Getting women into the gym? A history of women’s fitness

Label writer, Georgia Stone, explains the disparity between male and female exercise and what we should be doing to change it.

Women are less likely than men to meet their recommended aerobic activity levels and even less likely to meet muscle strength exercise guidelines, begging the question… why aren’t women exercising?

Women’s journey of personal fitness has a long and complex history. Once considered unladylike, exercise became increasingly ‘faddy’ for women. From Jazzercise to Zumba, home workout tapes and fitness trends have created cult followings of fitness influencers and routines from the 70s onwards. This not only personified the fashion, culture and desired appearance of women of their time period but also contributed to the mockery of women’s fitness. Namely leg warmers, spandex and aerobic routines have continuously been parodied since their era of popularity, especially when compared to the linear timeline of male exercise.

In today’s digital age women face their own challenges with exercise. Fitness influencers have made good progress in encouraging women into the gym. These influencer’s videos and content show others exactly what to do with the equipment and how best to see results, often even making their own fitness plans accessible to the public. Some even post videos of how to set up the machines, improving women’s ‘gym literacy’.

But these videos themselves may prove detrimental for women’s gym journeys. The constant contradictions risk invoking further anxiety of ‘am I doing the right thing?’. You’ll find one account advocating for weightlifting as the only way to see results whilst another claims that yoga and pilates is the key to looking and feeling good.

The women who do make it to the gym, although in company with more women than ever before, are faced with what many find an uncomfortable, male dominated environment. Gym-timidation leaves many feeling judged by men. And if this wasn’t enough of a reason for women to stay away from the gym, in 2021 a study by Run Repeat revealed that 56% of women experienced sexual harassment at the gym. This includes cat calling, invasions of personal space, sexual comments and unwanted physical contact. If the questions is ‘why aren’t women going to the gym?’…there’s your answer!

Therefore, we are back where we started with home workout videos from youtube, all women gym classes or even home gyms. But where does this leave women who don’t have the space or money for it?

In the short term, we must make gyms a safer space for women! This involves bringing in more female members of staff to ensure that women feel comfortable and supported to report sexual harassment. It means holding each other accountable, not just pretending that we ‘can’t hear’ through our earphones, but actually calling others out for disrespectful behaviour. Nothing can change until everybody takes responsibility for making sure women feel safe, undoing decades of exclusion.

In addition, women’s exercise needs to be rid of trends, promoting the best, fastest, easiest, most fun way to lose weight and get fitter – stemming from misinformation around women’s health. Rather than having hundreds of different types of ‘exercise girlies’, we need to stop the spread of false health idols, quick fixes, and weight loss hacks. We must look towards giving women a better education about their bodies.

Edited By: Rachel Cannings (Culture & Entertainment Editor)

Design By: Sarim Mangi


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