Is this the best body image message ever?

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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?

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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. www.kaseyedwards.com

64 comments

  • What a sexy man...and what makes him so? His comfort in his own image, his obvious humor, his absolute joy in movement, his cheekiness, his confidence... I'd rather spend 10 minutes with this gorgeous dancing man than an hour with some of these so called hunks, slimmer but with less personality and character! Give me a man who shows joy in life, and can make me laugh, any day.

    Commenter
    Lilacfrog
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    March 13, 2013, 7:22AM
    • Liliacfrog, I absolutely agree with you - a sexy man. How much FUN does he look like he's having? I would rather have a man full of joy and getting into life with gusto than a thin bloke who runs with a look of pain on his face and refuses to eat interesting and slightly sinful foods because they are 'bad'!
      And maybe the fun and joy would also be extended into other physical areas...Wow!

      Commenter
      Lisa
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      March 13, 2013, 2:51PM
  • That clip made my morning! Thanks :)

    Commenter
    grooviechickie
    Date and time
    March 13, 2013, 7:46AM
    • Woohoo! I'm fat but I am fitter than a lot of my friends. This was most telling when the lift was out of order at work and we had to walk up five flights of stairs to get to our floor. Whereas I arrived feeling fine, a lot of my colleagues were puffing. I don't have the best diet but every morning you will find me at the gym or cycling to work. Fat people can be fit!
      Fatism comes from people's fear about looking good, stereotypes about the "jolly fat person" who's actually depressed and unhappy, and the medical establishment crying about the perils of obesity. But I live a great life and at my last check up, all was good.

      Commenter
      MJ
      Location
      New Zealand
      Date and time
      March 13, 2013, 8:05AM
      • Good on this bloke. Screw what other people think and if it looks like something you want to do then do it! I understand the message of this blog post but its really not a big deal that a guy wants to get up and dance, so what if he appears overweight.

        Commenter
        Sunil
        Location
        New York
        Date and time
        March 13, 2013, 8:44AM
        • I grew up with a father who's body size and weight has deemed him "morbidly obese". Having said that he has blood tests regularly that show his cholesterol, liver function, kidney function and blood sugar are similar that of a "fit" 20 year old's.

          When I was a kid he lost a LOT of weight. He "maintained" the weight for a few years. Then he put it back on again. He was never happy thin. It didn't "fit" him. If you met him you would be charmed off your feet with his humour and his (cheeky) wit. He's a great guy and an amazing father. I measure my fatherhood against him and regularly say I'd be happy if I was half the father he was, and is, to me. No pun intended.

          There's nothing "morbid" about my dad's obesity other than people calling it that.

          Commenter
          adamant
          Date and time
          March 13, 2013, 9:15AM
          • Yes, yes, we get it. Being unable to see your feet is the new "healthy".

            Commenter
            Tim the Toolman
            Date and time
            March 13, 2013, 9:32AM
            • No, Tim. Accepting yourself is the new healthy. Respecting others is the new healthy. Give it a go.

              Commenter
              Salvador Dalek
              Date and time
              March 13, 2013, 10:08AM
            • @Salvador - So accepting yourself as being fat and unhealthy is the new healthy? No matter how much you may like to think that being overweight is healthy and it doesn't have both short and long term health implications, the reality is that it does and there are plenty of scientific studies to prove that.

              Commenter
              Hurrow
              Date and time
              March 13, 2013, 10:49AM
            • "Accepting yourself is the new healthy. Respecting others is the new healthy. "

              Oh, I get it. Can we call Macquarie, please? We need to ask them to redefine another word.

              Commenter
              Tim the Toolman
              Date and time
              March 13, 2013, 11:16AM

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