Let’s face it: Most people exercise with the hope it will help them lose weight, prevent weight gain or otherwise control the size and shape of their body. Sure, being healthy and feeling fit may also be goals, but the main motivator is often weight.
I once had a client tell me she took an intense fitness boot camp class for six weeks and didn’t lose any weight, so she didn’t see any point in exercising. Another client told me that once she learned that science says exercise does little for weight loss (which is true), she decided there was no reason to try to fit walking into her busy schedule.
That’s unfortunate, because there are so many reasons to move our bodies that have nothing to do with weight loss. For example, a study published last month concluded that physical activity promotes health more effectively than weight loss — with the added benefit of reducing the health risks associated with yo-yo dieting.
The persistent coupling of exercise to the idea of weight loss has also created a narrow view of what exercising bodies look like. If you’re not in a thin body, but you only see thin bodies in fitness books and magazines, in ads for gyms and yoga studios, and embodied in personal trainers and class instructors, what does this suggest? It suggests that exercise will make you thin, too — which can kill motivation when it doesn’t — or that your body has no business being in the gym or yoga studio.
One woman working to offer a more inclusive view of fitness is certified personal trainer Morit Summers, co-owner of Form Fitness, a gym in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the new book, “Big & Bold: Strength Training for the Plus-Size Woman.” The book is both serious and supportive, with clear, detailed instructions on how to perform movements safely and effectively, plus advice for how to lift in a way that fits your life and helps you reach your strength goals. While the book provides beginner-through-advanced starter workouts, Summers encourages listening to your body and modifying movements as needed. For such a meticulous and thoughtful book, its origins were … unplanned.
“I was asked if I wanted to write the book by the publishing company [Human Kinetics]. I was like, ‘Whoa, what?’ Because that was never something on my bucket list,” Summers said. “I realized that’s not an opportunity you turn down. My goal has always been to reach as many people as possible, to teach them how to love fitness. There’s only so many one-on-one sessions you can do. I was really excited to get my thoughts and main points into words.”
Because Summers shared on Instagram (@MoritSummers) that she wasn’t thrilled with the book’s original proposed title, I asked her what the final title means to her. “Within any category, people associate themselves as one way or another. I prefer to be considered plus-size versus fat or big. Some people take ownership over the word ‘big’ or over the word ‘fat,’ and I think that’s great, but those words are more likely to be offensive. I think plus-size is more straightforward,” she said. “We landed on ‘Big & Bold’ because that could mean so many things. It doesn’t have to mean your body. It can be your mental state. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t get this book or gift this book because it says ‘plus-size.’”
Summers herself demonstrates many of the exercises in the book, and she’s joined by two plus-size models of color. The range of body types — and skin colors — represented in fitness media is narrow, as it is in media generally, but Summers has been recently featured in Shape and Health magazines, as well as health and fitness campaigns. I asked her how much she thinks representation of different bodies is improving — and why that representation is important.
“I do actually think that everything is changing. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is slowly trending in a much better direction,” she said. “Fatphobia is a very real thing that’s going to take a long time to change. but in terms of seeing more representation, that is going to change sooner. That’s one reason why I was excited to write the book, and to choose models I know who are big and beautiful and strong. I can’t imagine what it is to be a woman of color and want to be in the fitness space and not see themselves represented.”
Circling back to the unfortunate coupling of exercise and weight loss, I was curious if Summers finds that her clients are seeking weight loss, even if they also have goals to become stronger or healthier.
“I do, but with the caveat that once you are able to have a very open conversation, a lot of people think they just want to lose weight, because that’s what society is telling you to do everywhere you go. Everywhere.” She said most of her clients end up lifting heavier weights and simply feeling better.
But the desire to become smaller through exercise is something that Summers understands personally and is open about in her book. “I used to think that every time I went to the gym I was going to lose weight. Most of my life, my journey was, ‘I want to fit in, I want to lose weight, I want to look like everyone else.’ About five or six years ago I started powerlifting, and at first it was about losing weight. Then I realized how powerful I was, and my focus changed to how my body moves and functions. My journey has changed immensely, and so has how I work with my clients.”