Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Black Feminist Fitness!

For the past few months, I have been in deep contemplation about fitness and its place in my life.  I've continued to set goals and share my successes and struggles on social media, and many friends write publicly and privately that what I share motivates them to try new classes or to speak more kindly to themselves.  This to me is really different from me inspiring them because rather than them saying they wish they did what I did, they are finding their own ways to enjoy movement and develop a body acceptance practice.

 I'd also grown frustrated with a lack of fitness mentors and training partners.  Don't get me wrong.  I have several fit and wonderful coaches and instructors, and they all do their jobs well.  However, I don't have anyone to help me think about the next levels I want to reach or to help me create a vision for my fitness outside of weight loss or strength gains.  Training for the next race, whether it was an OCR or a triathlon, stopped being enough.  (This doesn't mean that I ever stopped attending classes or climbing hills with a bucket of gravel!  I still do.) 

Finally, I got really thoughtful about how I was being asked to relate to my past self.  I talk about this in other arenas, but I felt pressure to disassociate from my prior self and to call out its flaws. However, I didn't think that the 2009 Courtney deserved any less love than the 2015 Courtney.  What to do with this warped exchange of public shame and praise?  I got increasingly resistant to accepting weight loss compliments and wanted to talk about other subjects.  I wanted to know what I was supposed to DO with myself now that I was smaller.

June Jordan's "Poem About My Rights" with its wonderful line, "I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name" came to me in the middle of the night (I'm a bit of an insomniac), and I stayed up for hours thinking and writing about all the things that were bothering me.  It turns out that my desire for community, for affirmation, for service, and for education were all connected!  I wondered how I could use this to fuel a new project.

"Wrong Is Not My Name: Black Feminist Fitness" is the result of months of thinking and experimenting.  It has 3 parts:
  • Diversity training for gym owners, group instructors, personal trainers, coaches, and other fitness professionals.  I want them to acquire cultural competencies, learn how to recognize and interrupt discriminatory language and practices in their facility (particularly with regards to size diversity), and develop an community which is welcoming of all participants.  I've heard from far too many friends and family who describe discrimination at the gym, and for those who use exercise as an escape from the world's microaggressions, having workout spaces become another source of stress is unacceptable.  I want everyone to feel like they are being invested in.
  • Fitness coaching from a Black feminist, weight neutral, and body affirming position.  When I think back to when I first began a consistent movement practice, I remember having lots of questions about gear and injuries, and these were answered pretty easily.  Thanks Google!  What I didn't have were answers to questions I had about my lack of confidence in my abilities.  How could I deal with feelings of shame and embarrassment being the biggest person in the room? (Note:  I'm still the biggest person in the room, but I know what to do.)  How could I advocate for myself if I felt unsafe during a training session?  Was it ok for me to disagree with a coach/instructor? What was even a good goal to have?  I wanted to know so many things!  Because we live in a culture that doesn't value the voices of fat Black women, I encountered lots of silencing and shaming in fitness spaces.  By using the works of people like Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Barbara Christian, I want to help people get back in touch with that voice that we've been taught to disregard and replace and begin to articulate health and fitness goals in ways that make sense for them.  
  • Community-based fitness classes.  Black feminism teaches me to imagine spaces that don't yet exist.  I have a vision of fitness classes that are truly for the people.  These aren't classes where we drop in, sweat, and leave, but spaces where we build connections with one another and move beyond an investment in our individual bodies into a space where we learn how to affirm and advocate for others in our communities.  I want to teach free classes.  I want to go broke bringing well-developed fitness classes to poor folk, old people, folks in recovery, prisoners, pregnant teens, people out in the country, queer kids, all kinds of people who are made to feel wrong.  I want folks who feel like their bodies are hypersexualized, overworked, commodified, and disregarded to enter my class and create a new loving relationship with their flesh.  I want to make these classes my contribution to social justice movements. 
So these are the thoughts that sparked this idea.  Who knows where it will lead?  It's hard out here for a black girl who loves black people, and I expect the fitness world to be hard too.  As I said on my website, though I could be selling a weight loss dream, I'm not.  I'm wanting us to get free.  All I'm hoping is that I can make something that makes my community proud.  I'm excited to find out where it goes!  We are indeed the ones we've been waiting for.

If you want to learn more about this unfolding project, check out the website,
Instagram: blackfeministfitness
Twitter: feministfitness

There will be lots more going up in the coming weeks!  

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