5 Black Fitness Influencers on Finding Joy Through Movement
Everyone has their own idea of the perfect body, but for Black women, the body put on a pedestal by the wellness industry rarely resembles their own. Like every other industry built on this country's system of white supremacy, the world of fitness and nutrition is riddled with misconceptions and underappreciation of Black bodies. But similar again to every other industry, Black women have still carved out an inclusive place for themselves to experience joy and peace through movement. And the more we celebrate these women for paving the way for marginalized voices, the more of those voices we'll come to see. Ahead, five Black fitness influencers share their empowering stories.
Jessica Rihal, @jessicajadeyoga
Jessica Rihal knows she's perceived a certain way in the wellness world. She's a bigger Black woman doing yoga, something she always thought was for small and compact white women. Soon, however, she overcame her hesitation about doing something that didn't seem to be meant for her. "I gave myself the freedom to explore movement from a curious perspective, wanting to relate to myself in a different way outside of diet and weight loss," Rihal told POPSUGAR. "That's when I gave myself the permission to look stupid and try new things."
While Rihal initially began working out to lose weight, once she found yoga, it clicked that exercise didn't have to be a chore — it could be a fulfilling part of your life that centers you. "It made me realize that I was more than just my body and my mind," Rihal explained. "I felt a connection with the world around me through the practice, and I was connecting to myself on a brand new level." Originally, she didn't intend to publicly share her journey with yoga, instead opting to create a finsta for her practice. But eventually, she made friends online, and her page naturally grew into a gathering place for those who didn't match the cookie-cutter image of what a fit body looks like.
Now having fully stepped into wellness as a singular path to better her connection and relationship with her body, Rihal says she finds joy and peace by "being present in the moment and acknowledging how delicate and powerful my body is at the same time."
Chrissy King, @Iamchrissyking
Like many people, Chrissy King began exercising because she was unhappy with her body. After she began strength training, however, King's relationship with fitness transitioned from a means to an end to an uplifting part of her weekly routine. "It was one of the first steps towards changing my relationship with my body," King told POPSUGAR. "I recognized that I could focus less on what my body looks like, [because] there's so much power in my body's capabilities." Now she finds peace through exercise, by listening to what her body wants and respecting those wishes.
After King traded in her day job for a career in personal training, there was one thing she noticed as she dove deeper into the industry: a striking lack of people of color. Having studied social welfare and justice at Marquette University, King decided to use her fitness-focused Instagram as a platform to promote inclusivity in wellness — both online and in the real world. "I took my passion for social justice and my passion for exercise and fitness, and have merged that into the work that I'm doing now," King explained.
Along with vocalizing the need for representation, King encourages others to reevaluate their notions of beauty and wellness, a move best captured by her Body Liberation Manifesto. King challenges women to shift the energy they exert analyzing their body's appearance to rethinking the structures that make them feel less than perfect in the first place. "Holistic health is not just about exercise and nutrition," King said. "It's about physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health. [Knowing] that racism is a public health issue, how can an industry that's so focused on helping people be well not talk about things that are having a real impact on people's health?"
Tashana Charles, @tashanacharles_
Some people start working out for themselves, but Tashana Charles didn't seriously venture into the gym until her boyfriend encouraged her to work on her body. They broke up, and soon after Charles shed the expectations her ex placed on her body, she realized that she liked going to the gym for herself — and she wanted other women to feel the same way. "When COVID hit last March, that made me want to start doing more social media and have a public platform to help people," Charles told POPSUGAR. "[So] I decided to finally put myself out there."
Now juggling her burgeoning influencer career along with her psychology studies, Charles uses exercise to de-stress when things get hectic. "When I'm going through finals or anything, I'll just go to the gym and lift, and I just feel better," she said. But as she's working out and posting more, Charles is learning that it takes more for a Black woman to make it onto the trending page — and she's raising that issue to her subscribers. "When I started doing YouTube, I noticed when I would type in ab workout or booty workout, it was always the same faces over and over" Charles explained. "I was like, 'Why do I have to go to page five to see one Black girl?'"
As she works to land on that first page of results, Charles encourages people who are hesitant to start their exercise journey to discard the belief that you have to fit a certain mold. "Fitness is such a huge domain, that it doesn't just have to be working out at the gym," she said. "You can do yoga or hiking or pole dance classes. I think people need to realize that they can do something that's fun. And once you find that, you'll be good."
Jennifer Forrester, @jenniferforrester
Being active is a family tradition for Jennifer Forrester. Her father was a college athlete, and her parents happened to meet at a gym. Having been raised around sports, it was a natural fit for Forrester to choose her career as a personal trainer and gym owner. But as of late, her constant exercise has played a therapeutic role in the times she needed it most. "After this incredibly difficult summer of racial injustices, movement has really been an outlet for me to release any compounded stress that last year has had on me as a woman of color," Forrester told POPSUGAR.
Most days, Forrester wakes up at 5 a.m. for a yoga class to help center her relationship with her body and set mindful intentions for the day. One of those intentions is changing the dialogue on the types of bodies women should strive to attain. As a former track athlete, Forrester never wished to have a thigh gap or any other mark of "fitness" that runs rampant on social media. That's why she started her page, as a platform to celebrate strong bodies — which will look different for everyone.
To help girls learn that their strength isn't defined by anyone else's expectations, Forrester currently serves as the codirector of TrackGirlz. "It's a nonprofit organization committed to empowering girls through sisterhood and track and field," she said. "We focus our efforts on helping amplify the voices of women in the sport." Seeing herself as a role model for those growing into their own, Forrester has curated her Instagram page as a platform for young women to be inspired and emboldened by fitness, instead of being afraid of it.
Halicia Loren, @halliegal
Halicia Loren has been a fitness instructor for years, at one point teaching a mix of Pilates, barre, HIIT, and kickboxing a dozen times a week. But the COVID-19 pandemic instantly changed her schedule — and her relationship with wellness. "Once 2020 hit, instead of it being a job, I had to learn how to be active and realize this is actually mental health," Loren said. "I wasn't working out to reach a goal. I was working out because if I didn't, I would be depressed and in a bad mood."
As opposed to seeing exercise as a chore or a necessary evil to get "summer ready," Loren used her time in quarantine to connect movement to deeper aspects of her life. "It's changed from trying to be cute in a bathing suit to like, 'Let's have our mind, body, and soul connected,' and realizing it's a part of who I am and not just something that I do," Loren told POPSUGAR. Something she realizes doesn't connect to her mind and soul? Cardio — and that's totally OK.
Not everyone will find the same enjoyment in every type of exercise, and one's opinion on movement could change from day to day. So, some days Loren will go hard at kickboxing, then the next she'll want to counterbalance that intensity with the controlled calm of barre. "If you just stay consistent, make it part of your lifestyle, then you can enjoy it," she said.