Exorcising the Exercise Myth
Creating Women of Substance
Dana Schuster and Lisa Tealer
The vision of fat women exercising, swimming, or working out rarely enters the mind of the average person in U.S. society. The Working-at-Being-Fat myth, held by most people, dictates that people get fat by choosing to avoid exercise in favor of sitting on the couch, eating donuts, and watching television; exercise is then the punishment, the penance, for this previous “bad” behavior. Like so many other assumptions made about fat people, the belief that they do not exercise is untrue. But what is the experience of working out as a fat person given these societal stereotypes, and how can that experience be made more equitable? Our culture—and particularly the fitness industry—has done a superlative job of making exercise safely accessible only to those whose bodies already fit within a narrow spectrum of shape and size. It has also promoted the “no-pain-no-gain-make-it-burn” approach that has turned childhood recess into a torturous obligation of adulthood. So how exactly might a fat person go about “exorcising” this myth so they might enjoy exercise?
It began as a simple thought. A daydream in the shower, a vision while driving to work, that led to a semi-casual, “Wouldn't it be nice to have an entire health club that was weight-neutral?” during check-in at our San Francisco Bay Area Kaiser Permanente Great Shape movement class in mid-1996. What followed is the stuff of legends: the exuberant clamor of, “We'll help,” and “You have to do it,” gathered momentum and swept us up. So the dream became reality and Women of Substance Health Spa opened to offer all women—independent of their shape, size, or fitness level— the chance to discover the joy of physical movement and the accompanying health