What role does feminism play in fitness?
Feminism can play several roles in fitness. A lot of times the role it plays is in thinking about women's strength. We might imagine that as women become physically stronger they will also become stronger in other spheres like politics. However, this is not exactly what I mean when I write about or think about feminist fitness. The direct correlation is not there. While women might feel more empowered through weight lifting and strength-building, just as many (if not more) women are afraid of getting too "bulky" and, thus, not being seen as feminine. Female athlete at the top of their sports even struggle with this fear. So the biggest role that feminism can play in fitness is to say that being healthy, happy, fit, strong, etc. can be achieved through any variety of fitness activities. Fitness isn't one thing, but it is feminist when it is about a whole body and whole person approach.
Has there been a shift away from the "bikini body" towards female empowerment in the fitness industry?
I'd like to say that there has been this shift, and perhaps if we think about it in terms of the fitness industry, then, yes, I'd say there is a shift from the "bikini body" to the strong, functional body--the kind of body that can run marathons or compete in Ninja Warrior-style competitions. But, at the same time, female empowerment is often sold as a part of a package of physical perfection. In terms of the images that promote fitness--in the industry and in pop culture and media more generally--I don't think we are there yet in terms of empowerment being more important than the "bikini body." We are still fed the correlation that strong (but not "big") is desirable and the bodies we see take a lot of time, effort, attention, and energy to maintain. When we see fitness as more of a way of life and less as a set of accomplishments, then we will be making this shift.
Why are we seeing a rise in feminist fitness bloggers and personal trainers?
There is a need for feminist fitness--in our fitness culture and in our personal lives. I think that women (and even men) can use the principles of feminism to take focus off of the superficial aspects of fitness and focus in on what is really meaningful and powerful. For instance, I've noticed a rise in blogs about being a mom and being a runner. Women are able to focus on the things that their bodies can do rather than the impossible standards that the media set. So we see a rise in bloggers who share their personal struggles and frustrations as well as their successes. We also see a rise in women of color and "fat" women claiming space and recognition in the world of fitness. Feminism makes spaces for marginalized voices and experiences.
And feminist approaches to personal training can really revolutionize this sphere of fitness. Personal training is much more about building a relationship and trust between client and trainer. A trainer who listens to her client, who understands the client's fitness goals, who looks for a variety of activities that are enjoyable to the client, who instills realistic expectations and works to dispel fitness myths is going to be more successful than a trainer who sets out a program of repetitions and then pushes the client through these exercises toward a goal of weight loss, for instance.
Why is fitness a feminist issue?
Fitness is a feminist issue for so many reasons. Fitness is just one of the many activities that is represented in the media in narrow, stereotypical kinds of ways. Feminism challenges such representations. Fitness is about taking care of ourselves, but also taking care of the people we love and the world that we live in. We have to practice the feminist idea of self-care in order to be able to do this. If we want to eat healthy, organic foods then we need to be working to ensure that these foods are available and affordable. This means we need to think about climate change and agribusiness. If we want comfortable, affordable clothing and shoes for our workouts, then we need to be sure that women in other parts of the world are not being exploited to produce those goods for the first world. If we want women's bodies and minds to be safe from rape, sexual assault, and other forms of patriarchal violence, then we need to work to change the standards and expectations of masculinity. Fitness is not just an isolated, individualistic pursuit bolstered by privilege; it is a responsibility to ourselves and to the world.
Would you like to see more feminism in fitness?
Absolutely! I would love to stop hearing women say that they are too fat, too skinny, too whatever. I'd love for men to be more comfortable and willing to take group fitness classes or to try yoga--to not be afraid of being seen as less than a man because they enjoy Zumba or yoga. I would love to see people embracing fitness because it makes them feel good and makes them able to enjoy other aspects of their lives more fully. I would love to see women stop shaming other women about their bodies and to see us all stop equating fitness with superficial qualities and outward appearance. I would love to see people use the word feminist when they talk about fitness. But even if they don't use the word, the principles are there and they are transforming fitness for many people, just as feminism has transformed the world we live in.