Let’s Change the Way the Fitness Industry Speaks to Women

I want to change the way my industry speaks to women.

I was raised by an amazing, strong woman who is one of the original aerobics instructors from the 80s. As amazing as she is, her view of fitness that was being passed to me was that “we do it to look good.” By the time I was midway through my teens, I had been taught that my self-worth was quite dependent on my weight, waistline and how I looked. 

I grew up very active; competitive dance, skiing and waterskiing were my sports. My family placed a huge emphasis on physical activity and all of our family vacations were active. They taught me to love the feeling of working my body hard and reaching for more in my sports. I felt energized, happy and proud of myself after my daily workouts, I was shown the long-term results of staying committed to your fitness. 

When I finished University and joined the community of fitness professionals it was reinforced that we exercise to look good. They teach you sales techniques where you prey on women’s insecurities to make sales, by guiding them to tie their self-worth to how they look. The implication is to let them know that they are not good enough or deserving exactly how they are. The fitness industry uses words like “tone” and “burn” with women and “build” and “strengthen” with men. We are bombarded with “tone up for summer” and “bikini body bootcamp.” 

I’m over it. I have spent years working on changing the way I see my body. I am strong.  I’ve grown babies and worked to find my strength and fitness on the other side, I have worked through and healed from injuries. At 39 years old — despite some serious structural issues in my body (see my other blog post) — I am fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been. I no longer throw my back out constantly and my serious knee injuries from skiing rarely bother me. Why can’t that be how I measure my body? I am functioning at my best ever and overcoming big injuries. That is awesome!  I am no longer obsessed with the scale because it doesn’t matter. I am obsessed with continued progress. I am obsessed with setting myself up for a very active old age. I am obsessed with setting a great example of how we care for ourselves and why we care for ourselves for my daughters.

Now I am on a mission. I want to change the way my industry speaks to women. Just today, I read a completely accurate Instagram post from a local (and completely lovely) fitness professional who posted a picture of her 28-year-old gorgeous self in booty shorts and a sports bra crouched over, with a perfectly built strong butt in the centre of the photo. She then went on to educate us on how sitting is ruining our glutes and gave some suggestions on some alternatives to sitting in chairs to help with glute atrophy — all things I agree with. She finished off by saying we do this so we can have hot bums. I commented on her post, “You nailed it! And also, strong glutes will help you to lift things without hurting your back, help to prevent knee pain and injury, help with posture and core function!”. She responded back with, “I know, but this is the selling point.” Case and point!

Why can’t we, as an industry, sell feeling good, preventing injuries, having energy and better sleep? To be able to continue doing the sports we love, even though we don’t have time to do them as often as we used to, rather than how we look? What if we can help women learn to commit to their fitness in order to feel and function at their best?  What if esthetics could become the cherry on top instead of the purpose? What if a workout was your treat for the day because you love yourself enough to take the time to be your best instead of a punishment for what you ate on the weekend. Wouldn’t that be a better motivation for long term commitment than trying to look like a gorgeous young woman who exercises for a living and leads an entirely different lifestyle? Because when our goal is not attainable, how motivated are you to work on it?

With my clients, we work on creating SMART goals. I help them decide on some real life-changing, long term goals to keep them excited and motivated. We focus on long-term health and fitness; things that will keep us functioning at our best for as long as possible into life. This works well for all fitness levels. From my Olympians (yes, I train an Olympian!) to my ultra and regular marathon runners, to my weekend warriors that train to keep practicing their sport for life, to my brand new, never-worked-out-before group, we have success. When we focus on doing all the best things for our bodies (including nutrition) for the right reasons, not only do we feel amazing, but we eventually arrive at (and stay at) healthy body weights. So, looking good becomes the cherry on top instead of the purpose. Our measure of success becomes how great we feel when we do the right things for our bodies. I get reports regularly from my clients who have been with me longterm that have told me this paradigm shift in their thinking has changed their lives, and directly impacted their happiness and feelings of self-worth. After some time focussing on taking care of ourselves because we love our bodies into being healthy rather than trying to hate yourself into being skinny, that little voice inside our head that keeps telling us that “you’re not good enough” and “you need to lose weight”… just disappears. 

This blog post was written by Coach Kate Laird