The fitness industry: the good, the bad, and the controversy

I am a huge advocate for ALL people feeling confident and happy in their bodies no matter what their BMI is or what society says about how they look.

I follow many progressive writers and activists closely and I genuinely enjoy the messages that they send to the public about loving yourself and valuing who you are as a person, beyond what you look like.

The New Year brings about a lot of talk of people wanting to change the way that they look.

We are constantly being bombarded with adds for ‘skinny’ teas, gym memberships, and numerous gadgets and gizmos to help ‘shed that stubborn fat and get bikini season ready.’

I cringe at many of those tag lines, not just as a personal trainer, health advocate, and writer but as an educated woman who believes that these adds are generally misleading and in some cases HARMFUL to the MENTAL and PHYSICAL HEALTH of the women they intend to target.

That’s not to say men are not being berated by the fitness industry or harmful messaging. But, generally, I would say women tend to be the primary market for degrading rhetoric in the guise of ‘fitspo.’

So let’s get to the meat of this post, the good, the bad, and the controversy. I’m going to go backwards, starting with what the industry is notorious for.

The controversy

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The fitness industry as a whole is no stranger to controversy.

It’s got components of hardcore propaganda from all angles: the beauty industry, political landscape, and ‘health’-centric pseudo-science .

It’s kind of like peanut butter, you either LOVE it or you HATE it, for the most part. Of course there is a large portion of the populaton who is generally indifferent to the fitness industry.

But, I would argue that no matter what your stance is you are, unequivocally, impacted by the fitness or wellness industry whether or not you love it, hate it, or don’t really even know what it is.

Some ways that the fitness industry seeps into everyday life for the average person can be identified in, actors chosen to play our favorite roles in blockbuster films, No Sugar/No Trans Fat, Low-Cal food packaging, ‘Skinny’ menu options, and internet ads for ‘super supplements.’

Some may say that there is such a stark contrast between real-life and this dominant industry that you either see yourself represented in the fitness world, or you don’t.

While I think that statement is a bit of an oversimplification, it does capture the essence of controversy in the fitness world quite fully.

Not because of the undeniable lack of inclusion in the industry, I’ll get to that in the next section, but because of the way the fitness industry makes people feel like you’re either IN or you’re OUT.

This all-or-nothing approach to training, nutrition, and general health is not beneficial, for anyone.

Not even the sales managers of big box gyms who try to make you think that it’s either all-or-nothing when it comes to getting in shape can successfully produce real, long-lasting results with this mentality even if they do manage to sell it short-term.

The bad

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Hardcore industry advocates might say that the health, beauty, and fashion industries have made an attempt to include more diverse models in terms of age, race, gender, size, sexual orientation, and religion.

Those who are industry critics might say: So what? So what that -INSERT swimsuit brand here- includes women sizes 0-4 in adverts instead of only 00 sized women? Who does that help? Where is the non-cisgender representation? Where is the ethnic diversity?

And those whose stance is somewhere in the middle may say, you’re right, to both of these arguments.

This is the crux of the fitness-world’s downfalls, the lack of inclusion and lack of effort to understand others.

It goes beyond controversy and is, to put it simply, ‘the bad’ of the fitness industry.

Calling the lack of inclusion in the fitness world a ‘controversy’ would not only be belittling to those who are oppressed and discriminated against, it would also be flat out incorrect.

It’s a plain fact that the fitness industry is not nearly as inclusive as it should be.

There must be more representation in the industry, point blank. Period.

CPTs, group fitness instructors, gym-goers, any of us who identify as part of the industry in any way at all must demand better.

And if we don’t know how, we need to ask. How can we, how can I, be a better advocate for those who are NOT represented in this industry?

I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you, as a reader, to offer up some advice below to myself and other people who are associated with the industry because of our job or interests.

How can we be allies? How can we help?

I mentioned the beauty and fashion industries before because they are enveloped by the fitness world, but for the purpose of this post I will not be delving into the good, the bad, and the controversy involved in these industries.

That’s a whole different beast.

The other layers of controversy in the fitness world come from the belief that the fitness industry is, at its core, superficial and at BEST promotes a vapid worldview and at WORST causes eating disorders.

There are definitely people and businesses out there who self-identify as the pinnacle example of health and wellness but have a nefarious impact on unsuspecting fitness newbies or maybe even experienced but vulnerable health-nuts that they make their mark.

The good

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Then there are trainers and health writers, like myself, who will try to be as transparent with you as we can be and tell you, we are not perfect.

Heck, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am still learning. I will always be learning. The day that I say, “I know everything” will never come.

And to those of you who do say that, I hope you have someone there to tell you, “You know nothing John Snow” (Ygritte voice).

But, I want to share what I am confident that I do have a good grasp on regarding developing a mindset that perpetuates healthful habits via my tried-and-true methods.

The reason why I started personal training, pursuing a master’s in public health, and why I entered the fields of health journalism, and health writing is because it has always been a passion of mine to LEARN about these topics.

Every time I meet with a client or a gym newbie I am reminded why I do what I do.

I train, I coach, and I write because I want to help people understand that living a healthy life starts and ends with habits and behaviors.

Health is a mindset. Everything else is a tool to get into that mindset.

To be honest, I get a little bummed when progressive-minded leaders that I admire demonize the fitness industry.

What would they think of me? Am I part of the problem in their eyes, by simply being a personal trainer?

Recently, I came to the realization that, every industry has it’s downfalls and I may be a part of the fitness industry but I am not defined by it.

I am Kristen, dearfitkris. And I want better for the industry, and myself. I want to be an advocate for those who need it.

Who knows, maybe we need to crumple up this draft and start a new industry entirely (like Michael did 802 times with The Good Place).

I mean, that’s what the ‘wellness’ industry did. Although, I don’t know that it ever really differentiated itself entirely from its fitness predecessor.

For those of you who have followed my writing for a while, you know I’m the first to say, it’s okay to just BE instead of constantly striving towards a goal.

I even encourage people, including my clients, to focus less on how their body looks and more on all the incredible ways it allows them to interact with their loved ones and the world around them.

Maybe we need to forget labels, forget fitness pedagogy and just remember at the end of the day that we are human and we are imperfect.

But it’s okay to try to be better than we were yesterday. It’s okay to have ‘fitness goals.’ It’s okay, as long as the means to our end, and our end, are aligned with the core values of our being.

And it’s okay for trainers, like myself, to help those in their pursuit to lift heavier, jump higher, eat more nutritionally dense foods, and feel more comfortable in their own skin.

I exercise, dance, run, handstand walk, journal, and blog to celebrate what I can do mentally AND physically. I eat to fuel these soul-feeding passions of mine and I strive to help other people do the same.

Thanks for reading xx.

Check out my other posts on body neutrality and self-acceptance.

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