Why the Fitness Industry Should be Talking About Body Image

This month, February, marks 10 years that I’ve been working in the fitness industry. Woooheee. That’s a long time to be pushing push-ups! From the beginning of my tenure at BCSF we never marketed our program to be about 6-packs or getting beach-ready bodies. We promoted ourselves to focus on the fun of working out, about getting the most effective workout with smart instructors that knew the human body inside and out. So that is to say, there’s never been a time where I helped to market fitness in a way that was shaming.

But if you would have asked me my thoughts on why we did this 8 years ago, I would have told you that it’s because we weren’t a cheesy, shallow program. That we were a serious program and serious programs just didn’t need to do that. I liked it, of course, but I didn’t think about it *too* much.

Back when I started with BCSF, I was on the periphery, doing administrative work. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I started teaching classes. And I suppose that is when I really started to consider how prevalent shame was in the fitness world. I remember distinctly the first time I told someone in my class that we don’t do “negative self-talk” in this space. It was kind of a liberating feeling to give people this strong boundary that evoked positivity.

But, overall, body image was a tough, elephant in the room kind of topic for me. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that as a trainer I could be body positive to everyone. To every shape and size. That isn’t to say I didn’t FEEL that way — I did. I just didn’t know how to admit it. Because it felt like a cognitive distortion to say I am a trainer, someone that makes a living helping people change their bodies and on the other hand say that body size didn’t matter to me. Like, I felt it was somehow my professional obligation to believe that healthy = skinny. And since being healthy was always my ultimate goal, I felt torn. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two facets of my world.

pullup image get unstuck

In short:  I knew I had these feelings about body image positivity, but I could never quite put my finger on how to truly promote this. In the freaking fitness industry.  When I started reading Erin Brown’s work about 3 years ago is when I started to feel less alone in my thoughts on body image.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours considering just how and why we should be talking about body image in the fitness industry. Because I am certain I am not the only trainer that has struggled with this. And to be frank, I’d say society at large probably would suggest it’s a joke that the fitness industry, which they likely see as generally the type of people in #fitspo images, would even consider talking about positive body image. But I’m here to tell you that, I’ve come to the assertion that the fitness industry is actually the perfect and most obvious choice as a venue for talking about body image positivity.

And here’s why:

We’re Already Talking About Bodies. A LOT. It’s literally what we do. We talk about how they move, where they move, limitations on movement, how to improve movement. It’s seriously BODY, BODY, BODY over here. Why in the hell would we not consider talking about these things in the fitness industry?!

We’ve Kind of Fucked up. We are part of the problem and I kind of feel like when you break something, you should help fix it. Just check out the #fitspo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not good stuff people. It’s full of jacked ladies and men espousing the no excuses mentality onto the world. They have forgotten that inspiration should be positive and empowering. The fitness industry at large thinks that making people feel shitty about their bodies is the best way to sell their products. And I suppose that the dollars follow this, but the crazy thing is, is that research consistently shows that lifelong change in people comes from positive, intrinsic motivators. It’s possible that the fitness industry would be even more financially successful if they helped people find those positive motivators, eh?

It’s Our Bread and Butter. We are our clients inspiration. We are modeling an “ideal”. Most of us feel it’s our duty to walk the walk when it comes to being fit – right? We feel the need to keep up our fitness routines because being a trainer that doesn’t exercise would feel inauthentic. Right? But I challenge you to consider how authentic it is to be a trainer that isn’t body positive. Bodies are how we make a living. So, if your attitude shows signs of being negative towards the bodies of some individuals is this authentic?

We Have the Power. Within the world of fitness, we have the power to teach people skills that help them appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like. Almost every woman I know that lifts heavy, lifts for reasons beyond looking good. It becomes about lifting more weight, about getting better at technique and becoming fascinated by the process of lifting rather than the chiseling of our triceps and delts.

 

The ultimate irony is, in my opinion, that when you’re approaching fitness from this perspective some interesting things start to happen. One, we often get more fit. Why? Because we’re training because WE LIKE IT. When we like things we do them more often and more consistently. And because we are training more often, we often get those muscles and definition we were originally seeking. It’s kind of a funky, cool, little feedback loop.

flexingsillycat

So, truly, in my opinion there is ABSOLUTELY no downside to being a trainer that espouses a body positive attitude. You might fret that you are less legit as a trainer, but trust me, you’re not. It’s not wrong to think of your clients as awesome human beings that are capable of so much and that are valuable far beyond how jacked they are.

And frankly, ultimately all it takes is acting kind towards your clients. Pretty sure we can all do that right? Right. Good.

 

 

“I Exercise to Look Good Naked”: Good Reasons to Exercise

How many times have you heard this? I’ve heard it. A LOT. I’ve seen it plastered on the walls of gyms, I’ve seen it on more social media posts than is possible to count and I’ve heard it said to me. A lot.

And I totally hate it! It’s not wrong to want to look sexy — yes, I get it. But there are so many other reasons to exercise that will actually sustain you for a lifetime. Because I can guarantee you that looking sexy is the last reason you’ll get out of bed to workout on a cold and rainy day when you’re lying next to someone you love that, get this, probably loves you just as you are already.

So, what are good reasons/motivators to exercise?

  • Well, for me, it’s a time when I’m in a flow state. Meaning, it’s time where I’m not thinking much about the rest of the world. I’m not thinking about what I need to do, where I should be. I am in the zone. This has an insanely calming effect on me.  Which is to say, exercise is stress reliever for me. I let go, I breathe, I lift, I run, I ride.
  • Knowing that it allows me to play, be free and have adventures has a powerful effect on my motivation. I want to be able to do things and not have my body hold me back. Last weekend I went snowshoeing in Yosemite. We went around 6 miles. There is no way you can do that much activity if you aren’t exercising on a somewhat regular basis. These are the kinds of moments that bring magic into my everyday life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I mean, how can scenes like this not feel magical?!

Remember:   extrinsic motivators are far less likely to keep your routine going for the long-run. Finding intrinsic motivators, things that fuel your spirit, things that quite literally give you a spring in your step? These are the things that will make you leap out of that cozy bed in the morning.

I Gave Myself a Break From Exercise: Here’s What Happened

Since June, if I had days where I didn’t *feel* like working out, I would generally skip it…about 90% of the time.

I’d take a nap. Or take a shower. Maybe watch TV. Or, read a magazine. Go to the dog park.

Why?

Because I like my workouts. I like to enjoy them. I don’t want my exercise space to be something I dread.

Because you don’t have to train hard all the time. I trained a lot the first half of this year and last while getting ready for my SFG cert. I’m not training for anything now — I’d be training hard just to do that. Which is fine, but it hasn’t been the headspace I’ve been in.

Because maintenance is a training mode, too. Meaning, sometimes exercise isn’t about beating records and lifting more, it’s about staying healthy. My workouts these past 6 months have been to maintain my skills, my strength and to stay healthy. I’m not breaking records, I’m not really trying anything new.

Because I’ve had nagging foot pain.

kettlebell swing coach cat

And, sure, I know this sounds crazy coming from a fitness instructor, but I 100% believe it’s okay to give yourself breaks. I see a lot of trainers talking about the importance of squeezing in training here and there and while yes, sometimes that is good. Sometimes that is necessary. But if you’re already relatively healthy and not trying to break records, what is the actual point of going balls to the walls?

For me, this is what taking a break looked like:

Most weeks I exercised about 3 or 4 times.  Remember, I still *like* exercise. It’s still one of my hobbies.

When I did exercise, I just did what I wanted to do. I played. I can’t tell you how much I love playing with exercise. Doing what my body feels like doing, instead of what I *should* be doing, or what I am *supposed* to be doing. It just feels good, man, to do what I want.

And what were my results of this?

I weigh the same. My muscle definition is basically the same.

A few of my lifts have weakened — meaning, I can’t lift as much as I was doing in May, particularly my overhead press.

My feet feel better. My quad and hamstring that were giving me grief this summer, feel better.

And most importantly, mentally I feel…better. I am starting to get the urge to train hard again and I like that feeling. To me, these breaks give me context. It makes training hard a special time for me. It’s often said that to feel goodness and happiness, you need to know pain and what bad times feel like to truly appreciate the good. While nothing “bad” happened while I took a break, it does give me context which I find useful for myself and in my practice of coaching others.

An important thing to note here is that this kind of break requires quite a bit of self-trust. Earlier in my fitness journey, I likely would have been scared to do this. I would have worried about how much fitness I’d lose, how much weight I’d gain, how much definition I’d lose and that I’d lose my inertia. This is operating from a fear mentality.

I don’t have these kind of thoughts anymore because I trust myself. Exercise is a part of my life, no matter what. I know I will workout a few times a week regardless of what is going on, because I like to do it and it’s a self-care act above all else.  I also trust the science of fitness. That is, I know I won’t lose a lot by turning down the volume on my exercise and that I can get back any strength setbacks in a relatively short period of time. I know that I won’t gain weight if I pay attention to what I eat and eat less when I’m training less.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we all have times when we take breaks like this. Mine was somewhat a choice, somewhat my body screaming at me to chill out. But many times, these breaks are forced upon us by situations in our life we can’t control — a loved one passes, a divorce happens, babies are born and need us or maybe you’re laid off. And one of the things that breaks my heart the most as a trainer is seeing just how hard people are on themselves when life throws them a curveball.

pigeon pose coach cat

It’s okay and necessary to ratchet down the volume on your training every now and then. Our bodies have limits and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t make us less than, it doesn’t make us lazy. It gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves to take on new challenges. And isn’t that truly why we train anyway? To prepare for those future challenges? Food for thought, kiddos, food for thought.

 

The Scale is Not Your Enemy.

Trigger Warning:  If you have struggled with eating disorders this post may not be for you.

For all my teens and most of my 20s I thought bathroom scales were for other people.  I owned one in my early 20s when I first started exercising and used it to track my weight loss, loosely. And then I was depressed, lost my commitment to fitness and healthy eating and I started to gain weight again.

I didn’t use scales when I saw them and I looked away when I  was weighed at the doctor. I didn’t want to know how much I weighed. If I knew the truth, that meant something. It meant that I couldn’t hide, it meant that the truth was out there. It meant that I was a failure, it meant that I was “too big”. It was proof that I wasn’t normal, that I was different than my friends and that number on the scale was proof. I knew that I was different than most of my female friends already (when you’re nearly six feet tall, the jig is basically up), but the number on a scale was solid, factual evidence that I was different in a way that was bad.

I didn’t want to face all of those meanings. When you place that much negative importance on something, who would want to face it?

I remember talking to my best friend back in the thick of my war with the scale in my mid 20s and she mentioned that she weighed herself daily when she was trying to lose weight because it held her accountable. It motivated her to keep going. As she talked, I remember my stomach sinking a little bit at just the idea of it it:  it sounded terrifying. I was sure that if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during a day if it started with the anxiety of weighing myself. Looking back at my medical chart from the period we had this conversation I weighed in the mid 170s. Not much more than I weigh now.

A few years back I’d had a bit of weight gain. I could tell by how my clothes fit. I was working out pretty vigorously on my own and teaching BCSF, so I felt incredibly frustrated by this. I tapped into a dietician that I’ve known for years. I went into her office for some tests. And now she knew my weight. And we talked about it. It was out in the open. My palms were sweaty, and I felt ashamed. I should know better…right? I’m a trainer — I should be able to have a handle on this. Right?!

She calculated a few things for me and I learned some useful things, like how my resting metabolic rate was substantially higher than it would be based on norms, because of my high amount of lean muscle mass (a win!). She calculated my caloric needs. She offered to check in with me at a few points over the next few months to see how I was doing.

She knew my truth.

And suddenly I found myself weighing myself every other day. I still ate things I wanted. And the weight came off.

That was 3 years ago or so. And these days I still weigh myself a few times each week. And it doesn’t ruin my day.

A lot of my colleagues out there are teaching the world that the scale doesn’t mean anything, don’t equate yourself to a number. That it doesn’t have anything to do with your self-worth and that you don’t even need to weight yourself. They are all 100% correct. These are the women that I resonate with the most.

But, I’m here to offer another perspective. Burying your head in the sand, like I did, is also not a way to deal with this. Because isn’t that just another way to give the scale more power? To completely avoid something because you’re afraid of it? I just don’t think that’s the answer for many of us.

thescale

{my scale. see, it’s not scary! it’s pretty darn silly, if you think about it!}

I can weigh myself now, often, because I have done exactly as my colleagues have suggested — I’ve detached emotion from the scale. Now, when the number has gone up, I think about what I’ve done. Have I been eating more than usual? Have I been eating a ton of sodium? Did I have too much alcohol?

The scale is a tool. It’s one way to measure progress. It’s one method to keep on top of your health.  I think a few things contributed to my ability to change how I feel about the truth.

1. I Talked About It. Someone knew my truth. The number was out there and it was discussed. It was freeing, I realized.

2. Exposure. The more I started weighing myself, the less scary it became. It was one of my many things I did to take care of myself, like brushing my teeth.

3. Performance Gains. I was motivated by my increase in performance that I got from losing excess body fat.

4. Zero Deprivation. I was not depriving myself when I was losing weight. I didn’t see the scale as a symbol of unhappiness as I’d done in the past because it wasn’t a source of frustration.

5. It’s a Tool. Accepting the scale as a tool, as an indicator of how I’m doing on a purely scientific-type way is the ultimate freeing force in this for me. I’m not a terrible person if I eat Pho one night and then see a 2-pound weight “gain” the next day. I simply realize that Pho has an insane amount of sodium in it and that likely I am just seeing water weight. I’ve actually gotten to the point where this kind of thing amuses me.

6. Self-Worth & Confidence. My teens and 20s were a struggle, so it’s not a surprise to me that something so simple as knowing my weight had the power to deflate me. Feel confident in my life overall, in myself in knowing I have a path that I am happy to be on, removes the power of 5 pounds, 10 pounds. Happiness is more important than a number on a scale and now I realize that.

flexpower

Does the scale scare you? Tell me your struggles. The truth is powerful when it’s spoken out loud. We are only scared of things if we let ourselves be scared. We do not need to let inanimate objects tell us our self-worth. We don’t need them to conflate success with a number. They are what they are. They are numbers. Your weight is no different than your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your glucose level. They shouldn’t be equated with self-worth, but they do matter to your overall health.

If the scale scares you because you’re afraid it means something about who you are. Stop. Breathe. It’s about your health. Not about who you are a human being. Please don’t believe for a moment that the scale measures your humanness. The scale is a measure that isn’t meaningless, but it also isn’t meaningful about who you are.

 

Happiness is Choosing Yourself Above All Else: Or, Why I’m Having Jaw Surgery

“It’s a cosmetic surgery.” She said, before going into another plank at my command. I was telling one of my classes about my upcoming jaw surgery. And I replied to the group that yes, while aesthetic results were a definite outcome, my surgery was a medical neccessity.

My client wasn’t wrong, though. This is an expensive surgery that most Americans will never be able to pay out of pocket for and therefore need to get medical clearance for insurance purposes — but looking better is a major reason a lot of people will fight tooth and nail to get this surgery. And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see what my results will look like.

But there’s more to it than that for me. For me this surgery is a testament to my independence. It’s a about making a choice for me. Only me and no one else.

And isn’t that the best kind of choice we can ever make?

I’ve known I needed this surgery since I was 15. I had crooked teeth and had wanted braces but my family wasn’t exactly rich and braces seemed like a luxury that I wasn’t pushing for. But one day out of the blue, my dad took me to see an orthodontist. The first thing the ortho said to us was that I would require surgery to completely fix my bite. Without hesitating my dad said no. And I rolled with it. I got the braces and had them for a mere 18 months. My teeth were straighter and I didn’t think too much about it for the rest of my teen years.

As I got a little older and ostensibly my imbalances became more pronounced (the growth plate in your jaw is one of the last to close, so it can grow well into your mid 20s), I started to think about it more. I started to avoid having my picture taken. I practiced which angle of photos looked better.

Every time I saw a dentist in my 20s (I switched at least 3 times) the first thing they mentioned to me was my “crooked” jaw. And it bothered me. I remember once telling a dentist “Well, when I can’t get a date, maybe then we can talk about this.” All they were suggesting was for me to get a consult with a surgeon. It was a defensive response.

On the surface I thought to myself “I’m confident! I don’t need a perfect jaw to feel good about myself. I’m not that shallow!” And that is all true and fair points: we are more than what we look like. But…because of my defensiveness, I never stopped to listen to the medical benefits to fixing my jaw. I assumed the only reason they were suggesting I look into was to look better. And damnit, I was better than that.

It wasn’t until I was 29 or 30 that I started to casually research this surgery. Fast forward to last year and at 33 I was fresh out of a long relationship and having a heart to heart with my best friend. She’d had a co-worker have a similar surgery that loved the results. And when Lindsey said to me “Why not get a consult? What’s the worst that could happen?”, I realized she was right.

And the rest is history. I had that consult. I had confirmation that my surgery was classified as a medical necessity and would actually be covered by my insurance plan. The day I got my braces I cried. I knew there was no going back. And here I am:  8 months later and 1 month out from my surgery.

radiancebraceface

I’ve had a lot of time to consider what I’m doing. And while I am intrigued to see how different I’ll look, more than anything I am proud of myself for taking the leap.

I’ve let other people make a lot of big decisions for me in my life. I certainly understand my parents choices, but I wish I would have had the courage to dig deeper for myself when I was younger. I wish I would have listened to the dentists in my 20s. But hindsight is 20/20, right?

All we can do is live in the here and now. And in the here and now, I’m so excited that I took the bull by it’s horns. That I spent the time to consider what is my best for MY future. Sometimes choosing what’s best for you won’t be apparent to others. They may see your choices from the surface only– they may think that you are choosing to change your fitness routine for vanity. They may think you are eating healthier to simply be skinnier. But no one knows what is in your heart. No one knows your true reasons, except YOU.

So how do we handle these bigger changes? Especially when it’s the kind of thing that people notice and that have opinions about? And namely, how do we handle comments by those close to us about these kinds of changes you are making in your life?

1. We Give People the Benefit of the Doubt. My client that made that comment wasn’t trying to hurt me.  This is a group I am close to, so she likely just felt comfortable saying it. She probably knows someone that has the surgery and maybe their reasons were aesthetic. WHO KNOWS? The point is, even though it was a little jarring for me to hear it, it wasn’t with malice.

2. We Foster Resiliency in Ourselves. Negative emotions and interactions happen. It’s a fact of life. If we’re resilient, though, we we are able to roll with the punches much easier. We are able to brush things off. But, according to research, there are a few things that are facets of resilient people:

The ability to make realistic plans and being capable of taking the steps necessary to follow through with them

A positive self-concept and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities

Communication and problem-solving skills

The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings

3. We Know Our Why. I’m having this surgery so that I’m not in pain any longer in my TMJ join. I’m having this surgery so that my teeth wear evenly for the rest of my life. I’m having this surgery because it’s the best choice for me. You have your reasons for why you want to change. Maybe your blood pressure is too high. Maybe you’re just fed up. There are millions of valid reasons for why you want to change. That is no one else’s business but yours.

And the end result of making these kinds of changes? Likely it will result in a happier you. Right? And isn’t happiness all the reason we ever need to make a big decision in our life? I’m going to give that one a resounding YES.

If you’re struggling with a choice like this, try to focus on one of the above things to work on. Maybe you need to focus on giving people the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe you need clarity on what your why is. That’s okay. But my advice would be to focus on one step at a time. Enjoy the journey, trust the process.

The Path to Badassery Starts Somewhere: Here.

Recently I was chatting with one of my new BootCamp clients and she joked about about how I must have been great at sports when I was a kid, etc. I giggled a little because no, I really was not! I was terrible! This was surprising for her and she said, “Well, it’s not like I could just decide one day to become a trainer!” Since, of course, one can’t shouldn’t just become a trainer overnight.

She’s right. It did take me time to get where I am. But my path wasn’t all that linear, clearcut or what you might think it would take to become someone that teaches fitness for a living.

I did participate in sports when I was a kid. A lot: basketball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and volleyball. But I never practiced outside of formal practices. I never got super invested in one sport. I just didn’t care enough in that way. I did care about showing up, though. I cared about being part of a team. I cared about having fun. And these are good lessons to learn as a kid, I think. It’s not always about being the best on the team. It’s about being a part of the team, right?

When I went off to college, I dabbled in a few things. I tried intramural rowing, which I loved and is probably the one sport I regret not taking further. My college boyfriend tried to take me on “runs”. Which…I thought were basically ways to punish me for being sassy. I went to the gym…a few times. I had my first experience with yoga via a quarter long class at the campus gym.

But I wasn’t consistent with anything. And I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

I remember coming to San Francisco in 2004 and standing in front of my mirror in my Fell Street apartment and thinking to myself “I’m just not the kind of person that will ever be thin. I’m just this way. I’m not someone that can get into shape.”

Xmas party 016

{about 2 months before I started @ BCSF}

And then suddenly my brother needed admin help with his burgeoning little fitness company, BootCampSF. And once I said “okay” he mentioned that his one requirement was that I actually participate in classes. To say my first day of BCSF (February 13, 2006) was hard would be an understatement. The entire first 6-week session was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically. I have clear memories of just standing in my shower after class and holding myself up against the wall with my hands to keep from falling over on my Bambi-eque legs! I remember moms in my class beating me at sprints and doing far more push-ups than I personally thought was necessary.

The program worked, though. It helped me to see how much I was capable of. It made me see that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

Nine years later (to the week!) here I am.  Someone that seems like someone that has been up to these tricks for a long time. And, well, I guess at this point I have. It’s been nine years. But, I would be lying if I said that I felt like I am the cultural ideal of what a trainer is “supposed to be”. I would be lying if I said that every day is easy, every rep is easy and that every workout is easy.

kbrackphoto1

I’m fitter than I was that day in 2006. In fact, I am probably the fittest I have ever been. But there are days where I still feel like the girl that looked in her mirror at 22 and thought she’d be chubby forever. At the beginning of this journey, I was someone that went to BootCamp only as my workout. And then I was someone that ran on my own. For fun! And then I was someone that went to the gym alone.

And then for awhile in 2009 I relapsed into a depression where I did barely any exercise. And once again it seemed like an impossibility to ever, ever, ever get back into shape. And I will never quite know how to express the kind of shame I felt when doing my job for BootCamp — a job where I talked to people on the phone and over email about our awesome workouts when I could barely get myself to do 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym. It was a terrible hole. But after a summer in Europe and some serious soul-searching, I worked my way out of that terrible place and became someone that ran again. Someone that did a half-marathon. Someone that road biked. Someone that did duathlons. Someone that lifted weights at the gym. Someone that taught BootCamp classes.

You see, fitness is never a linear path. Yes, progressions and workout programs want you to believe it is. They will tell you that this muscle will grow, you will lose body fat, if you just follow this plan to the “t” and don’t have a day where you just need a slice of pizza…then, the plan will work.

They aren’t wrong. Plans work. We’ve done tons of research on exercise. We know this.

But you? You are a complex human just like me. And just like me, it’s a struggle. And, no, just getting started isn’t always the hardest part. Showing up to BCSF that first day in 2006 wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The hardest part is to be in the middle of the road and to realize you have to keep going. The hard part is realizing that one workout doesn’t save you, but many workouts in a row will save your life. The hardest part is that each day starts over and you are presented with all the same choices:  to burpee or sit on the couch? to have a donut or to have a kale salad?

The thing is, is that you have to keep going. You have to realize that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

But yes, maybe you need to get started with your fitness. Or re-started.

And that is all, just fine. And I have for you, a workout that will help you do just that. It will help re-hone your Inner Badass. Because you are a badass and maybe you just needed a reminder. The workout below is a place to start. Maybe you are thinking that it’s simple and silly and why are you even bothering to let some trainer on the internet tell you to do such simple exercises? Like, hello, Captain Obvious. But you know what? You have to start somewhere. You have to start with one day, one workout. And then get up and do another workout the next day. And if you have many days in a row  of these kinds of days I promise you will look at yourself in the mirror one day and think:   “I am a badass”.

And if that thought doesn’t come to you naturally, I’m gonna need you to say it out loud and fake it until you make it.

Because trust me, you are indeed a badass.

10 to 20 Plank-Up Push-Ups

20 Glute Bridges

10 Single Leg Bridges (each side)

30-Second Plank

10 to 20 Squats

Run 1 lap (.25 miles, standard city block or one lap around a track)

Complete 2 to 4 rounds of this routine.

Dear Jillian Michaels : The Size of My Jeans Doesn’t Matter to Me.

For the last year or so I’ve listened to Jillian Michael’s weekly podcast. She is by many accounts a derisive figure in the fitness community. I would say that most coaches that I generally associate myself with would be inclined to dislike her and most kettlebell coaches really dislike her or maybe just strongly disagree with her techniques. Even though I was skeptical too, for some reason I decided to listen to one of her podcasts awhile back and I actually kind of appreciated the mindset conversations she does on them, so I continued to tune in many weeks. So, I’m saying this all to be clear from the start:  I went into this podcast very much liking Jillian Michaels.

But something really caught me off-guard in her podcast from July 14, 2014, titled “Fat Shaming”, when Michaels was talking about the fat acceptance movement. To be fair, I believe this is an incredibly complicated topic/movement that I am not sure I would ever be able or want to tackle, frankly.

As Michael’s went on to talk about this movement, she was saying that you need to love yourself at all body weights (agree), but that being able to have healthy biometrics (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.) should always be your baseline measure of health. Great, I’m down with that — it is undoubtedly a challenge to have healthy biometrics when you’re obese, so I see where she is going with that and then…she went on to say that “I’ve seen many healthy girls in…size 8s, maaaaybe size 10s. I don’t generally see it in 12s. 14s. Don’t see that. Have yet to see that.” And my jaw was on the ground!

Because, here I am. A fitness trainer. Someone that helps literally hundreds of people get their workout in every day (about 25 of my own students daily, the rest throughout my company). And I’m, no joke, wearing a size 10 jean as I’m listening to her. Which means that I may or may not be healthy according to Jillian Michael’s standards?!

Let’s be clear:  I’m not overweight. My blood pressure is typically in the “athlete” range. I have healthy cholesterol numbers. My body composition is also in the athletic/fit range. I recently had an annual exam and my doctor commented on how “lean” I was (which for this exam, unfortunately made her job more difficult, #irony). I can both squat and deadlift more than my bodyweight and then some. I teach 9 bootcamp classes a week. I recently have been working on Turkish Get-Ups and get a kick out of using a 16KG (35-ish pounds) kettlebell for these. I say none of this to brag — and, frankly, I am still striving to improve on many of my lifts and areas of fitness. But what these are, are facts and effects of a lifestyle that I choose a long time ago. One that I love, I might add and one that is about WAY more than what size of jeans I fit into on a given day.

And yet, Jillian Michaels thinks that I should at least be a size 8 to prove that I’m healthy. I mean, is this real life? Are these things fitness “experts” should be using as a metric for being healthy?

belfie me

(Embarrassingly, yes, I recently took a #belfie. But at least now you all know what my butt looks like. And that is a butt that will likely never fit in a size 8 pair of jeans.)

Let’s start with the obvious flaw in this metric:  clothing companies have wildly different sizing standards. You don’t need to try hard to figure this out:  every time I order clothing online, a sizing guide inevitably pops up. Because they all have different sizing standards. And clothing brands know and get this. So is Jillian suggesting that I let Gap and JCrew decide if I’m healthy? Because that is what we are doing if we’re using clothing size as a healthy metric.  The bottom line is that even if you don’t like the rest of what I have to say, I think we can all agree that a clothing size is a very arbitrary measure to use for health.

I’m quite confident that your average American woman has a range of sizes in her closet even if her weight has stayed constant in the past 5 years, since most of us buy different brands and even brands are known to change their own sizing standards. I know in my case that besides those size 10 jeans I was wearing the other day, I also have some 12 jeans in my closet right now. I also have small tops, medium tops, size 8 pants, medium-sized pants — I even have a pair of size 14 shorts. THE HORROR! How could I possibly think I was healthy while wearing a pair of shorts with a number 14 on the tag?!

I’m 5’11 and weigh 165 pounds, give or take.

selfie outfit

 (size 12 crop pants, medium top)

I’m not overweight. And yet, I have a pair of size 14 shorts. Yup, there, I said it! The world knows my awful dirty, little secret. Should I be ashamed, Jillian? Should I crash diet so that I can fit into a “healthier” size 8 short?

My best friend is also 5’11, but she is a long-distance runner and is less muscular than myself. Even at 150 pounds, squeezing her hips into a size 8 pair of jeans would prove challenging and you’d likely consider this woman a beanpole.

 lindseywedding(she’s on the far right)

 

Another close friend is 6’2 and was a competitive Division I rower in college. The girl is gorgeous and athletic.  If you met her, I doubt you would consider her unhealthy or overweight…you might actually think she’s a badass and possibly wonder if she plays for the WNBA. It is laughable to think wearing a size 8 jean is a metric she should have to worry about.

rachelle

A trainer with a large online following, Molly Galbraith is gorgeous and basically my body twin at 5’10 and in the same weight range as me, 165 pounds-ish per her recent posts.

mollygalbraith

Do you think Molly is unhealthy? Do you think Molly wears a size 8 jeans? Um, no and no.

I decided to Google a few known tall celebrities and Venus Williams sprung to mind. She’s both athletic and tall and at 6’1 is reported to be between 159 and 165 pounds. I highly doubt she wears anything less than a size 10 jean.

venus williams

But….look at her. Do you think she cares about fitting into a particular size of jeans while she is winning matches? I doubt it. Do you think she frets that her butt is too big? Maybe. I mean, all women have their body image battles, right? But do I think that Venus Williams loses sleep over the state of her cardiovascular health? I would guess, a resounding:  no.

I would actually bet that Venus has her jeans tailored for her, since she spent years building her legs on the tennis court and those of us with legit leg muscles have a really tough time squeezing our glutes and quads into smaller jeans, even if our waists are smaller. Sidebar:  this is actually a known problem among lifters, which has caused some people looking to profit from this niche market, such as Barbell Denim that raised $735,000 for start-up costs on Kickstarter this spring.

You might be asking yourself:  why does this matter? Of course, we don’t need a trainer to tell us what size jeans to wear, Cat, DUH! Well, here’s why it matters:  as I was growing up, I didn’t really have many people to “measure” myself against to know if I was normal or not. I was taller than both my mom and sisters by a 3 – 6 inch margin. I didn’t know that wearing size 10 jeans was okay — especially for someone of my height. I remember being at the DMV for the first time and feeling so weird for having to say that my weight was in the 160s. As far as I knew, “women” were supposed to weigh in the 130s or so. I can only imagine if I had heard something like what Jillian Michaels said in her podcast when I was 16.

What if when I was 16, I had had CONFIRMATION from a celebrity expert that a size 10 was unhealthy? I likely would have been devastated and ashamed, even though I was actually normal and healthy. This is why what we say matters. And especially why someone that is a public figure, like Jillian Michaels, should be especially mindful of what metrics she is throwing around. Because young women are looking to us to understand their place in the world. They are looking up to us and they need to understand that yes, they are okay and that yes, we don’t value them simply for the size of jeans they wear.

How did I come around to realizing that I was indeed healthy just as I was and decide to not place value on the tag inside my jeans?

 

1. I talked to other women. I asked them about these things. I realized that these women (some of the above) were healthy and gorgeous. If THEY wore size 10 pants, it was probably okay that I did too.
2. I found exercise that I loved. That I couldn’t do without. And in turn learned to love my body more for what it could do, rather than what other people thought of it.
3. I worked on my posture. Being a tall girl that was unsure of herself growing up, my posture was the pits. I still catch myself rolling in the shoulders from time to time, but the key is that I catch myself now and correct it. Hearing this TED talk about power poses has really solidified to me how important this is. It’s okay to take up space in the world — and you’ll probably like yourself more when you do!
4. I make an effort to buy clothes that FIT me well and flatter my figure. DESPITE the size on the tag. We all have our disadvantages and advantages when it comes to fashion. Own ’em and move on.

5. I’d be remiss to not address that working in the fitness industry has made me so keenly aware of the messages we send each other about body image. I believe it has caused me to delve into these issues far more deeply than I ever would have, had I not been a part of it. It made me consider if encouraging people to get shredded for bikini season was something I wanted to be a part of — spoiler alert, it’s not. It made me realize that words matter and that ultimately, if I didn’t walk to the walk, I would never be able to help the clients I work with in the ways that matter to me most:  to get and/or keep them healthy, to make sure they know how amazing they are, to help them be stronger, faster and ready to take on the physical and emotional challenges of everyday life.

I suppose if I were able to surgically alter my hip bones to be slighter narrower and stopped exercising in the hope that my glutes could possibly atrophy (though realistically, muscles wouldn’t do this easily), I could fit into smaller jeans. Right? I mean, that sounds reasonable doesn’t it Jillian?

It couldn’t possibly be that if I went to such drastic measures that, in fact  it would be a sign of some serious self-loathing and disordered thinking would it Jillian?

Folks, please. We don’t need anyone, not Jillian Michaels, not your co-worker, not a sales clerk in a clothing store, not the folks at the Gap that work on sizing, our mother, our best friend or strangers on the internet telling us what size jeans we need to wear to be healthy. Spoiler alert:  your jeans size tell you nothing about your biometrics. So, please, please, please talk to your doctor about whether you’re healthy or not. Get blood work done if it’s been awhile. If you don’t like your doctor, find a new one.

And Jillian? Please find a better metric to help the public determine whether we’re healthy or not. Because frankly, I don’t give a damn what size my jeans are. And neither should you.