Fat Parkour

by Sarah on August 9, 2014

Me: I’m not sure if it’s lack of strength or fear.
Coach: Welcome to parkour. It’s probably fear.

In case it is not evident from the title of this site,  I am fat.

I have been fat my entire life.

It wasn’t until two years ago that I stopped thinking of fat as a bad thing, a limitation, a disability, a challenge to be overcome, or a temporary condition (thanks in no small part to this book), and it was only in the last few months that I’ve started to become really interested in exploring the capabilities of fat bodies.

As a result, I’ve started taking parkour classes, and since this is becoming a bit of an obsession and will probably become something I write about frequently, I thought I’d start by detailing some of the reasons I’m doing it.

1.Lack of role models – Like I said when I went rock climbing, there just aren’t enough images of diverse bodies doing physical activities.

When you’ve only ever seen thin, muscular bodies doing certain activities, it becomes easy to assume that other kinds of bodies can’t do those things. One of my goals for this year is to be able to do a handstand, so I’ve been actively seeking out images of diverse bodies doing them. As you might imagine, there are not many. (Check out My Name is Jessamyn and Supportive Yoga for two of them… okay, well, like… the only two. But they’re awesome!)

So since I’m down with my body looking like it does and putting pictures of it wherever I can, I figure I’m probably a good candidate to help fix this problem. It doesn’t hurt that I am fairly flexible, decently strong, generally able, and have a big dance and martial arts background. This combination of things leads me to believe that eventually in the not-too-distant future, I will be able to do more cool shit and post pictures of it on the internet.

And hopefully this will inspire more folks and we will have more diverse images of bodies doing things and more people will stop believing society bullshit about their limitations and so on and so forth.

2. Bodies can do cool shit. Bodies of all sizes, shapes, and abilities can do cool shit. Not all bodies can do all the things, obviously, but mine can run and jump and climb and swing and balance, and that’s all pretty freakin’ awesome.

When I used to be in theatre, I used to love climbing and working at heights (one of the many reasons I was an electrician and not a sound designer) and I seriously miss it now that I sit at a desk all day.

So it feels good to be running, jumping, climbing and moving in ways my body was designed to move. My body likes it.

In fact, it might like it too much, based on the amount of effort I have to exert at work not to go practicing on the office equipment.

3. Everything they told me was wrong. Many of the things I’ve blindly accepted in life based on the “common wisdom” are just completely wrong. And each time I prove one wrong, it feels really good and super empowering.

So why should I trust them when they tell me that there are limitations on my body due to its size?

I’m doing parkour because I’m choosing to believe that anything is possible and that many of the things I’ve always believed were inaccessible to me are actually achievable with a bit of work.

And, as I like to say, there’s only one way to actually find out…

4. There is a difference between a physical and a mental limitation. So first of all, kudos to the coach who told me in class yesterday that “it’s probably fear.” And the truth is, he’s right.

The limitations in my head are likely stronger and more lasting than the limitations of my strength and flexibility, but until I test them, I’ll never know for sure. And using my body weight as an excuse not to try? Well, that’s just not how I want to live.

Happily, the parkour philosophy is very much about challenging these mental limitations and overcoming fears in ways that feel really awesome and empowering, and the community has done an exceedingly good job at making me feel like I belong, regardless of ability. (More on that soon.)

I think it’s a match.

[That all being said, let me restate that it is nobody’s job to prioritize health or physical activity in any way, and nobody has to try to overcome fear or push past their mental boundaries or learn to do handstands either. These are not my attempts to “be a good fatty” or to perform fitness activities in order to appear compliant with societal beliefs about how I should be actively attempting to change or manipulate my body in some way. I am doing parkour. I am also fat. I plan to continue doing parkour, and I fully expect to continue to be fat. Pushing limits and overcoming fear and just generally being an adrenaline junkie are just things I like to do and feel good about doing, and I have a healthy and able body that lets me do them. My choices are not intended as judgement on anyone else or as anything other than personal choices.]

So, here’s picture #1. It may look like I’m sweaty and tired and slightly annoyed (okay, those things are probably all true), but take into account the fact that I walked across the top of the rail that the guy in the background is folded over, then swung across the rail above the guy in the green shirt, landed on the one where I’m sitting and sat down… because yeah, my body can do that shit.

The conversation that is causing me to make that face at the coach was something like this: Me: Wait, let me stand up so I look like I'm doing something cool.  Coach: You're balancing on a rail.  Me: Oh, right.

The conversation that is causing me to make that face at the coach was something like this:
Me: Wait, let me stand up so I look like I’m doing something cool.
Coach: You’re balancing on a rail.
Me: Oh, right.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

mieke August 28, 2016 at 4:16 pm

Your story is basically mine! I just started Parkour the other week and I love it despite my 220lbs. I was googeling fat parkour and most of the stuff were “funny” videos. People making fun of fat people not able to do parkour and I was sooo disappointed, because I so wanted to find role models and I’m taking it very seriously!
So thank you for your inspiring post! <3

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Sarah November 9, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Oh hey!! I’m so glad you found me and glad to know there are more of us out there! Feel free to email me if you ever want to chat parkour!

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Robert August 27, 2015 at 8:17 am

I’m clinically obese, and when I go to my local hot studio, I tend to wear board shorts (I’m personally not a fan of shorter shorts while practicing) and a sports bra, as is well within that studio’s dress norms. Overall, it’s not been an issue. I’d say 80% of people don’t look twice (or even once). Occasionally, I do get people who stare or make faces or laugh, but you know what? That reaction is much more a reflection on them then anything to do with me.

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Aron November 8, 2014 at 10:14 am

Props to you. I’m a pretty hefty fellow, but I was able to learn and rock at breakdancing for over seven years. Best compliment I got was from a fellow bboy asking me to battle with him and his crew, then telling his crew mate that I was a “beast” on the dance floor. Peeps were always surprised at how well I moved. Alas, an injury is keeping me from continuing with what I love, but I do my best to inspire and encourage others who don’t have an ideal build to rock too. I’m glad there are others who are doing the same. Keep rockin’ and thanks for being a role model.

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Derrick November 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Good for you! I would just be careful. As someone who has practiced parkour from a very young age, I know more than most that it is about as hard on your joints as an activity can be. I don’t think it’s that you CAN’T do parkour whilst being overweight, you’ll just have to be extra careful since your joints are under additional stress. When I got big into weight lifting I had to stop doing parkour because the extra 40lbs of muscle I had were really killing my knees, and that’s muscle. While it will most likely be a catalyst in weight loss (it’s an incredible workout) I would focus mainly on strengthening muscle groups surrounding your joints, as that will help them from becoming misaligned. Good luck!

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melody jones November 7, 2014 at 2:57 am

Love it Sarah! I am a big advocate for parkour because I have watched it change my son’s life. I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia 10 years ago. Because of my lack of flexibility and movement I had become extremely overweight. I started walking and quit taking all the drugs that the doctors said I needed. I also know that the more I move the stronger my body becomes and more flexible. I have a goal to do parkour, even though the girls at work laugh at the me for saying that. I mean it. I may not be jumping roof tops yet or swing around bars but the more I move and watch, the more I think I can do. It’s definitely a mental thing too. Thanks for sharing your post, it’s very encouraging! !

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Max November 6, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Hey. As a parkour coach myself, it’s great to see you getting into it. I was at a conference recently where one of the presentations was on this sort of issue – on fat people and sports (specifically on body image and endurance sports). Was interesting as personally the presenter is technically obese yet he’s fit enough to run a marathon. Thought it might be interesting to share it if you want to give it a read – http://othersideofweightloss.org/2014/10/28/my-recent-presentation-at-the-ahsnz-conference-wanaka-october-2014/

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Ali November 6, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I like your attitude to training 🙂

I don’t agree with everything you and that book are saying about being overweight – of course it’s healthier to be active than sedentary, but it is still objectively worse for your health to be “overweight” when you control for other factors. No need to be all politically correct and try to justify or glorify being fat.

Everyone loses weight rapidly on “low carb” diets, but “low fat” diets are just harmful to your body function, hormones, etc. The recent (last 60 years or so) notion that low dietary fat = healthy is one of the main reasons that people today find controlling their cholesterol/weight/whatever so difficult. It makes me really angry sometimes that such myths continue to be spread, so that even those who genuinely want to be more healthy continue to struggle. I used to be “overweight”, but now I find it very easy to gain or lose weight as I desire just by choosing how much sugar/carbs I’m eating. My dad was obese and died at 42. My brother continues to be obese because he doesn’t really care that much about his weight, but it makes me sad when he struggles, wheezes and sweats just from walking up small hills, etc.

I’m not trying to change you btw. It’s your body/choice! But I’m just letting you know that it is a choice. Even if you’ve been fat all your life! I’m guessing you regularly drink sodas (normal and diet versions are both pretty bad for you/your metabolism), because it’s actually quite difficult to get fat or stay fat if you don’t. So if you want to get lighter to make things like parkour and climbing a bit easier, then that’s a great start 🙂

But anyway, I hope you continue to love your training, and don’t take anything I’ve been saying the wrong way. It’s speaking from my own experience, and meant with love 🙂

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Amber August 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Excellent Post. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are providing an incredible role model for everyone. I look forward to reading more!

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Sarah August 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

Thanks for the support, Amber. 🙂

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