The current climate in fitness is a culture of individual blame.
The idea that people are making excuses and if they really wanted to ‘change’, they could.
Instead of entertaining the possibly than some people’s circumstances present very real barriers and challenges that stop them from exercising or eating in a particular way.
While others benefit from resources and support systems which enable them to make exercise a priority.
We are lead to believe that if we work hard enough and if we want it enough and use our time ‘wisely’, that we can make our fitness goals a reality.
To back up this narrative, we often only hear about success stories. People who despite all the odds, worked hard to ‘make it happen’.
When the reality is, if someone was able to ‘beat the odds’, they probably had help.
Now, this isn’t to say that people don’t work hard. They do.
But what these stories often miss out is the recognition of support systems and resources that an individual has access to, things that other people don’t have access to.
It is so difficult to have this conversation because recognising privilege makes people seriously uncomfortable. It makes them defensive. Someone who genuinely believes that they are cut from a different cloth and worked hard despite adversity wouldn’t entertain the idea that they had some help because this threatens their self concept.
This is easier to understand with an example. Funnily enough, our example here is Gordon Ramsay.
A while back on Channel 4, a program called ‘Born Famous’ saw the children of celebrities go back to see how hard their parents had it growing up. One episode featured Gordon and his son Jack. Gordon grew up in less than ideal circumstances and the story he tells is one of hard work, grit and determination to get to where he is now as a celebrity chef.
In the episode Jack visits Gordon’s old stomping grounds, visiting the council flat he lived in and the college Gordon learnt his early cheffy skills (this is going somewhere I promise).
Jack is paired up with George, a homeless sofa surfing teen desperate to find a job.
Something Jack discovers early on is that council housing is not as readily available as it was back in Gordon’s day. While Gordon was able to get a flat at 16, choosing to move out of his family home, this same housing wasn’t afforded to George who was kicked out of his. Meaning he was left crashing on friend’s sofas and sometimes, out on the streets.
Jack also visited the youth centre, now closed, where Gordon had spent most of his childhood. Here Gordon was able to take part in sports and other activities and make community connections. Something that George also didn’t have access to. Even his admission to technical college at 19 had been sponsored by the Rotarians.
Do you see where this is going?
Upon his return home, Jack had already drawn up a few conclusions. That despite being hard working and ‘wanting it’, his new pal George didn’t have the same access and support networks that his dad had benefitted from all those years ago. Jack states that he didn’t think his dad would have the same success if he was in the same circumstances now.
Gordon, of course, is completely dismissive of this statement. According to him, he has got to where he is today because he worked for it. He believes that it was down to his sheer grit and determination and not his circumstances.
No one is denying that Gordon worked hard. He clearly did. He had less than ideal circumstances at his family home. But he still benefitted from community support systems and resources that other people don’t have access to. The colour of his skin probably afforded him many advantages as well.
We see this lack of acknowledgment for support systems and resources in the fitness industry too. The belief that some people just don’t want it enough, or aren’t using their time correctly or aren’t disciplined enough completely glosses over the fact that there are social systems in place that act as very real barriers to people implementing any kind of health promoting behaviour.
People who able to work out 5-6 times a week despite having families and full time careers often have the right circumstances. Whether this is being able to afford childcare so they can hit the gym or having a fully stocked gym in their garage, there is ALWAYS something that enables them to do it.
Fitness culture also confuses people as to what exercise ‘should’ look like. Perpetuating the belief that some forms of exercise are more superior to others or that it has to be done x amount of times to be effective.
Unless personal trainers deliberately choose to see every person as having their own unique set of circumstances, they will automatically default to the more privileged, dominant narrative. The Gordon narrative.
This is where blanket assumptions and judgements are made and the culture of blame continues.
As an individual, understanding your own unique set of circumstances is the only way you can decide what behaviours change might look like for you. That way, you can become aware of a wider range of solutions.
It doesn’t have to be a case of killing yourself to get up at 5am to fit it in or even going to the gym at all.
The goal isn’t more stress and exhaustion just to get yourself to the gym – that would be counterintuitive to your health. If anyone is making you feel that you should be doing that, perhaps consider their privilege in the conversation – then ditch them.
Before you go, I just want to let you know that I provide my brain dumping emails and blogs for free with no marketing ploys like *buy my work out plans* or *join my squad* etc but if you find this free content useful and you want to support me, you can find the paypal link to buy me a coffee anywhere on the right side of this website. Think of it as my own personal tip jar. If you do want to work with me, head to the personal training tab of this website or get in touch via the contact tab.