Introducing EveryBody, a series by Yahoo Canada highlighting the people and organizations working to end weight stigma, promote size inclusivity and prove that everybody and every body has value.
In the world of social media fitness culture, weight loss is often considered the ultimate form of “success.” With 26.1 million images on Instagram alone using the hashtag “transformation,” body manipulation and weight loss trumped health long ago as the ultimate benefit of exercise.
Thanks to the rise of “fitspo” (fitness inspiration), working out shifted from being an individual investment in physical and mental health, to a public event with an end goal: muscles, thigh gap and a seemingly happier life.
Louise Green said she used to be discouraged when she would work out and not see physical “results.” Like many people, the Vancouver based trainer believed she needed to lose weight and inches to be considered athletic and valued. It wasn’t until she took up running that she set on a personal fitness journey that valued how she felt over how she looked.
For Green, rediscovering a love of exercise, play and movement was and still is the only transformation that matters.
I was introduced to the “Big Fit Girl” author through the Curvy Kili Crew, a subgroup of the women’s travel company WHOA Travel that facilitates and organizes hikes of Mt Kilimanjaro for groups of plus size women.
A talent recruiter turned personal trainer and author, Green serves as one of the lone figures in the fitness world fostering a love of movement and activity for women of every size.
“When I see people who tether movement to weight loss, it creates a very ‘all or nothing’ relationships with exercise,” Green said during a phone interview with Yahoo Canada. “Often, our weight doesn’t change that much. Then we feel like a ‘failure’ and build a negative connotation with exercise. I encourage people to start very slowly, by exercising two days a week to get them sweating for about 20 minutes.”
Green’s love of fitness came after years of what she considers chronic dieting. At the time, she was working as a casting agent, a role that exposed her to body scrutiny in the entertainment industry. She would regularly meet with actors who were young, fit and “flawless” but still faced experience criticism from Green’s clients.
A new career path and a new sense of purpose came after Green decided to join a local running group, and was introduced to her local group leader, a plus-sized trainer named Chris.
“I had never seen a woman who looked like me running or in fitness leadership,” she said. “It started to infiltrate my thinking. Maybe I don’t need to change. Maybe I can really do this in the body I have. It wasn’t an overnight thing. It was day-by-day; I had to let it grow.”
Through Chris’s leadership, Green became an avid runner, competing in marathons and eventually leading her own 10k running group.
Green’s newfound body confidence and passion for athletics put her at a crossroads ethically and professionally. The idea of participating in an industry entrenched in weight stigma was too much for her to reconcile. She decided to quit her job as a casting agent and pursue certification to become a certified personal trainer and develop programs and bootcamps for those for plus sized women who wanted to exercise, but weren’t being catered to by fitness professionals.
“It was like they were almost invisible,” Green said of her clients. “The larger people in the boot camps would be left in the dust, with no help or modification. There’s a market that’s vastly undeserved; and it’s a majority market. When you look at statistics in the United States, a majority of women are considered plus size. They’re literally an invisible majority.”
Green began building a local following and expanded her platform using social media, becoming one of the first plus-sized athletes to be featured in Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine, advocating against weight stigma.
When our conversation turned to representation in the fitness world, and body positivity in social media, I asked Green why the idea of larger bodies being considered fit or athletic bothers so many people.
“People have been conditioned to believe that fat people are less than. That they’re disgusting, lazy - all stereotypical things,” she explained. “When you see someone who’s empowered and giving the middle finger to that, people become afraid. They don’t understand how someone is becoming powerful.”
While Green has experienced her fair share of critics, she revealed that unlike many public figures in the body positive community, she doesn’t receive the same level of hate online.
“There’s a plus size body that’s palatable to people,” Green said. “It’s bigger, but not too big. I think because I’m exercising, it dissipates the hate. When you’re stepping outside of the hourglass look and you’re not exercising and eating whatever you want, people can’t deal with that. There are certain things on social media that aren’t super accepted, but tolerated.”
One of the biggest misconceptions of the body positive and Health at Every Size (HAES) model is that it condemns weight loss. As Green explained it to me, the goal is to put focus on nutrition and breaking unhealthy behaviours over viewing weight as the sole indicator of health.
Many of Green’s clients admit that they want to start a fitness journey to lose weight, believing that their lives will be better if they weighed less, particularly in terms of mobility.
“I don’t disagree with her,” Green admitted. “But what I want to do is coach her through the belief that losing weight is the primary focus. Eat to perform like an athlete. Weight loss can be the byproduct of a new lifestyle.”
Training and fuelling your body, rather than restricting and feeling hungry is Green’s recipe for long term success.
“We absolutely know that dieting does not work,” she said. “It will work - but not long-term. When we talk about being your healthiest self and eating healthfully, it can include eating pizza and ice cream sometimes. It’s what you do the majority of the time that’s going to dictate our health.”
For many leaders in the body positive community, removing weight exercise can feel like an uphill climb. By helping to create programs that inspire, rather than shame people for their size, Green is hopeful that more people will rediscover their love for activity. By creating an inviting environment, filled with educated professionals who will put health over the amount of inches lost, the once “invisible majority” and their bodies will finally be treated with respect. She is currently working to develop her own fitness app to provide women with access to work-out routines for every size and level of athlete.
“Fear stops people from working out. People are afraid of judgement, failure and injury. It takes courage for some people to walk into a gym. We need programs that represent people and larger bodies,” she explained. “Representation is the root of having a healthier nation.”