CNN’s next headline: New study reveals fatness is NOT dumbbell-shaped and carried in one’s hands.

By | November 21, 2008

I often deride as the home of the random weight-loss success story recast as News Event. So the story this time is the standard triumph-over-adversity tale of weight loss through Diet and Exercise TM. Woman is Death Fat, her knees hurt, she gets out of breath taking a book off a table. Woman Changes Life, loses weight, everything’s magically awesome.* The story itself is unremarkable and pretty identical to all of CNN’s reformed-fatty pieces, but there is a beauty of a comment in this particular article.

After this woman managed to lose 100 lbs (The Hard Way, which makes her Extra Special!), to mark the occasion her personal trainer had a brilliant idea to “celebrate” her success:

“I had her take two 50-pound dumbbells and walk out to the street and walk back,” recalled Crawford. “When she got back she was exhausted and that’s the kind of weight people have to carry when they’re overweight like that.”

I LOVE THIS SHIT, y’all. It makes me laugh every damn time I read it. And I’ve read it lots and lots of times. Somebody somewhere is always thinking they’re being clever by strapping X pounds of weights to some poor dope and saying “SEE? THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE FAT!”

That’s not what it feels like to be fat.

Allow me to elaborate.

Your muscles, for the most part, get stronger or weaker based on how you use them on a daily basis. A 250lb person who lives in a city and walks everywhere will probably have great big strong leg muscles, since said muscles are being employed in the task of carrying 250lbs around all day long. A reasonably active 250lb person isn’t going to strain to carry their weight around if they’re used to doing so. Human muscles probably do have an upper limit of how much weight they can handle, depending on the individual and the activity in question, but generally speaking so long as a person is mobile, one’s muscles will adapt to carry the weight of the body in question. This is completely natural and makes sense from a biological perspective; to use an example unrelated to fatness, this also helps explain why pregnant women don’t suddenly fall down at eight months and can’t pick themselves back up again until they deliver. Muscles adapt.

So, to use my own enormous fatness as an example, I don’t walk around every day huffing and puffing and thinking, “DAMN, it’s like I’m carrying a 150lb-bag of sand strapped to my gut! Whew!” Nor do I walk around carrying my fat in my hands as though it were invisible dumbbells. I just… walk around. Like anybody with functional legs walks around. To borrow from the fabulous Hanne Blank, I leg-press over 300lbs every time I stand up from my desk. My legs are USED to that. It’s the only body they know, the only one they have known for over a decade. Human legs are not lawn chairs; they don’t have arbitrary and universal weight limits, past which they’ll simply buckle and fail.** Human legs, like the rest of the human body, are incredibly complicated and dynamic mechanical wonders.

Do some fat folks huff and puff and struggle with even simple movement? Sure. So do some not-fat folks. For a variety of reasons. But to take a smaller body, and ask that body to suddenly heft 100lbs of free weights for a short walk? Um, yeah, that body will be tired for sure, that doesn’t mean the action in any way, however remotely, resembles the experience of actual fat people as a monolithic group. Because fat people are not monolithic. Just like not-fat people. The argument that the experience of a not-fat person who carries something really heavy for like a minute of their life says absolutely anything valid about the daily, cumulative experiences of fat people – that suggestion is both stupid and offensive.

So what DOES being fat feel like, physically speaking? It feels a million different ways, depending on the individual.

In short, being fat feels pretty much exactly the same as it feels to be not-fat: subjective.


* Please note that I’m not dissing this woman personally – I don’t give a crap about her personally, and she is free to do with her body as she likes. I am dissing the combo factors of the near-universal and archetypal “weight loss success story”, and the fact that CNN publishes these articles like they’re actual news. FAT WOMAN LOSES WEIGHT, film at 11!

** …and then it’s back to Target to try to explain to the dude at the service desk that you brutally murdered a lawn chair because, well, you didn’t notice it had a crazy low weight limit, and also you are apparently so fat that your ass can DESTROY ENTIRE CITIES if not kept under tight control, and I suppose getting that money back is totally out of the question, though service-desk-guy may do well to remember that fatal weapon you’re not-so-secretly packing in back.

I mean, I’m just guessing here, that this could happen.

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