So, being the chubby fitness instructor not only means I have a thick waistline, it means I have a thick skin. Regularly, the more voluptuous instructors have to work to win over the respect of students (that one is pretty easy) and colleagues (that one is not). While Zumba is very come as you are, the argument can be made that the big picture of fitness? Is not. It’s competitive like any other line of work, with lots of instructors of every type of fitness – from yoga to step class to indoor cycling – thinking what they teach is the best choice. I understand that, because I can be that way, too. I think that Zumba is a great hook to bring people into the gyms and studios and get them comfortable working out. But among some of the more hard core fitness instructors, Zumba isn’t a ‘real’ workout, and coupled with my chub (which is their proof), I’m sitting at the kids table at the Fitness Instructor dinner parties. I’ve actually been standing in a group of instructors at one gym where a spinning guy equated Zumba to the ‘ridiculousness’ of the pet rock. (I’m going to pause a moment and just let that sink in).
And I could tell you 5 more stories just like that one.
But this isn’t a post where I bitch, because honestly? I get it. In Zumba, there is an absence of elitism (Front Row Divas and glitter eyeshadow aside) and competition that exists in other types of athletic activities. The all-inclusive nature of Zumba is AWESOME for students even if it is seen as a drawback to other teachers. The atmosphere of a class is so encouraging and supportive that students gain confidence in all areas of their life, not just within the 4 walls of their workout party. And then they go on to become instructors themselves! Like, at a crazy rate I’ve never seen before in other group fitness classes. Zumba wants everyone who wants Zumba, if that makes any sense. Everyone can be a rock star, because everyone has one on the inside, just waiting to be released.
A couple of years ago I wrote about taking a TurboKick
my ass class. I struggled my way through the first one, went back to a second, and finally got to where I conquered it. And though I never loved it, it stuck with me. It all happened about the time I had a Twitter exchange with TurboKick creator Chalene Johnson – one like many others – where she criticized my handle, @MrsFatass. I invited her to come get to know me and understand it before she criticized it, and she did. We shook on it. Things seemed okay.
But in reading her tweets and FB posts, I never shook the feeling that I was a bit on the outside looking in. Like, her messages were being polite to people like me, but until I was “fit” (her definition thereof), I wouldn’t really get it. You know how people tilt their head to the side and act like they are right there with you? That’s the feeling.
And then it happened. IT. fingerquote IT fingerquote.
I was in a position to hear a conversation between a TurboKick professional and a student. “Well, TurboKick isn’t really made for beginners. If I were you I’d start out with something like Zumba, and work your way up.”
Again, I’ll give you a moment.
That was the minute I decided that someday I’d learn to teach that class. That poor woman. She’d made that hugely difficult decision to try something new. And worked up the nerve to talk to the instructor beforehand. And she was basically told she didn’t belong. And I decided then and there that I would singlehandedly change the TurboKick culture one day. Because fitness belongs to everybody. And when a beginner came up to me before class, I wouldn’t turn her way. I’d do my job and teach her modifications and give her encouragement and help her walk out of that room feeling successful, like I was able to do when I came back to class..
So, I went and got my TurboKick certification, and even at the training I felt like I had something extra to prove because I didn’t look like the other women there. And when we were doing the master class, I chose to do a lot of the modifications – more because of the fact that I’ve been through these things before and knew to conserve my energy than the fact that I couldn’t keep up, but I’m sure that’s not what some people thought – and I passed with flying colors. (Note: I met some really awesome women that day, too, who I continue to communicate with all the time. There were only a few who I know were sizing me up by my, uh, size).
When you go to one of these trainings, a very exciting part of it is THE SHOPPING. Because we all looooove hot gym clothes that advertize our favorite workout! But in the stacks and stacks of cute “TurboWear”, there wasn’t anything to fit me. Nothing! Not a thing! So I thought maybe she just sold out of XLs, or maybe she didn’t carry many of them. So I scanned the order form to see if I could order something to fit me. And there was nothing. Nothing to fit a newly certified, size 16 Turbo instructor.
I sat and listened to the trainer talk about Chalene, and how great she was, and how involved she is in the design and distribution of this clothing line, and I had money burning a hole in my pocket. But if I wanted to spend it, it would have to be on a boxy men’s tee shirt, not on the sleek, flirty, feminine pieces. And I absolutely refused to do that.
I sat there thinking about how I just spent a pile of money and time becoming certified to teach a class for a creator who thinks I’m too big to wear her clothing. AND IT PISSED ME OFF. That elite Turbo “culture” that I’d kind of been feeling seemed to be starting right at the top!
In the days that followed, I noticed a few things that sort of ‘supported’ that notion. In a conversation with my (awesome) trainer, she almost excused the instructor who turned the student away, even though we just learned in training how to teach in layers, and grow as a group, making the class accessible to everyone. “Maybe she was just carried away with Turbo fever!” she wrote me. And I was disappointed in that answer. Later, I saw a post somewhere about how cool it would be if Chalene designed a line of TurboKid wear. Which killed me because the current line isn’t for everyone, would a line of children’s clothing exclude chubby kids too?
And then a thread from Chalene herself, using the hashtag #FitGirlProblems. Which didn’t feel like something I could participate in. My Turbo Fever was diminishing quickly.
I was left feeling like an hourglass peg trying to squeeze into a Size 2 hole.
I knew if I got started teaching, I’d have wonderful students and we’d make the class our own and kick each round’s bootie. I knew people would come because they like me, and in time I’d have classes as populated as my Zumba/Toning/Sentao classes. But I felt like a hypocrite writing a check to a company who was willing to take my money, but didn’t seem to think I fit their ‘image,’ all the while, encouraging others to come out to take part when they might not fit in either. And god forbid I somehow steer a student into a situation where they, too, feel excluded, perhaps in another class, or with another instructor, or when trying to buy a Turbo shirt, or in seeing one of these social media messages that makes her feel the way I was made to feel. I couldn’t live with myself!
And as I learn the round and get in front of students with it, I’m struggling. Just like the victory of conquering the class was somehow tainted by what I overheard, the victory of the certification just isn’t as sweet when I still feel like the outsider. I am having a hard time finding the passion for teaching it, because of all of this backstory. Even though it could lead to my seat at the grownups table, I think I might rather stick with the pet rocks.
So, that’s my #GroupFitnessProblem. What’s yours?