This post was born from a Facebook status that I posted recently. I had had enough of watching fitness industry leaders and competitors posting statuses and photos with captions that militarize fitness and place blame and shame on anyone who is not fit. And by “fit,” or “healthy,” they clearly mean thin. My status was a little rash and was missing context, but basically expressed my frustration at people who post such things. As highly visible participants in the health and fitness industry at a time when obesity and chronic illness rates are skyrocketing at an alarming rate, we have to recognize that people are looking to us for answers. We have a responsibility, whether we want to accept it or not.
So first, let me explain something about participants in the fitness industry: we feel bad about ourselves at times, just like everyone else. Some more than others. We feel pressure to be thin, even if we appear to be thin or fit. We don’t have the answers, and even if what we’re doing works, we are constantly striving for more. In fact, many of us came to the industry because we felt bad about ourselves. So not one of us can speak with authority as though we have been delivered from the natural human conditions of jealousy, body image crises, or mistakes—even if for some of us these conditions are temporary and fleeting. The ones with the lowest self-esteems are the easiest to identify, because they are the ones most likely to fling shame on anyone they possibly can. Especially those yucky fat people who don’t have the decency to get thin.
That said, a lot of us do find success. We find what works for our bodies, and we find balance in a rigorous and mentally challenging sport. But none of us can—or should—deny the role that genetics plays in all of it. I do well at maintaining a muscular frame because my body is inclined to do so. But what most people outside of the industry don’t realize is that there are different categories within the fitness industry, and my body is really only genetically cut out for one or two of them—and even that depends on the judges. The same goes for those in other categories—a bikini competitor is going to have to work for a very long time to compete in bodybuilding. So not a single one of us is qualified to hold other women to our own standards of what “fitness” looks like.
If you don’t know your body type, or want to learn more about them, click here.
What really irks me, however, is when competitors take on the attitude that hard work and determination alone are enough to win shows, and that if every woman in America simply had the same work ethic, we could all win shows. This is as ignorant as the super wealthy who believe that privilege had nothing to do with their success. They are not wealthy because they work 60 hours a week, or plumbers and nurses and small business owners everywhere would be rich too. The truth that no one wants to admit is that what you’re born with largely determines the cards you have to work with. Can someone born into an obese family work his ass off to stay thin? Sure. Can someone with a high school education from a poor background find wealth through hard work? It happens. But neither happens often.
So there is no excuse for posts that shame and blame people who are overweight (and I take issue with that term—over what weight?!). There is no excuse for the ignorance I see from ectomorphs who honestly believe that hard work gave them a small bone structure. Or that they naturally maintain 16% body fat because they eat less than “those fat people.” The truth is, some have to work harder at it than others. And some, despite all the hard work in the world, will never achieve thinness. There is no excuse for constantly representing the fit body with a thin body. With equating hard work with thinness. I’m pretty sure I have worked for the photo on the left, but somehow still always have muscles in my arms and legs…
Just to give you an idea of what I mean, just in case you aren’t sure, I’m going to post some of the ignorant “inspiration” I see floating around on FB. Even those with positive messages are plastered over images of half-naked, thin women with big boobs. So even the very industry that claims to be helping women feel better about themselves contributes to self-hatred and mass production of unrealistic images of perfection. In my next post, I’m going to discuss the ways that this language of “inspiration” in the fitness industry is identical to the language of self-hatred that can be found on virtually every pro-anorexia website. Am I claiming that competitors share the same pathology as those with eating disorders? Absolutely. So please, if you are a competitor reading this post, cease and desist from using language of self-hatred; if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the women who look up to you. And for everyone else, please be careful of who you look to for inspiration.
Side note: I have an ongoing game I call “spot the bullshit.” Athletic apparel ads featuring women who clearly don’t work out posing in their best athletic poses pretty much always win. Photos of people squatting hardcore with 65lbs are a personal favorite. And the #1 most over-done B.S. photo is hand wraps on women who have probably never been hit in the face, trying to look bad-ass (and they NEVER wrap between the fingers…solid giveaway). Oh, and chains. Because chains look pretty bad ass–but I guarantee that very few–if any–of them have ever actually trained with chains! Play this game yourself and see how fun it is!