Fitness professionals who have been around for some time know how much of a dynamic industry it is! Between technology, trends and fads, there is always something new to buzz about. Some concepts and approaches remain, while some fade away.
One that I have seen continue to emerge and evolve since I started in the industry almost 20 years ago is the body positivity movement, or as it is often referenced on social media, #BoPo. And I am here for it!
Body positivity is the acceptance and appreciation of all body types and sizes, acknowledging that we all have worth and value, regardless of the physical form we take. Negative body image is particularly a challenge for women, however, all genders can be impacted and benefit from working on improving their self-image. Negative body image can lead to other physical and mental health conditions, such as eating disorders or depression (OASH, 2021). The great news for us is that merely participating in exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on improving body image, self-esteem and well-being (Shang et al., 2021).
So what does this mean in the fitness industry and for us as fitness professionals? How do we encourage and foster better self-image in our clients? How do we become champion examples of body positivity ourselves? This article explores some strategies you can incorporate into your approach as a fitness professional to encourage and embrace body positivity.
Every day, through marketing and social media, we are bombarded with images of one particular body type. Unfortunately, this can make us and our clients feel like that particular body is the one of most worth and what we should all aspire to attain.
The reality is, that body shape is only representative of a small percentage of us, and indeed impossible for most people to achieve. This is the reason the diet industry is so successful and enduring – the goalposts are unrealistic.
In addition, women’s bodies in particular tend to go through a broader range of changes through various stages in life, and the spectrum of those changes is not well represented in popular media either. For example; women through pregnancy or into older age.
This lack of diversity means a lot of our clients can’t help but feel less of themselves when compared to the perceived expectation society has on beauty; how we should look, and even act.
For many of our clients, the impact of unrealistic beauty expectations can be subconscious. So point it out, call it out and open up a dialogue about it!
Comparison is the thief of joy, and when we compare ourselves to others, we often feel worse about ourselves and miss our unique beauty. If they are comfortable, sit down with your client, get them to scroll through their feed and talk about how the images portrayed make them feel. If there are some pages and hashtags that induce negative feelings, encourage them to unfollow. Have an arsenal of #BoPo pages that align with your brand as a fitness professional. Share them on your pages and refer your clients to them. A 2020 study (Stevens & Griffiths) found that viewing #BoPo images on social media, particularly Instagram, can help people experience higher body satisfaction and improved emotional well-being. In addition, it suggested that #BoPo in social media could protect and enhance body image!
One of the best parts of being a fitness professional is the relationship we are privileged to have with our clients. While admiring and aspiring to improve their physique is fine, try to work with your clients to focus on other things too. What are your client’s positive qualities? What skills or talents do they have?
By pointing these out we can help our clients boost their self-acceptance, love and appreciation, which are all cornerstones of body positivity.
Often we can repeat negative narratives without even realising it. Help your clients create awareness around their self-talk by asking them to write down what they have been telling themselves, particularly on days they are not feeling great.
After that, work with them on creating alternative, positive mantras to substitute in. They can be as simple as “I am grateful for my body”. You can even start or finish your sessions with them by repeating some mantras! This intentional practice over time replaces the negative self-talk and can be hugely helpful in feeling more connected and loving towards our bodies.
During goal-setting sessions, get your clients into a headspace to reflect on what their body can do, rather than just what it looks like. Set positive, health-focused goals rather than (or at least as well as) physique-related ones.
By increasing the awareness around the benefits of exercise that support improved health and well-being, we will help our clients commit to their fitness in the long term.
Help your client to see exercise as a form of self-love and an opportunity to connect with their body. Ask them to come up with some other activities to fit into their schedule that can facilitate self-love, and support the goals they are trying to achieve with you. Some great ideas include:
No one wakes up one day and is suddenly filled with self-love and body positivity. It’s a journey and a practice! Even starting a self-love dialogue can be a real leap for a lot of people. We have been influenced and programmed by societal expectations for many years after all!
It’s probably a reach for people to wake up one day and look in the mirror and tell themselves how fabulous they are. And that’s okay.
Get your clients to start finding a few moments each day to take in some deep breaths, centre and connect in their bodies. You may even want to start or finish your session like this. After that, get them to try simple expressions of gratitude, such as “Thank you, legs, for moving me around each day! Thank you, lungs for breathing in sweet oxygen!”. This practice should kick off a positive momentum towards enhanced self-love.
So now you have some ways to weave body positivity into your client relationship, make sure you keep a list of the strategies above that resonate with you and be sure to include them in your regular client check-ins.
And also reflect on your own attitude to your body. Are you a powerful example of self-love, acceptance, inclusivity and body positivity? If not, perhaps a great starting position is applying some of the strategies in this article to yourself.
As fitness professionals, we are in a unique position to influence our client’s overall health and happiness. By adding a dimension of body positivity to your approach, you will not only help your clients achieve their goals but also support them to improve their overall well-being.
OASH. (2021, February 17). Body image. Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/body-image-and-mental-health/body-image
Shang, Y., Yang, Y., & Zhang, W. (2021). The Relationship Between Physical Exercise and Subjective Well-Being in College Students: The Mediating Effect of Body Image and Self-Esteem. Frontiers. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.658935/full
Stevens, A., & Griffiths, S. (2020). Body Positivity (#BoPo) in everyday life: An ecological momentary assessment study showing potential benefits to individuals’ body image and emotional wellbeing,. Body Image, 35, 181-191. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/science/article/pii/S1740144520303971
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