Meet Matilda (aka Tilly) a writer, creative and avid runner who took up long distance running after joining Run Dem Crew in 2011. Since then, she’s completed ten half marathons, five 10ks, two marathons, an ultra marathon, Tough Mudder, the Ride London 100 mile bike ride. She’s also passionate about encouraging BAME women to pursue fitness, so in 2018, she qualified as a Leadership in Running Fitness coach to facilitate free group sessions around London. Here she talks to us why there needs to be more diversity in the wellness industry…
What are some of your biggest frustrations with the industry?
It’s awesome that an industry exists to help people improve their physical and mental health; but over the years I’ve noticed that aspects of the industry are pitched as a luxury for the privileged few. I don’t feel coming from a different class or having a certain income bracket should be a barrier to understanding how to take care of yourself!
Why do you think women of colour are underrepresented in fitness?
It’s complicated. On one hand, there are athletes you can name-check that are doing a great job representing women of colour in sport such as Serena Williams, Dina Asher-Smith or Simone Biles. But it’s safe to say the average woman doesn’t aspire to be an athlete – and given the way athletes train, she wouldn’t want to! She might just desire a healthy lifestyle. Still, western beauty ideals are pervasive within the fitness industry, whether through a lack of racial diversity – particularly in fitness media, marketing or health clubs – or by presenting one body type as aspirational. I’ll know representation is improving when I can rock up to a fitness class and not wonder why I’m the only black woman in the room – or when I run my next 10k or half-marathon and clock more women of colour running right along with me.
What are you doing to try to change that?
I started Fly Girl Collective as it was important for me to see more women that looked like me, doing what I love. I think it shows the fitness industry that there are other types of women who care about looking after their health. After all, representation matters: and any authentic portrayal of women loving the skin they’re in regardless of mainstream ideals can only ever be a good thing.
Tell us more about your Fly Girl 30 day challenge
This was something I launched in June to see if I could motivate more women of colour to get moving for 30 consecutive days. It’s one thing to appeal for representation, but it’s another thing if we’re not doing the work – in this case, fitness – to be represented in the first place. So I started the #flygirl30daychallenge hashtag on Instagram, spread the word among my friends, and asked them to share daily updates of how they were getting on. Then, it just snowballed! Women started getting involved from all over: London, Canada, even Nigeria! By the end of the month, I waded through something like 200 Instagram posts and Stories. It was incredible, and very inspirational. I’m looking forward to kicking it off again in September, especially if more women get involved.
Main image by Ollie Trenchard