There are a lot of things that I hate about diet culture, but one of the top 10 has got to be the moral glow of virtue that exists around exercise, particularly around things like running.
I hate it for a few reasons: one, it frames those who don’t exercise as not just inferior who do, but as lower moral value than those who do. The logic is: going for a run is “good;” therefore, the runner herself is “good.” Conversely, being sedentary is “bad,” so a sedentary person is “bad.” There’s some kind of bizarre transitive property between moving your limbs from point A to point B and the quality of your moral fibre, and I hate it.
I also hate this diet-infused moral equation because of the way that fat people like me get tangled up in it.
A few months ago, the following short exchange happened between me and @TheFatYogi_ :
Diet culture has fooled us into believing that people who workout a lot and do intense workouts are morally superior to people who choose not to engage in any intentional movement.
THIS IS A LIE ROOTED IN FATPHOBIA.
— alyssa ?✨ (@TheFatYogi_) May 5, 2020
And I replied:
I love that! That social capital cash isn’t accepted legal tender in the anti-diet space anyway ?♀️
— alyssa ?✨ (@TheFatYogi_) May 5, 2020
Here lies the tension.
I seldom write or speak about any kind of exercise that I do. I don’t post the sweaty selfies I take of myself after my workouts, I don’t chime in about my runs when people talk about their distances or routines, I don’t explain that I’m a little red-faced at the office because I just got back from the gym.
The reason why is because I don’t want to cash in on the social capital that comes along with being a fat person who exercises. This social capital stems from what’s known in body positivity/fat acceptance circles as the good fatty vs bad fatty divide. A good fatty is a person, as Kitty Stryker writes, “can never be socially acceptable, but at least publicly flogs herself for the sin of excess pounds.” By far the number one thing a good fatty does is exercise (as well as eat “right,” diet, dress impeccably, etc.).
You can see this logic very clearly in some of the online conversations about Lizzo. Some folks want to defend Lizzo’s body from the haters because she spends so many nights per year running around a stage, full-throttle singing, dancing and playing flute, so she must be in shape, right? Therefore we should leave her and her body alone, because “as long as she’s healthy,” we don’t have to be uncomfortable about her size, right?
Well, no. It doesn’t matter how “healthy” Lizzo is (however you want to define health). What matters is that Lizzo’s right to exist as a human being in a fat body is non-negotiable, and what she does with her body is none of our fucking business.
So there is this social approval directed at fat people who exercise. “Good fatties” get coded as morally superior to “bad fatties” who don’t exercise, because exercise de facto makes you morally superior (this is healthism in action). And that makes me mad. Because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that fat people who don’t exercise are worthy of contempt, I seldom talk about my exercise (or my food, for that matter) as a result.
(Though, of course, social media is rife with first-hand accounts of fat people also getting harassed or bullied for also exercising in public, or the thins getting upset with companies like Nike that make plus size exercise gear, etc. So. A minefield, either way).
I don’t feel much loss in not receiving the social capital that I otherwise could cash in on, because, in this situation, being judged as “good” doesn’t actually feel much different than being judged as “bad.” Either way, it’s a judgement about my body, and either way, it’s so far from the society that I dream of–one where the moral charge has been taken out of exercise, where people can choose to do it or not do it, and it’s as morally neutral as choosing your favourite pen. I’d rather just focus on doing the thing, not talking about doing the thing.
But I do want the whole world to know about the difference that someone like my trainer, @bodypositivefitness_ , has made for people like me who are DONE with the conventional fitness industry. People who have had eating disorders or disordered relationships with food, fat folks, queer and non-binary folks–none of us have been well-served by the conventional approach to exercise. To work with someone who gets it is truly a revelation. So I want to do everything I can to promote her business and help her make a tonne of money while she is helping to smash the fitness industry’s sexist, fatphobic, patriarchal beauty standards. So now I just need to figure out how to do that while not reinforcing the precisely the thing I’m trying to undermine. Let me know if you want to join in.