It’s no secret that I’m bit of a fanatic about fitness. Actually, it’s not so much that I’m a fitness fanatic as much as it is that I am absolutely in love with being an athlete. I love the training, the preparation, the mental and physical challenges, the electrifying sensation of competing, the bruises, the triumphs, the failures, the agony, the ecstasy – all of it. Even the shitty parts of being an athlete are still pretty amazing. The only reason I’m able to do any of this is because I make physical fitness a priority in my life.
As a result, when I come across a post like this, I can’t help but despair a little bit. (Not because the post is bad; on the contrary, it’s excellent and I highly recommend reading it.) The author of the post breaks down five ways in which the ideals of fitness are used to shame people, and in many cases as a socially-acceptable way of expressing hate. I’ve seen almost all of those arguments used in conversations about weight, obesity, bodies, health and fitness – in fact, they are impossible to avoid. The arguers seem to believe that it’s possible to shame people into adopting healthy habits, like if you just make people feel awful enough about themselves, they’ll suddenly start doing CrossFit six times a week and banishing fast food from their lives. As if! If that were actually an effective way to do things, we’d have a nation of endurance athletes instead of a nation of couch potatoes.
I hate this line of thinking for so many reasons. I hate it because it doesn’t work. I hate it because it erases the existence of fat athletes, as if it is not possible to be fit without being thin. I hate it because it is so, so cruel, and treating people with cruelty pretty much runs counter to everything I think about what it means to be a good person in this world. And maybe I hate it most because it makes fitness and athletics seem like the sole provenance of arrogant jerks who think having visible abs makes them morally superior to everyone else in the world. It takes one of my greatest passions in life and turns it into a weapon of hate and shame.
I have gained so much in my life from taking fitness seriously. I have not only become stronger and healthier, but I have also become more confident, less anxious and more at ease with myself. And it’s not just me! Almost everyone who comments on this blog has shared similar stories about the impact of their chosen pursuit in their life, whether it’s yoga or running or swimming or playing soccer or CrossFit or whatever. There’s something about investing time and effort into making our bodies stronger that carries over to the rest of our lives. It’s empowering, it’s transformative, it’s life-changing, it’s freaking awesome!
But far too often, the rhetoric of fitness ignores all of these positive motivators in favor of body- and fat-shaming. In doing so, the people who make these kind of arguments are basically putting up brick walls around “fitness” and spray-painting “FATTIES KEEP OUT” all over them.
Should we be surprised when people aren’t exactly clamoring to get inside those walls? Should we be shocked when people say they don’t go to the gym or even walk outside because they worry they will be judged? Or when people who run refuse to take part in races because they think races are implicitly reserved only for the super-fit? Why should any of this be surprising when that kind of exclusionary and elitist attitude is projected by so many fitness enthusiasts?
To hell with that. I want my world of fitness to be one that is inclusive of people of all body types and abilities. I want my world of fitness to be one of taking pleasure in our bodies and lives, not one of neo-puritanical self-flagellation and barely-disguised eating disorders. I want my world of fitness to be a no-shame, no-judgment zone. I want people to come into a life of fitness feeling like the possibilities are limitless, not like they have to attain some imaginary level of acceptability before they can show themselves to the world.
Because all of this – getting sweaty and sore, building callouses on your feet and hands, seeing muscles surface where none existed before, finding yourself capable of lifting really heavy things and covering more distance with little more than the power of your own body – all of this is nothing short of amazing, and I want everyone to feel as though they can take part without having to endure the gimlet-eyed sniping of someone who, in all likelihood, doesn’t much like themselves either.
And if you are the kind of person who thinks it’s acceptable to shame people in the name of fitness and health, knock that shit off – you’re making the rest of us look bad.