(An incredibly problematic advertisement for Gold’s Gym)
Today I had a fitness assessment. My assigned trainer, a slim young guy named Jared with an Australian accent, shook my hand and brought me to his office. He pointed me to an orange plastic chair beside a sphygmometer and computer. He began by asking me a few questions about my life. Where do you work? Full time or part? How would you rate your overall fitness on a scale from 1-10? What nutritional challenges do you have?
I work at a restaurant as a server, full time. My overall fitness? Well, assuming 1 means I’m super unfit, and 10 means I’m nearly Arnold Schwarzenegger, I suppose I’m near a 5. But I’m a girl, so Jared probably would rather me place a female athlete on the number ten pedestal. Someone like Clara Hughes, the speed skater. Or does female fitness mean physical beauty, someone you might find on the cover of GQ? In that case, maybe my model for a ten on this fitness scale should be someone like Jennifer Anniston. But a big part of North America’s standard of female fitness means being thin, and thin means to weigh less, so shouldn’t this particular scale be reversed, where being a 1 on the scale is the epitome of overall fitness, and 10 is at the losing end?
Confused and unsure what kind of answer Jared wanted, I told him I was a 6. He then began asking me questions about what physical activity I did currently. Well, working as a server is incredibly physical. I carry 20 pound trays over my head without blinking. I work 7 hour shifts without a break, walking to and from tables thousands of times. I’ve often thought of buying a pedometer just to keep track of how many miles I cover in a shift. When I think about my daily routine outside of work however, it is pretty lacking in anything physically strenuous. I’m on a first name basis with my UPS guy who brings me shipments of new books nearly every week. I love to garden, but my 300sqft apartment balcony doesn’t allow much room for movement. I also love ice cream. And I mean, LOVE ice cream. Death By Chocolate, Peanut Butter Swirl, Heavenly Hash. So a typical afternoon at home usually consists of me eating a bowl of ice cream while reading my latest feminist book out on my balcony, then checking my plants to see if the soil is moist or if they need a drink. Is this what he would considered a “nutritional challenge”? I suddenly felt self-conscious and a little guilty.
I told Jared that I do yoga twice a week.
At this point Jared asked me for a run down of my daily diet, which I gave with very little editing. He responded that I eat a lot of carbohydrates, but as a vegetarian I am not getting enough protein. He suggested protein shakes and supplements, and I mentally groaned. The idea of going to a health food store and paying hundreds of dollars a month for what some stranger argues I need, and what I consider to amount to simply expensive pee, does less than thrill me. But I told him I would purchase some whey protein and introduce it to my diet.
After being measured, weighed, and having my blood pressure checked, Jared’s print-out informed me that my resting heart rate is too high, that my body fat needs major improvement, and that I need to lose 10.4 pounds of “excess fat” to reach an “ideal weight” for my age. He then gave me the goal of losing 1-2 pounds per week.
I have to give Jared credit. He did his job perfectly. He was calm, informative, on task, and managed to do the complete assessment within our 30 minute time frame so that the next client didn’t have to wait. He examined me, judged my status based on our province’s fitness criteria, and gave me information and encouragement to improve.
We were having two different conversations. He spoke in terms of protein, carbohydrates, fat percentage, and weight norms as established by the Metropolitan Life Insurance tables. I wanted to talk about my physicality in terms of my emotional attachment to my body, how I see myself psychologically, how I feel my body serves me, the way I rub coconut moisturizer into my heels, massaging the balls of my feet after a long shift. I wanted to talk about ways to take care of what I have, of what I love about my body, not ways to shed “excess fat” and change its shape. No longer a teenager, I realize that in order to keep my eating habits I need to do a little more exercise. This is the only reason I joined a gym: to maintain my body shape as I get older and my metabolism changes.
I walked into my fitness assessment emotionally happy and attached to my curvy body. I walked out of it with a new perception of my body, one that made me feel over-weight and unhealthy. Is there a better way to introduce new clients to gyms and fitness programs? Absolutely. It could involve less charts and stats, and more discussion about current perceptions of our own bodies. There is an assumption that individuals joining a gym are looking to change their body, either its shape, its toning, its strength, etc. Can we take this assumption out of the equation and simply ask new clients what they want from a gym? Can we stop imposing societal norms and expectations on the bodies of clients and let them be the judge of what is healthy, what is overweight, and what is perfect for their own body? Can we let clients set their own goals and expectations, and not label them according to an index that supposedly applies to every body?
I hope so. In the meantime, I’ll finish my workout and head home to my book and a bowl of turtles ice-cream.