Why the Fitness Industry Needs to be More Body Positive…..

On the 12th June, I had the absolute joy of speaking at a Belongcon event.

The Belong Conversation started as a ‘conference’ about the power of belonging, acceptance, and community. Now it has evolved and each event is set up as a safe space which allows speakers to talk openly about themselves, their passions and simply ‘come as they are’.  Sophie Turton, one of the co-founders of Belongcon asked me to turn my talk into a blog. So here it is……..

Let’s start by defining Body Positivity, a term which you may have heard bandied about in the press but more often than not wrongly cited.

“Body Positivity is a movement rooted in the belief that ALL human beings should have a positive body image whilst challenging the way in which society presents and views the physical body.”

So, What’s the Problem?

As a fitness instructor I keep up with the current fitness rhetoric, workouts, links to mental health, research etc.  The quotes below are part of the so-called #fitspo movement are typical fitness posts from Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media outlets.

“Strong is the New Skinny”

“To be known as the FIT friend not the LAZY one”

“Obsessed is a word that lazy people use to describe the dedicated”

“Skinny girls look good in clothes, fit girls look good naked”

“Sweat is fat crying”

“Be a bad ass with a good ass”

“How do you want to feel this summer?  Fit or jealous?”

“Excuses don’t burn calories”

“You can feel sore tomorrow or you can feel SORRY tomorrow. You choose.”

I wonder how these #fitspiration messages make you feel.  Do they make you feel good about yourself? Empowered? Energised?  Motivated to work out?  OR do they make you question yourself, your body, how much you work out and how you look?

Are these messages body positive?  Absolutely not, but they were sold by the fitness industry as the antidote to the toxic messages of the ‘thinspiration’;  ‘thigh gap’;  ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’;  diet coke generation.

To take one example, the term ‘strong is the new skinny‘ is firstly body shaming women in smaller bodies as well as putting pressure on us to look ‘strong’ like the narrow ideal portrayed by the fitness industry.  As Poorna Bell states, there is only one standard presented to us by the fitness industry.

Poorna Bell:

There is only 1 type of strength that is portrayed and there is only really 1 type of body standard that is portrayed in the fitness industry.  If you struggle with body image and everything around you is telling you that the main goal of fitness is to lose weight and it doesn’t tell you anything about ability or strength, why would you feel good about exercise

Surely then, ‘fitspiration’ is just  ‘thinspiration’ repackaged or in a different outfit and as such we need to tread very carefully around it……

Why Should we Care about Body Image anyway? Surely that’s very superficial ….

I have struggled with negative body image for as long as I can remember, and am a recovering anorexic. Only in the last 2 years have I been able to truly love and accept myself and my body and to be grateful for what my body can do rather than how it looks.  I still have bad days but know from personal experience that how you see yourself affects your position in the world and determines how you relate to the world.

Only 5 % of women NATURALLY have the body shape we see in the media which ultimately leads to a cycle of diet, exercise failure and shame  – as the body we want to achieve, simply isn’t possible for our bodies.

Most women, especially, will experience bad days because of their bodies, will put their lives on hold and be ultimately less productive.

As Sara Pascoe so beautifully reflected :

“Think of us, 51 % of the population all crouching in bathrooms, pummelling our bum cheeks like imbeciles when we should be taking over this crazy world and stopping all the wars”

What can we do about it and how do we do it?

  1. Start a gratitude journal
  2. Focus on performance based fitness goals rather than aesthetic goals or to achieve a number on a scale
  3. Do the post-it challenge to combat negative thoughts with positive ones. Write one thing each day that you love about your body.
  4. Detox your feed.  Do an audit of your social media. Unfollow anyone who does not make you feel good.
  5. Surround yourself with people who bring you up and not those who knock you down.
  6. Accept that its ok not to be ok sometimes and that its not a failure
  7. Body shame is a learned behaviour and CAN be unlearned.  Jes Baker:

    “We need to disrupt society and challenge the body shaming whether that be fat shaming or skinny shaming.  We need to build each other up and create our own affirmations”

  8. Go to gyms/ classes where you feel good and comfortable not bad about yourself.
  9. Try not to compare yourself to others. Who you are and what you’ve got is YOUR superpower.

I feel we need to try and connect to our bodies again through movement rather than using exercise as a punishment for what we ate or how we feel about our bodies. I personally love feeling strong and energised and helping my clients feel challenged and empowered through exercise.

I am going to conclude with a post from author, journalist and game changer in the fitness industry Poorna Bell:

When you replace the aspiration for slimness with a body that can physically do a lot, it makes you realise how useless everything you think you know about body standards actually is. 

Just come as you are………

♡ ♡ ♡