Like anyone with at least 5 decades under their belt, I have made many many… many… mistakes in my life; some big, some small, and some colossal. Rarely, would it have been possible for an outside observer to point these mistakes out to me while I was making them – not because I wouldn’t have listened, though I wouldn’t have – but because my actual mistakes have been decisions which, at the time, seemed logical enough even to outside observers.
I’ve made three occupational mistakes in the last two years that I want to talk about specifically here:
First, In spring of 2022, I worked at my local YMCA for 10 months.
Then, In fall of 2023, I went back to teaching for 8 weeks.
Finally, In fall of 2023, I became a Beach Body Coach for 2 months.
Here’s the common thread in these mistakes: I made each from a place of self-doubt and self-abandonment. It is important to note that while I made each of these mistakes, I continued to train and coach clients on a part-time basis. Each time, I convinced myself that training and coaching was something I had to do as a hobby.
Okay, Mistake #1:
I’ve almost always been a member of my local YMCA wherever I have lived. When you’re a swimmer, YMCA membership is your only choice in a lot of locations in the United States. And, by the spring of 2022, I had been running Bad Dog Rebel (my mostly online fitness & yoga business) for 2 years. I was lonely and exhausted and wanted to just earn an hourly wage without having to worry about social media marketing all the time. The YMCA was familiar and more importantly, they were impressed with my credentials and my experience which felt good in two ways: 1) it felt good just to have someone recognize that I had credentials and 2) because the YMCA is a mainstream fitness organization, it kinda felt for a time like the popular kids had accepted me. Rather than doubling down on building my own business and believing that I could do this crazy thing of offering weight-neutral fitness programming on my own terms, I jumped into this work at the YMCA because it felt safe and good to be paid for doing a thing I kinda wanted to do, kinda the way I wanted to do it. In the gatekeeping world of weight-centric fitness where the gate is most often held open or shut closed based on what one’s body looks like, it felt too enticing to have the door propped open a couple of inches for me. All I had to do to nudge my way all the way in was give up a lot of what I am about and swallow a whole lot of body shaming and triggering behavior to fit in. At the time, it felt like a logical choice.
Which brings us to, Mistake #2:
Similarly, when one is working without benefits or guaranteed, regular paychecks (which is the boat I was in by the fall of 2023), the on-paper promises of a high school teaching career sound too incredible to believe. Summers off? Retirement package? Salary? Leaving work by 3:30pm every day? Sign me up! I had taught English for 23 years and college-level English for 19 of those. How hard could teaching High School be with all of that experience? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Fucking impossibly hard, is the answer, friends. IMPOSSIBLY hard. And within a few weeks at that job, I realized I was not doing anyone any favors – least of all the students – by trying to maintain the façade that I could actually do it. I couldn’t. And, not JUST because it was impossibly hard but because I really didn’t want to. I wanted to be training folks. I wanted to be coaching folks. I just continued to not be able to see how I could make that a real full-time living because, ultimately, I was STILL doubting my worth as a weight-neutral trainer and coach, swimming in a sea full of weight-centrism.
Finally, Mistake #3:
Becoming a beach body partner [cue laugh track]. While this was the smallest blip of a mistake in terms of the number of people it affected and damage it did, it may have been the most egregious example of self-abandonment from the perspective of my eating disorder and my own journey toward body acceptance. I explain this ridiculous choice in another blog post so I am not going to recount that foolishness here – if you’re interested, click this link. I will only say that this choice was a clear example of the kind of Stockholm syndrome that those of us who have been held hostage by weight-centric fitness for many years suffer from. Just because a trainer, a program, a workout, a modality, or a company is familiar and “mostly” okay, does not mean that it wants what is best for you, in the end. And, in the end, what was best for me – and for my clients – was for me to cut the beachbody cord for once and for all (no matter how much “body positivity” they are attempting to churn out in order to appeal to the next generation of fitness consumers).
Last fall this trail of recent mistakes finally led me to the realization that all of this time – since 2018 – all I’ve wanted to do is coach and train full-time but I have not had the guts to fully commit to this path. Committing to being a full-time weight-neutral personal trainer and health coach as a small-fat, middle-aged woman living in a world steeped in diet culture and weight-centrism (and ageism and misogyny) is not easy. But it is the uniqueness of my position that the clients I help every day rely on. Weight-neutral personal trainers and health coaches are still extremely rare – and yet, anyone attempting to fight their way out of diet culture and find a new definition of “health” and new, non-punishing movement practices on the other side can deeply benefit from what we do.
So, that’s it then. While I will – of course -- continue to make mistakes, as we risk takers do, I am committed to making fewer occupational decisions based on fear and mistrust of my own intuition, my own needs, and my own wisdom. This is not unlike my personal journey toward Body Liberation and the paths I see many of my clients and colleagues taking. Trusting ourselves cannot just happen in the realm of relationships to body, food, and movement. Trusting ourselves has to happen across the board, in all aspects of our lives in order to show up in our relationships to body, food, and movement. So, the mistakes we make matter. Understanding why we are making the mistakes we are making matters. And, learning from mistakes born of self-abandonment and self-doubt is essential to the project of Body Liberation.
About JodiAnn Stevenson
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: