Michelle Bridges... F*** off!
So tonight the ABC's Australian Story chose to profile Michelle Bridges, a woman who already has a huge platform and significant brand power behind her. The story disclosed that in 2015, she was worth roughly $53 million; and what has she sold? She has sold the idea that we are not responsible enough to make decisions for ourselves and that her idea of health and happiness is what we should all strive to. The problem with the un-regulated fitness industry in Australia (you don’t even have to be registered to work as a personal trainer) is the lack of repercussions, accountability and training. You can become a personal trainer in as quick as six weeks, and if you have a large social media following, you can be considered a “fitness guru” without any formal training whatsoever. So why, in 2016, when we have access to so much research about health, how our bodies works and disease; do we allow our ideas about health and body image be dictated by those who do not need to have any formal registration or University level education? Humans are complex. We all come with our own set of problems and quirks and for anyone to understand how each body works is a large task. So large that doctors train for 13+ years to specialise in just one bodily function. Even then, people are sceptical of their knowledge and will often seek a second opinion in order to make sure they are receiving correct treatment. However, when it comes to health and fitness, such a large portion of our population blindly follow these “health guru’s” and personal trainers without looking objectively at what they actually know. Do they know how to read a research paper? Can they understand the findings of that paper and interpret it to apply to a specific health population? Do they understand the psychology of motivation and what models of treatment actually produce results? Why do we allow the amount of followers on a social media profile undermine years and years of tertiary education? In Australia, there are many options for people to receive the correct treatment and training regimes if they have chronic disease or complex conditions. We have Allied Health Professionals who are specifically accredited to deliver exercise prescriptions to people with complex medical histories, such as morbid obesity. They are called Exercise Physiologists. They’re University educated, they’re accredited, they have Medicare numbers and they need to complete continual professional development points every year to make sure that their education stays up to date and current. We also have dietitians. Like AEP’s, they are University educated to prescribe specific diets to those with complex medical issues. They understand that what works for one person may not work for another and that generic “one size fits all” meal plans may not be realistic for those who do not have equal socioeconomic access. It’s all well and good for Michelle to sell the idea that by signing up to her diet and exercise plans, you are making the “right choice” and not “using excuses” but let’s be real for a minute. There are excuses and valid ones; and for many Australians there are very real barriers to the healthy lifestyle she purports as being accessible to all. Her one size fits all approach ignores complex socioeconomic factors and places blame on those who struggle financially, mentally and emotionally. Michelle may have highlighted one very important fact about Australia today; and that is health inequality and access to resources, but the solution to this is not her aggressive, self-benefiting rhetoric that completely trivialises the complexity of poverty, obesity and socioeconomic determinants of health outcomes that people spend years studying. Nor is it one person profiting from the idea that these problems can be fixed by making a “choice” to sign up to one of her plans (or one of the many others who use a similar model in this country – see Ashy Bines). We do have choices; we have the choice to seek information from those who are qualified to provide it. We also have excuses, and those are just as complex as our medical histories. Mental health can be a massive barrier to exercise and having a super-fit, super-rich, super-aggressive personal trainer implying that these are not “real” obstacles that need to be addressed can be much more detrimental to our health than having a cheeseburger for lunch. While Michelle absolutely should be praised for her business prowess (who wouldn’t want a cool $53mil – maybe she could lend it to Kanye?) she absolutely should not be held up as leader in the health and fitness industry when she uses cheap exclusionary tactics to victim blame rather than use her platform to campaign for health reform and greater funding to facilitate adequate access to health care for all Australians, not just those she can profit from.