Activity Living While Fat My Story

Cleaning House

Ordinarily, I have a houeskeeper. I have had a cleaning service since I was in graduate school, even though we were poor(ish) and couldn’t afford it. It was a priority among luxuries for me, because I like a clean home and I hate to clean. Not just hate it, but am bad at it. Even when I was young, fit, and energetic, my attempts to scrub a bathtub were pathetic. And this was at a time when I was lifting weights three times a week.

For the past few years, we have had a wonderful housekeeper who has taken over our lives–she cleans, does laundry, puts things away wherever she damned well pleases, sometimes brings her husband to change lightbulbs and do other “guy stuff” around our house. She is so deeply integrated into our lives that it is hard to live without her. We called her once in the middle of the night because the dog vomited in the bed and we couldn’t find clean sheets.

Living without her is exactly what we have been attempting to do for the past 7 or 8 weeks, with the quarantine. Let me tell you, I hate cleaning as much as I ever have. And worse, I am now not fit enough to manage it even if I can get up the will to try. This 43-year-old superfat body just doesn’t buy the idea that kneeling on a tile floor and leaning into a tub is viable. She barely wants to stand and push around a vacuum and she certainly doesn’t want to dust blinds.

Trying to clean makes me feel disabled in a way that very little else does. I have limited physical function and fitness, can’t walk very far without a break, can’t run or jump, and have trouble getting to and from the floor, but I don’t usually feel disabled, just limited. To me, disabled has always had a strong implication of unable, not less able.* And I rarely feel unable. But when I try to clean, I feel unable. I actually can’t clean a house, or even a room, in one go.

My husband has been expressing frustration with me for not participating fully in his attempts to keep the house in order without professional help. It’s clear that he thinks that I am shirking, or lazy. I am shirking. And I am unable to do more. I might be able to do a bit, and probably would, if I wasn’t under his watchful, judgmental eye as I tried to lift and pull and push and all. It’s an observer effect–with no one watching, I can try and have a 5% success be a success, but with him watching somehow it is definitely a 95% failure.

What I’ve learned over the past two months is I really, really need help with my house. This is a place of privilege, and I know it. I oscillate between guilt, shame, and resolution. I mean, should I really get to have this gorgeous old micro-mansion (it’s just a good size house, but it looks like a mansion on a small scale) if I can’t take care of it? On the other hand, if I can afford it, use the money to support people who need jobs, and use my time to do other useful things, is it really so bad? I wish I knew.

*I have begun to read a tiny bit about disability studies and I realize this is an ignorant, useless definition of disability but it’s what is in my head at this moment.

Activity body liberation Living While Fat My Story


Is “exercise” a diet culture word? Is it “diet culture” to want to work out to the point of feeling some soreness the next day, to push yourself and want to develop strength and tone? I am not sure. My nutritionist often gives me push back for using words like “workout” and “exercise” and my HAES trainer always seems a bit perturbed if I experience any soreness. But for me, working out is a source of joy. I really enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, of trying things I don’t know if my body can do. Of getting stronger.

The pain that comes from mildly tearing muscles while lifting heavy weights, that sense of not knowing if I can finish a certain set or even rep, the feeling of trying to truly push my strength limits–that works for me. I am very strong. I have always been very strong. I have slow-twitch muscles, so even at my fittest I could never keep up at any kind of aerobic exercise, but when I am working out regularly I can leg press hundreds and hundreds of pounds and do other very heavy weights on weight machines.

How do you separate that from the urge to over-exercise in order to burn calories, lose weight, make certain body parts (like your upper arms or belly) look how they are supposed to look? I genuinely don’t feel like my tendency to do heavy strength training is a diet culture holdover. My tendency to do 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, maybe. The strength training, no.

So what about the terminology? Is it ok to say that I am “exercising,” that I am “working out” my body? My husband often likens me to a prize racehorse, because I am in constant need of care and service. And what does one do with a prize race horse? One trains it. One works it out. One gets it ready to do its very damned best at the physical contest it lives for. Is it so wrong that I want to do the same?

This is a genuine question. I cannot decide if I should be worried about my perspective on this being twisted by diet culture, even though it doesn’t feel twisted in my head. With several professionals giving me pushback on working out and straining muscles and feeling “good pain,” I wonder if I am the one who is confused.