What Is Body Diversity and How to Celebrate It

"It’s easy to internalize society’s message that our worth is tied to our appearance. We have been bombarded with the message that “white, thin, and able-bodied” people are valued over others and this can be loud within some fitness and wellness industries. Yet, it’s impossible to have a “wrong body” and fitness is for everyone, which is why body diversity is so important."

What is Body Diversity?  

Body diversity invites everyone to embrace the variety of the human body. This extends to bodies of all shapes, and sizes. It doesn't just stop at body composition but embraces trans and non-binary people, individuals living with disabilities, and different races. 

Without body diversity, beauty standards become a narrow, swipe of a ‘one size fits all’ stroke, ignoring the truth about people and their diversity. When this idea gets pushed, it's easy to believe your body is wrong, that you’re wrong which is deeply harmful— physically, mentally, and emotionally. Internalizing this can lead to poor body image, lower confidence, developing eating disorders, low mood, and anxiety. It completely ignores the fact that there is power in body diversity, ability, size, and gender identity. To counteract this is to lean into body diversity. 

How to Celebrate Body Diversity? 

There are many ways you can celebrate body diversity for yourself, within the fitness industry, and with others: 

Wellbeing And Safe Care

When you can save space for yourself that focuses on what your body is capable of doing, this can help free you from the internalization that your body is wrong. Challenge the negative talk in your mind with positive mantras, daily affirmations, and gratitude. 

Swapping “my thighs are too big,” to “my powerful thighs are the reason I can deadlift” or “My powerful thighs help me explore my favorite neighborhood,” can change the composition of your brain and thoughts. It takes time, but with patience and consistency, the change will happen. 

Embracing body diversity will help you view the world differently, with a side benefit being a boost in personal confidence and self-esteem. Appreciating what your body can do, and focusing on wellness and care, allows you to accept your body is perfect the way it is. While diet culture tries to tell us otherwise, bodies are all unique and if everyone did the same workout and ate the same thing, they would still be beautifully different. All body sizes deserve love. 

Challenge Body Stigmas

Embracing all body types and treating others with respect and dignity, is a healthy challenge to body stigma.

To do this, it's important to reflect and examine your own implicit biases, which impact understanding, actions, and decision-making, unconsciously. This can be hard to admit and face, but it doesn’t mean you’re a good or bad person to hold onto certain things—it means you’re human. When it comes to body diversity, it often requires stillness and listening. You may not experience everything someone else experiences, but you can do your best to understand and empathize with others. 

You can support this endeavor through personal education around weight and health, advocating and listening to activists, and boycotting companies with problematic marketing. Rather, seek to support companies that focus on diverse models—while ensuring it's not just for media and a checkbox exercise. Do some deep diving into who is making the decisions (is it diverse and are there a good array of voices?) and if and what charities the company supports. Sugar + Spicy is an example of a brand that is doing just that!

What about actual fitness studios that are challenging the status quo? Here are some scattered across the U.S.:

  • Radically Fit Oakland: Located in the Bay Area and online, it focuses on offering fitness classes for “all queer, trans, POC, big bodied, and fat identified folx and their allies, regardless of experience or ability." They also offer sliding-scale memberships!

  • Nonnormative Body Club: Located in Philadelphia and online, this club is focused on reminding people that “our bodies belong to us, and we have every right to inhabit, nourish, and celebrate them as they are." Classes are done virtually and in person with a great variety in mobility and HIIT. Nonnormative offers amazing trans healthy resources and home workout offerings by BIPOC, trans, fat, and disabled trainers.

  • Autonomy Movement: Located in Austin, this fitness studio is all about wellness, size inclusivity, and trauma-informed. The founder behind this one-of-a-kind spot is Kim Gould, a licensed therapist who focuses on body image and eating disorders. They also offer mental health services! 

  • the be.come project: Strictly based online, this project is focussed on working out and moving your body for joy, health, and functionality, not because it has to change. It is focused on body neutrality and each class lasts around 30 minutes. 

Make It Less About Bodies 

Nothing brings more joy than a beautiful, heartfelt compliment. They make the world go around. 

But, it's very easy to comment on someone's appearance, and even with positive intention, it brings attention to appearance-based value rather than personality or talent based. 

Next time you go to compliment someone, lean into compliments about things that you love about someone, their talents, or something they have recently achieved. 

What Can Fitness Leaders Do? 

There is a lot of positive action fitness leaders and trainers can do to make their gyms or classes more diverse. Here are some practical examples:

  • Start from the inside out! Demonstrating that representation matters in hiring is important. Focus on hiring people from all backgrounds, bi-lingual or multilingual speakers, and being mindful of music and language used in the space. Moreover investing in continued diversity and inclusion education will foster positive change and create a welcoming space. 

  • Avoid gender-focused amenities in your facility. 

  • Lead with gender-neutral language. 

  • Do detailed checks on accessibility within your facility. This extends to how the facility functions for people with a wheelchair or other limitations, to offering exercise modifications (including verbal and visual cues) in every single class. 

  • Develop growth plans for different people in your organization to grow and progress. 

  • Avoid “weight” discussions and instead focus on the practicality of the exercise and its importance. 

It’s important to understand specific barriers that can exclude people from all communities, ethnicities, sizes, genders, and walks of life. True inclusivity, celebrating body diversity, and accessibility make everyone feel safe and welcome. 

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