Where Does Fatness Fit at Peloton?

Where Does Fatness Fit at Peloton?

Rachel Millner


I’m fat¹. Not “big boned” or “chubby” or “a little bigger than average.” I’m fat. Unquestionably fat. And I want to be a Peloton instructor. A fat one. And I don’t have any intention of losing weight or becoming less fat once I become a Peloton instructor. I want to be a fat Peloton instructor² who stays a fat Peloton instructor and rides the Peloton for enjoyment and because it gives me energy and because Peloton played a big role in healing my relationship with movement³ as I healed from years of eating disorders. 


I’m also a therapist. Which, thank goodness, because if I become a Peloton instructor, I know I will have a whole lot of weight stigma thrown at me. I will be shamed and bullied about my body. But I know the powerful part of healing my relationship with movement and fatness means people can no longer use my body size against me with any success. What was once the worst thing someone could call me is not something that can hurt me, because I use the word fat proudly and without apology.


There is a past version of me who was terrified to look like the current version of me. The past version of me thought that fat was the worst thing a person could be and did everything possible to avoid being fat. Including almost dying from an eating disorder. I grew up in an environment that idolized thinness. Dieting was encouraged. Weight gain was criticized. We were supposed to “finish our plate” but not gain weight and exercise to “burn off” any transgressions in our eating. We were discouraged from “sitting around all day” and reminded that “no one will love you” if you are fat. Not surprisingly I didn’t want to be fat.


I battled various eating disorders for my entire life, including spiraling into an emaciated body in my early 20’s. When you’re fat and develop an eating disorder that leads you into an emaciated body, you are congratulated. And I was congratulated and celebrated and held up as an example of “success.” Our culture believes that it is better to be dead than fat. I am so lucky to be able to prove the culture wrong. Because here I am and my life is better now than it was at my thinnest. It turns out that what’s better than being dead is body liberation. What’s better than being dead is taking up space. What’s better than being dead is having the opportunity to create Peloton classes in which higher weight bodies are centered. 


There is irony in the messages fat people get about movement. We are told to move our bodies and not to be lazy, and yet, when we engage in movement we are criticized and bullied for being fat. Often, we are assumed to be trying to become smaller and offered unwanted encouragement - weight stigma in disguise. For many higher weight people who want to move their bodies, our options are to go to the gym and risk experiencing harassment, go outside and risk being denigrated by passers-by, or relegate ourselves to our homes. I was someone who previously took the risk of going to a gym, but it was often toxic and I struggled to find movement that felt good and separate from my eating disorder.


But then 2020 happened and the world shut down and I bought a Peloton. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to like the Peloton. I was concerned about the low weight capacity, the small bike seat and I had never been someone who loved biking. I started riding anyway and noticed I was having fun. I loved the music and the themes of the classes and getting to experience different instructors. I ride the Peloton for all different reasons and not one of them has to do with burning calories or weight loss. As much as I love riding my Peloton, one thing that has always bothered me is the lack of size representation amongst the instructors. The instructors do a great job of not engaging in diet and weight loss talk in their classes, but there is a difference between instructors being cognizant of the harm of diet talk and classes led by fat instructors that center fat bodies. 


I know I am not alone in wanting classes led by fat instructors. There are over a billion higher weight people in the world and many of us want to move our bodies, but not in environments where our bodies are seen as a “before picture” and there is an assumption we are trying to lose weight. I am a member of various anti-diet, fat positive Peloton groups online and the topic of wanting a fat instructor comes up often. And there are many fat people I know who have shared that they have considered buying a Peloton, but figured it wasn’t for them because the weight capacity is too low, the seats are too small and none of the instructors look like them. I am eager to be the instructor that looks like them. 


I wish movement was less complicated for everyone, especially higher weight people, but movement as something joyful, energizing, and fun was stolen from us by the diet industry and has been weaponized against us. It has become about abusing and shaming our bodies into submission, instead of reclaiming our bodies as our own and, in relationship with our bodies, deciding if we want to do movement and what movement we want to do. I have been so privileged in having access to healing my relationship with food, movement, and my body. My body stopped belonging to me the day I was put on my first diet as a baby and reclaiming it has been some of the hardest work of my lifetime. 


As a young person in the depths of an eating disorder, I did not think I would ever become a therapist. I certainly did not think I would become an outspoken fat therapist and activist.  I could not have even begun to imagine being an outspoken fat therapist and activist, who is eager to put myself and my body in the public eye in order to become a fat Peloton instructor. I hope that someone from Peloton reads this and recognizes the opportunity they have to shift the conversation about movement and bodies and to be more inclusive as a company. I hope that they recognize the positive impact this would have on current, and future, higher weight Peloton riders.


So, where does fatness fit at Peloton? It fits when the space is made wider by representation. It fits on a bike that’s scaled for bigger bodies. It fits under truly size inclusive clothes. It fits in classes led by fat instructors. Fatness fits at Peloton when their mission of “empowering people to be the best version of themselves…” includes a deep understanding that the best version isn’t the smallest version and that a community cannot be “diverse and inclusive” without fat liberation. 


¹The word fat has been reclaimed by many in the fat acceptance movement as a neutral descriptor. Reclaiming the word fat in this way has been an important part of my healing.


²Ash Pryor is an amazing fat rowing instructor at Peloton. I am specifically talking about the Peloton bike in this article.


³I am intentionally using the word movement throughout this piece instead of exercise in order to differentiate between what society has told us we need to do and something we choose to do that feels good to us and isn’t related to cultural messaging about body size.

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