Apologies for the long silence between posts – it has been a busy few weeks and with summer making a few brief appearances I’ve been making the most of downtime in the sun!
But I feel it’s important to talk about food shaming and the growing “fitspiration” trend for a while now, because I can see it affecting more and more people.
You may already have heard of “fat shaming” before (the verbal and emotional abuse of overweight individuals because of their size, weight, or shape), and the world is now very vocal about unhealthily low weights as seen in fashion models. But there is a new trend which is gaining momentum: “fitspiration”. If you use social media or have visited any mainstream fitness sites in the last few months, you have undoubtedly seen the photos of toned women in gym-like attire (though often little more than a sports bra and hotpants), slightly sweaty, usually accompanied by some sort of supposedly motivational slogan.
My problem with fitspiration in a nutshell: its fans claim that it portrays a healthier image of women; instead of being skinny and passive, they are muscular and depicted doing some sort of physical activity. However, whether they continue to be sexualised and objectified, or whether they appear to be taking matters into their own hands, they still very much promote one type of body and one type of body only (links are all to images and some are not safe for work!). As somebody who has exercised in one way or another for years, in various gyms, with various friends and training partners and acquaintances, I can promise you I have never seen a woman who looked like a fitspo model.
I certainly don’t look like one.
And yes, there are times (too many times) when that makes me feel inadequate as a personal trainer; I ask myself, shouldn’t I be dedicating every scrap of spare time to crafting the perfect body?
Well, no. And that’s why I’m writing today, even though many people have covered the topic way better than I ever could (a couple of my favourite sources here and here). While there is a “No Diet Talk” blog-based movement that has been around for years, I do fear that many fitspirationers will dismiss the idea due to the writer’s weight, size or shape as there seems to be a prevailing notion that fat people don’t have a right to an opinion, especially not where their own bodies are concerned.
Yes, exercise may be a healthy practice. Yes, eating a variety of colourful, fresh, and unprocessed foods may be a healthy practice. But those two alone will not make you look like a fitspo model – for that, you would need to add extra muscle bulk in the right proportions (regardless of where your genes or your favourite physical activity would want you to add muscle bulk), then you would need to strip the fat off them to reveal their shape and striations. That’s without even talking about photo shoot day (last-minute dieting, clothing selection, lighting) or post-shoot days (image-editing). It’s a long and specific process, and there’s a reason people get paid to do it. It’s not going to be all happy, healthy, green-smoothie-sipping, heavy-lifting, going-home-to-a-hearty-meal-after-a-long-day fun. It’s work, and like most jobs, it comes at the cost of a number of lifestyle sacrifices.
But surely everyone should be encouraged to eat healthily and to exercise, even if they know they’re not going to look like a fitness model?
I think this is where the lines have become blurred. For a while, people knew models and images weren’t realistic, and continued about their lives. Now it seems that even those who know to disregard unrealistic figure expectations, buy into the whole “eat clean, train hard”* message that I assume fitspiration is responsible for spreading. And they expect others to buy into it too, under a thin veil of trying to promote widespread health.
So… does that mean we should all forget about trying to eat more fruit and veg, stop going to the gym, and should I be ashamed of being a personal trainer?
I believe sport and fitness and “healthy” eating (more on that below) are still relevant, and can happily coexist with confidence and peaceful lifestyles.
I see the role of the personal trainer as helping people live healthier lives. I don’t believe than an hour in a gym every few days (or even every day) constitutes an active lifestyle – it’s all about the other 23 hours (or 47, or 71) in between. However, sometimes it’s hard to get active when you don’t feel comfortable in your own body; walking up the stairs leaves you sweaty and out of breath, stretching feels odd and uncomfortable, your limbs just feel cumbersome and your back hurts. Personal trainers should be training bodies to be more comfortable and functional in everyday life and for the long term; addressing muscular imbalances that can cause knee, back, shoulder and neck pains, improving cardiovascular fitness so that necessary everyday activities are no longer a burden. Unless you are a competitive athlete with one very specific goal in mind that you are willing to make sacrifices for, there is no point training so hard that you can’t do anything but lie on a couch for the rest of the day.
As for healthy eating, I think we need to understand that there is no healthy diet (I use the word “diet” to mean “eating pattern”, not “weight loss/food restriction method”). There is, however, a diet (or a number of diets) that accompanies a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle encompasses the physical as well as the psychological and emotional (and, by extension, the social). I don’t believe that a flawlessly “healthy” diet in terms of nutritional value, leaving you unable to enjoy the foods or drinks you would want to for social (friend and family gatherings) or emotional reasons (stress, cravings), leaving you feeling guilty if you do find yourself eating something less “healthy” in the nutritional sense, leaving you worried and stressed about preparing food in advance even though it’s late and you’re exhausted, or causing you to spend more money than you can afford in order to purchase the most fashionable superfood, is a healthy diet – because it doesn’t fit in to a healthy lifestyle.
Whenever you feel inadequate about anything, confront it: is this something you worry about, or is it something the media has made you worry about? Is it something you can change, and is it something you want to change?
Remember that your body is yours – for life – and nobody can tell you what you should do with it or how you should feel about it. Not even your personal trainer.