Hey friends, and welcome to this episode of HGTV! Let’s take the next 5 minutes to talk about one of my biggest pet peeves with the “fitness industry” and how it has a negative effect on the very people we seek to help:
Fitness and fatness are not the same thing.
Since the coronavirus closed gyms around the world, I’ve been more aware than ever of all of the fitness-related marketing that’s being created. I’ve received emails from every mailing list I’ve ever subscribed or unsubscribed to and seen native or sponsored posts all over social media, asking people about how they’re doing with their fitness.
Except, these posts aren’t about fitness. They’re about fatness. And that’s absolutely bullshit.
More accurately, it’s systemic fatphobia and attempted profit off of people’s fear and hatred of fatness. There’s only a single letter difference between these two words, and it seems that’s given the fitness industry cart blanche to conflate their meanings.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent Medium essay by Matt McGorry:
Because what those gatekeepers know and won’t say is that fitness, as we often use the term, tells us virtually nothing about how fit we are to complete certain tasks. When we say someone is “fit,” it’s almost never because we saw them demonstrate said fitness, but because they have a certain body type that leads us to assume what they can or can’t do. These industries aren’t selling fitness, but the promise of a socially acceptable body. I mean, why else would almost every “fitness” plan feature models with six packs, if they weren’t also selling aspirational leanness? I still remember how chubby trainers or nutritionists in the industry would be judged by others — myself included, even if in silence — when we had no way of knowing anything about their fitness or well-being from looking at them, and when neither of those factors have any bearing on how adept they are at their job. Rather than the “fitness industry,” we should call it the “thinness/leanness industry.” An accurate name for the goals we’re pursuing would at least force us to be honest about what we value: thinness and leanness, not health and wellness. If the reverse were true, we would focus on the fact that we undermine people who are trying to move their bodies and eat intuitively for their well-being when we make intentional weight loss a goal.– Matt McGorry
Think about how you’ve seen these words used in your community, or maybe even by yourself. When you say that you’re working on your fitness, are you referring to improving your deadlift or decreasing your 5k time? Or are you referring to losing weight?
On the contrary, when you see marketing related to improving your fitness, is it encouraging you to increase your physical capacity, or encouraging you to decrease the size or weight of your body?
If you look closely, my guess is that it’s largely the latter. Almost every current conversation about improving “fitness” is a thinly veiled – if it’s veiled at all – critique, criticism, or judgement about fatness. Almost everyone in the “fitness industry” that talks about “improving performance” as a parallel to the underlying theme of reducing weight, size, or both.
According to Noam Chomsky:
“That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything.”
Chomsky also says that:
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”
Exactly how much consumption are we talking about? According to MarketResearch.com, “the U.S. weight loss market is now worth a record $72 billion.” and according to the National Eating Disorder Association, “95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.”
That’s an incredible amount of money being generated by an industry that purports themselves to help people. And yes, I do believe that my little corner of the fitness industry has their clients best interests at heart. I believe we want to empower people to improve their physical capacity, to increase what they’re capable of, and to feel at home in their bodies.
But it seems that at large, the weight loss industrial complex has found the tipping point where they can be just supportive enough to get people to participate in the charade, while also perpetuating the dehumanization of those very same people so that we can then sell them our solutions. It’s like the soap making scheme in Fight Club.
To paraphrase Matt McGorry, “[You are] worth so much more than a lifetime of obsessing over food, exercise, and weight. [You are] a beautiful, powerful being, defined by so much beyond how [you] look.
To me, there is so much more to be learned and experienced – so much more potential to be unlocked – in seeking to expand our physical abilities rather than contracting the size of our bodies. But more on that next time. For now, I invite you to be conscious of the conversations around you, and the ones that you participate in, and work to generate awareness about how you think and talk about body image, body size, and about how we use the word fitness.
Alright friends, thank you for joining me for this episode of HGTV. I’d love to know more about your experiences with this conflation of fitness and fatness, and any implicit or explicit fatphobia that you’ve experienced. Send me a message and let me know what your experiences are, as I hope to learn from you!
As always, you can watch these words on Instagram. Cheers!