The other day I posted the above image on my Instagram, along with a lengthy debate with myself on the issue of body positivity in the fitness industry, and I was unusually (but pleasantly) surprised by the feedback I received following the post. So I thought I would delve a bit deeper and instead of trying to fit my thoughts on a restricted caption on a picture, I’d just go full ramble, as is usually the case on here.
Ask any personal trainer and I guarantee you they will say that OF COURSE they are body positive, and that is why they do the job they do. However, what they won’t tell you is that although this might be the case, really they are only positive about one type of body – the lean, strong, fit one, and it is their job to encourage you to strive for this type of body. Hence the hundreds of burpees, the cardio, the weight lifting with the hashtag #strongisthenewskinny accompanied next to it on Instagram. I know, I’ve been there.
Take before and after pictures, for example. These are the absolute pride and joy that P.T’s use for their marketing gold, luring clients in with their past successes of how Sharon went from a large, unhappy size 18 to a glowing, beautiful, societally acceptable size 8. Okay, these pictures may look impressive, and it takes a bloody lot of hard work to get there (well done Sharon), but they don’t really give you the full picture – that this newly transformed woman, now 30 pounds lighter, is fighting with her body and her mind every single day just to keep the weight off. Or how she now uses the scale and her tape measure as her holy grail, or how her relationship with food has turned from freedom to restriction. Despite what people might think, body image rarely actually improves when we go to the gym, as we are so busy scrutinising the bits we still want to change, we can’t appreciate how far we have come.
Of course, I can’t generalise to everyone, and that is not the message I am trying to get across. I just want to give you a different way of looking at things to make you realise that what we have been told our whole lives might not actually be the full truth i.e. diet and exercise = skinny minnies. Research has actually shown that exercise, whilst extremely important for overall health, is not likely to lead to weight loss in the long-term. Additionally in terms of dieting, only 5% actually “succeed” – in other words, only 5% of people who go on diets (13 MILLION people in the United Kingdom are said to be dieting at any one time) do not regain all, if not more, of the weight they originally lost. And obviously, it is these 5% who are advertised as success stories and make the rest of us feel like failures, leading us to seek the next new unsustainable diet and starting the vicious cycle over and over again. However, we are literally made to fail at dieting. Literally. Without going into too much detail, when we diet biological adaptations occur in the body to promote weight gain, such as a decrease in the hormone levels of leptin which then increases appetite and decreases our metabolism. Which usually leads to gaining even more weight than you had before. Therefore, in conclusion, dieting is pretty much a waste of time (if you’re still sceptical that is absolutely fine, but pleeeease do your research and let science back me up here!)
So getting back on track, about four months ago I spent £1,000 on a personal training course, which I have been going back and forth with, wondering whether it is actually something I want to complete. I am so passionate and so in love with fitness, whether that be yoga, weightlifting, running, spinning etc. And I do it not because of the way it makes me look, but because of the way it makes me feel: energised, empowered and strong. Through fitness I learn more about my body every day, and I am constantly in awe by what it is capable of, not through how it looks but what it can do.
I am not, however, in love with the fitness industry, with it’s tunnel vision focus on aesthetics, counting calories/macros, celebrating weight loss, staying “on track” and basically making money off of other people (especially women’s) insecurities. We are sold this vision of beauty and we will pay £50+ for an hour of torture every week to achieve a body that might not even be attainable in the first place (genetics is very important with this!) I, on the other hand, am a firm believer in pretty much the opposite of everything this industry stands for – body positivity (EVERY body, positivity), living intuitively, health at every size, and reducing the stigma around weight, ESPECIALLY in the gym, as far too often I hear people (even personal trainers) joke and laugh about someone because of their size. I will never market myself on weight loss or transformations, or summer shred/beach body plans, or advocate any sort of rigid diet or exercise plan. I will tell you to eat to fuel your body, listen to what it’s craving, whether that be pizza or vegetables, and move intuitively. You don’t have to lift weights. You don’t have to do cardio. You don’t have to do crunches or burpees or downward dog, you just have to find what is FUN for you, makes you feel amazing, and start focusing on what your body is capable of right now, and not when, or if, you lose weight.
We need to move away from those external motivators (the number on the scale, fitting into a dress for your friends wedding, getting shredded for summer) and look internally instead. Ask yourself how do you feel? Are you sleeping better, have more energy, a more focused approach to your work? Removing the obligation and the dread of exercise and finding what you enjoy is what P.T’s should be doing, not focusing on how you look in the mirror or pointing out your flaws and what you need to work on. Self-acceptance is absolutely key in this process.
But the question still hangs – if I’m not promising weight loss or a super shredded toned body, or really anything aesthetics driven am I destined to completely fail before I even start? I know that I believe in my message and I wholeheartedly believe it needs to be spread. And maybe the fitness industry needs more people with this mindset, to at least to inject the tiniest bit of doubt in people’s minds about all the bullsh*t that is damaging not only our physical health, but our mental health too.
SO, as you can see I am very passionate about this subject and I would absolutely love to hear other people’s opinions too on all of the above/some of the above/none of the above. Please leave me a message or a comment!
Ciao for now! xxx