Body Liberation in the Fitness Industry

The first fitness company I ever worked for was so ingrained in diet culture that the disordered eating behaviors I’d spent YEARS subduing worked their way back into my life.

My therapist at the time advised me not to leave the 9-5 world to become a kickboxing instructor because fitness is fraught with body expectations.

I tried to mold myself into what I thought was the ‘ideal’ fitness instructor’s body the only way I knew how - through deprivation. I ate less and exercised twice a day or more. I gave up beer for a month. I started substituting meals with protein bars and shakes, and sometimes nothing at all. I was, of course, miserable.

Face the facts - working in the fitness industry while being body liberated is damn difficult. In fact, having anything to DO with the fitness industry and ridding your body of all expectations is almost impossible. It was only after I left that job to start my own fitness company that I began to realize how much pop fitness culture was affecting me. Not just the photoshopped pictures of men and women on the walls of the gym, but the social media posts, the ‘fitspiration,’ the ‘no pain no gain’ mindset, and so much more.

A lot of people hire trainers based on how they look. We are an appearance-obsessed society. And, honestly, if you had asked me only three years ago if I wanted to work with a trainer who didn’t have a big butt, small waist, and flat stomach, I would have said no. That’s what I wanted, so why would I hire someone who looked different?

Let’s unpack the above for a minute. At that time, I was caught in society’s idea of fitness which assumes:

  • Health has a certain look

  • Movement acts the same way on all bodies

  • My body is not good enough

  • A trainer who fits into society’s ‘fitness’ mold knows what he is/she is/they are doing

  • A trainer who DOESN’T fit into this ‘fitness’ mold is lesser/less knowledgeable

These assumptions run rampant, and are dangerous for both trainers and clients. Trusting someone who is ripped but doesn’t know what they’re doing is dangerous. Holding fitness professionals up to ridiculous body standards is dangerous. Not accepting and respecting your body at EVERY SIZE is dangerous. You could get hurt, fitness professionals will get hurt, and the toxic pop fitness cycle will continue.

So, what can we as a collective do to stop this madness?

If you’re a trainer:

  • Don’t using shaming language. EVER. Be mindful of what you say to your clients and focus on how fitness makes the body feel as opposed to weight loss or looks.

  • DO YOUR RESEARCH. Diet myths perpetuated by weight stigma are EVERYWHERE. Don’t spread false information to your clients.

  • LOVE YO’SELF. Know your body is wonderful and do whatever FEELS best for you.

  • Weight loss pictures have been used to sell programs for too long. Focus on other victories in your social media posting and offerings.

  • Find RESOURCES. Find body love resources for yourself. Find body love resources for your clients. They will look to you for guidance.

If you’re not a trainer:

  • GET TO KNOW POTENTIAL TRAINERS! This is a person you’re going to be spending a TON of time with, so don’t focus on looks. Some ways to do this are: set up an initial session, take a group class with a potential trainer, scout out their social media pages, and more. If they give ANY indication that they use body shaming and guilt as a tactic to get clients do NOT hire them.

  • LOVE YO’SELF. Your body will react how it reacts to exercise because of preexisting conditions and genetics. Don’t prescribe to a certain desired ‘look’ for yourself.

  • Check in with your body OFTEN. Need more movement? Need a break? Need to watch Netflix, drink wine, and eat Nutella on your couch? Make sure you are always aware of how you’re feeling.

  • GET OFF FITSPO. Any accounts you follow on social media that post constant #fitspo, UNFOLLOW THEM RIGHT NOW. Nobody needs that kind of negativity.

  • READ. There are so many books out telling you the truth about health, fat, weight loss, body love, and more. Read as much as you can (Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating comes to mind.)

There are a ton of trainers out there making waves in society by not molding themselves into society’s definition of an ideal fitness trainer, and by not training their clientele in the typical pop fitness fashion. You just have to look.

We can change how society views beauty, fitness, body standards, and more if we all make the conscious effort to unsubscribe from judgment based on appearance. It is a long and difficult road, but ourselves and future generations will be all the better for it. Who’s with us?

Meg HopkinsComment