14 Nov It’s time we stop preying on women’s insecurities and put the "Fit" back into Fitness!
Gym owners, personal trainers, fitness bloggers: I’m over this! It’s time to call out the fitness industry, our industry! Why? Because of the negative impact our actions are having on the mental wellbeing of women, young ladies and teenage girls.
The industry is condemning women like my daughters and my wife, my friends and clients, my relatives and acquaintances, to a potential life time of unhappiness and chasing unachievable and unhealthy body image ideals. Currently, the fitness industry is stoking a monster fire… a fire where the fuel is made up of media, social media and the fitness industry, and the flames are fanned by women’s own insecurities. It’s a fire that is ruining women’s lives. A fire that can lead to lifelong issues of depression, low self-esteem, disordered eating, ill health and yes even possibly death, whether from health-related illnesses or suicide resulting from low self-esteem and/or depression. Please, I’m not begging you I’m telling you, this has got to (excuse my language) f*****g stop!!
Girls are literally killing themselves out there to achieve an unhealthy ideal of what they should look like as their inboxes and social media feeds are overflowing with “12-week body transformations”, “Bikini body challenges”, Biggest Loser-style campaigns, #fitspo, #fitspiration, before and afters…I’d lay a fairly safe bet that you would struggle to find a woman who hasn’t had these kinds of images fed into her “Insta” feed recently.
Perfectly healthy girls, with no need to lose another kilogram, are being sucked into competitions and challenges that will leave them with body image issues and feelings of dissatisfaction. Did you know that over 70% of women currently at normal healthy weight want to be thinner? Do you know what that means? That means that 70% of women desire to be an unhealthy weight… 70% of women are prepared to compromise their health to fit a media- and fitness industry-generated body ideal.
…. and we, we the supposed “Health and Fitness” industry, are encouraging it! By running these programs, and accepting women within a healthy weight range into them, do you know what you are doing? We as an industry are feeding girls into a world where happiness hinges on an “ideal body weight” or size, often a size 6 or 8 woman with sculpted abs, a peach shaped bum, tiny waist, bronzed skin and perfect hair. Not only this, but girls as young as 12 are measuring their self-worth or attractiveness to others on the amount of “likes” they get on a filtered selfie on their Instagram page.
What many people don’t realise is what goes into creating those #fitspo shots; how those abs take months and months to develop and then weeks to sculpt and define; how it takes weeks of restricted eating, the water loading etc; the fact that they are just there for one day for a photoshoot. They don’t see that it isn’t at all sustainable, and what the model looks like the day after. They don’t see the hours of professional hair and makeup styling that go into the social media photos they seem to pin to their #goals board.
So, even if they achieve it they can’t maintain it, and it’s actually unhealthy to maintain it. Many of these women are left flat, unhappy, feeling like they’ve failed, like they aren’t thin enough, like they can’t look how they want… feeling like they aren’t beautiful in their own right.
As a coach, trainer and/or gym owner who participates in purely body image-focused campaigns, your actions are helping to ingrain these deep-rooted insecurities and issues even deeper and even further. Why did you join this industry in the first place? Was it a sense of wanting to help others or is your primary focus on making money? Now, I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t be able to make a crust, but what I am saying is you need to consider the lasting impact you could be having on women’s mental wellbeing and sense self-worth. All those before and after shots and professional fitspo photos are telling women that they aren’t good enough.
The most important thing in life is that we are healthy and that we are happy. Health and fitness is NOT about aesthetics. Your health and fitness is about being able to perform better at what you do, either in a given activity or just …at life! Our view on what “health” is has become so twisted: what is a healthy range physically is deemed as “fat” mentally. Realistically, we should only lose weight if it’s hindering our physical performance at a given sport or activity… Wearing a bikini is not a performance sport!
I’ve been involved in the fitness industry at different levels for almost 20 years and I’m ashamed to say that in the past I’ve been caught up in the western “body image” frenzy. I’ve weighed in girls who are a healthy body weight but who want to look thinner. I’ve taken before and afters of girls who are chasing airbrushed images. For God’s sake, before I opened the Basecamp I’ve taken before and afters of myself after doing unsustainable 30-day fasts, just to promote my business.
Week in and week out, I meet girls who are exactly where they need to be to perform at their best and yet they want to lose more weight. When pushed, they don’t have a definitive answer, it’s just that they “feel” better when they are lighter…. how much lighter? How much do you weigh? “I don’t know, I try not to weigh myself” Well how do you know how much you need to lose? “I just know.” Do you see where this is going? It’s never-ending, and it can’t end well…
As an industry we need to refocus on performance and on what the body can do. It’s an amazing vehicle and it’s the only one we’ve got. As you well know, with a little support, it can help us do amazing feats of skill, strength and endurance. We can have fun with it doing any number of challenges. We can constantly improve our self-esteem (of which body image is a component) by continually teaching the body new skills and setting it new challenges. Combine a great fitness regime with some healthy competition or just getting outdoors into the wilderness. Use your fitness for something constructive.
Yes, girls need to be able to get fit and healthy, to eat well and eat for to support their body’s best performance. When not training, they should be putting their cardiovascular capacity and strength to good use by getting outdoors, pushing their boundaries and going on adventures. Women should be training to improve their physical performance; get stronger, faster, have more endurance, robustness and resilience. Women should be training and learning and growing so they can improve their mental health, self-esteem and cognitive function; setting goals that allow them to improve their relationships with themselves, those they love and those around them.
So, many women do not need help to lose that “last 5kg” when they are already where they need to be to perform at their best. They need support, advice and education as to what “health and fitness” really means. Do we really want to take their money just so that they can struggle to fit an airbrushed stereotype of what the media think they should look like?
So, a final word before you encourage that client to strip down to their bra and undies for your before and after shot… do they really need to be doing this? Before you run your 12-week body transformation campaign… do you really know why, at a deeper level, your target market is taking part in this? Before you take your client’s dollars… have you got her best interests at heart?
We want women to get out there and get amongst it, to live large and tear chunks out of life. We want women to push their boundaries and appreciate themselves more. Given confidence, they will get out there and explore. Explore themselves and their capabilities.
Let’s start training the next generation of strong, healthy, beautiful women. Women who can take on the world. Let’s empower the women we train to pursue activities rather than just aesthetics.
So, what is your next action? I know there are coaches, gym owners and trainers out there who feel the same, so I want to hear from you! I know we can change this. So are you prepared to take a stand?
Let’s use the hashtag #MYBODYMOVES to create some “Active-spiration” photos for Instagram rather than the usual sexualized #fitspo, or for women and trainers who want to do some activity-based challenges this summer. Fellow Fitness Business owners, I know we can be the difference! As leaders in the fitness industry, the change starts with us. Like the saying goes, let’s “Be the change we want to see!” Have you seen Joe’s video on this subject? You can watch it here!
P.S. If you haven’t seen it, go and watch the documentary Embrace. Show it to your clients as well. You can watch the trailer here.