My entire career is dedicated to physically training, advocating and changing the way society views the plus size community when it comes to health and fitness. Some of you know my latest project was writing my first book – BIG FIT GIRL – the drive behind the book is to offer a better representation of athleticism to the plus size community. What I see in society is not what I experience in my world and I feel the need to “fix” the disconnect. I am talking about the plus size person in fitness and the total lack of representation in society. When I first started my business, Body Exchange, I needed to create a website. I thought I would go to some of the more credible stock photography sites and find happy and empowering pictures of plus-athletes kicking ass in fitness and sport. Not so, not even close. To my disappointment and actual disbelief I found pictures of lazy, overweight people which was offensive and a total mockery.
I will admit since I opened my doors in 2008 the stock photography has become slightly better but still a far cry from a fair representation of what is really out there in society. The media shows a “typical” athlete as a certain body type; lean, hard and buff. The life-style has a sense of adventure and victory that for some people has an emotional attachment and feelings of inspiration. Let’s go back to the plus-size athlete images for a moment, how do they make you feel? Take a good look at them. I feel tired, depressed and defeated, that is because the images are set up this way. The same models could have been used to produce empowering, uplifting, motivating images yet the photographer thought these images were somehow relevant in an image bank. It is not the meaning of the word “athlete” that confuses us. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: Noun, a person who is proficient in sport or fitness. It is society that has construed their own meaning and alienated certain body types.
When fitness companies only use the “buff and lean” body types in their marketing message, often the plus-size demographic doesn’t feel included in the invitation to join in. Their marketing doesn’t represent them so why would they assume that the service is for them? I presume the strategy of the marketing team is that people will want to aspire to look like the models they use but that’s quite presumptuous since that’s not everyone’s dream. In fact, there is a body positive revolution happening out there and much of our community is past trying to fit the old ideals of conforming to a certain look. Are we overlooking that the movement of our body has a range of motives from simply for the joy it to reducing medications, a tool for depression, for social reasons, to manage stress or gain better mobility. Not necessarily to look twenty, hot and thin. Trust me, summer marketing is out with the scare tactics and body shaming that BIKINI SEASON HAS ARRIVED!
“We cannot be, what we cannot see”. Anyone who wants to get physically active should feel welcome to approach it without judgement and fear. The lack of representation of the plus-population in the market place not only makes this audience feel sidelined, it allows others to co-sign the side-lining. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle and underneath it all, it is a clear case of alienation. And we wonder why many plus people find fitness unapproachable?
Since opening the doors of my business, I’ve had no choice but to make my own image bank for marketing purposes so individuals can see themselves in our offerings. These images are a clear representation of my everyday reality; working with women kicking ass in athletics, at any size. We are a far cry from a mockery and contradict most images you will find in marketing.
We are athletes who defy perceptions and societal attitudes everyday. Depressed, funked out images are a lie and its a cryin’ shame they even exist.
We need to offer the truth and a better representation. The images that are out there are not ok and it’s time to show people that these stereotypes are old hat. Many people are looking for inspiration where they can see themselves and relate, but it’s seldom there for them to see.
We are what athletes are made of. I am a size 16 and have worked through much judgment to become a certified trainer and live my athletic dreams. I am here to tell you: you can do it and there are other amazing athletes out there doing the same. I see it and having the visual representation in my life has been paramount to my on-going success. As time goes on you will start to see a better representation of yourself out there. The paradigm is shifting. Until then, know in your heart – an athlete lives within you – so go and kick some ass.