A letter from a WOC to the fitness industry

Fitness, Trending

Ianthe Mellors is a professional dancer, fitness instructor and Head of Fitness and Movement for FitXR. She has worked in the fitness industry for over a decade, with brands from Nike and Reebok to ASOS, Adidas, Sweaty Betty and Frame. Now based in New York, Ianthe continues to perform, teach and create but like many WOC in the world right now, she is feeling fed up with the lack of diversity in her industry. Here she shares her personal experience and details the things that need to change…

I want to start by listing my experience over the past 10 years in the fitness industry in both London and New York. As I was reflecting, I realised that this is a cross-cutting issue not particular to one country or the other. Everything included below has happened on multiple occasions.

Disparity between the way I have been treated in comparison to my non POC colleagues:

“As an industry professional, I have felt the need to constantly prove myself more than my peers, even when I have more experience than them. People have seemed surprised at my knowledge, ability or success but never shocked by my peers success.

As a class participant, I only seem to receive a warm welcome by fellow instructors or participants when I enter a new environment/studio after I have proven myself. This is a marked contrast to the warmer welcomes received by non-POC newbies. When telling someone that I am new to the class but have experience in the industry, I am spoken to like I am a clueless child then I watch as the instructor speaks to a new non-POC person who says they are new to exercise not be spoken to in the same way”.

Tokenisation and Appropriation

“I am often tokenised for marketing campaigns, at events and on panels. Numerous times my skin has been lightened after a photoshoot, so that a ‘white version’ of me is the face of campaigns. I see people with no knowledge of the culture appropriating it to teach classes and reaping the benefits, despite being ignorant of its history”.

Ianthe Mellors
Photo: Ianthe Mellors

Lack of Diversity

“I am often the only black woman in not just the room but the building and rarely see myself regularly represented in brand marketing campaigns and social media channels. Gift bags, product giveaways and ‘gym bag essentials lists’ often contain products that I can’t use. Studio facilities provide hair straighteners but rarely a diffuser attachment for hair dryers”.

Inaction by the fitness industry

“Companies put together huge campaigns for PRIDE, and get behind other great causes but never acknowledge or celebrate black history Month. Posting a black square with little to no caption is not enough”.

I am not writing this to blame or shame or judge anyone. Just to shine a light on what happens in this industry. I am raising my hand and saying that I haven’t spoken up loudly enough and acknowledge that I need to do more things to help create long-lasting change. We all do.

During a conversation with my brother last week, when I was really struggling mentally with all that’s been going on and he said “black people are not defined by oppression or slavery it is our rich culture and heritage that makes us so incredible and that’s what we need to celebrate, now especially everyone needs to unite”. That sparked me up and led me to look at the spaces I am in to evoke change in a positive way.

I started having conversations with brands, studios and other fitness professionals to find out how they felt/ what they were doing. It became apparent that lots of people don’t know what to say, where to even start and didn’t want it to seem like a marketing ploy. They genuinely want to do something other than just post a black square or a fundraiser. I came up with an idea to make change happen without anyone shaming or judging anyone because all that matters from here on out is that things change.

#MoveForTheCulture will be announced on Instagram at 3pm GMT today (Monday). It’s main aims:

1. To celebrate black cultures and get people moving.
2. To change the lack of diversity and accessibility within the fitness industry.
3. To fundraise for organisations supporting the black community and fighting racism

We all have work to do but #MoveForTheCulture gives companies, brands and fitness instructors a starting point to be a catalyst change and allows us all to hold each other and ourselves accountable so that the change is long-lasting.

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