Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.

On the Utter Ridiculousness of the Discourse of Size and Health

Sarah Robles: Weightlifter, Olympian, certified HBIC.

Meet Sarah Robles. Dubbed the “Strongest Woman in America,” she is the highest ranked American weightlifter of either gender. She was headed to the London Olympics this past year, and was one of America’s favorites to medal.

One would expect such a talented athlete would have endorsement deals left and right – maybe a Gatorade ad campaign, perhaps some sort of sportswear endorsement deal, maybe even a cereal box! But in reality, during the months leading up to the Games, Robles was living on a meager $400 a month, and was without a sponsor. Robles does not have the lithe, lean, “sexy” body that the public likes to associates with women athletes; at 5 foot 10.5 inches, she weighs 275 pounds – and can also lift over 568 pounds on her best day. (She eventually was sponsered by Internet media company Solve Media, after an extensive internet campaign was launched by ThinkProgress.)

Robles’s experiences exemplifies the completely skewed ideas society has about fat bodies; by and large, “fat” is equated to “unhealthy” and “skinny” is equated to healthy. Robles is a top-notch athlete, an Olympian. I’m going to go ahead and say that she is by no means unhealthy. Her experiences as a fat athlete are documented on her blog, Pretty Strong. She delves into the size-equals-health discussion, as well as the highly gendered nature of fatness and size.

There are countless more examples of the Otherization and dehumanization of fat bodies and fat people in contemporary culture. One of the most prevalent would be trashy reality TV mainstay Biggest LoserBiggest Loser centers on a “battle” against obesity; overweight contestants attempt to lose weight, and whoever loses the most weight wins a big cash prize. The show gets its jollies pretending to be concerned about the health of its contestants, but often uses harmful tactics like dehydration to affect weight outcomes, as well as the general unhealthiness of drastically losing weight in short periods of time. To add to the show’s already poor track record, it does absolutely nothing to help contestants post-show; if they did indeed want to promote an agenda of healthiness, they would help contestants develop ways to easily exercise when they return to normal life, or eat healthily on their budgets.

Oh, and they basically say that being in a state of illness, unconsciousness, or death is being better than being fat (see above video with trainer Jillian Michaels, whose health expertise I question when she claims that losing 5 pounds per week is desirable and healthy).

Promoting healthy lifestyles, indeed.


One comment on “On the Utter Ridiculousness of the Discourse of Size and Health

  1. xchx
    November 3, 2012

    I completely and entirely agree on the principle that healthy and thinness are not equivalent, and this attitude is highly problematic in our society.

    However, I just wanted to state that I am not entirely certain that her lack of financial backing is due to her being in a non-lean sport. It is likely that weight-lifting in general is a sport that does not have a lot of money in general and she is a female in athletics. Even women in track and field, a more popular sport in general that certainly celebrates a lean figure also has almost no money for female professional athletes at a similar level to Robles. Robles has not set any records, and I know the woman who in the spring was first on the world leaderboard for the mile still has no sponsor. While this may be more so for weight-lifting, I think certainly its lack of “sexiness” contributes, but I would think a more essential factor is the lack of support for unpopular sports and women’s athletics in general.

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2012 by in Blog Assignments and tagged , , , , .

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