Sell Joy, Not Abs
Please, for the love of all thing swoley, can we please stop doing this shit. Please?!?!
What shit, you might ask? This inane post about "summer ready," and "focused on aesthetics." It was posted in a Facebook group for people who own gyms the other day, and, just...... no. People, this is everything wrong with the fitness industry.
It's a lie. It's not healthy. It's really bad for business. And honestly, I really just want us all to be better than this.
I read it yesterday when it was posted, and it just simmered in the background for me. I knew I wanted to say something, but I didn't know what, until I was talking to Joy and Claire on their Girls Gone WOD podcast today.
The obvious reasons are obvious though, right? "Summer body." That is LITERALLY just any body that exists in the summer time. (Which we aren't having in Seattle this year, but I'm not bitter.) The coded message here, though, is "skinny," "toned," or "not fat oh my god how can you be seen in a bikini with stretch marks?"
At least this person is clear that they're focused on aesthetics, and don't seem to be conflating that with fitness. I guess, "yay."
But can we get this straight, once and for all: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE SKINNY! More than that: NOT EVERYONE CAN BE SKINNY. Stop pretending that skinny matters, and that it can be attained. It makes me crazy, really. Like, we can accept that some people are 4' 10" while some are 6' 10". Some have fair skin, some dark. Blue eyes, or brown. Curly hair or straight. Some of us have perfect pitch and others can throw a fast pitch. We can accept that our species has massive variety of all sorts, except how we carry body fat. We're all supposed to be skinny. That is the ONE way that this diverse species is all identical. Give me a break, that makes no damned sense.
So if you're running a gym, and selling this idea of "skinny" (or "summer body") than you are either a stone-cold liar or a complete idiot. Or both.
In trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think "maybe they're just trying to attract clients, they have a business to run too."
So let me explain why this is bad business.
When we sell people on the idea that they can - and should - achieve a standard idea of beauty, we are selling them a lie. Something they can never achieve. Yes, the entire beauty industry is built on that. The beauty industry is sold on the singular idea of "youthfulness." The lie that we can somehow stop time. Worse, the lie that aging is bad. That age is ugly and unattractive. A lie that too many people have internalized and believe, spending billions of dollars on toxic products to fight time and physics. (Spoiler alert: you can't.) So in addition to failing, they feel bad because they are becoming a thing we've all been told is horrible.
This is a paradigm that is built on "negging." On feeding a steady diet of failure to someone so that they feel insecure and you can present yourself as the solution. As long as they never actually succeed, they will need you forever. This is an actual business strategy, I get it. But it's a bad one. (It's also a relationship strategy. A really really bad one.)
Why? because ultimately, people leave things that make them feel like shit, and seek comfort in things that make them feel good. When that eye-cream turns out to not be made of magic, they'll choose another eye-cream. If you lure someone into your gym telling them that you'll get them 6-pack abs, when it doesn't work, they'll feel terrible about themselves, and you'll lose a client. (As you should.) Be a place that builds people up, makes them feel good about themselves in a way that is sustainable. Relationships that make people feel bad don't last. If you're a business, that relationship is also your revenue. Importantly, it's also not healthy. People will do unhealthy things to their body in order to look a certain way, that may not be natural for them. I can't make myself waif-like any more than I can make myself tall. But I can starve myself in pursuit of it, and that is the opposite of healthy. That's why it can be literally dangerous to sell this particular lie.
If y'all know anything about Rocket, you know that we never talk about body shape and size. We don't talk about things like "hot" or "sexy" or fucking "bikini body." Ever. We talk about DOING things. And FEELING things. What are things that make you happy? That you want to do that you can't do now? Let's work towards doing those things. We'll set goals that will get you there, and when we do, not only will you get there, but you'll get that powerful feeling that you can succeed. That you can do things.
What did we sell you? Joy and Power. There is no way to be healthy and truly control what your body looks like. I mean, broad strokes, sure. But.... When I do our beginner classes I always tell people that we'll work on getting you strong and healthy, and your body will show you what it looks like. From there, it's up to you to accept it.
And to use it. Joyfully. Powerfully. If you come to me and tell me that your goal is to play soccer with your kids, I'll get you there, and you'll feel powerful and filled with joy on the field with them. I don't know what size you'll be, but you'll be both happier and healthier. That's what we sell.
If you want a summer body, go somewhere where they have summer, strip down and feel the sun on your belly. As for what to name that class? I dunno, how about just not. How about we be better than the beauty industry. It seems like such a low bar, we can do that.
(Not for nothing, this is some of what we talk about in my Inclusive Coaching workshop. One small part of what we talk about.) (With less swearing.) (Or maybe more swearing.)