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Looks Can Be Deceiving

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: this column is sometimes the bane of my existence. Actually not just mine, but many editors. Usually the biggest problem comes from not really having a topic that hits home enough to center an entire column on it.

Those of you that know me (and even those who are just getting to) know that doesn't sound like me, since I tend to have an opinion on just about everything and I'm always willing to share it with anyone who will listen — just ask my wife, who more often than not, is the unfortunate audience of one for these diatribes.

This month's problem comes from having too many topics rattling around that impact the industry — and get me ready to rant. They range from research showing that restaurant food is even fattier than originally thought; house work isn't really exercise (damn that eight-pound vacuum, if it was just a little heavier…); a lawsuit that proves you can be fit and fat; and that obesity still contributes to diabetes.

One of the items that not only impacts the industry also hit home with me, so I'll stick with that one right now.

Last month, in a groundbreaking case that was settled in San Francisco, Jennifer Portnick, a 240-pound fitness professional, won a fight over weight bias with Jazzercise, arguing that she could be both “fit” and “fat.” This ruling could be a double-edged sword for the industry.

First of all, the industry has been preaching wellness and health over “body beautiful” for some time now, so what a better advertisement than a fit aerobics instructor that isn't model thin?

But, while it is true that looks can be deceiving (and more members probably look like this instructor than they do a fitness competitor), it will put the onus on health clubs to work harder and more creatively to market their programs led by instructors that don't fit the image presented in the media. Because as we all know, people may say they want to be healthy but what they really want is to look like their favorite actor, actress, athlete, or model — and want to learn from someone that is already in that class.

This isn't a new phenomenon; I knew (and was) one of the trainers that didn't always fit the image presented by the media of what a “good” trainer should look like. I've never been under 10% body fat (right now, I'd settle for 15%, OK, 18%) and always had my own “style” — although many would disagree with my use of the word. In fact, I once had a boss that said I would be much more successful if I just did a couple of things: cut my hair differently, wear different shorts, and get different glasses. Oh, and “train myself a little harder.” (He might as well have asked me to change my genetic code while he was at it.) Was he right? Maybe, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

But what I looked like didn't take away from the fact that I was a pretty good trainer (notice the forced modesty). Most of my clients achieved results and, more importantly for me, learned enough about fitness to train on their own eventually — not the best thing for business, but I looked at it as part of my job. And I'm sure it is the same for Portnick.

So next time you're evaluating your staff take a look past the outside and look at the talents, integrity, and skills of the person. It may be more work for your marketing team to make a fit with them, but in the end if they can give your members the results they want, it may be worth it.


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