Fitness Marketing to Females: Don’t Be a Victim!

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Note from TG: Today’s guest post comes courtesy of friend and strength coach Kelsey Reed. I’ve known Kelsey (and her husband Steve) for a few years now (they actually got engaged on my blog and came to Cressey Sports Performance for their honeymoon!)

You can check out those shenanigans HERE (<– the actual sneaky engagement post) and HERE (<– my follow-up post). 

I have a ton of respect for Kelsey not only as a fantastic strength coach, but as someone I feel is a true “champion” for fostering the sentiment that women aren’t these delicate flowers who should appease themselves to the regurgitated BS that the mainstream media tosses their way.

Here she dives into fitness marketing towards women and some of the shadiness that goes down. Enjoy!

Before I dive into the meat and potatoes of the post, I want to thank Tony for allowing me to write a post for the blog (I might have done a happy dance when I began this post).

Today I will focus on the devious, misleading, and body-centric phrases that magazines, fitness products, and various other media outlets use to lure women into reading or purchasing their products. These schemes are birthed out of the intent to deliver what every woman wants: the perfect body, as dictated by their marketing.

Don’t check out yet, fellas!

I assume, since you read this blog, that you are either a fitness professional, an individual of higher enlightenment than the rest of America, or both. And we need you to help rebuke these, I think, demeaning claims and spread the good news of iron. Claims and “promises” such as:

“Lose a dress size in a week!”

“Torch those calories!”

“Flatten your belly!”

“Lengthening muscles and tone that tush!”

“Get rid of that jiggle!”

* and other such claims that are so asinine they make my cats take out their rage upon us poor humans.

Ladies and gents, we are barraged with headlines and marketing techniques designed to a) make a woman feel inadequate about her current body shape and b) continue to ingrain in her that her worth is based on her looks.

Not only do they fail to encourage, but they even discourage, the pursuit of process-oriented goals. Both a) and b) lead to repeated cycles of short bursts of motivation and hard work, followed by despair at her failures (typically because the claims above set her up for nothing but failure), and ending in a return back to her starting point.

Do this for me, Google image “women dumbbell exercises.” 99% of the images are with 5 lbs or less (and for some reason are performing bicep curls. I thought that was a guy thing?). These portrayals are ubiquitous in women’s magazines and, subliminally, tell women they can’t, or worse shouldn’t, lift heavy things.

This is what our friends, coworkers, and clients see on a daily basis.

Now, there has been a movement, “Strong is the new skinny,” which, I’ll admit, is definitely a step up.

In word, at least, it encourages women to try heavier weights and strive for strength. However, have you Googled that phrase? Do so, I’ll be right here when you get back.

What did you see?

Images of muscular (more so than usual) women who are still lean (thin) and long-legged and busty. Not that I think those attributes are wrong to possess, those models can’t help their genetic lot, and power to the women who can rock it, but those are the traits that seem to be highlighted almost exclusively.

I don’t think it’s ignoble to strive for the body of a Greek goddess, especially for women who compete in physique sports; I used to be one!

Despite the words of the message, there is still the expectation that women should look like Wonder Woman or any of the other female superheroes from old DC comics, and that simply is not a realistic goal for most women.

(I’m rather short, un-curvy, un-busty, and will never be any of those things.)

Photo Credit: Jeff Chapman

PLEASE NOTE: this is NOT me disagreeing with this new mentality that is permeating the fitness world. I DO believe that being strong is better than being skinny. After my battle with anorexia, I know better than most how damaging focusing on body image can be and whole-heartedly agree with the shift in thinking away from looks and towards performance.

The focus of our message should be to the non-physique competitors, the women who want to be strong and healthy but are still inundated with the images of busty, tiny-waisted women with a visible 6-pack.

And even though these women are more muscular than the general model to grace the cover of women magazines, there’s still the subliminal expectation that to be “healthy” or “strong” a woman’s physique must contain less than 12% body fat.

We must remind our friends, family, and clients that lifting weights alone will NOT MAKE SOMEONE LOOK LIKE THAT.  More importantly: To not let the fact that they don’t discourage them or frustrate them. 

We must communicate that diet and genetics play a large role in how these idealized women look; if you’re 5’1” and have the curves of a pre-pubescent boy (like me)…striving to meet these ideals will only cause frustration and disappointment.

We must live in our realities; not in the fantastical world of internet models and Photoshop.

Unfortunately, the women who most need to hear this message are not regularly exposed to resources, such as blogs like Tony’s, which encourage women to step away from the grocery store magazines. Therefore, as fitness professionals (females and males) and enlightened individuals we must do 3 things:

  1. Reset our expectations for ourselves (ladies) and set goals that are both attainable and realistic. We’re not immune from this either and we cannot hope to inspire change in others if we have not first done so ourselves. I also challenge the guys to examine how you personally view the women you either work with or who are in your life, and see if these arbitrary standards have crept into your subconscious.
  2. Encourage other women – be it friends or clients – to set and strive for goals that aren’t based upon an idolized “ideal” woman. Note that you can accomplish this not only through words, but also through your actions; it’s often the latter that is more effective.
  3. Educate and continually remind those women that their goals will be accomplished through consistent hard work, patience, and embracing a process-oriented approach. The world will continually try to sell them short cuts and inflame their impatience for results. We must be the voice of unvarnished reason amidst the din.

 “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” – my dad

I’m personally encouraged that there is an increasing number of women ditching the magazines in favor of a more reasonable and healthy training approach. Our job is to foster and encourage this trend.

We’re not going to change the world overnight, but we can change it one woman at a time.

Note from TG: for more on this topic you can check out my Training Jane from Joe webinar on Mike Reinold’s Rehab Webinar’s website (you get access to my webinar and HUNDREDS of others).

In addition, for more female-specific fitness resources I stand behind check out Neghar Fonooni’s Lean & Lovely, Nia Shanks’ Lift Like a Girl Guide, and Molly Galbraith’s Modern Women’s Guide to Strength Training.

Author’s Bio

Kelsey Reed is head strength coach at SAPT Strength & Performance located in Fairfax, VA. Bitten by the iron bug at 16, Kelsey has been lifting ever since. Her love for picking up heavy things spurred her to pursue a degree in the Science of Exercise and Nutrition at Virginia Tech.

Now she spends her days teaching and coaching others in the iron game. In her down time, she lives life on the wild side by not following recipes when she cooks, fighting battles through characters fantasy fiction novels, and attempting to make her cats love her.

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