With the 2020 elections just on the other side of this month, voting is top of mind for a lot of people. There’s a lot at stake in this election, and if you’re turning to fitness to sweat the stress away, you’re probably not the only one. But fitness and voting have even more to do with each other than you’d think.
Your access to workout spaces — whether that’s a local park with a track or a boutique studio — is fundamentally shaped by voting, says Nicole Cardoza, a yoga instructor and founder of Yoga Foster and the newsletter Anti-Racism Daily. “There are systemic issues perpetuated in the studios we hold dear and in the spaces that we occupy when we’re trying to be well,” Cardoza says. “So when we want to feel well in studios, it’s really about looking at that overarching system of racism and dismantling it. A lot of that, especially in the next few weeks, comes down to the actions we take at our polls.”
How Do Politics Shape Fitness Culture?
Pretty much everything about your gym or fitness studio is shaped by who’s in office in your area, Cardoza explains, pointing in particular to access to public transportation, instructor pay, and basic neighborhood safety where studios are located.
T’Nisha Symone, founder of luxury fitness club BLAQUE, tells Bustle that zoning laws have a lot to do with the presence — or lack thereof — of accessible fitness spaces in Black and brown neighborhoods. “State and local governments decide how neighborhoods are constructed and as a result, what kind of fitness and wellness behaviors the people in these communities will have access to,” she explains. “Whether or not these resources are available is something that can and should inform our voting behaviors at the local level.”
Access to fitness resources has to do with both private and public interests. A 2019 analysis conducted by Bloomberg found that franchises like CrossFit, Barry’s Boot Camp, and Pure Barre are usually located in neighborhoods that are over 80% white. Of the other 13 fitness franchises included in the analysis, 12 were also located in areas with an average of 70-80% white people. The data also revealed that clubs like Equinox and SoulCycle are often located in gentrifying neighborhoods, drawing in more affluent and white clientele rather than serving the often BIPOC, low-income communities that have been living there.
“Wellness is political,” says Helen Phelan, a Pilates instructor who specializes in body neutrality and mindfulness. “To serve only one type of person is political. To avoid making a statement or ‘getting political’ is a privilege and a political statement all in itself.”
What people learn, say, and even wear in studios is also political. “If you say ‘namaste’ at the end of your practice or wear Mala beads, you need to be standing up for racial injustice,” says Ali Duncan, a yoga instructor and the founder of Urban Sanctuary, the first women-run, Black-owned yoga studio in Denver, Colorado. “So