I have been accused of being a fat shamer ever since I published a blog in 2014 where I asked if people respected fat fitness professionals. It was my belief that as leaders in the fitness industry, instructors should be role models and look the part.
Why did I ever say that?
Since then, I have gotten many angry comments from readers who have called me a “judgmental Christian,” told me “everybody hates you,” and that I was this world’s “biggest hypocrite.”
I guess I touched a nerve.
But unlike our president, my intention is never to sit down at my computer and figure out ways I can go and piss off a whole community of folk. To me, I thought I was stating the obvious. I would feel some kind of way if my dentist was missing a front tooth, if my hairstylist had disheveled, uncombed hair on a regular, and my fitness instructor was dare I say, fat.
Since posting that blog, I’ve had some time to reflect on my statements and my thoughts.
As someone who’s been an instructor for over ten years (which to my colleagues who’ve been around for decades makes me a newbie), I’ve had an opportunity to see the changing landscape of fitness formats and expectations of savvy exercisers. Where cuing (an instructor’s ability to give verbal directions in a timely, organized manner) was once the gold standard of a seasoned and inspiring instructor, the industry has now evolved to include class offerings like Zumba in which the instructor isn’t even required to speak. Add to that technological advances in fitness thanks to the emerging growth of wearable technology–and it’s easy to see that the fitness industry is ripe of opportunity and advancement for all.
Yet, I never saw myself as a fat shamer. I thought I was being an honest realist. But I realize I hurt people’s feelings and left instructors with the impression that they could not be inspiring and motivating if they were overweight, when that just simply is not true.
One thing that I also realized that I left out of my previous blog that I think is important for people to know is that I myself do not fit the typical stereotype of a slim, fit and trim fitness instructor. I’m a curvy, hippy, big butt black woman and trust me when I tell you, I know I do not fit society’s image of a fitness professional. But I’m okay with that, because I’m okay with me.
I know what I have to offer and I know that I am working to live a healthy lifestyle and it creates an opportunity for me and my class participants to all be on our fitness journey together. They inspire me and I inspire them. I often post on Facebook #ilovewhatido because I do. I love teaching fitness classes.
I’m not so thrilled about getting inbox messages and random outbursts on my Facebook page from readers of my blog who don’t share my sentiments trying to rip me a new one, but I know it’s par for the course so I just take it because angry readers make me think. They challenge me to shine a light on my dark places and I’m okay with that. I know that just as the fitness industry is evolving, and life itself is constantly changing and growing, I too am doing the same thing. I am now much more accepting of people and don’t simply look at their physical attributes when auditioning for fitness classes. I look at their teaching style and ability.
I think I really angered people in my previous post because I observed a trainer doing a fitness assessment and the trainer, in my own words, looked to be about “eighteen months pregnant.” I realize now why people called me “judgmental,” “elitist,” or a “snob” because I had judged the trainer’s ability on his appearance. While this is common in our industry, the truth is, this is wrong.
As the expression goes, “Hurt people hurt people,” and I see how this is true in my case. That mindset, that my body had to match my intellect, kept me bound in the belief that I wasn’t good enough, or I hadn’t trained enough, or I just wasn’t a good instructor. In short, I was limiting my own advancement based on my own limited thinking.
Time and experience has granted me the opportunity to reconsider my opinions, and re-evaluate my thoughts. That’s why when I was promoted into management and in charge of auditioning instructors, I hired a gentleman named Willie. He’s lost over a hundred pounds and my fitness colleagues teased me when I hired him because in all actuality, he probably needs to lose a hundred more. But, Willie is reliable. He is dedicated. He loves teaching Cycle. He is funny and fun loving with a heart of gold. In fact, hiring Willie is one of the best decisions I ever made as a fitness director and I’m so proud to be a part of his journey in health and fitness because believe it or not, trust me when I tell you, no body else would have hired Willie.
And yet, I’ve hired many others like him.
I also hired the older, retired woman who loves Zumba, got certified, and wants to teach in her spare time, but she is clearly overweight. Nevertheless, I hired her because I thought she had something valuable to offer to the people she’d be instructing.
Readers of my previous blog post told me not to judge people, and now I don’t. But believe me fitness instructors, many of your participants do, and especially your managers when it comes time for promotion, evaluations, and raises.
For instance, one day I happened to be right outside of Willie’s class when some members came into the gym and saw him on the bike and looking through the windows of the cycle room, the lady remarked,
“Lord have mercy. Now he knows he shouldn’t have his big ass on a bike. Who hired him?!?!”
Because I just so happened to be standing RIGHT THERE, I said with much unembellished sentiment, “I did,” ready for the fight. But it turns out, I didn’t have to. The guy who was with her said, “Don’t say that about Willie. He is a great guy. And he has come a mighty long way. Plus, he teaches a great class. I bet you can’t hang up in there!”
I was glad I didn’t have to fight with her because I don’t want to fight with anyone, but I was ready to defend Willie. He earned his right to lead that class and I was ready to go to bat for him. But that’s just it, her sentiments match many others who see instructors and have a certain expectation of what the teacher should look like.
Let’s face it: fitness is a tough industry where people judge us by our appearance.
The reality is, my enlightened state and willingness to hire people based on skill and not physical appearance alone is not the norm in this industry. I’m sorry. You can be an inspiring fitness instructor. You can have an awesome class. You can have the sweetest personality. You can give verbal cues that keep everyone moving and grooving and on and on and on. But if you are fat, you are judged, and not by me, so don’t be mad at me.
We are held to a higher standard.
How is my saying this hurtful? Does it make anyone feel better if I myself fall into this category because if that’s the case, believe me when I tell you, I do!
I have cellulite. I have stretch marks. I have a muffin top forming (Why Lord?!?!) and I have work I need to do. But I don’t justify my weight or my look with the fact that I teach a gazillion classes a week. That’s great. Like I said, I love what I do. But I must also work to live the life I am helping others to embrace. Why is this hurtful?
I’m not nearly as blunt as UK health guru Steve Miller who recently said we SHOULD fat blame people because according to him “shame is a great motivator.”
Miller also said, “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these guys [referring to people in the health/fitness industry] do a great job, and they are role models, but if the dietitian’s fatter than the patient, how on Earth is that going to motivate them?” He even suggested that people in the health industry wear badges to show that they are fat and are working on losing weight.
I don’t want to be known as a judgmental, Christian who fat shames people. I really don’t. But if my speaking the truth is hurtful, I hope it’s only to the extent that it encourages someone to take an honest look at themselves and strive to make better choices, whatever those may be.
For me, it was fasting from coffee for 22 days. Asking my sister-in-love to make me a peach cobbler for a family event, and then not even eating any because I knew I’d consumed too many calories for the day. Or going to Dusties Soul Food Cafe and never having dessert, soda, or their delicious looking mac-n-cheese because I can’t afford to “spend” my energy and calories on those empty, non-nutritive options.
I think we need to evaluate the difference between fat shaming and honesty. To me, a perfect example of this is when Dani Mathers snapchatted an invasive photo of a woman in an LA Fitness locker room making fun of the woman. I’ve never intentionally tried to demoralize or degrade anyone. All I did was ask if people respected fat fitness professionals. What she did was fat shaming.
Maybe it’s the term fat. I don’t know. It seems to upset people so, and I get it, believe me I do, especially given the fact that this is black history month and people still use the “N” word to this day and women still call me a bitch. I guess those are okay.
Either way, I’m going to watch my sugar intake and minimize it in every way I can (aside from my sweetener in coffee which I also plan to drink sparingly versus religiously) and keep striving to be the best me I can be, inspiring all others I can along the way.
To read my original blog, “Fat Fitness Professionals: Do You Respect Them?” click here.
To read the article on Steve Miller, the controversial weight loss guru from the UK, click here.
Be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can read my upcoming story on my experience as a manager with LA Fitness and how I was trained to handle auditions and deal with applicants who were overweight.
And one last thing, my husband works in the auto sales industry and he drives brand new dealer cars. Why don’t car salesmen drive the worst cars on the lot? Would you be inspired to go get a new car from a salesman driving an old beat up lemon? IJS…
Maybe it’s just an American thing. Here’s an article from across the pond of an obese fitness instructor who says her class participants don’t expect her to be fit.