Imagine this scene:
Setting: anywhere two people might meet for the first time.
Personae: Me and a new acquaintance
Me: “Well, when I decided to get my Nutrition degree, I also got my PT certification, and I worked my way through school as a personal trainer.”
New Acquaintance: “You’re a personal trainer?” (eyes move away from making contact with mine and scan me from head to toe — either fast so as not to get caught, or slow as heck to check everything out)
Me: (totally weirded out, kind of feeling like I’m covered in creepy crawlers, and trying to keep myself from saying something rude) “Yes, I am.”
Would this happen were I to tell people that I was a waitress while in grad school?
It certainly never happened when I was a high school English teacher.
Never once did I meet someone, tell him/her that I was a teacher, and become subject to an obvious, almost glaring, body assessment.
OK, so realistically, no one would feel the need to check out the body on a teacher as a proof of employment.
But what would be the equivalent in teaching to the role the body of a personal trainer plays?
Would it be my writing abilities?
Would anyone, anywhere EVER meet a high school English teacher and, upon hearing her profession, say, “You are? Prove it. Write me a poem. Now. And it better be good.”
That kind of presumptuousness is obviously rude.
Rudeness aside, asking a teacher to prove her teaching worth by writing a poem is a veiled attempt at undermining her authority as a teacher. If the teacher fails to write the poem, it not only shows her incompetence but does so in the worst possible way — publicly.
And there’s no better way to validate one’s own superiority than by publicly showing someone else’s inferiority.
Is that what’s happening when people give me the once over when they hear I am a personal trainer?
Are they really trying to show their own superiority by drawing public conclusions about my inferiority via my body?
See, the other thing that happens when people hear that I’m a trainer, if they don’t give me the once over (and sometimes in addition to giving me the once over), is that they feel compelled to tell me why they aren’t in the fittest condition they could possibly be in.
It usually sounds like this:
“Oh, you’re a trainer? I used to workout all the time; I used to love [insert name of exercise, fitness class, or outdoor hobby here]. I had some problems with [insert life stress or physical limitation here], though, and had to cut back. I still [insert low-grade physical activity here] with [my kids, my husband, my dog], though.”
Or I hear this:
“You’re a trainer? Geez, you know, I guess I’d like to [insert weight loss or nutrition goal here], too, but I just don’t have [insert required component like time or money here].”
Or some variation thereof.
People seem to feel compelled to tell me, right away, why they aren’t as fit, lean, active, or healthy as they think they should be.
Or are they telling me this to justify why they aren’t as fit, lean, active or healthy as they think *I* think they should be?
My guess is that the real reason they do this is the latter — they don’t want me to judge them based on their appearance, so they feel they need to explain.
And it is very likely that this is related to why they give me the once over when they hear that I’m a trainer. As rude as it might be, the once over is a check to see if I’m in better shape than they are.
If I am, I might judge their own lack of fitness. If I’m not, I’m more like them — and probably less likely to think the worst of them.
I still lament the fact that trainers are often judged based on appearances — perhaps female trainers even more so than male trainers (though this is really a topic for another post).
And I will always get the willies when I meet someone new and my body becomes an implied subject of conversation just because of my background.
(Note: The female body as an implied — or even explicit — topic of conversation, even between acquaintances who hardly know one another, happens in many other ways, and it happens not just because a woman is a trainer. But again, that’s a subject for another post.)
But I will try to bear in mind that, often, the person on the other end of that conversation is simply acting from a place of self-doubt, not a place of arrogance or implied superiority.
And if that person is willing, I am precisely the person who can help him or her move from self-doubt to confidence and pride.
Side announcement: I am happy to be helping The Personal Trainer Development Center put together a weekly good reads list, pulling the best of the best when it comes to fitness articles each Sunday. The first edition went up yesterday; please give it some love!