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Time Magazine Stigmatizes Exercise As White Supremacist

fit black woman exercising by doing a plank
Image CreditAntoni Shkraba/Pexels

Magazines and other major publications used to welcome the new year with challenges for readers to commit to be fit. Not in 2023.


Magazines and other major publications used to welcome the new year with challenges for readers to commit to be fit. Now they’re trying to redefine fitness altogether, claiming that conventional health and beauty standards are outdated fixtures of white supremacy.

Last week, days before an overweight nation rang in the new year, Time Magazine published a transcribed interview on “The White Supremacist Origins of Exercise.”

“How did U.S. exercise trends go from reinforcing white supremacy to celebrating Richard Simmons?” Time wrote. “That evolution is explored in a new book by a historian of exercise, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, author of the book Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession, out Jan. 2023.”

The ensuing interview characterized health and wellness as an instrument of white nationalism. According to Petrzela, early fitness enthusiasts of the 20th century promoted exercise for the sake of growing the white race.

They said we should get rid of corsets, corsets are an assault on women’s form, and that women should be lifting weights and gaining strength. At first, you feel like this is so progressive.

Then you keep reading, and they’re saying white women should start building up their strength because we need more white babies. They’re writing during an incredible amount of immigration, soon after enslaved people have been emancipated. This is totally part of a white supremacy project. So that was a real ‘holy crap’ moment as a historian, where deep archival research really reveals the contradictions of this moment.

Petrzela went on to give credence to the pro-fat movement by admonishing common-sense assumptions about overweight people in fitness spaces.

“Today, you see quite a few fat people in the fitness industry, who are operating from a better perspective, which is that your body size does not necessarily dictate your fitness level,” Petrzela said. “We should not presume that because you are fat, that you are not fit or that you want to lose weight.”

Except such assumptions exist for good reason. What pro-fat influencers miss in their efforts to redefine what it means to be “fit” is that while obese people may live just as long as those without excess weight — though obesity and the comorbidities that often accompany it can affect longevity — they may not live as well.

Obesity carries with it a higher risk of high blood pressure, cancers, diabetes, strokes, coronary heart disease, breathing problems, high cholesterol, and mental illness, just to name a few — not to mention the present burden of extra weight putting stress on joints and other parts of the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 67 percent of the adult U.S. population is considered, at minimum, overweight. In other words, a minority of American adults are a healthy weight.

Time Magazine is not the first to characterize exercise as a product of political extremism. In 2021, FiveThirtyEight declared the right’s focus on obesity as an ill-faith fixation of “right-wing communities,” never mind that obesity predominantly threatens red states and rural areas.

It’s worth asking whether the script should be flipped: After all, couldn’t promoting the pro-fat movement, and therefore all the aforementioned associated risks, be considered its own kind of racism? According to the CDC, nearly half of all non-Hispanic black adults are obese.

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