Is It Time For Fitness To Be Inclusive?
I discovered an old proposal for a fitness book I wanted to write back in 2019 and whilst that never happened, I think it deserves a little time in the sun.
I might be an author with four books under my belt now but in every author’s past, there are rejections, incomplete manuscripts and book proposals that no one wanted. I was digging through my old proposals the other day and I found this introduction for a proposal I wrote for a fitness book. It amazed me how even five years ago, I held a lot of the same beliefs I have now so I thought it was worth sharing it since the book was never written.
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Let me give you a little context, back in 2019, my first book ‘Am I Ugly?’ had just come out and I was struggling to get a second book deal. Many people only saw me as a body-positive influencer and people didn’t really understand body positivity. They only viewed body positivity through a narrow lens of weight and therefore were unable to see its connection to the fitness industry. In this proposal, I was pitching a book called ‘How To Move Your Body Without Hating It’ and as anyone who follows me on Instagram, to this day I am still passionate about creating an inclusive space for fitness. This book never got a book deal but I stand behind every word of it today. Rereading it five years later, I’m actually still quite gutted it never got made so I hope you enjoy it for the people who will never get to read it!
When I first came up with the idea to write an inclusive fitness book, I could already hear the critics. “Who am I to write this book?”. I’m fat, I regularly stop exercising completely, I have injured myself in the gym more times than I can count, and I have never been to a Barry’s Bootcamp in my life. But the ironic thing is, that’s the exact reason why I believe this book needs to exist. Where did we get the idea that we have to fight for the right to talk about exercise? When did we start using our bodies as qualifications to share our joy of movement? And when did we start referring to health as an appearance?
I remember when this message was first implicitly taught to me. I was 13 and, in my school, you could no longer continue with netball unless you made the team. Essentially, they taught us that unless you were good at it, it wasn’t worth your time or energy. But what if I simply enjoyed it?
Was that not enough? We see this message everywhere. If you aren’t getting “results” whether it’s winning a netball competition or seeing a bigger bum or a skinnier waist, don’t bother. It’s the same reason why most adults don’t contemplate any type of movement outside of the gym and it’s the same reason why when you reach adulthood, most people have their one way of working out and don’t venture out and try new things. They stop experimenting, playing, and moving like they used to as a child. It wasn’t work, it wasn’t even a workout, it was simply fun. The gym is a pretty shitty place for body shame and insecurities and this elitism and exclusivity has ultimately led to the idea that only a certain body type is allowed to talk about fitness. It’s led to a lot of people being shamed because we are told that unless you fit that mould, you deserve to be shamed until you get your arse in the gym to earn those calories, burn off that chocolate bar and punish your body until you are either bleeding or crying. Did you know 75% of women are scared to work out because they are afraid of what they look like?
This mentality is destroying our body confidence, and that is where my expertise comes in. I am a five-board accredited body confidence coach, an award-winning body-positive activist and basically spend every single day of my life trying to improve people’s body image. But time and time again, I kept coming up against the same thing: people being fat-shamed in the name of health. We live in a culture that loves to body shame people and believes that shame can be a motivator of change, namely weight loss. Yet when it comes down to it, what no one is willing to admit, is that a large portion of the fitness industry focuses on aesthetics and not health. They use their own bodies as a selling point and beneath every Instagram post is the implicit message that “if you work out like me, you will look like me” and with that will come all the success and happiness that is waiting after that 10, 20, 30, 60, 100lb weight loss.
Instead, the reality is that this creates a pass/fail mentality suggesting that if you work out but don’t lose weight, your workout is pointless. It means that people aren’t enjoying movement for the sake of movement, but instead yearning for the public acknowledgement of their aesthetic difference. People are willing to override their body’s signals and warnings to slow down and stop, in order to achieve their goal weight. Ultimately, they are willing to sacrifice their health in order to look a certain way. Nothing convinced me of this more than being bound to a hospital bed in my fifteenth surgery, before being told I looked “so healthy” because, for the first time in a decade, I was smaller than a size 16. It didn’t matter that it took six weeks of no food or water passing my lips in order to achieve it. This sounds extreme but think of those self-deprecating memes where people joke about weight loss as the perk of food poisoning.
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