You'll Be Seeing More Body Types In Our Workout Stories—Here's Why
12 months ago, 27 Dec 17:30
Two years ago this month, I proclaimed we'd no longer be using the phrase "bikini body" in Women's Health. Since then, body diversity has dominated the national conversation. Plus-size models walk the runways of Michael Kors and Tracy Reese. Celebs who aren't size 2 grace fashion and wellness magazine covers. And on Instagram, there are over 4 million #BodyPositive posts. It's been a great thing, inclusivity, as a boon to our emotional health, but also as a realistic statement to society of who we are as American women. The fitness industry has been slower to adapt. Yes, Misty Copeland rocked the willowy ballet world with her spectacular muscles, and Jessamyn Stanley, a self-described "fat femme," became a yoga icon. But most mainstream workout videos and printed moves are populated by the stereotypical "fit" woman: slender, toned but not too cut, without a pinch of fat. Because... why? Can you not be a size 8, 12, 16 and be fit? Why has fitness remained the holdout in the body diversity movement? To answer the question, I first had to completely understand what, in technical terms, makes someone physiologically fit. I called on two experts, who explained the metabolic metrics. These include: resting heart rate and VO2 max, a measure of aerobic capacity, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen; blood markers, like blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and cholesterol; and body composition, the ratio of fat, bone, water, and muscle in your body. What's not on the list is just as telling. Weight. "I think the most important thing when considering fitness is to throw out weight or size," says exercise physiologist Linda Bacon, Ph.D., who has conducted journal-published studies on health and weight. You'll never believe these photos were taken 60 seconds apart: My other pro, exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Stacy Sims, Ph.D., puts it this way: "You can be thin yet have the body composition of someone who's obese. And you could be heavier on the scale but have a significant amount of lean mass, so your overall percentage of body fat would be healthy." In all the noise around obesity, weight and body fat have been conflated. And while high levels of the latter are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain cancers, both experts say the role of weight itself in health has been exaggerated. Eating well and being active are what's important, whether you drop pounds or not. (Genetics and gut bacteria—the kind that promote fat storage—can prevent some people from ever being thin, says Sims.) And many studies linking weight loss to health speak of correlation, not causation, says Bacon, who believes that scientists (and the rest of us) often interpret the data through our internalized fat biases. Where, then, did these assumptions linking a certain weight with a fit body come from? Toward the end of World War II, Sims explains, the U.S. government had to ration foods, which it did using calorie content per person. This focus on ...
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