I’m obsessed with exercise. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
I love completing long races that put my body to the test and prove to me what I can mentally and physically do. A lot of these races take time, perseverance, and high levels of fitness.
While setting up for one of my races, an Ironman 70.3, a family member who came with me to help commented on a woman we saw setting up near us. “She’s probably going to win her division,” my family member stated. I agreed.
She was incredibly toned from shoulders to calves, and quite thin wherever she wasn’t muscular. She had the coveted athletic body, the kind of body you expect to see in a Nike advertisement.
She finished behind me.
Many, many people finished way ahead of me, including multiple plus-size women whose bodies probably didn’t inspire anyone to make a similar comment on their predicted race results.
When finishing my marathon, I was behind a man who most people wouldn’t picture when they think of a marathon runner. This man was fat, and he was kicking my ass. I remember him because you remember the person you finish behind in a race, since they’re the person you tried to keep up with but couldn’t.
I’ve had many similar experiences when a plus-size person has out-exercised me, a straight-size person, even when I am trying my hardest and have trained for months. I am not saying that it is incredible that larger people are beating me. In fact, I’m saying quite the opposite—that it is so normal, and it’s time we started acting like it is.
Why do we make the harmful assumption that fat people don’t exercise? Why do we assume that when they do exercise, they won’t be amazing?
Nike recently sparked controversy for including a plus-size mannequin in their stores. I’m not sure what is so controversial about showing what a very typical body type would look like in Nike gear. The average size of a woman in the US is 16-18, with a size 14 being the first plus size in most brands...meaning that most women in the US are plus-size, and would see themselves better represented by this mannequin than most others in stores.
We know that larger people exercise, and while they do, they need clothes to do it in. There is nothing wrong about showing the majority of U.S. women what they will look like when they wear a brand’s clothes, whether that be through plus-size models, mannequins, or other ways.
Everyone, no matter what size their body is, deserves to feel welcome in exercise-clothing stores. Everyone deserves to feel represented, to feel like they belong as part of this community.
Exercising is an incredible feeling, and it should be available to everyone who wants to partake in it.
It is healthy to fuel your body with good food and to exercise. We know this. So where do we expect people to get exercise clothing to move their bodies in if we don’t let stores provide it?
There is an increasing amount of literature that shows that people are born with a set weight point, and that weight does not determine health.
One great resource to learn more about this is Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon, but that is just a starting point—the facts are everywhere.
More and more research has shown that the correlation between weight and health is not what it was assumed to be. Eating healthy and exercising are important factors in avoiding diseases, but weight is not as important as we used to think. Heavier people who live healthy lifestyles lead much healthier lives than their thinner counterparts who don’t eat well and exercise, showing that weight is not a determinant of health.
People with an anti-fat bias love to claim that Nike is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle by using this mannequin, but the facts show that that plus-size people are not necessarily unhealthy. Having a plus-size mannequin is not forcing people to look at an unhealthy lifestyle because being fat is not equivalent to being unhealthy.
If your fatphobia is so overpowering that you can’t handle being in a positive space like the one Nike is creating in their stores, you have the privilege as a straight-size person to go into many other stores that sell your size.
This is something plus-size people don’t get to do because stores don’t create clothes in a range of sizes like they should.
The next time you want to complain about something as trivial as a plus-size mannequin when there are fat people struggling with healthcare because of their body, losing jobs because of their size, and paying more for basic items, check your fatphobia at the door and do your research.
Diverse representation of bodies isn’t the problem—our attitudes and biases toward them are. With new information out there that busts old, stereotypical information about health, I think you’ll find that a plus-size mannequin isn’t a problem. It’s a step toward a solution to the real problems in our society.