Picture what you think a fitness instructor should look like. Then walk into any big box gym, boutique studio or other fitness facility and compare the instructors to what you had in your mind. Chances are, they’re not the same.
Fitness instructors come in all shapes and sizes. This is logical — they are human, after all! But society pushes us to think they should have a certain build and look depending on what they teach — yoga, barre, indoor cycling or CrossFit.
This bias can hurt them personally as well as professionally. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Sport Management, Texas A&M University researchers performed three experiments to see how weight discrimination affected whether job applications were hired to teach aerobics classes or be a personal trainer. In all three situations, people who were qualified and overweight were thought to be less ideal for the position than others, even some who were thin yet unqualified for the job.
“There is a standard that we think every trainer is supposed to look like, and if you don’t, you must not be able to deliver results to clients,” says Janis Isaman, owner of My Body Couture, a private, one-on-one studio in Calgary.
Learning how fitness instructors overcame body judgment can help us navigate similar situations and realize there is no one-size-fits-all.
Judgment: "You don't really look the part"
Response: Do not let anyone define who you are and what you can be.
Students loved Lucie B. Linder’s class. But some began asking the certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer, “How come you look fat?” The comments brought back memories of being teased for having big legs and thighs as a child. So after this happened a few times, she met with a few of the women to explain that trainers come in all shapes and sizes.
The comments stopped, but then Linder began teaching at a high-end gym. “My manager said a lot of people were saying things about my body,” she says. “That some members were scared to take my class for fear of looking like me.” But she kept teaching and after an actor and model attended her class, her classes took off!
Then she moved to Sweden. She wanted to bring her class to a gym there, but she learned from a friend who worked at the gym that they wouldn’t hire her because of her body shape. So she decided to do her own thing, including creating Lucie B Jump N Fun, which teaches kids how to jump rope, and Team Sheroes, a group of women in their 70s that she’s training to become jump rope champions.
Her goal: to empower girls and women of all ages to feel amazing about themselves. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” she says. “If you want to lose weight, do it for you — not because you think you need to fit into a particular role or standard. No matter your weight, shape, size, age — do not let anyone define who you are and what you can be. Just go for it!”