Why Peloton’s Ash Pryor Is ‘Not Going to Play Small Anymore’

Peloton’s launch with Ash Pryor was made possible by Patience. The rowing instructor had been training in secret for almost a year before revealing her new gig. Members will need to wait several weeks to be able to attend her live classes on the new Peloton Rowing machine.

Her patience and thoughtfulness were even more apparent in the caption she wrote on Instagram in September in direct response to the “disgusting fat shaming comments” she received following the announcement of her Peloton debut. Peloton’s official Facebook page had a few fatphobic comments about Pryor’s launch. They said that her body was not in line with what a “fitness instructor” should look like. This is an ignorant and discriminatory stance.

Pryor told CityRyde that she could have really “popped the fuck off.” But instead, she was like, “Not today Satan” and continued pushing.

She chose to send her message to those who are still fighting for body acceptance, not to the fat-shamers instead. “I have played small a large part of my life, so when this opportunity presented itself, I said that I’m showing myself unashamedly, because why not me?” Pryor wrote. “People need to see someone like me! Let me be the first!”

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She says, “That post was meant to say that, shit’s always going to happen, but that’s not going to stop us; time is up.” “We will take our throne. We are going to stand here. They can accept that this is not their space. Starting now, we won’t play small.”

The post did hit a nerve, getting over 2,700 comments and more than 34,000 Likes. It also brought attention to the fact fitness does not need to be a particular way, something that the famously white and thin industry has fought for years.

Pryor is fighting against long-standing inequalities within the fitness industry. But she isn’t afraid to assert her claim and show the world that fitness isn’t just for those with thin bodies.  Pryor talked to us about her life, passions and why she is determined to break down barriers in fitness.

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Pryor is a Columbus native. She didn’t start her rowing career on the rower. Instead, she developed her skills on the basketball court. She was actually at basketball practice during her junior year in high school when she first thought of rowing. She heard a strange hum from the hallway while taking a water break. Pryor found members of the rowing crew moving together during an indoor rowing session (the best option for rowers who aren’t in water), and informed her mother she would like to join the team later in the evening. She says, “It looked so cool–and dynamic and powerful.”

She couldn’t wait to try it. However, the team was not affiliated with her school. She says that it was not common to do sports outside of school back then. “And there weren’t a lot people of color doing that, and It’s very costly.” Pryor continued to concentrate on basketball. She was a first-generation college student at Ohio State University at Newark when she had her freshman year. It wasn’t until then that she finally got to go on the water.

fat shaming ash

“Someone approached me and said, “You look very fit.” They asked me if I would ever consider rowing here as a Division 1 athlete. I replied, “Absolutely.” Pryor moved from the branch campus to Ohio State University’s main campus and began her rowing career. She says, “I adored it.” “That year, our team won the Big Ten championship.”

Pryor became more interested in education than her rowing. Pryor quit rowing during her senior year when she was offered a position as the University president’s event organizer. She graduated in 2013 and went on to get her master’s in higher education and student affairs. After that, she worked in various roles on campus.

In 2017, she got a one-two punch just as her career was progressing.

Pryor was diagnosed as having Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects thyroid function. This was at the same time her mentor and supervisor died from another autoimmune disease. “I saw firsthand what could happen in health care for women of color. ” when she died, I made a vow to myself to fight like a champ.”

Pryor, who wanted to be able to focus on her health and help others do the same, returned to rowing in order to make a difference. She was appointed the 2018 Ohio State women’s rowing coach. For the purpose of teaching fitness classes at local gyms, she also obtained her group fitness certification. She said that the positive feedback she received from her students, who were impressed to see an instructor like them, fueled her determination. “I felt like I deserved to be here and that encouraged me to continue growing.”

Ash Pryor, at the suggestion of her brother, began cycling with Peloton after stepping back into the world of fitness. She also began to try their strength and tread classes. She quickly felt a connection to the platform.

Pryor was inspired by a particular run and slid into the DMs of Peloton’s head coach and VP for fitness Robin Arzon. “I DM’ed her, and I was like, “Thanks for the run,” and at the end, I added, “PS: I’m both a coach and a trainer in rowing, so if ever you want to become a rower, I’m your girl.” Pryor said, “I need one single shot.” Arzon, who has 1 million Instagram followers, never saw the note. However, four months later, a Peloton recruiter messaged Pryor to inquire about the possibility of joining the new rowing instructors’ group.

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She says that she took a photo of herself with the Peloton “P” on her chest and stuck it on her vision board. She looked at it to as a source of motivation. Pryor was hired after several auditions and interviews.

Navigating through the noise and claiming her space

Pryor said that she mentally prepared for criticism from people who still believe the myth that athleticism must be tied to the one particular thin aesthetic.

Pryor said that “When you’re first to do something or, you’re just different, you already know that harsh comments or even bad things are going to occur.”

She didn’t expect the online trolls to spew such venom after Peloton announced her arrival as a new instructor. She says that she was even more shocked by the vile comments. “I have never commented in a nasty way on something I didn’t like on social media,” she said. “I was bracing for myself, but I also felt like ‘I’m stepping up’.” Pryor received unwelcome labels, such as “Peloton’s new plus-size teacher” –that have forced her to reevaluate her identity as a public figure.

She says, “It’s taken me a while to find the right language and accept what I want and go where I want.” “I believe there is an essence to trying to reclaim the meaning of the word “fat”. However, that also means acknowledging when someone does not use that word–you shouldn’t call them that.”

Pryor is addressing a larger issue in today’s ever-evolving world that accepts and celebrates body diversity. Although some people find it liberating to use terms such as “fat” and “plus-size,” others may feel that they are stigmatizing. While this is an individual decision, it can be offensive, misleading, or just plain inaccurate to place them on someone else, which could ultimately lead to a detraction from the fight for body inclusion and identity. Pryor states, ” You might want to reclaim that term, but you don’t know where someone is.” I don’t have plus-size clothes and I’m not a plus size. How can I be an in-betweener while still allowing someone who is truly a plus size person to take that space and share that experience?

Pryor said that the overwhelming support she has received online made it easier for her to get over those hateful comments. “It’s been incredible. It’s amazing to see how many people from all body forms, aged 21 to 65, have felt at ease saying, ‘Fuck it! I deserve to love my body, and who I am,’” she said.

Moving forward and finding freedom

Pryor admits to being a role model on how to handle fat-shaming, but she also acknowledges that it has been difficult to love herself. She says she is still working on her body acceptance practices, including naming her stomach (she calls her Tina and she has a story; naming it makes it a part of Pryor’s life), as well as daily affirmations in front of the mirror.

She says that you must get to a point where you can accept yourself as you are. “Every year I find a word to guide me. My word for 31 years old is ‘freedom.’ That implies I don’t use workouts to punish myself, and I can eat a cupcake even if someone will be like, ‘See, this is why she looks like that.’ I feel the most strong, confident, and beautiful I have ever felt in my whole life.”

fat shaming ash pryor

Pryor believes that the fitness industry has a lot to learn about body acceptance.

Pryor’s college experience inspired her to create the non-profit Relentless rowing academy. This academy provides financial support and education for para-athletes and BIPOC, as well as mentoring to help them excel in rowing. She is now promoting fitness for all people in her role at Peloton. She says, “We need to understand that everyone is allowed to exercise and it doesn’t have anything to do with aesthetics.” 

“Not everyone wants a six-pack. I think folks are unable of fathoming that. Fatphobia is very related to crossing racial and gender lines. These are conversations that we must be open to having. We’ve made some progress as a society, but there’s still a lot we can do.

Pryor, despite the difficult road that awaits, says that she is encouraged by Peloton’s commitment to body diversity, and the overwhelming positive support she has received. She says this has outshone all negativity and hate.

She is particularly fond of a recent experience and often calls on her memory for support. She was speaking at a school. She said that the kids called her Lizzo and that she didn’t get what they meant by that. But then she Googled ‘Lizzo’. She understood what they meant to say to me. “Lizzo is beautiful and strong. She’s also smart and has a lot of businesses. Now I feel extremely complimented.” Pryor said, “So thank you so much for coming here because that lets me know I can accomplish anything.” It was almost like my middle school ghost, but with the confidence that I have at 31, looking me in the eye and saying, “Keep going.”

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