The following excerpt comes from my upcoming fifth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey Through the Fitness World. It's been a decade since I first took the plunge into fitness as a profession. As I look at that experience through the rear-view mirror, I can honestly say that I entered the fitness world for all the wrong reasons. Have I piqued your interest? Read on...
Did I Ever Look Like a Fitness Professional?*
I have spent many years, decades even, focused on dieting and never being truly happy with my appearance. As I said at the beginning, a huge part of me believed a career in the fitness would accelerate the process of changing my appearance.
It has never once occurred to me to judge someone else based on their appearance. Instead, I look at their character — how they treat me and others. Are they reliable? Do they keep their word? Are they kind to those less fortunate?
Yet, when it came to me, I always assumed no one would accept me unless I was skinny and svelte, especially as I transitioned into my new career in the fitness industry. What if clients wouldn’t accept me as a fitness expert because of my appearance?
More than once, I heard, “You don’t look like a fitness instructor.” What, exactly, is a fitness instructor meant to look like? People come in all shapes in sizes. Shouldn’t that ring true for individuals, no matter their profession? Rhetorical question.
I also heard, “I like taking classes with you because you look like a normal person.” Where does that come from? An unrealistic expectation and representation of everyone in the fitness industry as rake-thin, that’s where.
Skinny does not equal fit. There, I said it. A skinny person can be unfit just as easily as someone who is not as skinny. But there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t believe that for myself. Yes, I have a double standard, in that I judge myself more critically than others.
Don’t worry, I know I’m not the only one setting up base camp here. The problem is, being in the fitness industry was a constant reminder that my internal voice was judging my fitness, or rather, my unfitness to practice.
And our new-found selfie culture doesn’t help. Too many svelte fit pros spend too much time touting their amazing bodies. Or we see the before and after photos of “incredible transformations” of their previously fat clients. The “fitspiration” (fitness inspiration) images on social media imply that you’re better off being skinny and photogenic than being your true self and healthy.
My fragile ego has had enough. Even when I was starving and over-exercising to maintain what I thought was the proper form for a fitness professional, I still lacked the confidence to have my picture taken while wearing a swimsuit.
The anxiety of not looking the part created a cycle of overeating for me that collided with the start of menopause. I’m sure you know what happened next: a self-fulfilling prophecy of not “looking” like a toned fitness professional. Yes, it was self-sabotage at its worst. But the messages online also said I should look like a ballet dancer, and I’ve always been built like a soccer player. These messages, by the way, came directly from fitness gurus and their most avid followers, including fellow fitness professionals. No wonder I wasn’t able to accept myself — I didn’t feel accepted by fitness colleagues and mentors.
*Copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2020, all rights reserved.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.