingerbread people, stars, stockings, trees, Santas, snow people, candy canes, snowflakes. Photo: https://www.959theriver.com/holiday-baking-yay-or-nay/

This happened to me the other day in yoga. I’ve been unable to run for a couple of months, so I’ve been going to hot yoga every day instead. It’s been a nice change (though I’m dying to get back to running). I’ve been a member at the same studio for at least a decade and I honestly have never experienced the normalization of diet culture there. But that commendable streak came to an end the other day when, in order to motivate a longer hold of a strenuous pose, the instructor said, “work off all that holiday baking!”

“Say what?” She lost me right then and there. I went back and forth in my head about whether I was overreacting. Despite that I don’t blog regularly here anymore, seven years as a feminist fitness blogger has given me a certain perspective and a keen awareness of nonsense that sucks the joy out of our workouts and replaces it with the suggestion that we need to whip our overindulgent selves into shape. I object!

I spent the rest of the class asking myself “do I say something or let it go?” On the side of letting it go: I know she meant it as a light-hearted comment. On the side of saying something: that’s how diet culture gets perpetuated; the yoga studio is the last place I expect to hear it; I’m probably not the only one who felt uncomfortable with the comment.

After my shower I approached the instructor. I had already decided to be nice about it. I love the studio and as I said it’s not a place I normally experience body shaming or anything other than body positivity. Definitely the comment was the exception not the rule.

Me: It was a good class but I have some feedback.

Instructor: Yes.

Me: I didn’t appreciate the comment about the holiday baking. I don’t come here to hear that sort of thing.

Instructor: I know! I’m sorry. The minute it came out of my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said it. But I didn’t know how to take it back.

Me: That’s reassuring. Thanks for telling me that.

Instructor: Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you felt able to express it.

I consider that a good news story. Instead of stewing in my juices, I opened up a dialogue. That yielded a shared understanding and also a willingness on the instructor’s part to do better in the future.

Using workouts to “deal with” holiday baking is a pretty normal message that is firmly entrenched in normalized diet culture. For most people it is just the way it is. But that’s not what we promote here. And it’s not what anyone who cares about body positivity and more self-nurturing motivations for our fitness pursuits should be promoting either.

I’m glad I said something. And I’m really relieved the instructor “got it” before I even opened my mouth.

body image · fitness

5 small steps for me, 5 big steps toward body/self acceptance

The following is true: I struggle with accepting my body as a good body– one that functions well, seems appealing to me and can be owned proudly by me. I have fought with and disapproved of my body and body image for as long as I can remember. But I am really sick and tired of feeling this way. It’s exhausting and no fun at all. Know what I mean? I’m sure you do.

I'm 50% sick and 50% tired.
I’m 50% sick and 50% tired.

Writing for and reading this blog, however, has introduced a new notion to me: maybe I don’t have to fight with and disapprove of my body in such a systematic and comprehensive way. There are options here, one of which is to be nicer to my body, to cultivate acceptance and care of myself so I feel better about the way I look and feel to the world and myself.

Hey, it's something to think about.
Hey, it’s something to think about.

Oh– please don’t worry that I’m on the verge of telling y’all about some new diet or other cockamamie plan to try to make myself look different. Yeah, that’s not happening.

No diets. No gadgets. No funny food. No supplements. No surgeries.
No diets. No gadgets. No funny food. No supplements. No surgeries.

Instead, I’m doing or have done these things.

  • I’m cleaning out my closet to put away (either out of my house or in a bin in the basement) clothing that doesn’t currently fit me.

I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve never really truly done this before. And in fact, there are still some residual too-small clothing items hanging around, but I’m working on it. I have to say, it feels kind of good to survey my closet and drawers and not have to sift through several sizes and eras of clothing, deluged with memories and regrets, just to get myself dressed in the morning. Sheesh.

  • I’ve resumed wearing blue jeans, which has become possible because I’ve bought jeans that fit me right now (as opposed to some hypothetical time in future when my body is some smaller size).

Again, duh. But it has been difficult to bring myself to live in the present moment, at my present size. However, three things have made this easier: 1) relative ease of online ordering; 2) the abundance of clothing lines that now offer larger sizes in jeans; 3) stretchy fabrics! So I now have two cute pairs of jeans that actually fit me. Woo hoo!

  • Last summer, inspired by friends (including some of the bloggers), I’ve stopped coloring my hair, and letting the gray underneath grow out.

It’s now been 6 months, and I love the silver gray around my forehead, at my temples, and the gray that’s inching its way down. It’s going to take at least another year, but I’ve got time. Lots of people think it looks cool (which is always nice to hear). Mainly though, *I* love it. I didn’t think I would, but I do. Gray/silver hair suits me, and also opens up new color possibilities for clothing. Fun!

  • I’m taking baby steps toward regular strength training, which is something that makes me feel powerful and in touch with and grateful to my body when I do it.

I bought an online strength training program, which I started, but it’s taking a while to get going consistently. Still, it’s here, I’m here, and everything counts. I may join my local YMCA to take classes or do some personal training– we shall see what the next steps are. But I’m on a path to something, and it makes me appreciate my physical self whenever I take a step. Breathe…

  • Last and definitely not least: I’m being more open about how hard I find body self-acceptance, and I’m inviting support and partners and fellow-travelers to join in conversations with me.

What sorts of activities or relationships or other things help you with body acceptance? What are you looking for to help you with your own position or process? I’d love to hear from you.

baby steps.

advertising · body image · charity · fitness · kids and exercise · Martha's Musings · trackers

Kids and fitness trackers: the holiday edition (not)

 

TW: weightloss mentioned; negative self talk examples included.

By MarthaFitat55

Almost two years ago this March coming, I wrote about targetting kids for weight loss campaigns and fitness trackers. The nutshell: not a great idea because kids are vulnerable.

I was reminded of that piece when this article came across my feed describing how UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund has developed a tracker that allows kids to feed other children when they reach certain step goals.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

North American kids — largely affluent, well fed, and probably mostly white — are being told use this tracker and you will feed the poor somewhere else.

You can’t escape the irony here; the colonialist, patriarchally coated irony of having privileged kids walking their walk to good works.

danielle-macinnes-d9IFdsA1HIA-unsplash
Images shows young white female-presenting child looking at a quarter cupcake on a plate.  Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Article author Angela Lashbrooks says this about the idea: A punitive or even rewards-based system to encourage young people to move more won’t be effective in the mid or long term, and could cause or worsen obsessive thoughts and behaviors in some kids.

That’s because there isn’t a lot of good evidence showing trackers work with kids and teens:

One 2019 study found that teenage subjects actually became less likely to engage in moderate or vigorous physical activity after five weeks of wearing a Fitbit. It suggested that the tracker appeared to weaken the inherent motivation and self-determination needed to compel kids to be active. Another study, from 2017, saw similar results: After an initial surge in interest in exercise spanning a few weeks, the kids mostly stopped engaging with the trackers and actively resisted them, claiming that they were inaccurate and therefore not trustworthy.

While our kids on this continent are mostly sedentary and we should be concerned with the amount of screen time they engage in, getting kids to wear trackers and get their fitness on by appealing to an altruistic goal is problematic.

Kids follow what they see. Kids also know when they are being gamed. I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning and discover a tracker under the tree. Given all the negative messages we send out about size and what fitness looks like, I can see the thought processes now:

Parental units gave me a tracker! Trackers are used by people who want to lose weight. Parents must think I need to lose weight. Parents must think I am fat. Fat people are ugly. Parents must think I am ugly. Parents won’t love me if I’m fat. Parents won’t love me anymore if I don’t lose weight. …

Unless a tracker is something the child has spontaneously on their own expressed an interest in, there are better ways to get your kid engaged in fitness than planting this kind of non-gift under the tree.

If you want to focus on a healthier, more active lifestyle, buy swim passes for everyone. Or sign them up for that bike repair workshop so they can fix their bikes on their own. Or plot walking routes in your community and track the steps as a world wide adventure.

If social action is on your list of things, then talk as a family about supporting community agencies who help vulnerable kids and families throughout the year and not just in holiday season. This article offers some great insights into why giving should be a daily thing and not a holiday one-off.

Gifts that focus on self-improvement aren’t really gifts in my opinion. They are projections of your own desires. How about you? What do you think would be more appropriate for gift giving?

MarthaFitat55 is not a fan of self-improvement gifts for any occasion. She gets her fit on through walking, swimming, yoga and powerlifting. But not all at once.

body image · Book Reviews · fitness

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 1, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Sam:

I really like Nia Shanks. When this blog’s Christine mentioned that she’d bought her new book, my eyes and ears perked up. I often need a fitness challenge over the holidays. I’m scrambling to complete 300 workouts in 2019. Maybe this would help. We both said we’d write about it.

Here’s my thoughts on Day 1.

Day 1’s message is about changing your focus from looks to performance, from weight lost to weight lifted. Got it. Already with you on that. It’s been years since I’ve worked out with aesthetic goals in mind. I agree with Nia Shanks that for most of us, this is an important shift in thinking.

But but but… there’s also a line in her Day 1 setup that I hate. Shanks writes, “And guess what? It’s very possible the results you’ve desired all along will come as a side effect….”

Aha! Indirect strategies, get the thing you want by not aiming for it. We all know how this works. Get happiness not by looking for happiness but rather by finding some activity in which to immerse yourself. Then you’ll find happiness. Don’t look for love. Instead, find activities you enjoy for their own sake and maybe while there you’ll also find true love. I tell my students never to aim to get high grades. Instead, fall in love with philosophy, with hard problems, with the work, and then high grades might follow.

Some people offer this up with non-diet food strategies too. Don’t restrict calories. Instead, learn to eat intuitively and then you will find peace with food and possibly also lose weight. It’s the add-on bonus, benefit. Tracy has written before about un-diets that are really diets in disguise.

Except, you might also not lose weight by working out for the “right” reasons. You might work out really hard, get very strong, and still not have the body you were hoping for. In fact, I think that’s the more likely result. My worry about hoping that you’ll try for strength and get the body you always wanted as a side effect is that it still misleads people about the possibility of dramatic changes in the way we look. When we don’t get them we give up and lose out on all the health benefits of training for strength and endurance.

I’m hoping things get better in the days ahead! I’m sure it will.

Christine:

Sam and I are at different points when it comes to fitness. Her routines are solid and fitness is part of her daily reality. 

I’m still working on those things. Aside from my taekwondo classes, I struggle to make exercise a part of my week – let alone my days. I’m hoping the routine of reading and reflecting on this book will help make that more straightforward.

Given that we’re reading the same book, it’s no surprise that Sam and I ended up on the same page – literally and metaphorically. I’m also frustrated by the inclusion of the notion that looking better/losing weight may not be the goal but that it is a likely side benefit. However, given that Shanks is trying to convert her audience from one mindset to another, perhaps this is a stepping stone. 

I’m choosing to focus on this quote instead “Why then should you work out? To get stronger. To discover what your body is capable of doing.”

That’s a project I can get behind.

I’m interested in adding strength, power, and endurance. And I like exercising- once I get started. My obstacles are scheduling and logistics, and I’m hoping that working my way through the 100 Day Reset helps me overcome those.

Catherine:

Full disclosure: I just ordered the book yesterday, so haven’t read the first bit yet. But, I’ve read her stuff and also the intro parts from her site. And the message is clear: focus on strength and incremental goals (pay no attention to the person behind the curtain, just keep moving, nothing to see here) and: presto, change-o, your body will be changed in ways that you want (because you have been conditioned to want a certain sized and shaped body).

I’m genuinely torn between two interpretations of this: 1) Nia Shanks believes this, which would be disappointing, but understandable, as it’s an almost-irresistible message; 2) Nia Shanks doesn’t believe this, but she’s using the idea to get the book marketed and sold, and stealthily believes that once people focus on strength and agility and grace and physical accomplishment, they’ll see that the bodies they have are pretty darn awesome, and they’ll stop worrying about not having some other type body.

I’m going to proceed with interpretation 2). Despite that fact that I’m a feminist athlete and philosopher who writes and teaches about body-neutral fitness, I still suffer from the desire to have a different body from the one I currently reside in (no matter what state/shape/weight it’s in). There it is. But, those worries and yearnings disappear (really– as in “poof! gone!”) when I’m moving, lifting working my body.

So I’m in, Nia. Let’s do it.