The Power of Fitness

Posted by Ilya Parker on

When I talk about fitness I am specifically speaking about the way it is used as a tool of body regulation and conformity as fitness explicitly functions as a hinge between lifestyle and health. Through the lens of fitness there is a particular emphasis on body shape and size. The more adjacent a person is to thinness the more they are assumed to be of “good health” and "fit". Which in turn allows for them to be viewed as a successful, responsible and productive member of society. Whereas the larger a person’s body is (no matter the reason) they are often viewed as lazy, irresponsible, lacking discipline, unmotivated, unhealthy and unfit.

Although health is fleeting and requires permanent work without it ever definitively being achieved. Those who stop exercising or working on their fitness are collectively viewed by society as giving up on their health and therefore morally not a good human being. So while we don’t externally get forced into fitness unless we for example join a sports team or the military. Fitness does demand our participation through prescription and ostracism.

We even have “fitness trackers” that monitor our steps, sleep patterns, heart rate, the calories we eat etc. Making the goal of fitness intricately woven into the fabric of our daily lives and practically inescapable. This is why many of us feel compelled to workout and/or diet in some capacity. We also feel guilty about our lack of participating in fitness which causes us to explain (or "makes excuses") for why we chose to eat that extra piece of cake, why we can no longer fit those jeans from last year or the reason we took 6 months off from the gym.

Fitness creates the standard of what bodies are viewed as normal and what bodies are viewed as abnormal. Which in turn determines who society places value on and who is excluded/punished.

Through fitness people are blamed for not attaining and maintaining good health. The onus is placed on the individual and removes the responsibility from the environment, institutions, even racism which research shows actually has a greater impact on our health than diet and exercise (lifestyle factors) alone. This is why the diet industry is worth over 76 billion dollars because much of the companies actually capitalize off your failure and constant need to start over. Yo-Yo dieting (meaning engaging in behaviors that cause a cycle of gaining and losing weight is often more harmful to your body then maintaining a higher weight consistently)

Because individuals are blamed through the falsehood that their health is within their control. Those who don’t meet the standards of good health or “look” as if they don’t  (a person in a larger body) it’s easy for society to prevent them from receiving support.

Which is why statistics show that medical professionals consistently under-diagnose or misdiagnose patients in larger bodies because they are so hell bent on blaming everything on their size, even if they enter the hospital with a broken arm, body size will inevitably be the reason for their condition.

Folks in larger bodies and even people with disabilities have difficulty in finding the support they need through public accommodations. Like airplane seats that don’t fit, access to bathrooms, gym spaces, fitness equipment that supports a wheelchair user etc. It’s ultimately always up to the individual to be fit, productive, strong and non-disabled. 

I also highlight the power in fitness when I am referencing the current mainstream fitness industry and the fitness pros within the profession primarily in the United States. “Fitness” as an institution, industry and profession is inherently harmful to all types of bodies specifically: people in larger bodies (especially those who are super and infinifat *a person who is a size 6X or higher*, people who are disabled, (whether visible or invisible disabilities) queer/trans and gender expansive folks, people who lack access to cash and other resources, people who have chronic illness, who are neurodivergent and over the age of 65. The fitness industry as virtually all other institutions in the United States especially is founded in white supremacist ideals and inherently violent to BIPOC and all folks of the global majority.

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