Sumo Size Me

Grace and athleticism, much like beauty, come in many shapes and sizes.

Nov. 8, 2010— -- I admit to being slightly obsessed with the whole Marie Claire situation that took place a couple of weeks ago. For those of you who didn't follow it as closely as I did, one of their writers wrote a blog post about how fat people disturb her so much, even the mere sight of an obese person walking across the room fills her with disgust.

This is fascinating to me. Not so much that a single person is consumed with these kinds of thoughts but more that what touched off the incident was a group of editors sitting around a table questioning whether or not they should be grossed out by a smooch between the two heavyset leads on the new sitcom, Mike and Molly. I mean seriously. Presumably, like most Americans, more than three quarters of their readers are overweight. Where is the love?

All this got me thinking about how the editors of Marie Claire -- and most other fashion magazines for that matter -- might feel about a potential new Olympic sport. It involves big women. Really, really big women.

I'm talking about Sumo Wrestling. And in order for it to be considered as an official Olympic contender, it must include both a male and female division. A stumbling block for this has been Sumo's long tradition of not just excluding women, but downright shunning them. Because ancient Sumo protocol considers women unclean, they are not allowed to so much as stick a toe into the raised dirt mound of the professional Sumo ring. On this matter the Japanese Sumo Association, which rules the sport, will not budge. And the majority of fans agree.

Despite the sexism and a bawdy past dating back to the 18th century when topless female Sumos wrestled blind men for the titillation of a male audience, amateur women's Sumo has recently caught fire in Europe, Australia and the U.S. Andrew Freund the director of the California Sumo Association says he's rarely held or seen a tournament in the last decade that hasn't included women's matches. "Though it's a different sport than men's professional, for the past twenty years or so it's been a serious sport with good athletes and medals and prizes," he comments.

Could Female Sumo Change Ideas About Fitness, Beauty?

So if we put aside centuries' worth of sexism for the moment and just concentrate on the here and now, I actually believe that women's Sumo has the potential to be quite empowering. To begin with, the average lady Sumo looks a lot like the average American lady. Lightweights and middleweights weigh in at 143 and 176 pounds respectively. The average American woman tips the scales at about 163 pounds, putting her squarely in the middle of the two weight classes. On fashion mannequins, a size 00 hangs loosely, whereas lady Sumos are scouring the racks for a size 14 or larger just like the typical American woman. And far from hiding their heft, female Sumos seem to embrace it.

"A lot of us bigger Sumos are inspiring to bigger women to be who they are," says three-time national women's amateur Sumo champ, Natalie Burns of Rigby, Idaho. "You're big. So what? I tell women to get out there and do something with their size. Sumo helps you assert your weight so you're not self conscious about it."

Meeting other women from all over the world at competitions has been an amazing experience for Burns. Far from being ashamed of their bodies, they proudly flaunt them. It's been a wakeup call for the big boned 28-year-old.

She says that watching a female Sumo match is awe inspiring. They're quick and agile. They're powerful and balletic. They are the very definition of grace and sport. It's the same with other large female athletes. I once tried out for a professional woman's football team (don't ask) and was tackled by a 240-pound woman who went by the name of Tonka. I consider myself a fast runner but even with a several yard head start, she scooped me up off the grass and onto her shoulders within seconds. For me this was a revelation. It helped break down the walls of my own prejudices and made me realize that fitness and athleticism -- much like beauty -- comes in many shapes and sizes.

My point isn't that we should all be snubbing the professionally skinny and embracing female Sumos as the new and only fashion icon. I just wish there was room in the glossies for the large, small and everyone in between. And I do like the idea that female Sumos, while bulky, are fit and in shape. They work out hard, not so they can be "teeny tiny" but for strength, endurance and flexibility; exactly the attributes experts say we should all be striving for, to improve our health, confidence and appearance. We don't all have to enter a Sumo ring but the workout and its goals are within reach for many women. And if Sumo gets the Olympic green light, let's lobby for a Marie Claire fashion spread. Actually, even if it doesn't.

Anyone else with me? How would you feel about high fashion Sumos? Or do you prefer your fashion (and fitness) exactly as is? Please post your comments below.

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