Fitness for Every Body

I’ve been working on a review article for a new journal, Fat Studies, on recent exercise DVDs for larger people. The DVDs (Yoga, Belly Dancing, Scuba) are all great – I won’t pre-empt the review here.

A drawing by Ingrid Laue for the Large as Life Fitness Program, c. 1981-2.

Instead, I’ll note that in preparation for writing the article I reviewed some new and older medical studies on the benefits of exercise for people who are defined medically as “obese.” This research, published in places like The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that exercise, cardiovascular health and blood pressure, rather than weight and food intake, are key determinants of health.

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Drop Dead Diva

Drop Dead Diva is one of a handful of American television shows featuring a full-figured lead actor. The premise of the show is quite silly – Deb, a wannabe Price is Right model dies in a car accident and hits the “return” button at the Pearly Gates when the bureaucrat she meets is trying to decide where to send her. Jane is a successful attorney who gets shot in the crossfire during an altercation at her office. As Jane lies dying on an operating table Deb’s soul enters her body and – voila – Deb is now Jane – a skinny model “trapped” inside the body of a full-figured attorney.

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CFP – Obesity in Canada: Historical and Critical Perspectives

Proposals for papers are invited for a symposium and an edited collection of essays on critical perspectives on Obesity in Canada. In Canada estimated obesity rates have risen over the course of the twentieth century, though the measurement and criteria for being obese have also changed during this time (Mitchinson 2009). Particular groups in Canada, notably low income people, are more likely to be labelled obese, and yet a glance through newspapers, magazines and television shows suggests that fatness and staying slim are the preoccupations of the middle class (Raine 2004). In 2003 the World Health Organization  (WHO) reported that “almost all countries” around the world were experiencing an “obesity epidemic” as a result of increasing industrialization, mechanization and urbanization (WHO  2003).  WHO’s report legitimized escalating fears that the world’s population was growing fatter and provided a focus for more general concerns about normal body weight and shape.

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A post about romantic comedies, and Queen Latifah in particular

In my last post I mentioned I have a soft spot for Queen Latifah movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that out loud before, and now it is on the internet forever. Oh well. Over the weekend I’ve been trying to decide what it is about QL that I find so compelling, aside from the obvious, which is that she is one of the only full-figured actresses in Hollywood. I also took a look at one of QL’s latest films Just Wright, where she plays Leslie Wright, a physiotherapist who trains New Jersey Nets player Steve McKnight back to health just in time for playoff season.

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The Dieter (1989) by Susan Sussman

“I scanned the booklet which listed foods I could eat the first week. A few of my favourites were missing. Dry white wine. Crisp toasted bialys. Milk chocolate Dove bars. I’d have to make substitutions. The book contained some kind of diabolically complicated food exchange system. I tried to decode it. If two ounces of chicken equalled one protein exchange and I was allowed six protein exchanges a day, how many acrobats could stir a ’59 Buick in May?” (35).

I picked up a copy of The Dieter by Susan Sussman at a used book sale. The plot: Barbara Avers quits smoking after losing a friend to breast cancer. Her weight increases from 105lbs to 190lb during her increasingly desperate attempts at dieting.

What I like about Sussman’s book are her observations about the sometimes absurd things we do to change the size and shape of our bodies – liquid diets, cybex machines and those little machines that jiggle your bum to firm [?] your thighs. This isn’t a simple story of weight gained and then lost. Barbara gains weight, splits from her husband, finds a new lover, gets a better job, and finishes the story at a healthy 150lbs. The book is really hilarious and it captures Barbara’s obsession with counting calories, a process so complex that she (and we?) lose site of the pleasure to be found in good food. By the end of the book Barbara has transformed her outlook on dieting:

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Border Crossings: Canadians at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival started in 1976 and is still held annually near Grand Rapids, MI. MWMF is a woman-only event featuring female musicians and personal-development workshops around pretty much any topic you can think of from yodeling, to massage, to sex (technique and politics), to health, to cats, to white privilege, to coming out as a lesbian, to child rearing. About 7000 women from more than 20 countries attend the Festival every year.

A lot of Canadian women have crossed the border into Michigan to attend the festival and I want to know more about why they go, what they learn and who they meet. I already know that members of (what became) the Montréal-based group LG5 (lesbiennes grosse cinq or five fat lesbians) were inspired to form their organization after meeting fat activists from the Fat Underground and Boston Area Fat Liberation groups in Michigan in 1979. Last week I was visiting the Brooklyn-based Lesbian Herstory Archives to try to clarify the origins of the LG5/FU/BAFL relationship.

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Glee: Giving fat bottomed girls their due?

Because of my dissertation topic (fat women’s organizations in Canada), I often think about, and love to talk about, representations of fat people in popular culture. Indulging this love of talking, thinking, and fatness, my friend Adene said in a recent email:

Have you caught all the talk about Glee (the cool guy being into the fat girl)? The entertainment shows are treating this storyline as revolutionary but there’s a part of me that wonders if the storyline was introduced because it was funny, and so well accepted because audiences may have considered it unrealistic. What do you think?

Good point, right?

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Pundit!

I recently spoke to Steve Keating from Reuters about the legacy of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. What, Keating’s article asks, will be the long-term impact of the Games?

The Olympics and identity have come up frequently in the last few weeks of class. My students frequently point to the Vancouver 2010 as an example of Canada’s accomplishments at hockey, and less frequently as an example of this nation’s goodness (for lack of a better word). The Games seemed to reflect what Molson’s, Tim Horton’s and HBC’s commercials have been telling us for years: we’re fun, we’re folksy, we’re good at hockey and we can handle the cold. The Olympics seemed to re-affirm what we, as Canadians, think we are about. I’m not sure whether or not these ideas about Canada entirely reflect our population but I am glad that my students have something tangible to which they can attach these values.

Keating’s article can be found here.