Friday, October 15, 2010

No Roll Model

I was on a phone session last week with a client on the West coast. We were talking about exercise and this client told me she hadn't been doing anything regularly for exercise until she found this class she loved. It was an interval class with spinning and weights taught by an “inspiring person.” While this client clearly liked the class and the teacher’s energy she explained to me that the teacher was extremely fit. The instructor’s physique was something to aspire to. We continued talking about lots of things but when we hung up I was stuck on this.

I cannot say, in my own life, I am very different from this client. I can recall a core fusion class I took last spring. I signed up for a class at a time I didn't usually exercise and walked to see an overweight instructor. I don’t remember the class, it may have been fine, but I remember thinking that I wasn’t inspired. I also remember giving myself a hard time about noticing the teacher’s size and objecting to it. In this case the person leading the class was significantly overweight. I’m not sure I would’ve recalled if the teacher was average size.

At work, my clients aren’t shy at all commenting about my appearance. Some clients look at me and ask if I’ve ever struggled with my weight, another recently asked “how do you run so much without losing weight, you must eat a lot!” I always joke that if I gained 20 pounds I would be out of a job…and there’s some truth to that but isn’t this sad? Many of us don’t analyze our doctor’s health habits or our shoe salesman’s shoes but we do judge a book by its cover when it comes to food and exercise.
Would you be as “inspired’ by an instructor who was overweight? Have you ever chosen a teacher, trainer or nutritionist based on size or physique? Do you feel this is normal or embarrassing?


  1. Great post, Lauren.

    This is something I struggle with every day: judgment, that is. I used to be 230 lbs - and now, as a 145 lb., 5'8" woman who is in great shape and worked her ass off (literally) for every (missing) inch of it, I find myself judging others who I think "Can totally do/be better."

    That said, while I feel that I am in the wrong for silently judging random people without knowing them or their struggles (I DO stop myself and say "c'mon Amy, you have no idea and no right to judge"), I feel I have every right to judge my trainer and my nutritionist.

    My trainer is a guy who doesn't flaunt his physique (doesn't wear tight clothing, and is not glamorous by any means) but what is immediately clear after one session with him is that he is an absolute GENIUS about exercise - I wish everybody could be trained by him. And occasionally, you notice out of the corner of your eye how HUGE his calf muscles are and you go "Yeah, I can image what's underneath that baggy shirt and shorts."

    Ultimately, if he couldn't execute flawlessly the moves he asks me to do, why would I want to work with him? If he was obviously overweight, I would spend my time wondering how he got the job. For the same reason, I wouldn't except my students to take me seriously if I typed an email to them in internet shorthand or commented on their papers in slang.

    I think it's just fine to expect expertise from someone who is supposed to help you attain that level (or even come close to it).

  2. Lauren, Such an important topic! I actually just "thanked" an instructor in a class I LOVE, because I can always count on her expertise and professionalism in the job she does. From the music she selects to the energy she brings to the exercise, she brings me to the next level and I'm inspired. I guess that's what I won't negotiate instructor can be a little rounder than me, built differently than me...but if they don't do their JOB - I won't be back. Same goes for the Doctors we see, or the electricians/Handy guys...I expect alot. (Wendy P)

  3. It's something to think about. I think that if there was an overweight instructor or personal trainer who was physically fit (which is possible, cardio, strength, etc) it could provide a less anxiety-inducing scenario for people who are in the same situation and show that "you CAN do it; perhaps they are somewhere in the middle of their own journey. People do come in different shapes and sizes and I dislike excuses like, "I'll start exercising once I lose another 5lbs."

    But, lately and quite often, I have noticed personal trainers at my gym who can't even get up the flight of stairs between floors without being out of breath. Or cannot perform the very exercises they are asking their clients to execute. This is completely unacceptable - it makes me wonder about their overall approach to health and fitness and certainly does not create an image of someone I would want to work with for my specific goals.

  4. All very good comments. Yes, we need someone qualified and good at what they do. Jenifer, I almost wrote about whether our weight influences what we expect in the weight/shape of our teachers. In my experience, I have found people are not necessarily more forgiving when they have more weight to lose. I always hope that when I sit down with a client and connect with them that size becomes secondary.

  5. Sadly, I do "judge a book by its cover." At least when it comes to personal trainers / instructors at the gym. I feel like if they are TEACHING me you should be in top form. I watch the instructors and have the "if I do what you do" mentality. I also feel like if you are a RD and you are over weight, your methods might not be the best approach... I am feeling guilty about this now. I realize there is a difference in being healthy and being skinny.

  6. Interesting so maybe a trainer/nutritionist's size is an indicator of their methods or results. If you think of it that way it seems less superficial.

  7. Yes, a trainer/nutritionist's size is definitely an indicator of their methods and how successful they truly are... good post

  8. Your post made me see that perhaps I judge people more than I'd realized. For example, I noticed on the first day of my daughter's school that her teacher had nails that were so bitten they were almost nonexistent and I noted it right away and not in a particularly positive way.

    I do look at salespeople's shoes, dentist's teeth, and if I go to the make-up counter and think the salesperson looks good in her make-up, I'm apt to buy things I wouldn't otherwise. I even pick up the products in the supermarket that are in the coolest packaging.

    It doesn't always mean that more "perfect" is better, however. I often see women who look fantastic and have neither a hair nor accesssory out of place and I find myself thinking I could never be friends with that person. It's not because they look bad, it is because they look too good. Oh my god, I am terrible.

    Oftentimes I think that the things we notice in other people are more a reflection of our own insecurities/imperfections rather than any real judgement on another person. I always notice people who look fantastic pregnant but in part that is because I felt so awful the whole time I was pregnant whereas one of my friends who has never been pregnant would not pay any attention whatsoever to a pregnant person and how she looked.

    Maybe it's a bad thing or maybe it's just a lesson to pay attention to how our exterior [appearance/demeanor] reflects our interior [positive and negative attributes].

    Headed out for a manicure in the morning......