"It wasn't long after I became a personal trainer that I realised how relevant my intersectional feminist views were to the people I trained." Photo: Stocksy
For anyone who isn't a cis male, the gym can be an extremely intimidating place. A room full of sleazy dudebros, judging gym junkies and an array of alien equipment. It's where internalised insecurities come out to play. Am I wearing 'cool' enough clothes? Do I look too fat? Do I look too skinny? Are people going to stare at my hairy legs? Am I doing this right? Am I going to collapse into a puddle of my own sweat after five minutes and look like a fool?
Finding somewhere to exercise can be completely anxiety inducing.
I began working as a personal trainer two years ago. Prior to that I had suffered from a decade of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and exercise utterly terrified me. During those 10 years I tried to integrate fitness into my life but it felt impossible.
I'd try and make the most of a day where I was feeling OK. Compared to the usual physically-can't-move weeks. I'd attempt going for a run or a bike ride, anything I could use a quick burst of energy for, before it disappeared. But it always just ended up with me having to take days, sometimes weeks, to recover.
I tried going to see a personal trainer; I explained my illness but he didn't listen, pushed me way too hard and made me feel ashamed when it was too much for me. It didn't take long before I gave up.
On the other spectrum of things, doctors and specialists basically told me I wouldn't be able to work or study again, that all I was capable of was rest. Things felt pretty hopeless. I was lacking support from all avenues.
However, not one for giving up, I took matters into my own hands. And the key was graded exercise. Over the space of nearly three years I gradually, very gradually, built up the strength and the stamina to go from only being able to walk 500m then having to sleep for a couple of hours, to running 10km and feeling amazing. This journey inspired me to help and offer support to others with similar situations and impairments, because there are so few people out there that really understand how difficult it can be.
But it wasn't long after I became a personal trainer that I realised how relevant my intersectional feminist views were to the people I trained. It wasn't only people with illnesses that felt anxious about exercise - it was a huge majority of people who had a differing gender, race, sexuality, body shape, social and cultural backgrounds from the patriarchal norm.
And it is no wonder that feminism paired with fitness was so important to them. I remember while I was studying I bought a women's health and fitness magazine. Something I hadn't bothered with before but thought it might have some interesting information in it about, you know, health and fitness? Right?
Wrong. It was filled with white women posing pretty next to some pink (of course) dumbbells, with their hair and makeup all done and their photoshopped abs on show. There wasn't one red face, one droplet of sweat or any evidence whatsoever that women have the ability, irrelevant of any construct, to exercise and to be strong.
It can be so disheartening when I meet clients for the first time and I ask them what their goals are. At least 99.9% of them want to change how they look. Whether it's to get a 'beach body', lose 'weight', have a firmer bum or a slimmer stomach.
In my opinion, being healthy is not how you look. It's how you feel. I try to erase years' worth of media-driven brainwashing by teaching my clients to stop measuring progress by what the scales say, and start feeling their progress through what their body can do. And what your body can achieve is completely unique to you. The only person you should ever compare yourself with, is yourself.
We're constantly fed this view that women are supposed to look a certain way, yet aren't allowed to show that we are working hard to get there. We must look flawless at all times.
Well, newsflash, world: When I move my body my face goes tomato red, sweat drips from my forehead, my nose, my chin and all down my back and my hair is the complete opposite of immaculate. And that is something I am extremely proud of. So much so that my friends and clients share sweaty selfies to motivate each other. That solidarity and support is so important to breaking these expectations and just makes my heart beam.
Health and fitness should be accessible to everyone. There is a long way to go, but feminism has a massive part to play in making that happen. Work out because you love your body, not because other people make you hate it.
Let's all work towards binning the pressures and unrealistic conceptions of what being healthy is, and concentrate on being proud of ourselves and each other for lifting weights, dancing in our pyjamas, going for a jog or managing to do one more push up than we could last week. Whatever it is that makes us happy, healthy, sweaty and strong.