Overweight people often don’t feel welcome in the fitness industry. It is difficult to find suitable sports equipment, and even sports professionals do not always know how to guide older adults.
Taru Mänttäri recalls a dance class where participants had to perform the splits and then jump back from the position. Mänttäri tried the movement, without success.
“With my weight, I can’t do it. The instructor made me practice the movement, separated from the rest of the group, convinced that my attitude was preventing me. Holding back my tears, I bit my lip and j ‘thought, I’m going to show him how hard I work, ”says Mänttäri.
Mänttäri is a Finnish social media influencer who talks about the shame of fat and body positivity. She is overweight but doesn’t let that interfere with the joy of exercise. However, while practicing dance as a hobby, she encountered several obstacles related to her weight.
Even sports professionals don’t always know how to guide a taller person, even as more and more people of working age are overweight.
Mänttäri’s experiences are not unique to him. Society is still rife with the shame of fat, which persuades taller people to stay away from gyms and swimming pools.
Obesity researcher: “Obesity must not be visible”
Mänttäri has been dancing for years. Dancing is a way for her to express herself and it also makes her feel good about her own body.
The hobby requires high self-esteem, as Mänttäri is often the only overweight dancer on stage.
“When we were playing, I noticed that my presence stood out from the audience. People come in a lot and gush, it’s so great to have a taller person on stage,” said Mänttäri.
The comment may seem innocent to many. When she was younger, Mänttäri also believed in her innocence. But the praise contains a message of great shame: obese people should not dance on stage. It is something strange to see.
Mänttäri explains the insidious nature of the comment: In the gym, for example, it would be inappropriate to go upstairs to congratulate someone who was in good shape, telling them that it is good that she feels included. Why would the opposite be acceptable?
According to Mänttäri, weight does not prevent movement, as long as everyone is allowed to train according to the capabilities of their own body.
“I don’t mean that someone’s weight limits them, but of course, it slows down movement. Our movements may not be as powerful. And, if you think about yoga, your weight may limit your ability to adopt. all postures. “, says Mänttäri.
Although Mänttäri has always done his best, it is not always enough. Once she couldn’t join a dance group because she couldn’t find an outfit to fit her. Her dancing skills were sufficient.
Mänttäri’s experiences are also familiar to Hannele harjunen, obesity researcher at the University of Jyväskylä. She has heard the experiences of thousands of people regarding exercise.
The data shows how society erects barriers to prevent exercise of the obese: they are not considered in terms of guidance, and they are not even offered clothing or sports equipment. In sports ads, only the fittest athletes are shown. If an overweight person decides to challenge stereotypes, they may even be ridiculed.
“The feeling is that obese people are not allowed to participate. They may face mean comments, laughter, or harassment from others. In some of the worst cases, professionals have expressed contempt or even laughed at it, ”says Harjunen.
Is it any wonder that many overweight people dread the idea of going to the gym or swimming pool?
Overweight people seen as lazy and immoral
Many people subconsciously think that obesity is a reflection of a person’s inner self. According to Harjunen, obesity is a stigma that characterizes people many times over.
“It is determined that this kind of appearance is abnormal and deduces that the causes are from her inner self. Obesity is not seen as a trait but something deeper – an indication of making the wrong choices, d ‘being lazy or lacking in self-control, even being morally deviant,’ says Harjunen.
Overwhelming stigma is the reason overweight people don’t feel welcome to exercise. Harjunen considers it particularly important that fitness and health professionals are aware of this and receive training for their encounters with overweight people. Fitness professionals play an important role in how we define and articulate obesity and can influence how it is viewed as well.
“These areas primarily approach the obese body as something to be repaired or even erased. Obesity is like an in-between space that people have to constantly strive to get out of. Instead, it might be interesting to consider how one obese person could be healthier without the need to constantly lose weight, ”says Harjunen.
According to international studies, exercise instructors have the most negative attitudes towards obese people, although they should be the ones who create a safe space for exercise.
For most fitness instructors, exercise has always been easy and fun and an important part of life. They may have difficulty understanding people with negative thoughts and experiences associated with exercise.
“It doesn’t have to be conscious ill will. In fact, many want everyone to be able to come and move. But until nothing is done about these attitudes, or the problem is not even identified, the end result is the opposite, ”says Harjunen.
Dance classes for the obese remind us the world is not perfect
Mänttäri is now leading the XXL dance class, aimed at women with a body mass index over 30. The aim of the class is to create a safe space where no one has to fear being ridiculed or scrutinized.
A song sounds through the speakers. In the ballroom, people pose to the beat of the music. The atmosphere is relaxed and the dancers move around the room with red cheeks.
The instructor is not talking about burning calories but talking about the joy of exercising. Everyone has their own reason for coming to class. And under no circumstances is anyone allowed to comment on someone else’s appearance.
Classes for overweight people are a lifeline for many. At the same time, they are a reminder that the world is not perfect.
Some companies have found that there are a lot of grown-ups out there who want to exercise. More and more sportswear are available in plus sizes. Yet no relief can be expected from the market economy.
Many activists are spreading the message of body positivity, but obesity is still not considered acceptable. Fat shaming is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we must fight it with force, says Harjunen.
According to Harjunen, more talk is needed on food culture and more training needed in the areas of fitness and health. The media should also review the content in a more self-critical way.
“We have TV genres that turn obese people into a spectacle. A transformation into something different is considered entertainment,” Harjunen said.
Mänttäri also hopes that sports clubs and coaches will be involved in the change. They should ensure that people of all sizes have the same opportunity to grow in the sport, and that these people have visibility.
“I wouldn’t want to separate overweight clients from the rest. I wish everyone were in every dance class. Those kind of people would be nice,” she says.