2020 was, if nothing else, an eye-opening year. In the myriad of revelations from a year wherein we experienced a full-blown pandemic, political strife, realizations of the deeply systemic issues related to race that permeate this country, and the continued demonization and marginalization of racial/ethnic, ability, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, and religious minorities; we also learned that:
the fitness industry has poorly addressed DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion], and
intersectional “others” (i.e., individuals with multiple, intersecting marginalized identities) made it clear that they do not feel seen, heard, or represented in fitness spaces.
But what exactly is “fitness equity”? We know equity to exemplify strategies to level the playing field. Equity in fitness and fitness spaces means that everyone should have the opportunity to participate and feel welcomed regardless of the type of fitness. Why is this important outside of the obvious? When you juxtapose the various health disparities that are associated with marginalized communities, the significant mental health issues within said communities that could be mitigated by fitness, and fitness [in]equity and (in)accessibility, the impact becomes much more significant. We also can’t ignore the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on marginalized communities of color.
So how do we UpRoot:
We begin at the foundation: how does systemic racism and other forms of discriminiation in this country impact the fitness industry?
2020 created a need to “choose a side”, you are either for anti-racism and intersectional equality or you aren’t. What became clear as the multitude of performative responses flooded our social media accounts [remember the infamous “black square”?], was that fitness spaces lacked a clear and definitive identity related to anti-racism, equity, and social justice advocacy. A contributing factor to this is that fitness spaces are overwhelmingly operated by white and upper middle class individuals with a disconnect existing between ownership, instructors, and the community. The disparity in ownership plays out in the ways fitness spaces fail to create intersectionally inclusive spaces for diverse identities. Especially when it often feels like minorities are outsiders in this space. A litany of articles, social media posts, and YouTube talks put the long-standing issues pertaining to race, gender, SES, class, educational levels, and other intersectional identifiers front and center. So, now what?
How has 2020 created an opportunity to UpRise:
Remember Zoom before March 2020? Nope, neither do I. One of the “positives” that came from quarantine and having to adjust how we socialize has been a reinvention of how fitness is presented and experienced. Many spaces were able to quickly pivot from an in-person format to digital. What impact has that had on fitness equity?
Lower price points for classes
Comfort of working out from home and avoiding some of the “othering” that often happens in fitness spaces
Instructors/trainers that didn’t have an established brick and mortar space to work out of now have the freedom to create their own space digitally
This may not sound overly impactful, but it has created a paradigm shift in the fitness industry. For a long time, “other” instructors felt tethered to spaces that were full of micro-aggressive tendencies and lack of diversity at various levels of the organization. Clients also felt unseen, unheard and unappreciated by the marketing and general aesthetic of spaces that weren’t “meant” for them.
This has created the possibility for the fitness industry to ReBuild in a much more equitable way.
The options are endless. From new platforms for instructors to promote their classes independently, organizations like Blaque, Inc. and Fit For Us that are advocating and creating space for diversity and inclusion in the world of fitness, the landscape is shifting towards a more equitable space. The opportunities for intersectional humans to not only create these spaces but also to engage in these spaces is something marginalized communities have been clamoring for.
The time to Rebuild
About the Contributor
Carlos Davila, M.A. Developmental Psychology, is an Adjunct Professor at LIU Brooklyn (where he teaches Sports Psychology at the Undergraduate and Graduate level) and John Jay College (where he teaches Intro to Psychology), CrossFit Coach at 5th Ave Gym, and group exercise instructor and Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Fhitting Room (a boutique HIIT studio). He has been a part of both fitness and psychology focused spaces for close to 20 years. As a personal trainer, group exercise instructor, professor of psychology, athlete and avid exerciser, Carlos is acutely aware of the intersection of these spaces. As both athlete and coach, specifically within the CrossFit/HIIT space for over 15 years, Carlos has a deep and nuanced understanding of the culture within these spaces. As a person of color (“POC”), Carlos is also highly cognizant of the various issues/barriers POC have within fitness spaces. His previous research into microaggressions within sporting spaces and his understanding of intersectionality, allow for an analysis of fitness spaces from a varied and multilayered perspective. Carlos also has published articles on microaggressions (specifically within Sports Psychology and intersectional spaces), has presented and facilitated workshops on this topic and has written a chapter discussing the intersectionality of race and gender with HIIT/Crossfit spaces.