I’ve been noticing something…
There are three different types of fitness and yoga professionals at this moment
Mainstream fitness and yoga professionals are still drinking the Diet Culture kool-aid that tells them they have a right to push restrictive dieting for weight loss and punishing exercise on people because thinness is exactly the same thing as health. I’ve also seen first-hand, that many of these types of fitness professionals really don’t believe you can be thin enough. Some will even knowingly push you into an eating disorder because, they believe, living with a restrictive eating disorder is “healthier” than living “fat.”
Body Liberation-oriented and HAES-aligned fitness and yoga professionals are staunchly weight-neutral and believe that ALL BODIES deserve respect, compassion, and dignity. They do not believe that what you look like has anything to do with whether or not you are “healthy” and that every body – at every size -- has a right to movement, food, and body respect. Furthermore, they know that the “healthism” inherent in Diet Culture and the mainstream fitness industry, is, in itself, damaging and do not base a person’s moral worth on whether they are seeking “health” or not.
Then, there are the in-betweens, as I’ve started to call them in my own head. In-between fitness and yoga professionals theoretically agree with facile statements like: “everyone should love their body” but their fatphobia and the lessons of Diet Culture are still so entrenched in their hearts that the way they interpret that statement in reality is “if everyone loved their body, no one would be fat.” They do not accept the reality of body diversity yet. And, though they say they MIGHT be so bold as to say they are fat positive out loud, they do not really believe – in their hearts – that fat people could EVER be “healthy.”
How do you tell these types of fitness and yoga professionals apart?
Mainstream fitness and yoga professionals will both talk about weight loss and the size of people's bodies. Mainstream personal trainers will want to see a food diary. They will use words like calories and macros and food plan or meal plan. They will suggest you track everything you eat. Some of them will tell you that you are absolutely crazy NOT to track everything you eat. They will emphasize the SIZE of your body by weighing you, taking measurements, and even pinching parts of your body with calipers. All mainstream "health" professionals will comment on the size of your body incessantly. They will talk about “earning” food or resting “privileges” with working out. They will talk about “burning off” “excess” food or hitting the gym harder than you normally would have if you indulged in eating or drinking earlier or the day before. You will also notice that mainstream fitness and yoga professionals will put an emphasis on displaying their own bodies as an example of what everyone should look like or could look like if they followed their program or plan. Mainstream (with regards to their approach to body size) yoga professionals will often emphasize a spiritual connection with thinness, which they might also refer to as emptiness or cleanliness.
Body Liberation fitness and yoga professionals will talk about how you are feeling, what you might want to do with your body that you can’t do at this moment (which will lead to a NON-weight focused “goal”), and any damaging past experiences with movement or food (that typically includes the negligence of mainstream fitness and yoga professionals). We will create an environment in which you can feel comfortable moving your body or help you find one. We will help you accept and believe that you have the right to move your body – or not – however you’d like. Because we believe, firmly, in body diversity, we will NEVER comment on your body size. We help you find your own definition of health. Though you may see Body Liberation Fitness & Yoga Professionals posting pictures of their bodies, this is typically in an attempt to normalize body diversity and not to uphold oneself as any kind of standard or example of what every body “should” or “could” look like.
It can be tricky to spot an In-Between fitness or yoga professional. Some of them do an excellent job of talking the talk. They do, though, seem to focus more on “body love” than body acceptance or body respect. They do seem to talk a lot about the concept that if you could only learn to truly love your body, you would WANT to give it an exercise regimen and quality nutrition. They might even emphasize good mental health because once you’ve got your mind right, the pounds will just fall away. Or they might emphasize strength training because “strong is the new skinny.” In other words, their offerings are still, ultimately, about manipulating the body into some kind of false ideal. Though they say “everyone” should love their body, they are still too stuck in their own fatphobia and body shame to really believe that – and it shows if you listen closely enough or look closely enough at what they are saying and offering.
Which type of fitness and yoga professional is “Body Positive”?
ALL of these types of fitness and yoga professionals are using the phrase “Body Positive” for both themselves and their products.
Mainstreamers believe they are “body positive” because they love showing off an idealized body and they believe that if someone is truly “positive” about their body, they will WANT to and WORK toward losing weight.
Some Body Liberationers use “body positive” because people who haven’t really joined the Body Liberation movement are attracted to that phrase and think they understand it, relate to it, better than “body Liberation.” In other words, “body positive” is more accessible. But Body Liberation Fitness & Yoga Professionals know that you can’t truly be “body positive” if you are not “fat positive” so when we use “body positive” we are referring to the full, unconditional acceptance of body diversity.
In-betweeners love to use the phrase “Body Positive” because for them the facile concept of being “positive” towards one’s body is outrageous and rebellious enough, in an of itself. They don’t seem to understand that there is a great deal more to the picture. And their own confusion about what “body positivity” means is sometimes palpable – one minute writing #fuckdietculture and the next minute posting a bathroom selfie of what great abs they got from their vegan diet. One minute, an in-betweener will tell you that it’s all about how you “FEEL” and then they’ll ask you for your measurements or before and after pictures.
What will the future bring for these types of fitness and yoga professionals?
This is an interesting time to be a fitness and yoga professional, just as it is an interesting (albeit also, terrifying and confusing and disconcerting) time to be a human being living on this planet in the midst of multiple global shifts on so many levels. We are witnessing an evolution. We are working within the midst of a revolution.
Mainstreamers are holding on for dear life, attempting to save the very foundation they have worked their whole careers to build. They NEED you to believe that your body is unacceptable the way that it is. Otherwise, their product is of no use to anyone anymore.
Body Liberationers are charging full steam ahead into the revolution, taking up the cause of freedom from external expectations for ALL bodies. We are science fiction fitness and yoga professionals because we are working toward a future that does not even exist yet.
And In-betweeners just don’t know. And like any good moderate politician, they are keeping one foot in each camp just in case.
So, which fitness and yoga professionals should you choose to work with (assuming you are looking for fitness and yoga professionals to work with)?
The thing that Mainstreamers and Body Liberationers have in common is that they are clear about what you can get from them. They are clear about what they believe about health and about your body. And from that clarity, YOU can choose which you are more interested in being involved with.
Note: As a Body Liberation Fitness and Yoga Professional, I hope it’s clear that I would not EVER recommend ANYONE work with a Mainstream Fitness and Yoga Professional. I believe, in light of ALL of the research that demonstrates how wrong their approach is, and in light of the massive numbers of folks struggling with eating disorders out there, their approach is egocentric, harmful, and downright negligent. BUT… at least they are clear about what they do so IF THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR, of course your body autonomy gives you the right to seek whomever you wish!
But In-betweeners are the ones out there doing the MOST damage right now. They are moving into fat community spaces and Body Liberation community spaces and almost trying on a persona that they haven’t even wrapped their minds around yet. They are using language that could attract folks who really need a safe space to heal their relationship with movement, food and their bodies and then meeting those folks in need with the same old damaging material and mindset.
There are SO MANY Body Liberation oriented fitness and yoga professionals!
This is a blog attached to my business, Bad Dog Rebel Fitness & Yoga. OBVIOUSLY, I am writing it because I want more people to choose to work with ME. But, the reality is, particularly since Covid and quarantine hit, there are SO MANY Body Liberation fitness and yoga professionals out there that there is bound to be one or a whole studio of folks who can meet your needs.
I hope you know that you are worth so much more than what Mainstream Fitness and Yoga Professionals are still trying to offer you. You are worth more than the same old body dissatisfaction, restrictive dieting and punishing exercise. Your worth, your dignity, your lovability, yes, even your health, cannot be measured in a before and after picture or with calipers.
Whatever you do, be careful of those In-betweeners! And, IF YOU WANT IT, I hope you seek Body Liberation oriented Fitness and Yoga today. This is an exciting time to make the move toward a better future for all bodies.
Keep in mind, we are all on this journey TOGETHER
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.