Have you ever seen a fitness ad and felt bad about yourself afterward? These ads show someone who is overweight and obviously upset about it. Usually, it’s a woman because the media treats female bodies as objects to sell products with, so if the body is not what society has deemed to be “perfect,” then it is looked at as unacceptable. Now more than ever, women are pressured to have bodies that are only attainable if you’re a genetic goddess or can afford plastic surgery. And even celebrities with the most “perfect” bodies are criticized because there is no way for any living person to meet every requirement for what the media calls perfection.
I was scrolling through Instagram today, and this ad popped up on my feed that made me want to write this post because I was so mad about how it portrayed fitness. It started with a beautiful woman who obviously put time into her appearance (she had makeup on and curled hair)—she was overweight and dressed in unflattering underwear. The woman was crying and pulling at her skin. As if this weren’t bad enough, the ad went on to show a very brief clip of this woman running on a treadmill and then jumped straight to a computer-generated torso animated to show massive weight loss as it displayed weeks passing. The app claimed that you could go from “fat to fit” in just 8 weeks. I was livid. This advertisement represents everything that is wrong with the fitness community! And it’s not everyone; most people you’ll meet are genuinely kind and accepting. But there is this stigma in fitness that being healthy is a competition and that we as women must be the perfect level of fit. The media supports this by showing skinny women (not necessarily fit women) picking on women who are less skinny and laughing at them when they try to get fit. It’s a social norm that has gone on for too long. If women look down on each other and call each other nasty things because of the way our bodies look, then we are allowing men to say the same things, and that is how we have given men so much power over us.
I love fitness; it has had a big impact on my life and given me an outlet to get away from more than one unhealthy situation (that’s another story), but I really hate when people do it for the wrong reasons and I genuinely feel that the media is the reason that people think they need to be losing 20 to 30 pounds in a month. Unless you’ve just had gastric bypass surgery, that is not a realistic goal! And you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t lose weight that quickly. First of all, if you go from not working out at all to working out a lot, you will probably gain some weight because of the muscle you are building. You will counter this by losing fat, but you’re most likely not going to lose fat at a rate to support actual weight loss while gaining muscle. I weigh 10 pounds more now than I did when I started this journey, but my body looks different. Secondly, even as you lose fat you are not going to change as drastically in 8 weeks as that ad implied. It’s not going to happen. Real results take time, so stop believing media like this that tells you that you should be its definition of perfect in just 8 weeks. You are perfect just the way you are, and you don’t need to change unless you choose to. And if you choose to change, then you get to do it at your own pace. To be honest, you probably won’t notice a change in your body’s appearance after 8 weeks of working out. You’ll feel a lot better! But you won’t see it that quickly.
I have always seen myself as “bigger than average.” I’m tall, I’m curvy, and I carry weight in my torso. Growing up in an age of ever-present media telling me that I should be a size zero instead of a size 8 did not help that. Body positivity wasn’t something that I had heard of; I really hated my body. I never saw myself as athletic, even when I danced for up to 4 hours a day or practiced for 13 hours straight for marching band. It got really bad when I got to high school. I desperately wanted to be skinny because I thought that would make me pretty, and I would dream of having some huge fitness transformation so everyone would think I was beautiful. This caused me to begin to develop an eating disorder because the only way I knew to lose weight was to simply not eat.
But I am one of the lucky ones. I am lucky because my mom noticed that I was slowly bringing less and less food with me to school when I knew I’d be there until late at night. She would come to school every day during my break between marching band and theater to drop off dinner for me so that I would eat. I did lose weight, but I gained it back when I got hurt as people who lose weight in unhealthy ways typically do. Even to this day, I struggle with body dysmorphia, which is believing that your body looks worse than it actually does. I take progress pictures so I can recognize my achievements because when I look in the mirror, I can’t see it. I truly believe that if the media had painted a different picture during my teenage years, this would not have happened to me. Now, at the ripe old age of 21, I see young women I taught in dance classes struggle with the same things that I battled with. They are so beautiful and they can’t see it because the media is always telling them that they aren’t good enough. That is the problem I have with that ad: It is literally saying that the woman’s body isn’t good enough and she should work for unrealistic ideals in a very short amount of time. That is NOT okay.
I started this blog to share the positivity that fitness and health have brought to my life, to empower women to be strong and to share things I’ve learned about being healthy on a budget. But I also did it to share how I’ve learned to love my body because it is strong and it is capable of so many things. I don’t care if I have a body that the media defines as perfect; I know what I want my body to look like and I work towards those goals. And I love it for every step of the process.
So my message to you all is this: don’t buy into the body-shaming side of the fitness industry. If we collectively stop giving them our money, they will eventually go out of business and we’ll be left with the positive side of fitness that I love. There are so many better options out there if you want to get in shape and don’t know where to start! Instagram is full of wonderful coaches who want nothing more than to help you reach your goals. I’m not a coach, but I am more than happy to talk to you about fitness, some apps that I’ve used (that won’t try to tell you your body is wrong), and how to love your body for what it can do — just shoot me a message on the contact page. Seriously, anything is better than supporting an industry subsegment that exists to make you feel bad about yourself. You are perfect and you deserve a fitness coach that thinks so, too.