A letter to the fitness industry and diet culture, originally written for Dope Yogi July, 2019.
Dear Fitness and diet-culture,
The truth is…
You make me feel. so. tired.
I really want to blame you for a lot. I want to blame you for the way you speak to people - “Let me help you sculpt your body.” “#goals.” “#fitspiration.” “Weight Loss Challenge.” “Booty Sculpting.” “How to get a six pack.” “Bikini body.” “Summer bodies are made in the winter.” bullshitbullshitBULLSHIT.
I want to blame you for all of this bullshit because I see how it hurts people. I see how it hurt me. I remember a family friend buying me a copy of Prevention Magazine one summer in my tweens - I hid it under my pillow because I knew my mom wouldn’t want me to be reading it. I read and re-read the article about how yoghurt and blueberries help you burn belly fat. That summer, and for years after, I ate yoghurt and blueberries like it was my job. And the promise of me losing a few inches around my waist never happened. I also tried Prevention’s “Walk-It-Off method.” In high school, on top of my track practice and daily ballet rehearsals, I added in walks on the treadmill - I still never lost any inches around my waist like you promised I would.
These days it’s not just Prevention Magazine - it’s everywhere and information gets to us faster now too. Just for fun, or torture? I just got on Prevention Magazine’s website and here are some of the titles of the first few articles:
The Reason Kelly Ripa Says She 'Could Never Do' the Keto Diet: “Life is short. Eat the peanut butter and jelly.”
The High-Protein Diet Europeans Are Obsessed With: Meat lovers will be a fan of this weight-loss plan.
Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, and More Celebs Over 40 Reveal Their Flat-Stomach Secrets: They really work, according to experts.
There's a New Version of the Keto Diet That You Might Actually Be Able to Stick To: It lets you eat a lot more carbs.
For the Love of God, Stop Avoiding Gluten Unless You Have a Legit Medical Reason to Do So: If your body can process it, you’re not getting any healthier by skimping on it.
The Low-Fat Weight Loss Plan That's Also Good for Your Heart: It's basically the opposite of the keto diet.
Below is figurative footage of me trying to make sense of this:
No wonder we’re confused!! It makes me want to SCREAMMMM! Eat the peanut butter and jelly, and the gluten but also eat more protein and also go low fat but also try keto but with carbs! And OMG we just found out that celebrities actually go to the motherfucking gym and pay a shit ton of money to look they way they do! Can you BELIEVE?!!?
I know I let it all get to me… but I know I’m not the only one.
Seeing all of this diet culture everywhere I turn makes me LIVID. ESPECIALLY, when it’s targeted at young women and girls. Ideally, I want to be able to protect us all from it - but I’m really just trying to protect myself at 10 years old…
Parents, we can’t protect our kids from this stuff all the time, and no matter how mad it makes us that it’s out there, we can’t keep our kids from seeing it and maybe even internalizing it. What we can be is examples for our kids. What we can do is talk openly about our own bodies. What we can do is ask them how they feel about theirs… we can ask them what they love and what’s important to them and how they feel. When we look in the mirror we can do that without pinching our arms or sucking in our bellies. We can just look in awe. And invite our kids into that… invite ourselves into that.
And I’m not a parent. But I do own a gym and I know that there are people every day watching me participate with my body - I know people watch me workout, they watch me in yoga, they watch me teach, they watch me gleefully jiggle my legs in the mirror and they watch me not suck in my belly. I know this because recently a woman said, “The reason I came back to your class was because you got on top of a bosu in the middle of class and jiggled your entire body as much as you possibly could and that was something I’ll always remember.” Another woman thanked me last week for not ever posing. I laughed at her and told her that was because I don’t know how, but her seriousness in that got me thinking - when we pose, it’s as if we’re saying, “The way your body is when you stand how you stand, isn’t enough. It isn’t flattering, it doesn’t look strong, it doesn’t look good. You aren’t strong. You aren’t good. You shouldn’t stand like that. You shouldn’t look like that. You shouldn’t be like that. Don’t choose that photo. What will people think?!”
I used to reassure my team that we’re not doctors - thank god. Fitness professionals aren’t doctors and so our jobs aren’t that important… But I’m not sure I feel that way anymore. Yeah, hopefully nobody’s at risk of dying on our watch!! (bless) But people are at risk for believing that they’ll never be enough unless they get super “fit” looking (don’t even get me started on the word “fit” and the damage I believe we (the fitness industry + diet-culture) have done here - that’s an additional post that I’ve been working on for 4 years) and fall into society’s standards of thin european beauty. We cause that by stirring up a fear of being fat - that fat is the worst thing that somebody could be - that fat makes you an unproductive member of society with terrible health that the rest of America is having to pay for while all the thin people are productive, pay their taxes, and never have any health problems for which they need to see a doctor. The fitness industry perpetuates this nationwide fatphobia by pinching client’s fat and weighing them in sessions. We perpetuate it by celebrating weight loss as if “losing those last 10 pounds” is the MOST amazing thing a person could ever do. We perpetuate it by saying things like “sculpt your body” or suggesting that this move targets the fat on your arm, or suggesting that the “results” that you should come to us for is are to get smaller, or “toned,” or Carrie Underwood legs, or Michelle Obama arms, or somebody’s abs, or one of the Kardashian’s butts.
Beauty standards change. They’re different all over the world. And they seem to change from season to season. It’s just too hard to keep up.
But you know what doesn’t change and what, I believe, the fitness industry is here for? We all need healing. Some of us have back pain and the fitness industry can help with that. Some of us want to be able to do something like run a marathon or lift our kids up over our heads or go on a big hike without getting super winded. The fitness industry can help with that. Some of us want to feel good on a regular basis in our bodies. The fitness industry can help with that! Some of us are healing from some sort of trauma that our body is still holding on to. The fitness industry can actually help with that.
I believe so strongly, that the fitness industry can be a healing place BUT we have a LOOONG way to go.
diet culture though? Yeah, Fuck you. You’re out.
So instead of trying to change our bodies to fit what society shows us they’re supposed to be, what if we just learned how to be who we are instead? What if we learned how to be in relationship with our body? What if we learned how to turn inwards - not in a way that’s self-serving and narcissistic, but in a way that’s loving and understanding and clear. Would this keep us from being so heavily weighed down with society’s pressure to be this, that, and the other? I think this would help keep us grounded. Steady. Present.
And when we’re grounded, steady, and present, we can be with others more openly and honestly. We can let each other in because we know that we’re good - that yes, we fuck up, but we’re good, lovable, and worthy.
To all the yoga teachers (especially the thin white women who can do a lot of bendy things),
instagram models (which are not the same as fitness professionals although many seem to believe otherwise),
whatever it is that you do, please recognize the power you hold in today’s society. We have a responsibility here. The language that we use with our clients is so important. Educate yourself on diet culture. Educate yourself on trauma. And turn inwards - how have you been affected by diet culture? What do you believe about bodies? Why are you in this field? Who are you really here for?
And then begin the unlearning process. Un-learn that your main job is to help people look a certain way. Un-learn that you can tell what someone’s health is like just by looking at them. Un-learn that you are actually qualified to give advice on diets. Un-learn that pushing someone to a breaking point will help them become stronger.
Speak to yourself like you’d speak to a child whom you love deeply. Ask yourself how you feel, and then listen without judgment. Understand. Care for. Empower yourself to make choices that are loving, instead of punishing. Practice self care instead of self loathing. The more we practice this with ourselves, the more we can practice this with our clients - listening without judgment, understanding, caring for, empowering. Journal about it. See a therapist about it. Talk to your co-workers about it. Begin learning from new people.
have standards for the way your trainer or yoga teacher or whatever, speaks to you. Let them know how what they just said makes you feel. Or don’t tell them, but fire them. You don’t deserve to feel shame every time you walk into a space that is supposed to be healing, and even fun!
Movement isn’t a punishment. It’s an incredible privilege.
Notice the way you speak to yourself and to each other - Notice your self talk.
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Movement, I love you. Bodies, I love you. Beings, I love you.
Diet-culture, I hate you.
Normally I sign my letters “love always, k” but I’m not really sure what to say here…
Thank you, next,
We are never ever getting back together,
Fuck you and forget her too,
I don’t want no scrubs,
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know,
I’m here to remind you of the mess you left… you oughta know,
I’m not gonna write you a love song (because I hate you),