Many years ago I went home disheartened because I ran into the wrong trainer. You see, I was overweight, packing 109 kilos and, like so many women I’ve interviewed for Women’s Health weight loss stories, I’d had enough. I was not after a bikini body. I just wanted to be able to move easier, to feel better. I didn’t want my weight to hold me back. My biggest push was that I wanted to be able to bend down and tie my shoe laces. At that weight I couldn’t. I chose boxing as my exercise.
I Didn’t Know I Was Also Signing Up For Bullying
I was met with a high-school-clique meanness from one of the trainers. This guy was the WORST. All caps. He would harp on about how much extra hard I have to work. Because I’m big. He would tell me that I’m lazy. Because I’m big. Working at Women’s Health, I told my then fitness editor about my experience. She said I should switch gyms and insisted I carry on with my weight-loss journey elsewhere. I did. And went on to meet the best trainer and lose 20 kilos.
Different Gym, Same BS
I never gave the WORST another thought until today. I stumbled on another trainer who had plenty more to say. Now, this guy, mind you, is not even MY trainer. He’s just a random PT at the gym, who goes around chirping at women. Black women. Overweight black women. Me. Asking me if I’m cheating, how long I’ve been skipping for, why I’m late.
And it’s not just me. The same kind of BS happened to a friend of mine recently. She’s trying to slim down. More than that, she’s trying find somewhere to exhale from the stress of life. One trainer came to her after a group class and said, “you need help – you could have a better body”. I’m still trying to wrack my brain how that could ever be a constructive comment to anyone.
Gyms are supposed to be a safe space where you can meet yourself. Be honest with yourself. Where you want to change yourself. Gym is where you are raw and vulnerable. Where you test what you can do and what you’re made of. The trainer-client relationship surpasses business. It’s sacrosanct. If it were only about gym fees, it would be easy just to accept that you aren’t a match and move on.
But when a woman stands in front of a personal trainer she is putting her insecurities and body in that person’s hands. She’s trusting that trainer to help her be her best self. So when a trainer breaks that trust (or if the gym does so by virtue of the company of trainers they keep) they’re effectively denying that woman a healthy self. They’re denying her access to fitness!
Don’t Assume Big Women Need Encouragement
Now we’re often quick to say, “you mustn’t let this affect you” or, “I’m sure the trainer didn’t mean it like that”. But that’s a cop out. We cannot pussy foot around bad trainers. I’ve had enough of these comments and attitudes towards women (especially big women) training in gyms. Our message surrounding big women’s bodies needs some redefining. Many women over the years have told me they don’t go to gym because they feel as if they’re being watched and they don’t want to be noticed. It seems that may not just be self-conscious paranoia after all.
Even the “compliments” and “encouragements” that are seemingly the reserve of big women are rubbish. Especially considering that the same attention isn’t given to svelte women (OR MEN) using the same machines. Don’t assume big women need encouragement. They are not, by virtue of their size, newcomers to gym.
Exercise Your Right To Walk Away
I wrote a story once on exercising caution with personal trainers. A story about bad personal trainers. It was a while ago but, seemingly, it’s still relevant. In it, I said:
“While we’re quick to pen a strongly-worded status update naming and shaming the staff at Home Affairs/the traffic department/our local supermarket, not one of the women interviewed for this story was prepared to use her real name, in case word got back to her trainer. But what we forget is that they wouldn’t be training if we weren’t paying – the power actually lies with the client. ‘The gym is a metaphorical mirror to our own insecurities and inadequacies,’ says Joburg-based clinical psychologist Liane Lurie. ‘We are intimidated because we allow ourselves to be. We forget about the courage it took to put on those tights in the first place.’ So if your relationship with your trainer does break down, for whatever reason, exercise your right to walk away.” We have the right to train in spaces that don’t break us but instead build us up.
Not Today, Buddy
As for me and this latest gym bully? I’m not sure if it’s age or my will to change my body, but this time I wasn’t having it. I clapped back at the guy. I told him that he’s not my trainer, nor my friend and therefore his comments are inappropriate. He said he’d been joking and that he was sorry. I still left the gym seething – if he was “joking” about the weather or something fine; why place an eye on me? – but I felt good that I didn’t let a bully get in the way of my health and fitness.
I want women to know that you don’t have to let bad trainers end your fitness journey. For every bully, there are so many good trainers out there who will push you in a healthy, positive way and empower you to achieve things you never imagined. After leaving that first gym, I found other trainers – good, professional coaches – who showed me how to be my best: Nicholas Caracandas, from Top Shape Training, helped me shift major kilos the first time – and ended up being a friend. Richard-Dean Sumares, from Crawl Project, who showed me that you can do anything with your body. Lezandre Wolmarans, from, Sports Science Institute of South Africa, who taught me it’s never too late to learn a new discipline (swimming in my case). Peter Oliver, from Roark Gyms, who helped me get over my hang ups about what I can or can not do. And Cecil Maluleke, from Unchained Boxing & Fitness who has recently been pushing me to the max with my current fitness challenge; who is not judging a book by it’s cover, but rather seeing my will and determination.