Addressing the stigma around body size in the fitness industry

Unsurprisingly since the pandemic the importance individuals now place on their health has increased exponentially. With 79% of consumers focusing on being fitter and healthier.

A surge in the popularity of workouts such as crossfit, pilates and yoga have seen a resurgence across 2023, whilst online fitness are expected to see a decline now restrictions are a distant memory.,

But with the rise in participants wanting to return to pre-pandemic activities and fitness classes, we are starting to see more unsavory trends across social media.

Earlier this month, Beth Robinson, a CrossFit plus-size athlete shared her own personal story of being repeatedly body shamed after sharing a video of her performing a pull-up on TikTok. It wasn’t Beth’s intention, but the video went viral and resulted in a plethora of men and fitness professionals commenting on the post calling her out for it not being a ‘proper pull-up’ whilst some went as far to comment ‘You’re fat, you’re not an athlete’.

The fitness industry has evolved since the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman. The industry no longer thrives on the stereotype of the “perfect physique” and has made great steps, for the good toward inclusivity in the industry, including size inclusivity.  Whilst this might be the ethos of innovative fitness companies, some audiences are still in the mindset that to be an athlete you need to have a certain look.

So, whilst this unfortunate incident occurred in the crossfit industry, it goes deeper, it involves the whole perception around what fitness is.

But how can the stigma around body size in the fitness industry be challenged? For behavioural change to be achieved, a holistic and consistent communication framework needs to be put in place, in order to begin breaking down decades of misconceptions and one-dimensional thinking.

We’ve outlined tactics that could be included in a PR communications strategy that can help engage audiences, showcase inclusive environments, improve customer retention and ultimately achieve the most important goal, of our community leading a happy healthy lifestyle whatever your look.

Implementing a diverse models and influencers program

Everyone is different! This is no surprise, so we should be thinking that way when we look to engage with influencers. Consider making your marketing more inclusive and involve an array of individuals of all different shapes, sizes, cultures, and backgrounds. This will help to communicate that your brand is welcoming to all.

This messaging should be reflected across your website, media materials, and social media. Imagery should promote classes or gym equipment being used by a range of audiences either through using diverse models or sharing UGC content from your customer base. Similarly, inviting a range of influencers to participate in classes or sessions will help to demonstrate the inclusiveness and adaptability of your brand.

Creative activations

Creative activations and eye-catching PR stunts can produce great results for brands that are looking to generate widespread awareness. Utilising creative thinking and a visually led campaign has the power to engage both press and social media user attention. When dovetailed together, unique activations can help deliver ROI, through reaching a new audiences, engage your loyal customer base, drive brand recall and elevate your social echo.

Of course, you will need to consider how you bring the creative element back to the key message around inclusivity.

One recent example to take inspiration from is The Gym Group’s all-singing, all-dancing campaign that focused on tackling ‘Gymtimidation’. An excellent example of bringing people together from all walks of life to simply enjoy heading to the gym.

While creativity is critical for this process, brands must ensure that their concept and message is easily digestible for both media and consumers. Engaging with a Creative Director, will allow you to further build on our ideas and offer clients a fresh perspective on their strategy.

Act on feedback

Social media platforms provide consumers with a fast and efficient way to both compliment and call out brands – but it’s vital that when feedback is shared, businesses respond appropriately. Dedicated social media teams can implement Community Management strategies that create and maintain brand identity – work in conjunction with the business to advise on the best response.

By acting on feedback rather than glossing over it, consumers feel heard and respected – further contributing to an authentic brand identity, and more importantly highlighting what the brand stands for.

Comment on the issues that matter

Consumers want to feel supported. Consumers are still prioritizing their wellness spending even in an economic downturn. But if consumers are going to continue to spend their hard-earned money on memberships and other group classes, it’s only fair that brands in the fitness industry create a safe environment for consumers to exercise in.

Whilst it’s not fair to expect consumer brands to weigh in on every real-world issue, there is an expectation to acknowledge what’s happening in the space you operate in.

Strong customer communication and internal comms for your employees can help bridge the gap on such important issues. Simple awareness messaging on your social channels or thought leadership driven from the top of the business down can build trust and gain customer loyalty.

Anyone is able to call themselves inclusive, but actions speak louder than words, and contributing well-researched, considered thought leadership articles and opinion pieces to the national and consumer media will further demonstrate your commitment to authenticity.

If you would like to discuss how our Fitness PR team could help develop a holistic PR communications strategy that can help engage audiences, showcase inclusive environments, improve customer retention, get in touch to find out more.

Get in touch with the team