Feminism & The Female Fitness Industry

The female fitness industry is akin to a night in Coppers. Largely unregulated, full of creeps and a means to an end for many. I am a firm believer that the female fitness industry is vastly flawed, and as consumers, service providers and actual human beings we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and demand better. I love fitness and the empowerment it gives women. It is not simply picking things up and down again (as cool as that is), or eating salad (salad is never the answer). Handled correctly, fitness will challenge you, and everything you stand for, for the better. But you have to be ready for the bullshit you will encounter.

Female Fitness 101: How Fuckable Are You? And How Can You Be More Fuckable?

Unfortunately, it is my experience from being exposed to the fitness industry, that female fitness is centred around one thing: how fuckable you are. And if you have achieved baseline fuckability, you can always strive for more. Chase the ideal, and don’t worry, you can’t ever get there. The difference between male and female fitness marketing is phenomenal. Resistance training is marketed to men as a way to become stronger and improve yourself. On the contrary, it is marketed to women as a way to make yourself more appealing to others, be they female or otherwise. Women are celebrated for their tiny waists, glutes and how close they fit the “ideal”. Strength is not celebrated, unless you possess the aforementioned physique.

“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

It is a simple fact of life that to become successful in the female fitness sphere, particularly in the social media age, your body is the quickest shortcut. As a female, the world places more value on your body than your brain. Which gets more engagement, a bikini photo or a deadlift PR? It’s simple. It’s just the way of the world. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with posting either one.

What matters, on an individual level is what you value more. Society may place more emphasis on one, and that is something that will take a long time to change. It is your motivation for your actions that determine your values. Why do you post bikini photos? Because it makes you feel confident and empowered? If so, unreal and you do you sis. Or is it because you feel obligated to, that it is the only way you will ever be “successful” or validated? That’s where the issue lies, and only you as an individual know the answer, as it is different for everyone.

I believe it is not “anti-feminist” to post photographs of your bikini bod, or videos of your hip thrust where your glutes look fire. Nor are you the champion of women for keeping your body to yourself.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with improving yourself, making yourself more confident and attractive. It would be a damn lie for me to say that’s not a factor in why I train. But I think it’s important to note that it isn’t the only reason to train. Tying your worth to how your external appearance is perceived by others is a sure-fire way to guarantee you’re gonna have a bad time. This is obviously easier said than done, and it is a lesson that must constantly be learned.

Female Fat Loss & Diet Culture

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Diet culture ironically feeds off the insecurity of women and starves us of our confidence and self-esteem. You are nothing unless you fit the ideal, and the ideal is constantly changing. You must be small, tiny and gentle. Or else you are a useless fat bastard who will die alone with your 20 cats.

The diet industry is worth BILLIONS of euro worldwide. It has given rise to all kinds of bullshit aimed at confusing the fuck out of women and pushing them further from the truth all in the name of making money. Calorie deficit? Don’t worry about that ladies, you don’t need to know about that. Leave that to the menfolk. Try this low carb shake diet instead. Not only will it plague you with disordered eating habits and your self-worth, it will also fuck up your hormones! Where else would you get such a bargain?! You say you want to be healthy? Did you say skinny tea? And while you’re violently emitting from every orifice think about how this is making you more appealing to MEN! Score. Furthermore, it is not enough to consume these weapons of bowel destruction, you must also be seen enjoying the fruits of your labour. You are only happy, only desirable when you look like you’re enjoying the struggle of being thin.

I’m not opposed to fat loss, and I firmly believe that wanting to lose weight is entirely up to the individual. Your own reasons for doing so are what makes it a feminist issue or not. It is not anti-feminist to improve health markers, feel better and move more. Dieting is not anti-feminist. Diet culture is. Diet culture pushes the notion that you are nothing unless you are smaller. Dieting, when done properly, with the right motivation reinforces the idea that you can be smaller if you damn well want to be. So long as you know that your physical self does not define your worth then go ahead and do whatever the hell you want with your body.

Women Against Women: Filters, Tan, Training Styles

Sorry ladies, it’s not entirely the fault of men. We must hold ourselves accountable for how we conduct ourselves. And do better. This “pick me” mentality is rampant and insidious, particularly across social media. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we tear each other down every day. And it’s our responsibility to do better. This kind of thinking is bet into us from a young age. There’s only room for one woman: the prettiest, the coolest, fittest and funniest. Down to lift weights with the guys, but don’t lift too heavy now. And we have been conditioned to believe that WOMEN are responsible for this. We are forced into turning on each other. When pitting us against each other does nothing more than drive us apart.  The only reason why you are not where is you are is because another woman is there. And you can “overthrow” her, by challenging her, picking her apart and doing anything to ensure you don’t work together. There’s more than one way to be a woman.

If someone wants to wear makeup to the gym, because it makes them feel better and more confident, let them. If they use filters on an Instagram photo, let them at it. Does it affect you? Whether I wear tan, tight clothes or my hair down is none of your damn business. Maybe I do it for attention, maybe I don’t. Calling people out, especially when followed by an “I don’t do that though” does nothing to advance feminism, quite the opposite. It reduces us to being a society of “curtain twitchers”, where we become so focused on the actions of others, we neglect to address our own behaviour. Not only that, it makes you an asshole.

How we market things to women, and how we as women market ourselves on social media is a fascinating, yet fundamentally flawed chasm of contradictions. Tearing women apart under the guise of advancing feminism, and “encouraging girls to be confident” is a massive crock of shit, if at your core you are doing it to push your own brand forward. You can be confident in yourself and use Instagram filters. You are not better than me because you do not. You are not better than someone else because you lift weights. If you really gave a shit about “empowering women”, you would encourage us to train how we want. Certainly, educate us about the benefits or disadvantages to certain techniques, but don’t roast people for doing what makes them happy. Even if it is cardio.

Not All Men, But Enough

The fitness industry is male-dominated. Unfortunately, this has allowed a lot of this misogyny to perpetrate for as long as it has. Weight rooms were seen as “men only”. Eating abundantly was celebrated amongst men. Men were trained to train for performance, women for show. A lot of coaches I see on social media unwittingly (I hope) feed into this. Even worse are their attempts to market their services to women using tactics that devalue women. “Real men like curves”, “no man wants a bag of bones”. This does not help at all. You do not help women by telling them they are better than other women. Nor do you advance the industry by ensuring that the only women train to change their bodies is to impress men. Take a day off, buddy.

Even those proclaiming to be “cHaMPiOns oF FeMaLe sTrEnGtH”, who spend a great deal of time producing fantastic research in strength training and celebrating strength amongst females can still turn around and write books entitled “Grow Your Glutes Without Growing Your Legs”. God forbid women grow quads and hamstrings, lest ye become unfuckable she-hulks. I have seen many a trainer on Instagram bash women for merely existing. If you need to market your services by preying on the insecurities of women, you are a sap. My condolences.

Obviously, this is not the case for all men. Indeed, I follow and have spoken to some fantastic male coaches in the industry who aren’t misogynistic bastards. They focus on driving strength and encouraging confidence amongst their clients. Much like how they train male clients. Could it possibly be that the secret is to treat women like men? God if only there was a word for that. Equality, maybe?

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, it’s all terrible and we will constantly live our lives being reduced to our physical body, right? Not necessarily. There is a lot of work to be done, and the patriarchy isn’t something that can be dismantled overnight (unfortunately).

The state of the fitness industry is nothing personal. Nobody is intentionally an asshole, or devoted entirely to suppressing women. We are what we tolerate, and the time has come for us to change what we value and support in our community.

I think by making ourselves more aware about what we stand for, why we do everything and keeping the industry accountable, we can push on for a more level playing field for females the fitness industry.

Being a healthy woman isn’t about getting on a scale or measuring your waistline. We need to start focusing on what matters – on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.”

Michelle Obama

Huge thank you to my good friend Ciara Gorman, who challenged me and questioned me a lot about what I wrote here. Feminism isn’t a one size fits all, and as someone who is rarely wrong (😉) it helps to have a friend like Ciara to raise some salient points for discussion and elaboration.


Published by Michelle Carroll

I am an online coach (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutrition, EQF Level 4 Personal Trainer, PN Level 1) and radiographer (BSc). I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I hope by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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