Body Positive Fitness 101
Body positivity is a term that you've probably seen or heard (especially if you follow us on social media), but what does it really mean? And if you're into fitness you might be wondering, how does this fit into the world of six packs and burpees? This post discusses the definition of body positivity and its application in the fitness world.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity, simply put, is a movement that aims to help people feel comfortable in their body. It's a movement that rejects mainstream media's portrayal of an "ideal" body and promotes the message that our bodies don't need fixing. It challenges the societal and cultural messages that normalize body dissatisfaction and encourages people to be more forgiving of their bodies so they can focus instead on their health, happiness, relationships, and quality of life. It's the idea that your body (and everyone else's) is deserving of appreciation and representation.
These are some of the main pillars of body positivity:
All bodies are good bodies: Challenging the idea of an “ideal” body, rejecting any form of body shaming, and promoting the message that everybody deserves to be celebrated, accepted, and cared for.
Self-care/acceptance: Appreciating your body at every stage, and caring for your body through movement, nutrition, and other strategies for physical and emotional wellbeing.
Conquering comparison: Ending the pursuit of someone else’s body, and focusing on the unique beauty and value of your own.
Of course, it's much more than just these three ideas, but that gives us a start.
Body positivity stems out of the fat-acceptance movement that challenges fat bias, cultural stigma around larger bodies, and the idealization of thin or low-fat bodies. And really, it serves to challenge stigma around bodies in general, from fat bodies to disabled bodies, to the tiny rolls that are shamed on thinner bodies (like Lady Gaga, for example). Body positivity is an individual journey (YOU finding peace with YOUR body), and also a societal shift, a movement that cries out for the representation and acceptance of all body types.
And I mean all bodies, even bodies that may seem unhealthy or unattractive to you. If that feels a little uncomfortable, that's ok. We all have biases around bodies (just like we do around race, gender, etc.), but the better we get at noticing them, the closer we can get to addressing them. If you are offended by certain bodies, just start asking yourself why.
What does body positivity mean to you?
Curious about what other people thought of the term, we put out a survey asking “what does body positivity mean to you?” We got about 150 fabulous responses. Here are a couple of our favorites:
“Loving and accepting your body in its entirety.”
“Focusing on how you feel inside more so than the outside. Loving your body enough to want to treat it well but not hating it at your current weight or body.”
“Feeling confident in your own skin”
“Accepting all bodies as beautiful”
“Having the strength and agility to do the things I love, like hiking the Grand Canyon, climbing a mountain in Colorado, or running a race.”
“Not comparing yourself to others. Acknowledging individual improvement.”
“Appreciating bodies for what they are capable of”
“Everyone stops giving a f*** about what each other looks like and society/media stops pointing it out”
“Quality of life”
For me, body positivity is questioning the messages and images that have formed my relationship with my body. It's shifting my focus off of the pursuit of a flat stomach and a bigger butt, to exploring what feels good or healthy for me. Body positivity has deeply shifted my relationship with my body, with food, and with exercise. I now eat and move to feel healthy and strong enough to do what I love (like yoga and tough hikes), instead of to drop to a goal weight or to shrink my waist. I focus more on doing and eating what will make me feel good, instead of what will make me "look good."
So let’s talk about what body positivity means in the fitness world.
What is body positive fitness?
Ok, before we dive into this, I want to disclaim that you do not have to be into fitness or go to the gym to be body positive. One of the queens of bodyposi wrote an article on fitness that explains why body positivity is not just for people who work out. There are many people who can't work out, or choose not to for various reasons (ex. people who live with chronic illness or people without access/resources/expendable time to workout). These people are still worthy of self-love and should be able to both accept their body and live in a world that doesn't shame their body.
The fitness industry LIVES and BREATHES on before and after pictures, on selling the total transformation of the body you have as the path to happiness. Workout videos, gym advertisements, fitness Instagrams, all show the same image of thin, muscular, shiny bodies as the "fit" ideal. This image is supposed to be motivating, but ends up excluding and discouraging the majority of the population that doesn't have the time, resources, or genetics to ever look like these fitness "gods and goddesses." It paints the picture that fitness is all about achieving the unachievable, and leaves most people breaking into fitness feeling like they're never good enough.
Body positive fitness shifts the current dialog on bodies in fitness. It challenges the idea that you come to the gym to "fix" your body and promotes instead fitness as a way of taking care of your body without having to fit into a certain mold. Instead of selling the message, "you're not good enough" it promotes the message, "you're great right now, and your body deserves to be cared for."
Body positive fitness takes the focus off of weight, calories, and physical appearance. Body positive fitness is movement for a happy mind and a healthy body, not punishment for what you ate or what you look like. Body positive fitness uses movement as a way to feel good in your body, not to just burn calories or pack on muscle.
In body positive fitness there is no perfect workout, diet, or body. No skinny teas, no 6 days to 6 pack. It's simply moving in a way that is fun and challenges you to be the strongest and healthiest version of yourself.
Not to say that you can't have physical or aesthetic goals, but that's been the norm for so long. Our society is obsessed with looks, so we're always thinking about it anyways. Body positive fitness takes the focus off of appearance and reminds us that we can move simply to have fun and feel good. It makes the journey to whatever physical goals you may have a lot more enjoyable when you appreciate your body through the process.
That's a surface level explanation that doesn't touch on other aspects of body positive fitness (for example, making fitness spaces accessible to disabled bodies). If you want to go a little deeper, hang tight for body positive fitness 201. If you're a fitness pro, let's talk about what this means for your work.
What is a body positive Coach?
A Body Positive Coach challenges the idea that being fit and healthy looks a certain way. They reject diet culture, the culture of overexercising, and valuing aesthetic goals over anything else. Through conversations, messaging, and leading by example, a body positive fitness pro promotes positive body image with their clients, and shows them that fitness is about more than just the after picture. They take the focus off of visible results and show how regular exercise can increase your energy, happiness, and quality of life.
Of course, this is not something that you learn overnight. The fitness world thrives on images and messages that promote body dissatisfaction. We fitness professionals often rely on visual advertising, before and after pictures, or pictures of our own bodies, to draw in clients and establish credibility. It is the norm that people come to the gym or sign up with personal trainers for "results" - visible, and measurable on a scale or with a measuring tape. Body positive fitness challenges that norm.
If you're ready to begin the journey to becoming a body positive fitness pro, here are a few things you can try out:
Emphasize strength and functional goals over aesthetic goals: challenge the idea that reaching an aesthetic ideal is the most important goal in fitness. Don’t assume that your new client wants to "tone up" and lose weight. And if that's their main goal, begin to shift their focus to strength or functional goals.
Teach that health and fit can be in any size: Challenge fat bias, and share with your clients that they don’t have to look a certain way, or weigh a specific amount to feel healthy and fit.
Encourage body appreciation and body acceptance: Have candid conversations about body image with your clients. When an individual has a positive outlook on their body, they are more likely to make healthy choices and have the confidence to reach towards their performance goals.
Remind that exercise is not a punishment for eating: Or a punishment for not working out the day before. Or something that you only do in preparation for summer beach weather. Encourage healthy, sustainable exercise habits. Help clients find ways they like to move and remind them that it is ok to indulge or skip a workout (aka live life) without feeling guilty.
Don't engage in body shaming (even of your own): Don't tolerate your client shaming their own body (ex: I hate my arms) or other bodies, and please please don't shame your own. Create an environment in which no body fears ridicule or judgment.