Future Directions For Women's Fitness Culture

Subtitle: Let's Get Physical Chapters 7-8 & Appendix

Posted on February 24th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

As we wrap up Let's Get Physical, the feeling that instantly comes to mind for me is gratefulness. I am grateful for the women, named and unnamed, who fought for the culture we live in today. I'm grateful that Danielle Friedman took the time to write this book on a history that is so little known and rarely taught. I am grateful (and excited) for the progress that we continue to observe. This blog will look at some of that progress, focusing on the last chapter of Let's Get Physical to briefly discuss some of the more recent developments in women's fitness culture and the directions we are headed.

Research has shown that bodies of all shapes and sizes can be fit bodies. As we've seen throughout this book, Western culture has a long history of associating thinness with health, strength, and virtue, and fatness with disease and as a result western medicine has often treated weight loss as a cure-all. However, recent research from Dr. Lindo Bacon (the founder of the Health at Every Size movement) and Dr. Lucy Aphramor suggests that this view doesn't take into account the important role of chronic stress. Their experiments have shown that the gap between someone's actual weight and their perceived is a greater indicator of mental and physical health than that person's body mass index (pg# 249). Furthermore, experiments completed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper (the father of aerobics) show that "…the death rate for people who are "thin but unfit" is at least twice as high as for fatter counterparts who are fit." (pg#249). Just like with marathon running the growing body of research will continue to help bust the myth that immediately associates a person's outward appearance with their inner health and encourage better healthcare for bodies of all types in the process.

The rise of social media and Instagram in particular has allowed for the people to have greater control over the narrative around fitness culture. Look no further than Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga guru who is Black, queer, femme, and *fat (pg#240). Unable to afford classes at a local studio, she started practicing yoga at home and posting photos of her poses on Instagram in hopes of getting constructive feedback. She received that feedback but also found that people were shocked to see a fat yoga practitioner and has since used her platform to change the way fat bodies are perceived in yoga and life (pg#244). Many others have also used social media to bring visibility to lifestyles that had previously been unseen and give voices to the voiceless and we can see the way that culture has shifted as a result. Women's magazines, popular clothing stores, and other big brands are now beginning to adopt a more body inclusive mindset in the products they make, models they use, and messaging they promote. Whether they truly understand the importance of inclusivity and representation or are simply looking to capitalize economically on "woke" culture, this change is evident and encouraging.

Workout spaces are becoming more accessible. The current generation of fitness pioneers has made accessibility a priority. Leaders like Jessamyn Stanley have made it their stated goal to make body-diverse classes accessible to anyone who wants them. Sadie Kurzban, creator of the popular 305 Fitness, has created a business model that offers community classes at low cost, financial assistance for those facing economic barriers, and gives clients the ability to pay it forward to cover others' memberships (pg# 252). Virtually, spaces like Peloton's #BlackGirlMagic community created a place for its members to connect over health and fitness topics relevant to black women (pg#246). We certainly have a long way to go on the issue of accessibility, but the presence of spaces like these are promising progress.

Fitness has the potential to empower us all. The initial promise of fitness to reduce, sculpt, and shape may have brought many of us through the door, but it is my hope that you've found joy, community, stress relief, and a plethora of other things that keep you coming back.

*As is noted in the book and worth repeating here, fat is the preferred terminology within the body acceptance movement. Overweight suggests that humans should strive for a uniform weight and obese unjustly pathologizes large bodies (pg#239).

Discussion Questions:

1. How long have you been running/walking/jogging? What initially led you to this community? What has encouraged you to stick with it?

2. What future directions of women's fitness culture excite you?

Head to the Facebook Group to discuss - CLICK HERE