I am pleased as punch to bring you an interview with Hanne Blank, author of the brand new book The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts. Hanne is an author, activist, sex educator, feminist, and fat girl extraordinaire. Read on to learn more!
So, about exercise – why is it an “incendiary act”?
We live in a culture that wants women to do things with their bodies for very specific reasons that are about the culture’s priorities, not necessarily a woman’s own priorities. Any time a woman chooses to do things with her body that reflect her own personal interests and priorities, it’s a declaration of independence.
Our culture teaches us that women should exercise so that their bodies will look a certain way, and so that they will be ‘responsible’ and avoid various kinds of bodily problems or issues that we (incorrectly) believe can be reliably avoided if a person exercises in the right ways.
When women instead choose to move their bodies for their own reasons — especially for the sake of pleasure and feeling good in their skin and improving their quality of life — that’s radical.
You have said that it’s a “fat woman’s birthright to move and enjoy her body” and that “movement gives your body back to you.” Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean?
Living in our bodies means using them and experiencing them and experiencing the world through our whole bodies. Moving around in the world and experiencing the world as we move through it is part of being human. When we don’t move through the world, or when we don’t really live in and experience our whole bodies, we are missing out on some of what it is to be human and to be alive.
Moving your body, moving *in* your body, really existing in your entire physical being as it does all the things that your body is capable of doing is a part of the experience of being human. I think we all deserve a chance to be as fully human as possible, and have as fully human an experience of life as we can manage.
Tell us about your background in movement, how you got started with exercise, and how you turned it into something that’s a positive force instead of a punitive one.
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with movement for most of my adult life. I’ve always liked how it felt to move in ways that worked well for my body, but have run into various kinds of trouble sustaining a body practice that worked for me, for a bunch of reasons ranging from being bored, to having problems with fat-related harassment, to feeling like I wasn’t “succeeding” at exercise if I stayed fat, and so on and so forth.
Finally, spurred by the urge to improve a particular aspect of my health for which regular exercise has a very good track record of improving, I got to a place where I figured out that I was entitled to actually just do what worked for me. When the focus of my body practice shifted to making my body happier and more functional — instead of trying to make it look different, or weigh different, or be more pleasing to other people, or something like that — it dawned on me that really, that was all I had to care about. I could move my body just because it made my body happier and more functional. I could move my body just because I liked that and I liked how it felt. So that’s what I do.
Funniest or most embarrassing exercise related story?
I’ve had my tankini bottom fall off when I was doing a kick flip turn in the pool, swimming laps. That was a little more exciting than I had been expecting. Fortunately the pool wasn’t crowded. I just pretended everything was fine and swam back as quickly as possible to where my shorts were drifting around in the deep end, and managed to get them back on. I mean, what else was I going to do? Then as soon as I got home I went and bought a new swimsuit where the elastic wasn’t completely shot!
Some will say about people who choose Health At Every Size rather than consciously trying to lose weight, “They’ve given up.” Can you explain why giving up weight loss as a goal is different than “giving up on yourself” or “letting yourself go”?
I think that feeling good in your body is frankly a more difficult goal than just making your body smaller. It’s actually much easier to lose weight than it is to genuinely feel good in your body. There are thousands and thousands of women who lose weight just like they’re supposed to, and yet still feel awful and uncomfortable in their bodies, and awful about themselves. Frankly I think feeling resilient, strong, robust, powerful, and good in your own skin is by far the more challenging goal, and if you feel good in your body, if you feel robust and powerful, that will make you a more effective person in the world. I don’t see that as “giving up on yourself” at all.
Tell us a little about your work and activism – besides your book coming out – what else you are up to? Where can people connect with you?
I’m the author or editor of 10 books to date, on a variety of topics at the intersection of bodies, sex, and culture, including Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size and Those Who Love Them and the histories Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality and Virgin: The Untouched History. I can be found online at www.hanneblank.com, with a blog at www.hanneblank.com/blog, and on Facebook (Hanne Blank) and Twitter (hanneblank).
A huge thanks to Hanne for taking the time to share with us!
Want to get inspired to move your body?
Hanne is spending 100 days cultivating a new body practice – whether that’s movement, mindfulness, self-care, or something more specific like, “I will learn to swim.” Join the challenge here, or see what others are committing to (and steal some ideas) here.
I’ll be committing to move my body every day for at least 30 minutes, whether that’s walking, swimming, dancing, lifting weights, or practicing yoga. What body practice will you commit to for the next 100 days? Share it in the comments!