An Open Letter To The Fitness Community
In all honesty, today’s post seems somewhat one-dimensional in light of recent events. What happened in Orlando was so unbelievably tragic that I’m not even sure what words to START using to express my disbelief and sadness for everyone involved.
I decided to publish this anyway because, ultimately, the point is about tolerance and compassion, which are two crucial qualities that were missing from that night.
An Open Letter To The Fitness Community
Hello exercisers, gym owners, social media managers, trainers, coaches, etc.
I’m writing you today because I’d like to offer some observations and suggestions.
I’m not sure if it has to do with summer quickly approaching or what, but lately I’ve been bombarded with several “inspirational” messages that focus far more on shaming people into fitness than encouraging them.
This topic has been written about numerous times and I’m quite sure that this letter will be but a drop in the bucket, but I still think it’s important to say.
This fitness shaming has to stop.
Messages aimed at people to work out AT ANY COST, NO EXCUSES is just damaging. When you then resort to pulling body image into the picture, it gets even uglier.
- Messages about “earning” food and drink
- Irresponsibly telling others to push through their pain
- “Strong is the new skinny” (as long as you’re still skinny)
Some people have superficial goals and that’s ok. I’m not using superficial in a negative context, I quite literally mean “superficial,” that is, “existing or occurring at or on the surface.” I could certainly help someone get there, but speaking from experience, it’s really not a sustainable way to live. So maybe I’m not the professional for them. Maybe that’s where you come in.
Maybe I view my role as a fitness professional differently from the way you do, but I feel like my job is to help other people become healthier, more confident versions of themselves. I’m pretty sure that overweight people are aware they’re overweight. They don’t need your input as well. They need your support. They need your acceptance. They need you to see them as another human being. Period.
Also, the only earning I need to do of my food and drink is the money to be able to buy it.
Here are just a few reasons I’ve heard as to why people avoid classes, trainers, or exercise in general:
- Other people are more advanced
- Self-conscious about not being able to exercise for a certain length, type, etc.
- It’ll take too long to get results
- It’s just too hard
The people I know who don’t have fitness come naturally to them already feel overwhelmed and intimidated about starting any kind of exercise routine. They shame themselves on a regular basis because they “just can’t seem to get it together.” They certainly don’t need external shaming messages from you.
Think about trying something you’ve never done before.
In case you’re having trouble, I’ll give you my own example.
I sang in my school’s choir from elementary school until I graduated high school. Somewhere around middle school, no, let me pinpoint it, 7th grade, we began having to take vocal tests as part of our grade. I was a decent singer; I could carry a tune, but the thought of singing in front of everyone without the melodic blanket of 20 other voices protecting me left me TERRIFIED.
Probably some years I was encouraged with positive messages to do my best and that I would be just fine, but the times that stand out the most to me were those where my fellow students didn’t understand my fear and simply told me to “get it over with,” “what’s your problem; it’s not a big deal,” and quite frankly made me feel minimized and stupid for feelings that I had no control over. You know what those comments made me want to do? NOT sing.
I ended up getting so nervous I would cry or make myself sick, which made me feel even more self-conscious and incapable as a person.
What would have helped — tremendously I might add — was if someone had approached me with compassion and told me that my best was good enough, that my singing didn’t define me, and that my feelings were valid. For someone to acknowledge that for me it was hard, even if it wasn’t for them, but that they had my back would have meant the world to me.
So much more can be accomplished if we just take the time to listen to our clients, our members, and our friends. Validate their concerns and meet them where they are. In our position as an authority in fitness and exercise, we need to be extremely careful about the language we use to motivate others and even ourselves. It’s important to encourage others to reach their goals in a HEALTHY way and without shaming them or making them feel bad about what they are or are not doing.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can quickly recognize these types of messages and ignore them, but my concern is for those people who haven’t quite been beaten down enough to finally say ENOUGH. It’s for those people who still look to fitness magazines and absurd, catchy slogans for inspiration but somehow come away from them feeling worse than they did before.
Our goal is to help others and I don’t see how we can do that if we continue to break them.
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.
- How do you feel about fitness messages?
46 comments on “An Open Letter To The Fitness Community”
I hear so many reasons that people don’t want to try something new, and often it comes down to pride. But if we didn’t always try to present things as perfect, maybe they wouldn’t feel their pride was being threatened, they would try it, and they might like it!
Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Thoughts on Discrimination and Hate From a Southerner
There’s so much pressure on this world to be a certain way. I couldn’t agree with you more on the fitness posts and I see it all the time with weight loss too. It kills me because I know how easily discouraged people can be.
Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…The Beginner’s Guide To EASY Meal Planning
I know. Let’s all just love and encourage each other!
Oh wow Erin, this is so awesome. So happy I stumbled on your blog! I also disagree with everything promoting the “bikini” or “beach body” look. Can’t we all just appreciate our bodies the way they are and not have to put a label on it?
Marina @ A Dancer’s Live-It recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: Bloating
Wouldn’t that be the best??
Yes, you’re so right. The messages the fitness industries send out- I am convinced- are designed to set people up for failure, shame and keep them trapped in a cycle of investing in their programs and products. That’s not to say there are many excellent, caring trainers out there who genuinely want to help. But the overall fitness industry is out to make money. Reading fitness rags make me fume.
Such a good message Erin!!
Thanks Elizabeth! I’ve stopped reading a lot of fitness magazines bc of it.
Such a good note. Life isn’t all about earning food and being “skinny.” Shame doesn’t work for anyone. Let’s start by genuinely building each other up.
Julie @ Running in a Skirt recently posted…Summer Berry Kale Salad
This is so well written Erin. I take full responsibility, but some of what you talked about is part of the reason had [and recovering from] an eating disorder and in the journey to recover I had to remove a great many online and magazine sources of the messages you’re referring to. I no longer fall victim to promises of quick fixes (that fail to last) and one size fits all approaches or implications of you’re “less” if you’re not skinny, but many people still do.
Can you tell this has been on my mind a lot lately? Great read.
jill conyers recently posted…5 Easy Tips for Smart and Sustainable Fitness
Thank you Jill! I had the same problem and used to post pictures from fitness magazines on my fridge as “inspiration.” The only problem is that my goals were often unattainable for my body type and rooted in insecurity. I’m so glad to be past those times, but I know it’s still an issue for those people coming up in this age.
I love your analogy to choir – I was in choir from kindergarten through HS as well, and I definitely identify with liking it but the vocal tests being HORRIBLE.
As someone who went from pretty overweight my whole life to losing a lot of weight and living a healthy (for me) lifestyle, I can definitely attest to the fact that all of the propaganda in health and fitness today can make it seem intimidating and even impossible to someone who is not in that life yet.
Morgan recently posted…Thinking Out Loud #9
Thanks Morgan! I know I don’t even have as much of an understanding as many other people do, but even from where I am I can see how damaging it is.
Even as someone who is very aware of those messages and feelings of shame, sometimes I hesitate to try something new because I’m scared of the judgement. I especially feel like I don’t look like how a fitness blogger “should” look and I let myself feel discouraged by it when I really don’t have a reason to.
Ange // Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Online Dating in 10 Steps
Yeah girl, don’t worry – you got this! You’re always a running inspiration to me since I’m not doing it as much anymore 🙂
Erin, you captured the fitness message so well. We need to look at people as humans, created in God’s image. We need to stop looking at people by the outside and go to the core of loving them, caring for them, speaking the truth we all need to hear, and not being hateful or judgmental about what we say. <3 Thank you. I think you would be a good trainer for anyone!
Emily recently posted…Peanut Butter Protein Blondies
Absolutely. Thanks for reading Emily!
I’ve definitely heard a lot of people say they avoided something like fitness classes, or joining a gym, or going out for a run because they were afraid of being judged since they didn’t “look the part.” The judgement is a sad thing. And I think that while shaming and guilting people into getting healthier might work in the short run, it won’t last. Negative emotions don’t make for good motivators.
Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…googling symptoms, the chipotle diet, & VIQs (ToL#187)
Totally. It’s where some people start, but unless they find a positive and intrinsic reason to continue, it’ll be a tough road.
I really want to post a gif of someone doing the slow clap. Brava, darling.
Tiffany @ The Chi-Athlete recently posted…What “Healthy” is not…
Bahaha. Well I’m imagining that right now so job well done 🙂
Love this so much, Erin.
I have little to add except that I emphatically agree.
It’s all about empathy and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. My job is different but I at least try to treat people kindly – even if I’m not a trainer, counselor, coach, etc.
Catherine @ foodiecology recently posted…Blogging and Oversharing?
Absolutely. Thanks so much for reading Catherine!
I adore everything you said. What sticks out to me is that we don’t really need someone else to tell us we aren’t good enough. We do enough of that ourselves. What we could use is someone to build us up a little bit, and validate our efforts and feelings. Accepting where someone is helps a lot more than telling them they have so far to go.
Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday recently posted…Lessons from My Second Year of College
Absolutely. I love that Ellen. It’s all about helping them get there in the journey!
This is great! I also think that people post these “Fit-spiration” photos of like starving models. I hate it! I will definitely share this article link in my next link love post…i love this!
Heather @ Polyglot Jot recently posted…TOL: Young Face Probs
Aw thanks heather! Yeah, I fell into that mentality for a long time and it took a lot of damage to myself to realize that it’s negative and just not worth it.
I love this post, Erin! You are so correct about how motivational messages like that can be so unmotivating to those who already find being active to be a real challenge.
One thing I wish some health coaches and fitness instructors would be aware of is the language they use to describe their own habits and behaviors. For instance, I remember being in a group fitness class where the teacher was scolding herself for all the cookies she’d eaten over the holidays. I was struggling with an eating disorder at that point, so for me, any amount of cookies was “too many.” Just like parents can promote negative body image by talking about their own bodies in negative ways, I think group fitness instructors can do the same.
I really appreciate your insight here.
Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar recently posted…WIAW: Munchy Days and Mealy Days
Ooh what a good point Joyce! It’s so important to show others that we don’t treat food as the enemy either. Haha you know I don’t just from my Instagram page 🙂
OMG Erin I can’t tell you how much I love this post. I was JUST talking about this with one of my class members the other day. It’s SUCH an important message to get out there into the fitness community, and you articulated it eloquently. I cannot STAND when I take a class and the instructor is talking about how much she ate or drank over the weekend and “needs to burn off all those calories” or “detox” the body by sweating profusely. Some don’t even realize that saying those things first off all makes the class all about THEM, and second, sends the exact wrong message we need to be sending to our clients.
I love this post. Everything you said, I completely agree with. A positive attitude, words of encouragement, and knowing someone is there for you is just about all most people need to keep going when times get tough, especially in fitness. THANK YOU for this post. 🙂
Ellyn @ In Fitness and In Health recently posted…Life Lately: A Quick Update, Some News, and The Future
Aw thank you so much ellyn! That’s such a good point that as instructors we need to not speak that way about food and lifestyle choices. Luckily everyone can see from my IG that I don’t have any problem w food haha.
fear is what holds so many of us (and clients) back. And intimidation. What if we fail.? what if we look awkward. ?what if , what if , what if. ???
I love your come as you are approach. I love your compassion. That’s what EVERY TRAINER should focus on!
I totally agree! Everyone has to start somewhere.
Wow SO well written, and I couldn’t agree more with all of these thoughts Erin. I’ve been getting so frustrated and sad with the “fitness community” on IG, because of having inspiration captions or whatnot, but then having a photo that focuses on an edited, “thin ideal”, body type. Why don’t people stop posting so many selfies focused on their body when trying to inspire, and post more REAL photos of every day people?
Totally. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I had to stop following some people on IG bc their fitness posts were so unrealistic and I wasn’t getting positive messages from them.
This is fantastic; I’m so happy I stumbled on this! Moderation is truly key to health/fitness, but I’ve seen the extreme rhetoric discourage so many of my friends and relatives. It’s sad and unnecessary and I’m glad you’re speaking up about it!
Thanks Kathleen! I’ve been on both sides and it’s just so damaging and exhausting. My hope is for everyone to find what works for them and find happiness in what they do!
I have a love/hate relationship with fitness inspo, but particularly dislike ones that have “skinny” or “fat”in it! YESSSS there needs to be more compassion with regards to everyone’s journey. And also…let’s stop “getting ready” for summer, and instead be ready for life!
Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Simple Peach Berry Cobbler
Haha totally. If you’re consistent and make it a lifestyle then you’re “ready” all the time!
I love it, and so well written. I completely agree.
Eamon recently posted…Top Articles from the World of Business, Fitness and Personal Training – 19th June 2016
Thank you eamon!!
I have attended numerous fitness classes in the past and more than 80% of them ended up being just one-time stints simply because I did not like how the coaches “encouraged” the participants. Thank you for this open letter, I do hope it reaches every fitness coach around the globe.
Thanks so much Travis! If you’re ever in Chicago come to one of my classes!
I would like to get in better shape for the rest of this year this post letter can honestly motivate me to just switch up the routine and try something new.
I hope so. Thanks for reading Erik!