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I’m going to keep it real: the mainstream image of “fit” is too narrow. Literally. We still live in a world where being perfectly thin and toned with a six pack is the pinnacle. And while fitness should be accessible to everybody, most of these images don’t represent every body. They largely leave out people of different sizes, genders, abilities, races, ages, and other identities. The push to achieve this fit ideal can overly-dominate gym culture, causing many to feel excluded from the community, to harshly judge themselves and others, ignore their body’s boundaries, or avoid the gym altogether (just to name some potential harms).
Thankfully, there are many gyms looking to create more inclusive spaces so that anyone who walks through their door feels welcomed. But since “inclusivity” is such a buzz word nowadays, it can be tough to decipher which organizations are actively mindful in the mission or simply putting up a rainbow flag for show. To help navigate, it’s important to be clear on what “inclusive” means.
“For me an inclusive fitness space means having trainers who respect and honor pronouns and educate themselves on how body and gender dysphoria can show up in each individual,” says Ilya Parker, P.T.A., C.M.E.S, a social justice advocate and the owner of Decolonizing Fitness. “It means having practitioners to provide safe and supportive environments where all clients feel cared for and respected. It also means creating an environment of accountability.”
One good example of gauging an organization’s sense of accountability is seeing diversity among their leadership and reading what’s written in their policies, says Chrissy King, a strength coach and creator of the Body Liberation Project. “I think it’s really important to have a clear anti-racism and diversity inclusion policy,” she says. “Setting up the understanding of the community agreements for people that are coming into the space as members or staff matters a lot.”
There are also a lot of other factors these gyms consider when it comes to creating a more inclusive environment such as having gender-neutral bathrooms and equipment for people with disabilities, King adds. However, its vital to be aware that even when gyms make the effort to build more welcoming environments, there’s no way to guarantee that every person will feel completely safe and supported. So it’s good to have options to explore which communities are best for your body, mind, and spirit.
To narrow your search, I’ve found 20 incredible fitness organizations who are dedicated to inclusion and flipping the “fit” script. Here’s to celebrating all bodies and all the ways they like to move!
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Radically Fit Oakland
Location: Oakland, CA
This Bay Area gym is focused on providing offerings for “all queer, trans, POC, big bodied, and fat identified folx and their allies, regardless of experience or ability.” Radically Fit currently has online classes such as Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Body Alignment, Embodied Dance, strength and conditioning for BBQ’s (Black and Brown Queers). They