Fat and the Pagan Community

The first real blog post I wrote here was The Abuse of Thin=Fat. Some readers may know I am again a Personal Fitness Trainer and I work from a Health At Every Size paradigm. My concern in fitness is about helping people find their strength, not reduce their size. This is in part because I don’t like to lie to people and the idea of permanent weight loss is a total lie for 95% of all who lose weight. And this is when they are maintaining the actions that worked for them to lose weight, although everyone from fitness instructors to doctors love to make accusations of “cheating” or “being unable to comprehend how much they are eating.” There is also, in fact, no actual evidence that being “obese” is itself a health hazard (there are just too many studies listed here for me to pick one). But another reason, coupled with these, is that I simply believe that being strong and powerful is more important than being tiny, and you really can not get smaller and not lose strength (without abusing dangerous drugs and totally screwing your health for life, so let’s leave it at you can’t do it).

This morning it came to my attention that much loved Pagan media personality (who I admit that I never heard of but there is a lot going on in Paganism I don’t pay attention to and the whole podcast thing somehow I just don’t get) David Grega died apparently from cardiac arrest at the young age of 27. Grega was also fat,* this prompted a blogger to write a post A Pagan Taboo, Obesity which gives a great deal of common misinformation regarding the correlation of fat and health. For every single one of his unsubstantiated claims at the end there are links disproving them at Truth Behind Fat: References.

This got a lot of other Pagans going, some of which is brought up in A Tragedy Creates Potential for a National Pagan Discussion on Health. This involves a lot more misinformation, a lot of “we should discuss other health matters but, of course, obesity is a major health issue” type of stuff. Well, no, not in the way they mean.

As is brought up at the beginning of Jane Raeburn’s post Pagans Discover Fat Hate, she points out that we really do not know what caused Grega’s heart failure. As far as I can tell we don’t know. It is just assumed that it was because he was fat. However, the post on Patheos points out that Grega had started a group known as Pagans promoting Healthy Active Tendencies (PHAT) and there it appears that he had actually lost 100 lbs. It would be just as easy for me, as a HAES advocate, to say that his death was caused by that weight loss, by his dieting, by over exercising, by emotional distress from self-shaming. But I’m not actually saying that, because I don’t know what caused his death and it would be just as wrong to assume that the weight loss had anything to do with it as it is for those claiming it was because he was fat. Either way, it’s 1) victim blaming and 2) based on absolute ignorance of the facts.

Keep in mind that several years ago a guy only about 10 years older than Grega, which is still young for heart disease, who was a very physically active outdoorsman also died of cardiac arrest. This probably surprised everyone, due to the fact he wasn’t fat. It turned out he had an undiagnosed heart defect. People of all sizes and all over the apparent health spectrum do, in fact, just drop dead from their heart stopping. A lot of things can stop the heart. It’s consider shocking news when a marathon runner does so, although some will blame overexercising for that (the same overexercising the same might demand fat people do, btw), most are just shocked.

This is, like all victim blaming, in part because people want a magic formula to keep it from happening to them. “Well, she was just asking to be raped, look at that dress!” really means “I’ll be safe, because I don’t dress like that.” “He died because he was fat” means “I won’t die because I’m thin” or “I won’t die because I”m going to lose the weight, I am.”  It’s not really an excuse for doing it, it’s not the whole reason everyone does it, but it is a big part of why people think this way.

But it doesn’t work. Remember one very important thing. We all die. And thin people get all the diseases that are considered “obesity related.” I know this, I’m thin and I was pre-diabetic…and getting diagnosed was almost impossible. Lifestyle can affect health, but lifestyle does not always affect size. There are skinny people who eat crap and don’t exercise, there are fat people who eat healthy food and exercise regularly. And even “lifestyle” related illnesses are not always linked to unhealthy lifestyles. Again, I ate what standard diet guidelines would claim was a healthy diet, but for my own needs it was too high in carbs and too low so it was spiking and dropping my blood sugar, I was not as active at the time this came up because of another illness which prevented me from exercising at the level I had been use to.

The truth is, we just never know. There are ways most of us can be healthy. However, this has to be separate from thoughts of weight.

Let me say that I do not believe anyone owes anyone to be healthy. If you do not want to eat a certain way or exercise or what ever, that’s your right. You do not owe me, the Pagan community or society at large any commitment to change your health or fitness levels. And, as Jane said, the path to health is a personal choice. If you feel that involves dieting, then I’m probably not going to change your mind anyway, but it’s also just your choice. Now, however, I’m going to talk as a HAES personal trainer. If you listen to me, it’s your choice, but I am going to be opinionated here.

Fitness is not about size, it’s about what you can do. We all differ in both size and capability, but except in extreme cases, most people can build their fitness levels up. They can become stronger, more flexible and gain more endurance than they had before exercising. They can improve their chances of getting certain diseases, through exercise and diet, although there are many illnesses that are not remotely affected. But all this comes regardless of weight loss.

In fact, striving to lose weight can be greatly detrimental to health for several reasons. Dieting can have adverse affects on health. Then there is simply the fact that self-hatred is just not healthy. And the weight-loss paradigm does not and cannot build self-esteem.

I believe in promoting health for those who want it. I want to see the Pagan community do more to promote real health. I do not want to see fat shaming and hatred and common lies to be a part of it. We should be healthy because, IMNSHO, it’s funner to have our bodies at their best. Fitness should be fun , not punishment and not torture. And what is fun for one Pagan isn’t going to be fun for another. The way I  train on the warrior path is likely going to seem horrible to someone who might be a priest/ess or a filidh. If health is the path we choose it should be a celebration without shame, without blame.

Here are some links for those interested in the HAES approach:
Health At Every Size Community
Dances with Fat so many great posts, you might want to start with 11 Reasons to Stop Focusing on Weight
The HAES Files
Big Liberty home of Truth Behind Fat: References

*note as a HAES trainer and Size Diversity advocate I use the preferred reclaiemd term “fat” rather than the misguided medical term “obese” or the common term “overweight” which falsely indicates that there is a particular weight one should be and to “over” that means something.

 copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

The real reason everyone is nuts over Michelle Obama’s arms

When I first saw Michelle Obama’s arms bared, I did notice she was in fairly good shape. As always, I thought it was wonderful to see some muscle on a woman, but I really didn’t think much of it. She is buff, but not exactly that buff. It was just nice to know she wasn’t afraid to become strong.

Yes, I admit it, for all my focus on women’s physical strength, most of my concern about an Obama was whether Barack really was going to dig us out of the legacy of the last administration. Oh, and if they would set a good example by adopting a shelter dog rather than buying a puppy.

But a lot of other people apparently noticed and seemed to feel it was a big deal. I won’t round up all the chatter as Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press managed to pin down most of it already in Why all the fuss over a first lady’s bare arms?.

The thing is though, she failed to answer it. In fact, there were things she reports in this that are glaringly wrong, sexist, strong-woman phobic and point right to the answer. Yet she never hits on it.

In Noveck’s section entitled “MRS. OBAMA’S ARMS COINCIDE WITH A FASHION TREND” she quotes Glamour magazine’s Susan Cernek saying that erogenous zones vary with styles, implying apparently that buff arms are current (this is not, actually, said here by Cernek so we don’t know if that’s what she meant or not). Noveck then goes on to note that Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, started the trend of muscular arms but that Madonna was the most famous celebrity with them. Oddly enough, she makes Hamilton’s buffness out to be even earlier than it was, mistakenly saying that it was in the ’80s. As it is, of course, the trend of mainstream female muscle started and died in the 1990s, it is not in any way a current trend.

This actually is the reason for the big deal about Michelle Obama’s arms, because they are not the trend. Yes we had a few short years of buff actresses and sports models, but for the past ten years or so both Hollywood and Madison Avenue have given us thinner and thinner images once again. Madonna is one that didn’t follow this trend and there are a scant few others, as I post about often here, such as actresses Evangeline Lilly, Rhona Mitra, Jessica Biel and very few others. Now we have female “action stars” whose biceps I could touch my fingers around. No, the very reason for all this fuss is because this is simply not accepted.

And we can see why in other statements made, especially by the men who commented, along with some major fallacies again. Noveck quotes Tyler Thoreson, executive editor of men.style.com, as saying “When I look at Madonna’s arms I see someone whose priorities are way out of whack. It takes hours a day to keep them that way. Why not volunteer instead at a soup kitchen?”

No, it does not take hours a day to build and keep that sort of muscle, that’s a common cry by those who do not work out or who work out ineffectively and therefore figure those who have more success must be doing something unreasonable rather than right. Building muscle, in fact, requires rest, you can’t work them too much or you over train and you can’t work them daily. Now Madonna is not just big but very cut, so she may well spend a lot of time doing cardio, but correct me if I’m wrong as I’m not a big fan, but I think cardio is part of her actual job. Doesn’t she dance a great deal in her shows? So I think it’s probably a wise priority for her.

Thoreson himself doesn’t look like fitness is a key part of his life (I Googled him and there are lots of photos to go by) but one might hope a fitness trainer like David Kirsch would know better. But he too is quoted attacking Madonna by saying that unlike her arms “Mrs. Obama’s are feminine. She looks like a woman.” Um, sorry, Madonna is a woman so,you know, she looks like a woman too. Why is this so hard for people to grasp?

Because people like this are telling us constantly that if we get too big we suddenly become men.

One might, then look at the three clients of Kirsch who are noted, does he know how to train women this man who says that just by doing more and more push-ups everyday any of us could look like Michelle Obama (which someone with training in fitness would know is not true at all…it just doesn’t work that way)? Well, of the three famous clients noted, I will say Ellen Barkin is rather buff, while the other two all photos I could find show them painfully thin. Perhaps those are from before they trained with him? If dozens of push-ups does that, I think I’ll stick with my more diverse training (which does include push-ups, of various types and difficulty…hardly any just standard anymore).

Only Gloria Steinem comes close to the answer, this is sexism plain and simple. But it’s not clear if she gets the point about exactly what the message is, she’s only quoted as noting that if Hilary Clinton had become President Bill Clinton’s arms wouldn’t be a subject of discussion. The sexism is that it’s that these muscles are on a woman and that is supposed to be abnormal. They’d not be abnormal on a man.

The message is that Michelle Obama’s arms are a big deal because it’s still considered abnormal for women to be strong. And that’s the message many who are noting it want us to keep getting. And in case we don’t accept it, then we’ll be given bad fitness advice, that great contradiction of “women can’t get as big as men but make sure you don’t work out the ‘wrong way’ or you’ll end up looking like a man.”

So it’s time to stop making a big deal and just accept it, yes! women get muscles, we are strong! We do all have this potential, some of us might look like Michelle Obama, others might look like Madonna or Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, still others might fit the “farm wife” or “bull dyke” stereotypical images while others might be plumply hiding muscle and most of us won’t look like anyone else at all. But none of us, barring extreme medical conditions, need to be frail and weak. Rather than making a fuss, we need to make it not a concern at all because too many of us are strong.

Copyright © 2009 Kym Lambert