Is Fitness Only For Thin, White Women?
A couple of months ago, Self Magazine published an article entitled, “28 Black Fitness Pros You Should be Following on Instagram.” I was pretty pumped they released this list because to be honest, representation matters. But it also got me thinking. Why was there even a need to put out a list like this in the first place? Why was I so thrilled that women of color were being spotlighted in this article?
The answer was simple but also a tad hard to swallow. It’s because women of color are by and large underrepresented in many areas of society; fitness being one of them.
It stayed on my mind for a few days, but honestly, life got hectic (as it always does), and I moved on to other things.
However, this past week, I was reminded of this issue again. I was creating the following infographic for Instagram featuring women doing a few workout movements.
By the way, if we’re not connected on Instagram, you can find me here.
I googled for images of push-ups, and this is what popped up:
I repeated the same process for the lunge, bent over row, and squat press and got the exact same results.
According to google, women of color don’t work out; mind boggling because I myself am a woman of color, and I’m certain that I work out.
Perhaps google was just off. I mean it’s only the world’s most popular search engine, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect right?
Do me a quick favor. Pull out your phone and go to Instagram. Head over to Oxygen Magazine’s Instagram page (@oxygenmagazine). Now keep scrolling until you see a woman of color. Next, keep scrolling until you find 10. On second thought, scratch that; you probably don’t have enough time for that because trust me, you are going to be scrolling for a while. I’m not picking on Oxygen. To be honest, it was just the first fitness magazine that came to my head.
Here’s the thing. You might think it’s just because women of color are obviously just not as interested in health and fitness. That’s actually not the case at all. So I’m just going to come out and say it, as unpopular an opinion as it might be.
The fitness industry has a diversity problem.
The diversity issue exists both in lack of representation of women of color and also in the lack of representation of different body types. You don’t have to be thin or white to be fit — shocking!
Before you roll your eyes at me and write off this article, give me a minute to explain why the representation of women of color in fitness industry is so important.
Flash back a couple of years, and I was completely new to strength training and powerlifting (and fitness in general). I was hungry for knowledge and information and also a community of women who focused on developing strength and empowering women. I found quite a few individuals that resonated with me and even some groups specifically geared towards women, but there’s one thing I couldn’t really find. The thing missing in most of these groups was representation. No one looked like me. It was glaringly obvious.
I even started to wonder if women of color lifted weights. Obviously, that is not true and over time, I found lots of women of color to follow and look to for inspiration.
Again, why does this matter?
It matters because what people see shapes their perception of reality and what they deem to be possible for themselves and for people who look like them.
If I wasn’t born a thin, blond, white woman can I still be fit? Can I grace the covers of fitness magazines? Can I make a career of being a fitness professional?
If women of color are not represented on the cover of magazines, in articles, as speakers at fitness conferences, on the Instagram accounts of major fitness pages, what does that mean? Does it mean that black and brown women aren’t active? Does it mean that we aren’t athletic? Does it mean we aren’t aesthetically pleasing enough or worthy enough to be represented? Does it mean that we aren’t beautiful? Does it mean that we aren’t capable of being successful in the fitness industry? Does it mean that we don’t have what it takes to be successful fitness entrepreneurs?
Or does it mean that we simply don’t matter?
Here’s a moment of complete honesty and vulnerability. These thoughts have crossed my mind. When I first began my blog and really starting putting myself out there, there was one glaringly obvious realization. I was in the minority. That’s not to say that there aren’t women of color out there who are completely rocking their businesses, but their presence was much more difficult to find in the mainstream.
I noticed something else as well. Fitness is highly segregated. I found pockets of groups and organizations that were particularly targeted to fitness for women of color. On the opposite spectrum, I found a much larger arena which while not marketed for white women, the overwhelming majority of these women were white.
At the majority of fitness conferences or business networking events that I attend, I am usually one of a few or the only person of color.
The fitness industry just isn’t inclusive. Fitness is and should be for everyone. It’s a not a “special” club for people who look a certain way. In order for that to be the case, it can’t be marketed solely to thin, white women. It needs to represent all shades, shapes, and sizes.
People need to be able to open the pages of fitness magazines or scroll through the Instagram accounts or Facebook pages of Shape, Women’s Health, or Muscle and Fitness Hers and see the real-world representation of themselves. People need to be able to attend fitness conferences and see themselves represented on the stage or as facilitators during breakout sessions.
So how do we work to change this narrative?
For starters, we can be open to engaging in honest and real dialogue regarding the matter. We can be open to accepting the reality that women of color are marginalized in many spaces, the fitness industry being one of them. Instead of just reading this article and moving on with your life, decide to engage in meaningfulness conversation about the topic; discuss it with your friends, peers, or fellow fitness professionals.
Secondly, we can support the work of women of color. We can do this by following their social media accounts, sharing their work, collaborating with them, referring them, networking with them, and opening up doors of opportunity when possible.
If you are interested in women of color who are crushing it in the fitness industry, you can start by checking out the article from Self Magazine listed above.
A few of my personal favorites (in no particular order) are:
- Eakinwale– Crossfit extraordinaire
- Live_and_lift– stong ass powerlifter
- Jenny.arthur– olympic weightlifter
- Yogaracheal– yoga goddess
- Massy.Arias– all around badass
- Sweatlocal– gym owner, mama, and trainer
- Bbg2wl– blogger and weight loss coach
- Stephironlioness– boxer, powerlifter, and African goddess
- Amna.s.alhaddad– olympic weightlifter
- Livingthegoddesslife– Pole dancer and yogi
For me personally, I’m going to keep showing and trying my best to be a positive example of a woman of color in the fitness industry. I’m going to keep talking about this topic and spreading the message because representation matters. I’m going to keep showing up to fitness events and conferences because I belong there just as much as anyone else. I’m going to keep defying the image of fitness being for thin, white women. Fitness is for everyone; all shades, all shapes, all sizes.
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