Fat shaming is never the answer

Fat shaming is never the answer

Last weekend, renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin posted a picture shaming an overweight woman in a shopping mall. After a rightly-deserved backlash, he deleted the photo and issued an apology (which he also later deleted). But the internet never forgets.

Here is the original post:

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To clarify, the caption says: “Must be really hot in this shopping centre. She started to melt! Or many (sic) it is epigenetics, she is expressing the marshmallow gene because of her consumption of high fructose corn syrup.”

When I saw the original post, I felt sick to my stomach. I have never been a fan of Charles, mainly because he is a quack. During his exorbitantly-priced seminars, he reportedly diagnoses everyone with the same condition (high oestrogen levels and carb sensitivity) and tells them that the reason they are not losing fat is because of their piercings, tattoos and non-organic make-up. Yes, really.

On top of all this, it is clear that he is nothing more than a bully hiding behind a computer screen. When I saw the post, I felt embarrassed for the poor woman in the photograph, who was minding her own business with her family and not expecting to become the butt of a joke for Charles’s  220,000 Facebook fans.

I cannot understand what was going through his head when he posted that picture. What is the purpose of publicly shaming someone, other than to make yourself look like a complete douchebag? Sadly, with the recent explosion of social media, it’s not the first or last time someone will snap a picture of an unsuspecting person without their consent.

I felt disgusted that a man who proclaims themselves to be one of the best personal trainers in the world would fat shame someone. What is more alarming is that, among the criticisms, there were dozens of other trainers who applauded Charles for “not being a politically correct pansy”.

Has Charles or any of his cronies ever worked with a regular Joe type client? God help their clients, if so.

The next day, he posted this “apology”, which sounded like a cop-out to me. Saying that your “passion” causes you to go to “extremes” doesn’t excuse publicly abusing a stranger, and sounds awfully similar to something an abusive boyfriend would say after giving you a black eye.

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I understand why he deleted the original post – albeit a cowardly move – but why the second? If you truly want to take responsibility for an ill-timed jibe, surely you wouldn’t delete said apology not even 24 hours later. I’m guessing it was his lame attempt at brand control, which he then decided would be better achieved if he removed all traces of the scandal altogether.

Trainers like Charles Poliquin give the fitness industry a bad name. Is it any wonder that I regularly receive emails from potential clients, who insist that they want to work out at home as they feel too intimidated to enter a gym? While it’s easy for me to assure them that most people in the gym are minding their own business and will not notice anyone else’s fitness level (or lack thereof), actions like those of Charles invalidate my claims.

I have been involved in the fitness industry for almost a decade. During that time, I have learnt that you can never make assumptions about someone based on their appearance. You have no idea what someone is going through or has already been through. To assume that someone is overweight by choice only demonstrates your own ignorance and unprofessionalism.

Research has shown that shaming and mocking overweight people usually only further compromises their physical and emotional health by pushing them away from exercise and healthy nutrition. You can also never assume that an overweight person even wants to change their body, but what you can do is offer gentle guidance.

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Why don’t we try to help people by providing the right resources, rather than shaming them into action? Why not welcome them into the gym with a smile and a listening ear, rather than laughing at them behind their back? Fitness professionals should offer a safe space for change; not a place of personal attack.

Fat shaming happens on a daily basis in the fitness industry, and it needs to stop. I am embarrassed to be part of an industry that, at its core, should be about helping people but often only serves to hurt them instead.

If anyone out there is considering seeking the help of a personal trainer, I hope that asshole coaches like Charles Poliquin will not turn you off. I promise that there are some good coaches out there, who genuinely want to help you and would never make fun of your current condition – to your face or behind your back.

In my experience, those who attack others are dealing with their own low self-esteem issues, and you are better off without their help anyway. The strongest people are the ones helping others up, instead of tearing them down.

Did you see the post? What do you think of Charles’s actions?

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