Good Intentions

2 Mar

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They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?  Well wait ‘til you hear this one.

Flexible Fitness, my training business, was started specifically to provide safe and fun fitness instruction to people who tend to be underserved in the broader fitness community.  I work with a lot of women who are menopausal or post-menopausal, overweight, chronically out of shape, unsure of what to do in a gym, or in a life-or-death struggle with their conflicted feelings about their bodies.  Some of my clients have battled or continue to battle eating disorders.  Some of them have been so ashamed of their bodies that they have ignored them to the point that lifting 5lb dumbbells is too taxing.  A couple of them are covered in self-inflicted scars.  One cries when she has to face a mirror. 

And, some of my clients are fiercely tough and deeply badass, the type of women you wouldn’t want to piss off in a dark alley.   One of them is in her mid-50’s, considered overweight by conventional standards, and can leg press 400lbs.  Several of them are involved with the Health at Every Size movement, and come to the gym because they know their overall health will be more determined by their muscle mass than their body weight.  One of them sings while doing burpees.

The point I’m trying to make is that I serve a group of women who have been largely ignored by the fitness industry as a whole, an industry that assumes that fat people only and always work out in order to lose weight – it’s almost like there is no possibility at all that some fat people might genuinely enjoy exercising just as much as some thin people do, that some fat people might be just as happy in their skin as some thin people are, or that many fat people could kick the asses of many thin ones.    I absolutely love what I do, and I feel honored that so many fat women, women who have been routinely ignored, marginalized, and demonized by the majority of the fitness industry, trust me enough to help them achieve their fitness goals.

To that end, I’m constantly trying to come up with new activities that are safe and fun and appropriate for people in large(r) bodies.  I am a huge proponent of fitness walking, water aerobics, and yoga, and I have recently developed a monthly class I am calling Intro to Fat Fitness.  I’ll be teaching it at In Other Words, a feminist non-profit bookstore and community center here in Portland, Oregon.   I’ve worked hard on this class, trying to make it as exciting and light-hearted and productive as possible, and so I’ve been proudly promoting the class.  So far, so good, right?

At least I thought so…until I saw that someone posted these two comments on In Other Words’ Facebook page, regarding my class: 

·         As a feminist group, I would think you’d develop something that embraces all women and all body types;

·         Do you think this ostracizes thin women?

::sighing deeply::

Here’s the deal: there’s this thing called cultural capital, similar and related to a funny little concept known as power differentials.  Groups who have less of it have always found ways to gather and support each other and take care of themselves as individuals and groups.  Always.  This is how resistance happens.  It’s not about specifically shunning the people with the power, but rather empowering people without it.  When black people gathered during the early days of the civil rights movement, were they “ostracizing” white people, or were they trying to figure out how to create a more equitable cultural system?  When gay people started meeting post-Stonewall in order to come up with a way to share in the equal rights afforded to them by the constitution, should they have concerned themselves with “embracing” straight people at the same time?  And when women collaborated to figure out how to get the vote, they weren’t trying to take it away from men!  There were agendas in those gatherings, very thoughtful and rigorous agendas that involved advancing the interests of the specific group targeted.  Plain and simple.

And that’s what Intro to Fat Fitness is trying to do: empower fat people, who have been systematically disempowered by a fitness industry that shames and blames them, often putting their physical (not to mention mental) safety at risk in the process.  It’s not about trashing or ostracizing thin people.  In fact, it’s specifically not about thin people at all – that’s exactly the point.  Most thin people can attend just about any fitness class in the city and feel relatively comfortable and honestly welcomed.  They can also feel pretty assured that the instructors of those classes know how to direct them appropriately and provide for their physical safety.  Most fat people simply cannot say the same thing.  And I refuse to believe that there is something wrong in providing a space for that life-changing work to happen.

It bothers me to know that there are women out there who will take any opportunity to assume the worst about the intentions of other women.  And it seems ironic that my class would be accused of ostracizing thin women, considering that it’s being held at a feminist bookstore, a place that is often accused of ostracizing men in an attempt to provide a safe space for women.  Nevertheless, I will continue to offer this class as long as there are fat people who want to take it.  The struggle for body equality will undoubtedly be a long one, especially since some thin people (and yes, I’m assuming the woman who wrote those comments is thin) will continue to act as though their rights, as a privileged minority, are being somehow threatened by the attempts of fat people to be healthy and strong, and to get that way in an environment that feels safe and unthreatening.  What a load of crap.

Best,

Lily-Rygh Glen

Flexiblefitnesspdx.com

Intro to Fat Fitness will be held on the first Tuesday of every month, from 6.00-7.00pm, at In Other Words.  Please contact me for additional information.

One Response to “Good Intentions”

  1. Aitch March 4, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    Good piece!

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