When it comes to females and fitness, we are facing an uphill battle, but it's a battle that we can conquer and defeat. On an everyday basis, women and young girls are being told that they are flawed and are not good enough, and that they need to make themselves less. Fitness, and the ability to be physically active, are gifts that if used properly, will positively impact all aspects of a person's life. Instead, fitness is being used as a powerful weapon of mass destruction, a weapon that wears women down, both mentally and physically. Greedy charlatans use shame tactics to market their products and services, and this makes my blood boil. It is up to us to make a positive impact, and be the change that is needed.
Some of the main enemies that women face on a daily basis include:
1. Fame seeking Insta-fitness ''gurus'' who use their very obviously airbrushed and photoshopped images, and scantily clad gym attire, to gain popularity, and to peddle gimmicky and often dangerous products like detoxes, cleanses, fad diets, waist trainers, and more.
2. Celebrity ''trainers'' who become famous and highly sought after by latching onto a few painfully oblivious celebrity clients, and spread the harmful message that women should never lift weights weighing more than 3lbs or else they will become ''bulky'' and ''masculine,'' and that they should avoid training larger muscle groups for these same reasons. In fact, one time I couldn't resist and commented below one of the most notorious but popular celebrity trainer's videos, and was attacked by many of her loyal devotees. The ''guru'' took the time to reply to my comment which was stated very respectfully, and intelligently. She even went so far as doing a bit of a background check on me. As I expected, she tried to out-science me in a very arrogant and condescending way, and even offered to send me her book, so I could ''learn about effective coaching'' (essentially, ignore clients and provide no cuing or correcting, and stare at oneself in the mirror). No thanks!!
3. Fitness magazines - Women's fitness magazines are virtually always about: ''shrinking,'' ''losing fat,'' ''melting fat,'' ''targeting stubborn areas,'' ''banishing cellulite,'' ''dropping inches,'' ''toning'' and ''sculpting.'' You get my point. These magazines are incredibly sexist, condescending, limiting, and harmful, and tell women and girls they are not good enough the way they are, and they need to fix their so-called ''flaws;'' or if these magazines are being kind, ''embrace their flaws.'' Sorry, but who do these people think they are telling us what our flaws are? And what if we don't consider them to be flaws in the first place? Where is the marketing that encourages females to become strong, powerful, athletic, muscular, healthier, confident, bold, daring, outspoken, and more empowered? Conversely, men's fitness magazines are all about gaining strength, power, improving athleticism, adding muscle, improving their bench press (or other exercises), ''building strong and muscular legs'', and so forth. Men are encouraged to become more, and with women, it is the polar opposite. This needs to change!
4. Insta-memes - So many painfully insulting memes are created on a daily basis, and spread like wildfire. These memes, ones that make the legitimate fitness professionals cringe, are usually created/circulated by the fitness imposters, and tell women that they are not good enough, that they will never meet ''the man of their dreams,'' or that they will never be successful unless they fix their flaws, and make themselves less.
5. Bad personal trainers/coaches - It's no secret that the fitness industry is highly unregulated, and quite frankly, scary. The qualified, educated, competent, and reputable fitness professionals are few and far between. Unfortunately, many people who simply want to feel healthy, happy, strong, confident, and fit, are instead being unknowingly taught to have a dysfunctional relationship with exercise and food, and this is unacceptable!
Body-shaming is NOT ok. In fact, it is dangerous
I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I've been body-shamed over the course of my life.
Some of my body-shaming highlights include being told that:
- You are too muscular!
- You are too thin!
- You are fat!
- OMG, your lats are so big!
- Are your calves real?
- Is your ass real?
- Be careful or you might make yourself look gay! (A so-called ''friend'' actually said this to me when I was in my early 20s. This was one of the most hurtful comments ever made to me. Back then, not wanting to be stereotyped was something that I really struggled with).
- Did you get a boob job?
- Be careful, you don't want to get too muscular!
- You have curves in ALLLLL the right places. I can't wait to see how lean you get come summer (from a creepy man at the gym who always leered at me and thought it was appropriate to make these comments).
- You are looking huge (muscular)!
After a lot of work (and education) on my part, I have developed an extremely beneficial, empowering, and healthy relationship with exercise, food, and my body. Comments like these no longer bother me, and I am still subjected to them on occasion, but when I was younger and did not have a healthy relationship with my body, working out and food, and was wasting these precious gifts to control a part of my life that I felt powerless over, comments like these wreaked havoc on me mentally, and my performance and health related results were terrible. I was a slave to working out and food. This internal jail was not conducive to a happy, healthy, or productive life.
Females in general are vulnerable to predatory marketing tactics, which makes our job as fitness professionals, coaches, and mentors, significantly tougher. When I work with female clients, more often than not, their initial words to me are that they hate a part or parts of their body (often their legs) and want to make them smaller, or that they want to ''tone, but not add any muscle.'' I'm sure that many strength and fitness coaches can relate to this. I blame mass media, society in general, and the fitness charlatans for this, but I also blame the credible fitness professionals for not doing enough, myself included. We can, and should do more.
It is still a relatively rare phenomenon when my new female clients want to build muscle, get crazy strong, become more athletic, get healthier, and do cool stuff/have fun. While my percentage of new female clients who have this mindset has increased exponentially, and I suspect this is largely due to the way I intentionally market myself, this percentage is still much lower than I'd like. However, I'm optimistic that this statistic will move in a positive direction.
I strive to create a safe and positive environment that encourages all of my clients to focus on their health and performance, making themselves more versus less, and developing healthy, realistic and sustainable habits, instead of fixating solely on aesthetics, and looking for ineffective, expensive, and often unhealthy quick fixes. More often than not, I find that this strategy reaps huge dividends and allows each unique individual to create and foster a positive relationship with working out, food, and their body, that will last a lifetime.
Words are extremely powerful tools that can build people up, or send them into a self-destructive tailspin. When it comes to how we approach our clients, how we express ourselves in writing, and how we market our products and services, we need to be incredibly mindful of the words we use, and how we frame them. While shaming, condescending, and potentially harmful words tend to be ''sexier'' and seem to be what sells products and services, we must be above that. Even thought it might hurt me in terms of my revenue and popularity, I will never sacrifice my reputation, or potentially harm anyone, in order to make a buck. Words matter.
While the legitimate fitness professionals will always be up against the frauds who do not have the physical and mental well-being of their clients/potential clients at heart, and only care about making money, it is up to us to keep reinforcing a message of positivity and empowerment, and providing our clients with the tools that will improve their health, happiness and well-being, and will help them thrive in all aspects of their lives. Anybody who uses shame tactics to market him/herself is an absolute charlatan who deserves to be called out. Shame on you. Once again, while we are facing an uphill battle, we will be victorious. After all, women and young girls deserve better!