I meant to write this entry weeks ago when the whole Lady Gaga body shaming thing came out, but other #AskAmanda inquiries came up, and I had to save my little soapbox for a while.
But now, I’ve been thinking about my dear Lady as well as some other recent body-related posts I’ve seen (female boxer Alicia Napoleon on what being “beautiful” means; H&M’s new body positive advertising) and I just feel like it’s the right time to talk about an issue that underlies so much of the communication, presentation, and function of the fitness industry – especially as it applies to women*.
(*Male readers, by the way, don’t think you’re “excused” from the conversation – if you choose to leave, you’re just part of the problem.)
“The problem,” by the way, is this: the true definition of fitness as an ideal should be a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit – but the working definition of fitness in our culture is a muscled yet somehow miraculously lean body without much attention to the whole “mind and spirit” thing and even less to the whole “life in balance” thing. Throw in the fact that many female representations of “fitness” are often just regular (underweight) models wearing sports bras, and I think the issue is quite clear.
Think of how fitness companies sell their products – whether it’s gym memberships, vitamins, group classes, fancy equipment, clothing, whatever – it’s usually by showcasing these impossibly “fit” bodies (and again, if we’re talking about women, usually “fit” and “skinny” are frustratingly and inaccurately interchangeable, since visible muscles can actually have the opposite effect on sales) and promising that the product/apparel/supplement will deliver them as quickly as possible.
In a word: wrong. And in another word: misleading. And allow me one more: destructive.
Even if these companies have the best of intentions, they’re still delivering the age-old message that the only reason to get fit is to have a hot (thin/muscled, again, depending on gender) body, and if a certain method doesn’t guarantee a hot (thin/muscled) body, it’s not worth pursuing. Screw you, tai chi. Forget it, low-impact cardio. Sayonara, stretching. Our fitness culture screams push, starve, sweat, burn – rarely if ever, balance; and nearly never, fitness at any size.
Furthermore, advertising and communicating this message does double damage in that it negates the actual reality of achieving hot (thin/muscled) bodies, which is that it often takes much more sacrifice and social isolation than the average person is willing to commit, and that a hot body is no more a symbol of true health than a Louis Vuitton bag is a symbol of true wealth – it’s just an easily identifiable status symbol, and just as shallow.
I once had a client tell me that she would not have signed up to train with me if she didn’t “want my body” – how I interpreted that was, if my body shape and size didn’t meet her ideal of what a fit body should look like, she would negate the decade-plus experience I’ve had professionally training clients and hire someone who “looked the part” better than me.
I’ve had it with that type of bullsh*t.
Because I specialise as a weight loss coach, you may think it’s a bit hypocritical for me to harp on the hyperfocus on body size and shape as a problem, since it’s exactly that “problem” that keeps me in business. But I counter with this: I specialise in helping people get to their healthy weights, with lots of lean muscle, functional mobility, clean nutrition, and personal growth along the way.
Not a single one of my clients is encouraged to take supplements, go below normal recommended calorie targets, slog away hours of cardio, or even give much credence to the raw number on the scale (I emphasise the importance of body fat percentage and body measurements as the appropriate progress metrics for fat loss). No one in my gym gets by calling themselves “weak” or “fat,” and I really try to discourage (particularly female) clients from pointing out singular body parts as “problem areas” and rather encourage a full-body fabulous approach to training.
I refuse to accommodate women who tell me they don’t want to get “too muscular” (for the record, it’s never one happened, because gaining muscle is not an easy feat for most of us) from training with weights, and I absolutely have no patience for clients who choose to starve themselves or do hours of cardio to “lose weight” rather than do it the right way.
Before I lose focus (and I know, I’m almost there), I want to leave you guys with the summary point of all this: how you look on the outside is only one (often misleading) indicator of how you’re functioning on the inside, and no one – not even your doctor, not even your trainer – can assess your health and fitness just by looking at your body shape or size. You control your real health outcomes with attention to clean eating, resistance training, and proper sleep and stress management, and when you do those things well, you’ll see exactly what your healthy body is supposed to look like.
Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve? How do you – did you – deal?
Seriously? People were dissing Lady Gaga’s body at the SB halftime show??? WTF. Her body is fantastic–as is her signing, business savvy, talent, and probably many other traits. Such shallow people who obsessed over the look rather than the voice and the talent. This is what MTV hath wrought!!! 😦 Music is all about appearance now, rather than the music.
I’m fortunate that I’ve “stayed in shape” my entire life. The “worst” comment I get is usually, “You’re so lucky to be thin.” HUH? Yes, I guess I’m lucky to have a particular genetic makeup (tall and lanky), but I’ve only stayed thin because to most people, I’ve been dieting for the past 40 years. I don’t eat whatever I want, I exercise 5-6 times a week–cardio and weights and stretching. I eat a lot of spinach, avocados, fruit, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, nuts, berries, fiber, lean protein, dark chocolate (72%+ cacao in modest amounts), and fish occasionally, and whole grains, and as much organic as we can afford, and work hard to not eat donuts and candy and potatoes with gravy all day. Salt is almost an afterthought in cooking (often only half what the recipe calls for ) and NEVER used at the table to pre-salt everything in site before tasting.
Dessert used to be a daily thing (a bowl of ice cream, or cake or pie or whatever). Now it’s a rare treat. I used to eat chocolate chip cookies by the dozen as an after-school snack. Now I have a cookie about once every month or two. I used to eat two hamburgers for dinner (1/4 pounders). Now it’s one, and I eat 90/10 or 93/7 lean beef, and it’s maybe once every month or so. I don’t deny myself all treats–I love sweets and have a muffin, cupcake, and or scone once a week, ice cream now and then in the summer, and we do like our wine in moderation. So I’m not an ascetic, and I certainly don’t walk around with a “holier-(fitter?)-than-thou attitude. I just do what feels right for me.
As I’ve aged, I’ve increased my aerobic activity just to burn off more calories since they don’t seem to “melt away” as fast as they did when I was 30. I used to feel I could almost “will away” those few pounds I added during the holidays. Now it’s more like grinding them off ounce by ounce.
So yeah, I guess that makes me pretty “lucky” to be “so thin and in shape” for my age.
(Sorry for the rant–got going and couldn’t stop myself.)
Are we calling that a rant? Because I think it’s something you should be VERY proud of – not many of us can stand behind a lifetime of making good choices, and now that you’re reaping the benefits, you deserve every bit of it. No “luck” indeed – just good choices.
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LOL, sort of felt like a rant. Maybe just getting up on my soapbox and advocating for staying out of the US healthcare system as much as possible.