Why don’t we talk about body positivity in fitness?

Personal-Trainer.jpg
 

So you’re ready to take the test to become a certified personal trainer or group fitness instructor. You’ve probably taken a course, or studied the book, and learned about topics from anatomy and exercise physiology to nutrition and weight management. What you probably didn’t learn, however, was how to address poor or disordered body image in your clients. How do you act when someone shames their body while sharing their goals? What do say when your client confesses they want a body like yours and they’ll do whatever it takes to get there? How do we, as professionals that others look to for guidance, encourage our clients to adopt a holistic mindset that will lead to a healthy body and mind?

Almost everyone at some point in their lives has struggled with body image. In our current looks-obsessed society, it’s almost impossible not to. From air-brushed models in advertisements, movies, and tv, to our photoshopped peers on social media, we hardly see pictures of real bodies, of us, celebrated and accepted in plain view. And it has a bigger effect than you may think.

Several studies have shown that 80 – 90 % of women in the U.S. are dissatisfied with their appearance, and more than 10 million suffer from eating disorders. 80 – 90%. And it’s not just women – as portrayals of the ideal body for men and women get more unrealistic every day, body dissatisfaction for men is on the rise. In the last 25 years, studies claim that male body image dissatisfaction has tripled from 15% of the population to 45%.

 
 (Source: https://loonylabs.org/2015/03/)

 (Source: https://loonylabs.org/2015/03/)

 

               

Where do people go when they are fed up with how they look and want to make a change? To the gym of course!! And if they’re not already a gym rat, you better believe they will seek the comfort of a structured group fitness class or sign up for sessions with the personal trainer they believe will solve their problems.

So how do we in the gym address the social pressures that butcher body image? By starting the conversation on body positivity with our clients and our peers. Clients sign up with personal trainers because they want a change. They want to be happier and healthier, and all signs and advertisements around them point to one solution: a “good” body. When clients come to us, what is often guiding their goals are the prevailing stereotypes about fitness: you do it to look good, and if you look good you are fit, and if you are fit, you are happy. No wonder the most common fitness goal that I hear from women is to “lose weight and tone up.” We need to start the conversation with our clients on what other strategies could make them feel better in their body and life.

Why is this conversation not already happening on a large scale? If it affects so many people, and most people in the gym (and in our society at large) are struggling with it, why don’t fitness professionals talk about it?

One reason is that it's a hard subject to tackle. How do you breach such a sensitive topic with new clients that you may only see twice a week? How do you create a class environment that is inclusive and welcoming of all bodies and abilities? It's a lot to juggle and keep in mind when your first concern is to keep everyone safe and moving.

Another reason is that the way things are right now is generating huge profit for the fitness world. Gyms are notorious for promoting body shaming messages like “get your bikini body for summer” or advertising pictures of photoshopped models selling the idea that all it takes to get "fit" is will and a monthly payment of $39.99. If your main motivation to go to the gym is to achieve a body that’s unachievable, the guilt and shame underlying that pursuit will absolutely kill your motivation to get there. 67% of people with gym memberships never use them, and the gym fitness and health club in America is valued at around $27 billion annually in the U.S. Body dissatisfaction is the #1 profit driver for gyms and memberships.

 
(Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/27/beach-body-ready-america-weight-loss-ad-instagram)

(Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/27/beach-body-ready-america-weight-loss-ad-instagram)

 
 

Ok, I know I’ve painted a kind of bleak picture. The good news is, there are a lot of kick-ass gyms and studios out there that are working to make body positivity an integral part of their facility. The EveryBody gym in LA welcomes “All bodies, genders, races, nationalities, faiths, classes, sexualities, sizes, ages & abilities.” Blink Fitness has a marketing campaign, “Every Body Happy,” that showcases some of its real members, instead of fitness models, and reminds us that fitness and health come in all shapes and sizes. Liberation Barbell, a body positive lifting gym in Oregon, stresses that they emphasize “strength gains over weight loss,” and that they “empower those who have a damaged relationship with food, exercise, and body image.” Awesome, right?

 
(Source: blinkfitness.com)

(Source: blinkfitness.com)

 

Imagine a world in which fitness is defined and advertised as something that everyone and everybody participates in, not just something that thin or "fit" people do. Imagine going to the gym simply because it feels good, and because getting stronger physically helps you feel stronger mentally and emotionally. Imagine signing up for a personal trainer, and having the freedom to talk about your struggles with what you see in the mirror. Imagine helping clients to not just lose weight, but also to shed the pressure to look like and be something that they are not. Imagine a body positive fitness world.

I’m ready for it. Are you? Let’s start the conversation.

 
(Source: https://www.fix.com/blog/try-body-positive-workouts/)

(Source: https://www.fix.com/blog/try-body-positive-workouts/)

 

How do you encourage positive body image with your clients or peers?

 
Shelby Lawson