THE BLOG

Putting the Freak Into Fitness - the Sexualisation of Women in the Fitness Industry

24/03/2015 17:57 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 10:59 BST

When I think of the gym I've always felt that it was a place I could go and let it all hang out. The gym is my own little space where I can forget my make up and hair straighteners, throw on my old workout clothes and sweat away my worries without the fear of anyone noticing my feral state because everyone is so 'in the zone'.

It's an inclusive community where individuals are hard at work, striving to achieve fit and healthy bodies and an environment that prioritises functionality over attractiveness.

Hold up - who am I kidding? The gym for many, myself included, can be an intimidating, narcissistic and overtly sexual hellhole. It's not exactly the kind of environment that encourages women to want to keep fit, but another area of society where women are left feeling demoralised and in competition with one another over their looks.

With gym selfies, sexual fitness slogans and popular fitness models like Jen Selter all working their way into popular culture and onto the gym floor over the last few years, it's a wonder any regular woman can bear to bust a sweat without being made to feel like a rejected extra from the Eric Prydz Call on Me video (you know the one with all the lycra and porn inspired exercises).

Now, I'm not denying that the gym and fitness industry hasn't always involved a certain amount of sexualisation. We've all seen the well-oiled and tanned physiques of those competing in body building competitions, which although undoubtedly celebrate the hard work and commitment certain individuals put into their bodies, they clearly objectify the human form on the basis of what it looks like.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said "I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street."

But over the last few years it seems as though the fitness industry has overdosed on Viagra and the rest of the world has jumped on its horny bandwagon to grab a piece of the action.

What seemed to start out as a way of encouraging more women to workout in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, through initiatives such as CrossFit's 'strong is the new skinny', has now been hijacked by the moneymakers and turned into another case of sexualised marketing. Marketing where women are being motivated to workout purely to look sexy and for attention from men.

Just one search through Instagram and hashtags such as #fitfam or #fitness throw up hundreds of images of young women posing in skimpy gym clothes looking more like glamour models than weightlifters.

And I can't count the amount of times I've spotted women taking selfies in the gym - face full of makeup and not an ounce of sweat on them - snapping away to get the perfect picture and a few more likes on their social media profile.

Not to mention the sudden influx of clothing companies producing questionable skimpy gymwear, which only serves to highlight the sexed up image even more.

I'm not saying lets all sprint to the gym with bin bags covering our bodies (although this has been known as a fat burning technique), but if Celeb Boutique's recent sportswear collection is anything to go by the freak has undeniably been injected into fitness.

The risqué range includes pieces covering booty shorts to cleavage bearing, mesh panelled tops that wouldn't look out of place in a strip club and I don't know about you, but I'd rather not witness someone else's nip slip while I'm trying to perfect a box lunge.

The worrying thing is, is that in reality lots of the women who dress this way, snap endless gym selfies and boast about their sexy gym bodies probably don't lead a healthy lifestyle at all, let alone understand the benefits of a proper workout.

I mean how often do you see real fitness enthusiasts or athletes look like this?

I personally can't ever recall seeing Jessica Ennis-Hill posting a seductive photo of herself doing a squat with her tits hanging out, do you? No, because she's probably too busy doing her training to have time.

The saddest part about the sexualisation of fitness is that it discourages many women from working out because they feel that they don't fit in with the image that is being so heavily banded around.

After looking at images of model-like women posing in gym gear in magazines or on the Internet, it's hard not to feel as though you don't match up or will never be able to attain the same look. And so ultimately as that is the goal being shoved down our throats - what's the point?

There is one shining light however, in the form of the 'This Girl Can' campaign, recently introduced by Sport England, which aims to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to become active no matter how attractive they feel.

The campaign has had an overwhelmingly positive response from women so far and although it's unlikely to topple the 'sex sells' marketing strategy anytime soon, it has proven that by popularising a different viewpoint on women and fitness the fitness world has become a more approachable space for many.

After all fitness is about what our bodies can achieve, not just what are bodies look like. Yeah we all want to feel good in a bikini, but it kind of helps if we can carry heavy bags and run for the bus first.