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Why Start Fitness for Feminists?

In November of 2015, I was sitting in Warren Schick’s kitchen. Warren, a dear friend, was a fellow-trainer at Healthworks. (He has since left to open an acupuncture practice in Washington.) I was stressing that my hours at Healthworks were dropping and, since I enjoy catastrophizing, that I would no longer be considered a full-time employee and my benefits would be taken away. (I’ve never heard of this happening...see above re: catastrophizing.) Warren recommended that instead of putting all of my eggs in the Healthworks basket, I should look for alternative projects to which I could devote some energy. He told me not to look at the loss of these hours as a threat to my safety, but as an opportunity to do other things. The next day I began conceptualizing Fitness for Feminists.

Because moderation was a foreign concept, I conceived of a fitness empire where feminists could learn to get strong, which included blog posts, online programming, free stuff, paid stuff, nutrition, exercise, questions from readers, video, text, donations to charity, paid subscriptions, sponsored subscriptions for those who couldn’t afford it, t-shirts, professional logos, etc. etc. etc. If all this sounds daunting, let me assure you, it was. I used to engage in this all-or-nothing thinking, where if I don’t do it the best I shouldn’t do it at all. (I’ve been working on that.) My friend Sarah Seldomridge, who I’d enlisted to help with logo and website design, tried to get me to scale it back, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I was full-steam ahead. But then I witnessed an accident.

It was February 18, 2016. I was walking to work to meet my 6 am client and a man — a kid really — turned left out of a right-turn-only street and struck Marcie Mitler, a woman I’d never met, with his pickup truck. He jumped out of his truck to pull her out of the street and, once I realized what happened, I ran to help. I called 9-1-1, tried to keep her calm, keep her from moving, keep the situation under control. In the end, she died at the hospital and I shut down. A trauma, especially one that ends in a death, can lead to an existential crisis. What the hell is the point of all of this? Why bother getting strong or helping other people to get strong? Why get off the couch at all? For a while, I could only keep up with the bare minimum I needed to do my job, and FFF disappeared into the ether.

Ironically, it was another fatal car accident that got me back to work on FFF. On January 21, 2017, Mark Baumer, an acquaintance from my Providence days, was struck and killed by a car on his barefoot walk across the country. Mark had been walking to raise awareness about climate change and fundraising for the FANG collective, an environmental activist group in Providence, RI. He was a brilliant, strange man who I didn’t know well but liked very much. He always made an effort to talk to me in social situations where I didn’t know many people. Mark was video-blogging his trip and I binge-watched his videos after hearing of his death. I felt so guilty that I was doing nothing to help the world. Mark died trying to affect change; I like to watch TV.

So, to honor Mark and to honor Marcie — a therapist who used dance (among other tools) to help heal trauma survivors (and by all accounts an incredible woman) — I want to try to affect change through the thing I spend most of my time thinking about: fitness. I want to help women realize that we do not need to take up less space, to be meek and hairless and childlike and deferent and timid. I want women to walk into any space and feel empowered to stand up tall, to speak as loudly as they need to be heard, to not back down from the things that matter to them. I want women to be able to walk into any gym, bypass the ellipticals, and grab a dumbbell, not for tricep extensions, but for goblet squats. I want to help women find their own strength. To recognize that their power doesn’t come from their looks, but from their fortitude.

I don’t know if I’ll succeed. I might lose focus and stop producing, or feel discouraged or like I’m shouting into the void. But maybe I won’t. Maybe when things get tough and I feel uninspired, I’ll remember why I started this project in the first place. Maybe I can stay the course and I can help one woman in some faraway Gold’s lift a heavy barbell off the ground and think, Fuck, yes, I’m powerful. Maybe that faraway woman will be you.

To learn more about the FANG Collective or to help fund their efforts, click here:

To learn more about the Across the Ages Dance Project, which hosts the Marcie Mitler Portal to Dance Fund, or to help fund their efforts, click here:

Big thanks for Eduardo Espada for his incomparable illustrations! Visit his website and follow him on Instagram @e.j.espada.

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