So, yes, this is the place. Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be work. Yes, we will all make mistakes. And yet we need to speak up and speak out anyway. But how is it part of our job you ask? Let’s talk about it.
Think back to what brought you into this industry in the first place. After being in this field for decades and talking to hundreds if not thousands of fitness professionals along the way, I can pretty safely guess that there is a very impassioned reason why you chose this job or this job chose you. I say that because I know first hand that just wanting to bark orders and watch people sweat isn’t enough to endure this industry. And while we all may have different reasons, I can pretty safely say that our reasons tend to fall into one or more of these themes:
- We want to help people live healthier lives.
- We want to empower people to reach their full physical and/or emotional and spiritual potential.
- We want to empower people to become their best selves/live their best lives.
- We want to empower people to reach their goals.
In short? We want to empower people.
Say it again, out loud.
As fitness professionals, we are teachers, we are leaders, we are coaches, we are guides. People trust us with their bodies, their health, and their wellbeing. As part of a larger ecosystem of fitness and its umbrella wellness, we actively uphold, participate in, represent, and can shape the companies, gyms, studios, and brands that people also entrust with their bodies, health, and well-being. Bodies. Health. Well-being. Individually and collectively. Let that sink in.
To say that it isn’t our place to speak loudly and intentionally about the systems that harm people’s health, livelihoods, and lives, to stay silent, to stray from purposely and purposefully addressing our role is outright negligence. We are direct players and also representatives. We create and uphold the norms. We are the link between the clients/public and the larger ecosystem. And that system, like all others, is inherently oppressive.
If we are truly in this business to help people live healthier lives, we must recognize that living a healthier life necessarily means that you don’t walk around in fear for it, that you don’t bear the emotional brunt of continuous trauma, and that you don’t have to constantly advocate for your existence.
We must recognize that living to your fullest potential necessarily means you aren’t held down by systemic anti-Blackness at every step.
We must recognize that the concept of “your best life/self” is necessarily hamstrung in a racist society.
We must recognize that many of the goals our clients come to us seeking help reaching—particularly the body-specific ones (a sculpted bod, “gainz,” weight loss, et cetera) are not only created by the dominant white culture, but also shouldn’t take precedence over life that exists within those bodies.
Our industry is full of privilege—from how it came to be to how it’s run and who it serves. And we have the ability to change that. In fact, we have a responsibility to change that. This is everything from the clientele we serve to the gyms/studios where we choose to work to the way in which we hold those spaces accountable to being selective about any brands we partner with. And it has to be more than just a social media post or a donation, both for us as individuals and for the brands we work with. It is a commitment to consistently show up and stand up in places that we have, thus far, neglected to do so.
I’m not here to tell you exactly what to say or to teach you how to be anti-racist. That is not my lane, that is not my expertise. There are many, many amazing anti-racism teachers and resources out there (you can start here and here), and we should definitely seek out the experts and experienced advocates and learn from them.
I’m here to speak up in hopes that you might too. We cannot be silent. We cannot avoid the work. As trainers and instructors we are literally in the business of doing hard work. We are in the business of growth, empowerment, and behavior change. Helping people build strength is powerful; showing them you’re strong enough to put your privilege aside to stand up for them is even more so. Let’s get to work.