On October 7, Sarah Gaines shook off some jitters, did a few jumping jacks, and set up her camera to get on Facebook LIVE with USA Today. They’d asked her to lead a live at-home workout for their over 8.5 million followers; in just one day, the video had more than 57,000 views, 1,100 likes, and 150 comments.
Why did a simple workout video quickly gain so much traction? Because USA Today claims millions of viewers to their page, sure; but, more notably, the video quickly spurred a simmering debate on the instructor’s physique.
Sarah Gaines, spin instructor, health enthusiast, and former bodybuilding competitor, doesn’t look like your average lean instructor — and disgruntled viewers jumped at the opportunity to cast rude remarks.
“why is she fat?”
“OMG! She needs to lose a lot of weight.”
“But the instructor is thick”
The fat-shaming comments were rolling in; the live camera was rolling on. Gaines didn’t cease her motivating, and kept leading the workout she knew was giving positive and fun fitness motivation to the people watching at home.
Of course, the comments weren’t all negative. “But the negative ones stand out, right?” said Gaines in a recap posted later on her Instagram story.
This opportunity has been part of her dream for a long time — fitness is literally her life, her passion, and her career. She’s a fitness instructor and entrepreneur whose self-stated mission is “to spread the truth about health and fitness” through her company, Fit University. She works out regularly, teaches upwards of ten classes a week, and will talk weights, meal prep, or spin bikes with anyone who’ll ask.
She never thought she’d get body shamed on a major media outlet; she never thought she’d have to defend the shape of her body for the whole world to see.
“If this would have been a few years ago, these comments may have really affected me,” said Gaines in a blog post about the incident. “But after years of struggling with body image and obsessive fitness behaviors, I have no qualms with my body whatsoever.”
Gaines’s response was as nonchalant as she — brushing off the haters, she coolly and collectively replied to each negative comment.
“Thanks for your opinion!” she replied to one callous remark.
To the stark observation of her larger size noting that she was “thick,” she wrote back: “And strong ;).”
Her replies to the comments have rallied a surge of support for her confidence through the confrontation.
Science has revealed to us that being of a larger size does not indicate poor health; and yet, the average viewer still critiques a person’s shape and size before learning anything about their health or their habits. This disparity between perception and reality is alarming; something is seriously wrong with the way we think about health.
“The majority of mainstream media, with a few recent exceptions, has made us believe that to be fit means to be thin and ‘toned,’” Gaines told The Daily Meal. “While we're starting to see a shift in that mindset, the comments made during the workout were a reminder that we have a ways to go.”
Gaines not only actively pursues health on a daily basis, but it’s her passion and drive. The fact that her size can still blur that reality for viewers is not only disheartening, but harmful.
“What's important when it comes to fitness,” asserted Gaines. “[is] that we’re moving our bodies in some way daily, eating foods that are good for us, and getting an optimal amount of sleep every night.”
A focus on appearance neglects all of that. Gaines has tried molding her body to society’s standards before, and recalls that dark period of dieting and exercise obsession as one of the least healthy stages of her life.
For Gaines, real health looks like her body now. It may be thicker, and it may not be the same as every other instructor’s teaching class, but it’s genuinely happy and healthy. And that’s what matters.
“It’s up to us as fitness and health professionals to make an active effort to remind ourselves and others of that,” she concluded.
If anyone’s doing that, it’s Gaines. We’re seriously inspired by her dedication and strength to shutting down fat-phobia. It might have to make it onto the list of the most inspiring stories we heard this year.