I was forwarded an article from the Idea fitness website [with my strong trigger warning for fat shaming, stereotyping and bigotry]about modifying yoga for fat people that aptly demonstrates everything that typically goes catastrophically wrong when fitness professionals try to talk about how to modify exercise for fat people.
The article lists fat people by categories of fatness in a patently offensive section called “Know Your Plus Sizes”:The Athletic but Fat Person; The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person; The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person; The Supersized Person.
How many ways can one author go wrong? “The Athletic But Fat Person.” The word but should be removed completely – there is no but, this is not a paradox of any kind. Athletes come in all sizes (just ask the members of the Fit Fatties Forum)
“The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person; The Very Inactive, Inflexible, Unhealthy Person” – It’s like adjectives in a blender. The only way that this makes sense is if the author accidentally published a section from the fat bigotry mad libs book that she was playing with while taking a break from trying to figure out how to make this article the most offensive of its kind ever published.
The Know Your Fatties categories are, perhaps unbelievably, the least offensive thing about the article. Each category gets a description in which declarative statements are used to let readers know that someone’s size tells you everything you need to know about them. From their attitude (the Athletic but Fat will “do everything he can to prove that he can keep up with your class, even though it may kill him for the first 2 weeks”) to their abilities (The Soft, Large and Flexible Plus-Size Person “is usually quite willing to begin an exercise program” – apparently Soft, Large and Flexible people couldn’t possibly have already started an exercise program), to their abilities (for Super Fat people – like me - “Simply lifting the arms can be a challenge. The supersized individual can’t get up and down off the floor or be on her feet for long periods. Embarrassed and humiliated by her weight and health, she spends a lot of time at home.”)
There’s a word for making judgments about people based on how they look…wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue…
It is highly problematic to make assumptions about student’s fitness or mental state based on their size. There are fit and unfit students at every size, flexible and inflexible students of every size, students of every size who have trouble getting up and down off the floor. Students should be accommodated for their level without shame or judgment, and when it comes to fat students, modifications should be used in order to make the poses work for a larger body, not because we make assumptions about someone’s fitness/flexibility/confidence based on how they look.
Next the author includes a section called “What Plus Size People Want You to Know” that has four unattributed quotes from people with fairly specific issues.The first of which is:
“I really don’t care and don’t want to know where my anterior deltoid is; I just want to relax my shoulders. Maybe later I will be open to learning anatomy, but for now I am here to learn how to relax, open and stretch my body in a way that won’t hurt me.”
There you have it…proof that fat people don’t care about anatomy – Maybe you could give us cues by pointing at a stick figure (drawn with an extra wide tip marker of course.) I cannot for the life of me figure out how this has anything to do with being fat. I’m sure that there are students of all sizes who don’t give a crap where their anterior deltoid is and that’s just fine. Do let’s try to remember that just because some fat person thinks something, that doesn’t mean that all fat people “want you to know” it.
Many fat people don’t pursue yoga because of the bigotry and discrimination we find in classes, and authors and teachers who make assumptions like this are part of that problem.
If you’re interested in yoga for fat bodies, check out Abby Lentz at www.heartfeltyoga.com, and Anna Guest-Jelly at www.curvyyoga.com both plus-sized yoga teachers who give actual modifications that work for plus-sized bodies without all the stereotyping and assumptions.
Fitness professionals can benefit from reading the article and then doing the exact opposite of what it advises. It is offensive to assume that students can’t do things because of their size. It is dangerous to assume that students can do things because of their size. Avoid stereotyping and stigma. Take each student as they come, respect their bodies, respect their boundaries and be enough of a professional to know how modify the work that you do to fit students of many sizes and abilities.
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