Paying to be demoralised

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There are 30,000 exercise professionals in Australia and I ended up with Donny. Donny is a Les Mills-toned personal trainer and gym instructor. He’s also one of the reasons I haven’t stepped foot in a gym class for over four years.

I was in the middle of a Pump class — the type where you lift, bend and squat with weights to music. We were just about to start leg lunges when Donny paused the music.

‘You need more weight on your bar,’ he said, looking directly at me.

I felt the other twenty-five or so faces in the class turn and look at me. ‘This weight is fine for me, thanks,’ I said quickly, already embarrassed by the unwanted attention.

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‘Don’t be a slacker. You can lift more weight than that’, Donny insisted.

Usually I could. But not that day.

I could have told Donny — and the rest of class — that I was using lighter weights because I was going through IVF, that I was recovering from surgery, and I wasn’t feeling very strong. But it was none of his damn business and I knew my body and its limits better than he did.

Instead I replied in my most assertive shut-the-f**k-up-and-turn-the-music-back-on voice, ‘No thank you, Donny. This weight is fine.’

You would have thought he’d get the message. But not Donny. The motivational genius and expert in human psychology and physiology replied, ‘Let me ask you, “Are you happy with your legs the way they are?”’.

The insult was too much to bear in my already fragile state and I was unable to stop the tears from welling in my eyes.

Donny responded to my tears in the way he should have responded to my words. He turned the music back on and resumed the class.

What Donny would call motivating, I call bullying and shaming. I also call it counter productive. Nothing has ever demotivated me from exercising as much as Donny’s attempts at ‘motivation’.

Donny is not the only one who mistakenly thinks fat shaming is the path to fitness and weight loss. And I’m not the only one who finds it a turn off.

New research from the University of Alberta found that even watching negative depictions of exercise — such as people being screamed at, insulted or driven to tears — was enough to turn the viewers off exercise.

The study, which will be published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, involved showing participants a short video clip of either The Biggest Loser or American Idol

Regardless of participants' physical activity levels or weight, the study found that people who watched The Biggest Loser reported more negative attitudes towards exercise than those who watched the American Idol clip.

Watching people being pushed beyond their limits — even after they are exhausted, injured or vomiting — and told that ‘they are letting their team down’ or that they will never be happy/successful/worthy if they are fat, may make for good television, but it’s hardly surprising that it isn’t sending people stampeding into gyms and exercise classes.

The shaming culture that pervades much of the exercise and weight loss industry — and even government programs — is as bizarre as it is ineffective.

It should be obvious that people are less inclined to treat their bodies well if they loathe them. And they are more likely to engage in any activity, including exercise, if they feel they are in a secure and safe environment.

I’m fortunate that my body shape and weight has always fit within the current socially-acceptable range, but I’ve never felt particularly comfortable exercising in public. (And if you’re reading this Donny, then know that my dissatisfaction with my thighs was well entrenched long before you were good enough to offer your expert opinion on their imperfection.)

Even though I’ve never had to endure the abuse that fat people report when they are exercising in public, such as people throwing garbage at them and hurling insults from passing cars, Donny’s fat shaming was enough to send me scurrying from the gym class and never return.

With all the hand-wringing about Australia’s overweight population, with the 2011–12 Australian Health Survey claiming that two out of three Australian adults is overweight or obese, perhaps we need to pause for a moment and consider that our current ‘solution’ to motivate people to exercise — shaming and bullying — is actually a big part of the problem.

It doesn’t take a Cert IV in Fitness to work out that people are more likely to live active lives if they are feeling good about themselves, rather than bad.

It’s time we started viewing our bodies, and all bodies, as things that are deserving of respect and care rather than a source of embarrassment that deserves to be punished and shamed.

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child.  www.kaseyedwards.com

22 comments

  • To be honest, this is exactly why I used the les mills classes to start my fitness journey when I was lacking in motivation. Sure, sometimes it hurt my feelings a little to be picked on, but my instructors were also good enough to be encouraging when you were doing the right thing, and give one on one tips after the class.

    If I had touchy feely instructors who never pushed me or told me I was doing the wrong thing, I would most likely still be 40kg overweight and on the road to diabetes.

    All les mills instructors should also be asking if anyone has any injuries or is pregnant before the class, all you have to do is say yes, you don't have to go into detail. If they don't do this, report them to les mills.

    Commenter
    Daniel
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 07, 2012, 8:25AM
    • I think you're missing the point. People may not want to divulge their medical history or injuries to a gym instructor full stop. As the author pointed out, she knew her own limits and made it clear to the instructor that she was working within them. The instructor chose to ignore that and insult her.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 8:56AM
    • The way Donny went about this, is not very nice. BUT, as a qualified personal trainer, it is important for them to know about any thing medical. A lot of people don't know their own limits and will push themselve to injury with a personal trainer because they are too shy to say anything.
      You may not want to go into details, but "I'm recovering from surgery" is surfice.

      Commenter
      al
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 9:50AM
    • Yes. Exactly. Congratulations. The softly-softly approiach does not work. It only means you go for low intensity for nowhere near long enough and never see any real results. No pain no gain is a motto for a reason.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:04AM
    • Chris, I have to dissagree. You must tell the instructor if you have any health issues for your own safety. It can be a private conversation before the class and you probably don't have to give a lot of detail, but if there's something that could affect your ability to participate in the class safely then the instructor needs to know.

      In light of Kasey's experience, I have to say that I'm ashamed for Donny. I've been doing Pump for a while now and all the instuctors have been awesome and make you feel really good about yourself, which of course, makes you want to come back!

      Commenter
      Miffy
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:45AM
  • Couldn't have said it better myself Kasey.

    In today's society, we are completely against bullying in any form. Workplace, cyber, school... you name it. Yet, many feel that it is perfectly acceptable to bully and shame someone who is obese... especially those under the guise of doing it for 'their health'.
    People who are overweight and obese (myself included), know we are. We're not blind and I'm sure, just like myself, there are issues behind it all that we may or may not be addressing.
    However, having someone yell at me from a passing car that I'm 'a whale' or tell me that I'm fat, I'm a blight on society or I'm putting strain on our health system (I have private health insurance, thanks), does not inspire me to exercise in front of people.

    People who are overweight/obese have their own battle to fight. Why not be kind and encourage them, instead of making them feel like something you stepped in? When I see someone who is on the chunkier side exercising or pushing themselves and I catch their eye, I smile and I think to myself 'Good on you'.

    Commenter
    Versa
    Location
    Work
    Date and time
    November 07, 2012, 8:36AM
    • I agree in principle, but the reality is that in over 10 years of exercise, I've never had anyone from the gym/exercise world treat me like this (although I confess I did check with one bootcamp I did about how 'shouty' they were because I'd simply scream back at them and would then walk off - but then again, maybe I'm more empowered than the normal 'fatty' and would treat the source of this purported motivation with the type of contempt they truly deserve). What I ten to get is the miguided compliments, like the 'good on you' you wish for - where people who are trying to be enthusiastic don't realise how patronising they are.

      Although I don't have a go at people who try to encourage me, I really just think that people should keep their thoughts (positive or negative) to themselves when it comes to commenting on other people exercising. I'd prefer to think I'm simply not being watched as I achieve all of my various fitness goals as a certified boomba - be it running the city to surf, swimming the pier to pub, cycling from Sydney to Melbourne or being a woman who lifts more weight than all the other women (and quite a good number of the men) in my gym. (Now I think about it, maybe that's why no-one is ever rude to me...)

      Commenter
      GWCH
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 9:04AM
    • GWCH - Yah, lifting serious weights tends to keep comments at bay out of respect. There seems to be an unspoken etiquette and respect amongst most lifters (my husband lifts). You're all there for the same thing generally and everyone goes about their thing.

      I agree that comments and thoughts should be kept to ones self, hence while I may think it, I'd never say it. A smile of acknowledgment and politeness is all I ever offer however it always baffled me as to why people though it was ok to stare or comment on someone who is overweight, exercising. You wouldn't stare at someone who was of normal weight range, puffing away on the deadly treadly so why would you do it to someone who was carrying more weight?

      Commenter
      Versa
      Location
      Work
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:59AM
  • Rude S.O.B.
    Having said that though, I normally tell the instructor before the class that I have an injury, recovering from surgery etc. in case they ask why I'm not putting in the hard yards like I normally would. They have to ask anyway before the class starts so I don't understand why you didn't notify him you weren't 100% beforehand. You don't have to go into the details obviously

    Commenter
    Dee
    Location
    NSW
    Date and time
    November 07, 2012, 8:47AM
    • Normally an instructor would ask at the beginning of a class if anyone has any injuries - I know the ones at my gym do, but then i have been to a gym where they are all Les Mills trained and they never asked.

      Commenter
      Chrissie
      Location
      Bondi
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 9:12AM

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