One of the most interesting phenomenons to come from the body positivity and recovery movements online is the urge to move from tribe member to coach.
If I go into the health coaching groups that I and my coaching friends started ages ago, you’ll now see them swollen with links to people who also are becoming or have become coaches. They were a part of this tribe of recovering people (recovering from disordered eating and from eating disorders) and saw its power. They were a part of its power.
And what happens to a lot of people who interact with tribes created by internet marketers is that they see the potential for capital in branching off from that tribe and creating their own. (This happens not just in recovery, but also in just about every online community. If someone can sell the dream, you can too.)
What they don’t realize, however, is that becoming a coach can be a prison for a person in recovery or a person who wants to move past the trauma of a lifetime of poor body image.
Because the blessing and the curse of online body positive coaching is that coaches have to write, by necessity, for beginners.
Even if some of the things we write about are more advanced and require some understanding of concepts like fat activism, the fact that the “you are not fat” statements are actually oppressive, etc., for the most part and in order to bring in new tribe members or potential clients, coaches have to keep writing for the beginner.
It is a blessing that there are coaches (and I know several great ones) who know how to write for the beginner. Who have become solid in their own journeys toward self acceptance while retaining the ability to communicate, over and over and over again, how to be a beginner.
Because it is the beginner who needs coaching. Who needs recovery. Who needs a way in to learn about how to get rid of the scale, stop dieting, and apply/internalize the concepts to their own lives.
But the curse part is that people who have been in process for a long time, who read everything these coaches write, who listen to the podcasts, who participate in the Facebook groups, and even seek to become coaches themselves, continue being inundated with “beginner” material as long as they stay a part of these tribes — long past the point when they should have moved on from being a beginner.
Beginner material, when you are not a beginner is a problem. Because, if you continue to identify as a beginner, you do not move forward. You end up “recovered enough,” constantly holding onto the identity that you’ve created as a beginner so that you don’t lose the community you’ve created with other beginners and people in the tribe.
And what happens is: you end up sitting in your own trauma by refusing to let go of your story.
And no, this is not to blame you for oppressing yourself when there are oppressive forces out there that are doing a good enough job of keeping you locked in self-hatred, nor is this to tell people who are still very much engaged with their traumas and are not recovered yet that they need to bootstrap themselves out of it — this is to enlighten you to the fact that after you’ve done the work, there’s a point where holding onto the work so you can be a part of a community becomes detrimental.
The problem with creating your own tribe or staying in a tribe, when you’ve already surpassed the beginning stages, is that you have to come back to the beginner’s mind in order to understand your potential customer and fellow tribe member. You have to know how to communicate with them—tap into their trauma in order to market the solution or stay relevant to their interests. You have to “meet them where they are,” because they are not at the stage where you can speak to them like they have moved beyond their traumas.
So if you’re not already solid in your recovery/body positivity, coming back to the beginner’s mind can reopen or perpetuate your own identification with trauma. This is how relapse happens.
Or, if you are solid, the constant identity with trauma still keeps you from growing. And the need to keep your trauma around—to be constantly referring to it as a way to identify with others in your tribe or the tribes to which you belong—stops you from Discovery, which means you don’t develop the rest of your life.
Making your personal brand about your trauma can be a great way to amass followers or potentially make money, but even if you reach your “freedom number,” you won’t be making yourself free.
Money and tribe—and the personal brand that grows both—can be a prison.
One of the reasons I quit coaching was because I was exhausted by constantly returning to my traumas in order to remain “authentic” to the beginner who was looking for a guide. Instead of helping forward the people who had been reading and listening for years, I was keeping them stuck by asking them to continue to come back to me, as the authentic expert, for proclamations on how to be a beginner.
I wasn’t my anorexia, but I needed to be in order to keep people on my list.
I saw this happening, and it depleted me. I wasn’t a beginner anymore, and the more I wrote for beginners, the more trapped I felt. And the more I noticed people on my list and in my groups who clung to every scrap and shred of trauma in order to stay relevant with the rest of the group. Every “bad food day” and even every “non scale victory” had to be noticed and dissected. For beginners, that’s important. Because, as a beginner, you have to notice so that you can learn how to do the work.
But once you’re not a beginner anymore, noticing and celebrating and dissecting and constantly talking about your body actually holds you back. Because, eventually, you have to stop noticing so you can make room in your brain for moving on with your life.
Clinging to a community that’s built around the beginner’s first steps away from trauma of any kind can be detrimental the further out from the healing you get. The more you hang around, the more likely you’ll be to accidentally-on-purpose open up some scars.
Which is to say: We need coaches for the beginners, but we don’t need all beginners to seek to become coaches. If you notice in yourself that you’re becoming attached to the idea of building a brand around, making money from, and dedicating your very own community to a trauma, consider whether or not you actually need to do this.
I quit coaching because I wanted to make money and have a personal brand, but I did not want to have to be authentically in my trauma to attract customers to me. I could not read about beginners’ struggles every minute of every day if I wanted to not stay a beginner myself. I needed to step away because, even though I am good at what I did, I did not want to be only good at trauma.
So this is my message to you, tribe members, community seekers, and future coaches: If you truly want to inspire others in your community beyond beginners (because we already have coaches for that), step out of the community and model Discovery. Be the expert on recovering by recovering fully and completely. Move on, move on, move on.
You are more than our trauma. You are not recovery. You have the potential to be and live Discovery. And that is far more important than a health coaching certificate or 1000 friends in a Facebook group will ever be.