I sure hope not. But lately it sure seems like it. And can you blame them? A savvy marketer knows a trend when they see it, and they know how to jump on it to harness that superpower for their own good (even if it’s not the greater good). But where does that leave us?

As I noticed this trend rising it made me think of the health washing strategy typically seen in the marketing of foods, specifically processed foods.

What’s “health washing?”

Health Washing is the strategy marketers use around food products to increase their apparent food value (while doing no such thing). Things like calling out the health conscious (or health popular) food ingredients like vegetables or quinoa in a product that typically wouldn’t have them such as chips or cookies. Or being clever in product naming to imply health value. Or my personal fave? Slapping on a “gluten free,”  “fat free” or “paleo friendly” label – because gluten, fat and grains are the devil, don’t you know? (insert Intuitive Eating eye roll)

This is not because these approaches to eating are necessarily healthier (unless you have an actual allergy or intolerance). But instead they use these labels because these are currently recognized health trends and the manufacturers of these packaged goods are riding the coat tails of this trend – all the way to the bank!

Think the ever popular kids snack “Veggie Straws” which are essentially just a potato chip with some veggie puree in them, along with a hefty dose of sodium. Or Old Dutch Potato Chips with a Gluten Free callout. And I’m not just picking on chips. Breads and packaged crackers are pretty notorious too with their added flax (seeds that our body can’t actually process) or ancient grains label.

So, why do they do it?

Because bottom line – it sells! “Health conscious” consumers are more likely to buy them simply because they feel better about it, “they’re healthy, you know!”

How do you get around “health washing?”

Use your common sense and stop demonizing foods! I know, not quite as easy as just offloading all of that mom guilt because your kids are eating “Spinach Tortillas” or “Smart Kraft Dinner,” but that’s the truth of it! Hey, while you’re at it, just ditch all the guilt around food for good and simply enjoy food!

How to do this? The trick is to ignore the food marketing entirely – and look for the “bricks and mortar” of the food (aka the ingredients) and ditch all the “rules” you have about foods altogether! Does that food choice meet your your unique nutritional needs and also your wants? Be cautious not to demonize foods. All foods (including good old classic potato chips – gluten or no gluten) can be part of a healthy approach to nutrition! Approach your food mindfully – savvy to the sweet skills of the marketing sleuths.

How on earth does this relate to being Body Positive?

A lot. Let me explain. Just like “health washing” lately I’ve noticed a trend I’m going to call Body Positive Washing.

What is “Body Positive Washing?”

This is the trend whereby smart marketers are keen the tidal wave that is the Body Positive Movement and they want to ride the wave, all the way to the bank!

And it’s not all bad. The trend has resulted in a greater body diversity of models on covers of magazines, in marketing campaigns and an increased dialogue around the movement itself. YES! This makes my heart so happy!

But you know what doesn’t make my heart happy? When businesses or influencers use this trend to build their brand with no reverence for the actual intention behind the body positive movement: to advocate for the acceptance of all bodies regardless of physical ability, size, gender, sexual orientation, race, or appearance.

Body positivity isn’t (just) about loving the skin you’re in. Though it fully supports you loving on your (awesome) body. But it’s more…

At its core the Body Positive Movement is about approaching your body with appreciation and respect. It’s about inclusion, and asserts that all people are entitled to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture (aka Diet Culture) view “ideal” shape, size, gender, sexual orientation, race or appearance.

How this applies to the health conversation is to shift the conversation from what our bodies look like (the traditional focus of the health + fitness industry) and towards what our bodies enable us to do! In this conversation the objective of health + fitness is not to enable you to have perfectly sculpted biceps or abs for aesthetic sake, but for functionality. Strong arms so you can lift your groceries or your child. A capable core so you can maintain good posture and prevent low back pain. Or a well nourished body so you have the energy to do the things that bring you joy like chase after your kids at the park or chase down a goal like running a marathon. And the coolest part? What that “looks like” will be absolutely different for every person. Hello diversity. Hello freedom. Hello AWESOME.

But here’s the rift.

I’ve seen it more times than I can count, smart marketers are using the body positive language, but pairing it with imagery that reinforces the traditional version of “fitness perfection.” Or they’re using more diversity in their marketing, with all the right “body positive language” to simply to sell you the “latest and greatest” diet or fitness fad (hello Diet Culture wolf in sheep’s clothes, I see you.).

Listen, I could rant for a while on this, but rather than waste both our precious energy on anger and frustration – I want to give you the skills to see through it and identify the businesses that actually mean it.

When it comes to “Health Washing” the advice is simple. Don’t trust the packaging. Read the food label and most importantly the ingredients list. Be savvy to the sodium and fat content and make mindful choices. And also don’t demonize food! All foods can be part of a healthy approach to nutrition and a healthy relationship with food!

When it comes to “Body Positive Washing” the advice is similar. Don’t blindly trust the headlines and marketing copy. Remember, there are professionals out there whose sole purpose is to write compelling copy that makes you want to buy stuff. And they’re good at it! Instead look between the lines.

Consider the following:

  • Peek behind the curtains. Is the business/ company using body positive language but still promoting products or services that are intended to “fix” the body?  Aka products or programs that promote “fat loss” or aesthetically focused outcomes.
  • Explore their philosophy. What is the overall philosophy of the health + fitness company? Is it inclusive? Are all bodies welcome? Does it promote body acceptance or neutrality or transformation of body?
  • Is it all about the “after” pic? Is there an emphasis on “transformation” or aesthetic outcomes (aka before and after pictures, measurements, inches lost, weigh ins, body fat measures or the like)? Reminder: thinness does not equal health, nor does fatness equal ill-health. This is an old (and very inaccurate stereotype reinforced by Diet Culture).
  • Look for diversity. Do you see diversity when you go to the facility (or in their online marketing)? Do you feel welcomed and included? Is your body represented (and not in a “before” picture)?
  • Ask for inclusion. If the program is for women, is it for all people who identify as women? Is everyone (truly) welcome?
  • Listen for language. If you go and try a class or do a session – what kind of language do they use? Do they reinforce the old paradigm of “blood sweat and tears” and “making your fat cry” or “reducing the jiggle” or do they use empowering cues that inspire you to appreciate and respect your body?
  • Look for representation. Are any of the trainers/ coaches/ instructors size diverse? What about racial diversity? Do they promote body acceptance and respect personally? Do they walk the talk and give themselves permission to embrace an evolving body?

This is just a start, but something I highly encourage you to consider as you look for the support you need in the health + fitness industry. Just as the marketers are savvy, you can be too!

Armed with this information make choices around your health + fitness that truly leave you feeling empowered and inspired. You may even decide to take action to let these other businesses know what you think!

Action Steps to consider:

  1. Vote with your likes and follows. Social media is powerful – and you vote with your likes, loves and follows! Unfollow businesses that are inauthentically using the body positive movement to further their business.
  2. Speak up. If you see an ad or sponsored post you don’t like on social media – report it! Giving that feedback is a powerful step.
  3. Water the plants you wish to grow. Support the businesses and companies who are genuinely practicing what they preach and approaching health + fitness with a body positive philosophy.
  4. Pull the weeds! If we continue to support businesses that reinforce the old aesthetic or worse, harness the power of the body positive movement for their monetary gain – we’re telling them its ok. And it’s not. I’ve personally boycotted a few companies simply because their marketing doesn’t match. And in some cases I’ve given written feedback through their website or Facebook page. Sure your words may land on deaf ears, but they might not. And I’m willing to bet you’ll feel more empowered for having said your peace!

Be mindful. Be empowered. Be action oriented. Be Super You!

If you’re looking for a truly Body Positive Health and Fitness Community, consider joining us in the Super You StudioCrew! The StudioCrew is an inclusive, weight neutral, body positive community of people who identify as women who are ditching diet culture, embracing the body they’ve got and rocking their health + fitness, their way. Join us!