Written by 3:14 pm Fitness and Sports Views: [tptn_views]

I’m a Black Fitness Trainer and I Rarely See Anyone Who Looks Like Me in Classes—Here’s How the Industry Can Fix That

In the six years I’ve spent coaching within the boutique fitness space, I can probably name (from memory) each Black and Brown person I’ve ever trained. That should let there aren’t many. Not to say, as limited because the number is that I see, there are various studios I’ve attended which have even less diversity.

In an area where music by Black and Brown artists and Black and Brown bodies (i.e. big butts) are loved and coveted, it becomes a challenge after we ourselves usually are not welcome.

Boutique fitness spaces, particularly, are stuffed with mostly white faces. Whenever I take a fitness class, the very first thing I do is search for other individuals with black or brown skin. About seven times out of ten, I’m the just one. When you spend a lot time in a spot where you’re othered, you adopt certain behaviors—like scanning for faces in the group that seem like yours—to make you’re feeling secure.

Recently, I read the book Who Is Wellness For? An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind by Fariha Róisín. There was a quote in it that made me think in regards to the role I play within the wellness space.

Róisín writes: “It deeply concerns me that whiteness and capitalism have co-opted wellness, relegating caring for oneself as a privilege when wellness ought to be for all. Instead, the accouterments, gadgets, and garments (primarily created by white people for other white people while completely stealing other people’s culture) have sustained inequality for the masses.”

With that in mind, let’s dive into how and why wellness excludes Black and Brown communities, and what the fitness industry can do to alter it.

1. Lack of representation

Take a have a look at the Instagram account of any major boutique fitness studio and likewise within the classes you attend. What faces do you see staring back at you? They’re probably majority white.

Now imagine being a member of the BIPOC community and on the lookout for a spot to start out your fitness journey. You don’t see anyone that appears such as you, so that you don’t think it’s for you, and also you don’t join. Ultimately, this might derail you from reaching your goals.

Why does this matter? Because conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are higher in our communities.

“The lack of diverse representation within the fitness space affects the health and well-being of Black and Brown folks,” says Jonelle Lewis, E-RYT 500, yoga teacher and co-owner of Empowered Yoga. “This group has documented worse health outcomes, and if we aren’t seeing ourselves represented in health, fitness, and well-being spaces, we’re less inclined to think those spaces are for us. If we don’t feel welcomed or that we belong, poor health outcomes will keep perpetuating in Black and Brown communities.”

This has been proven to me, as I’ve specifically been told by clients that they quit a studio because when the coaches of color of their preferred time slot left, they didn’t feel like they belonged anymore. It was not a secure space for them.

2. Colonization of practices

When you’re thinking that of yoga, what’s the very first thing that involves mind? If you’re like me, it is not the cultural Indian practice, but a skinny white woman doing poses in an identical workout set in a 100-degree room. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it surely’s also the image we’ve been conditioned to see.

Yoga is a practice that is been colonized by white people and the Indian culture has been completely removed. In fact, in line with a 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center, most Indians, including Hindus, don’t practice yoga.

“We see these communities being exploited,” Lewis says. “Black and Brown spiritual healing, movement, and mindfulness practices have been appropriated time and time again—and practitioners are very rarely monetarily compensated for his or her creativity and innovation.”

“If we don’t take time to maneuver out of our comfort zones and ask the hard questions, we won’t find a way to have an industry that’s diverse and really invites everyone to be healthy and well.” —Jonelle Lewis, E-RYT 500

3. High cost of entry

Let’s be honest, the associated fee of fitness is high—especially in boutique fitness.

“Fitness is an expensive endeavor,” says Suzie Sang, PhD, research associate on the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. “It takes real money to take a position in a gym membership or a private trainer. When people have to select between food and gym memberships, they select the previous.”

What I often hear in fitness spaces, and admittedly have even said when selling memberships, is that fitness is a long-term investment, and though the associated fee is high up front, it’ll prevent in doctor bills down the road.

While in some cases that could be true, it’s a particularly elitist way of taking a look at things. When basic household needs aren’t being met, things like a gym membership usually are not a priority.

4. Little access to fitness spaces

If you look up fitness studios in Black and Brown communities, you don’t normally find as many as within the affluent areas.

“There aren’t many opportunities for fitness in marginalized communities, for instance gyms and exercise classes,” Sang says. “If there are there, they is probably not well equipped or they close since it is probably not profitable. You’ll find more liquor stores in Black communities versus grocery stores and gymnasiums.”

Lewis agrees.

“Black and Brown folks have been systematically excluded and disenfranchised in society typically, and this spills over into every industry, including fitness, health, and well-being,” she says. “It’s harder for us to boost capital and investments for his or her businesses, and we aren’t readily supported or given resources as easily or often as our white counterparts.”

It’s not only gyms and fitness studios that aren’t present, it’s also other free spaces for activity, like public parks.

A 2016 study within the Journal of Urban Health found that in low-income communities, though there have been parks, there was little or no access to organized activities, which might have been resulting from the dearth of staff or resources. In higher-income communities, the researchers observed quite a bit more activities occurring, which can have been partially because the associated fee was capable of be covered by participant fees.

What can we do to alter things?

We cannot change the fitness and wellness space without having the needed dialogue around inclusivity and variety—and the people involved in these conversations have to be an element of the BIPOC community. What is missing for them, and what do they should feel seen and secure?

Sang believes it’s going to take well established fitness brands to make a move for others to follow.

“Risks have to be taken by big fitness corporations to take a position in communities which have zero resources and limited access,” she says. “In order to do this, there can have to be some subsidizing as an investment, not tokenizing, in order that the general well-being of more communities could be realized.”

Though Empowered Yoga is currently at a smaller scale, Lewis is not waiting around and is becoming the change the industry needs.

“We have a good time and amplify the work of our teachers—meaningful representation matters,” Lewis says. “We also put money into staff training to make certain everyone in our space understands what it takes for all attendees to feel represented and valued. If we don’t take time to maneuver out of our comfort zones and ask the hard questions, we won’t find a way to have an industry that’s diverse and really invites everyone to be healthy and well.”

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the data we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Cohen DA, Hunter G, Williamson S, Dubowitz T. Are Food Deserts Also Play Deserts? J Urban Health. 2016 Apr;93(2):235-43. doi: 10.1007/s11524-015-0024-7. PMID: 27033184; PMCID: PMC4835352.

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