Diversity and Inclusion in Fitness—Why We Need More of It
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While diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords within the fitness and wellness industry, mainstream fitness is still very white and very thin. Look around to see if you can notice the lack of representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the industry. This includes representation at all levels ranging from representation of BIPOC on the covers of fitness magazines to the lineup on fitness panels or the speakers presenting at industry conferences.
Fitness and wellness go far beyond exercise and nutrition. After all, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are equally important to a person’s wellbeing. All these aspects of wellness have a direct impact on physical health. We can’t adequately take a holistic approach to wellness without addressing issues like racism and the lack of representation and how it affects wellbeing and prevents some people from feeling safe in their bodies and in fitness spaces.
As fitness professionals, if we are sincerely interested in serving all clients and helping them pursue wellness, we must take an industry-wide intersectional approach and embrace conversations about racism and how it affects our clients. And we need to acknowledge and have a working understanding of gender, sexual orientation, ability status, body diversity, and more, and how those identities, especially when they intersect, affect people’s lives in and out of the gym. This requires taking time to acknowledge and examine our own internalized biases and beliefs and will likely lead to some discomfort—but discomfort is not a bad thing. In fact, leaning into uncomfortable feelings gives way to growth and evolution.
Whether you realize it or not, cultivating a diverse and inclusive wellness industry is wildly important and a crucial component in creating multifaceted experiences. It’s impossible to take a holistic approach to wellness without considering the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, age, and body shape and size, among others.
But aside from that, diversity and inclusion have so many benefits and allow us to broaden our perspective of the world.
Here are 5 reasons why it’s important to cultivate a diverse and inclusive wellness industry:
1. Fitness Is for Everyone.
Contrary to what we see portrayed in fitness magazines and throughout social media, fitness is for everyone. Fitness isn’t for a particular size, gender, shape, age, or ethnicity. You don’t need to look a certain way to have a ‘fit’ body, nor do you need to possess any particular physical characteristics to engage in physical activity of any form.
With the average American woman wearing a size 14 or above, having the ‘face of fitness’ be mostly young, thin, lean, cisgender individuals with just the right amount of muscle mass is a gross misrepresentation of the general population. It perpetuates the false idea that being ‘fit’ or healthy is synonymous with being a certain size. It also further alienates people from feeling welcomed in fitness spaces. Every ‘body’ is worthy and deserves to feel represented, welcome, and seen as valuable.
2. Representation Matters
Representation is vital 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. It’s also important for people from dominant groups to see what’s possible for people who don’t look like them.
It’s important to see women working out in hijabs. We need to see Black and brown women represented. It’s vital that we see people who are transgender or nonbinary represented in wellness spaces. We need to see larger bodies on the covers of fitness magazines because, unfortunately, so many people still don’t understand that size is not an indication of health.
Diversity is not a box you check, and representation is not the end goal. It’s actually just the first step. But it’s still a very important step nonetheless. Because, without it, important stories remain absent from mainstream wellness.
3. It Creates Welcoming Spaces
Have you ever walked into a space and not felt welcomed? For members of marginalized communities, this is an all too common experience. If we aren’t considering overlapping identities such as gender, sexuality, or race, it’s easy to lack the awareness of how we are creating less than welcoming spaces, both in-person and online. Being a minority or member of a marginalized group in a non-diverse setting or industry can feel extremely isolating.
This concept is particularly challenging for white people to understand because whiteness is the default in American culture. As such, it affords people the privilege of rarely feeling ‘othered’ or unwelcomed. Diversity and inclusion foster a sense of belonging for people. It helps individuals feel included and seen, and more importantly, welcomed.
4. Diversity and Inclusion Gives Us Opportunities to Learn and Grow
If everyone in your social and professional circles looks just like you, you run the risk of groupthink. Even worse, you are missing out on important growth opportunities. Being around people who are different from yourself, who can offer a different perspective, one you may have never considered, allows you to expand your knowledge and self-awareness.
A big part of that process requires that you be quiet and listen. You may not experience everything someone else experiences, but you can do your best to understand, empathize, and hold space for other people. Most importantly, you can be open to learning more and accepting feedback without centering yourself in the conversation. This certainly does not mean we have permission to require others to share their experiences or demand their emotional labor. We can learn a lot by closing our mouths and opening our ears.
5. Fosters Creativity and Provides a Richer Experience
Variety is the spice of life and creating diverse and inclusive spaces fosters creativity and colorful experiences. Many of your deepest learning experiences have likely transpired when you were exposed to different views, ideas, and perspectives. That doesn’t happen when we stay in our safe and comfortable corners of the world, surrounded only by people who look and think the same as we do.
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde
Our differences are the very thing that makes this world a beautiful and interesting place. Let’s celebrate and embrace our differences.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion matters in every facet of life, but even more so in the wellness space, because health and wellness are important for truly everyone. The benefits of wellness, whether it be movement, nutrition, or mindset, extend to every single human being. Those benefits allow individuals to feel energized, whole, empowered, and nourished in their bodies. Everyone deserves access to wellness in environments that feel welcoming and comfortable, and where they feel seen, respected, affirmed, and celebrated. If these environments aren't inclusive, people will feel unwelcome, and it may have lasting impacts on their personal relationship with wellness—in addition to simply feeling it's inaccessible at that moment.
Fitness is for everyone. Let’s work together to bring as many people as we can into this conversation because we have the opportunity to shift the landscape of the fitness industry. Transformation occurs when we create a culture of accountability. We are all responsible.
Are you ready to help build a more diverse and welcoming community in fitness? Get started with ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer course. Learn the ins and outs of training so you can share that knowledge and build a healthy, inclusive fitness community.
Certified Personal Trainer
The Certified Fitness Trainer program is designed to equip graduates with the practical day-to-day skills necessary, as well as the theoretical knowledge needed to excel as a personal trainer serving the general public. Along with the necessary exercise science foundation, the distance education program covers client assessment, program design, basic nutrition, and sports medicine along with business and marketing skills.