Gym Face: Skin Shame In The Fitness Industry
There aren’t many more powerful places to shift people’s perceptions of their physicality than in the gym. It’s part of the reason fitness was so appealing to me when I first got started. I could give a shit about how many lunges you can do or if you can do them at all. I give lots of shits about your self-image.
As a leader in the space, it’s part of my job to model to you what’s called “good form.” Sure, this means I can show you how to do that proper lunge I don’t give a shit about. But more importantly, it also means I carry myself in a way I hope you’ll carry yourself too. With pride, empathy, and awareness – right down to the skin you’re in.
When I started teaching fitness classes, I was ashamed of my skin. I saw the people I admired in the industry in ads, on television, in magazines, and on social media, and I felt as if I didn’t look the part. I didn’t feel like I had the ideal body, the coolest clothes…and I most certainly did NOT have that silky-smooth skin I thought everyone else had.
And so I not only doubled down on my product use, I wore makeup to class to cover up my perceived flaws. Spoiler, wearing makeup while you sweat is a recipe for clogged pores and very unhappy skin. So obviously, it just got worse. Not to mention, I was a broke 20something to begin with, and trying to fix my insecurities just made me broker. I felt shame around my skin, I felt shame around the bank account I mismanaged in order to try and pay for the products I used to un-shame myself from my skin. There are a lot of myths around being “someone from Los Angeles”…but I can tell you the stereotype of aspirational skincare is very real. Not only could I not keep up with the facials, peels, and products I believed I needed, but I felt like a fitness industry failure for not looking like the perfect version of health.
It wasn’t until I read Adina Grigore’s book, Skin Cleanse, that I realized that the perfect skin is the skin you’re in. I’d been overloading my system with SO many products over the years and had been wearing so much foundation and concealer to literally mask my insecurities, that I didn’t even know what my skin’s natural M.O. was.
The second I stopped piling on the products and stopped wearing makeup to teach is the second I really truly found my voice and stepped up my game in the fitness world. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’d like to think it had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t covering anything up anymore, literally and figuratively.
I often think about the rise of body positivity in the fitness industry. Yes, it’s FAR from perfect, but it’s gotten so much better than when I started teaching over a decade ago. Body positivity is the norm not the exception, and the idea of working out for happiness, energy, and mental health is becoming way more mainstream.
But just like anything we spend our dollars on, fitness is an industry. An industry that all too often banks on us feeling bad in order to sell us feeling good.
I wonder, with the skincare industry being as huge as it is, and apps like FaceTune and Photoshop being as accessible and easy to use as they are…will the shape of our skin be the thing the industry banks on in order to keep us coming back?
Will “Perfect Skin” become the new “Perfect Body”?
Is Skin Positivity one of the final sneaky Body Positivity frontiers out there – too subtle to be addressed but obvious enough to make us feel badly about ourselves on the regular?
I don’t have control over an entire industry, but I have control over what I do on my own platforms, literal and figurative. I no longer wear any makeup to teach my classes or to workout on my own. I’m older now, so I’ve got a few fine lines and eye circles and hyperpigmentation.
But if I’m not accepting of myself, in the skin I’m in, how can I ever expect anyone else to be? I’m not in love with my skin all of the time, but I’m too committed to modeling “good form” to let it distract me.
If you’d have told teenage-me I’d willingly get in front of hundreds of people a week with a spotlight on my naked face, I would have shuddered. If you’d have told 14 year-old me I’d be spotlighted on The Cut (bare-faced, in a VIDEO) talking about my skin, I would have straight-up laughed in your face. But I’m so grateful to know my classes and managers don’t care, and so grateful to know there are highly visible pop-culture publications just as dedicated as I am to busting open the myth that the way your skin looks is some sort of indication of how fit you are.
Skin Shame and Skincare Privilege is a real thing – but I’m here to tell you that you do NOT need to spend a ton of money or have airbrushed-flawless skin to glow from the inside out. Take off the foundation. Let your pores breathe as deep as you breathe during a breathless push or a spinal twist. Model good form. Let’s break the skin shame together.