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Posted at 3:38 PM ET, 01/24/2011

This is why we're fat: Missing Jack LaLanne

By Alexandra Petri

Jack LaLanne passed away on Sunday at his home in Morro Bay, California, at the age of 96.

He began the fitness movement. The only way you can hurt the body is not to use it, he said. That seems wrong. What if you pulled a hamstring?

But Jack LaLanne was more than a few pithy sayings.

He was a fitness pioneer! He forded the river of national fitness with the oxen of his winning personality.

He inspired us to get off the couch and do jumping jacks. This man swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge while toting 140 pounds of equipment! I once drove the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, and even that made me winded.

He used to swim miles in handcuffs and shackles, towing entire boats. At age sixty! And, on television, he encouraged us to engage in manageable fitness -- or at least to buy a juicer!

Nowadays on television, the most they do is urge us not to change the channel.

We're huge -- and not the way Jack wanted us to be.

We're so fat these days that there was a period when we tried to convince ourselves that someone calling us "disgustingly sloppy fat" might be good, because "phat" and "fat" were homophones!

We're so fat that when we sit around the house, we are at an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes!

We're so fat that they have skipped 7 letters and come out with a size L bra.

Remember when we used to have to hunt and kill our food? Nowadays, our food is faster than we are. We're so lazy that we have even stopped updating ThisIsWhyYou'

Of course, some of us are still fit. But fitness has become a personal obsession rather than a common pursuit. You aren't fit if you can just jog a few miles without turning a hue traditionally associated with eggplant. No, you have to eat egg whites for breakfast and drink muscle milk and run Iron Men.

If you were too fit in the 1800s, they would make you a Circus Strongman. These days, they make you one of hundreds of Mr. Universe contestants. You are a Body Builder. You get together with other people the size of Nevada and talk about reps. Occasionally, you growl at passersby.

I'm not unfit. But I'm not one of those Fit People, either. I don't belong in the ranks of professional supermen. Nor do I sit around on my couch watching Jay Leno and crying into a tub of Crisco.

Jack LaLanne was a hero for people like me.

The world these days is more polarized than ever. It's not that we don't like each other. If we were forced to interact, I'm sure we would enjoy each other very much. It's just that we have too many choices.

So we all vanish into our small groups. The Fit People meet up once a year, slather their bodies in oil, and march around in swimsuits lifting refrigerators with their teeth. They jog distances traditionally associated with announcing that the Greeks are victorious and then dying on the spot.

The Fat People meet up every day at Chili's and order platters of things slathered in other things that you wouldn't think were a good combination unless your goal was to singlehandedly consume more calories than the entire population of a smaller first-world country like Liechtenstein.

There are the rest of us. We just sort of muddle along. Every year we resolve to go to the gym and lift things and jog on the machines and maybe use those giant inflatable balls for whatever it is they're supposed to be used for. But when we get there, there are eight hundred of us jostling towards the machines and we feel as though we might be leaking out of our spandex. We leave, never to return, and the Fit People take back over.

"It's not fitness," everyone insists, nervously. "It's personal fitness!" And like other personal things, it's our own dang business.

So we're polarized. We sit on opposite ends of the seesaw, glowering at each other. There's Mr. Universe. But there's also Biggest Loser, where people the size of 18-wheelers try to shrink to the size of Uhauls.

So we complain when people try to make us eat healthy. Wal-Mart serves leaner foods? Might be a conspiracy! McDonald's stops supersizing things? Isn't there a passage in the Constitution that prevents that from happening?

Jack LaLanne wasn't about just the fit people -- or just about the Fat People. During his years on television, he encouraged everyone to work out, not just the people with buns of steel or buns of cinnamon.

These days, the only folks who do that are the Shakeweight commercials. I miss Jack LaLanne.

By Alexandra Petri  | January 24, 2011; 3:38 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri  | Tags:  Jack LaLanne, food, kids these days  
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great column, I wrote a tribute to Jack LaLanne that I would like to share..

Posted by: FatThenFitNow | January 24, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

In honor of Jack LaLanne and this column, I'm totally hitting up Cinnabon after tomorrow's P90X workout.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 25, 2011 1:48 AM | Report abuse

Jack LaLanne was such a fitness icon. We’ll remember him always for his energetic spirit and workout tips. I love this video because it shows how young he still was, even at 94 years old!

Posted by: chloecarlson22 | January 25, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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