What We CAN Do About the Objectification and Sexualization of Women in Fitness

By Erin Brown

Note from GGS: We asked Erin to write on this subject in response to a disturbing trend we've noticed regarding reactions to the sexualization and/or objectification of women—particularly in fitness, but really, in the media overall. So often, people are quick to call the woman in a photo a whore and make assumptions about her character. Instead we could be putting our negative feelings toward action against the larger concept and practice of portraying women in a sexualized way in the media—and the effects this has on the treatment of women in our society, as well as on women's self-perception.


sexualization-shockedwomen-450x301The objectification or “over-sexualization” of women in fitness is a hot topic lately. I get it. You see the gyrating, and it makes you mad.

But I’d like to implore us as a community to think more critically about it than what generally makes it to the comment section on videos and posts some find offensive. Specifically, the individual woman’s character is attacked and the kinds of names women are often called in every arena start being thrown around. It’s unsettling and counter-productive.

First, let’s get clear about what it is that upsets you.

Is it that you think this represents you?

For a woman in the fitness industry, I can understand this. You’re trying to provide good content and spread your knowledge and message and seeing an overly-sexual version of your own work might feel offensive. But it doesn’t represent you, any more than a particular politician’s actions representing other politicians. It doesn't work that way.

If you are creating and supporting work that feels good to you, you are representing yourself well. Just because it appears to exist in the same “world” as you, does not mean it represents you.

Is it that it feels objectifying?

That’s subjective. I know this is tricky. I once had a sit-down with a librarian over the objectification of a woman in a non-fiction children’s book. I wholeheartedly believed in what I was saying and so did the librarian. But then she posed a difficult question. “What about the other books? Do we comb through all of them this way? Do we ban them?” Shoot. I was veering on asking her to ban books.

What feels objectifying in terms of clothes, photos, and such for one woman might not feel that way for another.

And it’s a slippery slope as we allow ourselves to fall into some of the same kind of “body policing” we all have experienced at one point or another. Are we wanting to dictate what women in fitness wear? Whose guidelines do we choose?  Do we feel comfortable deciding that our personal values around this should pertain to every woman and wherever she is at with her boundaries around her own body?

I know that’s hard to digest. But again I would suggest deciding what exactly your issue is, and go about creating and/or supporting what feels good to you.

Is it that it isn’t educational?

Fair enough. I have seen video tutorials that were a wealth of information where the woman doing the educating was also being presented in a “sexy” manner. I have certainly also seen videos where there is arguably very little educational value and it’s about watching her move and sweat. My response is to click away to something else, as there is nothing for me there.

I think the point is that an individual woman’s (or her camera crew/producer’s) actions do not represent all of our values or needs. There has long been a trend of using women as sexual objects to “sell” things, in this case, fitness.

sexualization-gossiping-450x338While I completely understand the values issue that may come up for you in so many ways around this, it’s important to see that attacking one woman does not change any of those things.

If anything, it devalues all of us, pits us against one another, and holds that regardless of our actions our bodies “should” live by rules set forth by others. Which is not what I stand for as an individual—and hopefully not what we stand for as a community.

So my best advice? "Do you."

If you don’t like these examples, become or support what you’d like to see.

Women in small clothes doing workouts that seem “sexified” may not go away. But we don’t have to stand against them to support what we love in a way that is in line with our own values. And in doing so, we don’t have to pass judgment or blame on anyone else.

It is always okay to stand up for what you believe in. It is always okay to write to companies, to not buy their products, to let them know that what they are selling doesn’t jive with you as a customer. Doing so can even be empowering. I just strongly recommend doing so with clear intentions about what is actually bothering you, and keeping it about the concept and not the woman.

Being an activist requires more thoughtful work than name-calling.

sexualization-confident-woman-publicspeaking-327x341It isn’t as easy, but if you are standing up for your values it is both more effective and less costly to all of us to do so respectfully.

Below are just a few of the many organizations working to address the representation of women in the media.



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About the author:  Erin Brown

Erin Brown is a writer, speaker, feminist, and activist. Her work focuses on women and autonomy, which includes sharing her personal narrative and helping women own the power of their voice. Erin is the author of Showing All The Way Up: A Guide To Confidence and As Is: A 21 day practice for finding a home and peace in your skin. Learn more about Erin on her website and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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