woman in activewear standing in the street

“The fitness industry continues to overlook plus-size bodies”

Posted by for Workouts

Writer Billie Bhatia thought home workouts would be a much more inclusive space than the gym, but she was wrong. Here, she discusses why the industry needs to stop overlooking plus-sized women. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I took a long, hard look at myself and the headlines that suggested overweight bodies were not only more susceptible to Covid-19 but also more likely to become seriously ill if infected. The resounding feeling was that I needed to get fit – for the benefit of both my physical and mental health. The problem was, I had talked myself into a fear of exercising. While I was acutely aware of the advantages of moving my body, I was also well acquainted with pain I endured when it was put under even more physical strain. I knew that this time was different. Exercise was essential – but where to start?

One of the positives to come out of lockdown was the shift from exercise being centred on the gym and classes to home workouts, something I felt wholly more comfortable with. For some people, gyms are a haven – a space dedicated to feeling good, a safe sanctuary of sorts. For me, gyms leave me in a tangled, intimidated mess. To the point where I feel nervous even just putting one foot in front of the other on the treadmill. Home workouts, on the other hand, well I was in control of that space, so how could I possibly feel anything but safe there? 

Maybe, this was my opportunity to trial the capital’s most hyped fitness establishments, the ones I never felt confident enough to enter in real life.

I quickly found out that even though I wasn’t physically at these fitness spaces, the messaging was clear: these gyms, classes and trainers did not want my presence. Or if they did, they didn’t know what to do with me. Beginner level classes or tutorials were near impossible to find within these establishments – whether that was HIIT, pilates, yoga or barre – and those ones that did market themselves as such, still required an advanced level of both fitness and body competency, reducing beginner to nothing more than a tempting word. 

It all felt a bit hopeless, which was frustrating because I was so desperately willing. Granted, my body doesn’t look like the average body, but that doesn’t make my kind of body redundant either. When did we get to a point where you already had to be fit to get fit?

The problem I encountered most was that I really wanted a workout that felt like I had been worked out. One that had me sweating, puffing and aching with satisfaction the next day; that reminded me that I had pushed myself and achieved something. There were plenty of personal trainers who had taken their offerings online, publicising exactly the kind of workout I wanted, but crucially, they were missing one key ingredient: a consideration for a different type of body. My body didn’t look like theirs, it didn’t move like theirs and we had very different capabilities. I wanted to join in, more than ever before, but felt completely excluded in terms of how I was going to make that work.

I thought searching plus-size specific workouts on YouTube might provide an adequate solution, but I was quite disappointed with the offering. Much like plus-size clothing offerings, what I found was just so minimal in comparison to the hordes of online exercise classes, at-home gym workshops and Instagram workouts that were available for a different kind of body. I wasn’t interested in slow and steady sessions that focused on breathing and gentle movement, which isn’t to say there isn’t an appetite for that, but that wasn’t my priority in my bid to kick off my fitness journey.

I couldn’t really understand why there was such an empty space for plus-size workouts. Would it take that much to modify the moves to consider the abilities of another shape? Is it that we aren’t worthy of the same kind of attention? Does there need to be more education around it? Surely there would be an increased demand for these workouts if trainers consciously thought about these considerations?  

Billie Bhatia wearing activewear on London street.
Billie Bhatia

Ultimately, I turned to my friends for help. Pre-Covid, my friends would regularly invite me to classes with them, and I would make excuses to dodge them because the idea of failing to complete a single burpee as everyone else blazed through was too embarrassing for my ego to handle. Having aired my frustrations with them, that I was finding it impossible to find workouts that would make me sweat and move and feel good without feeling ostracised, they worked on a solution with me. Instead of Zoom quizzes, we turned to Zoom workouts where they would tailor exercise so that I could be as involved in the session as they were.

Of course, my friends aren’t personal trainers, they aren’t qualified to actually tell me the best ways to move my body to best improve my fitness, my flexibility, my stamina, my agility. Since working on my physicality and dedicating more time to finding a space I can be included in, I have found trainers and influencers that are not only encouraging all women, they are supporting them too.

Hannah Lewin, a personal trainer who specialises in plus-size bodies, offers 1-1 sessions, there are Instagram influencers putting together comprehensive workouts: @bethyred, @bridgetkatefit, @curveswithmoves and TikTok videos to follow: @megbogs and @coachtulin.

I have revelled in the opportunity lockdown brought to work on myself, and I’m nervous as to how this return to normality will affect that. My hope for the fitness industry isn’t that I reduce myself to a size that is small enough to feel confident and comfortable to enter into a gym or a class. But rather that we are all encouraged and supported regardless of size, shape and ability. After all, we all share the same goal: to be the best versions of ourselves.  

Read more from Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home)

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