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.
‘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