Recently my heart was made to feel sad.
Whew… what a hefty sentence.
And to be honest, I felt a bit vulnerable writing it.
But hey, isn’t life about sometimes being a bit vulnerable and opening up about things?
So yes, my fit pro heart was made sad recently by a comment I heard…
The other day I was tagged on a post inside a Facebook group asking group fit pros about elements of the fitness industry we felt need to be changed.
There’s no denying that I have tons of thoughts on this; from desexifying fit pros and the horrible ad campaigns out there, to higher levels of educational requirements, and more collaboration within the industry. This is an area that I can speak on for hours.
But it wasn’t a comment regarding these changes that made my heart sad.
No, it was a comment from a fitness professional that reverse ‘fat shamed’ fitness professionals.
Yes, you read that right.
A fit pro called out anyone who had not at one point in their life struggled with their weight as not being able to motivate and inspire those on a weight loss journey.
She shared stories and antidotes about her feelings on why “naturally fit people, just don’t get it”. She made comments about the only people who can relate to struggling are those who’ve walked the same path and line as they have.
Okay, I get it…
Fitness professionals are often seen as just ‘fit’ and almost made to seem a bit superhuman.
Too many fit pros just walk around in scantly clad clothes selling their bodies (because they want to, or because their company makes them — yup, worked for a gym once that made us women wear skin-tight shirts and shorts to ‘sell ourselves’.)
Ads are all about the body and not about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
And let’s not begin to talk about how “fitness influencers” are often just models selling products through the use of their body (true story — one time the top trending picture on Instagram for fitness motivation was a picture of “fitness influencer” Jen Selter shaving her legs in a bathtub wearing nothing but a towel — WTF).
I do not deny that the imagery and language around fitness aren’t great.
But I do know that as fitness professionals we should look beyond the body and see that motivation can come in lots of ways.
I do know that empathy can come from many different places.
And I especially know that while someone may not look or be the same as me, I can still relate to them…
As fitness professionals we need to be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down based on what we look like (I do hold a high standard towards education, but could care less what you look like).
Because these days I know that while we are all different, we can still have shared experiences and stories.
But there was a time when I allowed the negativity to get to me…
As a junior exercise science student, I worked at the UNCG Campus Recreation center. I had worked there since my first day on campus as a freshman and had worked my way up to serve as the program coordinator for “Energize Your Life” – a 10-week weight loss program.
In this, I worked alongside a registered dietitian and our fitness director to create a 10-week program to help university students and faculty work towards a healthy lifestyle. I led workouts and was part of weekly group chat sessions.
Sadly though, I was told time and time again by the participants that I simply didn’t understand them.
They told me they didn’t want to be part of the workouts because I wasn’t inspiring them.
Those words cut harshly.
Hearing them time and time again made me feel little on the inside.
One week the fitness graduate assistant said to me “Summer, I’ve noticed you’ve started wearing baggy clothes and aren’t talking as much as normal. Is something wrong?”
Without realizing it, I had allowed the program participants to make me uncomfortable with who I was.
Now, let’s be real, in many ways they were right.
I was only 20-years old, had been active my entire life, and hadn’t struggled with weight. By that point, my biggest life struggle was a car accident in high school that messed up my lower back and a knee that caused me pain more often than I liked.
But these were internal struggles. They didn’t see my injuries or my scars. They didn’t know how these situations (plus just the insecurities of being a teenage girl) had impacted me (and neither did I).
Furthermore, back in the early 2000s, it wasn’t cool to talk about feeling insecure, self-conscious, or having what today has been identified as anxiety. It was taboo to say that someone had made me feel ‘uncomfortable’.
So when Ryan, the fitness graduate assistant, asked me those questions, I simply stated “It gets cold inside the rec center, and so I like to be bundled up, plus I’ve just been super stressed with my class load that I haven’t been quite as chatty.” He thought that sounded reasonable and we never discussed it again.
Now, a lifetime of lived experiences later, I see what an impact those words and that situation had on me.
To this day, I still often feel self-conscious working with individuals whose sole focus is weight loss. I turn away from being part of a weight-loss program as a coach. And who knows, maybe it’s because of those words said to me so many years ago…
Or maybe it’s because I have a ton of anxiety, rehash words people say (or write) over-and-over-and-over in my head to excess, and still have a bit of that insecure teenage girl inside of me.
So yes, my heart was made to be sad recently by another fit pro.
And I share the story with you as a reminder that all because we’re different, we’re actually very similar.
Because you know what…
We all have a story to share. It’s what makes us the unique humans that we are.
Some have visible challenges. Others have internal struggles.
Some are willing to open up and be vulnerable. And many hold it to themselves.
But we all have triumphs and struggles.
We all have moments that have shaped who we are today.
It’s best to never assume you know all about a person simply by what you see on the outside…
Because there is so much more on the inside that makes a person who they are.
Never judge. Never assume. Just listen and be open.
(PS. this does remind me why I have disconnected in huge ways from Facebook and other social media platforms. It may have been the final moment for me to fully step off and away for good.)