Personal training and body positivity - opposing or can they support each other?
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
So, recently I have been reflecting on the work that I do as a personal trainer. Is it intrinsically counter to celebrating body positivity? Body positivity is about people being comfortable in their own skin, being able to accept and affirm their own bodies and refrain from judging others. Within this series of blogs I will be exploring my thoughts on this and I hope that, having read them, you will feel equipped with practical things I do as a personal trainer and imperfect human being to encourage body positivity.
I have read the criticisms from the body positive movement about how the fitness industry operates. The industry tends to shout about developing personal confidence whilst falling into the trap of indicating particular bodies are more desirable than others. The fitness industry is rife with body shaming messages: from fat shaming with "get that bikini body in time for summer" to the skinny shaming "get strong - maximise gains" message. We are bombarded with advertisements laden with before and after photos convincing us to part with our cash in exchange for the "better" body.
When I set up my practice one of the main drivers for me was the scientific rational as to why exercise is beneficial, combined with the personal experience of it transforming my own and others’ lives. I wanted the skills to be able to enable others to experience this change for themselves. Change is not against body positivity (we experience change in our lives on a daily basis) but it is important that we accept and are compassionate to ourselves. When we tune in to ourselves to understand what is creating the change and find a way of living, that helps us flourish.
I am making a commitment to be body positive with myself, my clients and the people that I come into contact with. I know what a challenge it can be to be self-compassionate. As humans we are naturally critical, it’s a survival mechanism; if we spent all day oblivious to weakness or danger then we would not have got far as a species. This negativity is then reinforced through the well-intended messages of others or the advertisements that are purposefully there to convince you the thing that is being sold is the answer that you need. If we can notice the self-criticism and the external messages that reinforce this viewpoint then we can then be in a position to choose how to react. We can then be in a position to dismiss the negative thoughts that hold us back and validate body acceptance. So whether you are considering personal training for the first time or are experienced at exercise and want a new challenge, ask yourself if it is coming from a place of positivity and compassion. So, in exploring if personal training is in direct opposition to body positivity, I do not believe that it intrinsically is but I do believe that as a trainer I have a duty to consider the language and approach that I use. I believe that for body positivity and personal training to be compatible, it needs to come from a place of nourishment.
When you find yourself not being compassionate, I suggest you to do the five steps that I do with myself and my clients:
1) Identify the statement or goal that you have made and ask WHY;
2) Identify steps and activities that will have benefit to you;
3) Know your barriers;
4) Start in a place of safety;
5) Stretch physically and mentally.
Each of my upcoming blogs is going to take one of these steps, explain it and explore in more detail why it fosters body positivity.
When you have learnt to self-validate and create routines that give you satisfaction and meaning, then you won't need me. Within the fitness industry there is a drive to get clients to keep spending their money. A personal trainer who fosters body positivity will share with you the skills to be autonomous - the work you do in my sessions has been generated by you. I am there to guide you through it and provide you with skills and perception. Personal training and body positivity are not opposing. However, the judgements we so quickly put on ourselves and others can be a barrier but can be overcome with reflection and compassion. So if you are interested in understanding more about developing goals that enable self-compassionate and body positivity, then come back to read next week’s blog.