What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Why is it so rare to see two young women working out in the inner city? When is the last time you’ve taken an early morning drive and seen troops of female fitness goers traversing their local neighborhood of predominantly lower-classed minorities? It’s not uncommon to go to the local park and see young men shooting hoops or bench-pressing in groups.
Powerful bodies are a marker of masculinity for young men in urban America, but is this the same for the young inner city woman?
My best friend Coretta and I believe that it isn’t. See, we are life-long natives of Orange, a small urban town in Northern New Jersey. Though small, many people within the town suffer from chronic health problems such as extreme stress and obesity, and yet it is SO rare to see active community members — especially women — out and about in our neighborhood partaking in fitness activities. I’m not saying that fit females don’t exist or that all inner cities are plagued by physical inactivity. There are plenty of running groups such as Black Girls Run in neighboring East Orange and Bootcamp classes that cater to women that take place in Orange Park. Outside of these groups and classes, however, there isn’t much.
Coretta and I have always worked out by ourselves. As students, we didn’t have the money to get a personal trainer, so we took to Youtube, fitness blogs, and workout websites and taught ourselves the ins-and-outs of healthy living. We don’t see fitness as something only men do.
We have come to accept it. It’s not the norm to see women who are in their early twenty-somethings — and not professionally training for an athletic event — doing interval workouts on a neighborhood street.
It is sometimes uncomfortable feeling “watched” by men who stop their cars to try to have a conversation with us. Would that happen if we were working out in a more affluent neighborhood? Probably not. Heck, streets are designed for fitness needs in those communities.
Glenridge, a suburban town that borders Orange, has main roads with bicycle lanes that cater to bikers, joggers, runners, rollerbladers, and more. Why is it that we feel like a spectacle when we work out in what others might deem “the hood?” How would you feel if every time you worked out you have to deal with men trying to become your boyfriend because you have a “fit ass?” Or, what about the women who indulge in petty side remarks such as “Oh, she thinks she is hot because she has abs and can run.”
Despite some negative experiences, we find our workouts to be very uplifting and encouraging. A lot of times we receive a lot of motivation and positive comments from onlookers. Many women have come up to us and encouraged us to continue “sticking out” and “setting an example.” They marvel at our execution in the parks and often ask for fitness tips that they can apply in their own lives. We stand out as individuals who are courageous. These are the type of responses that we love and like to share with others.
It’s important for all individuals in urban communities to reclaim their neighborhoods. So many times we hear, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to get a gym membership.” The person then signs up for a gym, which can get be quite expensive and often outside the community. She goes for a few weeks and never goes again. For people in inner cities like us, this can be a money guzzler. The cost of living is not cheap. You don’t need a membership to get in shape.
Sometimes, it is better to initially build up the dedication and commitment to fitness, so that sustaining a gym routine can be easier in the long run. Use what you have around you; It could be your driveway, your front stairs, or even your living floor. The awkward stares and looks from amused onlookers, overtime, can turn into motivation for those who don’t have the courage to start working out or publicly display their yearning to be healthier.
If more and more people within inner cities took to the streets to declare their health their own, a lot could change within urban America. Fitness would be embraced. It might even become a “norm,” something that doesn’t require stares or judgment. We need to start creating a culture within our communities that celebrates being healthy. The only way to start that is to embrace our communities. Use the “streets” for positive. This type of thinking could revitalize urban America. It would force lawmakers and politicians to really rally for the people’s needs and make neighborhood parks and streets that cater to the physically active citizen. It could bring back hope to the hearts of the females that power urban communities and provide motivation to inspire future change.
Have you ever had a “Dang, Can I Work Out in Peace?” moment? Feel free to share your thoughts and comment below.