In our new Realtalk Fitness series, we're sharing the realities of the fitness world today. We know it takes a lot of effort to create a lasting career in the fitness industry, and we want to shed light on what it’s really like.
I was at one of my favorite fitness studios in New York City, getting my sweat on and loving every second of it... Until the instructor tried to motivate us with the following rant:
“Ladies! The harder you work the more likely you’ll be to get A RING on that FINGER! No man is gonna want a put a ring on it when you still have THAT BELLY!”
I considered shutting down my treadmill and walking out, mid-class. But I needed an endorphin kick, and I didn't trust that my protest would be received constructively.
I tried to use my disgust to fuel the next set of sprints but silently made a mental note not to give a sh*t about impressing the instructor when we moved to the floor next.
This wasn’t the first (or 20th) time I’d heard something of this flavor in my favorite fitness classes. Granted, this time was more triggering for me than usual, given that it was a double-whammy of a woman’s self-worth tied up in her body and relationship status.
Sadly, though, the majority of classes I attend in New York City are peppered with instructors’ shaming comments about calorie-burning, getting rid of chicken arms, “earning” brunch, and more.
Here are a few more shaming comments that have made my jaw drop open mid-class:
- "Ladies! Turn up your torque! The higher your torque, the more calories you burn! The more calories you burn, the more fat you lose! I know that's why you're here! It takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound." (For those of us who've struggled with eating disorders, this is incredibly triggering.)
- "You want to look good in a bikini? Squat deeper! Squat away that cellulite! Nobody wants to see cottage cheese at the beach!"
- "Lifting 5-pound weights isn't gonna get rid of them flabby chicken-wing arms!"
These messages perpetuate an objectifying, eating-disordered culture where we continue to base our unstable self-worth on appearance; where we feel inadequate as long as any part of us jiggles when we run; where we work out from a place of fear and shame rather than a place of experience and health.
Must we view exercise as merely a calorie-burning activity? Isn’t there more to a workout than trying in vain to achieve a body that will make someone (ick) want to marry us?
I’d be lying if I said appearance isn’t part of what motivates me to sweat, but it’s alongside myriad other benefits. Mental clarity, emotional stability, energy, mindfulness, fun, empowerment, social connection, longevity — the list goes on. Why do we so rarely hear fitness instructors advocating less completely f#*@ed-up motivations behind movement?
Not every instructor’s “motivating” words have made my blood boil. A significant number of them have left me feeling inspired and empowered — not body-shamed or inadequate. Still, that shouldn’t be anomalous in an industry in which one hour of instruction costs almost as much as a monthly gym membership.
Classes are one of my favorite aspects of New York City. I attend at least a class a day, and I find the instructors incredibly creative, skilled, and dedicated. Yet one disempowering comment (usually directed at women) can really color an entire class for me.
To the instructors reading this, please know the power you hold. You have a captive audience — you speak to hundreds of people a day who look up to you and are inspired by you. Consider how the messages you spread in the studio affect not only your clients but the wellness culture in general. Let’s move together, out of love and inspiration, not out of shame.
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