The Cover Up.
SHE SITS there staring, at what it doesn’t matter. A loose top by her side, you wonder why she doesn’t throw it on, she seems so cold. Her hands look placed and her head seems positioned.
He walks with his friends, laughing a little bit louder than the rest, his stride just the teeniest bit longer.
Look in the car next to you, quick glance, you see this porcelain doll of perfection in the righthand lane. And you see her hair and her tan and her manicured nails and brows and you honk to tease her. Because why not? There’s a pretty little thing next to you and grabs your heart but simple instinct protects you and tells you to egg her on a little, cause man is it fun! Grab her attention. And then she doesn’t look back and you keep going and she turns on the red light and by that time it’s too late to take back your advances because you didn’t notice before but she is crying.
This job leaves me in tears, this town is stale, this relationship is a one-sided fallacy. I’m not that fine today, how are you?
Covering up fear, covering up our desires, covering up our bodies and our truths with the show of the cool-calm-collected person we feel is the person to be. This is what it means to be the best.
There is a conversation not going on in the fitness and wellness community, a conversation I am afraid to start but want to start anyway. Being in the spotlight, calling cues, all mic’d up, we are front and centre and it’s an easy cover. The bigger the platform the easier it is to convince we’re cool-calm-collected. There is this pressure to look like the ideal picture of fitness and it makes me sick to my stomach. Breakdowns over our bodies. Comparing to our colleagues. Equating our value as professionals with the way we look and the fancy words we use. Yes. This is happening.
If we are “experts,” then shouldn’t we be the ideal? This is a sales job. We are selling what you could look like. Act like. Be like. We are selling you the picture of health. I get it. I get that we must “look the part.” As professionals, it is our job to portray the image of health and wellness.
I don’t have a problem with that at all. What I DO have a problem with is the myopic view of what this means. What I DO have a problem with is seeing other professionals and thinking you are less proficient than them because your waist is not as small or triceps aren’t visible through your long sleeves. Fit does not equal being “cut” or having an athlete’s body fat percentage, or the amount you choose to work out per day, or how much you just can’t get enough of lunges.
There are breakdowns. And comparisons. And a class count drops or a client drifts away and you think “I don’t look like so-and-so; I must not be the picture of fitness.” And similarly – the pressure we put on ourselves to maintain a certain aesthetic is absolutely nuts.
I am made like a woman. Jealousy is an ugly trait, but I am sometimes jealous I was not gifted my mother’s beautiful body type. Straighter and narrow and easy to define. I am a crooked sentence; I am a convoluted question mark. I am athletic yet you don’t see it everywhere. I have a chest that doesn’t accept more than 3/4 of the sports bras that are on the market. No matter what I do there will always be a tiny little bit of softness underneath my belly button and teeny dimpled valleys in my thighs.
I used to dread my morning classes because they meant I was still soft from a night of maybe a few drinks, or a late dinner still sitting in my stomach, or a bit of salt that still lingered in my heavy eyes and poofy body. I would dread these classes and I felt so guilty: here I was; I was supposed to be the professional. And when my body started to change from a wide-eyed lonely 19 year old with disordered eating tendencies into a healthier sassy post-college chick who would walk down Abbot Kinney in a sports bra and short-shorts into a strong woman with hips and thighs and curves and arms twice the size of her once wispy limbs I did not know what to do with myself. My professional self was becoming stronger and stronger, why did my physique not reflect that hard work?
Apparently, I do not have a “body type.” Because as it is dictated, I do not fit into any of the categories defined. I am curvy but not “hourglass.” I have a small back and long torso, and short muscular legs but am not “pear shaped.” When it comes to building muscle in my arms I DID get my mother’s genetics with that one (thanks Amy!), but in my darker moments they seem horribly misplaced on my narrow back.
And you know what?
I am no less good at my work because of it.
I love running; I love yoga. But I am too curvy to look like a runner and too obtuse to look like a yogi. Or so Runner’s World and Yoga Journal and the run clubs on Sunset Blvd say. There is a “look” associated with these (and other) activities. Which strikes me as odd, since these are apparently activities anyone can do.
So why is there this “Favorites” game that goes on in the fitness world, when we as leaders are supposed to be the ones that celebrate every shape and size and version of what strength can look like?
For these reasons and more, I refuse to write any piece that states “To look like This, do That.” Absolutely refuse. I feel a personal and professional responsibility to cancel this kind of work out of my editorial repertoire. Because every body is different and if I tell you what-to-do-to-look-like-that you will definitely-100%-NOT-look-like-that.
Let me tell you a little story. I have had the That. Those slim hips, those washboard abs. Could I do anything I can do now? A headstand in the middle of the room? 20 push-ups? A mother-effin’ proper plank? Ah-Nope. The “That” was the little 22 year old Katie who prided herself on being the image of fitness in her “group;” the one who was the example, the one who had her shit together. In their eyes, I was the queen of fitness and wellness. It was my happy place and my area of expertise. In reality, I was feeling so very alone on the inside, so much less talented than my prodigious musician friends, and my external show of “expertise” made me feel…well, it made me feel special. Really good at something.
Welp, I am a lot older now, and I don’t have that kind of physical definition any more. I just don’t. And a few years ago, when that physical shift started to happen – my first thought when seeing an old friend would be, “I hope they don’t think — wow — Katie’s become average.”
This is really, really messed up.
AND I WISH I COULD SAY I WAS A UNIQUE CASE, BUT I SEE THIS KIND OF FEAR ALL THE TIME.
I am not against having a ripped body, or physical goals. Really. I am not.
What I have a big problem with is using your external self to validate what a good. job. you are doing.
It’s so important for us to feel ourselves inside our bodies. It’s so important to not be able to do everything all of the time. It is so important to be in a room and know we are not the best nor worst but that we just Are. This is important for everyone – but for us, as leaders, it is absolutely vital.
Every time we get up in front of a class we have a choice: to cover up and feed the beast or strip down and take a baseball-bat swing to the mold. I say we choose to swing. I say we connect.
I am on a mission now, and it’s to feel my best in my core – no, not meaning in my abs or glutes – in my SOUL. And that is my mission in my classes, is to get others to tap into their unique power from the inside and not give a crap about what we’re gonna make their bodies Look like.
If I ever once tell anyone what their body will look like from taking a class of mine, please slap me. If I EVER tell anyone that a certain exercise will give you those “long lean legs you’ve always wanted” PLEASE call me out.
Because that girl in the corner who’s all torso, I will have not only just given her false hope, but I will have basically just said to her, “your body is not a success.”
Because that guy who feels less “macho” because he is 5’5 and has what’s been called “chicken legs” his entire life should not have to drive himself insane pumping up his biceps to prove he is strong and commanding.
Your body is a success right now, at this moment, exactly as it is. Your hard work will not manifest itself like anyone else’s. Forget about the external. It’s what we must say and what we must believe in ourselves. It is the example we must set.
What I am hoping happens in our community…is…I hope we become okay with not looking and sounding like something out of an anatomy book. I hope we become okay with admitting our struggles, both internal and external, with our classes and instead of covering them up with the muscular striation and spray-tanned biceps and stoic language we think are so indicative, we come clean and say, “I am just like you, so let’s go through this together.”
Be okay with opening yourself. Be okay with it all. I struggle too. I am scared, just like you. My insides are in hysterics, curled into a ball on the cold bathroom floor. The only difference between us? I am the one who has been unimaginably blessed with the opportunity, education, insight, and bravery to hold your hand and say, let’s walk through this together.
Bravery. Our job is to be brave. For ourselves, for others. Nothing more.
The body will follow.