I was enjoying this interview with Johnny B. Truant, when a particular statement made me gasp in disgust. Talking about people who complain about their fitness level, but aren’t working to change it, he remarked that “you’re fat because you choose to be fat.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When did that kind of condescention become acceptable?
Now, I don’t mean to single poor Johnny out. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in the fitness community for years and, to a degree, he’s correct. It takes real, difficult work to transform your body, and some people just refuse to put it in.
For reference, this entire discussion absolutely excludes those individuals with real, serious medical or genetic conditions which prevent weight loss, or make it otherwise inadvisable. Some people try very hard to get fit and lose weight with little to no success due to pre-existing conditions. If you’re in this group, ignore everyone else. Your perseverence makes you a success in my book.
So, if he’s right, why am I so appalled?
I’m appalled because here we have a prominent voice in the online world – a guy whose entire job revolves around converting people to his way of thinking – making a statement that actively damages the perception of the fitness community. But it’s slightly more than that.
Are you the shepherd of your flock, or are you a wolf?
As fitness professionals, and even casual participants, our goal is to bring as many people as possible into the fold. You can’t accomplish that with damaging, hurtful, exclusionary statements like the one above.
For the not-yet-fit, fitness can seem an impenetrable fortress – large, imposing, and designed to keep people out. It’s your job to help break down those walls and help those who want to cross into fitness.
Sure, when it comes to conversion, there are some people you’ll never reach.
Instead, focus on the ones you can reach. Focus on the people who want to be fit, but are scared or don’t know how to begin.
Imagine the following exchange (based on real exchanges I’ve had):
You: You’re in such good shape. I wish I could be in better shape.
Me: You could be! I can take you through some run-walks if you’d like. Show you how to get started.
You: Oh, no! I can’t run. (Or, I don’t like running. Or, I don’t know how to run)
If the next thing I say is, “Fine, but remember, you’re fat because you’re choosing to be,” what is the likely outcome of that exchange?
If I’m lucky, you might just walk away. If I’m not, you’ll have some choice four-letter words for me before you do. And, in either case, I’ve lost a chance to bring you into the fold.
What if, instead, I’d said something like, “Why do you feel like you can’t run?” It shows that I care, and that I’m interested in seeing you succeed. Most importantly, it leaves the dialog open, giving you a little more time to slip through the fortress gate.
Like it or not, you are your sport’s ambassador. The things you do and say can either make people feel welcome, or drive them away.
Have you ever dealt with someone who made you feel unwelcome in their sport? Have you ever had someone drive you away from something you wanted, but didn’t know how to get? If you’ve dealt with these personalities before, you know how damaging it can be.
Well, folks, change starts here! Take this post and share it, tweet it, digg it. Spread the word that it’s time to be better ambassadors.
Remember, change starts with you.