Self-talk is a pretty big deal. We all have internal monologues that consistently play in our head, guiding us through our day. If we are lucky, those monologues tell us to go out and do awesome things, be immensely kind to each other, and go on and on about our own unique beauty.
Unfortunately, however, these monologues often pick up lines from outside sources along the way, and the messages start to change.
Our world as a whole has done a very good job painting larger bodies as out of shape, unhealthy, and virtually unable to do anything but sit on the couch. This plants the theory in our heads that all large bodies are somehow broken and need to be fixed. Even worse, we begin to believe that narrative about ourselves. Doubt creeps in, and thoughts that do not serve us start to keep us small, hidden, and afraid to try new things.
One area this interferes with is our willingness to try new things when it comes to fitness. I often hear people say, “Oh, I couldn’t try that class, it’s too hard!” or “What if I’m the only person in a larger body there? Won’t I get laughed at?” or “What if I’m just not good at it?”
Sometimes we look in the mirror and see a body that might not be able to keep up, and we wonder if others will see it too. We wonder if certain parts will get in the way, if it will hurt, if maybe it’s just a better idea to stay within our comfort zone.
I’d like to gently push back on these thoughts, if I may.
There is so much fun to be had out there when it comes to moving our bodies, and I don’t want anyone missing out because the monologue in their head needs to be changed.
To be clear, many of us have actual limitations to the movement we can do. Injuries and disabilities get in the way, classes are sometimes too expensive or at times we cannot manage, or the responsibilities of life just get in the way. And yes, sometimes classes are too hard or not at the level we need — including needing classes at a higher level when only beginning ones are offered! I’m not speaking to those things at the moment.
What I’m speaking to is the self-talk that we get to control: the self-talk that tells us that body size should always be a factor in what we can and cannot do. (Hint: it’s not.)
Please allow me to give a few answers to the above questions, in the hopes that when you find something that lights you up, you can change any inner monologue that tells you your body may not be right for it:
“I couldn’t try that class! It’s too hard!”
Yes! It may be too hard! Which means I have a new challenge in my life and I love a challenge!
“What if I’m the only person in a larger body there? Won’t I get laughed at?”
That is a possibility, of course, and being in a larger body should never stop me from having fun, laughing, sweating, moving my body, or trying something new. I’m going to show up in my body and show everyone, including myself, what it can do.
“What if I’m just not good at it?”
No one is. Not a single person shows up the first day of anything and is an expert. So let me go and try and see if it’s something I want to get better at.
What I’m trying to get across is this:
Your body size or shape should have very little bearing on the fitness you want to try.
It takes time to adjust our inner self-critic, time to learn to ask for what we need in classes, time to build up the courage to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. I also know this: when we step out, when we try, when we allow ourselves to fail and to question and to speak up, that’s when we find out what we are really capable of.
Trainers, let me get real with you for a second: we have some pull when it comes to the inner monologue of our clients, whether we know it or not.
We can start by knowing our own biases, boundaries and abilities. It’s not comfortable to take a hard look at what we think when someone in a larger body comes to class. We’re susceptible to the same messages our clients are.
We have been taught, sometimes explicitly, that larger bodies are not healthy. That they need to lose weight. That they will be deconditioned and sad and helpless.
So, when someone in a larger body comes to class, do we automatically worry about what we’ll do with them? Do we think they want or need to lose weight? When someone in a smaller body comes to class, what do we assume about them?
I have fallen into the trap of assuming that everyone knew how to do something as simple as a jumping jack, and have been proven wrong. I have assumed that clients would tell me if something was too hard or too easy, only to have them not come back to class because I never told them they got to use their voice in class. Sometimes, I assumed that my own inner monologue was also theirs, and this just isn’t the case.
Be willing to look at your classes and know what you can adjust and what you cannot. Use equipment that is safe for anyone who may come to class, and be willing to toss your class plan if even one person comes and isn’t comfortable with using it. If you don’t, you risk a client going home thinking it was their fault that they couldn’t use the equipment, when in reality it was the equipment that failed them.
Talk in class about ways to replace inner monologues with ones that may be more helpful. Stay away from absolutes (“Never miss a Monday!”) and lean toward motivating statements that allow for flexibility and self-care (“I can’t wait to try something new, even if it’s going to be hard at first. I trust my gut when it comes to deciding what works and what doesn’t work for me and my body!”)
Above all, be mindful that what you say in class may become the inner monologue of your clients.
If you are not aware of your own biases, you may be inadvertently harming those in your class by assuming everyone is there for the same reason. Be willing to check your language for things that may be fatphobic (one video I watched made reference to “tank top shoulders” as if someone needed special shoulders to wear tank tops), be promoting disordered eating behaviors (any reference to burning off calories or earning food) or that just is plain negative (like questioning why someone may have come, or calling out someone for not working hard enough).
None of us are above making mistakes, but what makes us great is being able to notice, change, and apologize when needed.
We can make sure that the classes we teach are a fun, safe place for as many people as possible!