Content warning: this blog post touches on aspects of diet culture.
In “FITNESS”, meaning the “business of fitness”, we are inundated with messages, visual or spoken, about what it means to be be fit. We are all familiar with “fitspo”, “before and after” (cringe), hyper masculinity, cut abs, silly phrases such as “strong is the new skinny”. We have talked about these things in various ways, and often, on this blog. It’s probably one of the reasons I was initially drawn to this blog, years ago, before I became one of the bloggers. It felt like a place I could relate to, as a woman in her late 30s/early 40s (the blog is 10 years old this year so it’s easy for me calculate when I must have discovered it) who worked out regularly and never saw myself represented in those messages and images. Those messages and images didn’t describe the myriad of benefits that I was deriving from fitness that had nothing to do with how I looked. Those other benefits (confidence, stress relief, anxiety control, maintaining healthy blood sugar, to name a few) were what kept me coming back several times a week.
Photo (courtesy of Unsplash) of a weight rake holding rows of dumbells. In the background is a white woman with blond hair in a ponytail. She is hinged forward and appears to be working on her dumbbell rows. Hopefully, she is feeling the benefits that last – power, stress relief, fun and more.
This messaging still surrounds us. Thankfully, there are more voices speaking out about the “everyday” benefits of fitness. We see various shapes, genders, ages and abilities, represented in FITNESS. What hasn’t gone away and what I continue to see frequently is “fitspo masked as wellness”. What I see in abundance is people who appear to know that it’s not helpful to talk about losing weight in conjunction with fitness and they know many people do not want to associate traditional notions of beauty with fitness. Whether consciously or not, they mask these “incentives” in other words and visuals, in messages about wellness. Some may talk about their early experiences with fitness where they were preyed on and convinced they had to be skinnier than they already were (and to be sure, they were conventionally thin). They developed unhealthy diets to achieve these unnatural states. They bought into a hyper glam, hyper feminine form of fitness for women. Once those notions stopped working for them or they became unhealthy because of them, they discovered all the other reasons for fitness that many of us discover early on. They now see the benefits of strength training and cardiovascular health that I mentioned earlier. They feel stronger, body and mind. Their diets may be less restrictive than they once were. But not by much. Discovering the benefits of strength training is great. But they talk about their experiences as if they have completely changed despite it being clear they have not. They are still hyper glam. They are still making their bodies smaller. People are free to do all these things that fit their own needs. But, where I find it frustrating, is where they talk about changing and not subscribing to diet culture when it’s clear that they do. They give advice about their “nutrition” regimen as if it is not restrictive. They provide advice about their lifestyle and promote practitioners who they frequent. They make it sound as if they do not believe in one way to be fit or one way to look. But they do. They may not recognize it but they are still subscribing to all these things. Not to mention that often the suggestions they offer are not attainable to many people because of costs, both of time and money. And many of these people tout their ideas because they believe they are qualified when they are not. I would argue (having taken a couple of these courses myself) that taking a holistic nutrition course or personal training certification that touched on nutrition does not make one qualified to provide advice. Many of us fall into the trap of “this worked for me and so it will probably work with you”.
I fully subscribe to embracing fitness in a way that works for you. I have made fitness a part of my regular schedule for more than 20 years and I can talk ad nauseam about all the ways I benefit from it. I just wish people who believe in fitness just talked about that. Why they love it. How they enjoy it. Ways to enjoy it if you don’t. But, I would love it if people kept their own evolutionary stories relating to diet and beauty out of it. Most people, even if they are trained in fitness, etc., do not fully understand their role in perpetuating diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards. It would be great to keep nutrition and beauty ideals out of the gym and fitness world. At least, stop making “inspiring” messages about them. Especially if they are influencing people because of their fitness expertise.
Picture of smoothie bowl. Appears to be some type of berry smoothie. It has a bit of pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, granola and kiwi, encircling the bowl. It’s sitting on a light wood cutting board. There is a glass with a spoon in it that appears to contain some sort of light green protein drink. You may hear about a lot of these types of options within fitness circles, particularly if they contain protein. They can be delicious. But not necessarily related to your workout. Courtesy of Unsplash.
“Falling out of love with diet culture” is great. In order for a message to be inspiring, it needs to sound authentic. If it is not well thought out and not adequately self-reflective, it won’t be very inspiring. And, it won’t impress me much.
Nicole P. loves to workout for energy, clarity, feelings of power and stress relief. She loves food and has her own thoughts about nutrition, but would prefer the fitness and wellness industry were not so commingled with fitness.