Summer is approaching, which means the fitness world is obsessing over helping you achieve that bikini body, and it might have you obsessed with it too. But, the bikini body phenomenon is problematic in many ways that espouses anti-feminist messages. As someone who worked as a fitness trainer for eight years, I’ve seen countless trainers sell the bikini body ideal to their clients, instructors use the bikini body ideal to motivate their exercisers, and a number of clients hire me to help them attain the bikini body ideal. This is a huge problem in society and the fitness world, and I’m here to help change it. I left my fitness career for a variety of reasons, but some of those reasons had to do with the anti-feminist and unhealthy messages that the fitness world sends.
The foundation that the fitness industry is built upon is a suspect one. It’s built on making money from our insecurities and introducing us to ones we never thought we had. We are expected to achieve society’s “ideal” body type, and because we continue to fail, we are ashamed of our bodies and have a voice in the back of our heads telling us that we need to improve them. When women, whose bodies don’t fit the “ideal” body type, love and embrace their bodies, society is shocked. How can a woman who is not thin love and accept herself? She should be trying to improve! If these sentiments sound absurd, it’s because they are, but, the fitness world feeds into and perpetuates this absurd mentality.
The Fitness Industry Wants Your Money
The fitness industry tells you that it can fix you. That’s how it makes money. It knows that you have insecurities and it makes money off of your insecurities. The fitness industry tries to get you to believe that you need to buy something in order to exercise and be healthy. It tells you to buy this and that product to help you lose weight, get skinny, and fit into your favorite pair of jeans again. This is a problem because it sends unhealthy messages such as:
1) you’re not good enough and need improvement
2) your body isn’t acceptable or ideal the way it is now
3) you need to buy something to be better
These are not messages that I want to comply to nor help influence others with. The reality is that the fitness industry cannot fix you, and it knows that. Because it can’t “fix” you, it gets you to continue to spend money to try and achieve the ideal body. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to die. You don’t need to be fixed. You are good enough already. The way your body is now is perfectly acceptable and ideal. There is no particular ideal for your body to be. And, you do not need to buy something in order to be the person you want to be or have the body that you want to have.
To be clear, I am not disparaging exercise and fitness in and of themselves. Science tells us that exercise is good for us in a number of ways. But, despite science, my body, alone, tells me that it likes exercise and wants to move. Exercise is not the problem. The messages telling us that we need to look a certain way or achieve an “ideal” body in order to be confident and happy is the problem. The good news is that can say no to this problem. We can resist these unhealthy, anti-feminist messages.
In addition, you do not need to spend money in order to exercise and keep your body healthy. In fact, the best exercises are ones that you can do with your own body weight that do not require any equipment or trips to the gym. Exercises that you can do in your own home or backyard like pushups, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, planks, etc are some of the best exercises that you can do for your body. Do not be fooled by the latest exercise toy that is advertised. Every year, the fitness industry comes out with new toys to entice you to spend more money. I’m not trying to deter you away from joining a gym, but I want you to know that no money is required to be fit and healthy.
The Fitness World Doesn’t Actually Support or Accept Who You Are
Women are bombarded with constant messages that they are not good enough and need to be skinnier. Have you ever thought that this whole skinny ideal is just a way to make women disappear, to take up less space and be smaller?
I experienced this skinny ideal all too often with many of my clients. I had one client who was 5’8” and weighed 130lbs. She told me that she wanted to weigh 120lbs. She was one of the fittest clients I ever had. In fact, she was a challenge for me because I had to be more creative in finding workouts that were tough enough for her. This woman seemed to be incapable of feeling delayed onset muscle soreness. She had a six pack, every client’s dream, what more could she want? Why was weighing 120lbs so important to her?
But, her story was one of many. Over and over again, I would encounter women who wanted to be skinny and lose weight even though they were already thin. As her trainer, I was in a bind, a feeling I experienced more often than not with my clients. She was paying me to help her achieve her goals but the problem was that one of her goals was pretty unrealistic and, in my opinion, unhealthy on several levels. Perpetuating the kind of thinking that one needs to or should achieve a certain unrealistic weight or body didn’t sit right with me, and made my work feel shallow.
Now, I don’t want to put skinny women down. I, for one, am pretty lean and thin, but I don’t want skinny to be THE ideal. I’m an advocate for demolishing ANY ideal body type; I want us to be accepting of all body shapes and sizes.
Let’s not let ourselves disappear. We need to create more space for us to exist, for our voices and stories to be heard, and to be the powerful, smart, amazing humans that we are! As feminists, we reject messages that tell us that we are not good enough or that we shouldn’t accept ourselves just as we are. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have fitness and health goals, but it means that we accept and love our bodies for what they are like now while also working on our goals.
Messages that we need to be skinnier and have a certain body in order to look good in or even simply wear a bikini are deep seated in our minds. We have work to do if we want to achieve a healthier mindset, but it’s worth it. Let’s take the road to love and accept our bodies and ourselves for who we are NOW and not wait to achieve some ideal body that we’ll always be reaching for. We need to resist the anti-feminist messages that the fitness world sends us about ourselves and our bodies. We are good enough as we already are.
The Fitness World Doesn’t Teach You To Listen To Your Body
It actually teaches you the opposite. The fitness world tends to be all about PUSHING past your limits instead of respecting them, which can lead to injury if you don’t know your body too well or have much body control. Listening to your body and gaining body control takes practice, but not the kind that the fitness world tends to teach. Instead, the fitness world likes to teach you that PAIN IS GAIN, but this is false. You don’t need to experience pain in order to grow your fitness level. The fastest and healthier way to grow your fitness level is approaching exercise and moving your body with ease.
I’ll be honest, I am plenty guilty of being a pain slut when it comes to exercise. When the endorphins kick in and I’m high as a kite, it’s hard not to be seduced by more “pain”. But, I have learned that pain is NOT gain, and approaching exercise from that mindset can create harm instead of growth. Meeting an exercise with ease and breath is what makes me stronger, faster, and more flexible. The more I force my body and hold my breath, the more I hurt, the longer I have to recover, and the more stressed out my mind is.
When were you taught to actually listen to your body? You may not have been taught to growing up. You might have been taught to push harder and run faster even when your body was saying no. But, you CAN teach yourself differently because no one knows your body better than you do.
Is your body telling you that it needs to fit into that bikini or is it the messages your mind has received from society’s advertising and expectations? Your body doesn’t care about the bikini, it wants to be healthy, and health comes in different shapes and sizes. Health is different for each individual. For example, you may feel healthier eating a more paleo diet or you may feel healthier eating a more plant-based diet. There is no one way to be healthy or fit or look good in a bikini.
Let’s call the fitness world out on what its bikini body message is: BULLSH*T!
It might take some inner work, but we don’t have to live up to society’s standard for rocking a bikini body. If we have a bikini and want to wear it, then let’s wear it with confidence in the beautiful bodies that we already have. Let’s revolutionize the beauty standard for women one bikini at a time.
Question for Readers!
- What anti-feminist and unhealthy messages do you receive from the fitness world? How can we change them?
Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear from you!