Thin Privilege: Movement Without Comment

Okay thin people, help me out here. Is it possible for you to mention partaking in some sort of physical activity without someone mentioning how it’ll make you lose weight? I just want to know if people are universally demented or if it’s just special fat girl treatment.

Case in point:

Hot Latin Boy and I are both mad for the danzón, Cuba’s slow, sinuous answer to the Argentine tango. Although popularity has waned in its native Cuba, every week people gather in plazas or on corners all over Mexico to come together to gossip, flirt and dance the danzón.

We dance three nights a week. Excessive perhaps, but it keeps us off the streets and affords me the opportunity to dress in all white –white outfits are traditional for danzón– without resorting to the equally distasteful options of being a bride or a member of the klan.

And it’s not just fun, but SO fun.

First of all, my fellow dancers are a hoot. There’s Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady, Nose Hair Man, Disappointed Gay Guy, and Confused Teenage Orangutan, among others.

Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady with her cherry-printed skirts is my favorite, closely followed by Confused Teenage Orangutan whose feet are the size of tennis rackets and do not communicate in any meaningful way with the rest of his body. Nose Hair Man is the best dancer, while Disappointed Gay Guy fell hard and fast for HLB and shoots me death glares over his Vivien Leigh half-frames any time he gets the chance.

Although HLB and I generally dance together, we’re more popular separately.

This, of course, has everything to do with our overwhelming natural talent and nothing to do with HLB’s resident dreamboat status or that for a ballroom full of men who stand 5’5″ in their discreetly lifted Cuban heels, dancing with a woman who clocks in at six feet tall in champagne satin Capezios affords them five minutes of uninterrupted visual access to some serious USDA Grade A funbags without getting maced or divorced.

The ballroom is also beautiful, housed in a cultural center that was once a sprawling Spanish Colonial-style casino built in the late 1920′s, reputedly with Al Capone as bankroller-in-chief.

The only trouble, aside the occasional trodden-upon toe, comes when I talk about it to my fellow gringos.

“Oh that’s such good exercise, and what a great way to lose weight!”

And of course it has to be said with that extra-patronizing voice usually reserved for when someone’s two year-old makes poo poo in the big boy potty. It’s also universally followed by some riveting anecdote where someone’s sister’s cousin’s lobotomy surgeon lost seven hundred pounds doing freestyle Himalayan goat clogging.

Why? Because it can’t ever not be about weight.

It’s just so tremendously boorish, like hearing about a friend’s gastronomical tour of France in pornographic, butter-soaked detail and exclaiming “Wow! You must’ve had some really satisfying bowel movements!”

Yes, there are health benefits to dancing eight hours a week. For example, when I’m dancing I’m not out killing people who say stupid stuff, so that’s not bad. Plus good cardio is good cardio, and dancing –especially in heels– is great for your core, assuming your knees and ankles don’t protest. That’s not the point.

The point of dancing isn’t to lose weight, it’s to dance.

It’s to have fun, it’s to get dressed up and salvage a bit of elegance in a world that’s rapidly slouching towards Kardashian. It’s to twirl with men in linen pants and Panama hats who aren’t trying to bring back the hat, because for them, the hat never left. It’s to stare at a young woman’s enthusiastic sweaterpuppies without getting decked by your wife with a cast-iron tortilla press (although I have seen one particularly indiscreet gentleman of about sixty get cracked across the back of the head with a hand fan after staring too intently at the dance instructor’s admittedly magnificent backside.)

So tell me, straighties, does this happen to you, or can you just move without comment?

38 Responses to “Thin Privilege: Movement Without Comment”

  1. marvel October 8, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Yes, happens to “straight” sizes too. Perhaps not 100%, but certainly >50%.

  2. Victoria October 8, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    I’m guessing it doesn’t happen to thin *men*, though. Or maybe any men?

  3. Tracy October 8, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Size 10-12 here. This phenomenon annoys me to NO end. It does happen to us, too, and it makes me super, super sad. It’s like people don’t engage in any sort of physical activity these days unless it burns calories. And then there’s the worst part of it, that it’s culturally okay to talk about and commiserate about this (even kind of encouraged, in fact).

    And then the irony is that everyone I know who’s lost loads of weight swears that diet trumps exercise.

  4. SarahDances October 8, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Size 4 here saying that yes, indeed it does, although as marvel says, it’s probably only 50-75% of the time, instead of 100%.

  5. Diane October 8, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    When I was about 14 and expressing an interest in playing volleyball to an older couple my father knew, the woman exclaimed sweetly, “Oh what fun! And you’ll lose weight too!” Oh, the sting. I had not thought of myself as particularly fat until then. And I still think commenting on such things is crass.

  6. Leigh Ann October 8, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    You just made me realize that I do this to myself. Whatever happened to the joy of movement for movement’s sake? Your dancing nights sound wonderful, by the way.

  7. BJ October 8, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    It comes from the same place; when I’m at the gym occasionally I have someone come up to me and tell me how *good* it is that I’m working out. I get that it’s well-meaning, but the condescention is really galling. I neither want nor need the patronizing feedback of total strangers who watch me struggle through squats and think I’m doing it out of vanity. How about paying heed to my body language (and the earbuds in my ears) and leaving me the hell alone?

  8. klee October 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    “slouching toward Kardashian” is my new favorite phrase. Brilliant

  9. Rebelle October 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    What’s sad is that it is all the hefties talk about too. I was at a social the other night and a husband and wife talked about their weight watchers diet almost the entire time over the meal.

  10. Madame Suggia October 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    ” salvage a bit of elegance in a world that’s rapidly slouching towards Kardashian” amen to that.

    Also beyond irritating, people who congratulate/berate your food choices, as in, dark chocolate has antioxidants, well done! Ooh, boneless, skinless chicken breast would be better, less fat and calories!

    My considered reply to all the above-if I choose to acknowledge the ill-mannered wretch who thinks they have the right or duty to have an opinion on the matter-usually beings with an ‘f’ and ends with ‘off’.

    But then I’m a bad tempered fatty.

  11. MrsBug October 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    I can promise you that, as a thin girl, I NEVER mention how exercise will help you lose weight. Hand on heart.

  12. Astra October 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Size 12-er here. I have heard this but not directed at me so far as I can remember. However, I mountain bike and I occasionally get a “you go girl” type comment from other bikers. I sometimes wonder if it’s because I’m the only fat chick out on the trail or if I’ve just run into one of those cheery types.

  13. Liz October 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    *pipes in from the back of the hall*

    I’m a fatty, and I’ve never heard anyone saying this – to me, or to anyone else. They may say it behind my back, but I learned to not care about that stuff as a survival mechanism when I was a teenager. I can say I’m going to the gym, or hill walking, or whatever, and people just nod and smile. They might ask if my gym is any good, or if the scenery is nice, but never something like that.

    It’s so breathtakingly rude. I hate to ask this, because I love you guys, but is it more of an American thing, than a fat/thin thing?

  14. teteatete October 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Liz, it might very well be an American thing. When I visit family across the pond, crass, in-your-face type comments about personal matters tend to not happen. Although, as a chubby teenager visiting my aunt in the wilds of the north of England, she once poked me with a stick and said, “come on dear, let’s go for that walk. It’s desperately needed!” That’s the extent of any comments received. And at least, stick-poking aside, she was laughing and being friendly. I don’t remember being mortally offended at the time (even as a prickly teenager), so I suppose that’s a good thing.

    As a more general comment: I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past four years and I’m a 14 most of the time, but I think heading towards a 12. I recently started belly dance classes after months of Zumba or boring treadmill time. I’d get WAY more comments about how Zumba will help me lose weight (it didn’t actually, but it’s damn fun!) than bellydancing. Most people just squeal and say how they wish they had the nerve to do something like that. At most, it’ll be a comment on how it’s “great for your core!” but that’s it.

  15. SusanC October 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    As a size 10, I still get them a fair (30-50%) amount, but I’m never sure if some of those commentators think I need to lose weight or if they are just signalling their thumbs up because if something could lead to weight loss in theory, it must be good.
    At least you are going to these events with a date, Plumcake. Because when you are single and go dancing or do anything remotely physical or that could appeal to men (like buying season tickets to for the local team), clearly it’s all because you are trying to [drumroll]…. SNAG a MAN.

    Soooo, do the large and lone ladies get both types of annoying comments?

  16. Ana October 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    Size US 8 here. I walk everywhere. People know I walk everywhere, and comment all the bloody time about how great all that exercise must be for keeping my weight down. I can’t imagine I get it anything like as bad as fat folks do, but it’s as if any kind of physical activity regularly engaged in can ONLY be for the purposes of weight loss, and not, oh, let’s say pleasure, general health, or, in my case TRANSPORT. It just doesn’t seem to compute.

  17. Miss Plumcake October 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    @SusanC: Ugh. I remember dancing when I was single and yes, I got those comments too.

  18. Genevieve October 8, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    All the time, as a straight size. More gallingly–my amazing, bad a** friend Kate joined the roller derby when we moved to Norfolk from Philly (we’re stationed together, Navy types). And what did people say to the fittest woman I know when she invited us to her first game? “Oh, wow! That must be so much fun–ans great exercise, you’ll losr so much weight!”

    Kate was, pre-derby, all muscle and internal organs. Same post derby. Sheesh.

  19. Jelly October 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Wow, now that you mention this, I have to wonder if I have erred in this fashion. I mean, I run because I like to, because I’ve stopped having occasional chest pains, and I like to be fit, but would I introduce it as a sure-fire way to lose weight (which it isn’t) to someone I hardly know?
    I’ll have to keep an ear out for this now.

  20. Julie October 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Fatty here. My crazy spaniel and I either go for a run or a hike twice a day. I enjoy getting out there and moving… But I also live in a tiny house and my high-energy dog actually bounces off the wall when he doesn’t get enough exercise. I’m been doing this for 5 years, rain or shine and my neighbors will still ask me if I’m trying to lose weight.

  21. maryann October 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    I ride my bike a lot; it’s my main source of transportation. I haven’t had too much in the way of “Oh, what a great way to lose weight” type comments. What I do get a lot of are comments like, “Oh, you make me feel so guilty. I should be doing that” followed by some deprecating comment about their own weight, regardless of their size. For what it’s worth, I’m a 12-14 generally.

  22. Lisa October 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    Finally, the point is made “to dance is to dance!” Will remember that line the next time I’m told my belly dancing will help me lose weight And catch a man.

    Loved the description of your night out. I can almost hear the music.

  23. Wendy October 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    I don’t think it’s a fat thing, I think it’s a women thing. It’s like some people think we’re not allowed to do a thing purely because it’s fun and we enjoy it; there has to be some kind of health benefit, too. I have met people I would swear are just waiting to hear that a clinical study has finally proven that laughing lowers your cholesterol.

  24. starlady October 9, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    I’m a smallish straight size and I don’t want to lose weight, and I run. Most non-runners cannot even imagine that there could possibly be any benefit or enjoyment in running besides weight control. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “But why are you running? You’re already thin!” I could buy several new pairs of shoes.

  25. Leah October 9, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Straight-y, varies size 8-14. I hear this at times- I started playing hockey 4 years ago, and started trail running 3 years ago. I totally get the comments about keeping weight down, especially with running.

    I think it says more about the commenter and THEIR state of mind then about the person engaging in the physical activity. It’s like someone who’s never tried good sushi… until you do it can be hard to fathom how it can be enjoyable.

  26. aa October 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I am more or less thin, though I used to be a bit chubby as a teenager. I don’t do any exercise other than walking, but never in my life have I ever heard anyone here (I live in Spain) praise someone else’s exercising for its weight-shifting properties. I think it would be regarded as extremely rude, as you would be implying that the person in question needs to lose weight (and that is REALLY RUDE).

    That said, I have heard people say self-deprecatingly that they exercise to keep their weight down. Which I have often been told by doctors and nutritionists is a wrong assumption – you exercise for pleasure and for the health benefits, but exercise by itself is not particularly conducive to weight loss.

  27. tovah October 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Yes, there are health benefits to dancing eight hours a week. For example, when I’m dancing I’m not out killing people who say stupid stuff, so that’s not bad.

    LOL.

  28. Lisa in SoCal October 9, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I think it’s an American thing, a woman thing, and a fat thing. Americans are so outcome-focussed that they can’t image that the process matters at all, like golly, it’s just fun to dance. No, doing an activity MUST LEAD TO SOMETHING. Americans and American *women* and their bodies. Crimony. Yes, European women are interested in the their bodies, but their bodies are just bodies–not some some gigantic statement about their morality or self-control. Plenty of old fat Europeans, particularly old guys, loll all over beach with their old man junk all over and *nobody cares*. NOBODY CARES. Nobody is asking them if they swim in the ocean to lose weight. NO. Everybody gets that it’s fun to splash in the way and then dry in the sun and let your junk breathe. I swear despite all the conversation about freedom in the US, I feel FAR freer in Portugal because not everything is THING.

  29. the misfit October 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Have spent my adult life between a size 4 and a size 10. I’m pretty sure I only hear the “and it causes weight loss” comments when someone can make it grammatically refer to himself or herself – i.e., “Oh, I should be running, too! I need to lose a few!” rather than, “Good for you for running! You’ll lose some weight!” (Presumably because this would be seen as rudely implying that I need to lose weight.) I can only imagine that people would be MORE sensitive on this point if I weighed more – I NEVER hear these same people make unsolicited weight-loss-related comments to mutual friends who are plus-sized. Of course, generally positive comments on physical activity (“That’s so good for you!” “I bet that’s great exercise!”) are commonplace. And then there’s my other favorite – my coworkers (I am much younger than average for my office, and this may be part of the reason) who maintain that I do NOT need to exercise because I do NOT need to lose weight. I haven’t had that “you should really gain some weight” look since graduation, so I find this bewildering. As my coworkers know, I have an extremely sedentary job, and a very healthy appetite. It seems strange that they assume that there is anyone for whom exercise would be either redundant or harmful. While I am well aware that a major contributor to the average adult’s body mass is genetic, I can tell you that as far as MY genes are concerned, if I want my weight to stay stable (rather than wandering all over the place throughout the year, restricting my wardrobe options and making me cranky), I can either cut out most of the food I like, or get regular exercise. I have heard that that exercise thing is good for my cardiovascular system and muscle tone too, so when I am not over-busy, I choose to eat more and exercise more.

  30. Erin October 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    I’m chubby (14-16, 5’3″) and quite fit, and I work out daily, dance, practice yoga, and walk everywhere. I can’t recall that anyone has ever mentioned that my activities are a good way to lose weight or assumed I do them to lose weight. (There have been a couple doctors who implied that I’m lying about my activity level, to which I replied “Imagine how fat I’d be if I didn’t go to the gym!” and they dropped it.)

    I actually have noticed that the thin women I know are more likely to engage in fitness activities solely for the purpose of losing or maintaining weight. I often hear things like “Oh I have to go for a run after work because I ate two brownies today!” or “I can’t have a beer because I didn’t work out for the last two days!” OTOH, I don’t draw a correlation between my eating habits and my exercise habits. I exercise because it’s the healthy thing to do, and I eat mostly healthy food because it’s the healthy thing to do, and I eat brownies whenever I want a brownie. The end.

  31. Karin October 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Can we please, PLEASE stop treating Europeans as a monolith? It’s possible that in some European countries exercise is not commented and people have a live and let live attitude towards bodies, but my experience in Germany is the same as Ms. Plumcake’s with her friends in the States: If you casually mention that you are getting more exercise (e.g. I walked to work every day because I just like to walk) SOMEBODY will say something along the lines of weight loss.

    Thank God I’ve never had somebody give me a condescending “Good for you!” while I was at the gym (a remark like that from a stranger would be very untypical for a German), but fat shaming and body snarking is still very prevailant here. And more than once I’ve heard a friend saying something along the lines of “I don’t know why [person] runs/swims/exercises so much, zie’s thin enough!”. When I comment that the person MAY be doing [exercise] for fun/whatever, I’m greeted with a WTF face or get a comment like “I’ve never thought of it that way before”.

  32. wildflower October 10, 2012 at 1:34 am #

    It’s a cultural thing. White Americans say as a generic compliment, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” While Chinese folks say, “You look great! Have you gained weight?” When I have patently done neither of these things.

  33. Lisa in SoCal October 10, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    Oh, please, yes, Europeans are all very special and different, and they aren’t monolithic, ever ever ever. For example, every German is obsessed with their weight…oh wait that would be a monolithic generalization, too, now wouldn’t it. Can we PLEASE stop being ALL EMPHATIC over stuff that probably isn’t worth drawing blood over?

  34. Lisa in SoCal October 10, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    And I remember listening to some older British comedians riffing on why they hated Americans and Germans for all the same reasons. At the time I was uncomfortable with the generalizations but it was funny and parts definitely rang true. I’d prefer not to get jumped all over for trying contribute, even if you don’t like the sloppy way I’ve said something. You can argue and tell me I’m wrong without YELLING.

  35. Miss Plumcake October 10, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    @Lisa in SoCal No one was yelling anywhere. Karin used three words in all caps, that’s hardly yelling, especially considering your original post used three times as many. We’re all friends here. Deep breaths all around please.

  36. Arabella Flynn October 12, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    No. People are universally demented. My dress size depends on whether I’m trying to fit my hips or my waist, but I’m down in the single-digit straight sizes in most department store brands. This is my modeling page here, so judge for yourself. If it makes you feel any better, the people I can be sure I won’t get this from are the other models — we are all a billion times more concerned with whether we’ve smudged our smoky eye or knocked our gigantic funny hat askew or gotten a zipper stuck to care about how many calories our coworkers are or are not burning. I — and everyone else — occasionally get comments like it from random techies and hangers-on, who assume that all women, particularly those in the entertainment industry, are obsessed with being thin. The other models I know also don’t think that “Have you lost weight?” is the ultimate compliment, and are way more likely to tell me that my dress/shoes/coat/whatever is awesome and they want one.

  37. Petal October 12, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I work in an office filled entirely with tiny people. At first, they never mentioned diet, exercise, or anything of the kind (out of kindness to me, maybe?). After a year, they’ve wandered back to what I assume was their conversation before I got there.

    The conversation never includes me, but also never, ever, stops being about diet, exercise, or self-hatred. I think negative self talk and obsession with diets and movement as exercise are ingrained in our culture’s collective psyche at the moment.

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