Are Body Positivity and Fitness Compatible?
Of course they are!
What do we mean? Read on…
For so long, we have been trained to see fitness and exercise as a means to
- lose weight
- look ‘ripped’
- and burn off any extra calories we may have succumbed to on a ‘cheat’ day.
“Strong is the new skinny’’ has been glorified as the antidote to the toxic dieting messages of the Noughties… But in reality #fitspois #thinspoin a different outfit.
Have a look at the pictures below. Both are#fitspo– but can you tell the difference between Slide 1 and Slide 2?
[Slide 1] [Slide 2]
Slide 1 is entirely focused on the appearance of female bodies, with pictures and text emphasising the importance of weight loss and toned abs. It is bound to spark body image anxiety.
Slide 2 highlights some of the positive messages being put forward by game changers in the fitness industry, who are desperate to change the conversation.
Lexie Kite PHD started the Beauty Redefined movement with her sister Lindsey to challenge the focus on women’s bodies as ornaments – rather than instruments.
“When you’re working on positive body image, it can even be tempting to opt out of fitness altogether in order to avoid falling into traps of disordered thinking and weight obsession.”
As a serial dieter in recovery, (largely thanks to Lisa & My Body Positive!) I understand this reasoning.
As a fitness instructor, however, I am passionate about exercise particularly about the links between regular exercise and mental health.
So how do we find the balance?
I started training as a fitness professional fairly late on in life and my main mission was to create a space for women where they:
- felt relaxed and comfortable
- were able to work hard, to feel strong and capable
- could gain body confidence
I truly believe that a woman’s fitness CANNOT be determined by an arbitrary figure such as your BMI or dress size! (Read Health at every size by Linda Bacon https://lindabacon.org/health-at-every-size-book/)
I always taught this to my clients, but somehow still couldn’t make the connection in my own head.
Anorexia in my teens became binge eating in my 20s, which became restriction and over-exercising in my 30s, and body dysmorphic disorder in my late 30s/early 40s. (I am now 43.) Throughout it all, exercise had been my go-to for stress relief, but even I have to admit that I often used exercise as a punishment for what I ate, or because I felt bad about myself.
In the last year, however, something shifted! It started with a real determination to stop punishing myself as I had done for so many years, and the desire to just love and accept myself and my body…
I just couldn’t work out why it was so hard for me to put it into action.
Then I discovered the Embrace documentary, through which I met so many amazing women. I was captivated by the documentary maker, Taryn’s, approach that we should move our bodies for fun and pleasure NOT for punishment.
She talks about #sparkle activities, which involve moving in a way that we really enjoy and get a buzz from. I decided that, for me, this meant trying something different – some forms of movement that scared me and that I’d always shied away from!
- I joined a wonderful sea-swimming group #saltyseabirds in Brighton, who keep swimming all year round, and decided to try and make it through the whole winter
- I started a kettlebells class with a dynamo instructor who is inspirational to say the least!
- And today, I decided to push myself even further out of my comfort zone and tried an aerial yoga class! Crazy I know, but by the end of the class I was high on adrenalin and had found a new appreciation for my strong, capable and amazing body.
So, in summary, are body positivity and fitness compatible?
In fact, using your body and experiencing your capabilities can help shift you away from a focus on your looks. As long as you measure your progress, and set fitness goals that have NOTHING to do with weight or size.
As Poorna Bell expresses so beautifully: