Since May, personal trainer Drew Manning has gained about 70 pounds on purpose. On a quest to experience life through the eyes of an overweight person, he tracks and writes about his project on Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit. However, it’s not just for the experience of being a heavier human being – he is also hoping that it will show him how tough it is to lose weight, and ultimately show others how to get fit. He has been steadily gaining weight for the past few months by eating unhealthy food and not exercising. When I first read about Drew’s project, I was actually excited – because he would be able to use his online dairy as a platform to communicate how the world treats heavier people and hopefully raise awareness of it. I do believe that Drew has good intentions, and that his journey may actually accomplish that in some cases. However, I read a post on the blog Dances with Fat from the point of view of blogger Ragen Chastain (and plus-size dancer, choreographer, writer and speaker) that made me think differently about it. In Ragen’s post, she points out that Drew’s venture into a larger person’s body actually misses the point, and does not depict what it’s like to be overweight at all. I thought it was pretty interesting so I wanted to post it and would love to hear what you think:
I truly want to believe that he has good intentions, but even so this is deeply problematic. First of all, being overweight means that in the equation of your weight in pounds times 703 divided by your height in inches squared, the result is greater than 24.9. And you know what conclusions we can draw from this formula? That the result is 25 or more. That’s all. It tells us nothing about the person’s health, eating and exercise habits, intelligence or anything else. The result is 25+, end of story. People get all caught up in the idea that since it’s math it must be scientific. But then start to ask yourself why do we square the height? If we wanted a ratio couldn’t we just use weight and height? Why are we using a formula made up by a statistician for the sole purpose of studying body sizes in large populations as a way to study health in an individual. That’s like trying to use the quadratic formula to solve for the hypotenuse of a right triangle. The formula was not meant to do that so you can plug in some numbers but the result will be useless. (And can I get a gold star for pulling those concepts out of my back of my brain where the math from 15 years ago lives?). Of course, people have a right to eat whatever they want and move their bodies, or not, however they want, and it’s not anybody’s job to judge that. But to say that eating unhealthy foods and not exercising for 6 months is experiencing being overweight is ludicrous. Being overweight is not a single way of eating and exercising and this idea that all fatties eat the same way, exercise the same way, and think the same way is as widespread as it is ridiculous. There are people of all shapes and sizes who eat vegan diets and there are people of all shapes and sizes who eat processed food based diets. There are sedentary thin people and highly active fat people. We need to examine our history and realize that this kind of stereotyping of a group of people never works out. Drew’s eating and exercise habits do not give him the experience of being overweight, his eating and exercise habits give him the experience of eating a diet of processed foods and not moving his body. The “experience of being overweight” is an individual one, and I would say that it’s much more about what it is like to move through society in a body that people think they have the right to stereotype and judge than it is about a way of eating and exercising and I think it probably takes more than 6 months for that experience to sink in. He is eating “sugary cereals, granola bars, juices, white breads, white pastas, sodas, crackers, chips, frozen dinners, mac n cheese, etc.” and not exercising at all. He says “I’m to the point where I feel lethargic and uncomfortable.” Well, Drew, how about you eat a giant bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes. You have found that eating a diet of entirely processed foods and not moving your body leads to lethargy and discomfort. That is not news. It’s also not about being overweight. Unsurprisingly, his metabolic health markers have changed with his change in habits. Drew says ” I want to show people how living a healthy lifestyle can change all of those risk factors.” If his healthy lifestyle changes his risk factors but does not lead to weight loss, then Drew will be having my experience of being overweight and I’d like to hear about how he would deal with that. In truth, what he will prove when he changes his habits is what happens when a body with an excellent baseline of fitness returns to a lifetime of healthy eating and movement after a six month sabbatical. He does say “I know I’ll never know exactly what it’s like for every person that’s overweight and I don’t claim to, but at least I understand better than I did before when I never had to struggle with this.” So he sort of gets it. Again, I really do want to believe that he has good intentions but that doesn’t stop this from being incredibly insulting and offensive. I rarely compare my experience to the experience of other minorities because I like to stay away from the Oppression Olympics, but the best comparison I can think of is putting on blackface and engaging in stereotypical behavior to try to experience what it’s like to be African American. Especially considering his before picture where he is smiling, hyper-tanned, hairless and flexing hard, and his after picture where he is frowning, pale, hairy, purposefully hiding any muscle tone. None of those are bad, they’re just very different than the before picture. I think the best way to understand a population is to realize that they are more competent witnesses to their own experience than you could possibly be and check your own assumptions, beliefs, and prejudices against what they tell you to be true.