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Is Body Shame Keeping You Out of the Gym?

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Why would you hire a personal trainer? Planning to run a marathon? Beat a personal best for a 10km? For most people it's sadly far less about fitness and more about shame. Shame of their bodies, the way they are, the way their bodies move (or don't move). More specifically it's about the way their bodies look; it's about being 'bikini ready' for summer, (in other words you're not going to put a two piece on that saggy sack of potatoes are you?)

To make matters worse many people have the motivation to get healthy, lose weight, get fit, but are too ashamed to be seen in public doing anything about it. A gym environment can be particularly intimidating, even getting through the door can make us rife with angst - does your local leisure centre really have a sizeist St Peter on reception who will send any size 12 or above into burpee hell? Even exercising on the street or in the park, unless you look like someone who 'does' exercise, you just feel a bit of a prat, you just don't belong in the 'fit club'.

A lot of this insecurity can stem from childhood, from being the last one picked for the netball team. When I was at secondary school, sports lessons we were divided into two groups based on our swimming ability. Those who could swim a length were poetically called Dolphins whilst those who couldn't, well they were called Bricks. And yes, I was a Brick. I loathed sports, in fact my mum let me skip school on sports day to avoid the annual humiliation of coming last.

Ironically it was this childhood humiliation that drove me in latter years to 'prove them all wrong' and pursue exercise my way, as a runner, no team, no crowd, no competition. And then in the weights room, a male domain back in the early Nineties, but where men were far less judgmental than women.

The woman who inspired me to qualify as a personal trainer wasn't skinny or amazingly fit. You couldn't see her abs and she wasn't able to run much further than 10km, but she oozed warmth and compassion. In fact one of my neighbours (who is very overweight) goes to her classes simply because the instructor is size 14-16 rather than size 8. With no disrespect to Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Ennis, we need more 'normal' looking people in fitness to prove you really don't have to look like an Olympian to join the 'fit club'.

The other week two teenage girls struggling in a spin class said it was easy for me as I was obviously 'naturally athletic'. I explained every inch of my body was achieved through hard work, actually in contradiction to my genetic code that had me down as a 'fatty'. That part of me who is still the vulnerable teenage girl teased for her soft thighs felt vindicated - but it would have been far more appropriate to be called athletic because of ability and not looks.

Yesterday a lady I met in the gym said she was encouraging her daughter to join her but her daughter wouldn't come until she'd lost some weight... and there's the irony. That's where professionally I can come in, I can reassure and encourage clients, as they take exercise in the safe and private environment of their home. But until the government offers tax breaks on personal training (Dave, there's an election idea for you) many people only have the option of exercising in public - and they just won't. Until gyms, the media, and the government change the image of what it means to be fit, the fat, the insecure and the breathless will remain on the nation's sofas.

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