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Breaking the Stigma: Let's Make Fitness and Sports More Inclusive for Larger Bodies!



Over the weekend I realized something. I realized that a lot of folks that live in larger bodies are either fearful, intimated or just plain ol hate traditional forms of exercise. It made me really sad because those folks are missing out on so much joy and empowerment. Weightlifting has helped me accept my body and become more confident maneuvering through life. I want to share with folks how much traditional forms of movement can be so good for the soul. It has helped me deal with my personal trauma that I have endured through my fitness journey. Healing has taken many years but weightlifting has jump started my process even faster. Not only has it been good for my body, its been good for my ADHD brain. Lifting weights allows my brain and body to work together so I can feel like how a neurotypical person feels.


Based on my own experience, I feel like there's this myth going around that exercise is only for people who already look like they stepped out of a fitness magazine. I've had plenty of people tell me this, and it's not only wrong, but it's harmful. That being said, I get why folks who live in larger bodies are wary of gyms or fitness classes. I myself have experienced trauma in gym spaces, and it led me to create My JAMM and JIM. Movement spaces can be pretty intimidating, especially when you're scared of being singled out or made fun of. This fear makes perfect sense given how the fitness world can be pretty exclusive. People who are bigger often feel like they have to push themselves to keep up with everyone else, or even over-perform just to prove a point. It's like they're constantly having to justify being there in the first place. I just had to justify my lifts to some douche on the interwebs, which I kindly reminded him that I do have a public profile and he can look for himself! But that kind of pressure sucks! It's unfair stereotypes and expectations, and this can become a barrier for folks who want to begin their movement journey in movement or sport.

This is why we need to make fitness spaces more welcoming for everyone, regardless of their size. We need a place where people can work out without feeling judged or out of place. A place where being active is seen as a journey we're all on together, not a competition. In this kind of environment, everyone can feel encouraged to try new things, push their boundaries, and change the way they see their own bodies.


But why does this stigma exist? And how do we combat it? How do we get straight sized allies to speak up for us?


The fitness industry often caters to a specific body type, presenting it as the "ideal." This message is reinforced through social media, magazines, and advertisements, while brands contribute to the problem by offering limited sizes and claiming there is no demand for more inclusive options. However, in reality, there is a demand for such options. Many individuals, including myself, want to try new sports but struggle to find appropriate gear. The only choices available are often men's sizing, which can be ill-fitting and unsafe, or expensive custom-made options. While custom gear is great, not everyone can afford it. This issue persists, leaving individuals with larger bodies feeling excluded and unwelcome in fitness and sports spaces. The industry's narrow focus on weight loss and body transformation, prioritizing thinness over the true benefits of exercise and sport, perpetuates this stigma. Additionally, activities like cycling, hockey, and kayaking can be challenging and uncomfortable for larger body individuals due to the lack of gear designed for them, reinforcing the message of "You don't belong here." Consequently, this leads to feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness, hindering their ability to fully enjoy their chosen sport or movement.


However, it's essential to recognize that movement and sport has no specific size or shape. We need to raise awareness about the fact that sport and fitness are accessible to everyone, irrespective of their size. We need to create more inclusive fitness spaces that prioritize body liberation and acceptance. Rather than focusing on weight loss, the focus should be shifted to how movement makes your body feel. We should also celebrate diverse body types and showcase them in the media and brands. I don't know how many times I've been told seeing bodies like theirs influenced their choice to start their movement journey. Another way to make fitness more accessible and inclusive is to create safe and welcoming spaces that prioritize respect and kindness. Fitness spaces should be free of judgment and derogatory comments, and every individual should be treated with dignity and autonomy. We can create an inclusive and supportive fitness environment by educating trainers and instructors and providing resources for larger body folks. Larger body folks often fear mockery and rejection due to stereotypes attached to them, leading to uncomfortability and stress in fitness settings. Creating specialized training and providing a safe and inclusive environment, from hiring of trainers and the availability of large body equipment, will increase and attract the number of people with larger bodies who will be confident in using these facilities.


By doing these, larger bodies will have a trusted and safe process. Weightlifting and circuit training are also suitable forms of exercise for individuals with larger bodies, which is hard to believe is true. Weightlifting is a form of exercise that can be beneficial to people of all body types, including those with larger bodies. It allows for the development of body autonomy by offering individuals the ability to shape their own fitness journeys, tailored to their unique strengths and capabilities. As one lifts weights, they gradually build muscle mass and strength, fostering a sense of accomplishment and trust in their bodies' abilities. The empowering nature of weightlifting can lead to a positive shift in one's body image, encouraging acceptance and respect for one's body as it is. This, in turn, can result in deepened body trust, as individuals learn to honor their body's capabilities and potential, rather than focusing solely on its appearance.


To render support to plus size folks, straight-sized allies can take steps to be more inclusive and vocal in their support. This could be anything from sharing plus-size workout classes and trainers on their social media platforms, challenging fatphobic comments, to advocating for size-inclusive gym wear. Allies can also stand up for plus size individuals when they see or hear judgment or discrimination, making fitness spaces more welcoming and inclusive. After all, everyone has the right to engage in fitness and sport without feeling marginalized or ostracized.


It's time to challenge the harmful stereotypes surrounding fitness and larger body folks. The key is to make exercise and gear more inclusive, accessible, and safe. We need to shift the focus from weight loss and body transformation to how movement and sport makes us feel and that all bodies belong. By creating more inclusive fitness spaces and sports, promoting diverse body types, and showcasing the benefits of alternative forms of movement and sport, we can make fitness more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their size. Together, we can break the stigma and create a new narrative of inclusivity and acceptance within the fitness and sport industry.

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