Representation in the Fitness World – Does it Make a Difference?
Through My Eyes
There I was, on my first day of a fitness class, walking towards the crowd of people looking for a place to set up. As I approached it was obvious that the crowd was predominantly white. The good majority of people were fit, attractive and comfortable in the environment. People obviously knew each other and were quite chatty. As I pushed through the feelings of discomfort and awkwardness I found a nice quiet spot in the back of the class where I could be invisible.
If you are a minority of any kind, this is a quite familiar feeling. Joining a fitness class, gym or program can be quite intimidating in general, but add being a minority to the mix and it can be a bit overwhelming. I have experienced this many times in my life, especially here in California. My town of Palm Springs is no different. Although the town has seen a slight increase in diversity in recent years, and has a high LGBTQ population, there is not as much ethnic diversity as many other towns I have lived in. In fact, I have encountered more racism here than in any city I have lived in, which was surprising to me since this town is LGBTQ friendly and quite progressive. As an East Indian/brown person, I am often the only or one of the only persons of color in an environment. During my first few months in this town I was considering leaving and a friend of mine, who happens to be an Asian Trans Woman, said to me “If you leave, nothing will change. It takes people like us to stay in order to bring about change.” Those words stuck with me to the point where I did stay, and have been here for 5 years.
The city is changing and there is so much awareness, especially with movements such as Black Lives Matter. Racism (whether conscious or not), is no longer something you can hide from. There are organizations that are allies, supporters and educators against bigotry and prejudice. I am quite involved in our local community. I have supported and been involved with most of the major organizations that support our community, and I am a supporter of our local businesses.
In 2021 I became heavily involved with a fitness class leading to me becoming an instructor. It was an amazing feeling not just to help motivate people to live healthier lives, but to also be an instructor of color, and be that representation that people like me sometimes need in the fitness world. I even had students of color approach me and tell me how wonderful it made them feel for me to lead class. In that moment I knew that I was meant to be doing this.
Lack of representation in the fitness world can sometimes result in an environment that is not inclusive, especially if the instructor, trainer or staff is unaware or unwilling to learn, ask questions and adjust. There can be an unintentional bias or favoritism that occurs and can appear uneven or unfair to someone looking to be included, especially concerning participation. Racism or prejudice can go under the radar or not be dealt with properly. Proper boundaries and rules can be overlooked or not enforced because of a lack of understanding or not being able to relate or understand.
Representation in the fitness world creates opportunities for under-represented communities to find support, validation and inclusion/acceptance. Seeing someone that a minority can relate to, or knowing that the person is aware and properly educated/trained in these areas, may make them more likely to participate and improve their experience. Having representation also helps reduce negative stereotypes about groups. For example, having positive representation in the media has helped transform public opinions and prejudice towards certain groups.
I started Endeavor with Jase with representation and inclusivity as driving factors. Although Palm Springs is still growing in diversity, I will do everything as an Instructor of color to represent all minorities and under represented groups. I have policies in place that protect my students and I have a zero tolerance for any prejudice or discrimination. I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to lead people in exercise. It is my hope that other fitness programs and facilities will continue to evolve, update their policies, train their partners and staff appropriately and hire a diverse range of individuals to represent the community.