I became professionally committed to weight neutrality in 2017. But last year, I took a leap back into mainstream fitness culture when I went to work for a well-known community health fitness organization. I was open about my weight-neutral, body-liberation oriented approach through the hiring process. I continued to be open about my commitment to weight neutrality and body liberation as I quickly made the climb into a leadership position at the organization. It was hard not to be proud of myself for becoming a weight neutral, body liberation-oriented Wellness Director. I was excited about the influence I might have on our members’ understanding of and approaches to health. I was excited about the programming I could create. But, it wasn’t until I left that position 6 months later that I could be honest with myself about why I was most excited about it.
I’ve always considered myself a hard-core rebel but I guess like every hard-core rebel, there’s a little part of me that desperately wants belonging and acceptance too. It wasn’t until I walked away from my Wellness Director position in mainstream fitness that I realized I was most excited for that job because it made me feel accepted by the mainstream fitness world. It made me feel like I belonged. And it felt really good to belong and to feel accepted. I went from the mostly lonely existence of an online, weight-neutral teacher/trainer to an excruciatingly small number of participants to a leader in a community of 12,000 members. I made hundreds of new face-to-face relationships, saw hundreds of friendly (and occasionally cranky) faces every day, engaged in constant conversation with dozens of regulars each day. My extroverted self luxuriated in all of this connection. I was too continually engaged to realize that rather than bringing weight neutrality to the mainstream masses, the weight-centric masses were squeezing the weight neutrality out of me. I was selling my body liberation soul for acceptance and belonging in a world that constantly reminded me I actually did not belong. I actually would never be accepted.
It was intoxicating to be close to the beautiful thin folks of mainstream fitness culture for a moment. Something in me needed to know that (if I wanted to constantly live in apology for my fat body) I could thrive in a mainstream organization like that. But I don’t want to live in constant apology for my body and, as it turns out, I have zero interest in proselytizing weight neutrality to folks hell bent on believing that health is synonymous with thinness and attractiveness. And it is too painful to be around so many bodies apologizing for their existence, punishing their unacceptable bodies with exercise they do not enjoy, and spending hours (LITERALLY…HOURS) on cardio machines to earn their next morsels of food. It is too painful to be a continual witness to unchecked, rampant, culturally-condoned, and doctor recommended disorder.
After I left that position, I also casually taught some classes at a beautiful, boutique yoga studio in town. But however much this studio is attempting to adopt an attitude of body positivity, it also remains steeped in a weight-centric health paradigm that conflates health with thinness, and attractiveness. It’s almost impossible to outrun the cultural norm of this and take part in mainstream marketing practices so I do not blame the owner of this studio for this reality. It’s just the way our world is.
It does feel like a certain kind of good to know that if I want to work in mainstream fitness, I can. And it feels even better to know now that I really do not want to. I’m actually just now realizing… four months since walking away… that this exposure to mainstream fitness actually caused some relapse and regression in my own, personal progress toward freedom from my eating disorder and weight-centrism. I am very lucky to have gotten out as quickly as I did. What feels best though is being honest with myself that I need to experience belonging, acceptance and connection with other humans. As I accept this about myself, I can look for and find this in the places and people who will allow me to be myself without apology and who will contribute to my continual liberation from oppressive and abusive structures.
Sometimes we learn the best lessons the hard way.
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JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances:
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