OEntering SoulCycle as a fat woman was one of the most alienating experiences of my life. Despite the cute lemon scented candles and energetic people, my friend and I ended up not only the heaviest people in the class (that was about over 100 pounds ago for me) but definitely the two who looked the most lost.
We were barely recognized in the office and left to our own devices when we hung on. When the lights dimmed and the slender instructor shouted “IT’S YOUR FAMILY” into a dark, tech-laden room, we were completely left behind. No one defined hand positions, acclimated us to shifting levers, or offered help setting up our bikes. It was unwelcoming and mean. It took years and a lot of persuading to try another cycle class. (I now have a love for it, thanks to friends who showed me a different path.)
If I’m not ignored in a fat body when I walk into a fitness studio, I’m patronized or ridiculed. I heard everything; a whisper at reception of “this is a tough class, so feel free to stay in a kid’s pose”, or an instructor saying out loud from the podium “you are so inspiring to come today ” with a laser focus on my stomach.
And no, they don’t say that to everyone. It’s very clear to me that my body size often makes fitness professionals uncomfortable. Their industry was built on “looking good” as an ideal, so why shouldn’t it be?
It’s very clear to me that my body size often makes fitness professionals uncomfortable.
Even studios touting inclusion often celebrate a specific type of aesthetic. I was once a dance and fitness instructor at an inclusion-based company. It was my favorite thing I’ve done to date. Yet the CEO once told me not to make being a big girl “my brand” so that I wouldn’t be pigeonholed into one type of thing. Meanwhile, all other instructors were encouraged to find their unique voice and encouraged to develop it through social media.
Body fat is considered the enemy of fitness – something to work out. Food is fuel or evil or must be carefully controlled, not enjoyable or full of culture. How sad? What could happen in our studios and gyms if we embraced the idea of moving our bodies for joy, endorphins, health and pleasure?
I love to dance. I like good music in a spin studio. I even came to enjoy a hot yoga class (but please give me more yin for those aching bones). I am a runner. I like picking up and putting down heavy things. When a fitness community is good, it’s so, so good, full of people supporting each other and challenging each other to do hard things.
Recently I ran/walked my first 5K. It was my 37th birthday weekend and I had been training for what seemed like forever. I hired an amazing trainer who gave me a training plan and accountability, but also reminded me that injuries and life were coming. I have a running team (watch us on Tuesday nights – Unnamed is the very first black-led running group in Boston) that was a cohesive group of cheerleaders. My friend and ultra-trail marathon runner Julia traveled over 50 miles to be my hypewoman while I ran the streets of Ipswich, Massachusetts. It is the fitness community that we everything deserve.
So how could the rest of the industry be more like this?
Start by offering variations for people of all sizes. Encourage people to do what makes them feel good. Of course, we go to a training session for a challenge, but everyone gets injured – thin or fat – and pushes us to push ourselves. without issue is a great way to make sure you’re taking care of your customers.
And when doing a series of products, don’t work with exclusive brands (spoiler alert, XL is not an extended size). Consider that some brands have a serious history of fatphobia and are only now starting to size up because it’s trendy. Also consider the stability of your equipment for big bodies.
No, you don’t know what my body can do by looking at it. When I walk into your studio, greet me as you would any paying customer. A smile and a welcome is great. If it’s my first time, ask if I’d like help finding the bathroom or getting settled. Don’t make assumptions about what I can or can’t do, or try to inform me. Sounds like you would do for anyone, doesn’t it?
I like to move. My big friends too. We deserve studios where we can feel accepted, included, even celebrated. It’s a joy to see the longstanding alienation of big fitness bodies open up a bit, with the rise of incredible women like Jessamyn Stanley, Ash Pryor and Lizzo’s Big Grrls – watch these athletes move! Notice that they are confident in their abilities, just like you. Support us, hire us, let us represent all types of bodywork for your brands. Let us find our joy, and you will see what we can do.
#dont #physical #condition #body