Surviving the Holidays (and the Fitness Industry) in a Fatphobic World
I know this time of the year may be struggle for a lot of people. Living in a fatphobic world and feeling body shamed and food shamed at every moment is hard. During the holidays, it’s even worse. I work with a lot of clients who are working on their relationship with body image, and because of that, I can tell you with assuredness that the holidays really suck for a lot of people, particularly those living in larger bodies, i.e.- fat people. Yes, I said fat people. Although, we have been conditioned to associate the word ‘fat’ as a bad thing, it’s not. People are fat – just like people are skinny or tall or black.
Most of us never spend the time thinking about the benefits of living in a thin body. We rarely stop to consider that thin privilege is a very real phenomenon. For those of us living in thin bodies, no one judges us about our food choices, how many servings we have, or if we have that 2nd piece of pie. Thin people never get unsolicited advice about a new diet or workout program that’s supposed to be really great for people. Thin people aren’t discriminated against because of their size.
No one has ever used my body to make judgments about how ‘undisciplined’ or ‘lazy’ I am. I’ve never have to worry about showing up to gatherings of friends or family having anxiety about what Uncle Chad is going to say about the weight I’ve gained. I’m not made to feel bad about the body I exist in because we live in fatphobic society hell-bent on shaming people who live in larger bodies under the guise of being ‘concerned about their health.’
Have you ever stopped to question why the fitness industry spends so much bandwidth on providing tips to help you navigate the holidays? Usually these things include quick workouts to keep you ‘on track’, food tips to avoid eating all the holidays treats, and tips to ensure you don’t gain those extra holidays pounds or to ensure you keep moving even though you’re busy.
But can we ignore that all of these ‘tips and tricks’ are just thinly veiled ways to express fatphobia? Because the idea behind all of this information is to prevent you from gaining weight, and the underlying message is that ‘fat is bad.’ Most of these messages are packaged with pretty little bows telling us to stay ‘guilt-free’ about our food choices, ‘beat our sugar cravings’, and encouraging us ‘not to beat ourselves up’, while simultaneously selling fat-burning holiday programs to help us ‘stay motivated’ (i.e. – not get fat). I mean if you listen to the majority of the fitness industry, you would be convinced that gaining weight is the worst possible thing that could occur.
Is the fitness industry helping individuals live whole and nourished lives or are we perpetuating ideas about health equating to thinness while keeping people running from fat?
Many health coaches will affirm that they are not fatphobic. These same coaches will post ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures to showcase how their clients have lost weight. They will also likely tell you that neither picture is better, and that their client looked great both in both pictures. They will, of course, tell you they totally believe in body autonomy, and they just happen to specialize in fat loss because that’s what people want. There’s also a really high chance they will occasionally post a picture in which they discuss how they ‘gained a few pounds’ or ‘don’t have a flat stomach’ but still love themselves.
Completely disregarded is the fact that they still live in a thin body and their picture and commentary is co-opting the entire body positivity movement by way of being a person who lives in a thin body and benefits from thin privilege, even with the few extra pounds. They will also fail to discuss how they are commodifying a movement which was not created for them or by them to sell you on fat loss and their new 12-week coaching program.
However, what they fail to acknowledge is we have all been conditioned and socialized to believe that living in a thin body is better.
If you think I’m wrong, then how to do you explain the fact the entire fitness industry thrives off of fat loss?
It thrives off of women’s insecurities about their bodies, and it’s predicated by well-meaning fitness coaches who are happy to help people reach their fat loss goals without addressing what’s at the root of the desire for fat loss.
For the record, no one should feel bad about not loving their bodies as is or wanting to lose weight. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Because, I do in fact, believe in body autonomy for people.
What I am saying is we all have to acknowledge that the way we feel about fat bodies is 100% due to our conditioning. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps the fat loss industry in business.
When you couple the anxiety that comes with having to attend social events where people feel their bodies will be judged with the constant barrage of messages from the fitness industry, it’s no wonder people are left swimming in a sea of guilt and shame during the holidays.
Most of us probably know in our heads that other people’s opinions shouldn’t matter, but that doesn’t stop our hearts from bleeding. It doesn’t stop us from questioning our self-worth. We still feel the pain of judgment and our inability to feel comfortable in our own bodies. You might be left feeling like maybe if you just lost the weight, people could love you more. Maybe then you would feel more accepted or more worthy.
I don’t have a 4-step process on how to handle the people who will pass judgement on you or your mother who will ask you about weight for the 12th time this year. I’m just here to hold space for you. To remind you that I see you. I hear you. I’m sorry the fitness industry is failing people so miserably. I’m sorry an industry that should be striving to enable to feel whole and nourished is mainly interested in keeping people small.
Lastly, I want to encourage to show yourself compassion and love during this season. I know that this time of the year is hard. Practice self-care and set boundaries. Unfollow. Mute. Block. Forgive yourself if you are still at war with your body. It’s not your fault. There are a lot of people working to keep you unhappy with yourself. Acknowledge that you are doing the absolute best you can given the circumstances. And that’s absolutely enough. You are enough. You are worthy. You are magic. You are deserving.
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