Friday, October 22, 2004

Ah, Crossfire

Ah, Crossfire... let me count the ways...

Remember that Jazzercise instructor Jennifer Portnick who was told she was "too fat" to be one of their fitness instructors (though she'd been successfully teaching for some time, apparently), and took Jazzercise to court over it?

Well, she got to be a Crossfire debate point between Marilyn Wan (author of "Fat!So?") and radio talk-show host Neal Boortz (not sure where his authority to speak on the issue comes from) back in May. The discussion revolved around whether or not somebody who's 240lbs can "represent" the ideals of a fitness franchise.

Keyword: Fitness. Right?


CARLSON: Now you know as well as I do that most people do Jazzercise and other sorts of jumping around in front of videotapes to get thin. Now you can see the problem if you own Jazzercise -- having a 240-pound instructor's a pretty bad advertisement for your product. It implies that it doesn't work. So can't you understand why they wouldn't want to hire a 240-pound instructor?

WANN: You know, I think the fitness industry is shooting itself in the foot by marketing thinness, rather than marketing fun. When I go to Jennifer's Portnick's class, I have fun. I feel great. I get healthy. My weight doesn't change. That's not my purpose. In fact, the latest numbers show that about 37 percent of Americans are doing no exercise. And I think if we welcomed people of all different sizes into exercise classes, they might come and have fun and get healthy. Would they get thin? I don't care. I really don't think the research supports that they would.

Someday, Tucker's bow tie is going to start spinning. That will be a great day.

The kicker comes when Boortz starts offering up the rehashed American reactionary hate speech:

BEGALA: Mr. Boortz, you support laws then, right? Do you support laws that say we will force companies to hire qualified people who are black. ...

BOORTZ: Oooh, Paul, you said qualified. This girl is not qualified.

(First intimation that we're in trouble: he referred to a 38-year-old woman as a "girl." Ah. That speaks volumes, actually)

BEGALA: Do you support our civil rights laws?

BOORTZ: In some -- for some civil rights, yes. For honest civil rights, not the right to be a lard butt and lead an exercise class.

Did he just say that?

Why yes. Yes, he did.

As Wann points out, the "qualifications" for being a fitness instructor include the ability to teach an hour-long class, six days a week, sometimes back-to-back classes. Portnick is 240lbs - I'd guess she's 5'6 or so. She's formidable, yes. Does her weight impair her mobility? Not so much. Obviously. Or she wouldn't have passed the fitness tests that got her certified to be an instructor.


Now, predictably, Boortz and Carlson bring up the issue of models: models have to have a certain "look" in order to follow their profession. The argument goes that Jazzercise instructors have to "look" fit. First, I agree that models need to be a certain size - runway models all need to be the same size so they can all fit into the same outfits. They need to be a certain height for the clothes to hang properly, and they have to have "looks" that don't draw people's eyes away from the clothes. I'll give them that. But somebody who's otherwise a perfect "fit" who doesn't know how to walk down a runway (say she or he doesn't eat enough and faints halfway down the runway) isn't going to be a model, are they? (I realize I'm grasping for straws with the model thing: I've never believed it takes any sort of smarts or talent to be a model, so my natural biases are showing).

Who decides what "looks" fit? There's already a standard all instructors have to pass that shows they can successfully teach the classes. That'd be a "fit" test, right?

As someone who's been to a jazzercise franchise, I can tell you this - as a patron of such a facility, what I want to do is move around and have fun. Losing weight (at the time I went to Jazzercise, I think I was 16 or 17) was certainly a major goal for me at the time, but I realized also that just moving was good for me, and I wanted an instructor who got me through all this movement with the most fun. As a fat girl who spent most of her childhood being hounded by people of both sexes about my weight, I had (and am working to shed) a terrible fear of thin women. Thin, "hot" women were the ones who were the absolute meanest to me. They were like little devils come up from hell to torment my size. Now, of course, I realize the thin-woman backlash was so strong because I represented everything that they feared: fat; while walking around not-hungry, as many of them were. We all tend to resent those we see who aren't playing by the rules and are somehow getting through life anyway.

So, being at Jazzercise, my favorite instructor wasn't the thin little blond woman who looked like she'd curl her lip at me if I ever approached her, the one who looked like she went home and vomited up her lunch. No, my favorite instructor was the 200lb black woman with the cropped hair and big laugh and amazing sense of humor who looked like she could kick my ass. She was fit and tough, and most of that weight was muscle, with a good cozy layer of fat over it.

*That's* the instructor that kept me coming back.

I think Wan is right on when she says that places like Jazzercise are selling themselves short by promoting weight loss instead of fitness. If you're toting weight loss, people get frustrated unless they see huge results in a very short period of time - hence the success and popularity of diets like Atkins that shed weight very quickly. It gets us motivated to keep going. Unfortunately, a lot of fitness programs don't work that quickly, particualy if you're the typical American woman who's spent a lifetime going on periodic dieting and excercise binges, followed by binges of another kind. Your metabolism is gonna be screwed up. Your body's gonna be angry with you. And as you get older, that metabolism slows down.

What keeps people fit and healthy in the long run is regular excercise and a reasonable diet (throw out all that crap processed food, keep your white bread and sugar intake nil at best, very, very low at worst. STOP binge eating, for all you bingers like me). And to keep people interested in exercise, it needs to be fun. You want to go there and not feel like a fucking reject idiot, a fat loser. And when there's somebody up there who's fit and fun and inspires you to kick your ass, then Jazzercise is doing its job and making money to boot: people come back for classes with good instructors.

Jazzercise is a franchise. If the local congregation (that's the first word I thought of to describe the local clientele) really doesn't like a particular instructor, they'll let you know. The number of students will plummet. Numbers will drop off. They'll start complaining and ask for the skinny blond to take those classes over instead, and relegate the fat instructor to the crappy 3pm class.

They'll let you know if they don't like their instructor.

At my MA school, Sifu Katalin looked me in the eye when she shook my hand. Coach Fernando didn't treat me like I was a worthless idiot. As someone who's internalized a lot of the hate-against-the-fat attitudes, I was ready to fold away into the woodwork at the first sign of disgust or derision. And there was none of that. Granted, I do realize that I have an inflated sense of my own size (most women do), but it was important to be at a place where everybody was supportive.

I also realized later on that a couple of the amazons there had shed 50-70lbs over 2-3 years of classes. If the goal is weight loss, I knew I wasn't going to see it very soon, or all at once. It was gonna take a long time. But damn, was I gonna be buff on my way there. And I was going to have fun.

For the record, Sifu Dino is likely pushing 230-240 as well, and nobody's questioning *his* ability to lead martial arts and fitness classes. He could wipe the floor with every one of us.

Of course, he's a man. He's supposed to be Big and Scary.


Once again: are we toting health and fitness, or trying to get everybody into a size 2?

Tell me again why it's so important for all of to look the same?

Oh. Yea. So jerks don't call us "lard butt" on national television.

What is this, grade school?