Representation matters: inclusivity in the sports and fitness industry

Representation matters: inclusivity in the sports and fitness industry

For many years I believed that the sports and fitness industry wasn’t for me. Gym advertisements, sports brands, fitness club promotions – they all told me that I wasn’t welcome. The women featured are tall, blonde, slim. They sport toned arms, six pack abdominals. Their make up doesn’t melt with sweat from holding a plank. They are able to catch a ball without their breasts threatening to hit their forehead. They contort into the most advanced of poses. They are lifting weights I can’t even fathom. They are playing at the top of the game. They are athletes. They are elite.

Okay, one of those statements can be rectified with a decent and well fitted sports bra. But still, everything about the sports and fitness industry made me feel like an outsider. I was sold a view that you had to be good at something to do it. That you had to be fit already. That you had to be elite. I am none of those things. I am rarely represented. Now, I am a small fat. I am white. I am middle class. So if I don’t see myself represented by a industry where, the gyms alone, are worth 5 billion a year – then something is wrong.

Sports and I

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Now, regular readers will know that I love and adore fitness activities. I’m a complete yogi – and spend as much time in downward dog as I do on my feet. I enjoy swimming, water sports, hiking, adventure sports. I’m not particularly good at any of them – but I love trying. Okay, I can’t catch a ball to save my life but I can hurdle over a 5ft fence (if you put a horse beneath me). I’m also pretty handy with a tennis racket …. I just have to rely on my opponent being unable to return my serve.

Yet for years, I hid all these elements of my life. I didn’t feel I could talk about them on this blog or on my instagram. I felt like no-one would engage. That I would be laughed off my digital platforms. And that is due to one thing and one thing only – the sports and fitness industry doesn’t portray an inclusive image. It portrays an image of the elite.

But, when elite athletes are so few, and fitness and sports are meant for all – well, something needs to change, right?

How brands can work to promote inclusivity

I’m a huge believer that brands across all areas need to include people from a wild variety of backgrounds and demographics in their marketing and promotions. This is, perhaps, more true for the sports and fitness industry where years of harm and exclusion is in need of repair.

Working with bloggers

So how can sport and fitness brands ensure that they representative and inclusive? The most obvious is to work with a wide variety of fitness and sports bloggers UK across many different niches. Working with outreach services like the Get Blogged Marketplace to find UK sports bloggers is a great way of finding diverse bloggers to promote a brand. I’ve worked with the agency many times and know that they vet their clients and bloggers extensively to get the very best match.

Using this service to find bloggers who specialise in writing about areas such as disability and body confidence would be a great way of demonstrating inclusivity in a way that empowers those practicing the sport or fitness to tell there own personal journey. I know I would read those articles!

Sharing content

The brands that I love are those who share their real customers. Not the paid for models, but the people who buy their products. Customers who use the product in real life – who love and endorse it. Sharing customers content steps a brand away from being a faceless corporation hiding behind a model, to being a community. It creates a more inclusive and friendly culture that certainly makes me more likely to buy from or engage with a brand.

Working with charities or community sport groups

You don’t get more inclusive than community sport groups. Everyone I have ever attended has been a welcoming hug of enthusiasts. Like me, they’re rarely at the top of their sporting game but they are their to learn, to enjoy and to have a go. Sports brands wanting to show more diversity in their promotions should look to grassroots sport organisations and charities that are grounded in their local community. Swim brands could work with organisations like Swim Dem Crew, an inner city swim club supporting ethnic minorities to take to the pool. Fitness clothing brands could look at organisations such as WheelPower to show their clothes in action across a broad range of sports.

My favourite sports and fitness influencers

And my favourite sports and fitness influencers who would I’d love to see with more sporting and fitness brands? Well here are just a few.

@itsanniebean does it all! Wild swimming, cycling, hiking, running and yoga. All whilst battling epilepsy. She is a lovely person who brings so much energy and good will to all she does. Honestly, she is the most delightful to follow.

@anoushehusain is a ParaClimber and founder of Paraclimbing in London. She uses her platform to highlight the barriers people face in society and how they can change them to make the world a better place. She would make an amazing ambassador for any sports or fitness brand.

@mynameisjessamyn is the most inspirational yogi. Her control is phenomenal and she offers great flows with moderations for beginners and for the plus size body.

@love_disfigure is a swimmer and yogi who uses her platform to uplift others and champion diversity. She describes herself as disabled, middle aged and plus size and a believer that fitness is for everybody.

@missfitsworkouts is dance/movement instructor whose classes are just fun-filled energy explosions. She brings joy and frivolity to all she does and encourages those who don’t feel at home in the gym to move in a way that feels good for them.

And me! Of course. But maybe that is vain of me.

Who are your favourite sport and fitness influencers who make you feel more at home when exercising or inspire you to try new kinds of movement?

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