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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

fat athletes

This is my favorite fat athlete, (one of)my (semi-)newly adopted kitteh(s), Toby. Toby needed to use my foam roller after one of his rousing games of fetch, an athletic endeavor which I will manage to capture on video someday. (Even more film-worthy is when he carries both of his balls around in his mouth at once. And that sentence is much funnier when you realize he regularly tries to hump his brother Eddie. Oh, Toby. Oh, Andrea.) ANYWAY, Toby weighs 19 pounds, yet he regularly will run up and down the stairs for five minutes at a time or jump straight up into the air to catch his ball when thrown to him. I like to say that he is all about fighting the stereotype that fat=lazee.

 Also apparently fighting that stereotype is Oly lifter Sarah Robles. She first came to my attention through this article which I saw linked to in a forum where the comments were not, shall we say, generally kind. Soon after in another (more supportive towards varying body types) venue I saw a link to this post on Ms Robles' own blog. Finally I came across this. I'll just sit here tapping my fingers while you go read all that shiz so you'll understand the context of what I'ma say. Or not. I dunno how busy all y'all are.

 Tap. Tap. Tap.

 You back? Okay. I've got lots to say and plenty of time to say it, since I'm home recovering from my first (minor) surgical procedure. (Don't tell my employer, but I coulda actually gone to work today. Yesterday's anesthesiologist appears to have been better at mixing up drug cocktails than the stand up comedian I had the last time I had surgery and I've been feeling remarkably non-groggy compared to that post-surgical experience. Lesson: doctors who crack you up with jokes in broken English prior to your procedure may NOT in fact be superior to ones who dryly and factually sit down and explain the reasons they might need to switch to general but why those reasons are highly unlikely to happen with you.) Where was I? I'd claim the digressions were post-anesthesia but none of yous would believe that anyway, so.

My first thought is that Ms Robles has A Cause and there's nothing wrong with that. If she feels fat athletes, much like fat people in general, face certain amounts of discrimination and she wishes to point that out and fight against it, well, good on her.  And if she's simultaneously used her speaking out on this to not only raise awareness but to raise money towards her Olympic aspirations, I still have no problem.  If people like what you're saying or sympathize with you and wish to give you their financial support, there's nothing immoral or unseemly about taking it. Despite what some of our parents might have drilled into us at impressionable ages.  Ahem.

I do, however, think that there's some disingenuity going on here. Of course, when one is interviewed by a journalist, one has little to no control over how one's interview is then spun. Therefore one cannot fault the rather sensationalist headline of the first article.  Ms Robles may be broke, but "living in poverty" calls up a whole different set of circumstances for most of us.  And there are probably a hell of a lot of Olympic athletes competing in similarly obscure sports who are broke. Devoting the amount of training time anyone who hopes to be world-class in anything that doesn't then *pay* is very likely to lead to that sort of circumstance. Hence the need for sponsors. Whether those sponsors are one's rich parents, one's NBA employers, Nike, or a bunch of internet strangers is irrelevant and totally dependent on one's own circumstances.  The truth is, anyone competing in an obscure sport probably isn't going to get sponsorship from Nike, Wheaties, or wherever, even if they are conventionally attractive.  The fact that Marlen Esparza has a CoverGirl contract frankly has as much to do with the fact that there's something weirdly titillating about female boxing in our culture as with the fact that she's very pretty, as Fit and Feminist obliquely points out.

Also disingenuous or at least naive is Ms Robles' above referenced blog post about the women's Olympic clothes not being available in her size. The complaint should be that if these companies are going to provide free clothes in exchange for the exposure, then they have a responsibility to custom tailor them to fit all the athletes. I find it unbelievable that they do not. Do we really think all those NBA dudes can wear off-the-rack clothing, even "6x"?  Now if they are getting custom clothing but the female athletes are not, then Ms Robles has a legitimate bitch.  That's sexism.  It's not discrimination, however, if companies don't make and sell clothes that fit every conceivable customer.  I understand and sympathize with larger women who complain about not having the number of clothing choices as their smaller sisters. I myself wish more companies made jeans that fit my stubby little legs and I'm not even *that* short.  But not making clothes to fit fat or short people doesn't make a company bad or discriminatory. It may make them stupid and short-sighted in cutting out a whole possible market, but it doesn't make them prejudiced.

I *do* understand Ms Robles' point that athletic wear companies need to understand and acknowledge that female athletes come in all sizes and that, yes, fat women play sports and work out.  I've seen it happen in the other direction as well--some of my Amazon compatriots who are, like me, pocket-sized have trouble finding weightlifting belts that are tight enough. It's like no one thinks a woman whose waist measurement is 25 inches is gonna be deadlifting, yo. Similarly, I bought the smallest size Versa Gripps and even so I think part of my difficulty with them is that my hands are so damn small.  As annoying as that may be, it is understandable. There probably aren't that many women with waists of 25 inches or under in the market for Inzer belts and there probably aren't that many 4x sized women buying a whole lot of yoga pants.  We exist but we're a niche market and niche markets ain't that profitable in general.  Maybe the answer lies in the opposite direction: when lifting is something most 15 year old girls do and the great majority of plus sized women realize that they can and should go to the gym, then these companies will be forced to provide clothes and equipment that fits them by popular demand. Is it "build it and they will come" or the other way around?

All that dissenting aside, reading all these articles and the responses to them made me do a bunch of thinking.  I myself, having had a fat mom and grandmother (long before I had a fat, spazzy cat), have never been under the false assumption that fat always equals lazy or the converse. That's just silly. It's also, I've noticed, usually espoused by one of two types of people: either "born again" former fat people who did get that way by  sitting on the sofa slothfully mainlining Cheetos (note: these people tend to be even more preachy and obnoxious than reformed smokers, and that's saying something) or skinny people who've never had a weight problem a day in their lives because they can't sit still and/or have the appetites of your average five year old.    So I have a certain amount of empathy/sympathy for Ms Robles' overriding cause.

I also cringed in feminist horror at some of the comments towards that first article referenced. There was a lot of "well, she's fat and ugly and hideous, so OF COURSE she'll never have sponsorships."  While it's true that the real ad money goes to the athletes, male and female, who are a.) talented b.) involved in mega-popular sports and c.) are considered hawt (stand up, Mr Brady and Mr Beckham), it's also true that for female athletes looks sometimes trump talent and for male athletes, looks matter a LOT less.  Maria Sharapova may be rated #1 in the world atm, but she's made more money from sponsorships than for actually playing tennis, and that's all predicated on being blonde and hawt.  Serena Williams, on the other hand, may have had a $55 million dollar Nike deal but has still been out-earned by Sharapova, commercial-wise, and it's hard to argue that that isn't because she's a fairly dark-skinned black woman and dark-skinned black women are outside our culture's dominant beauty ideal.

Of course, if you don't find this picture hot, there's something wrong with your eyes. What.a.body.  But, alas, I am not in charge of determining this culture's beauty norms, so whatever. I just wanted to use Serena's recent post-Wimbleton pic because I lurve her.

And here are a few male athletes who've raked in lots of sponsorship/commercial money.

Taste is in the eye of the beholder, but they're not exactly eye candy in my humble opinion.

Lesson?  For men, what you can do is the most important thing. For women, looking conventionally attractive while doing what you can do is the most important thing.  When women play along with this by suggesting other ladies like Ms Robles are too hideous to belong in a magazine, I don't see this changing any time soon.  To be fair, most of the truly horrible comments I read were from guys.

I also read an interesting comment along the lines of (paraphrased)  "I sometimes wonder if people who compete in strongmen/powerlifting use strength as an excuse to be fat."  That sort of boggled my mind.  I suppose this is why people like Ms Robles have to fight the fight against fat discrimination. No one needs "an excuse" to be fat. Being fat is not a moral failing. But when you have people who are actual competitive athletes and are fat setting world records and appearing in the Olympics and so on, it obviously makes many people extremely uncomfortable.  Probably as uncomfortable as the fact that to be an Olympic female gymnast you have to be a pre-pubescent adolescent girl makes me. But that's another post and I've already digressed all over the place.

Writing this and looking for pictures did keep me from being bored for a couple hours though, and since it's all about me...



  1. It's so nice to see body acceptance in a fitness blog!

    Umm.. that's all I've got. :)

  2. Oh, Bethany, I am only crazee about what *I'm* supposed to look like. I think everyone else is perfect exactly as they are. :-)

  3. I thought I was going to have to take a leave of absence to finally get through this blog. Very interesting! In fact, I recently had a convo about all this with my honey. Apparently he is allowed to let himself go and wear fukced up outfits when we go out, but I have to keep trim and be fashionable . Yup, menopausal upheaval en mi cabeza.