As it turns out, my last post was quite polarizing. A few readers appreciated the fact that I owned up to my bias of having assessed someone who was heavy as therefore being unhealthy [and later admitted to my error in judging that book by its cover].
Others took the view that while the heavy BodyPump instructor turned out to be fit, she still didn’t represent a body image that I wanted for myself. And they would be right.
I spent the weekend pondering this topic and decided it deserved a bit more exploration on my part, both to address the feedback I received, as well as to help me sort through my own feelings and questions on the matter.
My previous feeling was: Fat ≠ Fit
I did a wee bit of research on the question of “Can you be fat and fit?” and what I learned is that yes, you can. [Shannon had already proven this to me last week, but it was good to get some scientific data to back up the anecdotal evidence.]
Research done by the Harvard School of Public Health on 100,0000 people reflected the following: lots of people are both heavy and unfit (no surprise here); far fewer are thin and unfit (backs my claim that just because someone is skinny doesn’t make them healthy); some are both lean and fit; and a very small number are heavy, but fit.
It’s important to note though, that where you wear your heavy has a lot to do with your overall health. Those “fat but fit” individuals tend to carry their excess body fat in places where it does less harm from an overall health perspective. That is, in the hips, butt and thighs, as opposed to around the mid section, where fat is most dangerous. [And, notably, where I stored my fat, hence the fact that I was so unhealthy, despite not looking that big.]
Another article I read in Fitness Magazine suggests that there is a new way to think about weight. The author cites the vicious slams against a number of female athletes at the 2012 London Olympic Games, among them Leisel Jones, for being too heavy to represent their countries. What does this say about our culture when, rather than cheer on our representing athlete, we spend our energy critiquing their physique? Sweet Mother of Pearl, we have work to do as a society, don’t we?
The entire article is very eye-opening read, but one paragraph was particularly compelling to me:
“What we’re learning is that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin,” says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, a professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and the author of Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health. “The message should really be that if you are exercising regularly, you shouldn’t necessarily be looking at the scale to determine how healthy or fit you are,” Gaesser says.
Ahh, so now I understand that [sometimes]: Fat = Fit.
Okay, so now that we’ve got that sorted out, and it’s clear that a person can be both fat and fit, I want to tackle the other element: the aesthetic, the physicality, the pure vanity-based side of things.
The truth is that while I embarked on this journey in order to get healthy and strong – I also hoped that it would lead to a leaner, tighter and more toned physique.
Losing weight for the sake of looking better was not my primary goal. Losing weight to lower a dangerously high BMI and to wean myself off the blood pressure medication was the chief motivator. That said, I won’t even pretend that it doesn’t feel amazing to be down two dress sizes, to feel and see how much better clothes hang from my body, and to hear “Nancy, you look so great!” when I meet up with someone I haven’t seen in a while. I love that I’ve achieved better health and a better looking body as a result of this commitment and hard work.
One of the first pieces of feedback I received following last week’s post was to say, “Hey, I think it’s great that Shannon is a big girl and teaching a tough class, but the truth is, you wouldn’t want to look like her.” And that person was right. The truth is, fit and healthy or not, I wouldn’t want my body to look like that.
If that makes me vain, then let’s call a spade a spade. I am more than comfortable, thanks to this journey, to admit that I’m striving for both health and beauty. And just like the fat versus fit topic above, it need not be an “or” thing. It can, and is, an “and” thing.