I’ve been a personal trainer for seven years now. I consider myself a bit of a “sneaky” trainer, because to look at me you would have no idea. I look nothing like a trainer you would see on TV. I look nothing like trainers you would see on a Facebook ad, or in a workout video. I do not ascribe to the adage that my body is my business card. In short, I’m a fabulous trainer who happens to live in a large body.
Some people call me plus-size, I happen to love to call myself fat. I also happen to have a lot of knowledge about how the body moves, and how to get people to love feeling their body move as well.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. We know this, and yet we tend to assume that a fitness professional should come in a certain package.
I came to personal training in my 30s. I stumbled upon it because the women who owned the fitness franchise I had been loving for three years was selling, and I did not want it to end. So, I bought it — me, a kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who had little to no fitness knowledge. What I did know was that for the first time in my life, I liked moving my body, and that I loved the moms I was with. Why not take on this challenge?
The franchise I purchased happened to have the nation’s leading pre- and postnatal fitness experts on board, and they provided excellent training. I flew down to San Diego — my first flight without my kids — and worried the entire time that they would not allow me to be certified because of my body size. I was shaking when I stood at the door, pondering whether I should open it or run back to my hotel room. After a deep breath, I opened to door and was met with one of the best hugs of my life. I was hooked.
A few months later, I started studying for my personal trainer certificate, and added that to my repertoire. I sought out more knowledge by reading and reaching out to mentors, asking questions, and being open to feedback. I learned how our bodies grow and change when we get pregnant, what happens after we give birth, and how adding in a bunch of fun can get moms coming back day after day, week after week.
Because children in strollers were present at our workouts, I included games, songs, props and themes to our day. Remember playing tag in gym in grade school? Turns out it’s just as fun now as it was then, and it allowed me to revisit my days teaching Kindergarten.
Moms came to me because they wanted to learn to move and love these new bodies — bodies that grew babies and now were different than they were used to. I ached to let them know that they didn’t need to “get their body back”, as it hadn’t gone anywhere. It was there, supporting them and loving them and, in many cases, making new human beings.
This feeling of being grounded, of being at home in my body, didn’t come overnight. There were a couple of years at the beginning of my fitness career where I was determined to get the “trainer body.” I felt sure that my clients deserved someone who “walked the talk,” so to speak. That led to some behavior I’m not proud of, and ultimately left me huffing and puffing in a park, wondering what all this work was for.
On the outside, I was looking the part. My before and after pictures were all over social media, people were coming out of the woodwork to tell me how good I looked, and supposedly I was getting healthier every day. However, on the inside, I was a mess: my hair was falling out in chunks, I was afraid of meals outside my house, I was never seen at a party without my own food (and not for allergy reasons!), and my body hurt everywhere.
It was at this point that I asked myself what exactly I was trying to show my clients. Someone who was willing to hurt herself to look good? Was that really a lesson I wanted to teach?
No. It wasn’t. I was telling my clients to love the skin they were in, yet I wasn’t taking that advice for myself. I was letting myself be guided by an outward stereotype of what a trainer was supposed to be, instead of listening to the inner voice that was screaming to be heard. That voice was telling me that I needed to rest, to adopt a new viewpoint. I needed to walk a new talk, even if that meant my clients would watch me gain weight.
I did the work of repairing my relationship with my body, with food, and with exercise. In my body, that meant weight came back on. That’s what my body needed, and I told myself that I was going to be OK with wherever it needed to land.
I opened my eyes to see that there are amazing people doing this work, rocking bodies that looked like mine. If I was going to do this, I was going to show up and give my clients an authentic, safe experience. I would walk my talk about embodiment, true self-love, and self-care. That was something I could be proud of.
I still show up to do this work in my body. Some will look at me and question what place I have in the fitness industry, because some still equate a thin body with a fit body. If I fixate on that idea, then my mental health goes south in a big way. Instead, I listen to my clients who love having a trainer who looks like them. A trainer who is not a before picture, not an after picture, but a right now picture. A trainer who can help get them in touch with their right now body. Most us live from the neck up, and it’s my aim to get my clients to live in their whole body.
I’m here for trainers who want to help people heal from a past relationship with exercise that left them disconnected from their bodies.
I’m here to liberate people from the idea that fitness exists to make us smaller. I’m here to encourage other people to join us and make a difference in this one-size-fits-all industry.
There is no wrong body for personal trainers. A trainer’s body is there to support her clients, not to be a goal for them. There is far too much good out there to be done to worry about not looking right for the part. Let’s get out there and change the world, shall we?