The New Year brings with it so many things: A clean slate, hope for the future, and resolutions. New year, new me! You know the drill: Working out, eating better, and losing weight in general are almost always listed within the top 10 — and the fitness industry knows it. Fitness instructors and centers push this rhetoric hard in late December or early January, often leaning into body shaming to get people off the couch and into the gym.
But no matter how you look at it? Fat-shaming sucks. And we shouldn’t have to put up with it.
Last year, as 2019 approached, I was a member of a popular mixed martial arts school. I’ve struggled with body image and eating disorders for much of my life and was just looking for a healthy way to work off some stress and stay healthy. I got that — but not without a heaping dose of shame at each workout. Especially ahead of the New Year.
“Just imagine how good you’ll look in June when everyone who gave up on their New Year’s resolution is laying on the beach,” my instructor would shout. “Don’t quit. Unless you want to be fat come summer.”
He was using the people who joined the school in those early days of the year, many of whom quit after just a few classes, as some bizarre form of shame-fuel to keep everyone who was their going. “You saw her—she needs to be here more than any of you and she couldn’t hack it. Do you want to be like that? Keep pushing.”
At first, I brushed it off, as I’m sure a lot of well-meaning gym goers do when they hear fitness instructors not-so-subtly fat shaming. It’s a motivation tactic. A lot of people do want to look good (which they think means looking skinny) come summer, and resolved to do so when the clock struck midnight on January 1.
But as time wore on, and the shaming continued, I found myself obsessing over it and fell into old habits. It’s not uncommon. It’s like being a chubby kid on the playground all over again. The words seep into your brain and play on loop until you start to see yourself that way: fat, lazy, not good enough as you are.
The fact of the matter is, while this tactic is common, it’s not necessarily effective at keeping people “on track,” whatever that means. Weight loss may be one of the most popular resolutions, but it’s also one of the most commonly broken ones. Fat shaming is just bullying in sheep’s clothing. It’s meant to come off as caring — like fitness instructors just want you to be your best, healthiest self. In reality, gyms just want money and they’ll go as far as they have to to keep people in there.
Don’t give in to it. It’s a new year and a new decade. Skip the superficial resolutions and focus, instead, on something more meaningful. Hit back at fat-shamers. And if you do want to step up your gym time in 2020? That’s totally fine too. But resolve to do it for your health and to love the skin you’re in, imperfections and all, rather than just to change it for the comfort of others.