Monday, June 4, 2012
The Weighty Issue of Fitness Instructors
As many of you know, I joined a new gym this past April and amongst other things, I have started going to water aerobics classes several times a week. There are a few different instructors and I have been trying to get to certain classes based on who is teaching because well, some classes are better for me than others because of the types of aquatic exercises that we do in each class.
Last week, one of my regular instructors was on vacation and there was a substitute instructor. When I got to the pool area that morning, I noticed a woman getting the various weights and flotation devices together for the class and I was puzzled. This couldn't actually be my substitute teacher for the class, could it?? There was only one water aerobics instructor that I had not met yet but I figured that it wasn't her. Maybe she was just someone in the class helping to get the equipment ready, which is a frequent occurrence.
I took my spot in the pool at 8:30am sharp and this woman I saw moving the equipment introduced herself and started the class. I have to admit, I was quite surprised that she was the actual instructor. Why? Because this fitness instructor was overweight. It was the instructor I had not yet met.
I have a difficult time estimating how much people weigh but if I had to guess, I would figure that this woman was about forty pounds overweight or so. And this brought up a lot of questions for me and as they so frequently do, the wheels started turning....
To begin with, I have some strong opinions about fat discrimination. I think bias against overweight people is one of the last accepted forms of prejudice in this country. Overweight people are frequently seen as lazy, incompetent, and ugly in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of being thin. That is not to say that I think being overweight is a good thing or a healthy thing. However I do think that as a society, we often view overweight people with a lot of disdain and we are quick to judge them without even hearing a word coming out of their mouths.
Being an overweight person most of my life, I consider myself more open minded and less judgemental about overweight people than many other people however I quickly judged the competence of this overweight instructor without ever having taken her class and never even having spoken with her. I was surprised about the reaction I had to this substitute water aerobics instructor but I was conflicted about my opinion on having an overweight instructor teaching my class. Did that make me prejudiced?
I do not expect any fitness instructor I come across at my gym to be stick thin. But I do expect them to look fit. To me, fit means able to provide a good aquatic work out for the class participants as well as having a physique that includes looking toned. I don't care if they have cellulite or love handles. But I do care if they are overweight or obese. The other water aerobics instructors appear to be of average weight and more importantly, they appear fit. They have visible muscles and overall look toned. One of them appears to have a physical disability of some sorts that I have gathered, from overhearing conversations, is from some type of accident. She sometimes requires the assistance of a wheelchair. This woman is strong and fit despite her disability and she also does a great class. The overweight substitute instructor's class had some very good points, such as the balance exercises, but it did not provide me what I thought to be a great work out. I am not sure if this was related to her weight or fitness level at all.
And this got me to thinking: can overweight or obese people be fit and healthy? I know this is a loaded topic for many people. To me, the answer to this question depends a lot on what your definition of fit and healthy is. It also depends on you definition of overweight. Lastly, it depends on whether a person's excess weight is within their control on any level as sometimes there are extenuating factors such as certain illnesses, medications, and hormonal factors.There is a difference between being five pounds overweight and being forty pounds overweight. As an overweight person, I can say that I have never been truly fit and almost every single overweight or obese person I know (almost every one but not quite!) is not fit and healthy. That being said, there are also a lot of average weight people who are neither fit or healthy.
This is the conclusion I have come to for myself: I have lost forty-five pounds in the past several years and I still have a minimum of forty-seven more pounds to lose to put me in a healthy weight category. Every single day I have to make very difficult choices about what goes in my mouth and every single day I have to find the motivation to exercise. When I am watching a fitness instructor lead a class, it is very important for me to see that instructor as an example of what I am striving for. Not the perfect body and not necessarily a thin body either. But rather a body that appears healthy and fit. I want, and need,to be inspired by people who take their fitness seriously. I need good examples such as the instructor who has a disability but yet is still is a healthy and fit woman. Maybe it is wrong to equate general good health with the appearance of a fit body but to me, it is a necessity. It doesn't necessarily make me right but just that I know what works for me.
Part of my reason for writing this post was to get feedback and opinions from others on this topic as I am curious as to what others think about this issue. Please feel free to comment below and remember to play nice. Thank you!
Photo Courtesy of Google Images