Is this the best body image message ever?

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

What type of connection do you have?

Video settings form
  1. Note: A cookie will be set to keep your preferences.

Video settings

Your video format settings have been saved.

Portly Russian's no Big Loser

..but he is a good mover who became a viral hit on YouTube. So does he do more for fitness than reality TV shows?

PT0M0S 620 349

In our thin-obsessed culture, the best that an overweight person can expect from society is pity and an invitation to join The Biggest Loser.

The worst they can expect is abuse, discrimination and an invitation to join The Biggest Loser.

But in a rare moment of sanity and humanity, a portly man joyfully dancing in nothing but his Speedos has put a small dent in the stereotypes about fat people.

The video shows a middle-aged man jiggling his belly at a pool-side step class. And the guy can move. He's also clearly enjoying himself.


Rather than the typical spite-filled comments – you know, those ones about "beached whales", "tubs of lard" and "porkers" – commenters accentuated the positive.

"Good for him!" wrote one commenter. "The second I start putting on weight, I become a virtual recluse. I wish I had his confidence." Another chimed in with: "Obese man more comfortable dancing in Speedos than you have ever been in your life."

He probably didn't realise when he joined the class that morning that he would be doing more than just having a good time and elevating his heart rate.

In the five-minute YouTube clip, he managed to challenge the widely held view that exercise for fat people isn't about fun or a joy for life, but punishment for "letting themselves go".

I'd go so far as to say that this man's five-minute performance has done more to promote exercise than the previous 68 squillion seasons of The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition combined.

Where these shows present exercise as something that needs to be hard and unpleasant, accompanied by screaming trainers and ritual humiliation – followed by the utterly predictable emotional breakdowns and awkward heart-to-heart sessions with trainers who have the emotional range of a carrot stick – this bloke makes exercise look appealing.

And guess what? Research shows that if you want to get fit, then Dancing Speedos Man on YouTube is a better message than reality TV and many of the official public health campaigns against obesity.

A study that appeared in the January 2013 edition of the American Journal of Health Behaviour found that watching contestants on The Biggest Loser being screamed at and pushed to the limit is demotivating and promotes negative attitudes towards exercise – no matter what shape the viewers were in and how much they exercised.

While this might be a small short-term study, it should give pause to public health organisations – and TV networks – which use shame and shock tactics in order to tackle obesity.

The man in Speedos, with his high leg kicks and funky rhythm is also proof positive that not all overweight people are unfit and lazy.

Despite numerous credible academic studies showing that the size of a person's body is not necessarily an indication of their health – fat people who exercise and eat well can be just as healthy as the rest of the population, and more healthy than skinny people who don't exercise – many people refuse to listen. Instead we persist on a crusade of fat shaming people "for their own good".

An analysis of anti-obesity public health campaigns the world over by Neil Seeman and Patrick Luciani in XXL: Obesity and the Limits of Shame shows that, '[f]ar from helping, it has led to a rise in depression, anxiety, and self-loathing".

Imagine how better the world could be if governments and its citizens didn't feel it was their duty to shame and hate fat people. Imagine if we treated all people with the decency and encouragement that Dancing Speedo Man has received.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of four books, 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child.