Trainer & Author
This week we talk to plus-size fitness trainer and author Louise Green about her upcoming book, Big Fit Girl, and how she is changing the way the world thinks about plus size fitness.
Laura Jane: Can you tell me about your experience with body image before you became a trainer?
Louise: Before becoming a trainer I viewed exercise as a tool for weight loss and I had a one body narrative, that my body needed to be smaller. Before I was a trainer, I was a talent agent. I worked in commercial and television casting. I would spend my days, most of the time, telling people that they needed to alter their bodies in some way, that they needed to be taller, thinner, blonder or more tanned.
While working in casting, I started running with a running group, running 10ks and half marathons. Through that group, I started volunteering as a run leader. On the weekends, I was doing such enriching work and inspiring others to run, then would come back into work on Monday to give feedback to actors, which was often negative.
I got to a crossroad and really felt that what I was doing for a job during the day was wrong. So I left and acquired all my certifications to pursue fitness full-time. I decided I was going to dedicate my services to the plus-size demographic. I had participated in many boot camps leading up to my career change and, through my personal experience, realized that there was a gap in the marketing and no one was catering to the fitness needs of plus size women.
It’s been about eleven years since I left my job and started my boot camps. I later started to license my business—I realized in short order that my passion and ultimate calling is to help women love their bodies and unleash their inner athlete, at any size.
LJ: In your upcoming book, Big Fit Girl, you write about creating a culture where plus size women can become athletes. What is your goal with this book?
L: My goal with Big Fit Girl is to change the way society views bigger bodies and health and fitness. It is also to let women of size know that their bodies can be athletic and strong in a range of sizes. My goal is create a counter message and to tell a new story in contrast to what we see in most fitness magazine and health media. People are still pumping out this idea that you have to be 20, lean, and ripped to be considered healthy. This messaging is harmful to women and girls because often what we see in the media is unattainable. I know this because I sat behind the desk, I was in the casting room giving the unattainable feedback. We were telling young women who weighed 120 pounds, by way of the producer’s feedback, that they had to lose weight, that their hips were too big. We were casting young women who were in their 20s as moms. Moms are like 40 now. We are portraying this messaging that is actually not real.
LJ: Do you remember your own experience with body image and when you first started to think about your body as something that needed to meet certain standards?
L: I would probably say I was in grade eight. I had this narrative going through my mind all the time that I needed to lose weight. I probably couldn’t have been much thinner—I’ve always had curves. I also misconstrued them as fat. I remember sitting in a backyard with a couple of friends and a guy I really liked. I remember looking down and seeing a fold in my stomach which I thought of as a roll. I remember being paralyzed and thinking that if my arm moved out of the way, he might see that.
I went through some pretty tumultuous times as a teenager until I was 29-years-old. I smoked and drank and when I turned 29, I decided I’d had enough. I was going to live the life that I wanted and decided it was time to get healthy. I had been very athletic as a child and I was going down this path that was really self-destructive. I quit smoking and I quit drinking. I really put a stop to it all. I really did a 360 lifestyle change.
It was then, I started running and working towards a new life. When I started running, I realized that my body had incredible power and that it was more than an ornament and my self-esteem started to grow immensely. That’s why I strongly believe in fitness. I’d love to bring the idea of running to self-esteem initiatives because it helped me so much. I am percolating on some ideas of approaching some feminine based brands such as Dove or Always to create 5K runs for women and girls. Fitness can cause a profound self esteem transformation that I know from personal experience and from training literally thousands of women. I see the self-esteem elevation and change in body perspective when they start to tap into their athletic roots. It’s incredibly powerful.
LJ: Tell me more about that transformation. How have you seen women change?
L: Well, I don’t know if it’s the message I give off with the women I work with, but they start to call themselves athletes. I call all the women I work with athletes, even if they are brand new to my program. If you look in the dictionary, Oxford defines athlete as someone who is proficient in fitness and sport. Once again, the media has created a hierarchy of athleticism that is away from its true meaning. So I start by calling people athletes and a lot of the time, people get very shy about that. But it’s important to talk about bodies in a positive and empowering way. Endorphins are liberating and this energy makes you more positive and enthusiastic about life. I witness people completely change without the presence of weight loss.
LJ: So you experience them viewing their bodies differently without their bodies changing?
L: Exactly. Their whole mindset changes. And their fitness level changes. To lose weight is really a food game. People think, well if I work out, I’m going to lose weight. Well, that is true to a certain degree, but you have to be really on top of your dietary intake. For many women, they have been battling food for years and, for some bodies, it’s just not possible to reach the ideals we see in the media. I encourage women towards self-acceptance and living to their athletic potential so they can experience their body’s power and all it can do, over what it can look like.
I think many people are surprised when they see my client’s fitness abilities and how fit they are. I had a substitute trainer come in about a month ago and she was like, “Holy shit, these women are incredibly fit”. People think because I run plus size fitness that we’re doing chair aerobics. But we are using TRXs, agility ladders. We’re boxing, lifting weights. We are going to town and they are fit.
LJ: For plus size women who are trying to get more into fitness on their own, if they don’t have a trainer, is there a mindset that could be helpful for people who find the gym intimidating? And I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the gym as it can be a problematic space as it’s not inviting to everyone.
L: In my book, I talk about ways to find spaces that will be inviting. It is a difficult situation because you want to say, keep your head high and don’t worry about being judged, but that is not the reality. Even thin women have difficulty going to the gym. It’s not just a plus size issue. The gym is intimidating. The gym has been marketed, created and designed to look like it’s for people who are already ripped and fit.
In fitness, marketing shows you the opposite of what their target audience is to try to get underneath the client’s insecurities about themselves. It’s one of the only industries that will show you the opposite of who their potential target market is. It’s hard to say to people, well just keep your head high and go, right? So in my book, I talk about ways to look at gym websites, what language to look for, what language to look for in trainers’ bios, and how to interview a trainer to make sure they are appropriate for you.
My publisher asked me to write about what is appropriate for plus size women in terms of fitness. Typically, we hear recommendations for plus-women such as, you should swim, you should walk, you should do gentle stretching and yoga, that is typically what people think big bodies should be doing instead of boxing and heavy lifting.
So I interviewed all the plus size athletes that I know, from Ironman finishers to plus size Olympians. Instead of me saying what is "right" for the plus size woman, I thought, why don’t I just lay it all out there and let these women decide. I say break the “gentle” rules and start to experiment with what excites you and feels good. Any beginner should start slowly, regardless of their size, but exercise has to be something you like so move towards that, regardless if it’s been recommended or not.
LJ: As someone who works with plus size women, I’m curious how you feel about the categorization and term "plus size". Is it helpful in terms of speaking to a specific audience or do you think it’s hurtful?
L: Some people are extremely offended if you call them plus size because they still carry the shame that is associated with being a plus size woman. Our media is telling us every single day that it’s bad, that it’s unhealthy, that it’s lazy. So a lot of people don’t like to be referred to as all of those tags, right? Who would? But I don’t see it that way at all. I see the term plus size as a business term.
It’s how we differentiate plus size versus straight size. It’s how I personally target the women that I want to work with. I’ve had many people say, why don’t you just say all-inclusive fitness? But that’s what a lot of gyms are declaring in their marketing even though it’s not really all-inclusive. They are using that as a marketing ploy to get all of the people even though they don’t know how to deal with people of all shapes and sizes. I need to differentiate my marketing so I use the term plus size as a business term. I don’t find it offensive at all. I know that some women want to be the same as all women and I get that but you still have to differentiate the services, the clothing sizes, the products that are for specific individuals. Because honestly plus size women, from a training perspective, have different training and coaching needs, mentally, physically and emotionally. They need different things because of how they have been responded to as a consumer, or not responded to in other words.
Because honestly plus size women from a training perspective, they need different training and coaching, mentally, physically and emotionally. They need different things because of how they have been responded to as a consumer, or not responded to, in other words.
LJ: When you’re training heavily, what is the mental process look like for you? I am always really impressed with athletes’ dedication. What mental space do you try to stay in to push yourself towards really challenging athletes goals?
L: For me, it’s all about the finish. I know what it feels like, I’ve had that feeling of crossing the finish line many times and the moment of accomplishing another goal is like no other. So for me, when I’m having hard times, I kind of recognize it is all a process. Like, one day, I’ll think, this really sucks, but I know it’s part of the process. The next day, I’ll think, that was a killer workout, I feel fantastic! It’s just part of being an athlete and our body has good days and lower energy days. I know that I’m going to have highs and lows. I know that finishing that goal is going to feel better than anything. I also feel an accountability to practice what I preach and kind of on a higher level, not just that I went to the gym twice this week. If I’m truly going to tell the world that they can live their athletic dreams in the body they have now, then I better damn well show up and do that.
LJ: What has social media been like for you? A big part of the Body Pos Project that I’m interested in is how social media has allowed women to take up space in a public way. How does it feel for you to post images of yourself and what have your followers been like?
L: Well, my followers are really supportive. There aren’t many spaces to go where you can see bigger bodies pushing the message that I push. There are definitely some women out there doing it but it’s certainly not mainstream. I think it’s an inspiring place to go and see something that you just can’t see on a magazine rack. It’s just not happening there.
However, it hasn’t all been positive. When I first opened my business, there was one article that was on the front page of a Vancouver newspaper that went viral. The headline said, "Gym Bans Skinny People". The editor did an interview with me and said he was going to put me on the front page but didn’t tell me what the headline was going to be. It went viral, like all over the world. This particular editor turned my words and business concept into something it wasn’t, only to sensationalize the front-page story. I was getting hate mail and phone calls from all over the place; it was the worst. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing from five in the morning until five at night. It was crazy. So during that time, I was getting a lot of hate, but typically I don’t get trolls. I have a lot of friends in the body positive movement and they get a lot of trolls. I think that I don’t because my message is supporting health. Usually, trolls are trolling because of hate but they use the health card as an excuse for their hate. It’s really quite sad. So far, the social media response has been mostly supportive and very empowering.
LJ: What’s it like for you to just put yourself, images of you, up. I know that some women I’ve spoken with feel really empowered and I’m curious if that’s been your experience as claiming space as an athlete on social media.
L: I think at first, it felt weird. You don’t want to come across as somebody that is so self involved that is all they can do, is post pictures of themselves. But there is a purpose behind it, to encourage and inspire people to get out and do the same thing. Now I’m totally comfortable with it. I’m like, screw you, this is my body and I think this body portrayed as an athlete needs high visibility so I continue to put myself out there. There is a mission behind why I’m doing it so I feel good about it. I really want people to know they can live their athletic dreams in their body and imagery and visibility is very powerful to “show” people the way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.