Monday, June 1, 2015

Should you praise overweight people for exercising? Bitter Washington Post writer says no; I say yes

I just got back from my running club's monthly meeting tonight when I read this Washington Post article my brother sent me entitled: "I’m a plus-sized woman. I never want to hear 'I’m proud of you’ for exercising. Stop the condescending praise for your overweight friend for hitting the gym." My first reaction was: "Speak for yourself, lady. Because you don't speak for this plus-sized woman!"

The article ticked me off so much that I feel compelled to do a rant on it. Warning: there will be no baseball content in this article, so if you're looking for my latest musings on the state of the Yankees, come back tomorrow!

In the piece, Allison McCarthy whines about how after doing a Color Run with a friend, the friend gave a little too much praise for Ms. McCarthy being part of the race:
I flinched with each of her cheery repetitions because I knew what she was getting at, even if she didn’t say it explicitly: “I’m proud of you for exercising while fat."
Let's suppose the friend complimented her too much. So bleeping what? There are a heck of a lot worse things in the world than overly effusive praise.

McCarthy continues:
 I don’t think my friend set out to hurt my feelings with her comments. But her words hit at my most fundamental insecurities — my fear that when people look at me, they see a problem body in need of solutions, someone who requires all of the extra exercise she can get. After we parted ways, I drove home alone, feeling self-conscious and hypervisible in my own skin.
This reaction is a common experience for plus-size women who go to the gym, swim in a pool or even take a walk around the neighborhood — other, thinner people feel the need to assert their “pride” in us for exercising in public. But is it really pride or yet another condescending reminder from the world that one can only be a virtuous fat person when visibly athletic? 
The writer is fat. So am I, although less fat than when I started on this fitness journey. And guess what? We *do* have problem bodies in need of solutions! Sorry if that is "fat-shaming," a term the author throws around, but it is true.

This really ticks me off because I fear that those who will read this article will be afraid to praise the next overweight person they see working out because of this writer's complaining.

You know what? If it weren't for the praise and support I got from others, like the people in my running club, I would never have gotten as far as I have in this fitness journey. I would have quit a long time ago, in fact.

Some of my fellow running club members have had more faith in me than I did in myself, and that faith really has helped inspire me when things get hard, as they always do when you try to change your life. In fact, I have had such kindness directed towards me that I think it has really changed me and made me a more positive person overall.

Getting in shape is hard. Weight loss is hard. Having the courage to try to do something about changing your life is hard. To do that in a vacuum, with well-meaning people afraid to say something nice because angry people like the one writing the WaPost article might take offense to it, is pretty much impossible.

Ms. McCarthy appears to be in her late 20s, so she probably doesn't have physical problems from her weight yet. But things like diabetes and heart disease are no joke. I'm 48, and at the age now where people start getting real complications from being overweight or even drop dead of heart attacks. Look at what happened to James Gandolfini and Jerry Garcia. That terrifies me. My mother was overweight her whole life and is now missing half of her toes from diabetes. That could be in my future unless I get ahold of this weight issue now.

But aside from those big issues, having a quality of life where I no longer get tired going up subway steps is awesome. Having more energy is pretty great as well. Both of these things have happened because I got out there and exercised. I also feel much happier, too.

Earth to Allison: Take the chip off your shoulder. Sure, a few of the people out there in the world who praise you and others for exercising may be condescending. But the vast majority of people have their hearts in the right place, and want to see us succeed. They actually mean well. Imagine that.

You can choose to take the praise in the good spirit in which it was intended, or you can be bitter and angry. One guess as to which one is going to help you get towards your goals.

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