You have learned about fatphobia, about the fact that dieting for intentional weight loss is harmful to your health, about intuitive eating, the Health At Every Size movement, Body Liberation and all the rest of it. You have begun to embrace your body, to heal your relationship with your body, with food, and with movement. You get it. You recognize your fatphobic thoughts. You recognize your internalized fatphobia. You’re doing the thing.
Yet in choosing fitness, yoga, and dance professionals to work with, you’re still rushing straight back into the arms of good ole fatphobic, diet culture… proudly declaring that your [insert giant fitness, dance, or yoga corporation’s name here] instructors aren’t “that fatphobic,” or that your fatphobic yoga instructor “didn’t say anything about intentional weight loss” in her classes, or that… (and this is my favorite) you are able to “just ignore the fatphobia” in the movement programming you’ve chosen.
And this is what I’ve been noticing about your tendency to continue to rush back to traditional fitness, yoga, and dance spaces: You seem to think that the master’s tools will dismantle the master’s house. You think that by moving into these spaces and declaring yourself healed from Diet Culture, by refusing to let those unfriendly spaces push you out or make you feel that you are unfit to belong, you are winning. You think that by “taking up space” within traditional Diet Culture-centered Fitness, Yoga, and Dance classes that you are slowly changing the culture and people’s minds to understand that Body Diversity is a fact and that not everyone moves their body in order to intentionally lose weight.
And, that’s one way to do it. Because, you are right. Traditional, Non-HAES-aligned fitness, yoga and dance professionals DO need to see and learn that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. They also need to learn to respect bodies that exist outside of Diet Culture’s norms and learn to treat those bodies with respect and dignity. They also need to be confronted with the fact that their approach is harmful to many many people. You are also absolutely correct that you have the right to enter these movement spaces that claim to be open to all bodies and take up as much space as you need.
But the flipside to these radical reasons for being a part of these Diet Culture spaces is much less oriented toward liberation than these reasons make it seem. The flipside is… fatphobia has you STILL believing that THESE professionals – thin, ripped, and focused on intentional weight loss possess the gold standard knowledge in movement. Diet Culture has you STILL believing that fitness and yoga professionals who are not thin or who have adopted a HAES-approach in their work can’t possibly know what they are doing. Thin, ripped movement professionals who are focused on intentional weight loss and physical appearance, still seem more “serious” or more “credible” to you than HAES-aligned movement professionals. To take part in their classes and programming somehow gives you the right to demand to be taken seriously or to feel more credible. Participating in their classes and programming proves that your body is okay. Because despite what you may think or feel, you still feel the need to prove that your body is okay. You might still need the approval of thinner, more societally-acceptable bodies to feel that you are okay.
However difficult it is to hear or confront, all of this makes sense. These are the deeper, more difficult layers of Diet Culture’s grip on your mind and your spirit. We can know and want and work toward Body Liberation for YEARS before we actually believe that we deserve it, before we actually stop trying to prove that our bodies deserve love and respect and compassionate care EXACTLY as they are.
Choosing HAES-aligned movement professionals is a big step for a lot of us. It may require you to confront your own fatphobia in a new way, particularly if the HAES-aligned movement professional exists in a bigger body or a body that looks more like your own than any other movement professional you’ve ever seen. If you’re present for what’s happening, HAES-aligned movement classes may require you to accept your body exactly as it is, without asking you to buy into any lie that movement will make your body smaller. Instead of offering up the instructor as some kind of model of perfection that you are moving towards, your instructor is just another human – like you -- moving in their perfectly imperfect body. Because HAES-aligned movement is not done as punishment or to force the body to comply with unhealthy societal standards of beauty, it will make you seriously confront the question of why you engage in movement at all. HAES-aligned movement will require you to come up with new reasons – which may induce a micro-crisis in your understanding of yourself. If you’re not moving your body in order to make it smaller, more acceptable, or “hotter” then why are you moving your body? In confronting this question, many people need to take a period of time where they do not move their body much or at all and, if you are used to regular movement, this can be a disheartening phase of the process. Ultimately, HAES-aligned movement makes you think. Ultimately, HAES-aligned movement encourages you to know yourself better – specifically, to know yourself better outside of the damaging paradigm of Diet Culture.
Like all Body Liberation-oriented conundrums, the bottom line is that the choice is yours. If you feel you MUST continue to seek movement programming from fatphobic, diet culture-oriented sources, so be it. Your choice. I am only suggesting that you take a harder look at your reasons for doing so to determine if that is REALLY your choice or if that is simply the “choice” that’s been programmed into you.
There are so many HAES-aligned movement professionals – of all shapes and sizes – out here in the world now. Each time you ditch a diet culture-centered movement professional or company and choose HAES-aligned programming instead, you are not just helping yourself, you are supporting and contributing to a massive shift in social consciousness. You are supporting and contributing to a movement that 1) accepts and respects the fact of Body Diversity; 2) believes that everyone deserves access to the health-related endeavors they want/need to take part in; 3) believes that ALL bodies deserve respect and compassionate care; 4) rejects the notion that being thin is synonymous with being healthy; and 5) understands and is concerned about the UNHEALTHY lengths folks have been manipulated into going to in order to achieve thinness. Each time you choose to support HAES-aligned movement offerings with your money, your time, and your energy, you aren’t just making that choice for yourself, you are making that choice for your culture and for the better world that you want to create.
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.