Overcoming Size Stigma in the Fitness Industry

Exercise Physiologist Maria Odugba has learned that fatphobia is very real in the fitness industry.

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Written by Maria Odugba

Ever since I was little, I was told that I needed to go on a diet and exercise. Family, teachers, and friends always pointed me out as the fat kid and let me know that I was different. I don’t know what’s worse—an adult telling a child that they need to go on a diet or a child trying to figure out what a diet even is. I was never taught about making healthy choices or how important it was to be physically active. Everyone wanted to tell me what to do, but no one wanted to show me how. So, I spent the majority of my childhood and early teenage years gaining more and more weight. By the time I was in 6th grade, I weighed over 200 pounds. I was brought to more than a dozen different gyms and weight loss centers to try to help me lose weight, but nothing worked and I eventually gave up on myself.

My bad habits carried on into high school, and I graduated at almost 400 pounds. I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without having to stop. I didn’t want to go anywhere because my clothes didn’t fit and I was afraid that the people around me would judge me, which had happened many times before. It wasn’t until my first year of college that I woke up one day and realized that something needed to be done in order to live the life I wanted.

The first step that I took towards change was walking into a gym. I discovered fun activities that I enjoyed doing so my workouts didn’t completely feel like “work.” I found a balance with yoga, cardio, and strength training, and I never went back. I felt something I had never felt before, I felt free. My body was able to move in ways I never imaged. I went from being sedentary most of my days to being full of energy and adventure. My mood changed drastically, I went from always being negative to being filled with so much positivity. Going from such a negative space into a positive one felt so good that I never wanted to fall back into that dark space. I fell in love with fitness and health so much that I decided I was going to make it my life.

I received a bachelor’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science with a focus on Human Performance. Everyone told me college was hard, but no one told me how hard it would be to find a job in my field as a plus-size woman. I applied everywhere, and even had a few interviews, but nothing ever came of it. Determined, I decided to continue my education and am currently working towards a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. I graduate in August 2018.

 

No one told me how hard it would be to find a job in my field as a plus-size woman.

While pursuing my second degree, I applied for a personal training position at a new local gym. I went in for an interview and immediately knew it was going nowhere. There were two very large and muscular men staring blankly at me, as if they were in shock that a larger-bodied person would even step foot inside a gym. It was extremely awkward, and I felt totally uncomfortable. Within five minutes of meeting me, they sent me away. I was well-educated, had the necessary certifications, had the personal experience, but I simply didn’t have the stereotypical body frame that they were looking for. It felt as if my resumé was completely negated after one glance at my body. One year later, I stepped back into that same gym to work out. Through posting videos and tagging the gym in my content, they soon discovered my social media accounts and began to shower me with compliments. Only after they found out about my social media did they take me seriously—why?

Within five minutes of meeting me, they sent me away.
plus size yogi Maria of @asap.yogi on her mat

I learned very quickly that I would have to work significantly harder in this industry due to my size.  The stereotypical “fit” person was not me, and for a long time, I felt I would only be able to follow my dreams if I could become a size two. I know better than that now. Fitness comes in all shapes and sizes. I took my shortcomings and turned them into fuel to motivate me to reach my career goals. The idea that you have to be skinny to be fit comes from the media we consume: social media, magazines, activewear lines that only go to size large, and gym flyers that proclaim, “Lose weight and find your sexy!” (Yes, that is something that I’ve actually seen in a local gym.) I’ve made it my mission to show other women like me that you can be plus size, happy, and fit.

I felt I would only be able to follow my dreams if I could become a size two. I know better than that now. Fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

I’m taken seriously in the fitness industry only because I refuse to be seen as anything else. I have the knowledge and education, I have the experience, and I have the body—because any body that gets up and is active can be a fit body. Through social media, I’ve learned that people of all shapes and sizes have the same goals that I do. My goal in life is to show other plus-size women that it is 100% possible to achieve your goals, and through my Instagram account and posting images and videos of my body achieving great things, I am actively trying to change the digital landscape and provide women that look like me with relatable fitness content. I’m trying to show other women that you do not have to lose weight before you walk into a yoga class. You do not have to starve yourself to look like anyone else. If someone can see me and gain the motivation to do something they’ve always dreamed of doing, then it’s all worth it. For me, I still want to lose some weight, and that’s okay, too.

I still want to reach my long-term goals and live a forever healthy lifestyle. It’s important to me that I make sure weight loss isn’t the only reason I should be active. I’m not only focused on that “after” image that so many are determined to have. My story is so much more than a simple before and after picture. My story will show thousands of people that they can break past all the stereotypes and naysayers that are in their way.

 

This story was written by Maria Odugba. You can see Maria’s fitness photos and videos on her Instagram at @asap.yogi.

Maria Odugba

Maria is an Exercise Physiologist and social media maven.