As someone who dabbles in fitness instructing, personal training, life coaching, and more generally considers herself a wellness professional, I’ve had people tell me that I am a great leader. Whether it’s because I blog about my feelings or because I can kick their butts in a spin class, I try not to take the fact that I am lucky to have the chance to influence people on a regular basis for granted.
Sometimes, these compliments can come at strange times—in the changeroom while you’re half naked or when you’re out at the mall shopping with your friends (how do they recognize you without the sweat and spandex anyway?).
Sometimes, they can make you feel better about something you were actually self conscious about (like using the same Britney Spears remix sporadically for the last 7 years of teaching).
And sometimes, they can make you think about the kind of leader you’re being.
I had one of those experiences not too long ago when one of my (favourite) participants from one of my fitness classes told me that she appreciated that the instructors at our gym looked like regular people.
The gremlin in my head immediately shouted at me that having a regular body is a bad thing—that I’m not trying hard enough or that I’m not good enough to work in this field.
In my trainee (and friend)’s defense, she meant it as a huge compliment and actually applauded everything I stand for: a holistic and sane approach to health that is not based on looking a certain way.
I can attribute my doubts to a lot of things, including a little bit of my own insecurity but also an issue with the fitness industry. I started to remember the way that a friend of mine assured me that he wouldn’t hire someone to help him with his athletic goals who was carrying a bit of extra weight at the time, or the fitness professional who won’t take photos for their website until they’ve leaned down, or the passionate fitness instructee who won’t take the plunge to instructor because they don’t think they match the bill.
While I understand that we live in an appearance-oriented culture and I don’t think that this is something that needs to—or that necessarily can—change, I also think that clarifying what we mean when we’re talking about “health” is important. Too often I think people work backwards and decide on how to eat, or train, or live based on the “ideal” body that they think they should be striving towards.
This can lead us to get caught up in the way the things we do in the name of health are supposed to make us look and if they don’t actually transform our bodies in the way we were hoping, we might not carry with the habits and go back to formerly unhealthy ones. What a loss!
I’d like to see more people talking about things in exactly the opposite way—what happens to our bodies when we do healthy things for the sake of being healthier, rather than looking a certain way?
I know that there are people who can have a six pack and look like a cover model without compromising their health—but I know far more that abuse they bodies and minds in the pursuit of that (short-lived) ideal. I also know that there are plenty of people who are blessed with certain body types that then let them “get away with” (although I think in terms of health you can’t hide from things that are not good from you, even if they don’t show up as fat on your body or immediate health concerns) things. Perhaps I am so conscious of all of this because in an extreme sense, I’ve seen what the pursuit of the ideal (at the time, thin) body can do when I had my eating disorder.
I like to think that in adopting healthier habits and always trying to take a little better care of myself that health—my happiest weight, balanced hormones, overall general well being, etc.—will follow. It is a big shift when you start to think about what you’re actually doing—but it’s also an empowering one. We can control our habits, and while I think we like to think that we can totally control the way our bodies look, I think that’s partially something people use to convince people to buy their products, try harder, and blame themselves if it doesn’t work out. It might be harder to take responsibility and address our habits, but it’s also extremely powerful.
So are there fitness professionals who represent balance? I think yes, and I include myself amongst them. Molly Galbraith wrote a post about this years ago that has stuck with me. She talks about the body acceptance element and how as a fitness professional she has struggled with it, and that’s where her power is:
“In the industry or not, I train/work with/counsel women from all over the world about nutrition, training, body image, self-image, and much more. I hear their stories and their struggles. I celebrate their victories, and help them learn from their defeats. I laugh with them, I cry with them, and I talk them off the ledge when they’re ready to jump. So why am I qualified to do these things?
Because I AM one of them.“
Similar to Molly, I think that my own journey to a health and happy place is what makes me trustworthy, inspirational, and “qualified” to do what I do. I try to model the kind of health and fitness that is sustainable and realistic and that feels good—and if that means that I have a “regular” body, then regular I’ll be!
I just hope that I can contribute to a world where it’s not something that people need to comment on that someone has a body that looks like a “normal” healthy person who is in the health and fitness industry. I know there are lots of us out there. I know that whether or not someone has 12% or 24% or 32% or whatever % body fat, a person can be a leader who inspires others to take healthier steps in their lives. I know that “health” is more than an appearance.
How do you define health?
Does your definition of health feel like something you could sustain in your life?
Meritocracy and our bodies
-we do not get what we put in
-we are not all one and the same
-it’s a lot easier to judge someone based on their habits – so and so has a great body so they’re doing it right, so and so doesn’t fit my ideal body bill so they must not be trying hard enough or know what the heck they’re doing.
FYI there are lots of people walking around out there with “ideal” bodies who have taken unhealthy steps in order to look that way. It’s our fixation on what we think ideal looks like—and the way that focusing on the outcome instead of on the habit—that I have to remind myself is wrong.