Body Positive Fitness Isn’t Always Rainbows and Unicorns

Untitled drawing-11I think one of the things people are frequently surprised by when they join my Facebook group is that we don’t always tell people what they want to hear. Nor are we unquestioning cheerleaders. This throws people for a loop if they’ve joined under the impression that “Body Positive Fitness” means perpetual cheerfulness and consummate harmony.

I think that general Body Positive culture, and the size acceptance movement (both of which I support) DO tend to be those things, so when one of my coaches calls someone out on their self-destructive or manipulative behavior, things can get uncomfortable.

Body Positive Fitness isn’t always comfortable. Body Positive Fitness is, at it’s core, about respect. Respecting ourselves, and respecting others. And where there is respect, there are boundaries. Run up against those boundaries, and you should expect things to get uncomfortable.

In my last post, I spoke to fitness professionals. This post is for clients. It’s for the people who are curious about this new approach to fitness but not quite sure what it’s all about. This is what you can expect, from the movement and from the Professionals driving it.

Respect For The Client

We, the fitness professionals representing Body Positive Fitness, will treat you with respect. We will respect you as a person, we will respect you as a grown adult, and we will respect your body regardless of it’s size, shape, ability, color, age or gender.

We will respect you as a person. This means we will spend time learning about your goals and limitations. We will create programs for you based on those goals and limitations, as well as your personal preferences, time constraints, and available resources. We won’t dismiss your circumstances by assuming we know what you want to look like or be able to perform. Your program will be what works best for YOU, in your circumstances, and with considerations for your limitations.

We will respect you as a grown adult. Essentially, this means we will be honest with you. Sometimes, being honest with you means telling you that your behavior is self destructive. Sometimes it means telling you that you’ve been given bad information by someone else (Fit 1.0), and it’s keeping you from being successful in your goals. Sometimes it even means telling you that the actions you’re taking will hinder your progress toward your goal. But none of these things means you are a bad person. All of these things happen to EVERYONE, and it’s our job to help you identify barriers to success, and overcome them. When those barriers are coming from yourself, it can be hard to hear. We know that. So we do our best to present compassionate honesty. Being honest with you, even when it’s hard to hear, is one way we respect you. Being dishonest is disrespectful, even when it’s the easier thing to do. Respecting you as a grown adult means we treat you like one. We tell you the truth. We are honest. Because that is how grown adults treat each other.

We will respect your body. Respecting your body means we support you in creating habits that will help you reach your goals. If we recognize that your habits are hindering your progress toward the goal you’ve identified, respecting your body means we will let you know. If increasing your daily step count is one of your stated goals, and we recognize that you’re passing up opportunities to work more walking into your day, respecting your body means we’ll discuss it with you. Compassionately. It also means that if we recognize that you may be struggling with disordered thinking about food or your body, we will talk to you about it and refer you to an appropriate professional. Sometimes this can be a very uncomfortable conversation for both of us – but respecting your body means we place your health ahead of our own comfort.

On the other hand, we will NOT project our own assumptions about what your goals should be on to you. For instance, if you haven’t identified weight loss as a goal, we won’t give you advice on creating a calorie deficit. And if one of us slips up and does something like that, please speak up. Your own goals are what we are here to support. Not our own projected goals.

Respecting Each Other

I mentioned boundaries above. Most Body Positive Fitness interactions will happen in group environments. Creating a culture of respect for each other often means that BPF professionals will have to create firm boundaries that clients will be expected to respect. Respecting those boundaries is a way the clients can support each other. It may not always be easy – sometimes one person in a group may have to compromise their own preferences because they don’t work for the group as a whole. But respecting boundaries is the way we show respect for each other in group settings.

One example of this is the rule in my Facebook group that if a person makes a health claim, they are expected to provide evidence to support it (read my last post about why Body Positive Fitness MUST remain evidence-based). Ultimately, this rule (i.e., boundary) is there to prevent pseudoscience from taking root and spreading within the group. Sometimes an individual will run up against this boundary, make a claim, and not have evidence to support it. That individual may feel they are being treated unfairly by being required to provide evidence – but the rule is there to respect the group as a whole. In this case, an individual has to either compromise (not make the claim), or decide the group isn’t the right place for them. They won’t be able to disrespect the other people in the group by making unsupported claims. Even though that one person may feel like the group isn’t ‘positive and supportive’ to them specifically, in the end, the boundaries and rules are there to respect and support the group as a whole. All the other people in the group, who matter every bit as much as the person in question, will recognize that the group’s boundaries are there to protect them.

Body Positive Fitness group interactions require boundaries, and those boundaries must be designed to respect and protect the cohesiveness and safety of the group as a whole. Individuals within the group can show respect for each other by respecting the group’s boundaries and rules. Sometimes those boundaries might make an individual within the group feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make the boundaries ‘negative’ or ‘unsupportive’. That individual might see them that way (as sometimes happens in my Facebook group), but people who can’t see that respecting a group’s boundaries is in itself body positive simply aren’t ready for Body Positive Fitness.

One way coaches can affirm the group’s boundaries is by calling out manipulative behavior when it arises. This takes some wisdom and skill, and the ability to first recognize manipulative behavior (which is why critical thinking skills are SO important to Body Positive Fitness coaches). Again, this can be uncomfortable for the entire group, but in the end, addressing and challenging manipulative behavior will help everyone in the group learn to recognize the way they, and others, can sabotage their progress. Calling out manipulative behavior in the group ultimately supports every individual’s personal journey. It is a vital skill for Body Positive Fitness Professionals, and is there to support the clients’ goals.

Body Positive Fitness will have uncomfortable moments. This is one thing that sets it apart from more general body positive culture. We expect those uncomfortable moments, and approach them with respect, as adults.

If Body Positive Fitness were rainbows and unicorns all the time, we’d miss opportunities to recognize and overcome barriers to success. We’d lose clients and coaches to the chaos of boundary-less classes and programs. We’d allow people to continue on in self-destructive behavior patterns without understanding why they can’t seem to make progress.

Respect means telling the truth, with compassion. Respect means creating boundaries, and respecting them! Respect means saying things that are hard to say, and sometimes harder to hear. These things are the way we show we respect each other, and respect is the foundation of Body Positive Fitness.