Fit, or Fitting In?

Well, this is an interesting follow-up to the ‘fitspo’ discussion last week. Sarah Robles, the top weight-lifter in America, is bound for the Olympics and can barely pay rent.

…And even though she’s the U.S.’s best chance at an Olympic medal, she’ll never get the fame or fortune that come so easily to her fellow athletes — in part because, at 5 feet, 10.5 inches and 275 pounds, she doesn’t fit the ideal of thin, toned athletic beauty.

“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy,” she says. The 23-year-old from California became the highest ranked weightlifter in the country last year after placing 11th at the world championships, beating out every male and female American on the roster. On her best day, she can lift more than 568 pounds — that’s roughly five IKEA couches, 65 gallons of milk, or one large adult male lion.
(full article)

The thing is, if you passed Sarah on the street, a lot of people might make assumptions about her health based on her height and weight, and I doubt anyone would assume she was an Olympic athlete. She’s a prime example as to why I can’t stand that ‘fitspo’ crap – it promotes very narrow ideas of health, fitness, and attractiveness. If ‘fitspo’ is about motivation to work out, why isn’t there any with Sarah Robles? After all, she’s pretty damn fit!

Eat healthy and work hard, and you might be on your way to the Olympics, just like Sarah Robles!

That wasn’t so hard, was it? I’m sick and tired of only a single body type being represented as a healthy body. Sarah even did a great write-up about bone mass, body type, and physical health on her blog:

In a book I have about sports and exercise science, the definition of obesity is, “A pathological condition in which a person’s body weight is is 20-25% above their skeletal and physical requirements for a male and 30-35% for a female.” It says nothing about body fat, and it says nothing about your clothing size.

For my sport, MY physical and skeletal requirements are based on my weight class and levers. Because I am 5’10 and have a larger frame and long levers, I am best suited for the 75+ weight class and need my body weight to lift large amounts of weight. Am I considered, “obese?” Am I “unhealthy?” It depends on who you ask.

I weigh about 275 lbs. I’m assuming if my weight were actually on the [BMI] chart, I’d be considered “obese.” I think this chart is relatively bogus. Athletes, especially power athletes like myself are going to have a large amount of muscle mass, making them weigh more for their height than the average person. I can understand using this chart for the average or sedentary person but it is not applicable to all people. Why is there only one chart? Shouldn’t there be one for each gender at least?

In 2010, I had a Dr. tell me what my BMI was and it was 39.1 at 266 lbs.
(full post here)

Hearing her discuss it like that, I think the ‘fitness inspiration’ crap isn’t so much about being ‘fit’ as it is about fitting in: fitting into the image, clothing sizes, and arbitrary standards set by our culture, media, and beauty/diet industry.

There’s currently a fund to help Sarah make it to the Olympics and ensure her coach can go with her. They already met their modest goal of $2,500, but donations are being accepted throughout the month. The donation page can be found here.

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2 responses to “Fit, or Fitting In?

  1. Oh, I heard about Olympic athletes being criticised for their weight in the papers, and it made me furious!

    And yes, why isn’t there a separate male and female BMI chart? And correction factors for the levels of exercise would make a lot of sense. The fact is the BMI is a crude tool, useful for population measures of weight-related disorders, but very flawed when applied to individuals.

  2. The whole situation regarding the weight of certain Olympic athletes is absurd. How can someone sit at home on their couch watching these athletes and have the audacity to criticize their weight? The athletes made it there based off skills and athleticism that majority of the population could only dream of having. Why does something like their weight matter? It’s an insult to the athletes, who spend years of their lives preparing to represent their country, to focus on their weight and appearance instead of their outstanding accomplishments.

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