Fitness Teacher: “OK, so when it comes to larger clients, what sort of movements are most effective in starting out their fitness programs?”
Fitness Student: “Well if they’re a fatty you just make them run!”
Sadly, whilst the stupidity of my fellow classmate’s response astounded me, it did not at all surprise me. Nor did it have much impact – people like him stopped having any relevance to my ‘world’ a long time ago, and I was in fact tempted to thank him for being the reason that trainers like myself would succeed.
Who it DID affect spoke volumes of the fact that many of us already know – negative body image and body sensitivity is a size-less, shapeless concept and you can never predict who its sufferers may be.
The next day, a young girl whom I had befriended throughout the course confided in me the impact this statement had on her. Here was a young girl who, to the naked eye, was of perfect size and weight proportions, sitting in front of me, totally rocked by this dodo’s throwaway comment. What she and I both knew though was that only only twelve months ago, she weighed 25 kilograms heavier. Physically she had lost the weight, but mentally she was still that heavier person; she was, for all intensive purposes, that ‘fatty’ he wanted to make run. The mix of his comment and the giggling response of his mates made her question if she was suited to the industry and she wanted to quit.
The next evening I approached one of my lecturers over the comments, expressing my concern at the power that a statement like could wield in a fitness environment. I asked them to imagine if within earshot of that comment was a person suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or any other host of Eating Disorders. What about someone who is suffering a negative body image?
“It’s not about whether HE thinks they’re fat, its about whether THEY think they’re fat.”
It makes sense to me that fitness and sporting environments play host to some of our most vulnerable when it comes to eating disorders, body image and body satisfaction. Traditionally, fitness has been about working to achieve aesthetic goals that have been set by societal norms of ‘this is who/what you want to look like.’ These environments have become a hotbed of supplements, diets, workout trends and the always-there subtle suggestion that your self-worth as a person is hinging on your ability to rock a thigh-gap or ripped abs.
The greatest motivation I had in getting my fitness accreditation was to give people the option of training with a person who could relate to the mental and emotional aspects of being larger or having body satisfaction issues. I believe that helping someone improve their life through fitness and health is about tapping into that ‘bigger picture’ of who the person is and making the experience relevant to them as an individual. For some people fitness and health needs to not be about weight or appearance; it needs to be about appreciating their body’s capabilities in achieving things they thought were not possible. For others it is about developing mental strength and resilience and being able to translate this across to help them live a more assertive and empowered life on a daily basis. And then there are some people just want to feel less shitty about themselves and work to reconnect and heal the relationship they have with themselves through fitness and good health.
I just want people to experience fitness as I do, and that is completely without a fear of being judged for what I look like when I put in the hard efforts. I don’t want people scared to work to their potential because they are worrying about what they look like during a tabata set or spin class from hell. Grunting because you’re trying to get the last ten seconds of maximum effort out? Do it. Drenched in sweat because you just smashed your PB’s in fitness testing? Awesome. Face covered in stray, sweaty hair because you’ve just rocked the house in a Zumba class? Love it. Hard, fearless training is perhaps one of the most liberating and empowering things I have ever experienced and I believe every person deserves to experience it too.
One of the long term goals of my Body Positive Athletes movement is to create a resource by which I can help people connect with the right professional and start their own fearless training journey. Over the last week or so I have been able to start making this goal a reality by starting the Body Positive Fitness Trainer and Facility Directory on the Body Positive Athletes site and am so excited that trainers and gyms from across the globe have eagerly jumped on board.
As far as I am aware, this is a completely unique resource; the success of which hinges on our ability to share it around and have as many Body Positive trainers and facilities from around the World connecting with the people who need them. Making a connection with the right trainer and training fearlessly in a supportive environment has the potential to change lives, so share, share away and lets start shaking things up!
Leah Gilbert is a Specialist Fitness Instructor and sponsored Endurance Athlete from Newcastle, NSW Australia. She is the founder of Body Positive Athletes, a community passionate about promoting the terms ‘fit’ and ‘athletic’ as a lifestyle and not a body type.
You can join the Body Positive Athletes facebook community here or follow Leah on Instagram (@leebee2321) here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org