Lesson from a Fat Friend

Today I learned something from a fat friend. Oh, don’t yell at me. My friend is fat, and she uses that word herself, matter-of-factly. Sometimes (such as when it doesn’t offend your friend) it’s good to call a spade a spade.

My fat friend (let’s call her Eve) takes a water aerobics class “with a bunch of old women.”

Now we have to digress to deal with the word old. It’s not popular these days, but I like it. I like telling the truth. I find it liberating. Spare me the “vital” and “vigorous” and “60 is the new 40” baloney.

In fact, I imagine an Old People’s Rights rally on the Washington Mall in which everyone would chant:

We’re old.
We’re bold.
We’re always too hot
Or too cold.

Anyway. Back to Eve, who is probably immersed in a pool right now, treading water with a bunch of old women wielding Styrofoam “noodles” like swords.

Eve is 51 — and, as I mentioned, fat. She enjoys the weightlessness of water exercise, naturally. If I were lugging an extra 100 pounds around, I’d slip into a pool every chance I got, too.

Great weight-loss technique! Just melt in the water, and you’ll weigh about one-eighth of what you weigh on land!

Unfortunately for Eve and other amphibians, most human activity takes place on land. It’s on land that Eve feels fat.

She doesn’t feel as fat as she looks. She feels fatter. She also feels that her fat is exaggerated by standing, walking, moving.

“Whereas if I stay on the couch, the fat is contained,” she says.

That’s what I learned from her that I hadn’t thought of before.

“If I stay seated, people won’t notice my fat as much,” she said. “There’s a better chance that they’ll see me as a whole person, not just a fat person. It’s when I get up that the fat starts jiggling around. Ask me to participate in some sort of dance or even walk, and I just feel fatter and fatter and fatter.”

Surely not all fat people feel this self-conscious. But I bet many do.

And what a trap! The fatter Eve gets, the fatter she feels, and the fatter she feels, the less likely she is to engage in activities that might help her get fit.

Notice I said, “get fit,” not lose weight. The primary benefit of exercise is not weight loss but fitness. And all of us, even fat people, can be fit. But that’s another story, for another day.

For today: Thanks, Eve, for helping me understand the role of social censure, and self-censure, in resistance to movement. And good for you for changing into the bathing suit and getting in the pool.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
MNelson@aahperd.org

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