“How do you start a revolution, Lori?”
This was the question that appeared softly and somewhat unexpectedly in my mind several weeks ago as I navigated the experience I am about to share with you.
The following “call to action” email showed up in my inbox after I had been investigating a local martial arts facility’s introductory kickboxing program. After landing on the program’s sales page, I was immediately disenchanted. What I had believed to be an exercise program teaching various martial arts techniques was instead being marketed to me as a “Rapid Fat Loss Program” with body shaming manipulation tactics sitting front and center. Normally in a situation such as this, I would have simply taken my disappointment, grabbed my boxing gloves and purchased a heavy bag to set up in my basement.
Then this email showed up.
And after reading it came strong emotions and the question,
“How do you start a revolution, Lori?”
Subject: Really? I mean…really!!
Call me crazy, but I’m a little surprised you still haven’t taken me up on this incredible offer for my rapid weight loss program:
21 Day Fat Furnace
If you really want to get lean, tight & toned fast (and I’m guessing you do or you wouldn’t have even visited my site), then this is the ideal first step.
Remember, not only will it help you sculpt a flat sexy belly incredibly fast but it will also give you the momentum you desperately need to easily slide back into your skinny jeans in no time
So DO IT NOW before it gets lost in the shuffle of life. :)
This kind of fitness industry mentality and marketing is one of the fundamental reasons why I have mostly worked out in my home and on my own for the past few years rather than in a gym or class setting. After escaping a decade and a half long eating and exercise disorder, I now know what a truly healthy relationship with exercise feels like and I also know what it is to love and accept my body whether it’s fit or not. I am no longer willing to participate in programs that do not support and encourage, women in particular, to treat themselves and their bodies with the utmost compassion.
So the answer to my question comes.
You start a revolution by using your voice. You start a revolution by setting up the boxing ring not in your basement, Lori, but in the front yards of those leading the charge in a fractured system. It is time, with all I have learned and the awakening I have had to the insidious nature of gender based shame within the fitness community to say,
“This does not work for me and here’s why”
So here is my response....
Dear Gym owner,
Several weeks ago I saw an advertisement on Facebook announcing your martial arts facility opening up in my area. I was excited! I’ve done a bit of kickboxing in the past and I LOVE the way it makes me feel. From wrapping my hands like a pro and sliding them into my gloves to hitting the bags with jabs, hooks and roundhouse kicks, this has always been a form of exercise that brings my body great joy. In short, I was stoked to give your classes a try.
That was, until I went to your sign-up page. Sadly, rather than finding information there about the benefits of kickboxing as an amazing and empowering workout or testimonials about the inspirational nature of your instruction, I was instead assaulted with a “21 day Rapid Fat Loss Program” complete with body shaming copy such as continues in the follow up email you sent above.
I understand that this kind of marketing is commonplace across so many industries and I also know that you have likely been taught that in order to create higher volumes of sales conversions for your business you are right on point in speaking to your customer’s supposed “pain” in this way.
I want to tell you that it sucks.
It sucks that as a woman, I am continually being told the story that changing the size and shape of my body is the primary reason I should be motivated to exercise. It sucks that the fitness industry and the media in general are constantly telling me through both direct and indirect language and images that my body is somehow wrong. It sucks that you, as a supposed fitness ambassador, are purposefully attempting to invoke within me the absolute worst feeling emotion there is, that of shame, in order to sell me your services. And worst of all, it sucks that there are still SO many women who will respond to these despicable marketing tactics by believing the lie that they must have that “flat sexy belly” you so aptly highlight in order to be considered an acceptable and worthy human being.
You make a lot of assumptions about me in this email. None of which are true and none of which compel me whatsoever to give you my business. Allow me to take a moment to shed some light on just how these marketing strategies contribute to the oppressive and sexist narrative that lies at the intersection of fitness culture and women’s bodies.
I dislike and am looking to change my body. As crazy as it may sound, I actually believe my body is beautiful exactly as it is. This includes the times when it’s running fast and doing push ups on the regular as well as the times it’s content being more sedentary and several “skinny jean” sizes larger. Let me ask you, would it not be incredibly satisfying to contribute to a movement that allows more women in the world to feel this way? As a fitness leader, you have the power to do that.
I exercise to lose weight. Through the journey of healing a distorted body image and exercise addiction, I happened upon the secret to creating effortless and consistent exercise. SURPRISE! It has absolutely nothing to do with weight, body shape or size or even health. The secret is actually PLEASURE (with a side of presence). Finding the pleasure in movement has, for me, superceded the need to invoke weight loss as the deity of motivation. In fact, the aesthetics of my body and my constant displeasure with it actually proved to be the biggest road block in creating a functional and non-disordered exercise practice. In other words, trying to lose weight through exercise actually impeded my body’s desire to get to it’s natural weight and shape.
Shaming my body will motivate me to exercise (and also to sign up for your classes).
I wonder, would you send this same email to an interested male participant? Is he also “desperate to slide back into his skinny jeans”? I am so much more than my physical form and I ask that you treat me that way. Becoming cognizant of and choosing to rise above the use of language that degrades my body as a female is one of the biggest keys the fitness industry has to unlocking true acceptance and healing for generations of women.
There is a better way to do this; to spread the joy of exercise and to invite more people to experience the pleasure of movement. And it’s a way that not only can build your business into a success but also exudes integrity and raises up the industry and the human species as a whole. It’s time for the fitness industry to evolve and I am asking you to be a part of the evolution.
Stop shaming my body.
Instead, tell me the story of what inspired you to create this martial arts community. Describe to me the feeling you had when you first stepped into the ring to spar with an opponent. Talk to me about passion and purpose and how this sport has contributed to the fabric of your life. This is what moves me to want to work with you. And this is the ace marketing plan that will inspire love affairs with movement in lasting and truly connected ways.
The Meaningful Movement Project
Lori Race is a healer, health clinic owner and writer with a passionate message to share from her past as a fitness instructor suffering from compulsive exercise disorder.