If you thought the only problem facing the health and fitness industry this year was complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, think again. In the wake of the summer’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has also had to reckon with the white ideals the industry has long perpetuated.
Dora Atim, Nike Running Coach and founder of Ultra Black Running, a safe running community for Black cis and trans womxn and Black non-binary people, shares her personal experience existing as a Black woman in the fitness industry: “It was always rare that I saw another Black person, let alone a Black woman, attending the class or working at one. Most boutique fitness studios cater to a predominantly white audience via their marketing channels, which excludes Black women. I feel like the fitness industry needs to drive away from the “fitfluencer” aesthetic, which usually is a skinny white woman in a super tight two-piece flaunting their abs, which indicates that if you do not look like that, then you are not about this fitness life.”
Indeed, in these trying times, fitness has been one of few ways Black women have been able to relieve and release grief and anxiety. Part and parcel of that is that many Black people are speaking up about racial disparities in the fitness world – and beyond. “Fitness helps my mental health in multiple ways,” continues Atim. “It helps me to refocus and realign my energy into productive things, and also makes me feel really good about myself. I like to view movement as medicine – endorphins and all that.”
With non-Black people now recognising the many obstacles that Black people face everyday, many are considering not just how they might be contributing to the issue, but how they can help to raise up the Black people around them. These acts of allyship include but are not limited to speaking up for them offline or in the face of co-workers; choosing aligned brand partners; educating family and friends; or sacrificing finances and redistributing funds amongst underpaid Black colleagues.
Personal trainer and columnist, Alice Liveing, is using her white privilege to help facilitate greater opportunities for the Black women around her: “In an industry that, like so many, has been whitewashed, it is crucially important to understand the importance of amplifying Black voices across the fitness landscape. In all areas of the fitness industry, from the trainers on the gym floor to the coaches on the pitches to those in high levels of all sports, we need greater diversity and an understanding that this diversification will improve every aspect of sports and recreational fitness from the ground upwards.”
The good news: a number of excellent Black women have created their very own platforms that offer safe spaces and exercise arenas that come with a supportive community. From the Kelechnekoff Studio, founded by fitness and pole extraordinaire Kelechi Okafor, to the Fly Girl Collective, founded by Matilda Egere-Cooper in response to the lack of diversity in