Written and published for HLN TV Online, published date: January 17th, 2015.
The Polarization of Living Plus-Size
By Louise Green
In 2008 I decided to follow my passion. I wanted to inspire people and change lives through fitness and adventure, so I became a personal trainer. I’ve always been athletic and enjoyed sports as a kid, and in my adult life I enjoyed running and boot camps. So, after having my son, I had the opportunity to jump ship and make a career change. Joining the ranks in the fitness industry seemed like the perfect idea.
Here’s the thing. I did this at 240lbs and at my all time heaviest weight; I became something of an anomaly – a plus-size fitness professional.
Along the way, my participation as a trainer has come with mixed reviews. There are many people who champion my career choice, and each and every day I hear from friends, clients or strangers that I am perceived as an inspiration.
However, my public advocacy as a plus-size athlete and trainer definitely comes with polarization and I am subjected to as much negative response as positive.
There are those who believe that I am changing perceptions and creating a societal shift merely by doing what I do in a plus size body. This example helps people step outside their fear and do the same.
There are also people who don’t believe that anyone who carries extra weight can inspire anyone and certainly can’t be healthy or fit. Just this morning I was publicly called a “flat out liar” for even suggesting that people can be fit and plus size. Over the years I’ve come to realize that deflecting judgment and educating people is all part of being a leader and advocate. I’ve come to accept this as part of the gig.
In August of this year I wrote an article that clearly stated my opinion on what I believe athleticism looks like. Though, in usual form with any media piece, the trailing comments spoke volumes as to our societal division on big bodies vs. small bodies and what is considered healthy.
I still weigh over 200lbs. I work out regularly. I am fit enough to run half marathons and I hold my own in athletic training programs. My metabolic health is in line producing healthy numbers across the board. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I eat reasonably well. My body is free of disease.
Yet regardless of my internal health and fitness, certain people will always judge me by my outward appearance and that is wrong.
I’m not alone.
If we surveyed 100 people of of size and asked them if they had ever been subjected to judgment, weight bias discrimination or body shaming in any way, the stats would be staggering in favor of “yes.”
This doesn’t stop with every-day people. We are also seeing elite, professional athletes who carry extra weight, subjected to the same unfair projections.
2014 emerged with stories of plus-size elite athletes such as eighteen-year-old tennis player Taylor Townsend, the highest-ranking US female junior player. Yet, a few years ago, the U.S. Tennis Association tried to keep her out of competition at the U.S. Open. It was reported that until she lost weight, they would not support her.
Yahoo Shine also published an article about Major League Baseball pro Prince Fielder and the cover he did for ESPN featuring his naked, powerful, body.
If you are not familiar with Fielder, he has played baseball in the major leagues since 2002. His stats rank him as one of the best among the elite. Yet, the article’s headline read, “This Male Athlete Is Getting Fat-Shamed.”
When judgment still remains highly prevalent, even amongst elite athletes, we have to wonder: Where is it coming from?
Can we really blame North Americans for believing that excess weight is the devil when, for the past two decades, we’ve been washed with fear mongering media messaging that obesity is killing everyone – not only adults, but our kids too?
This dominant message has created a society that judges everyone of size as one.
Our plus-size population has lost their right to their own independent and individual bill of health, as many folks slam all of us with judgment as fat and unhealthy. Thin people are given the privilege to claim their own independent bill of health and are recognized as individuals, regardless of what might be going on internally. Their health position is never decided upon by exterior alone. What has happened to the abolishment of discrimination and right fair judgment?
We, as North Americans, are better than that. More than half the continent is considered plus size, and doom and gloom headlines igniting and propelling fear and judgment have landed us nowhere. When we start recognizing individuality and celebrating size diversity we will start empowering people to move their bodies without judgment. This will entice people to follow suit in a life full of health and fitness. Until then, we will remain status quo, seen globally as the continent with a catastrophic obesity epidemic that remains polarized, thin vs. fat.
Now, that does sound terrifying but there’s still time to turn it around.
We can start with education. I am starting to receive speaking requests from universities that want to educate their students on what health looks like from all angles. I call these progressive institutions and they are growing in numbers.
Education also lies within what is real and what is not. It’s our job to educate our young people about the corporate marketing message and how it’s designed to sell, really, at any cost. Young people are under pressure relentlessly striving to be something that rarely exists while corporations are cashing in on their self-esteem.
Change starts within. Take a good look in the mirror each and everyday and practice what I like to call “inner dialogue diversion”. Counter every negative thought with a positive one until your old patterns die slowly while introducing new ones.
I can’t stress this enough, be a good role model. Young people look to us for every cue and they are the future. If we are constantly verbalizing negativity towards ourselves it has a trickle down effect with devastating consequences.
When it comes to health and fitness, finding your tribe changes everything. Find a place where you are supported and celebrated. There are gyms, trainers and physicians who practice progressively, who understand the Body Mass Index is not the only window to someone’s health.
And finally, surround yourself with positive people. If you fly with the eagles there will be less negativity through gossip and negative self-talk. Surround yourself with only those who elevate you to live to your highest potential and ditch those who keep your small.
Life is for living and every “body” deserves an epic life, let’s kick off 2015 on the right foot.
When we stop judging and start celebrating we will see a much-needed shift in our Western World.