A Little Dose of Tough Love

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Note from Tony: Today is a guest blog by one of my distance coaching clients, Laura. To be quite honest, I think this entire post hits the nail on the head with regards to women and their expectations when it comes to training and nutrition. You might need to put on your ear-muffs occasionally (Laura has the mouth of a sailor), but she’s keeping it real, which is why I love it so much. Enjoy!

Last month, Tony’s blog applauded a Nike ad that featured a fantastically trim and muscular model, with copy that ends, “My butt is big and that’s just fine and those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it.” Hell yeah. The ad celebrated the beauty of glutes shaped by “ten thousand lunges,” encouraging women to get out there and, of course, just do it.

I was struck that some of the comments to this blog were critical of Nike for choosing a model who was “traditionally thin” and “skinnier than 80% of the US female population.” At the time, I commented that I thought those posters were missing the point, but this guest blog isn’t about that. It’s about anger. Righteous fucking anger, but in my opinion, seriously misplaced anger.

There was a real level of bitterness in the posts critical of that ad: anger at Nike for picking a “thin” model, anger at corporate America for creating unrealistic body expectations, and anger at a culture where women don’t love and accept their bodies enough. Who are these angry ladies, anyway? Are they writing their blog comments while eating Cheez Doodles and watching Oprah and Dr. Phil, never breaking a sweat except while walking through the all-you-can-eat buffet line? I don’t think so. That’s an easy caricature but it doesn’t hold up, and it lets us avoid asking whether there really IS a problem here.

I know a fair amount of overweight women who never exercise and who eat too much of the wrong things, and generally speaking, they aren’t the ones with chips on their shoulders about female body image. In my experience, these women tend to be pretty realistic about where the blame lies for their size and shape. They know that they are eating too much and moving too little.

When it comes to body image, the really pissed off women are the ones who ARE actually trying. Truly. But they have bought the boatloads of bullshit on diet and nutrition that leads to empty wallets, snail-speed metabolisms, and fat in the can: Lean Cuisine. Sketchers Fat Burning Shoes. Low Fat/High Carb. 30 mins/3-days a week walking. Wii fit. Yoga for fat loss. Elliptical machines. Fat Burning Zone. Bosu stability training. Ab/Adductor machines. And on and on and on.

Click over to Prevention Magazine, considered to be virtually a visit to the doctor’s office, and read all about the Flat Belly Diet. This diet promises no crunches! No exercise! The featured recipes on the home page of this diet are “irresistible walnut brownies,” “chocolate cake with maple frosting,” “chocolate cranberry quesadilla,” and “chocolate zucchini snack cake.” The cover of the associated cookbook (order now!) features a picture of three luscious cupcakes. Flat belly, here I come!

And let’s take a look at some exercise advice. We can visit the local gym and work our guns. Check out the bitchin’ bicep curls this gym (which actually has a great free weights department) advertises on its home page. My wallet weighs more than that dumbbell. And Lifetime Fitness will help you get to 18% bodyfat in 6 weeks by making sure you keep your exercise in the fat-burning, non-anerobic zone.

Sometimes you can find everything you’re looking for in one place. Check out the July cover from Women’s Day Magazine, which is a twofer of diet and nutrition advice.

Celebrate summer with watermelon. Not real, sweet, low-calorie, in-season watermelon, silly! A CAKE watermelon!! But don’t worry about getting fat! Just follow our advice to “Walk Off Weight Plus: Get Your Diet On Track!”

Or you can go to the opposite extreme, and try to function on a diet of 300-calorie frozen meals from the likes of Lean Cuisine. This glazed chicken might have high fructose corn syrup as its second-listed ingredient, but at least it will help you get “lean,” right?

It’s really hard not to be bitter when you eat only 1000 calories of foodlike products per day and you spend hour upon hour in the gym doing elliptical workouts and Inner Thigh Fat Blaster classes, sending hundreds of dollars a month to some 22 year-old meathead who spends your workout hour talking about his dating life while counting your reps of 5lb dumbbell bicep curls, and DESPITE ALL THIS, you still have to shop in the Women’s Department.

You’re doing everything right! And if you’re doing everything right, then this must just be the way you’re supposed to look. You’re working hard and you’re still curvy (which, you admit to yourself as you invest in more Spanx, is a euphemism for lumpy).

So obviously, Curvy-Plus-Sized needs to be accepted as the norm, as healthy. And anyone who doesn’t get that, any company that continues to use “skinny” fitness models must be out to push women into unrealistic, objectified boxes. Screw Nike! And screw those men on Madison Avenue, most of whom are probably fat themselves, who just don’t get how impossible it is to meet their Photoshop-created standards. There’s a lot of anger out there.

And you know what? I think that anger is righteous. And in fact, I think there are grounds for more of it. I’m pretty pissed off myself.

But not at Nike. Our outrage is just, but it’s aimed in the wrong direction. Why aren’t we mad at Stouffer’s for suggesting Lean Cuisine is a realistic way to become lean? Why aren’t we furious at the magazine publishers who cynically offer month after month of layouts suggesting you can get that beach body by eating cake and walking at the mall three times a week? Why aren’t we ENRAGED at the fitness gurus who recommend cardio, cardio and more cardio while discouraging lifting heavy weights? Who perpetuate the myth of women “bulking up”? Who recommend using soup cans as an alternative to dumbbells? (And, as an aside, who never train that way themselves). These people know that if they were honest, they would lose their market, and that’s just bullshit.

All of which isn’t to say that women are just dupes who aren’t responsible for figuring out why they are stuck in size 16 mom jeans. Come on, the math isn’t that hard. Nobody who passed high school math could honestly believe that 30 minutes of walking 3 times a week and 3 sets of 10 whatevers at a weight lighter than a half gallon of milk could “sculpt” that “red carpet body.” The truth is out there for those who want to do a little legwork to find it and, more importantly, who are willing to be pretty uncomfortable while exercising. (Hint: if you can recite last night’s episode of Real Housewives of NJ to your workout partner, scene by scene without taking a break, you’re not working out hard enough.) Not everybody is up for that. Fine. But again, not Nike’s fault.

But call me naive — I think far more women don’t even know that they’re in the dark than have knowingly rejected what is proven to work.

And that makes me really fucking angry

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