To the Women Who Define Fitness

As we welcome, embrace, and celebrate Women’s History Month, I naturally started thinking. Reflecting. Not just about the females who have impacted my journey, but the women in fitness—where we started and how far we have come. 

I often consider how women only had a fleeting moment to shine in the big scheme of human history. Only in the last 50 years have women been consistently in the workforce, in higher education, and outside the home—and even less in leadership.  Think about that. All the beautiful minds that could create art, write compelling stories, and develop ideas for inventions. And all the perspectives that should have been shared in politics, business, and religion. We are making up for lost time now, though! But what about the female perspective when it comes to fitness? 

Here’s my quick history lesson: Women began to enter the fitness scene in the late 1960s. Some early disruptors—inspired by the women’s liberation movement and Title IX—decided to get women moving. It was still “unladylike” to be seen perspiring in public then. The sports bra wasn’t even invented until the early 1970s! However, something exciting emerged, igniting a pivotal, lasting trend.

Lotte Berk started what’s now the modern barre studio in a basement studio in London. Judi Missett founded Jazzercise in 1969. Jacki Sorensen was a leader in dance and aerobics in the 1970s. Jane Fonda came into the picture in the 1980s—and video exercise from home exploded. And in the 1990s? Fitness classes began to be commonplace in gyms. Women felt more comfortable exercising in groups outside the home. This is where we saw the power of collective movement. The incredible feeling of a great sweat session paired with music (and yes, trying to achieve the “perfect” physique). 

In the early 2000s, women defined a new industry called boutique fitness, including yoga, Pilates, cycling, barre, and dance. That laid the foundation for exponential female growth in the fitness and wellness industry. Fast forward to today, where women own 70% of boutique fitness studios, and women make up two-thirds of attendees in fitness classes. We’ve defined a global boutique fitness industry valued at $49.3 billion—and that is incredible! We have dramatically shifted the landscape of what fitness and movement encompass. Women have brought a new perspective, new reasons to prioritize health, and new ways to find community in studios. And now, women are changing the way boutique studios grow and their clients find success. 

I talk to dozens of studio owners every week, and their stories and narratives are not only inspiring, but the post-pandemic innovation and pushes for change are really exciting. To my delight, I am finding the consistent thread is focused on an overhaul of fitness messaging. For years, I’ve personally been frustrated by the imagery and rhetoric behind marketing and studio communications. The focus on “change your body” or “tighten and tuck” has not only intimidated a large part of the population but weaves in a feeling of failure for those who try the classes and don’t see an immediate difference in their physical figure. It also impacts mental health and growth mindset for those who don’t fit the mold a studio portrays. Today, studio owners feel the effects that this messaging has had on their clients and understand that change is needed now more than ever. We no longer shape our bodies to look a certain way for someone. We are shaping our overall wellness to be the best versions of ourselves. To be stronger—mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

Women in leadership at studios are wildly passionate about reminding us all that overall health, and mental wellness is the true “why” behind their programs. And now, they are crafting a new message around how we, as students, can find the desire and willpower to make a habit out of their classes. They understand that loneliness and widespread disease are plaguing our country and our world and that boutique fitness has a meaningful cure. Their studios are a home for so many to find safety, fun, stress relief, and even, transcendence. The best part is that I see them work together. More and more studios are joining online or in-person communities and mastermind groups with other women in similar positions to collectively rise the tide of wellness. They are finding the people who care about what they do and helping each other with business, work-life balance, and, yes, mom life support. It’s magical to observe the wave of togetherness across the industry. 

We are in the midst of a significant moment of change, and women have decided to take the lead. Watching females make an impact and bring their unique perspective into fitness is a joy I’ll never tire of. Thank you all for your dedication, your unwavering passion, and your decision to change direction together. I can’t wait to see what this industry looks like next year, in the next generation, and beyond.