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 6: I Am Shame
In the past posts, I’ve referred to the (Unofficial) 21-Day Fix Facebook groups as “support” groups. Here’s the thing: even using quotations marks around the word support is being generous. A year’s worth of distance between me and the group, with 12-step work under my belt and counseling tools and a better grasp of what disordered thinking looks like, I can see that the group was not supportive, not in the way it claimed to be. Not in the way the group to which I now belong is supportive. It didn’t build us up.
It used shame.
I didn’t take data, because I was in it and had no idea I would be writing these posts. So while I can say that some members of the support group did seem supportive, I can’t give ratios of supportive-to-shaming comments. But I say with confidence that the overwhelming majority of posts and comments were not healthful, and I could recognize that in the slightly-recovering-but-still-disordered place I was at the time. I recognized it enough to leave. I am not only speaking about the bulk of us who were participants in the program, but also the coaches. Remember: Beachbody coaches are no more than participants who have paid money into the multilevel marketing system to earn the label of coach. They do not have special training or credentials that qualify them to offer fitness or nutrition advice. There is no screening process that determines whether or not they will be passing on their own habits of disordered eating, exercise, and body image.
We were encouraged to post our “before” pictures so we would have documentation of how much better we looked after three weeks. Some women spent three hours working up the nerve to post theirs, using words like “disgusting” and “gross” to describe themselves. And it wasn’t I look gross; it was I am gross. Many comments reinforced that kind of thinking by reminding the participant how much happier they would be with their body at the end of the program. Beachbody has competitions for the best before-after transformation photos, and when participants would post their after photos, the competition was mentioned. A lot. I have a problem with programs that focus so heavily on appearance. It perpetuates the disordered thinking about food and exercise. It reinforces fat shaming. It focuses on how we look, not what we can do. It’s anti-woman.
I guess one could ask what I expected. The name of the company is Beachbody. The program has the word Fix right in the title. And I did wrestle with buying it right off the bat–I don’t think I need to be fixed, and I resent the idea that any woman needs to be fixed. But even with those misgivings, I was appalled at how deeply the shame was rooted.
I remember one woman vividly. After losing five pounds the first week, she gained a pound the second week. She posted in the group, looking for support, because she was devastated. She was in tears, inconsolable. Did she get the support she sought? NO. She got scolded. Shamed. Berated. The comments followed a similar pattern: You must have deviated from the program because the program works. You ate too much ____. If you followed the program, you would lose, not gain, guaranteed.
No two people are the same. No two women are the same. My body responds differently to food and exercise than my sister’s body; we even responded differently to the 21-Day Fix. My sister felt excited and satiated while I was famished and exhausted. I struggled to lose a couple pounds and they were just falling off her. And I can think of one reason immediately why I would gain and not lose while on the program: dysmennorhea. Here’s a little TMI: among other problems, I cannot poop the five days leading up to my period. I also cannot have dairy that week. But even if I avoid dairy, nothing moves. Then, one day, everything is fine and my colon is happy again. My medication list also makes it difficult to lose weight, but especially during my period.
Back to the group. First, I was heartbroken–what has our culture done, what did the people in her life say or do, that gaining a pound has left her inconsolable? Second: the women who chimed to “help” in included coaches. And they were not chiming in to help her, even if they thought they were. They were chiming in to reassure themselves. The repetition of It works! was a chorus of women reassuring themselves that the program worked. If it didn’t work for that woman, if she really had followed the program the second week and gained a pound, if her body had put the brakes on after losing five pounds in a week, then the same could happen to them. And they were not okay with that fact. The program had to work.
The moderators of the anti-diet, pro-moderation group consist of doctors, scientists, and health professionals, NONE of whom will speak outside their scope of practice. That means they do not offer individual counseling or advice beyond reminding us to speak to our own physician team. They provide us with encouragement and resources. We share resources for understanding the roots of disordered thinking, emotional eating, and body shame. We celebrate non-scale victories. If we feel shame about something, we share that, and we remind each other about the truth: we are not broken, we are on a journey, and tomorrow will be better. When we share pictures of our bodies, those pictures are kept private, and they are celebrated. Our muscles, our tummies, our stretch marks, and our baby bumps… all of it. Every size. Every shape. Every bump, bruise, and wibblely bit. We know that how we look is not an indicator of our health or our wholeness.
The day I quit the not-a-support group was a hard day. I had another migraine, but I was trying to power through my work day. I had just read the verbal barrage that woman was going to have to read after opening herself up in a moment of vulnerability. I could hear my students playing outside. I told myself that I could be a positive voice on those posts, I could be a voice of reason. But I was tired, I was hungry, and I was out of carrots. I could see the damaging, disordered thinking… and I could not be part of a program, part of a company, that fed upon that level of shame and self-loathing to prop up its business model and make money.
I quit. And I went to retrieve my red-faced, happy kids from recess.