Ask any personal trainer and I guarantee you they will say that OF COURSE they are body positive, that is why they became personal trainers to begin with. 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, but this is not body positivity.
Body positivity is a social and political movement born out of body acceptance, and aiming to promote the inclusion of marginalised bodies - therefore weight loss and body positivity are completely incongruent with each other, an idea which is highly controversial, particularly in the fitness industry.
Let's look at before and after pictures, for example. These are the absolute pride and joy that PTs 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 an impressive amount of hard work to get there (well done Sharon), but why don't we ever question the after picture? That this newly transformed woman, now 30 pounds lighter, may now be fighting with her body and her mind every single day just to keep the weight off. Or how she now uses the scale to determine the quality of her day. Or how her relationship with food has turned from one of 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.
(images are the authors own)
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 its 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. I am, on the other hand, 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 my personal training services 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.
(images are the authors own)
We need to move away from those external motivators (the number on the scale, fitting into a dress for your friend's 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 PTs 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. We need to start spreading the body positive message, particularly in the fitness industry, in order to ensure that ALL bodyies are welcome and encouraged, no matter what our size.