A body positive fitness professional huh? It’s an unlikely combination considering the prevalence of diet culture in the world we live in. I notice it every time I teach or take a dance, yoga, or group fitness class. It’s there every time I glance at my Facebook feed, and whenever I’m at any sort of event where there is food involved. It bothers me. A lot. Especially because I’ve been working really hard to get out of this sort of destructive mental space. But I hear it all. So much guilt and shame and self-deprecation.
Messed up things I hear people say:
“I think I’m gonna stay for jazz because my arms feel jiggly today. Nothing like jiggly arms to motivate you to take jazz.” -one of my dance peers
“I used to take ballet but I can’t go back because I’ve gained some weight.” -a medium sized, middle aged woman in my yoga class
“I want to fit in a bikini by the summer.”-a 6th grade dancer (to her mom) who already fits in a bikini just fine
“Thank you for a class that burned a lot of calories, I’m going out for my son’s birthday tonight.” –an already thin woman in my Yoga Sculpt class (whose son probably really wants his mom to eat cake with him)
“I haven’t been back to your class because I’ve gained weight and I don’t want to look at all the other skinny girls there.”-a yoga student who I hadn’t seen in awhile
“Nothing like a stomach bug to lose those last 10 lbs…” –a fellow fitness professional
“I need to go on a diet this week.”-a 17 year old dance student of mine (who thought I wasn’t listening)
This might be normal but it’s NOT COOL!
Is it just me, or is this kind of talk really depressing? It’s kind of the norm, but when I actually take the time to think about it I realize how much it sucks. This is fatphobia in action. And it’s not just oppressive for actual fat people. It also keeps people of all shapes and sizes stuck obsessing over every calorie they consume and every step they take. The world of yoga, dance, and fitness is a bubble of super fit people. I work in it every day. In spite of the fact, many of the people who take my classes like to call themselves “fat” on the regular. The truth is, nearly all of them have at least some level of thin privilege.
Occasionally when someone says one of these comments directly to me, I can come up with a witty reply. Most of the time, it’s just conversation that I overhear. I pretend not to be paying attention and bite my tongue. I know that most people are not interested in hearing a lecture on how to be more body positive. So I’ve been sitting with a lot of this commentary for the past few months. I’ve been making mental (and sometimes actual) notes of it, and compiling my thoughts. It’s hard to find the words on the spot sometimes, but I’ve come up with a list of some responses to the things I hear my students say.
For every dancer, yogi, and fitness junkie who rolls up into my class, these are a few things I want you to know:
I want everyone to feel welcome in my classes. Even if you are new to this, or don’t happen to look like every other person in the room I’m happy you’re here.
You don’t need to make excuses for yourself. So many people call themselves out on their lack of strength or flexibility or experience before they’ve even tried my class. It’s all good. Just do your best. 🙂
I could care less if you ever achieve a 6 pack from doing core work. There are plenty of other good reasons to pursue a strong core, though!
I think it’s awesome when you rock the clothes that make you feel comfortable in class, regardless of your body type. For example, when in a hot-as-balls yoga class, a sports bra by itself should be fair game for anyone who wants to wear it. I am usually too preoccupied with other things, like giving alignment cues and checking the volume of the music to even notice what you are wearing. (This is probably why so many of my dance students get away with breaking the dress code in my class.)
Don’t ask me how many calories I think we burned. Don’t know don’t care. I gave up counting those somewhere in between the time I sold my heart rate monitor watch on eBay and before fitbits became a thing. Again, there are better ways to measure your progress.
You don’t have to do any workout you hate. I hope you take my class because it’s your favorite way to break a sweat. If not, go find a new activity. I promise I won’t be mad.
You can’t assume anything based on someones appearance. I know that, and I want you to know it too. Aesthetics and performance are two completely different goals. I see a ton of people come through my classes every week. I’ve quickly learned that just because someone appears to be “fit” by conventional standards doesn’t necessarily mean they are. The opposite also proves to be true quite often. And guess what? All are welcome. I’m not judging and neither should you. Come as you are and be the best version of you that you can be.
When I offer modifications and variations, you are not “less than” if you choose to take them. This holds true for things like using props in yoga AND lowering your leg so you can find your turnout in ballet. Modifying now serves the purpose of helping you to build strength and proficiency in the long term.
You don’t have to “earn” a cookie. You don’t have to “burn off” last night’s pizza. In my classes we will do squats and shuffles and saute de chats and sun salutations (depending on the type of class). None of it has anything to do with what you had for lunch today. Eat the foods. Do the things. Then get on with your life. I’m not gonna shame you for it.
Weight loss is not inherently good, so don’t be surprised if you lose weight and I don’t compliment you. Weight gain isn’t inherently bad, and I really don’t care if that’s where you’re at. Our bodies can change for a variety of reasons. Unless you want to share your life story with me, I’m not assuming anything about your level of discipline and virtuosity. You don’t have to look like anyone else. Throw your hair up, put on your favorite leggings, and come take class!
Does any of that make you want to breathe a sigh of relief?
I know my views don’t necessarily reflect those of everyone in my line of work, but I think that a lot of people really need to hear this stuff. Everyone out there using exercise as punishment. Those who want to try a new class but are scared of being judged. Everyone who feels that they need to look a specific way to wear a certain kind of clothing. Anyone who’s ever felt self conscious in general. And everyone who thinks that this sort of talk is messed up and needs to stop. If you need a break from it but still love to move, come take one of my classes. I know there have got to be more teachers and trainers out in the world who are on board with these ideas too. If you’re one of them, or wish you could find one, please spread the love and share this post.
Did you feel like any of the quotes in this post could have been said by you? Did you ever wonder why you are doing everything “right” in terms of your health and fitness but just not seeing the results you want? I’ve got a list of 10 good reasons that you may not have considered. Want it?