A few weeks ago, Coach Doza wrote a thought-provoking post on gender equality.  I emphasize “thought-provoking” because “societal norms” and “social stigmas” run very deep, and often we don’t even question why we believe what we do.  To quickly summarize, he’s asking each of you to look at your own beliefs, really dig deep, and see if any of them limit you in the gym. Do you conform to societal gender roles and norms? And if so, let go of the old values and just be you!

Coach Doza and I have been talking for many months on collaborating on this subject of equality and stigmas.  He wrote on gender equality and I’m going to introduce a different topic and take it one step further. Are you ready? It’s going to make you think. Drum roll please…  weight, shape, and size stigmas!!!!! Phew, now how am I going to get this complex topic across in a post without going off on tangents and examples? That’s a hard task for me but I’m going to take a stab at this.  Gender roles may be easier to digest because we have seen a cultural shift over the years with men and women not conforming to the old patriarchal norms. And CrossFit has really helped smash the idea that women can’t lift heavy weights.  But what about weight, size, and shape?

To kick it off, the definition of weight stigma, also known as weight bias, is discriminating or stereotyping based on one’s weight, especially larger or thinner people. Weight stigma reflects internalized attitudes towards body size.

Think about this:

Do you ever look at a person living in a larger body and think they need to lose weight? What about a person living in a smaller body and think they must be on some sort of diet that works and eat “healthy” all the time.  Weight stigma doesn’t have to be towards or projected onto someone but can also be internalized towards yourself. Let’s take it to the gym. Do you identify with and prefer certain activities (weight lifting, box jumps, running, pull ups, etc) and does your ability or inability have to do with your weight, size, shape?  Does your internal narrative that you say to yourself have anything to do with your weight, size, and shape? These are all examples of assumptions and/or perceptions taken from what we’ve learned along the way and/or what society has imposed upon us. I mean, think about it… in a world where obesity is now deemed a disease, does that shape how we view those that are living in larger bodies? Does it shape how you view yourself?

The Nutrition Therapist in me is trying to draw out of you why you think the way you do, and apply it to your workouts and experiences in fitness and the gym. Can you tell I often speak in questions? My clients probably find me so annoying because I’ll answer a question with another question, ha! I have a method to this madness and it’s because I believe in the world of gray areas and not black and white.  I’m wanting you to consider alternative perspectives.

So let’s try on a few situations and examples. Consider this:

If you saw a larger bodied person running a marathon would you yourself have any thoughts about this? What immediately comes to mind?

Or how about a woman, who is muscular and toned with the ability to lift heavy weights (heavier than some men!- think CrossFit Games Athletes). Do you have any commentary on their appearance? What’s the first thing you say to yourself?

What about a man who is lean and, in the gym, lifting weights. Is that man trying to “bulk up” and why?

Or do you, yourself, say that because of your weight, shape, size that it’s not possible to do a box jump and instead opt for a box step up?

Or how about when it comes to running? Do you stay at the back of the pack because why put in 100% effort if the self-narrative has something to do with weight, size, or shape.

Or do you say, why try to lift heavier or add more weight because I’m petite and I’ll never lift as heavy as others? This last example is one of my go to self-narratives when I’m having a down day. And if I’m really being honest (and in the essence of this blog post I will be), my go to self-narrative is always along the lines of “I’m not good enough.” And being in group fitness can sometimes emphasize and bring to the surface my inner demons.

I’m not bringing up these examples and this topic to shame anyone. It’s to bring to light how societal norms and stigmas (deep programmed ones) can influence our internal dialogue and how we view ourselves and others.

The antidote is awareness.  The next time you are in the gym, or looking at the workout the night before, ask yourself, why do you gravitate towards certain movements and not others. Any cherry pickers out there? Any sandbaggers? Really take a hard look and keep asking yourself the question of “why do I do what I do?” Get curious! No judgement, no shame, just curiosity. And if your observation has to do with your weight, shape, size, own it and be aware of it!  Then make a choice- continue with your go-to story or do you dare to be different and dare to be great? Step outside the comfort zone and be YOU!  In the end it’s all about you and only you. What do you want to get out of your experience in the gym? What do you want for yourself in this life?

Disclaimer:

Meredith is an Eating Disorder Dietitian who counsels from a Health At Every Size lens and Intuitive Eating model.  The examples and scenarios are all either from her self-dialogue experiences and/or client stories over the years.