Acknowledge Your Fit Privilege
Fit shaming is kind of a thing. A little bit.
But in some ways, it is also not a thing, the same way reverse racism is not a thing.
Bet that pissed off the Milo fans. Good. Fuck them. And by that, I mean no one should ever fuck them.
Racism is based on power. There is a privileged group, and a disadvantaged group. Hundreds of years of power imbalance and criminal treatment of the disadvantaged by the privileged. Calling someone “cracker” isn’t in the same universe as using the n word. A black person can dislike white people, but they lack the power and privilege to enforce racist policies against them. Racism is about enforcing a system of disadvantage. All of this applies to the misguided notion of reverse sexism too, especially when you consider the shit women still must put up with.
And spare me your pedantic dictionary definitions. We’re talking about what happens at the societal level.
Moving onto fitness now …
There are myriad examples where the fit hold power over the fat. People with higher levels of body fat experience significant weight bias. A 2012 report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (PDF) found that obesity:
- “has serious medical and psychological consequences
- “reduces earning potential
- “affects hiring and promotion opportunities
- “affects academic opportunities and achievement”
Not only that, “no federal laws protect overweight people from discrimination.”
Regarding psychology, the report states the consequences of weight bias make people more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, and suicidal acts and thoughts.
In hiring, those with higher body fat are considered lacking in self-discipline, having low supervisory potential, poor hygiene and lower productivity and ambition.
What’s more, people with obesity are reluctant to seek medical care, often because of the way they are treated by the healthcare system. Doctors spend less time with patients with obesity, engage in less discussion, and are even more reluctant to do preventative health screens such as pelvic exams and mammograms.
Teachers can be equally biased, saying overweight students are more emotional and less likely to succeed, and they have lower expectations of them. They experience bias from their classmates as well.
But fit shaming tho.
I’m not saying derisive statements don’t happen or that they’re not hurtful. People get called skinny bitch, or meathead, or juice monkey, or vain, or anorexic just because they worked hard to be lean, or told to eat a cheeseburger, or that bodybuilders “look gross,” or a bunch of other things. There is no question people can be insulting and mean to those who are fit.
But compare it to weight bias. Like saying cracker vs. the n word, it’s not in the same universe. And that’s why we don’t need misguided articles saying “fit shaming is the new fat shaming.” Because it really isn’t.
You should also consider if you had privilege that enables you to be fit in the first place. It goes way beyond a genetic propensity for body fat. Consider the following possibilities:
- Being a single parent who must work two jobs
- Having medical issues that add body fat or make exercise virtually impossible, or both
- Lack of access to exercise facilities / lack of access to safe areas in which to exercise
- Lack of knowledge regarding fitness and weight loss because of being misled by an industry that is epically full of shit
- Lacking time / knowledge to shop for and prepare healthy meals
And a bunch of other stuff I haven’t even thought of.
Yes, there are people who have major disadvantages who still manage to get and stay fit. They are outliers of significant determination. Not everyone has the ability to “Just do it.”
This is my fit privilege:
- I was starting grad school when I decided to get in shape and had free access to a university gym.
- The program wasn’t super taxing and so I had time to work out.
- I had access to good information about better eating.
- I have no serious medical issues other than occasional low back flare ups. At almost 49, my shoulders are creaking, but it’s manageable.
- I am not on any medications.
- I do not have any mental illnesses that could interfere with motivation to exercise or eat healthy.
- I am not addicted to anything.
- I have a happy home life that is financially stable.
I cannot think of a single significant barrier to me being fit. But for many, there are a shit-ton of such barriers.
I acknowledge that, compared to many, it is far easier for me to be a fit person. And because I’m fit, I experience privilege. I am more likely to be hired, promoted, treated better by teachers and classmates, listened to by my doctor, and have better mental health because of the lack of bigotry experienced regarding my physique.
I also acknowledge that weight bias is both real and comes with terrible impact on the lives of millions.
I will not engage in fat shaming.
And I will not worry over the comparatively meaningless fit shaming.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com, and a contributor to Men’s Health, Women’s Health, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and NPR.