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.
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”
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.
I’m back inside riding. Why hello Zwift! It’s been awhile. So much fun.
I’m also continuing the path to become an indoor cycling instructor. I wrote the test yesterday. Scary. It won’t be graded for a few weeks. I’ll let you know. Next up, playing apprentice instructor in a few classes.
But I’m still trying to go for short outside rides too. I’m commuting by bike and I’m looking forward to playing in the snow with bikes. I even blogged about my transition to being an all season rider. That makes fall less sad. But so too do plans to go riding in January in Florida
And before that I was in Munich for a conference on Neglected Relationships talking about chosen family. What a big month!
So dark! And getting darker still next weekend. Pretty soon I’ll be getting up in the dark, riding to work in the dark, and riding home in the dark too. I’ve got my warm, reflective gear ready along with all the lights for my bike out and fully charged.
I’ve also decided to order some full spectrum lights to help with the season of darkness. Do you do that? Does it help?
My knee pain continues. I’m not able to walk very far without my knee brace but even with the knee brace it’s limited. I’ve pretty much cut out long walks which is hard. I didn’t see much of Munich. I miss walking Cheddar!
I’m losing weight still and still conflicted about all of that. I’m at the stage of needing to replace some clothes. On the upside I can now fit into my smaller jeans again.
I’m trying to avoid the internalized version of you’ve lost weight, you look great. That’s a little bit too easy of a trap to fall into if I try being body positive about my slightly smaller body. Body positivity is easier for me at smaller sizes. No surprise. And it feels mean to my former size. Given that I know the odds of never seeing that size again aren’t great, I’m trying to avoid all of that.
Instead I’ve been trying out Tracy’s body neutrality attitude. This is a good body. So too was my larger body. It’s just that the larger body wasn’t such a good match for my aging arthritic joints. It was better for some things and this body is better for others.
September is the big back to school month for many of us here on the blog. I’m teaching for the first time in awhile. My class is three hours on Tuesday afternoon and that often means I’m doing the reading, grading, etc on Sunday afternoon. I also have days of solid back to back meetings, followed by events most evenings. My max this year was three evening events. A meet the new grad students thing, followed by a gallery opening, followed by a dinner with some new faculty members. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But September is hard work. There’s a lot going on!
I’m also trying some new things. One scary new thing is cycle instructor training. It’s a goal I announced as part of the fittest by fifty challenge but it didn’t get done. This year when the university announced they were offering training, I jumped in.
I’ve completed the full day class. Next up is the exam. After that there’s an instructor mentoring program and then for my final test, I plan and teach a class on my own.
I also tried a new thing that I thought I might hate but actually really enjoyed: golf. Friends, you can let the teasing commence.
Another good thing in September? Camping with Sarah in Killarney park. We had lots of fun paddling and we weren’t eaten by bears. I’m planning on more paddling trips next summer. I love my canoe.
I’m coping with my usual September/October sadness. I definitely need to spend more time on my bike. But it’s getting dark early in the evenings so that’s going to be just a weekend thing or an indoor thing from now on. Oh, September.
Pretty soon I’m moving my bike training indoors. Back to the Back Shed! See you soon on Zwift!
On the mixed feelings side there’s weight loss. I’m not even sure really how to to talk about it and it’s a thing people love to talk about. I’ve invested a lot of effort in, and spilled a lot of virtual ink about, loving my larger body. But I need to lose weight for knee replacement surgery and I’m doing it.
Most people are excited and happy that I’m losing weight. I’m mostly “meh” about it except that my knee hurts less and that’s a fabulous thing. All of a sudden people are noticing and complimenting me. Mostly I shift the focus pretty quickly to my upcoming knee surgery.
In my heart of hearts, I’m with Carly B, the “cheerful chubster.” I need to remind myself that even at my smallest I’m still “overweight.” I don’t even aspire to be in the normal weight zone. I’m trying to make peace with changing size by telling myself that as much as I like my larger body my injured and aging knee can’t take it.
CW: discussion of body weight, weight gain, and claims of personal responsibility for weight changes.
Yes, you heard it here first, folks: when we get older, we tend to gain weight. But you don’t have to take my word for it; I’ve got tables and things from science to back this up:
Of course all women know this, and we’re constantly reminded to fight weight gain through restricted eating and increased exercise. Now, I’m all for spending time enjoying a variety of physical activities, and plan on doing so for the foreseeable future. Just like Notorious RBG.
But can I expect to lose or maintain my weight over time by physical activity and restrictive eating? No, say some Swedish researchers. Here’s what this news article has to say about their results:
Lipid turnover in the fat tissue decreases during aging and makes it easier to gain weight, even if we don’t eat more or exercise less than before… “The results indicate for the first time that processes in our fat tissue regulate changes in body weight during aging in a way that is independent of other factors,” says Peter Arner, professor at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge at Karolinska Institutet and one of the study’s main authors.
I’m no human metabolism science expert, but I think the upshot here is this: the rate of lipid turnover (part of human metabolic activity that affects weight maintenance and change over time) varies in the population. Experts thought that we could improve our rates of lipid turnover through exercise. Turns out, not so much.
In a way, this is good news– it’s offering another scientific puzzle piece to provide a picture of what we already know: in general, people gain weight as they age, independently of their eating and activity behaviors. This opens the door to shifting talk away from addressing how older bodies look and toward how older bodies feel and function for those who have them.
But this shift is not something that will come easily, and even metabolic researchers are struggling against this model, hanging on for dear life to the view that we do or should work to wrench some control over our bodily processes– even our own lipid turnover rates. They seem not to be able to help themselves despite their best efforts, a lot of calculus and cool figures like this one:
In the article, they say this about effects of lipid turnover on long-term weight loss after bariatric surgery:
…these results indicate that the success of long-term weight loss after bariatric surgery is predicted by lipid removal rate status and that individuals with a lower baseline removal rate may have more ‘room’ to attain energy balance.
Okay, this is interesting. We are getting a potential explanation for variations in long-term weight loss after bariatric surgery. Good to know. And also good to know that it’s not something that we can currently control (until they develop, say, some drug to alter lipid turnover rates).
But wait. The article simply can’t leave it at that. They have to fall back on the idea that some “lifestyle strategy” might work to address changes in human metabolism over time.
These results encourage the development of therapeutic and lifestyle strategies to counteract age-related decreases in lipid turnover rates and recognize the importance to adapt adipose lipid turnover for the maintenance of normal weight or weight loss.
You know what they mean by “lifestyle strategy”. They’re not talking about developing a new hobby or adding a deck onto the back of your house, along with new patio furniture.
They’re talking about dieting and increased exercise– that’s what they mean by “lifestyle strategy”. But the whole point of the article was that those things don’t prevent weight gain as we age– lipid turnover rate does.
I am all for lifestyle strategies to improve my quality of life now and in the future. By the way, the archery looks kind of fun. Anyone do archery? Tell us about it.
What I’m not all for is this: maintaining the same tired view that it’s up to me to try to lose weight throughout my life course, regardless of my other health metrics and life situation, and regardless of new-new research suggesting that some important factors influencing weight change over time are totally out of our hands. That tired view needs to be put to rest.
Or maybe blown up.
Readers, what do you think? Is your community still focused on weight loss throughout life? What views are you hearing about aging and weight? And don’t forget any archery tips you might have as well.
(This post discusses disordered eating. Please be aware it may be triggering for some.)
Eating issues began when I was ten. There were
two contributing factors. The first was that I was pre-puberty, a time when
many children put on additional weight. The second was related to my mother’s
health. She died at fifty-eight of early onset Alzheimer’s. It was when I was
about ten that her behaviour began to change. Looking back on it now, I realize
that this was also the time I began to binge-eat. I clearly remember ketchup
and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Yuck!
My parents were older
and came from a generation that had survived the depression of the thirties and
the Second World War. Not wasting and will power were considered virtues; a
lack of frugality or will power was a moral failing. Fat people were considered
to be lazy, gluttons with no will power. My dad loved me and wanted the best
for me. We were close until he died at ninety-four. He was a great role model
and still is. Having said that, family and friends believed that teasing was a
good way to correct behaviour. How well I remember, “Your eyes were bigger than
your stomach,” when I didn’t finish the food on my plate. Unfortunately, that
hurt my feelings; hurting my feelings makes me mad. Thinking, “I’ll show you,”
I would eat everything up even if they said I didn’t have to. And the boys that
called me names, I ran them to ground and sat on them until they apologized.
For a girl, being fat
could be limiting. It didn’t matter how smart you were, how funny or caring you
were, you weren’t going to get a good job or a husband who would take care of
you if you were fat. So, at about twelve I got on the diet roller coaster. I
stayed on it for well over fifty years. It eroded my confidence and sense of
self-worth. I was never good enough, strong enough; I was not perfect and it
was all my fault. When I was thin, I worried about getting fat; when I was fat,
I was anxious and depressed because clearly I was lacking in will power. Eating
compulsively was my punishment. It made things worse and I knew it.
I never had trouble
losing weight, just keeping it off. I used food in times of stress, knowing
that I could lose it when the latest crisis passed. I didn’t know that genetics
determines most of your weight range, that only about two percent of people who
lose weight are able to keep it off permanently, and that when you begin to
gain weight again your body adds a bit more because dieting puts your body into
starvation mode. In January 2015 I decided it was time to lose weight again. I
struggled and struggled. I couldn’t; I just couldn’t. I was overwhelmed with
defeat and shame. I sat down on the bench in the gym, put my face in my hands
My trainer asked me
what I intended to “do” about my situation. I mumbled that I guessed I’d get a
therapist to recommend something. She
said not to worry and the next morning my inbox had an email with the contact
information for the CMHA Eating Disorders program. I called.
When I met with the nurse,
she asked me if I could accept myself as I was if my body stayed the same. My
response was, “Absolutely not!” Getting rid of the diet mentality wasn’t easy.
As the introductory workshop wore on, I realized that I had in the recesses of my mind the idea that I was still looking for weight loss. That was not going to work. So, I made the decision to go “all in.” I analysed how I used food, the mind traps I set for myself, and most importantly I examined why I was still allowing myself to be controlled by childhood beliefs about body size. Those were stereotypes of a past generation and they were wrong. I didn’t need to continue to judge and punish myself for not being someone else’s idea of perfect. I was not defined by my body; it is only a part of who I am.
Do I ever think of
weight loss or body image? Occasionally, but dieting would cost me my freedom
and mental health. I prefer to think about healthy eating and being fit. In the
two years since I completed the program, my weight has stayed just above or
below my last “set point” (where my body decided we were safe from famine).
The last day we were asked to reflect on completing the course, I wrote this: “I think I have come to peace with my body. Therefore, I am at peace with myself.”
Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.
For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.
Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….
[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potential. For more information about it, check out some of the links below]