Content note: body image, body shame, disordered eating, diet & exercise
Purpose: This series has been a long time percolating in my mind. It has taken me a year to decide to write. The writing process has taken days. I think this will become an important resource for future #FitFriday posts as I continue to examine the messages students of all ages internalize about women, diet, nutrition, and fitness, and how it can severely and negatively influence their lives indefinitely.
In which I expound on why I quit BeachBody’s 21-Day Fix program (because it perpetuates disordered thinking and unattainable, unsustainable ideals)
Reason 4: The Make-Me-Hate-Myself Workouts
The first part of Reason 4 is connects back to Reason 1: Untrained Personnel. The workouts were high-intensity intervals. The risk with any DVD program is the lack of feedback on form. It is quite easy to do a squat or a lunge improperly; it becomes easier when one is fatigued from doing multiple intervals of challenging, high-intensity reps. This is not a problem unique to this BeachBody program, or to BeachBody workouts. However, the proliferation of their brand of extreme fitness–Insanity, P90X, etc.–and the risk of injury or long-term physical damage from improper form on high-intensity intervals is concerning. And with no rest days, the body has no time to repair itself.
My second concern was the lack of body diversity shown in the videos and the objectification of women’s bodies. The workout videos showed people who were already fit doing the workouts, with the exception of the woman demonstrating the modification. In TV trope language, she was the “token fat friend.” The trainer used different word choices and tone with her. She wore workout clothes that hid the outline of her body, when the other women wore tight and/or cropped clothes that drew attention to their abdominal muscles or upper arms. It’s the opposite of what we see on The Biggest Loser, but it stems from the same place of fat shaming. Former contestant Kai Hibbard has been outspoken about how damaging her time on TBL was, asking in a January article on xoJane, Why wasn’t I allowed to have a shirt instead of just a sports bra until I lost weight? The message is this: It is important what my body looks like, only certain bodies deserve to be looked at, and all other bodies deserve shame.
Most of the people in the “support” group were never going to look like the ripped trainer or the enthusiastic coaches hawking this program all over Facebook. I’m going to cover the specifics of the body shame in another post, but I’ll say right now that not many women in the support group were proud of their bodies, happy with their bodies, or even content with their bodies. They wanted the ripped look, and these workouts promised that. Every person in the videos was ripped and toned and sexy, after all. During the third week, the half-hour Hate Myself Workouts became two-a-day Hate Myself Workouts. And there were many who jumped right into their second or third round of the 21-Day Fix without any rest or break in between, often dropping down to a lower calorie bracket to boost their results.
I found the use of gendered language in the DVDs troubling. The trainer in the video, Autumn Calabrese (whose website I will not be linking), ribbed and teased men in the video for using girly weights, even though she previously encouraged others to make modifications as necessary. This is problematic for so. many. reasons. Smaller weights are smaller. That does not make them feminine (and even if it did, feminine does not equal inferior). It just means they weigh less. Using them does not make one more or less feminine or masculine, or inferior or superior; it just means one is using less weight. And sending mixed signals about whether or not it is okay to modify a workout is a subtle form of psychological bullying that may lead to the at-home exerciser to push herself harder than her body is telling her she should.
My final problem with the workouts is right in the title of the program: The 21-Day Fix. I do not need to be fixed because I am not broken. My body is not broken. Telling women their bodies are already beautiful doesn’t make money, but promising 15 pounds in 21 days does. The workouts are called things like Upper Body Fix and Lower Body Fix, playing on the idea that women have “problem areas” that we are always trying to mask or fix, and perpetuating the myth of “spot reduction.” And because the workouts were so varied and all over the place (thanks to BeachBody’s company-wide obsession with the P90X cornerstone of “muscle confusion”)**, I never felt like I was improving my performance. The only way to track my progress was by tracking my weight and my inches. I hate both of those things. They remind me that as a woman, I am supposed to always be trying to take up less space. And losing weight and inches is not sustainable; at some point my losses will level out. How can I track my progress then? How will I know if I’m taking up a small enough space?
The anti-diet group celebrates Non-Scale Victories. We take up space. We take pictures of ourselves taking up space. We celebrate ourselves taking up space. We celebrate our bodies doing things.
We exercise. Some of my fellow non-dieters do CrossFit, some cycle, some run. Some birth babies and feed babies and raise babies. I skate and chase children and walk. I used to lift and run. The group is home to thin women and fat women and strong women and anti-fragile women and quite a few men, too. We celebrate how we look, not because we have bikini-model “after” pictures, but because we look amazing and beautiful and strong exactly the way we are today, right now.
Our bodies have outlines that do not need to be hidden. We eat the food. We wear the clothing we want to wear now, not when when we reach our target weight and fit back into our favorite jeans. We take up space, unapologetically. We will no longer be shrinking women. And my #FitFriday wish is that my students take up space now and take up space in the future, loudly and unapologetically.
Lily Myers – “Shrinking Women” (CUPSI 2013)
**I did not link to any articles debunking the claims of “muscle confusion” because they were all on websites with horrible, sexist, objectifying advertising.