Fitness and Weight in the Media

This week, someone had posed a question:

“What is the #1 issue you’re most passionate about?”

Gah. I’m one of those people who wants to be super educated about a topic before I start spouting things about it or asserting a strong opinion. So while I have issues I’m concerned about, there’s nothing that I stand on the rooftop and shout about on a super regular basis.

Then, a few things happened.

First, I saw this headline:

horrible headline

Why the heck does anyone need a headline that says they look slim? Why can’t you say she looked beautiful and radiant? Do you have to add “slim” in there to get clicks? It really made me sick and so frustrated that this is such a prevalent part of mass media.

Then later in the day, I learned I was listed in a post on Shape Magazine’s website written by the amazing Brandi of “Weight Loss Bloggers We Love.” I had the complete opposite reaction than that from the “slim” news article headline: I was so excited that someone in the mainstream media in such a fitness-oriented publication would actually list bloggers that weren’t all at their goals or who haven’t lost weight in a completely linear fashion. Before/afters be damned. 

It’s exactly what we need – stories of people seeking fitness who aren’t at their goal weights and that show real struggles in the search for health. (Notice I say “health” and not “skinny” or “slim”)

I’m also in the April issue of Health Magazine sharing a couple of my favorite fit tips in “Bloggers’ Best Feel-Great Moves.”

Health Magazine, April 2014

Again, another instance of a mainstream media fitness publication being inclusive of the atypical success stories. My Ladies’ Home Journal piece from Dec/Jan 2014 blew my mind because again, it wasn’t the neat before/after story that we’re accustomed to seeing in every major news outlet.

Now, all of these media outlets mentioned still have a lot of the same before/after, thin-is-successful sorts of stories. But I see this as HUGE progress.

I was feeling pretty good yesterday with all of these happy things, and I came across something in my closet that made me post this on Facebook:

When I was heading into my freshman year of college, I was a counselor at fat camp where I was a camper the previous few summers. I was teaching 3 classes per day, and felt like a huge, unhealthy blob.


This is one of my schedules for a week. Monday-Friday:

  • Pre-breakfast: Do a 1 mile walk/jog
  • 9-10am: Teach cardio kickboxing
  • 10:30-11:30am: Teach step aerobics
  • 2-3pm: Teach tennis

All while eating a 1,200 calorie diet (though some days I went up to the boys’ diet allowance of 1,600 calories.) The lowest my weight got this summer was 240 lbs. That’s the ONLY thing that mattered to me. I never even considered how amazing it was that I could teach these classes with vigor and enjoy it so damn much. I thought I was unhealthy and flawed. I didn’t look like everyone else who taught those classes. I was “supposed” to weigh 160-175. I was an impostor.

Looking back, I am so mad at myself that I wasn’t proud of that. That I saw myself as a failure instead of a healthy, active, vibrant 18 year old. So this little bit of recognition is me celebrating that I was awesome, and that I am still awesome, even at a much heavier weight.

At the gym this week, I did deadlifts with a 106lb kettlebell. I used to be able to do much more, but right now with my ankle and just getting back into regular workouts, I am choosing to be really happy with that. Just last week I could only use an 80lb kettlebell and it was done off a plate to limit my range. So when I get on the scale and see a number I don’t want to see, why do I completely erase the joy I felt? I immediately invalidate my work because as much as I want to shout from the rooftops that weight does not equal worth, something in my mind always brings me crashing back down.

So what is the #1 issue I’m passionate about?

Removing weight stigma and embracing and demonstrating that fitness and health is attainable at all sizes. Also trying to motivate people of all sizes and abilities to recognize and celebrate their accomplishments independent of anything else. This is something I certainly struggle with on a daily basis. Hopefully the more we discuss it, the more we can unlock the power and joy we already have instead of destroying ourselves trying to find it externally.

Will you celebrate with me? Please share something that you are proud of – it can be something from your past that you failed to recognize at the time, or something from present day. 

  • TenaciousP

    I’m celebrating having a happy day after a run of bad ones and my son noticing that I was giddy in a good way :)

    • Emily Sandford

      Both great things to celebrate!

  • MWL

    You are such a rock star and inspiration. Did you happen to see the interview Maria Menounos gave to LHJ? A brief re-cap from a news article:

    “She revealed she lost 40 pounds when she was a freshman in college, and it all started at age 13 when she worked at a doughnut shop.

    The Extra host explained to Ladies Home Journal, “Things got worse in college. I didn’t gain the Freshman 15 – I gained the Freshman 40…I grew to a size 14 and kept growing.”

    This caused her to be hospitalized multiple times, she explained. Being overweight and that unhealthy made her feel “sick and lethargic.”

    “I was in and out of the hospital multiple times for exhaustion, malnutrition and dehydration,” said Menounos, Fox News reports.”

    I don’t know about you guys but I’m calling bullshit and just wish she would talk about the truth. Assuming there is more to her need to be hospitalized many times. It just made me sad to read this without more context, keeping in mind I admire her for talking about her weight/weight loss journey. Many celebs never discuss the lengths they go to for weight control or weight loss that was forced on them early in their careers.

    Maybe I’m just a nut. Who knows.

    Keep up the great work and insightful commentary.

    • Wendy G

      I agree, that is total BS and VERY fat-stigmatizing. I’ve been overweight and obese since I was 14 and never had to be hospitalized for it! Not even close. Obviously there’s more to her story she isn’t sharing. Overweight certainly does not equal malnutrition! Unless one eats only donuts, as she may have been hinting…?

      Something to be proud of… Getting back on the regular-exercise horse, 9 weeks now and still going strong! No desire to quit!

  • Maria

    I am celebrating that I’ve become much stronger despite the scale not budging. I decided to stop focusing on the number and focus on how my body is changing in other positive ways.

  • Jody R. Goldenfield

    I am so happy for you!!!! You really show people it is OK to be who you are, that we all struggle!!!! :) I am proud of my accomplishments too – I will say though that I am always sad & struggle with the fact that I could never & even now get any magazine or show or site to take interest in posting what I have done for a 56 year old – even my beloved muscle & fitness mags – I have tried for years. I personally think small or large, you have to have a certain look, be somewhat pretty to the camera. I get it but I still get upset with all the Nos I have got & still do… even fit people get sad over things.. :)

  • Meg B

    When I was on my high school swim team, at a particular meet I won all four of my races. By the time the fourth one finished I was wiped. Someone took a picture of me celebrating and all I could see was my back fat and chunky thighs and the rush of winning was lost in the sadness at how I looked. Looking back, I wish I could have just celebrated my badassery without the stipulations. I

  • Erin Nies

    First, let me say how happy I am that I found your blog. You really are very inspiring & help me re-think the way I think about myself. It took me a VERY long time to even begin to accept myself for who I am, fat-rolls & all. I still have work to do, but reading your posts makes it a little easier each time because I can relate so much to things you write.

    I was never active until I reached my mid-30s. I remember when I was in college, I would turn down my friends’ invites to go to the gym because I was too embarrassed to have anyone see me work out. I was always scared of what the other people would think of me. I wish I could go back & tell myself that it didn’t matter what anyone thought, but the fact that I was there, working to get healthier was all that mattered. Now, when I go to the gym, even though I’m far from the thinnest person in the room, I know I am strong & that there are things that I can do at 200+ lbs that a lot of thinner people wouldn’t even dream of doing.

    The thing I’m most proud of happened from 2011-2012. Early in 2011, I’d been training for a 100 mile bike ride when 3 of my lower discs ruptured. I lost feeling below the knee in my left leg & had excruciating pain above the knee & lower back. I couldn’t walk unassisted. 3 days after my birthday in April, I had major spinal surgery to remove parts of my spine & the ruptured discs. I missed 7 weeks of work & for months I could only walk with the aid of a walker. As part of my recovery, I had the bright idea to train for a half Ironman triathlon. For 8-1/2 months I worked my ass off to not only walk again, but to swim, bike, & run again. On April 1, 2012, which was also my 41st birthday, I competed in the Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston, TX… 362 days after my surgery. I finished 2225th out of 2263 finishers, but dammit, I finished! And with 40 minutes to spare in the time limit, too! I was FAR from the best shape I’ve been in my life, but it is the finish I am most proud of & still get misty over when I think about it. :)

  • Nicole Morgan

    Weight stigma is so prevalent, and it makes me so sad. I’m just under 200 pounds, and I started exercising a few months ago. I like to jog and go for long walks, and I’ve recently started a strength-training program. But I hate how other people treat me, so I typically keep quiet. When I’m running on the roads, some people honk at me and yell. It’s never been anything mean, but I don’t think I’d get that attention if I was smaller. Even when people are “impressed” by my exercise, it always seems very demeaning…like, “What?!?! You walked five miles?? But you’re FAT!” When I mentioned once that I was a runner, a coworker even said, “Really? You don’t look like one.” And I hate that people think that just because I’m fat, they can beat me at physical things just because they’re skinny. I hope one day people realize you can’t judge a book by its cover.

  • Judy Diep

    This is amazing! I think I’m starting to discover my passion and you pretty much described it! I will be pursuing a doctorate in education, hoping to do research on weight stigma on college campuses and how that affects one’s identity development, involvement on campus, and self-perception of success. I know for a fact I was riddled with insecurity all through college, and my concern about my weight was like a black cloud that followed me around and never allowed me to truly celebrate my successes. And I think I wasn’t alone (though it felt like it). You, and a few other bloggers were my inspiration to pursue this degree and hopefully show the world weight stigma needs to be eradicated from the media!

  • Lex

    This is so exciting! I just received my copy of Health today (I’d forgotten I even subscribed), and I saw your quote in there. That is so cool! Congrats on being amazing!

  • Jeannie

    This really hits home with me. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done this. I’ll have a really great week at the gym, meet small goals and eat healthy along the way. But if I step on the scale and don’t see the number I’m looking for, everything else I’ve accomplished disappears, as well. I can go from feeling completely amazing to totally deflated in a matter of seconds. This blog was such an eye opener! Just because the scale doesn’t always reflect it, doesn’t mean I didn’t do the work. I’m going to make an effort to start being proud of myself for what I do, while I’m doing it! And not wait for that gosh darn scale to tell me when I’ve earned that right.

  • amelie

    The information is very right. Thank you.

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  • Suzie Kornblum

    Congrats on the great media exposure, Emmie, and I agree that it means we as a society are making that progress. Still a ways to go, of course! In college, we all lived on campus one summer and the thing to do was go to the river and hang out in innertubes…I never went because I didn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit, and now I wish I could tell my younger self to just go ahead because I missed making those fun memories that all my friends have. It makes me more willing to take a risk like that now, remembering those days.

  • Danielle Griffin

    Emmie this is so great! I just had this conversation with a fellow coach who recently had someone say to her “you need to eat more” :( She feels amazing, looks amazing and fit and that just broke her down. People totally forget that the only voice who matters is the one in your head. Our self confidence has been shot by this crazy media world. I love that you shared how awesome you were but didn’t realize it at the time. and Power to you for a 106lb kettlebell! I feel like a weakling cause I dont lift more than 20-30lbs. We are all so different from one another and this blog post said it all. I am so proud that I am willing to share with others my journey and help them to see the positive side of anything in their life. Positive support is rare these days so being open and honest about who people can really be is a huge accomplishment for myself. I look at what I used to call healthy and what I call healthy now. Times have changed and I just continue to educate myself and take one day at a time. Thank you Emmie! Always love when I can catch up with your posts.