Where is the line between MY fitness, MY movement practices, MY relationship to food and nourishment, MY healthy behaviors (or lack thereof) and… those of my clients?
As a traditionally trained health fitness professional and health coach, I was taught to believe that “my body is my business card.” This is precisely the kind of misguided thinking that drives many individuals in the health fitness industry into disorder and then to instilling this disorder in their clients.
As a Body Liberation-oriented trainer and coach, who takes a critical, socio-political approach to “health” and “wellness,” I now understand that the pressure the health fitness industry places on trainers and coaches to look a certain way stems from hegemonic control over a hierarchical system in which control reigns supreme and people are understood as machines.
That is, the traditional, mainstream understanding of health coaching and personal training is to hook a client up with someone who the client will believe is better than/ superior to themselves so that this superior being may then control the client into submission in order to modify the client’s body until it may be deemed acceptable within our culture. The trainer or coach gets to feel superior to their client. The client gets to hand over control of their own health to the trainer or coach who will simply tell them what to do. And the mechanisms of the body simply respond to the stimuli of food restriction and exercise without any consequences to other aspects of health. Everybody wins! Right?
“Health” is so much more complex than the traditional, mainstream health fitness industry wants to believe and admit. This is largely because, it is really hard to market to/through complexity. It’s much easier to sell to simplicity and simple-mindedness; much easier to say “look at my hot body! Don’t you want a hot body like mine? Then you should… take this class, buy my product, join this gym….“ or whatever they happen to be selling in the moment.
One of the things I am constantly trying to explain to people who are not fitness instructors or yoga teachers is that, even when I am continually moving my body in my teaching, that movement is not MY practice. Even if my physical body is working very hard, because my mind and my emotional state are focused on my clients/students, I am not getting 90% of the benefits of that movement. This is not at all a complaint, just an explanation for people who think that moving my body in my teaching is the same as “getting a workout in.” It’s not. Not at all. I often say that the physical aspect of teaching fitness and yoga (when you have to move in the same patterns as your client/ student throughout the teaching) is more like construction work. Yes, I am using my body to move. Yes, that is hard physical labor for my body. But it is not a workout, it is not my own yoga practice — both of which are something else entirely.
But much like anyone with any physically strenuous job, it CAN feel difficult to make time/space for my own movement when I am physically exhausted from work. So, this is a challenge that all fitness professionals face: Making time/space for our own movement practices IN ADDITION to the physical labor of our jobs.
Additionally, any trainer or coach or fitness/ yoga instructor is living in the same cultural milieu as their clients. I feel confident saying, just from my vast life experience in the industry, MOST traditional, mainstream movement professionals are drunk on the Diet Culture cool-aid. They do not see fatphobia or the mistreatment of larger bodies in their industry. They do not see the eating and exercise disorders their own industry causes. They do not see the ableism, transphobia, ageism, xenophobia or racism that is embedded in their own understanding of what bodies “should” look like. They do not think about the cultural, social, or political aspects of what they are attempting to do to or teach their clients. They do not even question or concern themselves with their own positionality or privilege so they can’t even see all of the unspoken and unintended effects of their work with/on their clients. They do not question their assumptions about their own physical superiority or what they perceive to be their responsibility to judge and control their clients’ bodies. Whether they are aware of it or not, they practice domination and control over their clients. And this should be no surprise because domination and control is our culture’s (even our world’s in many ways) modus operandi.
My body is not my business card. My body is nobody’s business but my own, not even my clients’. I do not work from a platform of domination and control — not in any of my work. In all of my work, I come from a framework of partnership, of learning-with and walking-with and becoming-with my clients.
As a body liberation-oriented trainer and coach, I have no interest in controlling my clients or strictly modifying their bodies to become “acceptable.” I come from the perspective that all of my clients bodies are their own and that they are already acceptable, already “good.” And from that baseline, we move in partnership to figure out where they want to make changes in their behaviors and thought-patterns related to their own version of health.
It’s much more complicated than “I’ll help you lose weight” because it’s that much more real, more sustainable, more compassionate, and ultimately, more helpful. I do not come from the perspective of “look at my body and see me as obviously superior to you.” I come from the perspective of “yes, in this culture, this socio-political situation especially, engaging in, having access to and even understanding what constitutes ‘healthy’ behavior is complex and difficult but let’s find a way through… together.” Just like my clients, I struggle to get access to and consistently engage in the behaviors I know are healthiest for me even as someone who has been dedicated to my overall health and wellbeing for around thirty years now. This perspective allows me to treat my clients with empathy, compassion and respect and to continually return them to the truth that our individual and collective relationships to “health” are complex, ever-evolving and deeply personal.
In some ways — at least, theoretically — there is no line between MY health and the health of my clients’. After all, in the great web of existence, my health is bound to theirs and vice versa. Within a body liberation framework, it is not necessary for me to be “perfect” according to the laws created by the hegemony, of which Diet Culture is very much a part. Indeed, I believe strongly that in attempting to portray a false perfection (because all “perfection” is a hegemonic lie to keep those of us who are not deemed “perfect” in our place), most mainstream fitness professionals draw too hard of a line between their practices and their clients’ behaviors; their practices being the “ideal” and their clients’ behaviors obviously being inferior. This is exactly the kind of arrogant, hierarchical perspective that leads to disorder and dysfunction in people’s understanding and approach to “health.”
At the same time, I am on my journey and my clients are on theirs. This means there is also a relatively hard boundary, or line, between my “health” behaviors and my clients’ in that my journey is my own and is very personal to me and their journey is their own and very personal to them. Instead of a hierarchical structure wherein I am above my client and my client is below me, I see our work together more like a game of hopscotch, with the lines between us, drawn in chalk, on a warm sidewalk, on a sunny summer day. In this way, my work with clients is continual play and continual evolution from one pattern to the next as we both find our own relationships to and definitions of “health” while recognizing and respecting that our journeys coincide and are symbiotically moving along the same path.
Those are the lines I want to continue moving along, through and around, in partnership with my clients, while honoring BOTH of our journeys on this path of body liberation.
One of the first voices that I encountered in my journey toward Body Liberation (which only momentarily careened through the land of Body Positivity) was Jes Baker. If you haven’t read Jes Baker’s books Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Landwhale yet, I suggest you do that as soon as you’re done reading this blog post. Jes is an essential voice in Body Liberation but before she used that phrase, she was often heard encouraging folks toward Body Love. You should also watch Baker’s Body Love TedX Talk, linked right here. At a certain point, on her journey, Baker decided that Body Liberation was a better phrase than Body Love and in her blog post entitled “Why I’ve Chosen Body Liberation Over Body Love,” she explains why. Similarly, I want to explain why I choose Body Liberation over the phrase “Body Positivity.”
I’ve actually already written a blog post that explains the difference between these terms: Body Acceptance, Body Positivity and Body Liberation. This previously written post goes a long way to explaining why I choose to use Body Liberation instead of Body Positivity when I talk about what it is that I do. But, there are still some additional thoughts I’d like to add that could clear up the importance of the shift from mere Body Positivity to Body Liberation.
Now, on her blog, Baker also defines something she calls “Lisa Frank BoPo” and has written another blog post about why this “Lisa Frank BoPo” is “Just not Enough.” Baker defines “Lisa Frank BoPo” as “a strain of rainbow-colored body empowerment, covered in sparkles, which is purposefully vague so that it ignores larger body issues like racism, ableism, and the inaccurate equation of fat equaling unhealthy.” I laughed out loud when I read this phrase and this definition because if you look at Bad Dog Rebel’s branding we are ALL about rainbows and sparkles! But… what Baker says about Body Positivity staying away from the more difficult issues of racism, ableism, as well as fatphobia and weight stigma is at the heart of my personal understanding of Body Liberation and explains why, I too, steer clear of the phrase Body Positivity when defining my work.
Baker explains that encouraging people toward “Body Love” actually sets people up for the flip side of the same kind of obsession as what Diet Culture encourages. I would argue that Body Positivity does the exact same thing. And, in addition to setting people up for obsession, we set people up for failure because which one of us, swimming in the Diet Culture soup as we all are every single day, can actually feel positive or loving towards our bodies every single moment of every day?
Unfortunately, there is an additional aspect of the term Body Positivity that is particularly insidious. You don’t hear many fitness professionals or yoga instructors calling themselves “Body Love Instructors” or “Body Love Trainers” — there’s something, linguistically and semiotically, about that phrasing that feels creepy but Body Positive has caught on like wildfire and it is the easiest thing in the world to say… “I’m a body positive instructor” or “I’m a body positive trainer.” But what does that phrase even mean? For the folks who have been Body Positive since the beginning, it probably means something closer to Body Liberation. Unfortunately, for some folks who have only recently adopted the concept of Body Positivity, it means almost nothing at all. It’s a “Good Vibes” Mug on what Bo Burnham succinctly exposes as the “White Woman’s Instagram.” It’s like… omg, Bebe…I’m like… SO body positive, right!?
Body Positivity was never supposed to mean as little as having a positive attitude toward one’s body but since Diet Culture has co-opted it and trainers, instructors and coaches who are still pushing intentional weight loss as a healthy behavior have begun to use it indiscriminately without having an idea what it actually means, it has been diluted to the point of meaninglessness. The major message you hear from mainstream fitness and yoga professionals who are proudly waving the Body Positivity but have no idea what it means is, “Ya! Body Positivity! Because if you are positive toward you’re body, you’ll do what it takes to be thin!” Using Body Positivity without confronting and dismantling our fatphobia (as well as… racism, ableism, ageism, transphobia and homophobia) is like jumping into a swimming pool with all your clothes on. You can do it but you won’t be doing it right and you’ll look pretty foolish and feel pretty uncomfortable.
Baker defines Body Liberation as “freedom from all outside expectations, even our own. Liberation is not having to love your body all the time. Liberation is not asking permission to be included in society’s ideal of beauty. Liberation is bucking the concept of beauty as currency altogether. Liberation is recognizing the systemic issues that surround us and acknowledging that perhaps we’re not able to fix them all on our own. Liberation is personally giving ourselves permission to live life.”
This is a gorgeous definition and it aligns with my own but again, there is a linguistic and cultural reason I choose Body Liberation over Body Positivity. The term, “Liberation” carries gravitas. Body Positivity, as in Baker’s “Lisa Frank BoPo,” is easy and doesn’t force you to think beyond “yay! Positivity! Kittens! Rainbows! Unicorns!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with kittens, rainbows OR Unicorns) but the implication of using the phrase Body Liberation is a seriousness, a thoughtful intentionality behind the work that simply doesn’t exist in the word “Positivity.”
Unfortunately, Body Positive Trainer or Body Positive Coach is much easier to say and makes more linguistic sense than Body Liberation Trainer or Body Liberation Coach. “Body Positive” is also locked into the culture of this Body Liberation world because of search engine optimization. If brands want to get noticed for doing this type of work, they have to use Body Positivity or else google won’t see them and therefore they cannot grow their following and will not be able to survive. I believe this is a big reason why it is taking longer than it should be for the entire culture to transition from Body Positivity to Body Liberation. Additionally, Body Positivity is an easier pill to swallow for fitness professionals still absolutely stuck on what they consider to be the reality of the problematic “obese” body. When you cannot or have not confronted your own fatphobia, it’s harder to get down with “liberation” and easier to hold a peace sign up and smile for the selfie and say “positive vibes.”
Everyone is on their own journey. In a culture steeped in the belief that thinness equals health, it is simply going to take most of us a REALLY long time to understand that forcing bodies into submission through restrictive dieting and punishing exercise is actually downright antithetical to HEALTH.
SO, ultimately, whether we gravitate towards Body Love, Body Acceptance, Body Positivity or Body Liberation, I hope that we can at least remember, the reason for this journey at all is to find peace and freedom in our relationships to our bodies, movement and food and, perhaps even more importantly, to recognize that every single person in the world deserves this same freedom. Let’s let go. Let go of the labels and the phrases and the pressure to do anything in any way that feels restrictive or punishing of ourselves or others. In this letting go, THAT is where we will be free to experience our own definition of AUTHENTIC HEALTH.
Don't let the long list of ingredients fool you. This whole, delicious, filling and nutritious meal comes together pretty quickly and easily. This is a slight variation from the same recipe in Angela Liddon's OH SHE GLOWS cookbooks, which I cannot recommend highly enough. We discovered Liddon's plant-based work a couple of years back and many of her recipes are now staples in our weekly meal plans including this one! We love this recipe so much that we always double it so that we can have the second serving for lunch in the next day or two.
If you take the time to bake some sweet potatoes ahead of time, you can reheat them in a microwave and have this meal on the table, ready to serve in less than 15 minutes!
You will need either a food processor or a strong blender for the avocado crema.
Don't like cilantro? Just leave it out!
Click pdf below to get a printable version of the recipe
In Yoga, this movement from Plank to low Push-Up position is traditionally called a "Chaturanga." We do LOTS of these in Power Yoga. The more exhausted we get, the harder it is to keep the integrity of the pose. Try to keep all of this in mind-body as you practice.
As I note in the photo below, my butt is still a bit too high up in the bottom photo for absolute spinal integrity but, a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do to make it through a power yoga class, friends. LOL... which brings me to the point that Plank to Push-Up can also be done from the knees. All the same cues apply except your knees are your contact point instead of your toes. Taking this pose to your knees takes some of the load off so that it feels a little more doable.
Though many folks stuck in Diet Culture aren’t much interested in it, Body Liberation is meant for everyone: all sizes, shapes, races, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, ages, etc…. The more our bodies do not comply with Diet Culture’s narrow beauty standards, the more often we feel that we do not deserve Body Respect, Body Kindness or Body Acceptance.
This week, make a list of all of the identities (or positionalities) you identify with or that are identified with you. Make a note after each identity about what Diet Culture tells you about that identity — within that identity, how have you been pressured to show up in order to be acceptable or valuable or lovable? Consider what you have done in order to comply with Diet Culture’s standards AND/OR consider how Diet Culture’s standards have made you feel about that particular identity.
If you are active on social media, try to find at least one new account to begin following or one new group to join this week that is an example of someone (or many people) within at least one of your identities breaking free from diet culture and moving toward Body Liberation.
If you are not active on social media, try finding a book about, website dedicated to or a local group of people who share… an identity with you and are actively breaking free from diet culture and moving toward Body Liberation.
This exploration is based on one of the cards in Judith Matz’s and Amy Pershing’s The Body Positivity Card Deck: 53 Strategies for Body Acceptance, Appreciation and Respect.
In cultures that experience four seasons, fall has traditionally been considered a sacred time. In certain earth-based traditions, November 1st is actually considered the true New Year and the last day of the year, October 31st, is understood and celebrated as a day in which there is a thinner veil between the living and the dead. This is a time to grieve and mourn and re-member those who have passed on before us but also to celebrate their lives and the lives that WE are still lucky enough to be living!
The contemporary way that Halloween is celebrated in the United States trivializes and commodifies this ancient and healing tradition though it does get one thing right: the joy. Despite our dominant culture’s association with death as a negative, hateful thing that we should always be trying NOT to think about… October 31st and November 1st come to remind us of our own mortality and to be grateful for the living that we get to do while we get to do it. Far from being a wholly somber practice, there is celebration in knowing that we are part of a cycle of natural life and death that started long before our existence and will continue long after we cease to exist.
Part of the reason that Diet Culture is so successful in pushing its agenda is that we have been thoroughly separated from this natural, earth-based cycle and from the reality of our own mortality. Diet Culture promises ever-lasting life if we can only learn to control and dominate our bodies into thinness, which of course (in Diet Culture) is the marker of supreme health. If we engage in the practices of Diet Culture, we are told, we can stop the aging process and live forever.
But Body Liberation has to be Death Positive which (though, “death positive” may sound scary) just means accepting that death is a reality and, if we are lucky, so is getting older.
This week’s UNLEASHED invites you to play with these ideas, with this moment where the wheel of the year turns and we are reminded again that we are earth-bound creatures who are meant to live unique lives with multiple, intersecting identities that each deserve body respect, body acceptance and body kindness.
Our world is not set up to encourage us to be kind to our bodies. We are overworked, sleep deprived, often undernourished, and usually dehydrated. We don’t have the time we need for leisurely, enjoyable moments with friends or family and most Americans have a nearly impossible time making time for any kind of joyful or intentional movement.
Worse than that, we are really encouraged to disconnect from our body and its clear signals to us. These signals show up in the form of small aches and pains, varying degrees of hunger and thirst, gut feelings and in other ways. When we are born, we have a high level of interoceptive awareness — that is, we can hear the body and we know how to listen to it, respond and demand that we get what the body needs. As we get older and “grow up,” our culture almost forces us to get better and better at ignoring those signals, muscling through them, or even finding them annoying and “wrong.”
Body Kindness is the practice of re-learning how to tune into our body’s signals and honoring those signals by taking action. Body Kindness is feeling friendly towards our bodies in a way that helps our body’s trust that they matter. They are not just an annoying, betraying, “thing” we are forced to deal with (as our culture’s tell us they are), they are “US.” Our bodies are precious, one-of-a-kind, ultra-complex organisms that are constantly working hard to keep us alive and well. Body Kindness is approaching these miraculous organisms with love and respect and… well, kindness instead of the contempt we’ve been taught to have for them.
Given that our culture is hell bent on us hating our bodies, the transition to Body Kindness is not always easy and it is not always linear. There will be good days and bad days. There will be days when we can turn to our bodies with a friendly and open heart and listen to its needs and honor its needs as we would a beloved pet’s. There will be days when we would rather pretend we don’t even have a body and we will ignore every signal our body sends our way!
All of this is okay. A transition like this — which is pretty much a full paradigm shift or a full shift in our beliefs about the world and our place in it — requires time and lots of patience. And the older we are when we come to the concept of Body Kindness, the more time we’ve spent in the mode of Body Contempt.
Like all transitions, knowing when we need help and what we need help with is key. Then, reaching out to those we know can help us will get us through! That is EXACTLY what our BDR Coaching Calls are for! And if the calls don’t feel like enough, this is precisely the point of JodiAnn’s Weight-Neutral Health Coaching — to help clients make the transition away from Body Contempt and toward Body Kindness. There is help available to you through this difficult transition!
This week, consider times and ways you have felt Body Contempt. Write down as many examples as you can think! Then see if, one by one, you can reimagine these examples through the lens of Body Kindness. What would Body Kindness be able to do that Body Contempt was not capable of? How would Body Kindness have felt in those moments? Finish by writing THREE ways you can practice Body Kindness this week where normally you might experience Body Contempt.
I’d love for you to share this work in our coaching calls, if it feels helpful for you to do that.
A proper plank is an awesome foundation for many different functional movements. Holding plank is a great thing to do to strengthen your core and you can do it every single day but moving the limbs around your plank is even better! Try planking with a saw (moving forward and back with the toes) or planking while stepping one leg out to the side at a time, or planking while alternating picking up the heels. Just make sure you keep that proper plank form throughout your movement!
We've been making this whole-body-warming soup for 20 years when we first found the original recipe in Cooking Light. Our youngest daughter has always been a big fan and when she was little would call it "Bean Stew" because she'd pick everything else out and just eat the beans and the broth. : ) We have used every possible sausage for this recipe, including Beyond Sausage when we feel like making it vegan. I have also substituted collard greens (which are way cheaper than Kale and really (nutritionally speaking) pretty much the same thing. Once you are practiced at making it, the whole meal comes together in about 15 minutes. We serve it with a nice, gluten free (for the hubby) bread or cornbread. Enjoy!
Click pdf below to get a printable version of the recipe.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.