Before and After Culture: The Problem with Fitness DVDs

Plus size. Chunky, but funky. Big boned. On the larger side. Whatever diplomatic rubbish wording you want to use, I’m basically trying to tell you that I’m fat. I go between a UK size 18 and 20; obviously this varies depending the shop, the fit of the item, etc, but there’s a rough frame of reference for my size. I’ve got a sizeable belly, chins (note the plural), thighs like tree trunks and flabby upper arms. Lovely.

Now, I quite like being the size I am. It’s quite an integral part of my identity at this point. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t fat. I like cheese and sitting down, and I dislike gyms and celery sticks. Obviously, I don’t love everything about my appearance, but on the whole, yeah, I’m settled and happy being a fatty.

What I don’t like is being unfit. I don’t like getting a little red-faced just from walking up the stairs a little too vigorously.

For years, I’ve done a bit of fitness stuff, and vaguely got into shape, before something gets in my way. As a teenager, I was even a member of a gym for a while (I hated it – but we’ll talk about that another time, maybe). I’ve tried long walks, which I love and still take, but the weather is unpredictable in North WalesΒ and I can’t get out consistently enough for it to become a real ~regime. I have a Garmin Vivofit thingy that counts my steps, and I love it and it has definitely increased my daily activity, but my lifestyle and work are quite… still. I’m a student, I sit down a lot – in the library, at my desk, in seminar rooms. Hell, I’m sitting down right now as I type.

So, I decided to try my hand at fitness DVDs. I can do them from the comfort of my home, regardless of the weather. I only live with one other human, and he’s out of the house more than I am, so I don’t even have to worry about getting caught looking all sweaty and gross (and yes, I’m self-conscious enough that he has to be out of the house when I exercise, for now).

What I’ve discovered is, it’s a huge market. Like, honestly massive. It seems that most celebrities have some sort of fitness regime to their name – even Miranda Hart’s got one – and I’ve been absolutely flooded with options.

I have also discovered that absolutely loads of these options are really fucking poisonous.

Let me give you an example – although it’ll likely become more of a case study. I bloody love the band Steps. Late 90s to early 00s, ripped off Abba a lot, recently reunited for a dead successful comeback tour – you know the ones. A member of Steps, Claire Richards, has her own fitness DVD, featuring a load of music from Steps’ back catalogue. Perfect! I can have a dance to some marvellous cheesy pop and get a bit fitter all at once, I thought, naively.

As it turns out, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. The name was a bit of a warning sign in itself: “Claire Richard’s 5 Step Fat Attack”. Why should I attack my fat? My squishy bits deserve love too, they don’t need attacking. When I climb into a bath for a pamper night or treat myself to some expensive body lotion, the pliable, soft, fatty bits get love and attention just like the rest of me. I don’t want to attack my own body. What a horrible message to send to women, and especially, young girls.

The DVD cover is worse. It’s trickery that is used horribly frequently, I’ll admit, but that’s not going to stop me making the point again: fat peopleΒ are beautiful. There is this horrible preconception that being fat equals being horrendously unattractive, and it’s perpetuated by images like the cover of Claire Richard’s Fat Attack. The “before” picture, where she stands with her legs apart and shoulders hunched, no make up, flat hair, looking tired and miserable, is contrasted with the “after”. Yeah, alright, she’s slimmer, but she also has aΒ massive toothy grin, is posed in a more flattering way, hasΒ freshly styled hair…

The press around this poor girl and the DVD is also appalling. I’ve read articles describe her “obsession” with food, seen journalists use the word “healthiest” when the really mean “smallest” or “slimmest”, and use the most awful exaggerated pictures of her in a really voyeuristic, unpleasant manner. Her weight was even the subject of a documentary, and it just breaks my heart to see someone so ashamed and embarrassed by the fact they put on some weight after being in a pop group – being fat, surely, is not the worst thing a person can be. Claire’s beautiful, regardless of size.

But, I digress. My point is, this whole industry seems to be using this mindset and I can’t stand it. I fell down this rabbit hole because I wanted to improve my fitness. My motivation for that should not be shame – but there are thousands and thousands of DVDs, books, and magazines out there telling me otherwise.

So I’m not going to buy into them. I feel better not buying into these horrible tricks that try to shame you into wanting to look a certain way. I’m sure in the long run, my mental heath will be much better off for it.

Instead, I’ve decided to only use positive, encouraging, feelgood fitness videos. Here’s a quick list of what I like so far:

  • Pussycat Dolls Workout. I truly belive that PCD’s first album was a feminist manifesto, but that’s a blog post for another day. The Pussycat Dolls workout is fun and dancey, which is already up my street, but they don’t once mention weight loss or shifting pounds or anything of the like. There are mentions of toning and “this is great for this particular body part!”, but that’s all. Plus, Robin Antin tells you regularly how sexy you’re looking, and I like that. Even when I’m in Primark’s finest workout gear with greasy hair and no make up.
  • The aforementioned Miranda Hart’s Maracattack. Miranda got a lot of stick for selling out when this was announced, but I think it’s lovely. Cheesy, admittedly, but fun and funny, too. And you know you’re never going to be judged or made to feel less-than by the Nation’s BFF Miranda.
  • YouTube. I know this is a really vague recommendation, but there are so many videos and channels related to fitness and workouts that I wasn’t sure where to start. Some of them will, I’m sure, go down the “shed the pounds” or “a thinner you is a better you” route, but by and large, what I’ve seen is pretty positive, so have a search and see if you can find one that is right for you.

Basically, there are options out there that won’t cripple your self-esteem. You’re gorgeous. If you want to get fitter, I believe in you. If youΒ don’t, whatever your reasons, there is absolutely no shame in it.

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