FAT! No Excuse (by a Guest Blogger)


The HAES (Health at Every Size) philosophy promotes the idea that you can be healthy even if your BMI is not within the “optimal range.” That you can enjoy life, and feel good about yourself, despite what the mirror, the scales, the tape measure, or your grandmother tells you. Eat without drama, move with joy and let the rest take care of itself. No counting of calories. No monitoring of heart rates.  No scheduled maintenance. Just being alive and healthy. What an incredible concept!

Yet, it seems to rub a few folks the wrong way. This is “an excuse to be fat.” (Nobody really seems too upset with the idea that you can be underweight and healthy – you don’t run into a lot of “this is just an excuse to be skinny”) If you troll through internet comments and posts (I know – why would you?) you will find a fair body of opinion that fat people (actually, fat women) are a drain on the health system, have questionable morals, and shouldn’t insult the viewing public by showing themselves to the world. 

Me and my weight problem. I was appalled when I saw this photo, at the age of 10, since it showed me eating cotton candy

When I was a girl, the overweight were said to have a weight “problem”. Underweight people were either envied, admired or pitied for their poverty. We talked about having a “good figure”. Which involved having the right shape, as well being in an acceptable weight range. The relative number of kids with weight “problems” may have been smaller if you don’t include the underweight kids. My father recently showed me his class photo from1948 and said “See! Not one obese student.” This was to illustrate his belief that kids are fat now because they are lazy and glutinous – sitting around on computers and eating all day. In his time kids walked to school, ate only at meal times, played games at recess, and were generally “better” than their grand children. He is of course, correct about most of that. But not all of that. He does not note how many of the students in that class are underweight, or unhealthy. How many of them will die young, how many of them will grow up to be bullies and assholes, how many of them will pass on their dysfunction to the next generation. Just that none of them are “fat”.

Fat has been unacceptable for a while now. Fat is equated with sloth and gluttony. Two of the seven deadly sins. Fat people take more than their share and do less than their share. When I was a child, there was no discussion about healthy weight. One was either fat (bad) or thin (good). The judgment was visual. I remember one doctor, without ever weighing me, testing my blood, or asking about my lifestyle, grabbing the fat on my abdomen in his hand (he was an ObGyn doing an internal) and declaring – “You’re fat. You have to lose 10 pounds.” I knew with some certainty at that moment that I was about as unacceptable as a girl could be. Was he right? I know now that he was not. Not only was we wrong about my weight, he was a misogynist and a creep and in today’s culture he’d be sued for malpractice.

Me and my weight problem at 17 (3rd from left) going to college.

Still, we judge people’s health with a single glance. Fat? Unhealthy! And we have a moral obligation to be healthy, don’t we? Health Nazis use the moral imperative of “health” to condemn everyone who hasn’t signed up. It’s not entirely acceptable to say a woman doesn’t “look” as good as she should – but it’s perfectly acceptable to say a woman is not as healthy as she should be. And no matter what, fat offends.

HAES has been called an “excuse to be fat and lazy”. This of course implies that fat equals lazy. That fat is a choice. That fat people could be better citizens of the world if they got off their asses and stopped stuffing their faces.

Is it an excuse? Does being fat require an excuse? The HAES philosophy encourages you to view food as a normal part of life. No guilt. This alone is a major challenge for those of us who grew up on diets. Simply enjoying food, or in fact simply eating food is impossible of every thing you eat has judgment attached. HAES tells us to get out there and move. Simple right? Unless your brain is replaying every ugly comment you’ve ever heard about fat women wearing shorts, riding bikes, dancing, jogging etc. Fat women like me (185 lbs, 5’6″) can’t even buy yoga gear at the trendy shops. Lulu lemon doesn’t make their famous gear for “oversized” women. God knows they wouldn’t want their valuable logo plastered on my ass.

I did belly dance for a while – until the arthritis in my SI joint made that too difficult. I loved it. A room full of women of literally all ages, sizes, races (some in hijab) learning to dance. An instructor yelling at us to let it out – “you need that belly! This is belly dance!!” I actually got on stage with my midriff showing (Gads!) and shook my hips and lifted my boobs. I probably didn’t look anything like the dancer I felt myself to be but I actually didn’t care – not at all. Even when a woman I work with said “Belly dancers in Edmonton? Bunch of fat cows. God – why do they let these people out in those outfits” I was fully able to let it go.

Fit, healthy BD teacher in Edmonton – I dare you to try to keep up with Jodi when she gets her cardio shimmy on the go. Oh – and she also had a black belt.

I follow BBW, the Fat Nutritionist, Arya Sharma,Weighty Matters, all bloggers who know more about all of this than I do. And yes, the message they offer has changed my life. It has made me healthier and happier. Not every day. Like many of the women who post on BBW’s facebook page, I have days when the old thinking returns and I find myself looking for the baggy shirts again. I am very fortunate to have a partner who thinks I am not only good enough, but very very sexy. I am fortunate to have a doctor who never tells me I should lose weight. I am fortunate that I work with health care professionals every day who reinforce the message. I am fortunate to live in a time when serious researchers are challenging old thinking. I am fortunate that I’m smart enough to do the math – I know that I don’t eat too much because I have not gained an ounce in seven years (since I stopped dieting). I know I can walk three miles a day and out pace many as I go. I know that all indicators of my health are good –my body strength is excellent (if you live in Alberta – and sign up for the Tomorrow project – they do these tests!)  The one and only indicator that doesn’t impress is my BMI (29.9 – okay – 30). And that does not concern me because it’s been shown to be a faulty tool for assessing risk. I am healthy. I am active. I eat very good food.

So – does HAES give me an excuse to be fat? I don’t need an excuse. Thanks anyway. I, on the other hand, will excuse everyone out there who thinks they know anything at all about me based on my weight “problem.”  Not everyone can be as smart as me afterall, or as fortunate. 

me and my weight problem getting ready for the show

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

19 thoughts on “FAT! No Excuse (by a Guest Blogger)

    • Would you like me to put your name right in the title? I have simply added the link at the beginning to avoid interfering with your text. Let me know if you would like that changed. Thanks again!~ I am devoting next week to various replies…

  1. Excellent post! thanks for sharing! I had never thought about the wording \”weight problem\” before, I just was told I was fat, unacceptable and unlovable so I was the problem. Great message for society to teach a child…just awesome. I am 46 and still struggling with the message that I am not \”good enough\” because I am a size 12. To be clear, this is the message I tell myself now, no one would dare say it to my face, but I do say it internally. Turns out, I learnt the lesson well and beat the shit out of myself every day because I am not thin.

  2. I wish your experience with that OB/GYN was no longer part of “today’s culture”. Just last week a friend of mine was venting on Facebook because she’d been to see an OB/GYN (about getting treatment for menopause symptoms) and the doctor told her she needed to lose weight and should cut 500 calories per day from her diet. The doctor also rubbed my friend’s nose in the fact that she (the doctor) is a vegan and exercises seven days a week. Most of the commenters (and I) suggested ditching the doctor. My friend is heavy, but she’s been cleaning up her diet, and she keeps active doing work on her house, gardening, and landscaping, and her weight isn’t contributing to any health problems, so I don’t see an issue. It appalls me that anyone could treat another person like that, especially in a doctor-patient situation.

    • I have a truly excellent doctor who is part of a menopause clinic team – an interdisciplinary approach with a nurse, pharmacist, dietician and a doctor. When I said “I do not want to lost weight” the response was “good – you don’t need to.” I have upped my estrogen though, started to correct previously undiagnosed vit D and B12 deficiencies, and am working on getting a better night’s sleep. If you are in Edmonton I highly recommend the menopause clinic, but it can take a very long time to get an appointment. If it were a prostate clinic I expect it would have more doctors – but that another blog….! AP

      • I’m the same age as Lianne, so I hope I have the opportunity to visit Edmonton well before I need to visit a menopause clinic. 😉

        Hmm, maybe another future topic here…?

  3. First of all, you look gorgeous and fabulous in your belly dancing shimmering outfit! And second of all, as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for many years, and has just come out of several months of body building competitions (bikini, of course because that’s the thinnest route I could go!) I actually blogged about how I wish I could eat a muffin without the self loathing that inevitably accompanies it. I’ve come a long way in the past week since declaring this. But I get your message and I love it. It not only affects “fat” people, but “thin” ones. I hate the whole Fitspo revolution. It makes people who do exercise regularly feel like even that’s not enough unless your abs are sculpted and your bicep is taller than you are. Bravo! I loved this post!

      • I am a supporter of HAES in principal and look forward to continued discussion both in response to this guest blog and to another one coming up this week (Sunday July 29). I am interested in whether or not this movement is based on an historically and culturally specific notion of the ‘natural’ body and ‘normal’ relationship to food. After consulting the web site of the Fat Nutritionist, I think it might (perhaps inevitably) be, and I am wondering if this movement simply creates a new set of rules to live by. Discuss…

        I am entirely in favour of ending fat prejudice and I struggle to rid myself of stereotypes as I am sure other readers do. Even though I know many large, healthy and strong people, I still think that obese people probably eat too much. Not necessarily junk food, just food in general. I mean I still think that, but I am trying to question myself more. I hope others will feel free to respond honestly and air their true opinions on this matter. Feel free to do so anonymously.

        One more thing: I agree that large people can be physically active and still fat. I should know: I did strenuous aerobics classes every day and was about 25 pounds overweight about ten years ago. I simply ate more than my body needed; I was eating too much good healthy food and finally stopped doing that when I figured out that weighing less made my deformed feet feel so much better. Losing weight worked for me, which I realize is within the HAES mandate. I nevertheless doubt that people are as active as they think they are. I am not talking about visibly fat people; I am talking about all people, skinny, fat, ‘just right’ etc. A recent study from Queen’s University found that 85% of Canadians get less than 150 minutes of exercise per week. I am not sure how exercise or activity is defined in this study or by the Canadian government. Personally, I do not consider walking to the gym or the store, or taking the stairs at work or in my condo building, which I do every single day, to be part of my exercise. I think that exercise must be more strenuous to count as exercise, especially for people without disabilities who are under 65 years of age. I realize that not every one wants sweat dripping off their shins and out of their every pore like I do, but a least a little extra effort is required, isn’t it?

  4. I’m curious, did the HAES movement empower you to own your body in all of its glory – or was it a natural function of aging and emotional maturation? I’ll also assume that many within the movement are much heavier than you – is there not a weight threshold for joyful self-acceptance? Personally speaking, I cannot imagine being happy as a morbidly obese person; but the mere name of the group implies that I could and should be and if I am not, I am a failure.

    As for the impossible standards imposed upon All women – we are All made to feel that we are never good enough. In that regard, I very much agree with the collective, ‘fuck that’ attitude of groups like HAES. Guess my approach to the rejection of social standards is more of a stealth, lone wolf, subversive kinda deal.

    Oh, yes, the Fitspo movement. Lord, all those damned pictures of impossibly perfect women, the helpful, cheery, vapid motivational mantras – they undermine the entire value of the collective message.

    • It was a combination of these things, no doubt! I don’t think it matters how heavy you are. I was told all my life I needed to lose weight – and that’s enough. HAES is not strictly about joyful self acceptance, it’s about letting go of the diet mantra and the workout mania that popular culture insists we should cling to if we are to be healthy. It’s about understanding that you can be healthy, and not be a cover girl. HAES doesn’t really promote a “fuck it bring on the cheese cake attitude”. It’s about seeking health through acceptance of who you are, rather than trying to hate yourself into a size 2. (The H is for Health, not Happiness btw – although one may well lead to the other)

  5. When I first started weight training in the mid-1990s, I found an online community in misc.fitness.weights (usenet). They had a sort of low-level ongoing battle with alt.support.fat-acceptance. Folks from mfw would post exercise and diet advice in the fa group, and folks from fa would post in mfw about how they’d tried dieting and exercise and it didn’t work, so the mfw folks should kindly fuck off. (I think the mfw folks had good intentions, for the most part, but not always the best manners…) The idea seemed to be that if something didn’t help them lose weight it was pointless, so they were just going to accept that they were fat and leave it at that.
    I think HAES, with its emphasis on wellness, is an important step forward. Thanks to genetic variation, we can’t all look like fashion models or fitness models, so dismissing healthful diet and exercise because it doesn’t help one look like that amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. An emphasis on weight obscures the fact that everyone can benefit from a more healthful lifestyle, even if they don’t wind up competing in a figure content.
    I’ve been a bit hesitant to comment on this post because I’ve never had “a weight problem”, but have had friends who have, and was made to feel that I just didn’t get it, and couldn’t, so I’m not sure how useful my perspective is here. I had a close friend whose weight issues had sort of overwhelmed her life. She had started out as a healthy-looking but large-framed girl, but her mother and grandmother thought she should be striving for a daintier ideal and went so far as to give her diet drugs. As an adult, she tried one fad diet after another, joined gyms where she only used the hot tub, and her weight just kept creeping up. I’ve seen recent photos of her on FB, and she looks like she’s well north of 300# at this point.
    I think for her, the weight thing became a sort of “master problem” that allowed her to avoid dealing with other, more significant problems. Unfortunately for our friendship, this thinking allowed her to believe that since I didn’t have a weight problem, any other problems I might have must be relatively minor. She would say to me, “If I had a body like yours, I’d rule the world!” My rejoinder: “If you had a body like mine, you wouldn’t like it either.” (At 5’2″, with a sturdy, somewhat muscular build, I’m not very close to any media-driven ideal either.)
    One thing I do know well is that sense of not being “good enough” that coldturkeygurl describes. That feeling can arise from lots of places besides weight issues, and that negative voice tends to take on a life of its own. It can be at least as debilitating as a physical health issue. I like that HAES addresses this. I want the people I care about to be physically healthy, yes, but I want them to be happy, and if they’re carrying a few extra pounds, well, that’s just not as a high a priority, IMHO.

    • I too appreciate how HAES emphasizes the manifold reasons to exercise, which far surpass weight loss. The other day PDDS and I were doing a challenging giant set leg workout, sweating like crazy and unable to speak. In between sets, I asked her: ‘If you knew that these workouts would never change your body’s appearance, and that you would look exactly the same afterwards, would you still train this hard every day?’ She immediately replied: Yes. I agreed that I would do the same. I know that mental health and stress relief are touted as the benefits of exercise—right now my gym is advertising an improved sex life as another benefit—but wellness and sociability are other possible outcomes. I hate the stereotypes of fit people: that they are driven by vanity, ‘suffer’ through rather than enjoy working out, and regularly practice self-denial, without taking immense pleasure in food. I can assure you that nothing is farther from than the truth for me, or for any of my friends at the gym. Unless they have some secrets to reveal?

      • I have to disagree. I trained like a fiend for competition, but once I was done, I would try to lift a weight, and 10 minutes into the workout, I’d leave the gym. I’d had it. I was done. I knew I didn’t need such rigorous workouts to remain healthy. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (and my kinesiology professor) the recommended guidelines for physical activity are 150 minutes/week of moderate/vigorous aerobic activity and resistance training 2-3X/week. My trainer begs to differ, but I feel he is stuck in the extremist mindset of the sport he coaches.

      • Point taken Sandra, though what you desribe would take far longer than 150 minutes of activity in total (probably double that or more depending on the number of weight training sets) and would be far more difficult than the gardening and/or walking that is often counted as exercise.

    • Right on! Dr Yoni Freedhof says “It’s about the healthiest life that you can enjoy, not the healthiest life that you can tolerate”. (pause for thought!!) Sadly your friend, like many of us, likely ratcheted her set weight up and up and up through successive diets and relapses. This is a well-researched phenomenon and one the diet industry counts on to keep us at their beck and call. The thin=healthy thinking leaves many people feeling that they are being judged. And many more feeling as though they have a right to judge!

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