When the general public thinks of what an athlete looks like, they typically picture people who are lean, incredibly muscular and generally lack visible body fat. This mental image, though, leaves out a large group of athletes who look the exact opposite yet have admirable physical capacities.
In the same way that weight is not reflective of a person’s health, a person’s physical size does not define how “fit” a person is. Take powerlifters, for example. Powerlifters, both men and women, tend to be physically larger people than athletes in other sports. That does not detract from their ability to lift huge amounts of weight, however; they still flawlessly perform cleans, snatches and many other movements.
The concept of having to look “fit” or “in shape” to be considered athletic is incredibly toxic and persists today. On social media, the faces of fitness are people who are slender, muscular and lean, which leaves out representation for plus size people who have the same capabilities as other popular influencers. It’s also toxic to promote the thin influencers over plus size influencers because it perpetuates the idea that only thin people are allowed to represent health and fitness. And, while it may seem insignificant, plus size representation in fitness is a starting point to tearing down the idea that people need to maintain a certain physical appearance to be considered an athlete.
As someone who personally enjoys weightlifting and CrossFit, I grew up thinking athletes must look as previously described. I developed disordered eating habits in pursuit of a body that reflected what an athlete should look like, rather than pursing a body that would sustain and support me through sports, CrossFit and my every day life. I did not realize the reality is, though, athletes can look completely different from each other while still performing their sport with perfection, and their physical appearance does not define their talent.
The idea of who looks like an athlete stems from the same idea of what it looks like to be “in shape.” For many, the idea of being “in shape” looks like someone who is slender or lean. However, a thin person’s physical appearance does not define their athletic abilities, just as a larger-bodied person’s physical appearance does not define their athletic abilities. It is completely possible for a person to naturally have a slim figure while lacking the ability to lift heavy weight or participate in cardio activities.
Other than promoting plus-size fitness influencers, a step in the right direction to changing the idea of who is “in shape” would be to promote plus size athletes and keep personal preconceived ideas of who athletes are in check. Promoting athletes who exercise for physical fitness rather than for a “fitness journey” provides representation for people who want to exercise and gain physical fitness without the intention of weight loss. Additionally, it’s important for people keep their own preconceived ideas of what physical fitness in check, as it’s easy to visualize standards of fitness that have been promoted for decades.
Jillian Craig is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Jillian know by tweeting her at @JillianCraig18.