Making The Fitness Industry A Better Place…

Photo Credit: Miskolczi Mariusz

Reading Time: 8-12 minutes.

…without ostracizing everyone while doing it.

I’ll be the first to admit the idea for this article came from a negative place. A place fueled by frustration because of the things I see happen in this industry—in all industries.

But as the adage goes, “Bring me your solutions, not your problems.” That’s not to say voices of complaint aren’t important, but I’m not one to perpetuate criticism without trying to make things better.

Because of that, I chucked 3,000 words of profoundly truthful—but not very helpful—”woke” words and replaced them with something better.

Caveats For The Quick To Assume

This post is an opinion piece, not a factual one. People unfamiliar with journalistic notions and the unregulated platform of “blogs” tend not to understand the difference. I want to make it clear that this is an experience and opinion article based on my experiences in the fitness arena for over a decade.

In case you don’t know my “about me” or bio, I am a white female in the LGBTQ+ community. That doesn’t mean I get any passes, but in specific areas, I do have experience with my own privilege and discrimination.

My aim for this article is to help bridge gaps, not make them.

Active Steps We Can Take

With that, I offer up a few steps to help us in the fitness industry have real conversations with one another.

Step 1. Remove Gender When It Isn’t Needed

This isn’t to be hypercritical. It’s a decent practice.

In a lot of instances, gender isn’t necessary to define. Neither is sex for that matter. Explaining the “female” version of an exercise is condescending and can make some males who have to do the “girlie” version feel uncomfortable. Often those new to training have a hard time doing specific bodyweight movements or heavy weighted exercises—it’s not a gender thing. Removing gender from the conversation automatically saves a lot of problems.

To add to that, there aren’t many male or female exercises. Are there exercises that grow and highlight different parts of the body? Yes. Do some males or females want to avoid them? Yes. Do gender and societal constructs affect this? Yes. Acknowledge that all you want.

However, there is no such thing as a female or male exercise. It also hinders the integration of transgenders or just downright body queer folk, and we don’t want to do that.

In short, include gender only when needed.

Step 2. Now, Acknowledge That Gender Still Very Much Matters

While the above says it’s not necessary, notice the use of the word “when.” When it’s not required, leave it alone and try to treat all people as equals.

However, open up to the fact that you (male or female) may have preconceived notions, internalized misogyny, and more regarding your thoughts on gender. Be aware that things are constantly changing in this industry and the wider world, and create space in your mind to include women and perhaps a change of thought.

An Example:

I was having a conversation with a friend who is running a conference. He was talking about how many angles of representation he had covered and if I had any advice. This is a crucial aspect to note as I did not interject an unwanted opinion.

I said, “You know, you don’t have a woman speaking or any color diversity. It might feel a little PC or pandering but think about your customers having more variety and connection with different individuals. It could provide you with a larger audience and open up new avenues of discussion. It needs to be the right person but think outside the box in that way more than you have. Just a thought.”

He wrote back and stated, “I never thought of it like that. I wouldn’t want to ask someone just because they were a woman or another race, it felt uncomfortable. Are you interested?”

I said, “No no, I’m not the right fit, and you can’t afford me (<=I kid). But how about these people.”

I sent him a few names, and there is now a woman of color speaking at a conference where previously there was not. I also expressed the importance of making her feel comfortable in the environment and that the invitation alone was not enough. I sent him a link to an article she wrote and did an intro. Now the dialogue is open and who knows where it will lead.

Some would say, “They should know better in the first place.” or “It’s not any of our places to slow down for them to catch up.” But you have to remember that we are new at this. Men are new at this. Women are new at this. We are all new to a lot of this, and we are still learning how to work with each other. It doesn’t have to be a festival of shame if we simply acknowledge it’s a learning experience for both.

If curious to hear me ramble on this with two others in the industry, I was interviewed recently on Jason Leenarts “Revolutionary You!” podcast.

Step 3. Let Those In The Minority Have A Say About Their Experiences

This should go without saying, but if you’re not part of a community, you should probably keep quiet and allow that community to discuss their issues as they see fit. There are systematic problems, stigmas, and growing concerns that deserve to be heard. That doesn’t mean you don’t have your issues, lack of privilege, etc.

Here’s a talking lesson.

When anyone says, “Hey, here is my pain and problem.”
Do not follow it up with, “Um, but my pain and problem!”

Just listen. Take it in. You’ll survive.

Pain and strife is not a competition. If someone is using that against you, that’s not okay. However, you trying to alert them to that fact by exclaiming “I know, but look at mine!” isn’t going to help anyway.

Just listen and then apply.

Step 4. Remove The Bad Apples

There are bad apples in this industry. Unlike in politics, you do not have to subscribe to a bipartisan attitude when it comes to supporting people who have shown over and over again to be aggressively misogynistic, irrational, hypocritical, intolerant, racist, sexist, unkind, and violent.

This isn’t a callout article, and to be honest outside of a few individuals, I don’t have a lot of names that pop into my head. Reason being? I remove and do not associate with people who show red flags and have this nature. I employ a zero-tolerance system.

If you’re thinking, “Doesn’t that go against what you said above?” It doesn’t because I associate with individuals who have many different belief systems than I do. However, I don’t associate with individuals who express apparent signs of aggressive hostility and irrational judgment toward other individuals. I don’t associate with people who possess a lack of impulse control mixed with a skewed vision of this world, people who are aggressive and intolerant at their core, and people who divide more than they connect.

Right or left, you’re wrong.

If you’re not rational and can’t see nuance and variables in critical thinking and logic, I can’t associate with you. I’m not going to refer people to you.

I don’t care if you’re championing a cause for the LGBTQ+ community (of which I’m a member) or a misogynistic jerk who is good at their job—I’m not going to support you if you embody those negative traits. I think we’d all do better not giving these people a platform even if they are “on our team” just because they line up with current scientific research, support our community, or have some other outdated “tribe” mentality.

It’s time to weed out the teams. It’s time to cut the deadweight—on both sides. We do not need a head count for the sake of a head count anymore. We do not need these people because they are “all we have.” We have choices. The fish rots from the head, and we need to be the leaders.

So no, unless those individuals have a genuine “come to the light” moment, I’m not promoting, interacting, or engaging with their work merely because they are in the circle.

Step 5. Listen And Calm Down—On Both “Sides”

We are all guilty of it. This topic doesn’t have to be a dramatic to-do. We don’t have to get our backs up tight against walls when there are channels open for conversation. It would be easier to deal with a lot of societal problems if people would calm down and take the time to think for five extra seconds before we talk or make a decision.

Female or Women?

Recently, Tony Gentilcore had a discussion on Facebook regarding his use of the word female. Here’s a brief look at the debate:

Tony Gentilcore stated,

“I posted a video on a push-up modification I like (using a band around one’s forearms and across the chest), someone asked about how I’d modify for “female” clients, and I responded using the term “female” as well.

In fact, here’s what I wrote:

“Same set-up with females. In fact, the coach I stole this from demonstrated with a female client.”

An argument followed over the use of the word “female” and it potentially being a word that disrespects women.

Personally and academically, I don’t agree from a linguistic or etymology standpoint. Female is not an inherently negative word. It’s arguably interchangeable depending on your approach and usages. While it can have negative connotations (so can girl, men, etc.), it’s not yet shown enough detrimental usage to negate its usefulness in common lexicon.

While I agree that sexual reproduction is associated with the word female, so are interlocking holes and electronics. Its use does not exclude transgender or imply a negative connotation if you look at the multiple numbers of meanings/definitions. Female has many uses in slang and other meanings in cultures, as do the words like feminine and masculine. To play devil’s advocate, the word woman has been used as a synonym of a slave or servant in history (if we are going to highlight negatives of the word origin). Unless there is a substantial level of negative association with the word female in culture and society, a few articles from Jezebel or Buzzfeed is not going to alter my education on the subject.

Outside of crass social behavior, these words are often how we use them and the tone and intent behind them. Tone and intent are not easy things to interpret or relay, especially via writing or with 280 characters.

This debate is precisely the type of ridiculous firey hoop that leads to more dissension in communication. It’s this type of frustration that leads individuals to toss their hands up altogether. You have individuals trying to deliver high-level gender studies or lexicon history to the world of Instagram and Facebook, without understanding the difficulties of what they are relaying in the first place. This is a conversation for nitpicking at a linguistics decathlon, not Facebook shaming a colleague.

It’s an act of class and educational warfare. You’re using intricate and nuanced language as a weapon to humiliate people leading to more segregation. At times, even indulging in gaslighting and straightforward ridicule. You think teasing or oppression is any less because it comes in the form of grammatical taunt? No, it isn’t.

Mark N. in Tony’s comments stated, “You know, I do find myself questioning even the use of him/her these days. It’s all in the effort to be sensitive to those that are gender fluid, but the problem is that you always are offending someone and I don’t think that there’s a real consensus as to what an individual should be called. Female vs woman vs “they” or whatever. All we can reasonably do is speak with respect and when someone asks to be referred to by a particular pronoun, respect their wishes when dealing with them individually.”

The above from Mark is from a man who seems to have no ill intent, but in the lapse of not knowing what aggression (micro or otherwise) he is going to commit, he remains quiet.

That isn’t growth—it’s a form of oppression.

I don’t find his oppression comforting. As an LGBTQ+ female, who has kept quiet in response to not understanding what would get me in trouble, oppression has led me to have contempt for those who made me feel that way in my youth. Logic would dictate this reaction could exist for others along all age ranges.

We may not have all of the answers, but a good start is to listen first—not attack. And sometimes, even when you do listen, we still aren’t going to agree, but that doesn’t mean we are racist, unwoke, misogynist, etc.

I’m an educated female who has looked at the history and etymology of the word female, and who has struggled on the spectrum of gender identity. At this current time, I’ve personally not deemed it offensive. I’d add another question of, “What if an MTF/transwoman desires to be called “female” just like “anyone else?”

In recent history, an argument about gay marriage arose much in the same manner. “We want to be treated the same.” Well, not everyone. In fact, there was a significant subset of the gay community who merely wanted rights but didn’t care for the label of “marriage” while others did. Still, the majority of the minority won out and we now have a legislative right to the word marriage. Right or wrong from etymology? I could argue wrong, but I am happy for the progression of our rights. We changed the definition of the word marriage and perhaps the same can be true for female.

My point is, this is not a black and white answer and villainizing people for word usage that has no collective consensus of offense at this time, isn’t my idea of societal progression. It’s manipulation and elitism bullying at its finest, not education, and indeed not a healthy debate over word usage in society. When true ill intent has been set forth, intent that’s not usually hard to decipher, then yes we address it. The trickier nuances can make room for actual delicate and informed discussions. Perhaps in those discussions, we can come to some understanding and then politely share our thoughts on these topics.

Discuss and openly relay, it’s pretty easy to do.

Editor’s Note: This section previously held industry recommendations. It’s currently being revised and debated.

Take Home?

This article is an attempt at solutions, not more problems. Share it, even if you don’t agree with it fully but use it as a chance to open discussion. Take this chance to open up dialogue, point to people who are good at promoting healthy spaces in this industry. I don’t care if you write, “Leigh wrote this, I don’t agree with “this” but I agree with “that.” What do you think?” I don’t say that in viral efforts but because I genuinely think if we talk to each other in this manner and tone, even if we don’t agree, it’s a better way. It might make us slow down on how we interact with others on these topics.

Divisiveness is ultimately what any far leaning agenda wants (right or left). Not to be too obviously centric, but let’s try to make this industry a better place with less division and more understanding.