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I Am Angry

... I am angry. I am angry at an idea that causes pain ...

An excerpt from Don't Weight :

The Audition
By Kelly Bliss M.Ed.

(Note: These events took place in 1980.
I wrote this piece at that time to get some closure to the experience.)

I am angry. I am angry at an idea that causes pain. An idea persists only if it is perpetuated by people or organizations. So, right now, I am angry at the fitness industry for promoting the 'ideal body' as evidence of health and good character. I remember an experience that left me face to face with this harmful myth.

We all piled into the station wagon wearing our brightly colored leotards. We were on our way to audition for the position of aerobics instructors for a worldwide dance exercise company. As we rode down the highway, I thought of the first time I was preparing to go on stage in a leotard. That was the first time I had dieted. That was also the beginning of an all consuming eating disorder that lasted thirteen years. It took years of hard work, but I recovered from bulimia. Here I was again in my leotard, at my natural weight, 127 lbs. I was free from dieting, bingeing, laxatives, diuretics, and vomiting. I felt good.

My hard earned feeling of fitness and confidence was shaken as I trained for this audition. I began to feel uncomfortable about the focus on body size in the training environment. As the day of the audition unfolded, I could not believe what happened. Let me introduce you to the women on this journey with me. One of the trainees was recovering from anorexia nervosa. After a life threatening low weight of seventy pounds, Cleo was back up to ninety-five pounds. She confided that she still felt fat. However, she was determined to win over this killer disease. Bridget, who was also a trainee, was a very shy person. She had developed her teaching style in harmony with her shyness, not in spite of it.

So, there were three of us, Cleo, Bridget, and me (Kelly). After a tension filled ride we arrived and the audition began. The evaluator watched and took notes as we performed. Then one by one, she met privately with each of us. I went first. As I returned to the group after the meeting, I applied my smile. Each trainee left and returned smiling and silent. It was not until the ride home that Bridget (shy) announced excitedly that she was accepted as a trainee instructor.

Bridget was told she would have to work hard these next three months if she wanted to be ready to become a full instructor. The evaluator did give her some advice: "Go to as many classes as you can, and stand near Kelly. Watch her, and try to move like her." Cleo (95 pounds) was not accepted. She had asked what she could do to improve. She was told: "Look at Kelly. She is not as tall as you, but her movements are bigger. She has energy with control. Watch her, then work with yourself in a mirror." Cleo and Bridget talked excitedly as they began to schedule classes. Which classes can I attend, so that we can prepare together to be full instructors? ...None... I would not be preparing, because I was not accepted.

The evaluator was direct when we met. After my performance, before I could even sit down she said, "There is only one reason that I am not accepting you." Yes? Yes? "You are too fat." But...but, how were my execution, my enthusiasm, and my teaching style? Her answer, "Great! On those points I would accept you on the spot."

Questions raced through my mind. Yes, there was some important information that I wanted from her. Other than my body size, what did she think I needed to change? She replied, "You don't need to change a thing about your performance or your teaching. What you should do is this. Stand naked in front of a mirror. I know that this is hard." (But I like the way I look in the mirror.) "Now," she continued, "look at those bumps of fat that shouldn't be there. Then as you sit down to eat, remember those bumps, and eat accordingly."

I knew only moments had passed before I spoke. It seemed longer. On this day I was not going to be the victim of this evaluator's size-prejudice. I had no interest in working for a company that supports these views. I thought of the other women who are about to talk to this evaluator. I had to say something. I needed to tell her about some of the harm she could do if she gives this well meaning - and dangerous - advice to others.

I took a deep breath to calm myself. I told her that I could not believe life has given me another chance at the same scene. But here I was, listening to EXACTLY the same advice that was the foundation of my eating disorder. She listened as I continued. I told her that I had already been the victim of the 'really look at yourself critically' method of weight loss. When I looked in the mirror and cultivated a disgust for my 'problem areas', I began to have a distorted mental image of myself. I could not see my whole self in the mirror. I only saw parts of myself, a hip, a belly, a thigh. I was growing farther and farther away from the natural feeling of eating from hunger. I was developing a response to my distorted view in my mirror. Then I would eat, or vomit, accordingly.

So please, I told her, do not give this pathological advice to anyone else. The most common result of this 'critical look in the mirror' is to distort a person's body image. A more serious result is that you would be contributing to the epidemic of anorexia and bulimia in our society today.

This dance exercise company, and most other fitness companies, promote the myth that anyone can have a lean body if they exercise enough. The idea that only lean bodies are fit, that only thin bodies are healthy, is reinforced by hiring only lean instructors. An army of lean instructors has a message to the average person. "If you do not look like us, then you have not tried hard enough."
What if, no matter how hard a person tries, it will never be enough to battle his/her own body's natural size? What are the consequences of trying? There is considerable evidence that this weight loss and weight gain cycle is the cause of most health problems usually associated with fatness.

I believe that people are supposed to come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone, of any size, has the right and responsibility to work toward fitness. Fitness is the result of a healthy lifestyle. Fitness has nothing to do with fatness. That is why I opened my own exercise studio shortly after this audition. My studio financed my advanced fitness certification and my masters degree in education.

Now, I am part of the small but growing size-acceptance movement within the fitness industry. I teach people how to build a healthy eating style and learn self-acceptance. I work with people of all sizes in my aerobic classes.

You can help to end size discrimination by asking for full-figured instructors at your health clubs and gyms. You can demand classes for people of all sizes that focus on improving fitness and healthy eating, rather than promoting thinness. You have the power to help by seeking out and supporting businesses that provide service, without discrimination, to people of all sizes.

Make sure to read:

Kelly's Story

A Journey

Why Fitness Videos

Can't Get No Satisfation


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