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Body Politics In The Fitness Industry
By The Editors
When you imagine exercising, does the thought make you shudder? With 93% of women saying they've experienced body shaming, that reaction isn't uncommon. Girls as young as nine years old already begin to control their bodies through extreme diets and exercise. But we don't have to hate our bodies! (And really shouldn't when they allow us to do so many incredible things.) We talked to a feminist wellness coach and instructor to get some insight into what body-positive exercise can look like.
Tiana Dottin, who's worked in New York City for the past seven years, encourages you to explore different kinds of movement but always listen to your body—no matter what anyone else says. Dottin brings a wealth of expertise to the conversation as a certified personal trainer, nutrition specialist, and orthopedic specialist with the American Council on Exercise. She is also a registered 200-hour yoga instructor with the Yoga Alliance, a certified boxing coach through Everybody Fights, and a certified life coach through the American Life Coach Academy.
Here's our Q&A with this smart and spunky dancer-turned-trainer:
What is your approach to personal training? Do you have a specific mantra or philosophy?
My approach to personal training is to make fitness accessible to each person's life. Everyone has different goals, lifestyles, and bodies, and often the fitness industry doesn't acknowledge that. I love making fitness work for everyone, whether your goal is to run a marathon, recover from injuries, manage chronic pain, play with your kids without getting winded, or walk up the stairs more easily. That's my mantra: Fitness for YOUR life.
What does being a feminist personal trainer mean to you?
Being a feminist trainer means focusing on self-love and empowerment. It means not assuming what someone's wellness goals are, acknowledging the different ways a body can be healthy, and letting someone set their own terms for each session. It means fighting against diet culture and the idea that food is the enemy. It means acknowledging that the BMI is bullshit, that someone's size doesn't indicate their health, and that socioeconomic factors often make wellness inaccessible. As a feminist trainer, I focus on the way all of these factors intersect and bring a compassionate, accessible element to training, focusing on supporting each person's journey wherever they may be.
How do you encourage body positivity?
I encourage body positivity by taking the focus off of weight loss or the number on a scale. I myself don't own a scale, and I encourage my clients to ditch theirs, too. I direct the focus of training more towards how someone feels, and on the incredible stuff the body is capable of. I love helping clients lift more weight than they ever thought they could, or get into an inversion or arm balance they never thought was accessible to them, or hit a new record time in their sprints. Every person's body has untapped power and potential, and harnessing that is so empowering.
What are stereotypes of personal trainers you hope to combat?
I hope to combat the stereotypes of trainers as drill sergeants, pushing someone past a limit they may not be ready to push past without bringing compassion into each session. There's this idea that every workout has to be 100%, that it's "no pain no gain," and that's just not true. Every day is different. Some days you may give 100%, some days maybe 50-60%, and sometimes just showing up is what matters. It all counts. I make sure to always adjust my plans to where my client is at and what they need that day. There's no point to pushing so hard that you get hurt, or to being a beast at 30 but with chronic pain at 40 because you didn't listen to your body or take care of yourself. The goal is longevity, to be moving well into old age. So I try to bring this mindset into all of my sessions.
There's also a lot of negative and obsessive behavior in the fitness industry, and I'm very outspoken about that. I know a lot of trainers and coaches who weigh their food on scales, who obsessively track their calories and macros, who work out hours and hours each day to the point that it's unhealthy. And they model this behavior to clients like it's normal and okay. It's not. Fitness should enhance your life, not become your entire life. Like, who cares if you have six pack abs if you're not enjoying your life? So I try to speak out against that kind of behavior, and model behavior that is more balanced and healthy.
What do you think are common misconceptions about personal training?
People often think of personal training as being rooted in hating something about yourself and wanting to change it. Working out is seen as something you have to suffer through in order to get the results you want. These thoughts are rooted in hate and misery, and I think that's a really toxic way to view training. Training should never come from a place of hate, but from a place of love. It's about loving yourself enough to treat yourself as something of value, to make sure the body you walk around in every day is able to move without pain, that your heart and bones and joints and cells are operating well. It should all be rooted in love for yourself. And this should influence how you work out. Find something that you love to do, that makes you happy and confident, and do that. Don't suffer through shit you hate. One type of workout is not for everyone. Maybe you like weights, or running, or walking, or dancing, or boxing. It's all valid!
What advice do you have for women who are hesitant to start training?
For women hesitant to start training, my advice is to take one step. It's cliché, but that first step is the most important. Gym culture can be intimidating and toxic, but that shouldn't keep you from movement. Reach out to a trainer and see if they will come to you home, or to a park or another environment that's more comfortable for you. Start with bodyweight exercises. Start by walking and stretching. When it comes to creating a movement based lifestyle, it's a marathon; not a sprint. So just start.
How can potential clients identify feminist personal trainers before they make a financial commitment?
Do some research to identify feminist personal trainers. Ask them questions about body politics, and ask for references. Most gyms and trainers will offer a free introductory session, so shop around. Don't be afraid to walk away if someone's energy doesn't vibe with what you're looking for. Explore other options, like online trainers that you may mesh with more. And if someone assumes you want to lose weight, or doesn't encourage you to listen to your body, or modify exercises as needed, walk away.
Anything you'd like to add?
You deserve to feel confident in your body. You deserve to move in a way that makes you feel good. Movement is for you. Wellness is for you. And you get define what that means for your life. You don't have to listen to someone else's standards, or avoid movement if you don't "live up to" those standards. Set your own terms. Make fitness work for your life.
Follow Tiana on Instagram @movewithtiana. She is available for online sessions and select classes at Zone Fitness Collective in Mexico starting later this spring. Learn more here.
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