When you’re privileged enough to afford weekly spin classes, it’s easy to scroll through your Instagram bubble of friends, influencers and celebrities and think the entire world is obsessed with fitness. In reality, you and your social (media) circle are in a minority, because keeping fit is a luxury not all women can afford.
For their latest This Girl Can campaign, Sport England looked into how ethnicity and income impact activity levels in women and found stark inequalities. According to their research, over a third of women in lower paid, routine jobs are inactive – that is, doing less than 30 minutes of exercise each week – and are twice as likely to be inactive as women in senior and managerial roles. That’s 2,258,400 inactive women.
They found that South Asian women are more likely to be inactive than white British women, with a smaller percentage of black women also more likely to be inactive (at 29% compared to 25.3% of white British women).
In a country where 27% of women are classified as obese, and hospital admissions due to obesity are increasing by 18% in the last year, it’s a bold reminder that the growing fitness industry on social media hasn’t necessarily translated offline.
But when you think about it, it’s not surprising at all that many women feel excluded from the fitness industry. While for some, Instagram fitness content is motivating, for others it only reinforces their own feelings of inadequacy and gives the fitness community a certain, extremely privileged, image.
In fact, Sport England found that both practical and emotional pressures prevent women from being as active as they would like to be. For women working 18 hour days, caring for family members, in low paid jobs, they don't have the time, nor money, to meal prep, make protein brownies and head to Killer Cardio every Thursday night. To then feel like their faces and bodies don't fit in to this ever-growing industry marketed towards the middle class, it's creating barriers to something we should all be doing to stay healthy.
‘I’ve tried fitness classes, but it feels like you don’t fit in,’ Ella, 23, a full-time nanny, told Grazia, ‘I don’t look like anyone in the class – I’m mixed-race and not middle class at all - they don’t look like they even sweat and I’m there with my massive sweat patches… you feel like you have to go the back of the class.’
It’s not just a personal insecurity though, Ella claims to have experienced passive judgements more than once when trying to do her bit to stay healthy. ‘When I’m being singled out by the instructor more than everyone else, because I can’t do it as well as them, it slows the class down and you get looks of “eugh, come on”,’ she said, ‘I really like keeping fit, I would go to more classes if I could afford it, but it's nice to do something that makes you feel great in a good environment and sometimes it’s not that easy.’
And for Charlotte*, 24, who often works 12-hour shifts on minimum wage in a restaurant, that judgement went beyond passive. 'I see those fit types on Instagram all the time saying that if you don't exercise, you're just lazy or don't have any motivation,' she says, 'i've actually had a personal trainer tell me "you'll never shift all that weight if you're going to be lazy" because I only booked him twice a month, I didn't want to tell him i couldn't afford any more than that.'
'Tons of online PT's make you feel like if you're not getting fit then it's nobody's fault but your own,' adds Ella, 'it's quite harsh, feeling like you're the only one out there that isn't achieving the right standard of exercise.'
Yet, Ella has found use in fitness influencers, as she can avoid judgmental gym classes and create her own good environment at home by working out along with YouTube tutorials. She does, however, think the fitness industry needs to ‘get real’.
‘There are loads of people that are slightly bigger that don’t fit in but are exercising and are keeping really fit, ‘she said, ‘fit does not mean what you look like fit is how you feel, and I think the fitness community needs to show that.’
Being real about how we look getting fit is exactly what This Girl Can are trying to enforce. Creating a campaign video that shows all types of women, doing everything from hula-hooping in their kitchen to trampolining at a community centre, the advert aims to show that not all exercise has to look the same and encourages women to get fit regardless of what they look like or what they earn.
For Ella, taking part in the campaign was exactly the motivation she needed. ‘Usually I’m just hula-hooping in my room but even then I shy away,’ she said, ‘but doing this campaign t[he producers] were saying “come on, sweat, this is what people actually look like when they're exercising!”, and it was liberating to just show this is it: I am real, I’m sweaty, I’m a bit fat, my wobbly bits are coming out and that’s okay because that’s what people need to see.
Click through to see the amazing This Girl Can Fit Got Real Campaign Images...
*names have been changed