We all know that the fitness industry needs to represent a wider spectrum of body types. But the industry also needs to do more to represent different races. Youtube has made fitness accessible to more people by making it free and providing a lot of variety to choose from.
But is this enough, as far as inclusivity is concerned? I think not. The fact that online fitness creators are almost exclusively white and thin is problematic for a couple of reasons. Here are a few:
It perpetuates diet culture
Diet culture conflates thinness with health and fitness, when in truth you don’t have to be thin to be fit and healthy. Body diversity is normal and size is not an all-inclusive measure of health. You don’t have to look like the influencer on the thumbnail to be in good health.
Conversely, you can look ‘fit’ and be totally unhealthy. The fitness industry promotes unhealthy eating and exercise behaviours when it suggests that everyone should look thin and muscular if they exercise. Many fitness influencers follow rigid diets, under-eat and over-exercise - this is not health.
It excludes people who don’t look ‘fit’
What kind of message is sent to people across a wide spectrum of body shapes and sizes when there’s one dominant body type associated with fitness? It tells people that fitness is exclusive to people who are thin and white and discourages people who don’t fit these boxes from moving their bodies. It gives people the false hope that if they workout and eat exactly like their Youtube trainer, they’ll miraculously look like that too.
It promotes body image issues
It’s difficult not to compare yourself to the people you see online; we’re all familiar with this negative side-effect of social media. Comparison can lead to feeling like your body is ugly, which translates to feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth.
It excludes people of colour
Christy Harrison, author of Anti-Diet and host of the Food Psych Podcast describes this current wellness trend as the ‘Wellness Diet’. The Wellness Diet describes the influence of diet culture on the wellness industry:
"The Wellness Diet is my term for the sneaky, modern guise of diet culture that’s supposedly about “wellness” but is actually about performing a rarefied, perfectionistic, discriminatory idea of what health is supposed to look like. It’s not just about weight loss, although thinness is an essential part of The Wellness Diet’s supposed picture of health. (So is whiteness, and youth, and physical ability, and wealth.)” - Christy Harrison
Basically, wellness has been taken over by capitalism, patriarchy, racism, ageism and ableism. Wellness belongs to everyone, but that’s not what we see in the media. There aren’t enough black health and fitness content creators out there to make black people like they can also participate in wellness. Fitness is for everyone, but that's not what we see in the media.
So what then?
Obviously, there's a lot of reform needed in the industry. But on a personal level, carefully curating your media is a great first step. Here are a couple of ways you can do this in relation to health and fitness:
Find body neutral fitness influencers
A lot of trainers motivate people with weight-loss messages like ‘toning up’, ‘getting a perky butt’, or ‘losing your belly flab’. This can be triggering for someone who’s trying to make peace with their body. It also reinforces sub-conscious beliefs that your body isn’t enough because it doesn’t look ‘right’. Look for Youtubers who encourage you to think about your form, where you should be feeling certain moves in your body and who encourage you to appreciate what your body is able to do.
Look for a Youtuber who represents you:
It’s really powerful to see someone who looks like you achieving the things you want to achieve. It can help you re-write the story you’ve held about yourself because of the influence of society. You can also look for someone who may not necessarily look like you, but who represents your values. For example, if you believe that fitness is a celebration of your body and an act of self-care instead of a punishment for eating a donut, find someone who mirrors that. Think carefully about the experience that you want in your fitness journey, and find somebody (or people) who will help you create it.
That’s it from me for today. I’d love to hear from you - share your ‘aha’ moment in the comments below! Sign up to my newsletter so you’re first to know when I share new content.
Harrison, C., 2018. How to Avoid Falling for The Wellness Diet — Christy Harrison - Intuitive Eating Dietitian, Anti-Diet Author, & Certified Eating Disorders Specialist. [online] Christy Harrison - Intuitive Eating Dietitian, Anti-Diet Author, & Certified Eating Disorders Specialist. Available at: <https://christyharrison.com/blog/the-wellness-diet> [Accessed 9 March 2022].