Fitness Magazine

Myths and Stereotypes Are Ruining My Zumba Class!

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat
Photoshoot Outake.  Photo by Richard Sabel

Photoshoot Outake. Photo by Richard Sabel

My partner and I are members of our local YMCA.  One of the reasons we chose it is because there are way less fat-shaming messages and weight loss propaganda than at other gyms.  I started taking a Zumba class for a fun way to get in some movement, but it has been hampered by weight loss myths and fat stereotyping and so my j0y is less than full.

Nobody, of any size, has any obligation to do movement of any kind.  But everybody, of every size, should have the opportunity to do things that they want to do in a space that is physically and psychologically safe, with an instructor who is knowledgeable. If only…

The first time I took the class the teacher kept saying that we should move our hips to help “whittle our middle.”  Since we’ve known for many years that spot reducing is not actually possible, I went up to her afterwards and asked what made her say that. She looked at me and said “When you move your hips it heats up your waist area and the fat melts away.”  It happened so quickly that I was not able to control my “WTF Face.” I recovered and said “Sorry, do you mean that literally?  The fat melts away?”  She answered “Yes, the heat from the workout makes the fat melt.”  I explained that pot-reducing has been disproven in a number of ways (including a study where they measured the playing arm and the non-playing arm of tennis players and found that the had the same amount of fat despite one arm doing a ton more work).  She said that she didn’t understand what that had to do with it. As politely as possible I asked her do her to consider doing herresearch, and not giving any more workout advice until she does, since she is a fitness professional and they will believe what she says.

My fun is also compromised by stupid myths from classmates.  Last night it was really warm in the room, there are fans on the wall and about 15 minutes in everyone turned on the fans for their row. As a couple of us moved to turn our fans on, one of the women in our row insisted that we leave them off because it would help us all lose more fat.  Ok, first of all let’s not assume that everyone on the row wants to lose fat.  Second, does she think that the fat is coming out of our pores? A little reality for you:  we’re not losing more fat, we’re just sweating our asses off. Turn on the damn fans.

Behind me were a girl (who mentioned being a college freshmen) and her mom. Halfway through the class I overheard her lamenting to her mom that she couldn’t keep up. Her mom tried to console her by saying “It’s your first time, you’re doing fine.”  I was thinking how awesome her mom was for reacting that way when the girl said “I’m not!  Even that fat girl [points at me] is doing better than me!”

Ok, dude, I am not the low bar (I can, however, simultaneously hear you and see you in the mirror so you might want to watch that.)  Seriously though, look around, I can say with humility and honesty that I’m doing better than just about everyone in the class – which is likely because I have, like, a hundred million hours of dance training and practice. I would suggest not comparing yourself to others at all, but assuming that the fattest person in the room is the worst at whatever you are doing is simply stereotyping and bigotry.

Then the cherry on top of the crap sundae – I was on my way out and a girl from the class said “You’re a great dancer, keep working and, I promise, you’ll get there!”  I responded, with absolute innocence, “Get where?”  She said “You know…reach your goals.”  I asked, with a smile “What goals?”  To her credit she then said “Well, you’re an amazing dancer.”  I smiled and said “Thanks!  See you next time!”

Despite all the crap, I will see her next time.  I’ll say it again – nobody, of any size, has any obligation to do movement of any kind.  But everybody, of every size, should have the opportunity to do so in a space that is physically and psychologically safe, with an instructor who is knowledgeable. Unfortunately not everyone has that, and for fat people it can mean that those who want to move or get involved in various activity don’t.  (If you haven’t ready Tiffany’s blog about Practicing Yoga While Fat  over on the More Cabaret Blog I recommend it.)   One of the ways that I try to do activism around that is to keep showing up fat.  Some days I have the energy and desire to challenges these myths and stereotypes directly and try to make things better. Other days, I just do single-single-double-cha-cha-cha, know that I’m doing something that my body likes, hope that by being the fattest person in the room I might have made life a little easier for someone who was worried about being the fattest person in the room, and knowing that,  just by being fat in that space, I’m giving some people the opportunity to challenge their stereotypes.  And on those days, that’s enough.

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