Fitness and Social Change

It has been a trying couple of weeks. Even the strongest of us has been emotionally tested. We are a community built around positivity, hard work, inclusivity. When you MOVE for the right purpose, you are less likely to hate or judge or harm. And so we have been pondering the questions: Where does fitness fit in with the ongoing social upheaval? And is there a precedent for us to look upon for inspiration, direction, and yes, hope? 

In his book Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors, former Paris Review editor Daniel Kunitz explains, “To be clear, the first mass culture of fitness – the extensive participation that began in the seventies – must be credited to a number of women empowered by the women’s movement.” What Kunitz, an avid CrossFitter, is referring to is a group of female entrepreneurs that pioneered the business and expansion of dance aerobics, which lead to what he refers to as “the practicing life” of modern day fitness. 

In the early sixties, aesthetics, rather than functionality, was the impetus for exercise. And it was widely believed that women should mind their bodies, as opposed to men who should mind their work. Ironically, most “health clubs” at the time would not allow women as members. But as the idea of exercise as a lifestyle – and important to individual health – came into the public consciousness with Bill Bowerman’s seminal book Jogging in 1967, and Kenneth Cooper’s book Aerobics the following year, women began to chip away at the common notion of female fitness. 

In 1970, Jacki Sorensen, a military wife and former professional dancer, founded Aerobic Dance Inc. By 1981, she had 1,500 offices in forty-five states and over 4,400 employees. Concurrently, in 1969, Judi Sheppard Misset, another former dancer, founded Jazzercise, employing video as a mass-market strategy that spread throughout the country and became a phenomenon. In 1982, Jane Fonda, a famous actor and female activist, took the reins. By activating the female body, these women helped fuel female self-confidence, which in turn gave rise to a cultural revolution of female identity. Men followed. Business followed. The world followed.

The Ancient Greeks speak of a duality of being represented by the body and the mind; training the body fuels thought and creates a more fulfilling life. This is where we fit in. We can activate the body to fuel the mind and help propel evolution of thought and behavior. We’ve witnessed it before – sweat can change the world.