A while back I was at the gym with my friend. We were both warming up on the elliptical machines when she pointed out a personal trainer walking across the gym floor.
“Oh my God, Robyn! Do you see that guy! Why would anyone ever want to train with him? He’s so fat! If he can’t even be healthy himself how the heck does he think he’ll be able to help anyone else?”
Her words fell heavy on my heart.
The truth is, at that point in time, like so many people, I believed that thin = healthy/good and fat = unhealthy/bad. I made many judgments similar to my friend’s and silently shamed larger trainers for holding a job in the world of health and fitness when their physical appearance didn’t match up with society’s unspoken physical requirements.
I wasn’t over weight.
So why did my friend’s words sting so badly if I believed the same as she? And why the heck should I even care in the first place? I was a fitness professional that did fit into society’s physical description and visual requirements of a healthy and fit personal trainer.
I was first hired as a personal trainer almost 13 years ago in the midst of my eating disorder and excessive compulsive exercise. I was very much underweight and pushed myself to the extreme during every single, three-hour long workout session. The gym hired me without an interview and without any prior formal training. I quickly became the highest grossing trainer in the department. I was dubbed a “fitness expert” not because of my lengthy experience or my vast knowledge but because I was thin and looked the part.
People wanted to work with me because they wanted to look like me.
The most common questions I would get were, “How much do you workout and what do you eat? How can I be as thin as you.”
These types questions not only validated my eating disorder and addiction to exercise; they also made the mere thought of recovery incredibly scary. Recovery from my eating disorder meant gaining weight; gaining weight meant people would think I was no longer competent for my job, which would lead to losing business, losing my top ranking and possibly being terminated.
So for 5 years I worked in the fitness industry completely immersed in my eating disorder and incredibly successful. Flash forward eight years into my recovery and although I have gained weight since I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I still live a life filled with thin privilege.
What is thin privilege?
The word privilege is defined as receiving unjust advantages at the expense of others. Privileges are usually unnoticed advantages, especially by those that benefit from them.
Because I was thin when I started out in the fitness industry, I was almost immediately successful and even today, when people first meet me they think I work out everyday and I can tell them exactly what they should or shouldn’t be eating (that’s a question for a registered dietician BTW). My thin privilege makes it easier for me to get approval from others and forge friendships. My thin privilege means I am treated with greater respect at restaurants especially if I decide to indulge in richer foods. It also means it’s easier for me to find clothes that fit well and I don’t get told by stores that they don’t carry my size. The list of privileges I receive as a thin person in America goes on and on.
“Research documents that fatter people face discrimination in employment (including lower wages), barriers in education biased attitudes and lower quality health care from health professionals, stereotypes in media, stigma in interpersonal relationships, and, over-all are judged negatively and treated with less respect. Weight discrimination has reached such great proportions that it now equals or exceeds discrimination based on race or gender.” – Linda Bacon, “Health at Every Size”
So going back to my original question; why should I care? I am on the side that actually benefits from this weight bias and size discrimination so why even worry about it in the first place?
Because as long as the world makes it more difficult and more unjust to exist in a fat body, everyone will fear getting fat. This fear means we are likely to be preoccupied with obtaining and maintaining our “goal weight”. It means we allow the scale to dictate our worth and determine our mood. We put our lives on hold until we feel our body is presentable. We cancel dinner plans because a restaurant doesn’t serve food appropriate for our diet rules. We bail on our friends when they want to hang out at the pool and we’re having a “fat day”. We love our body only when it fits into our skinny jeans and hate it when we must face buying a larger size and have anxiety over whether or not it will be a “good day”. We obsess over and fill our mind with workout schedules and food points rather than giving back to our community and ending social injustices. In other words, we give our power and control over to a number and a size because the fear of being fat infiltrates all areas of our life.
The truth is, the fear of becoming fat is the epidemic and NOT obesity.
As a fitness professional living with thin privilege I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. Self-acceptance is indeed a radical idea and movement and it’s the very first step toward honest and lasting health and wellness.
I am not your “after” picture. A thin body has just as much worth and value as a fat body and one should not be looked upon as “bad” while the other is labeled as “good”. Ending weight bias and size discrimination is indeed in the best interest for EVERYONE. It’s time to get radical, dude, and accept yourself.