Like most social media apps, the fitness side of TikTok contains workout regimes, food videos, and body positive contributors sharing information about personal health and body image. While some FYPs are awash in hundreds of gym bros, visually-appealing fruit bowls, and videos of what I eat in a day, others are filled with less popular, but still important, conversations about what health means for people with diverse bodies.
Many of these conversations are helmed by fitness and health professionals who promote what they call an inclusive fitness culture that doesn't focus on weight loss or goal-setting in the traditional sense.
People with disabilities, fat bodies, neurodivergent people who need accommodations in exercise programs, and people of color are some of the experiences Inclusive fitness culture acknowledges. The fitness world is not a safe space for all because of biases and institutional barriers. In addition to male-dominated gyms that can put women in danger, queer and fat communities battle constant microaggressions in fitness spaces, and people of color navigate a world where their physical appearance is discriminated against. Intersectional fitness seeks to address the sexism, racism, and fatphobia we have come to accept in the fitness world.
A new generation offluencers will use TikTok to share another perspective on health and fitness. Videos using the #bodyinclusive hashtag have racked up more than 3 million views, while the broader # dietculture and #non diet tags appear throughout the fitness content and have gathered hundreds of millions of viewers. It is important to note that not all of these videos actually share inclusive fitness content, so keep an eye out.
Appreciating your body, what it does for you every day, and holding space for your body.
AK MacKellar is a certified trainer and personal fitness coach, and the founder of Free to Move, an online, queer-inclusive movement program. It offers workout courses and other resources for building positive, queer fitness communities. MacKellar said that using fitness and movement as a way to change how you feel and what you think is possible.
MacKellar has a successful fitness account. Here, their workout videos de-emphasize appearance and diet in favor of intuitive movement, and share resources for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, primarily for a queer audience. That is the only goal and there is no other reason to do it. MacKellar said that it was a shame.
The National Eating Disorders Association agrees that traditional fitness thinking can have a dangerous effect on the mental health of many marginalized groups.
MacKellar is a former athlete who is now working in the fitness space. They had a bike accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and limited their ability to participate in traditional fitness routines. Instead, they started a career as a fitness coach, taking courses and training that emphasized alternative,holistic health programs, ones that accounted for their experiences as both a nonbinary and neurodivergent person. These are the core elements of the fitness programs they offer on TikTok and Free to Move.
MacKellar focuses on representation, seeing people of your own identity and experiences leading a class or exercising near you. Gym environments are inherently gendered, so it means divorcing the idea of fitness from the gender. MacKellar makes their workouts universal. They use queer music, icons, and other cultural references in their coaching.
The program avoids conversations about normal or ideal bodies, and emphasizes personal check-ins as you exercise. They say that you should not feel coerced into pain while exercising, and that you should listen to your body.
Some of MacKellar's most popular videos are on TikTok, and they are all in the "True Beginner" series, which is designed to give beginners no strenuous or complex exercises that could create barriers for people with disabilities. Some of these include fully seated workouts that can be done in any environment, or exercises that don't put strain on specific body parts, like knees or wrists. The workouts are designed to adapt to the needs of the person, and free of the expectation that you need to work up to an end goal. MacKellar and Kronengold agree that this kind of thinking can lead to injury or harmful eating and exercise behaviors.
While MacKellar shares inclusive fitness tips to their 131,000 TikTok followers, Malarie Burgess went viral for fitness videos that reject diet culture and embrace intersectionality. She wants to take back exercise from the toxic diet space and instead promote new understandings of how food and exercise fit into your day-to-day life.
Burgess has worked in the fitness industry for 10 years and uses they/she pronouns in this article. They have a degree in exercise science and a training certification from the American College of Sports Medicine, and work full time as an exercise specialist for a local government office. This experience helped her understand intersectional fitness.
I work with older adults and adults with disabilities. They said that the approach to exercise that many people and young adults do is not as effective as it could be. Exercise can help with that kind of longevity.
TikTok reflects those ideas, focusing on reassurance that all forms of movement, health, and appearance are valid. She said that it is a punishment for what we eat, how we look, or that we need to be doing it for a specific reason.
If you're disabled, you're a person of color, if you're queer, those spaces exist.
How to combat fatphobia, how to create inclusive exercises for people with chronic illness or disabilities, and how diet culture was fed to people throughout the 2000's are some of the videos on the page. She shares workout and health tips that acknowledge the impact of the media on fitness. She wants her account to be a safe place for all. If you are disabled, you are a person of color, if you are queer, those spaces exist.
There are a few red and green flags for fitness programs that might be more inclusive. Try to avoid professionals or classes that use phrases like "get in shape" or "ideal body image", or other appearance-focused terms that imply there is a single, ideal body image. Body part measurements, before and after photos, and diet are all no-gos for Burgess. Consider what kind of photos they share on their fitness pages. Do they work with diverse clients?
If you are interviewing someone, you can ask about it. Someone that has worked with a lot of diverse populations tends to be more flexible, and they will be better at individualizing your program.
The terms "regime" and "Program" are flags of potentially unhealthy fitness behavior and noninclusive spaces because they often imply strict goal setting and weight loss. She suggests people look for certified professionals that use terms like joyful movement or intuitive movement in their marketing.
It is important to keep in mind that fitness professionals are trying to make money by selling you something. It's the thing that sells the best. On the other side of the spectrum, they turn away people who are not looking to have conversations about non- diet focused, intersectional fitness and only seek weight loss.
There are others who still perpetuate a harmful diet culture, stigmatize certain bodies, and threaten to expose many to harmful weight loss behaviors. I will take that beating so that this can continue to be a space where people can unpack their relationship with their body, with food, with exercise, because I think there has been a lot.
It is hoped that people in need will find a space that is comforting and accessible, filled with reassurances and an emphasis on the personal, individual nature of fitness and health. No shame involved.
MacKellar said that it is like a David and Goliath situation. Trying to fight a big beast.
If you would like to talk to someone about your eating behavior, you can call the National Eating Disorder Association. To be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line, you can either text NEDA or visit the nonprofit's website.