Hi, I’m Kate. I’m 36, a personal trainer, and a feminist. What has feminism got to do with being a PT? Well, a lot.
First of all, let’s get the “oh I’m a girl but not a feminist” and “why do you hate men” nonsense out the way. Really? Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. If you don’t believe in equal rights for women then no, I suppose you’re not a feminist. If you do, you are. Sorry, not sorry.
So what has a lowly PT got to say on the issue? What has this got to do with macros, pyramid training and triathlons? Well, actually it’s got a LOT to do with it.
I could go on about how women are paid less for the same sports. How men and women don’t have equal access to sporting opportunities. How sportswomen are underrepresented in the media. How the fitness world is still massively sexualised and fetishised. I could talk about how women still feel incredibly pressured into having the “perfect body” – yes that’s changing, but not necessarily for the good of the world; men are increasingly bombarded with mixed negative messages around how they should look.
What I want to focus on touches on my last point – that women still feel terrible pressure to look a certain way and that, despite “strong is the new skinny” messaging (equally damaging) and the body positivity movement, women still come to me to lose weight because they feel crap about themselves.
As a PT, it’s my business to help them lose weight and gain muscle and move better. As a feminist it’s my duty to ask “why do you want to lose weight, why do you think you should, why will it make you happy?”. The two can’t be mutually exclusive though.
As a PT I can say YES, exercising will help you stay mobile, it will lower your blood pressure, help prevent diseases like osteoporosis, and help to keep you sane in an insane world. I have a million reasons why moving more and eating well will have a positive impact on your life. But as a feminist I WANT to say “but you’re beautiful, be happy with your body, love it, be kind to yourself, forgive yourself”…
Sometimes people come to PTs for clearcut health reasons – to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol etc. But often it’s sadness and anger at our bodies that motivates us to “get fit”, whatever that means. And women say the same thing 99.9% of the time – to lose weight. And coming from a place of unhappiness can sometimes make it harder to reach your goals.
Yes men say it too, they want to lose weight, gain muscle. To look a certain way that fits with our social norms of healthy. But more often than not women are angry at their bodies, and it hurts my heart and yes I do blame it on the bloody patriarchy! It also makes my job exceptionally difficult, because I want to help them reach their goals but I want to do it in a way that allows them to make peace with themselves, and that’s a very very hard balance to find. And honestly, I don’t always get it right. My feminist head takes over and I want to shout “YOUR BODY IS AMAZING”.
So, if you find yourself punishing yourself for eating an extra biscuit, or crying in the gym toilets (please say that was not just me!), or skipping the gym and feeling guilty so eating a tub of ice cream and feeling more guilty, or obsessively looking at fitness models on Instagram and wishing you could be bothered to workout like that, then here are some tips to help set you on a path to self love and self care.
- Focus on what you can do. Can you jog for 10 minutes? Amazing! Can you do 20 squats in a row? Incredible! Have you run a marathon? Have you given birth? Have you gone for a walk at lunch time? Did you carry your shopping bags up 3 flights of stairs? Your body is pretty epic. When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, try to at least balance them out by challenging them and thinking of something positive. Anything. Even just “I like my eyelashes”. (I DO like my eyelashes)
- Wear workout clothes that make you feel great. I’m a fan of the baggy t-shirt and leggings combo or baggy trackies and tight top. I’m a child of the 90s and I’ll never change. But no point buying workout gear that makes you feel crap. Have a drawer of clothes that you hate or don’t fit any more? Donate them. Now. Please. Get rid. There’s no point in them sitting there bothering you when you open the cupboard. Buy ones you like immediately. It will help, I promise.
- Try to nourish yourself with healthy foods 80% of the time. That way, you’re less likely to feel guilty when you treat yourself at dinner, or have a life emergency that requires alcohol and chocolate buttons. They happen. It’s fine. The less guilt you feel, the less likely you are to slip into negative cycles of boom and bust. Or starvation and binging. There are no good and bad foods. There are just foods that nourish you well and foods that don’t.
- Surround yourself with positive women who can motivate you and inspire you – a supportive community on the same page is so vital. Somewhere like Inside Out in Glasgow is perfect! A bunch of people trying to improve their health with positive habits. Amazing.
- Consider therapy. Something like CBT can help provide you with tools to challenge negative thought patterns and set you on a path to self awareness and self love.
- Keep your goals in mind. Identify why you are REALLY doing this and think about he sacrifices and effort you’ll need to make to reach those goals. Plan for the hard times you’ve identified so they are less of a shock when they come (hunger, injury, less than supportive friends, failure, major life changes, stress at work…)
I don’t have all the answers. But I have finally come to a point in my life where I genuinely don’t give a crap what I look like. Yes, I have a range on the scales that I’m comfortable in, but that’s because I’ve BEEN overweight and I know what it feels like physically, and I honestly don’t have time for that anymore! I’ve gained weight, lost weight, been pregnant, been injured, breastfed, had hormone issues, had post-natal depression, had PTSD. I’ve won massive long triathlons and I’ve done shit in events I really wanted to do well in. I have felt guilty for foods I have eaten many, many times.
But now I’m interested in what my body can do. I’m annoyed that it’s not working perfectly right now but I am NOT annoyed at any cellulite and stretch marks.
So if you want to weigh less, move more, gain muscle – AMAZING! Go for it! I applaud you and support you. But even better if you then go and burn your bra!
You may not think these are feminist issues. Maybe you think I’m being sexist looking at this across gendered lines. But honestly I think body confidence and self-care ARE women’s issues. They affect women disproportionately due to our cultural and social norms. And yes, transgender, gender non-conforming people, and men, you have your own body image issues, but those are for another blog by a wiser and more experienced blogger.
Sarah Ogden Trotta, a writer at Everyday Feminism and psychotherapist says all this and more, much more eloquently than me, here.
I often re-read this when I’m having “a moment” so if you think we can help get in touch here.