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Cardio is NOT the Answer

Teacher says fat, fitness can mix / S.F. mediates complaint Jazzercise showed bias

  • portnick
    Jennifer Portnick, who was rejected as a Jazzercise instructor, taught an aerobics class at Miraloma Community Church in San Francisco. Chronicle photo by Paul Chin

At size 16-18, Jennifer Portnick will never fit into Jane Fonda’s leotard, but supporters say she can run back-to-back aerobics classes and still have breath to spare.

Jazzercise Inc., however, thinks Portnick looks too heavy to be a good role model for exercise buffs.

Tomorrow, the city’s Human Rights Commission will mediate the case.

“I wanted to be judged on my merits, not on my measurements,” says Portnick,

38, a computer systems training manager. “I work out six days a week. I’ve weighed close to what I weigh now for most of my adult life. This is the body I have.”

According to government statistics, about 60 percent of Americans — 127 million people — are overweight or obese. Decrying a national epidemic of obesity, Surgeon General David Satcher urged a greater emphasis on physical education in December.

Increasingly, health experts believe that fitness is not about shrinking to a size never intended by nature.

“You don’t have to be a size 2 electric blue,” says Pat Lyons, an East Bay registered nurse, community health educator and co-author of “Great Shape: The First Fitness Guide for Large Women.”

“Metabolic fitness is what really counts. If Jennifer was not fit, she would not be able to lead six classes a week. Thank God, she lives in San Francisco, one of the only places in the country where she has a statute to stand on.”

Portnick, who stands 5 feet 8 inches and whose diet is mostly vegetarian, has been doing high-impact aerobics for 15 years.

Her teacher was so impressed by her stamina and ability that she invited Portnick last spring to audition to become a Jazzercise certified instructor.

“She has everything it takes,” says teacher Kristi Howard. “It’s important to get people to make fitness a part of their life. If they see a rabbit bouncing around on stage, they might not be inclined to work out. Jennifer is very healthy. She is not pooped out and sucking for air in class.”

But Ann Rieke, a Jazzercise district manager, wrote Portnick that she would have to delay the certification process until she developed “a more fit appearance.” The manager, even while acknowledging that Portnick “will be a fabulous instructor someday,” suggested Portnick try body sculpting and an altered diet.

“Changes in your eating habits (carbs: boo, hiss) . . . will bring you results very fast,” wrote Rieke.

Portnick was crushed.

“I do not feel it is realistic for me to commit to having a changed body by Dec. 1, or at any time,” she responded.

Despite a blitz of letters in Portnick’s support, a company director reiterated the decision in a letter a month later.

“Jazzercise sells fitness,” wrote Maureen Brown, director of franchise programs and services. “Consequently, a Jazzercise applicant must have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio and look leaner than the public. People must believe Jazzercise will help them improve, not just maintain their level of fitness. Instructors must set the example and be the role models for Jazzercise enthusiasts.”

Portnick won certification anyway last fall through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and teaches six high-energy, low-impact classes a week.

In September, she filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

“I thought Jennifer would be a great asset to my business. She might make other people more comfortable exercising,” Howard says. “She’s never going to be a small woman, but she has great energy, great presence. Just because she doesn’t fit Jazzercise’s mold doesn’t mean she’s not a great instructor.”

“We don’t need to look like a movie star or Barbie,” Portnick says. “We need to be open to our bodies as they are while working to the best fitness level we can achieve. This is not about what the tape measure says when it goes around your waist.”

Now I could go on for over an hour with everything that is wrong with this story.  However, I realize that many of you probably want to believe what they are saying is true.  That there really is nothing she can do, and she is doomed to always be over weight, and fitness is not determined by a tape measure…bla bla bla.  But I have linked a couple articles by DOCTORS (not jazzercise instructors)  that say exactly the opposite.  This is yet another PERFECT example of why aerobic exercise is useless when you are attempting to lose body fat.  DO NOT fall victim to this kind of program for the New Year.  Get into a program with proven results, and an actual plan for success!!

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  1. March 29, 2011 at 3:50 am

    It’s indeed a good post, helped me a lot.

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