It Happened to Me: I'm a Trainer Who Runs a Fitness Business Catering Exclusively to Plus-Size Women
My name is Louise Green and I opened my own business Body Exchange in 2008 on a quest to carve out a space for the plus size community. My goal was to create a place where people would feel welcome and safe to sweat with a tribe of their own.
In 1999, I had hit rock bottom with an alcohol and substance abuse and decided if I wanted to stay above ground it was probably a good idea to seek out some help. I did. For many years and as part of my recovery I returned to the athletic roots that I had enjoyed so much prior to the party years.
In 2007, I became a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Heading down this career path required me to face my terrorizing fears and overcome them, all so I could give back to aspiring athletes and those transitioning from one lifestyle to another. My fears began when I decided, 3 months after having my son, at my all-time heaviest weight, that I was going to become a certified trainer. I had decided on maternity leave that I was going to make a full career swing and finally do something meaningful with my life.
The anxiety and feelings of unworthiness began as soon as I signed up for the certification. My inner peanut gallery began with fearful banter that I would be different than everyone else, fat and out of shape and that I would be judged and rejected. Although I had done a lot of work through recovery, I still suffered from low self-esteem and imposter syndrome and feelings of isolation.
I had a dream to inspire women, of any size, to elevate their lives through fearless fitness and adventure. I put one foot in front of the other and finalized the certifications and eventually became a fully certified personal trainer, all of this at 245 pounds. And I was right -- I didn’t look like anyone in the room, my body was much larger. But I had something that no one else had; an understanding of what my demographic goes through and what its like to be a fat woman and to feel that on a day to day basis. I knew her, spoke her language, I am her.
For what I was about to embark on, this was invaluable and no trainer in the room had an advantage on me. I am empowered by this today.
I persevered and mustered up the courage to open a fitness business exclusive to plus size women. I had no idea what I was doing, but did it anyway. Today Body Exchange offers boot camps, learn to run programs, adventures and destination retreats all dedicated to a plus-size market.
I see these initiatives as tools to empower women to live to their full potential regardless of their size. When I work out, I feel like a warrior and all the negative messages dissipate. It is my power hour, my gospel and it is all mine. We have gone on to license the business and watch it grow.
I see my business as a place where I can give back and share the positivity I experience. Where I help women defy the norm and pulverize the stereotypes and preconceived notations placed on overweight people, especially in a fitness arena. To me, this feels like familiar territory -- I see it as another form of recovery.
After all, recovery means to return to a normal condition; the condition we were in before all our injected ideals, instilled judgments and the stories we are told. We were all at one point, happy active children.
The fitness industry can be a pretty harsh place for people like me and perhaps you too; it has been difficult to call it “my” industry and truly feel a part of it. I persevere regardless. Nothing will stop me. In fact, it only fuels my fire for building my business.
Over time, our concept of plus size fitness found its way into the media spotlight -- as you know the media likes to cover obesity, the epidemic and the health crisis. The Body Exchange concept was new and the media had a hard time with me because Body Exchange does not focus on weight loss. We focus on empowerment and mind expansion to unlimited possibility.
To many people, this is confusing. I designed our groups to be exclusive, ironically, to be inclusive of the plus size community; a group I feel have been overlooked and sidelined.
Our clients shared horrific stories of their experiences of being bullied as far back as elementary school gym class. Countless clients tell me they have felt like losers their entire school life because they were fat and couldn’t keep up with the other kids. This feeling stayed with them into their adult life and often kept them from trying anything fitness-related. I listen to their stories of self-hatred and body loathing and my heart sinks but I see it as another opportunity for recovery and a revolution.
In 2012, I was asked take part in a major newspaper front-page feature –- as a small business owner, of course I was thrilled. I got up early that Sunday morning to go down to the corner store to buy the paper only to find that some how our feature had turned into the headline “GYM BANS SKINNY PEOPLE.”
My labor of love was now a scandalous "skinny ban" and for three weeks, the media hounded me. People wanted to know why I discriminate against skinny people. The story spread internationally. I was bewildered, confused and scared. I felt misunderstood and some of the worst hate mail came from my own industry professionals.
I heard everything from “How could I possibly inspire anyone when I am fat” to hate mail sent to my inbox saying “Shut this f*cking disgrace down.” Why such resistance? Aren’t we doing a good thing and addressing some serious needs? I began to doubt, hide, and stew then revolt. I will not tolerate haters, so I continued on.
My personal fitness program keeps evolving; I am no longer 245lbs. I started running half marathons and in June I rode 240km from Vancouver BC across the border to Seattle WA for Cancer research including two seven hour days on a bike. I know firsthand that my body is capable of doing anything I train it to do, 100%. I am living proof, as are the many women I work with. My accomplishments, challenges and triumphs build me up and I am now a fighter for something I so strongly believe in.
I have learned a lot along the way and one thing I do know for sure: If you provide the right environment, women thrive and they are capable of anything.
My business continues to grow and we started training women by the hundreds, we now receive inquiries from all over North America from women wanting a safe place in their community, we are working on reaching them. We train them for functional living, 5k and 10k runs then half marathons. We climb to the top of mountains we take women surfing and join obstacle mud runs.
We empower women to love their bodies at any size -- the expectation to lose weight is never part of the conversation, but can be a side effect of living our way of life. Body Exchange has built an amazing community full of life lasting friendships. The thing I am most proud of is that we instill a no limits attitude in a group of women who have been left out of the fitness arena, made to feel like they didn’t belong and that the good life was not theirs to have. Screw. That.
I am not saying my journey has been easy or yours will be either but I am saying it will be worth it. I can feel the movement changing in society, slowly but surely. When I look back on my life from the day I walked into my first AA meeting emotionally broken and spiritually bankrupt to now, I have a hard time reconciling I am the same person. Walking through fear, recovery and resilience will take you places.
I will leave you with this: Search high and low, search around every corner but search for YOUR TRIBE. Every “body” deserves an epic life and when you find your tribe it changes everything.
Best wishes to you all,
Founder, Body Exchange Lifestyles INC (http://www.bodyexchange.ca)
Founder, The Body Love Movement (http://www.bodylovemovement.ca)
Blog, Mind, Body and Rebellion (http://www.mindbodyandrebellion.com)