kyle cassidy (kylecassidy) wrote,
kyle cassidy

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Fit is not a weight or a size.

I promise this isn't going to become the fitness blog, but our friend Hanne Blank has a new book out which I'd like to share with you. Hanne wrote "Straight: The Suprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality", "Virgin: The Untouched History" and "Big Big Love, Revised: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them)"

Hanne's a thinker and a talker and a teacher and she's kind and I wanted to talk about her book because I'm glad to know her -- I don't know that Roswell fanfic is appropriate here, but we'll be giving away an autographed copy to the person with the best comment -- whatever that is, it'll be entirely subjective.

So we welcome you to sit back and read this short conversation between Hanne and me, and I also invite you to buy the book, or one of her others.

Clickenzee to go to Amazon

Q) Who should buy this book?

I know it says "Fat Girl's Guide" on the cover, but really, it's for anyone with a body who has issues or problems or fears or freakouts about movement and exercise or about doing those things where other people might actually see you do it.

Q) For me, the gym was intimidating at first -- there was a sort of locker-room culture that I felt alienated from, I was afraid that people would notice that I didn't know how to use the equipment -- I very much felt like an outsider. And then there was the shower. All this really served to make me want to stay home. How can people find or create friendly & supportive spaces for exercise?

There are a couple of general approaches, but they both really boil down to "show up and be present and learn."

Some folks feel more comfortable if they get together with friends and like-minded people to exercise in a group, for instance, walking or cycling buddies, or a group of people renting out a pool together. Then there's some cameraderie and shared experience while you all get your sea legs at the same time.

Other people just hit the gym, or the sidewalk, or the trails, or the pool, and figure that they'll learn by doing with this just as they would with anything else. A lot of the intimidation we feel around exercise is really unfamiliarity that just happens to push our body-image and incompetence buttons.

Bear in mind that you don't *have* to do anything at the gym except show up and get the lay of the land until you feel comfortable. If the setting is unfamiliar enough to freak you out, there's nothing wrong with going in and just hanging around a bit. Or take it in stages: change to your gym clothes except for your shoes before you go, then go into the locker room just to change your shoes, then spend half an hour poking around some of the weight machines (or what-have-you), without putting huge pressure on yourself to Do A Full Workout Plus Negotiate The Entire Locker Room And Shower Routine All At Once. You just don't have to.

Asking for help is also completely cricket. The phrase "I've never used this particular machine before, can you give me a rundown?" is very useful.

Part of the picture here, too, is that as you get used to exercising around other people, other people will get used to your being there exercising around them. You'll stop feeling like everyone's staring at you, and they'll stop wondering who the new person is. Win/win.

Q) What if I can't afford a gym, or there's not one near me? Am I doomed? What can I do?

There's plenty of stuff you can do at home (videos come to mind -- and there are lots of them online now)... and there are places to walk/run/ride bikes/climb trees/play minigolf/etc. out in the world that are not gyms, and many of them are completely free of charge.

Q) I was really lucky throughout my exercise routine to have a partner who was very supportive, who based meals around what I needed to eat, who didn't do things do disrupt the eating plan that I'd laid out, who complimented my progress and put up with the hours that I was spending away. When people commented on my blog post, one common thread was living with a partner who unintentionally sabotaged their goals. So my question really is what should allies be doing and not doing? And not just partners at home, but friends and family -- how can people who aren't exercising and aren't interested, how can they be good allies for those who are?

Don't get in the way.

I'm going to say this again: don't get in the way.

That's the single biggest thing. If you live with or love someone whose behavior patterns have changed because sie is now adding exercise to hir routine, let hir. This is called letting someone have hir autonomy to do the things sie wants and needs with hir body.

You can negotiate various kinds of active support if you choose, like planning part of your schedule around a partner's aerobics class so you can share a ride, or planning shared meals that work with what your partner wants to eat (should s/he change his/her eating patterns, which may or may not be the case) et cetera. But the big thing is to just not get in the way.

Q) At first exercise is something that people do they grit their teeth and do it because they want the result. But for some people, there … something that happens and suddenly, or maybe over time, they like what they're doing, they like going to the gym or rock climbing or biking or swimming or roller derby or whatever. What's the key? how do you get to be one of those people who goes from slogging through it to someone who's compelled to do it because they enjoy it?

There's no magic bullet or secret password. I cannot tell a lie: you may never become the kind of person who enjoys physical activity so much they really look forward to doing it, and prioritize it organically as a pastime. That's okay. There are plenty of things in our lives that we do because we benefit by doing them and we appreciate the benefits enough to prioritize doing them, not because we're just so danged happy to be doing them. This is a perfectly reasonable kind of relationship to have with movement and exercise, as it happens.

I say this because I've watched people abandon exercise/movement because they haven't magically become one of those people who really likes to exercise, then suffer physically for the lack of movement. "It doesn't excite me" is understandably not an incentive but it is also a really bad reason to suffer. Taking Vitamin D and St. John's Wort daily doesn't excite me, either, and it often gives me a slightly upset stomach for a little while, but y'know, I am a lot better off if I just take the damn things.

But back to your question... I think that what breeds a fondness for movement is exactly what you suggest: time and fluency. Everyone likes being competent. Everyone likes getting to the point where a new skill feels natural and normal and easy. So the best advice I have if you want to become fond of moving your body is to stick with an activity long enough to get comfortable, and see how it goes from there as you improve your skills.

Q) As we spend more time at the gym and figure out how all the machines work and where the towels go, how can we be better gym citizens in making the gym a more welcoming and safe space for people just coming in?

Make eye contact and say hi to people in a friendly way. No staring.

Don't give advice unless someone actually asks you -- personally -- for it.

Don't read over other people's shoulders, looking at settings on machines to see whether they are doing more/less/faster/slower than you. It's none of your business. Keep your eyes on your own damn paper.

Don't assume you know why someone is at the gym, or what their goals are... they may not even have any, and that's totally legit.

Don't assume you know what's going on with anyone else's body or physical condition unless you are, in fact, their doctor or their coach. You are not the Physiology Whisperer, and the fact is, you simply don't know from looking at someone what's up with their body, health, or physical condition.

Familiarize yourself with the notion of Health At Every Size (HAES) -- the important idea that every body at every size can be enabled and encouraged to be as healthy as is possible for that body at that time, whatever that may look like. Here's a good quick place to start:

Q) As soon as I started going to the gym people came out of the woodwork to tell me that I was doing it wrong. My inbox flooded with people saying I was working out too much, or eating too little, or I had the wrong shoes, or a million other things. How do you find feedback that's useful? How do you sift through the comments from friends, relatives, enemies, and legitimately knowledgeable people to find the things that help?

This phenomenon is familiar to anyone who has ever mentioned an illness or ailment on the Internet. Everyone has a body, and thus they have opinions about what works, or doesn't work, for bodies.

Truth is, bodies differ and the same things don't work for everyone. Most people have some idea what works for them, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll work for you... or that you even care about whatever it is.

Most people also have some decent horse sense about what might work for them and what's not likely to click. Trust your gut. If a suggestion sounds like it is reasonable and doesn't seem like it can do you any harm, then try it if you like and see what you think.

Feel free to ignore the rest. As I say in my book, opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one and everyone's fond of their own, but that doesn't mean other folks get to insist that you admire theirs just as much as they do.

Q) When I started working out I soon realized that "weight" wasn't really a good way to measure the progress that I was trying to achieve, but we seem to be really hung up on weight. How should we be looking to measure the results of working out?

Fit is not a weight or a size. Nor does weight loss generate fitness all by itself. What generates fitness is imposing physical demands on your body, and your body responding to those demands by becoming stronger and more robust.

My favorite single DIY technique for measuring positive change in fitness level in an externalized way is to see how long it takes you to walk a mile (or a kilometer) at a comfortable pace, get a baseline, then check again after you've been exercising for a while. As your comfortable pace gets faster and your times get shorter, you get a good indicator of how your strength, stamina, and robustness are improving. Not glamorous, but very reliable.

Personally, I think most people also can tell when their bodies are benefiting from a new body practice subjectively, too. You feel different, and doing various things feels different to you -- some things start to feel consistently easier, you get consistently better at particular skills, and so on.

Q) If someone said to you "I'm on the fence. I'm thinking about starting an exercise program but … I know it's going to be difficult, and I have body issues and weight issues and locker room issues and I'm not sure I want to open those cans of worms, but I'd like to be convinced" -- what would you tell them?

I'd tell them to try an experiment and set a short time frame, say 100 days for a nice round number, for doing some kind of low-commitment movement at least every other day. It doesn't have to involve a gym. It could be going for a walk with your dog for a half an hour every other day. It could be using your mom's dusty old exercise bike for the duration of a podcast of your choice every other day. Or you could go whole hog and decide to go walking on a gym treadmill and then do some exercises on a few of the weight machines every other day. Whatever seems like it's doable for you.

Do it every other day for 100 days and you have, in fact, started an exercise program and you can see how that feels and where you want to go from there.

Q) Someone says: "I love your book, you understand where I'm coming from, I'd like for you to be my personal trainer or answer questions about my exercise program." Is this possible? If so, how?

I do movement coaching in various ways for people, and I am happy to talk to folks about how these things can happen. I'm able to set up client meetings in person in the greater Boston and Worcester, MA, areas, and in the greater Atlanta, GA area; I am also happy to work with people via Skype or phone. Sliding scale is available for those who need it. Please email me at hanne at hanneblank dot com if you'd like to talk with me about this.

Q) My sister got me a book on geriatric weight lifting for Christmas and when I opened it my first thought was "how old do you think I am?" and it makes me wonder when it might or might not be appropriate to give your book to someone as a gift. If there's someone out there thinking "I think so-and-so might really like this book but I don't want to be triggery or come across as a concern troll," what would your advice be?

In my experience, there is a lot to be said for giving someone a potentially triggery title by saying "I read this and really liked it and regardless of the title, it really had some great advice and I thought you might like it too." This makes the book and its attendant issues into a shared thing, you're not just being presumptive or prescriptive.

Do make sure you've at least skimmed the book, though. And that you mean it when you say you thought it had some good advice and that you liked it. (Being able to point to some things you liked helps a lot.) Otherwise you are, in fact, just being a presumptive prescriptive jerk.

You can get The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts here, (you can also read a lot of it using "look inside), find her on the web here or follow her on twitter at @HanneBlank

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  • Melvin Van Peebles, 89 no more.

    trillian_stars said that when I met him, I had to call him Chevalier Van Peebles because he'd been knighted in France. And he…

  • 9/11

    I almost didnt repost this link to my 9/11 memories. I just feel fatigued. I didn't turn on the radio today or look at the news. But I've been…

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    trillian_stars used her lockdown to do a couple of things, one of which was to make a movie about novelist Mary Shelley. It's opening on…