The Fitness World Makes You Hate Yourself When You’re Not A Size 10

The Nike controversy over a curvy mannequin in their London flagship store wearing tights and a crop top has reached fever pitch. While most (normal) people are praising the brand for their inclusivity and representation, there are of course those who want to talk shit about fat people, including a real asshole of a columnist who we won’t mention anymore bc let’s not give her more air-time.

[jwplayer HMuuvHa9]

I was a size 14-16 for most of my 20s. FYI, size 14-16 is extremely average for an Aussie woman. In fact, as of the 2011 ABS survey, the average weight for women was 71.1kg, and with a height of 161.8cm on average this equates to… size 14-16. 2011 was also around the time I was this exact-average size… and yet I felt like a whale, especially when I hit the gym. The thought of hitting a spin class made my self-esteem plummet to below zero.

It’s important to note here that I have no experience in being a plus-sized woman. This fantastic podcast episode from Ladies, We Need To Talk by the ABC is, I believe, a must-listen for anyone who has no experience in that area – I learned a LOT about how marginalised plus-sized women are made to feel in our society, and I credit that podcast episode with educating me.

But what I can do is tell my story, about how even as someone of AVERAGE WEIGHT AND SIZE in Australia, I felt excluded from the fitness world.

I would visit the gym and wear large, oversized shirts because I didn’t want all these thin, hot people surrounding me in classes seeing my rolls and folds, because no one else had rolls or folds in the room. I felt unworthy of baring my stomach, because all the marketing on the walls, everything the fitness industry was telling me through their models, their instructors, their advertising was that toned abs and lithe arms were the only acceptable bodies to reveal in that space. I hated using the treadmill because seeing everyone around me seemingly effortlessly jogging kilometres without a single part of their body jiggling made me feel like I should consider myself disgusting.

It wasn’t just the gym – yoga classes made me hyper-aware of how my stomach rolled over the top of my tights, while the instructor’s stayed firm and flat. I would see huge, wall-sized posters on the walls of size 8 models doing warrior pose, their legs strong and slim. I never, ever saw someone who wasn’t a toned size 10 revealing their body, because I think we all felt the same. Like we should be ashamed of our lumps and curves, and showing our bodies would only be acceptable when we toned up and dropped a few dress sizes.

Then there was shopping for fitness gear, a lesson in “no you’re not the size you think you are”. I’d put on a large legging and feel it constrict around my stomach, then realise the large was the biggest size available in that store. Crop tops wouldn’t account for my bust, leaving it looking saggy and like one large sausage. All the in-store advertising featured perfectly toned, hot women with absolutely no folds or lumps, and – all the mannequins were a size 8.

These days there are loads of fitness brands championing body positivity and representation, choosing to use a diverse size-range of models to show off their new collections. Many gyms and fitness groups have also gotten the memo and become more inclusive with their marketing.

But we’re still seeing people fire up when a fitness brand moves beyond the stereotype of skinny-toned-girl/uber-muscly-guy to include a wider market of body shapes and sizes.

A lot of the backlash when it comes to inclusivity, and in particular the Nike mannequin, centres around “promoting” an unhealthy weight.

But what is this “healthy” weight anyway? We know scientifically what it allegedly is, but to the ignorant who go around trolling plus-sized people telling them they’re unhealthy, “healthy” seems to mean be “slim” to them. Because in my experience, even being what statistics indicate as an average weight will have you feeling like you’re “too big” – particularly within the fitness world, even if you’re a fitness nut.

For example, many commenters made the point that they ARE the size of the Nike mannequin and run marathons, work out all the time.

I don’t want to go down the “fat people should be accepted, because they exercise!” route because fuck that, why should plus-size people have to *do* anything to be accepted? Society accepts skinny people when they do nothing but smoke cigs and drink vodka. I’ll let Roxane Gay say it better than I can:

But what I do want to say is, in the context of the Nike controversy – if we hone in on that concept from fatphobic commenters of “get on a diet and exercise, you’re unhealthy”… if that is literally your argument, and let’s say in this hypothetical world that some of the women you troll are at risk of diabetes and other health issues… why WOULDN’T you want them to feel represented in fitness stores? Why wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to ensure they felt comfortable and included in fitness spaces?

And is there an end point to their push for “healthy” bodies? I was healthy by general standards back when I was a size 16 – I ate well, exercised, at the time more than my size 8 sister who had ripped abs since birth.

The answer is there is no end point. These people don’t actually give a shit about anyone’s health, or the “promotion” of healthy bodies. They just want to make people feel less-than by excluding them. These fatphobic commenters are just out here trying to make people feel shit about themselves.

Seeing a global brand like Nike getting on board with representation in the fitness industry is fantastic, as are all the other brands who have chosen to include a diverse range body shapes and sizes in their marketing and sizes.

But we’ve got to keep pushing, because the hate toward plus-size people is intense, and if I could feel it as a woman of average weight I can’t begin to imagine how it must be for plus-size people.

Maybe you can’t, either – to which I say, educate yourself. Listen to plus-size men and women talk about their experience. Change the way you speak and act when it comes to talking body shapes. And for brands, get even more inclusive. Be done with advertising and marketing that focuses entirely on slim women and muscular men, and always include their bigger, softer, curvier brothers and sisters.

We may not be able to silence the fatphobic, but we can all keep striving toward inclusivity.