Exercise DVDs from Biggest Loser to the Wii: My endless, fruitless quest.

The business, culture, and science of working out.
Jan. 20 2011 7:05 AM

Sweatin' With the Fatties

My endless, fruitless quest for a fat-girl-friendly exercise DVD.

See the rest of Slate's Fitness Issue.

The Biggest Loser: The Workout DVD.
How to find the right exercise DVD?

Let's get this out of the way first: I'm a big girl. While I'm not going to share my BMI (it doesn't mean much anyway), I'm pretty solidly in the overweight category, though not obese.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

Despite my zaftig figure, I enjoy a good workout. I run, albeit slowly. I ice-skate, albeit poorly. I do my strength training and my yoga, and I put in my time on the elliptical. And rather than stay sedentary at home, I turn on Just Dance for the Wii and jam my chubby little uncoordinated heart out. (It made my day when I discovered that Just Dance 2 contains my jam, Mika's "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).")

Though I'm obviously not lacking in ways to break a sweat, there is one fitness category that has continually left me cold: the exercise DVD. All I want is a good, challenging workout video that is fat-girl-friendly. As far as I can tell, no such thing exists.

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I'm not looking for some scammy system that promises to take me from flab to fab in 30 days. That's not going to happen. What I want is a DVD that understands that heavy people are not sedentary blobs whose only exercise comes from waddling from the couch to the car—that some of us sport a gut while actually enjoying sports. I'd pay the proverbial top dollar (well, probably not much more than $19.99) for a DVD that understood that not every workout is about trying to shed weight. Since I know that exercise is not the best means of weight loss, I work out to feel my body get stronger, to loosen up the kinks from sitting in front of a computer each day, and to clear my mind.

Why must I have a fat-girl fitness DVD? While some may find it motivating to watch tight bodies sweat, I find it deeply depressing. Sometimes I lose weight, but, cliché that I am, those pounds tend to come back on and bring their friends along for the ride. Even if I did, by some miracle, whittle myself down to tautness, I would never look or move like a fitness-video vixen. These embodiments of the unattainable make my workout seem in vain, and that's not a motivator for me. I want to feel the burn, not the shame.

It's easy to picture my perfect exercise video. The instructor and her grimly grinning entourage are fully clothed, some of their bodies typical for a workout tape, some heftier. The modifications offered are not presented with a hint of scorn or pity. The cardio is intense, the squats created with a mind toward people who have to exert a little more effort than a size-4 dynamo to rise back up. In sum, the exercises are constructed with the understanding that my pooch and badonk sometimes hinder my movement, particularly when bending forward or leaning way back.

Really, it's absurd that I can't find such a DVD. As we know from the nightly news shots of headless fat people lumbering along city sidewalks, more than 30 percent of the U.S. population is obese, and about as many are overweight but not obese. Amazon's list of best-sellers in fitness and exercise doesn't reflect this reality. One group of titles—packed with masochistic vocabulary like banish, xtreme, shred, and insanity—promises to enable you to kick fit in the ass. The remaining best-sellers are gentle yoga DVDs, Jane Fonda workouts for "older exercisers," and walking routines. These DVDs either send the message that being overweight is disgusting, something that must be banished with an xtreme transformation, or assume that the best you can do is take a slow amble around the mall. There's nothing for people who want a routine that isn't all about weight loss, or something that offers minor adjustments with bulk in mind.

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