Sweatin' With the Fatties
My endless, fruitless quest for a fat-girl-friendly exercise DVD.
See the rest of Slate's Fitness Issue.
Shame is the prevailing message of the Biggest Loser workout DVDs, which fall firmly into the category of titles aimed at the long-sedentary. I'm too advanced for the Power Walkworkout; the Boot Camp, which includes former Biggest Loser contestants, is weirdly uninspiring because it highlights former Loser wannabes who just about die during the course of exercise. It's a reminder that the show is all about unhealthy, largely unsustainable weight loss, and that's not a franchise I want to support. For them, the only mark of fitness is a slim body. No, thanks.
There are a fair number of DVDs explicitly marketed to the overweight, but the ones I've tried have all been for exercise newbies. I loved the idea of Heavyweight Yoga, which is subtitled "Yoga for the Body You Have Now." When I tried it out, I was sorely disappointed: This was meant for sedentary older women, not for a heavy but active twentysomething who can keep up—if a bit inflexibly—at a traditional yoga class.
Please, skip the lectures about how I should just lose the weight and then I'd feel comfortable with any old fitness DVD. I know about as much as any educated urbanite about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. I live a rather healthy lifestyle and have a good rapport with my doctor about these things. You don't know exactly why I'm fat, and I don't feel an obligation to tell you my medical history. You just need to know that I'm not the only heavy-but-fit girl who wants to work out in the privacy and comfort of my living room.
Weirdly, the DVD that comes closest to making my dream come true is hosted by Carmen Electra. I bought 2003's Fit To Strip, part of an aerobic striptease box set, because I was intrigued by the possibility of a totally different kind of workout. (It was the same impulse for novelty that led me to buy a Bollywood dance workout DVD.) While I never took to the striptease aerobics, I've often come back to the challenging set of traditional aerobic and toning exercises. The trainer who leads the workout, Michael Carson, is marvelous, crafting a set of exercises that fits nearly all of my requirements: My bulk doesn't get in the way, my heart rate goes up, and I feel sore but not incapacitated the next day. His explanations are clear and helpful, his tone positive but never grating. While the inane patter forces me to watch the disc on mute—Carmen: "Thanks, Michael. And my butt thanks you, too!"—that's a minor flaw in an otherwise great DVD. And, in a final plus, Carmen is clad in a preposterous bubblegum-shaded sweat suit, meaning I'm not forced to confront the naked futility of my fitness routine.
If nothing else, my willingness to work out with Carmen Electra should reveal that I'm not excessively choosy. A fat-girl-friendly DVD doesn't have to be explicitly marketed to the overweight, and it doesn't need to feature plus-size models. All I want is an exercise routine that feels like it was designed with people like me in mind. Workout-video makers of the world, is that too much to ask?
Also in Slate's Fitness Issue: Annie Lowrey swings Italian-style tomato cans in her "extreme" exercise investigation, Elizabeth Weingarten flexes her cheeks and winks creepily to see if face exercises really work, and our handy flowchart helps you navigate awkward, naked gym situations.
Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project from Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that covers emerging technologies and their implications for society and policy.