Working It Out: Sexism And Sizeism In Personal Training

October 8, 2015  |  

Working It Out is a health/fitness column chronicling MadameNoire Manging Editor Brande Victorian’s journey to drop the pounds and get healthy. Follow more of her story on BrandeVictorian.com.

On Saturday I’ll have my last personal training session of the year. It’s a big step for me since I’ve been training ever since November 2014 and this will be my first attempt at continuing my weight loss journey on my own. I’m nervous, but I also know at some point I have to take off the training wheels, and after one year and 92 pounds lost, now seems like the right time. But there’s another reason I’m also ready to take the leap. Though personal trainers exist to help you reach your goals, they also have their own goals in mind. Or rather, ideals of what the finished product, i.e. you, should look like when your training is complete and those ideals can be a bit burdensome, to say the least.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a wedding of a co-worker in New Orleans. I had to miss a few sessions because I was out of town and when my trainer asked me how the celebration was, I sent him a few pics from the festivities. I was proud of myself, mostly for fitting in this dress that would not be possible without the help of a strapless bra, Spanx, the Holy Spirit,  and lots of hours in the gym. And he acknowledged as much, saying he saw me “stylin'” as usual. Fast forward to my return when my trainer was anxious to get back to work — and sell me a new package of sessions by the end of the month — and he said to me, “I really want to see you kill it in a dress or just show up with a pair of pants that are like a size too big now.”

Wait, haven’t I already done those things?

On one hand I didn’t fault my trainer because we’ve only worked together for the past six weeks or so and sometimes I think he forgets that I started this journey long before we met. I wanted to remind him I’m not new to this, I’ve lost about four pants sizes now.But I just nodded in agreement because I do still have a few sizes to go and initially wouldn’t have minded his help in getting there. The dress thing bothered me though. On top of not being here for the implication that a plus-size woman can’t look amazing when she steps out, I thought, I know you’re trying to motivate me to keep going, but did I not just send you a pic of me killing it in a dress? And as much as I tried to remind myself that trainers’ standards of the ideal body are on some next level ish — after all I’m dealing with men who have single digit body fat — it still brought up unhealthy thoughts of the progress I’ve made thus far still not being good enough and was a reminder that while I’m no longer obese (or morbidly so as I started out),  an overweight woman is still what many see when they look at me.

I know that because of other comments my trainer’s made like “you’re going to be killing it in a bikini soon.” Again, I thought, been there, done thatBut I also thought, who said wearing a bikini was my goal? I’ll be the first one to admit looking better and feeling better about myself were stronger motivators to losing weight than my health, but I’m also not here for the constant insinuation that I need to strive to look like a model or the assumption that I even want to. I set out to be a size 12, maybe 10, when I started working out last year and I need to work with someone who supports what a realistic goal weight and look is for me. The more my trainer pushes his ideals of perfection that are so far off my radar, and not even realistic, the more I realize it’s time to take matters into my own hands and craft the next chapter of my weight loss journey for myself.

Several months ago I wrote about things you should know before hiring a personal trainer. Though it wasn’t a concern for me at the time, I’d now add to the list that you need to work with someone who respects your standard of beauty and appreciates you as you are in the moment. I’ll never forget the day I was being unnecessarily hard on myself with my first trainer and he looked at me with complete sincerity at about 205 pounds and told me, “You have a great body. You just don’t see what I see.” It was the most genuine compliment he’d given me and I can’t lie and say hearing that from someone with 6% body fat and abs for days who worked with women with bodies much fitter than mine didn’t put a little more pep in my step. But more importantly it reminded me I needed to speak as kindly about my body as he did and I didn’t have to assume the first thing everyone sees about me are my flaws. That’s the kind of trainer you want: someone who knows the difference between pushing you past your perceived limitations and projecting their perceptions of perfection on you.

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