Sometimes we read, watch or listen to something, and we don’t register it as particularly impactful, but in retrospect, we realize it’s changed our perspective in profound ways. This episode of Balance 365 Life Radio has been one of those moments for me. Alison Tedford speaks about the importance of recognizing and addressing ableism in fitness, and I realize now that it has profoundly informed and educated my understanding of myself and how I fit into the fitness world.
Alison defines ableism as “discrimination based on people’s abilities,” and she’s careful to identify that this is not limited to physical abilities. She also emphasizes that not all physical needs are the same, illustrating her own need for accommodations to have more space in crowed areas, not simply “accessible” seating. What I love about this example and her whole attitude is she makes it clear that we cannot assume we are meeting everyone’s needs, and it’s not actually reasonable to expect anyone to anticipate the needs of everyone else. This means we need to be good listeners and receptive to feedback when people speak up. I would also add that it means we need to create spaces where it is easy to provide opportunities for people to advocate for themselves.
And this is the message that keeps resonating my mind. I don’t expect everyone to anticipate my needs, but I do expect them to have a willingness to listen to me and actively seek out feedback when we work together. For me, mental and physical wellness fluctuates constantly, and if I am the only one bridging the conversation, it can become a burden. Also, with my trauma history, self-advocacy itself can be more difficult and challenging, and while I recognize I carry a responsibility to speak up, I also benefit from people being open and explicit about wanting to hear how I’m doing and what I need in the moment.
What I also need from my lifting community is an openness to see my strengths alongside my challenges. I love what Alison says about supporting people for where they’re at in their journey, for celebrating people who are living their lives the best they can, regardless of how it measures up against folks with fewer barriers. I realize now that I have sometimes held myself to a standard based upon folks with fewer physical and mental health challenges than myself. I like to think of myself as someone who overcomes and pushes through the challenges, and I am, but I also have very real barriers to realizing my potential. It’s not really fair to myself to only compare my current outcomes with the badass results I’d like to some day realize.
Beyond my own needs, I recognize that I also need to address how I may sometimes contribute to ableism in fitness culture. I am not writing this blog to be a guru; I’m not a trainer, physiotherapist or dietician. I’m an avid consumer of health and wellness information, and I love processing and discussing that world of information and figuring out how it applies to my life. As a consumer of health and fitness information which tends to be ableist, I acknowledge that means I am sometimes internalizing these assumptions. I try to filter the information I take in, to approach anything with a certain degree of skepticism and humility. I won’t get it all right. I hope members of this community can help me create a space where we can have the hard conversations–ask questions and explore our own biases in an open-minded way, always looking to learn and do better. I hope you take the time to listen to this important podcast, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!
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