Segregate fat people: a good idea?

Does size matter? Should it?

It's hard to keep up with tall people, I can vouch for that.

Photo courtesy of foxtongue

Usually, when I see the word "segregation," I think the phrase "not a good thing." But is that always true?

The New York Times wrote an article on yoga classes designated specifically for larger-sized people. Apparently yoga instructors who teach regular yoga classes do not know how to teach yoga to larger people. (For example, some obese people can't manage all of the typical yoga positions, but they still want to do yoga.) The idea of segregating classes by size seems to be catching on.

I haven't encountered these sort of classes myself, so I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not. Belly dance classes have people of varying sizes and nobody seems to care. On the other hand, there is gender segregation at work in belly dance: they're very much female oriented, though there's no reason that a man couldn't do these exercises.

Does it help to segregate?

Back in ye olde darke ages, private schools, especially colleges, used to be for male or female students only. Some schools are bringing this trend back, claiming that female students tend not to speak up in classes that are mixed.

I saw this myself during a women's self-defense class. So long as they were only speaking to other women, all my classmates were able to act out scenarios where they had to practice breaking someone's hold on them, or knowing when to be firm and say "no!" During the last class, the teacher brought in some big intimidating men for us to practice with, and suddenly half the women in class were hanging back. They were shy.

Excuse me, could you introduce yourself before doing that?
Photo credit: KyleMac

Can you apply the same idea to exercise classes?

Would you feel less shy about working out if everyone around you were the same sex or size? Except for workouts designed for pregnant women, I can't think of a biological reason why workouts should be separated by gender. I can think of a lot of psychological reasons for gender or size segregation:

- Some women worry about looking "unfeminine" around men, i.e. getting all flushed and sweaty.

- A lot of men don't like to look weak and wimpy around women. Personally, every time I pass a male cyclist, he makes a point of passing me again, even if he practically has to burst a blood vessel to do it. (Hint: it's easier to pass someone going downhill rather than up. Wait a few minutes and you won't have to work so hard.)

- If everyone else were the same size (or gender), perhaps people would feel accepted and be willing to work out hard.

I know "in theory" it shouldn't matter what other people think of your exercising, but it does.

Example: at lunch time, I have a choice of two green areas where I can walk. One is a sports center with walking trails around the soccer fields and tennis courts. You'd think that would be a good place to walk or jog, even if you're a larger than usual size. But the only people exercising are all small children. The adults sit on the sidelines and stare at you as you walk by. Frankly, they don't look in very good shape themselves (the adults, I mean), but apparently it never occurs to them that grown ups need to move the body too.

The other choice for lunch-time walks is the headquarters of a company that sells sports equipment. Even larger-sized people can walk the trails around their campus without receiving a single smirk or stare. Everyone is on their lunch break exercising, so you're met with a polite nod or a smile from passers by. All the difference in the world from the sports center.

If classes and gyms are like the first example, then definitely segregate.

Another problem is pacing.
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If I'm next to a thin, lithe size 0 who's kicking my butt fitness-wise, I'd feel intimidated. If I'm next to someone who's my size and they're kicking my butt, then I think "hell, I can be that fit too!" It's a whole lot easier to keep up when you're thinking like that.

I'm starting to talk myself into thinking that voluntary segregation might be a good thing in this case. Anything that helps get people out there working out is a good thing. So long as it's voluntary.

Do you think this is a crazy idea, or will it actually help people?

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