"Sexy" Is Not The Goal of Fitness
I was in my early 20's when I first realized that my body was being used as a weapon to hurt and control other women. Well, I was in my early 20's when I felt like something was wrong, but it wasn't clear what or why. I was teaching step-aerobics at the local Y (mixed tapes, puffy Reebok high-tops, the works,) and one of the women in my class came up to me afterwards. She was probably the same age that I am now, early 50's, and her body probably looked a lot like mine does now. She said "what do I have to do to look like you?"
I was too young and too stunned to ramble off anything really intelligent. I just sort of looked at her, smiled and said, "have my exact DNA and be 23 years old."
As I've gotten older, I realized how devastating her question is, and what a horrific admonition it is. My body was serving as nothing more than an example of how "wrong" her body was. She wanted to be me. Because society had told her that being "old," and having body fat was bad. Needless to say, that no longer seems old to me. But society's fixation on "young" is clearer than ever .
Fast forward a million years to my early 40's, newly divorced and dating. Thanks to a balanced diet of grief, anger, rage, and adderall, served up on a stylish setting of fear and insecurity, I happened to once again have that skinny body that I had been taught would somehow make me happy and worthy. (It did neither.) I had just ended a relationship with someone who constantly told me I wasn't good enough, at anything. (Not my ex husband, he was, and is, a total sweetheart who would never say that to anyone.) I was at the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival with friends. I was wearing a rather fantastic outfit that involved hotpants, a corset, a collar and sort of lace-up chaps all of which I had made using an old pink leather jacket. Needless to say, there wasn't a whole lot of fabric covering anything up. (What can I say? I'm crafty as fuck and I love a costumed theme!) One of my friends was trying to make me feel better, which I appreciate. For that reason, at one point, she looked at this guy near us and said "can you even believe how hot she is?" gesturing towards me. He shrugged. "Meh," he said, "I like a woman with more meat on her bones." And, as if on cue, his partner came back and hugged him, spilling out of a corset, she was twice my size and over flowing with a vibrancy that I could not have even painted on convincingly. His words were in no way performative for her, it was clear that there was no way he would be interested in me. I was not his type.
It was beautiful.
That rebuff filled me with a deep joy that I've never lost. Because it speaks of something essential to understanding not only the healthy diversity of the human body, but the abundant diversity of desire. There is no one right way to look. There is no single ideal of sexy. There is, as my imaginary grandma always said, "a lid for every pot." There is abundance in diversity.
Many pots. Many lids. Many possible combinations that fit.
This probably seems like an odd thing to put on a blog for a gym. But, those two stories, while seemingly personal and unrelated, inform everything I try to do at Rocket. They are why I push back so very hard when I see other fitness professionals post body-shaming garbage that push harmful ideals about gender, beauty, age and sexiness. Worse, that somehow conflate those things with health. Those things seep into people's minds, insidiously, and are as hard to get rid of as any mold. They stop people from loving themselves. I often say to people "treat yourself like you'd treat someone you love." And I mean it. But when society keeps telling you that you're not worthy of love, that's really hard to do.
People come into our gym saying things like "I just want to be the same size I was....." in college, or before kids, or when I got married, or.... But that's not how time works. Time goes in one direction, and the luckiest amongst us get to keep going in that direction for a very long time.
The mythology of eternal youth is as old as the written word, probably older. What might have once been rooted just in the fear of the unknown or of being forgotten has morphed into a pernicious lie that aging is bad. AGING IS NOT BAD. It's glorious, actually. (It's what has allowed me to knock on 50's door and realize that I don't have a single fuck to give for the opinions of strangers about my body, my behavior or anything else. I wish I could have turned 50 about 30 years ago!) So I always tell people that I can't return their bodies, or anything else, to some state of youth long gone, but I can work to make sure they age as with as much strength and independence as possible! Likewise the myth of skinny. It's just not a thing, as I've discussed so often that it's almost silly to keep restating it. Our bodies are so diverse, there is no set size for happy or healthy. My only questions are about if your body enables you to do the things that bring you joy. That's my only goal.
But also baked into all this is the idea of "sexy." Sexy is marketed to us as if not only is it a thing we must be, but as if there is yet another universal standard. A local gym recently got themselves in no end of social media hot water when their owner ran an ad, targeted at moms, stating now that school was in session, she could help moms become "sexy and badass." As one might expect, that did not go over well. For SO MANY REASONS.
Those reasons merit discussion. First, you just told a whole lot of people that "sexy" is the goal of their bodies, while also telling them they aren't "sexy.". That's different from sex, which is natural and fun and yes, if you like sex you should for sure be able to have all the great, consensual sex in the world. But that's not what "sexy" is. As marketed, "sexy" is a thing that says your body's job is to inspire sex in other people, as opposed to a relationship with your people inspiring shared sexy times. It implies that you have to look a certain way, as defined by someone other than you, in order to be worthy of "sexy." And that is just plain bullshit.
Then, add it to the insane idea of "getting your body back" after giving birth. I will stone-cold block anyone who perpetuates that idea. It's not a thing. Even if you look the same, you are not the same. And not everyone can look the same again. Time does not go backwards, and neither does your body. Stop spreading this idea.
Especially when you couple that idea with "thin" and "muscular" and "toned" and...... No. Sex is a fun thing you do with your body. "Sexy" is a trap. (I would note, also, that if you attach "sexy" to a particular shape and size, that makes aging all the harder. Because I'm here' to tell you that 50 year-old sexy times are just as fun, but they're not as "thin.")
Secondly, back to that night at the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival..... After you're done telling people they can't be sexy and fat (or parents, or older,) (WHICH IS OH MY GOD SUCH BULLSHIT) you also tell a whole lot of people they are bad for finding "those" people sexy. NO. The amount of shame people carry around for not looking like magazines to tell them to likely pales in comparison to the shame carried around for not being attracted to who they should be, or for wanting to have sex that doesn't look like we're told it should. (That's something I've spoken about before, like in this TEDx talk.) Stop it. NOW. No matter who you are, you do not get to judge the sexiness or sexy times of people you are not having sex with. You shouldn't even be concerned with it, frankly. Our society could do with a whole lot less of that.
It is not my place to look at you and decide you aren't sexy, for any reason.
Bringing the idea of "sexy" into your gym is creating a non-consensual sexual experience for everyone there. If you stand in front of a room talking about what you find "Sexy," you have just discussed your sex life and sexual proclivities with a whole lot of people who probably didn't ask for that. They didn't ask to hear it, they didn't ask to picture it, they didn't ask to constantly evaluate whether or not they are part of your sexy thoughts. Don't do it. Period.
Then, all of it ties into a toxic bundle of gender norms that are proving increasingly useless. They are wrapped into ideas of what "real men" and "real women" look like. When we focus on those things, we hurt people. Not just people who aren't on the binary, but people who, for whatever reason, don't look like models. Which is, to be clear, most of us.
As fitness professionals, we need to be working to help people unlearn the toxic messages about their bodies. The messages that say aging is bad. The messages that say we have to all be shaped the same. The messages that say our bodies need to conform to outside expectations of others rather then embody our own manifest joy and power. The message that they have to be the best in order to be worthy. Maybe even learn some boundaries about whose sex life is any of our business. (Spoiler: no one's.)
All of it. It's all toxic.
Let's be better than that. (I say that a lot, don't I?)
Let's feel better. THAT is the point.