By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder
Today’s post fits into the category of, “Things I didn’t want to talk about, but spent WAY too much time thinking about, so now I gotta write.” One of my students challenged me to take on this subject. Once again, we need to start with an important disclaimer…
Warning: Dry article. If you’re looking for something highly polarizing, filled with outrage porn and fat jokes, you might as well sign off now.
What Is The Body Positivity Movement?
Contrary to what some may think, this movement is not new news. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was started in 1969. The term “body positive” emerged in 1996 when a psychotherapist and individual, who had been through treatment for an eating disorder, founded the website bodypositive.org. The Body Positivity Movement as we know it today began around 2012. Like most things today, everyone picked a side and began fighting to the death online to defend their position as being the only correct one.
Highlights of this movement include…
Appreciating your body despite flaws
Feeling confident about your body
Accepting your body’s genetic shape and size.
Social media, specifically Instagram, is credited with being the chief culprit of perpetuating unrealistic ideals of beauty on young people, especially women. So much so, that many big companies have chosen to stop airbrushing/photoshopping models in their marketing, in an effort to be part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem.
What I’d like to talk about today is a subject matter that I’m an expert in… my opinion! Ok, seriously, I’d like to talk about how I see this movement through the filter of someone who has dedicated their life’s work to helping people live healthier lives.
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One Of THE Biggest Culprits…
People love to harp on Instagram and other social media platforms as being the guiltiest party for making people feel horrible about themselves, but let’s not forget one other industry that is just as guilty… mine.
Modern Western fitness culture does something that has always seemed strange to me: We are constantly trying to pack health and vanity into the same box. The reason this is strange to me is that vanity/beauty is subjective, while health is more objective. The culture of vanity says things like, “She’s hot!” “He’s Jacked.” “He’s ugly.” Health, on the other hand, does this crazy thing… measure.
Your bloodwork is either within the guidelines of what is considered healthy, or it isn’t. Same can be said for BMI. What you choose to do with that information is up to you. However, the harsh brick wall of reality still exists. There are natural consequences for not taking care of yourself. If my blood pressure is high due to poor eating choices, or I drink too much, there are things I could choose to do in order to fight those conditions (or not). Conversely, if you think I’m ugly, and my wife thinks I’m handsome, there’s not much I can do with that information… except be thankful that my wife thinks I’m handsome.
This is precisely the reason why our training principles revolve around movement and strength, as opposed to crash diets and before/after swimsuit photos. Anyone can pursue building themselves up to having a stronger, more capable body… regardless of superficial differences/deficiencies in said body.
Shouldn’t I Be Against Body Positivity? Especially Given What I Do For A Living?
After reading the paragraphs above, it is my hope that you can now better see this through the same lens as I do. Given that information, no, I don’t believe I should be against it. Are there certain problems? Sure. We’ll talk more about that in a minute, but I don’t think it’s wise to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Let’s take a look at some of the positives…
Helping People Build Confidence And Acceptance Of Their Own Bodies
I can’t count how many times we’ve had new students start with us who are more than capable of accomplishing WAY more physically than they think, simply because they lack confidence (and just being comfortable in their own skin). In some cases, within a matter of weeks, they realize they are far more capable than they thought. Unfortunately, in other cases, the lack of confidence and acceptance is just too crippling, and they give up too quickly.
There are times where a little confidence and body acceptance can go a very long way.
Addressing Unrealistic Body Standards
In my early gym-going days, as a young and impressionable ‘bro’, I would look at those muscle magazines and think to myself, “Man, if I just buy a few of those stringy tank tops, wear my hat backwards, do lots of bicep curls, and drink these protein shakes they are advertising, I can look just like those dudes!”
Well, it’s been almost 30 years of hard and heavy lifting… still don’t look like those dudes.
Why? Well, for starters, I never got into steroids. Secondly… wait… there is no secondly.
I later learned that this subject for women is even worse. Sure, there is a multi-billion dollar industry of medical treatments and cosmetics, but some simply just won the genetic lottery.
In my 30s, thanks to some excellent mentorship, I put the outside of me aside and began to focus on the inside. My friend, who was helping me through this, used the bowl analogy: If you have a dirty bowl, and all you do is scrub the outside of it, you still have a dirty bowl. However, if you focus your attention on cleaning the inside of the bowl, often the outside ends up mostly clean on its own. Acceptance of who you are, despite flaws, is a great place to start.
In short, I think the Body Positivity Movement has the capability of doing more good than harm… except in one place…
Condoning Unhealthy/Self-Damaging Behavior
Y’all had me up until here! Like most poorly constructed arguments, the harsh brick wall of reality serves as the tool to wake us out of our coma. Two things can be true at the same time: You can accept the way you were made, and also strive to be the best ‘you’ that you can possibly be.
All of us have our demons. I certainly have mine. I’m just lucky enough to have demons I can hide from you more easily than an eating disorder… at least for a little while. If you are close enough to me to know what they are, you would never tell me to just accept those damaging behaviors as part of who I am and embrace them. This is irresponsible. I certainly hope those who are close to me can love me enough to put their arm around me and encourage me to work on these problems.
This is where the Body Positivity Movement falls apart.
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First Steps To Better Love Your Body
Talk to a professional! There are many times during initial evaluations with prospective new students that I recommend speaking to mental health professional. For example, if someone just needs to ‘shed a few pounds’, the systems we teach will usually accomplish that. However, if someone needs to lose 100+ pounds, the root cause is typically not a physical problem. This is where a licensed mental health expert can be very helpful. If this describes you, and you work with a personal trainer that claims to be able to help you through this (that does not have specific training/licensing in mental health), politely walk away. My industry is filled with these people, and despite their good intentions, they harm more than they help.
How does the body positivity movement work for you? I’d love to know what my fellow fitness family thinks about this subject.
Until next time,
Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.