The History of Women in Fitness

March 8, 2020

The struggle for equality has existed for as long as people have lived and this is in every sphere of life. Although progress has been made, women still face discrimination and prejudice in most spheres of life. Women still make less money than men, have fewer leading positions in companies, and are not treated equally in the workplace. But these issues can even be considered unimportant when we think about women in third world countries.

Women in sports and fitness have faced inequality & discrimination as well. Men have been encouraged to be strong, muscular, and physically fit since the beginning of time. They had to prepare for hunting and for battle. On the other hand, women were taught to be dainty and lady-like. Their main role in society was to take care of children and the household.

Fitness and Exercise through the years

The evolution of women in fitness started slow but has been moving at great speed lately. Up until the 60s, women were even told that their bodies could not handle exercise and warned them that physical activity would make them barren. But one thing that stayed consistent throughout was that women should lose weight and be slim.

In the 1920s, a device called Vibro-Slim was introduced so women could lose weight. It wasn’t up until the 1940s that bodyweight exercises were made popular amongst women. The 1950s and 1960 were the years the Hula Hoop & Twisting and ”Trim Twist” were made popular.

The 1980s were the years everything shifted and changed for the better in women’s fitness. We’ve probably all seen those 80s aerobics videos that you can do at home. The people who made them popular and changed the idea of fitness and exercise were Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda.

The 90s and 2000s found women’s fitness in a new mindset. Muscles on women started to become socially acceptable and women were starting to exercise more than ever. Women with a more muscular and strong physique were clearly becoming more mainstream and widely accepted.

Women who made an impact on sports and fitness

Kate Brumbach – Athlete

Women weren’t supposed to be big and muscular in the 1800s but Kate Brumbach embraced her strength. She came from a family of performers and spent her whole life in the circus. Katie’s father would offer one hundred marks to any man that could beat her at wrestling, but no one ever could.

Kate even challenged men to a lifting competition in New York City and won by lifting 300 pounds over her head with one hand.

Margaret Abbott – Golfer

In 1900 Margaret became the first woman to win an Olympic medal. This was the first year women were even allowed to compete in the Olympics. Abbott, a golfer, was the first American woman to win an Olympic event. The issue with the tournament was the fact that it was so poorly organized, not even Margaret herself knew it was an Olympic event.

Kathrine Switzer – Athlete

Up until 1967, women were not allowed to take part in a marathon. Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to actually enter and run a marathon. Since women were not allowed on the competition, Switzer registered under a male name. When it became known that she was a woman, officials chased her and wanted to get her out of the race but her boyfriend fought them off. In the end, she was able to finish the race and continued being an advocate for women’s marathon to be an official event on the Olympics

Lisa Lindahl – Inventor

Lisa Lindahl is the inventor of the famous sports bra in 1977. Before that, women would jog and exercise without one. She got inspired by her own experience when she started joining. Her “jog bra” became the famous sports bra that so many women today use and love.

Jane Fonda – Actress + Fitness Guru

Jane Fonda is the author of the highest-selling VHS of all time. In 1982 she released her first exercise video, which due to its success was then followed by 21 others in the next 13 years who would sell more than 17 million copies. She had a great impact on the way people, and especially women thought about exercise. These videos gave women the ability to work out from the comfort of their own homes.

Rachel McLish – Bodybuilder

As the first Ms. Olympia bodybuilder in 1980, Rachel McLish had a significant effect on the sport of women bodybuilding. She was inducted into the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Hall of Fame in 1999 and paved the road for other women in the industry. She served as an inspiration for other women bodybuilders like Mia Finnegan, Monica Brant, and Saryn Muldrow. These women set a precedent and a new “look”.

There are more women that have influenced and shaped the world of sport and fitness as we know it, but these are some of the more unique cases.

Present Day

The number of women in Sports and Fitness is bigger than ever. While in the past it was very hard to take part in a sports competition as a woman, today, we have the ability to follow our dreams. Women with muscles are not looked down upon anymore, although there’s still discrimination. Women in sport are still paid less than men and women’s tournaments and leagues are not as popular as the men ones. We’ve come a long way, from women being told not to exercise, to sport being a valid career choice for women. However, there’s still so much to be done.

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