While I do consider myself a fitness guru, I can honestly say the industry itself is flawed — but not hopelessly. There's an unfortunate stigma surrounding plus-size people in the gym, particularly women, as if someone who simply wants to work out should look a certain way right off the bat. But the harsh judgments don’t stop at side-eyes by the weight rack. Internet trolls put in their two cents wherever and whenever they can, but athletic brand Academy responded to body shamers who posted hurtful comments on Instagram about a plus-size model donning the brand’s athletic wear. It's one way to prove that this industry not only realizes its imperfections, but is actively striving to make fitness as all-inclusive as it can possibly be.
Now, venturing into the gym as a beginner is daunting as it is, between navigating a playing field of mysterious machinery and figuring out what each contraption even does for your body. When someone is heavier set, that awkwardness of trying not to look so obviously new to the routine is multiplied, because this person might not only be condemned for taking too long on the pull-up bars, or for having the wrong form at the squatting rack, but in many situations, they're also being scrutinized for their size and the clothes they wear while working out.
Academy Sports and Outdoors hired plus-size blogger Anna O'Brien to model its new collection and break down some of these arbitrary standards in the fitness industry.
The brand — whose company motto, by the way, is to offer the best active brands “at everyday low prices for all” — recently launched its brand new BCG Plus line. The company signed on plus-size fashion and fitness blogger Anna O’Brien to model the line in a series of photos for Instagram, but unfortunately, a handful of commenters didn't pick up on the positive message O'Brien and Academy were putting out.
Each snapshot features a caption written by the social media influencer herself, who speaks to the importance of accepting plus-size women as equals inside the gym and representing these sizes on the shelves of athletic-wear stores, because everyone deserves the opportunity to get healthy and get active.
For plus size women, finding active wear that fits and is available in-store is nearly impossible.
This single challenge is one of the greatest barriers to plus size women becoming active. With the launch of BCG Plus, Academy is offering a whole new group of women the opportunity to move more.
Despite the fact that O’Brien looks amazing in Academy’s pieces, trolls will be trolls, and her photos were instantly bombarded with body-shamers claiming the brand is glamorizing the idea of being a plus-size person.
What these trolls are getting wrong, though, is that they assume being overweight automatically translates to being unhealthy, which isn’t always the case, and is an extremely unfair, blanketed generalization of people whose bodies simply don't fit into an arbitrary, tightly defined "standard."
Academy is breaking down that standard by speaking out against the cyber trolls attacking O'Brien and what the collaboration stands for. In response to a commenter named James who stated that people should be "ashamed" of being overweight, Academy took it upon itself to shut down the hate once and for all. The brand responded on Instagram,
Hi James, at Academy, we truly believe every woman should have the same opportunity to enjoy sports and the outdoors.
As a result, we will continue to represent a wide range of body types. We’re all different, but our access to an active lifestyle shouldn’t be.
Can I get a mic drop, please?
Positive comments were on Instagram all along, but were amplified once the brand defended O'Brien.
It’s amazing to see an athletic brand not only expand into plus-size apparel, but to also go out of its way to publicly defend the plus-size community and their right to feel good in workout clothes and comfortable in a gym setting.
The photo series received a ton of positive attention from the start, but once Academy stepped up to the plate to voice support for O’Brien, and inclusivity in the fitness industry in general, the praise continued to roll in. Some commenters personally thanked Academy for clapping back against the haters, while others shared their own stories of insecurities, expressing how important it is to put an end to body-shaming.
Instagram user @iamrhondakjones wrote,
None of us have room to make fun of anyone else. For we all have struggles & battles; some seen and unseen!
Instagram user @mayrita_aguilera declared herself a new customer of the brand:
Awesome! Excited to see brands being inclusive of different sizes. You just got yourself a new customer.
Commenters such as user @whimmsy expressed their support as an ally to the plus-size community. She wrote,
I’m not plus size anymore, but I’ll be looking into your stuff now @academy. I dig a company that caters to ALL of its clients.
Support for the plus-size community is continuing to grow, and we're starting to see representation of beauty in all forms.
Self-love is a wide-reaching movement, and we all need to step up and make it a point to not only accept, but appreciate, every body for its natural beauty. The fitness and fashion industries are both known for their stereotypes — and, oftentimes, unattainable standards — yet brands have slowly but surely begun to see the light.
For example, American Eagle's sister lingerie and loungewear brand Aerie has been a champion of inclusivity. Between its un-retouched advertisements and campaigns for all shapes and sizes, #AerieReal is just that: a label that represents all women for exactly who they are.
Unfortunately, though, there is still a lot of work to be done. For instance, though diversity on the runway is improving, there's still a strong lack of plus-size models strutting their stuff on the catwalk. Until a plus-size woman can step into the gym without heads turning, and until she can post pictures of her body without receiving judgmental comments, we'll continue to fight the good fight for total inclusivity. Because every woman deserves not only to be represented, but to be accepted for the natural beauty that she is.