In the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” Meryl Streep portrayed the boss from hell who judged her employees based purely on what they looked like. As the editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine, that seemed only fair–except judging people on appearance leaves no room for their talent or knowledge, which was the case for Andy Sachs played by Anne Hathaway, who played Streep’s assistant. Andy landed a job miraculously, not because she was a college graduate who was a talented writer and editor. She got the job because she morphed into a fashionista which enabled her to become a success.
This storyline may seem farcical and unfair, however, this type of discrimination is commonplace in the workplace, and especially in the world of fitness. How do I know? Because I work in fitness management and see this happen all the time, and must honestly confess, I have been guilty of this practice myself–up until recently that is.
It first started at Midwest Mania, the annual fitness conference for instructors and trainers where we come together to see, learn, and experience the latest fun exercise formats in the industry. It’s something I look forward to attending every year and I was so excited this year because Jillian Michaels was the keynote speaker. I felt like a kid who’d just received a ticket to the magic kingdom! My enthusiasm plummeted like a roller coaster on a quick descent though. This year things were different.
For one, the entire industry of fitness has changed. What used to look like a fitness model’s conference now looked like ordinary people in gym attire in one large place. Simply put, the struggle with weight has not missed the fitness industry either. There were many people with pot bellies in the building. What has led to this decline? To me, I attributed it to the influx of Zumba and all dance formats similar to it. Where fitness used to be serious and challenging and scientific and structured now just has bouncy people of all shapes and sizes dancing around–and they don’t even know how to cue! “The travesty!,” thought myself and some of my colleagues.
I shared with my inner circle how Zumba and all of its similar counterparts have watered down fitness and taken what we studied so hard to learn and made it easy, for heaven’s sake, and this just could not be. “Real fitness instructors cue,” we touted with pride and arrogance, and yet my conscience tugged on my heart strings just as powerfully as the kettle bells I swung around in one session.
Something wasn’t sitting well with my soul.
But God being God who does all things well, led me to a conference session with one of my mentors who I’ve known over ten years. She taught me the Fundamentals of Group Fitness at Moraine Valley Community College, and is still there, inspiring aspiring fitness instructors and trainers to pursue their passion for fitness. I took that class in 2004 and there was my professor, who’d been in the industry over 20 yrs back then, in the back taking notes as if this were her first time at Mania.
It was then that heaven dropped down another nugget to my soul:
Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.
And you’re never too old to learn.
As a matter of fact, never stop learning.
Approach each day, each session, and each conference as if were your first.
My professor never said those words to me. She lived them by example.
But it wasn’t just that experience that began opening the eyes of my heart to see people for who they are and not just what they look like.
It was the devil, not wearing Prada, but the devil on my job in gym shoes who led me to my full conviction and enlightenment.
One day I was blessed to audition an instructor who happened to mention during the course of her audition that she was 61-yrs old, who worked full time in education, and had lost over 100 lbs, and now has a desire to share her passion and enthusiasm with others as a–you guessed it–Zumba instructor. And she was OUTSTANDING! She had on her Zumba skirt with all of its jingles and jangles and shook her money maker in such a way that James Brown would be proud. I watched her nervously audition with me because she wants so desperately to teach with our fitness facility. And I wanted to hire her.
But just as Andy Sachs had to deal with the often cold and unyielding Miranda Priestly, I have to answer to the powers that be for the corporate fitness chain where I work. (I do believe I’m far too unimportant and low on the chain for them to even read my blog, which is why I am sharing this story openly and bravely).
Back to me and the devil.
I had to submit my candidate’s video to my superiors who were insulted by almost everything about her. “Is that gray hair?” she demanded to know of me. “Why did she have that skirt on?” Before I could answer, she fired, “Is she fit? I mean, I HATE those Zumba skirts. Was she wearing that to hide being fat?”
I didn’t even have a chance to explain what a wonderful person this lady was. All I did say was that I felt she would give a great workout and be an amazing source of inspiration to women of all ages, but particularly to baby boomers who make up a large population of fitness clientele.
“Yeah, well that doesn’t matter. That’s her story and that doesn’t matter. What matters is if a person standing outside of the glass looking in at her would be interested in taking a class with this lady.” To this, I could only simply respond, “Yes.”
And that’s when the floodgates opened.
Had I been this evil and judgmental to women, the very people I claim to be in the business of motivating to health and wellness? Had I judged my peers in the fitness industry simply because of what they looked like, without knowing anything about them or their story or their talent, simply because they may have wide hips or untoned triceps?
I was crushed and devastated.
I don’t want to be the devil in Prada or gym shoes or anything else.
I want to love people for who they are and not judge them for their appearance.
At that moment, Dr. King’s speech flooded my memory and I could hear his words coming to life for me, only this time it wasn’t for color and education and opportunity, it was for physical size–and right then, and even right now–I have been changed. I am different.
At Midwest Mania, I talked about how it was insulting for me to hand the headset over to Zumba instructors who hadn’t gained the education and credentials I had and just come through the “back door” with their Zumba certificate teaching in fitness venues just like “us” credential-ed folk. But, God being God and doing all things well, He has changed my heart and shown me my ugly self which may not be overweight, although I am certainly no fitness model. He did this so that I can be better, and I am thankful, because I remember my professor who so patiently showed me the ropes for teaching, and never made me feel unwelcome due to my mommy bulge I’ve battled for years having had six daughters. And by the way, we are women from two different races.
Sometimes God will send you a hero who isn’t wearing a cape. They are just living and leading by example. I hope and pray I can now be that for someone else.
In FITNESS and In Health,
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