Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 109
Ren Jones on diversity + inclusion in the fitness industry
Karina Inkster: You’re listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast episode 109. I'm doing something a little bit different today and sharing a Zoom conversation I had recently with coach Ren Jones that wasn't recorded specifically for the podcast.
Hey, thanks for joining me. I'm Karina your go-to, No BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. A few months ago, Alive Magazine, for which I write semi-regularly, approached me to write a piece about how the COVID-19 pandemic and recent discussions about diversity and inclusion have changed the fitness industry. This ended up being probably the most important article I've ever written. It's available in both the US and the Canadian versions of the magazine, and it's available online as well. And we'll link to it in our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/109. The article is called, “The Future of Fitness: How the COVID-19 Pandemic and Discussions About Inclusivity are Changing the Fitness Industry for Good.” As part of my research for this article, I interviewed about 10 fitness professionals, and I had Zoom conversations with two of them. And today I'm sharing with you my conversation with Ren Jones. I ended up using a ton of his quotes in the final piece, and I really appreciate him taking the time to speak with me.
I'd like to acknowledge that I am no expert when it comes to diversity and inclusion and what needs to change in these areas within our fitness industry. And I also acknowledge that I come from a place of privilege and I have a lot to learn, which is why I spoke with Ren. He's a certified trainer and certified nutrition coach in Charlotte, North Carolina. His personal philosophy toward changing behaviours is centred around self-compassion over discipline. These methods have helped his clients make permanent change and heal their relationship with food. Ren has been on the podcast no less than three times for episodes 45, 63, and 77 and I encourage you to check all of those out if you haven't already. Here's our most recent discussion. Keep in mind, this is from a Zoom conversation that was not recorded specifically for this podcast so the audio on my end will not be studio quality. I was actually peddling away on my bike desk and taking notes on my laptop, which you might hear. Anyway, here it goes.
So they've commissioned this piece on basically like the future of the fitness industry. And so part of it is, this is where I interviewed John Goodman, right? Part of it is like, how has the pandemic changed the fitness industry and also the situation for us as coaches?
Ren Jones: Oh gotcha.
Karina Inkster: By the way, I'm on my bike desk in case I'm doing this.
Ren Jones: Oh yeah. I was wondering what the hell was going on. Like what is she doing?
Karina Inkster: I’m literally like on my bike desk.
Ren Jones: I thought you were, you’re like, you know, I know you're a musician sometimes here. Like when I'm sitting, I hear music in my head. So maybe you're doing that. You had some sweet music flowing through you, you going to lay it down later.
Karina Inkster: Some sweet accordion tunes!
Ren Jones: Gonna smash that accordion later. Yeah I’m feeling this one!
Karina Inkster: Oh my god! Haha!
Ren Jones: Lay this one down in the studio later.
Karina Inkster: Gotta lay it down. It’s like percolating.
Ren Jones: You’re so freaking efficient. Like, I wanna when I grow up, man, be just like you.
Karina Inkster: Aw shucks! Anyways. So yeah. So lots of like you know, how has the fitness industry changed because everyone's working out at home now, what does this mean for gym owners? You know, there's like that whole piece. And then there's the other piece, which is how have the discussions in the last like year or two around diversity and inclusion, how have they changed the fitness industry, but also what work still needs to be done? Because I think there's a lot of work that still needs to be done.
Ren Jones: Right.
Karina Inkster: So that's kind of the angle that I'm doing interviews on now. There's actually a gym in Vancouver, which is close to where I live, which is like their whole messaging is around inclusivity. All genders, like, you know, it's also trans-inclusive. It kind of branches out a little bit from just the ethnicity discussion which I think is necessary honestly.
Ren Jones: Right. Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: But I'm trying to see if I can get that gym owner on my interview roster.
Ren Jones: I’m sure you're persistent enough to make it happen.
Karina Inkster: Oh, well, I really want to make it happen. So we'll see. But so like we have talked about this in our podcast episode obviously, right?
Ren Jones: Right.
Karina Inkster: Like inclusion diversity, what's going on with the fitness industry. So can you just give me like a quick overview of how you have seen things in the fitness industry change as a result of these discussions that we're having? Like, what has actually changed, if anything?
Ren Jones: In terms of inclusion and diversity specifically?
Karina Inkster: Yes.
Ren Jones: I think what I see changing most is awareness, right? We know as fitness professionals, as coaches, that awareness is a catalyst to change. Like people just aren't going to change what they're not yet aware of. And I think because fitness is sort of rooted in two things, right? And this is from my perspective, like, I can't speak for fitness, but in my mind, fitness is rooted in two specific things: Patriarchy. Gotta say it right. Can't not say it. And the other thing I have to say is access, right?
Karina Inkster: Ah yes! Ok, yup.
Ren Jones: So we see this probably most prevalently in its most prevalent form nutritionally. Like a lot of marginalized people live in nutritional deserts, right? They just don't have access. But I think the early stages of fitness and wellness, there weren't a lot of diverse people in the country club, right?
Karina Inkster: Ha! Yeah.
Ren Jones: Like you know, high schools and primary schools that had great fitness access probably weren't in diverse communities. So I think in terms of awareness, as patriarchy and access being the backbone is that I think a lot of whether you're talking to me about minorities or you're talking about women, or you're talking about the understanding of what the difference between gender and sex is, right? Like we are learning sort of together in real-time as an industry of what allows inclusivity in all areas of fitness. So I think that the main thing that I see now is the awareness and how widespread it is now because fitness is rooted in sort of patriarchy and access. I also see the collective eye-roll of fitness. Oh, you know, oh, here's a person they've got the parentheses, “she/her” as if I couldn't figure that out or you know. Fitness at its root form, I think the goodness of it is that we want to make everyone healthy. The challenge with those roots is they are born out of one idea of what healthy is, right?
Karina Inkster: Right! Right!
Ren Jones: So that's the challenge. I think we want to be better as a community, but I think because it's rooted so singularly in what we deem is healthy it makes it much more challenging to - not much more challenging, but I think that's what presents the most immediate challenge to inclusivity. I'm sure that there are people who don't feel like a woman whose sex is female, but her gender is male or a man whose sex is male, I don't think that that resonates with them in terms of health, necessarily across the board. There's a lot of learning to do, but to simplify the answer to your question, what I've noticed much more so is awareness and the discussion around it, so that people who want to learn how to properly include all types of humans, they have a greater opportunity now than I think they did even two years ago. I think the landscape is changing. That's what I've been able to observe at least.
Karina Inkster: Love it. Okay. That's huge. Brilliant. So out of this then, like out of the discussions around awareness and also love your point about backbone of patriarchy and access, where do you think things are going to go in the next, like, let's say the next six to 12 months?
Ren Jones: Oh, that's a great question.
Karina Inkster: - in the industry.
Ren Jones: Great question. So I like to use a Jonathan Goodman word, “democratize”, and you've probably heard him say that I'm not sure, but you know, the democratization of fitness in all aspects, I think the same way that the internet democratized business, small business, the way it's a democratized access to branding, right? Reduced the amount of gatekeepers, right? The internet across the board, social media most specifically, shattered the role of the gatekeeper you know? You want Diddy to hear your song? tag him in it, you know? Enough people tag them in it, the clip goes viral. Chances are, Diddy's gonna hear your new song. Like the access pathway has widened so that if you're diligent and if you have great content, you've got great ideas, things sort of travel now in this industry, you know? How many times have we seen somebody, you know, and her personal reputation notwithstanding, but how many times have you seen a clip go viral?
And then the person shows up on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, right? It's just what happens. So I think because of that if you are queer, lesbian, trans, you have the opportunity now to build a network online. You don't need a gym to approve of whatever it is that, you know, based on who that gym owner is. Again, that's a lot different. There’s a difference between organizations, for sure, but you don't need that at this point. You don't have to go to a gym as a trans person to say, I want to specialize in coaching trans people. I'm certified through NASM or ACSM and whatever, you know, will you hire me, only to have to deal with that gatekeeper. Now because of everything shifting to the internet, because more people are working out at home, more people are following fitness, people who are online. You can very, very simply set up a community and find your people, whoever people are. And I think that's a big shift over the next six months.
We've all been forced to pay attention to one thing, because we don't have access to anything else, right? So the pandemic shrunk the lens for everybody. The pandemic was the magnifying glass to the sun that was the internet, right? And now all the rays are laser-focused. You can burn through something. I think over the next six to 12 months, you'll see that if there is diversity present in our industry, there's nothing to filter it out from having access to a greater audience because you don't have to be in a gym anymore. You don't have to be on a bodybuilding show on ESPN or you know, your morning breakfast show in your local area. “Good Day Charlotte,” is what we call it in Charlotte, North Carolina. Like you don't need those main historical access routes to awareness that you needed back then. And I think because of the pandemic, it's shown, it's focused the energy onto the internet. And I think because of the nature of social media and all its various platforms there's much more opportunity to diversify across the fitness board.
Karina Inkster: Love it!
Ren Jones: That’s my thoughts, at least.
Karina Inkster: Brilliant. So that all sounds, first of all, pretty logistically like it's happening already. And like, we're going to see this -
Ren Jones: Happening already.
Karina Inkster: - actually it's happening now. It's going to continue to happen.
Ren Jones: Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: But in your view, what do you think still needs to be done? Like there's a lot of work that I feel, you know, yes, we are biting off little pieces of this thing, but there's still a lot more to digest and there's still a lot more to do.
Ren Jones: Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: So what do we still need to do? What's the work that has to be done?
Ren Jones: So here's where the education comes in, right? You know, maybe you know, 5, 10, 15 years ago, I don't think the industry even understood the science and psychology of coaching women through fitness, right? You know, I'll look at a leader like Girls Gone Strong or someone like that. Just sort of educating the general population on the subtle nuances of dealing with different lifestyles, right? I think that what there needs to be is a large push industry-wide. We really need an NASM - need is a strong word.
It would be advantageous for an NASM or an ACE or someone to have you know, training to understand, you know, here let's dive you guys into the hormonal profile of someone who is trans. That the subtleties of the things that this person is dealing with, the psychology of what you should say, and shouldn't say, queuing, prompting, like these are certification courses that we would very much take into account when we're dealing with people that maybe have fiscal challenges, those populations, or for particular mental challenges, those populations. You see a lot of special needs coaches who do amazing jobs. I follow quite a few myself on social media, but we don't see that dive culturally or sort of organizationally across the board and to the diversity of lifestyle choices, the diversity of cultural nutrition, right? We missed the mark there a lot too, right?
You know, don’t eat, it's ridiculous to tell a person of you know a Latin X, you know you got to get off the carbs. Like you’re interrupting their culture at that point. So I think culturally and lifestyle-related, I'd like to see much more of a concerted effort into educating the masses of coaches who are very underprepared to have these conversations with clients that again, don't fit necessarily into the rooted ideal of what healthy is in terms of food, what healthy is in terms of lifestyle, what healthy is in terms of life experiences and choices. And that that tree needs more roots. And at the bottom, it needs more roots and at the top, it needs more leaves. So that's where I think we are a bit further away than I'd like to be.
When we start to see these organizations step up and start rolling out - and I believe Girls Gone Strong has already started rolling out like coursework to help you understand these diverse situations - when the major, not that they're not major, but when the other organizations start to dive into this, I think we will have turned a corner because I think at this - I want to stress this point because I specialize in coaching women, moms over 30 typically. But if I wanted to learn at this point what I should and shouldn't do, should I have someone who is trans-transgendered identifying as a woman come into my coaching practice, I would not have a specific conduit to get the information in a concise manner that's actionable. I’d end up looking all over the internet for information and you know how that is. So...
Karina Inkster: Oh, it's a rabbit hole!
Ren Jones: It's a rabbit hole, it's a rabbit hole. So that's what I'd like to see. And that's the biggest gap that I see right now. I think there are more people curious to know the information than there are organizations that are providing the information to satisfy that curiosity.
Karina Inkster: Ooh, that's a good one. I love it. And it's kind of interesting because there's a lot of grassroots, like bottoms-up approach, people on social media, like who are these curious folks right, who want to learn more about this information. But yeah, that's a really good point. Other than Girls Gone Strong I haven't really seen any other major organizations out there, you know, national certifying bodies, for example.
Ren Jones: And it's going to be one of those things when one group does it, you'll have a domino effect. But I think so many people are hesitant just from lack of understanding, right? They just don’t -
Karina Inkster: Yup.
Ren Jones: And there's another area of inclusion that needs to happen, right? Like who's in the organizations? Are they hiring people at these organizations who can be a conduit? You know, it's like I had a funny conversation with someone I think is a mutual friend, Catalina Belmontez, and K-Mart at one point had a holiday ad for something. And the term that they used in Spanish meant fellatio.
Karina Inkster: No way!
Ren Jones: Yeah. And they didn't realize it. They were just trying to capitalize on a Spanish-sounding word, and then they added something to it. And I can't remember specifically what it was, but clearly, you know, that was an indication that hey, you guys don't have anybody in the offices that can run this by? Like, you've put your foot in your mouth through your own lack of diversity.
I think that that as we see the certifying bodies open up obviously you get a better messaging from them, but you get something that services the need that exists in reality and real-time, instead of always catching up. But I think again, once one organization does it, I think we'll see the domino effect because you know, people are going to chase the money, right? Like, you don't want to be obsolete. You don't want to render your business obsolete through ignorance or any other reason.
Karina Inkster: It’s a really good point. It's going to become a business decision at one point. It's veganism now, right? It's a business decision more than it is an access decision.
Ren Jones: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's a discussion that you and I had this summer about racism, Black Lives Matter movement. Like at some point it started becoming a business decision for these organizations as well. Well, you know Wells Fargo donated $1 billion to historically black colleges and, you know, well, what's, Chase going to do? Chase Bank needs to do something. So, you know, it became a series of business decisions. And then eventually I'm turning on my PlayStation Five and it's like PlayStation supports the Black Lives Matter. And I’m like okay, good for you guys. But, you know, at some point it does become a business decision. And I only think it takes one credible organization to do that for because it’s the lack of access and the discriminatory practice that is a health issue.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely.
Ren Jones: For in the health industry, we have to address the health issue that is discriminatory practices. It’s a mental health issue. So that's sort of my thoughts on that situation.
Karina Inkster: Brilliant. Is there anything that we missed? Are there any points within those areas that I should make note of?
Ren Jones: I don’t think so. Not from my perspective. I mean, my mind was still working on getting the thing right with women you know?
Karina Inkster: Yeah, I know right?
Ren Jones: It’s not like we're doing great there yet either.
Karina Inkster: Not yet.
Ren Jones: And then you talk about women of colour specifically, and that's not really, you know, it's a subtext of how we're not doing great with women is, you know, how we're not doing great with you know, women of colour across the board. You know whether we don't understand the Muslim women, whether we sort of don't give quality care to the African-American women, because we believe that tolerance for pain is higher than other women. Like there's just so much there to improve.
Karina Inkster: A hundred percent.
Ren Jones: We're doing better. I think with organizational support, we‘d do better faster and more broadly. But we also have the opportunity as professionals to dive into that which we do not understand. And it's also incumbent upon us as professionals to make sure we’re well versed in the things that lead to greater health. Again, mental health being a part of the discriminatory practices.
Karina Inkster: A hundred percent.
Ren Jones: So on both sides of that equation, we can't wait for an organization to feed us what we need to know. We sort of have to go out and seek it and be the best professionals that we can be.
Karina Inkster: Yes. I love that.
Ren Jones: Be ridiculously curious and overwhelmingly empathetic, right? That solves most things in our industry. Ridiculous curiosity, overwhelming empathy. That'll build your business.
Karina Inkster: You know like being decent humans. What a concept, right?
Ren Jones: Right, right. Don't be a dick.
Karina Inkster: Don’t be a dick!
Ren Jones: You know, we be addressing it on the podcast. Like it's not super hard to just not be a dick. you know, a non-gender-specific dick, right?
Karina Inkster: Well yeah. That's implied Ren, that's implied.
Ren Jones: It’s implied. It’s an implied non-gender-specific dick.
Karina Inkster: It’s like when I call people dude, it's a non-gender non-gender term.
Ren Jones: Right, it’s a non-gender dude. When I say bruh, it’s a non-gender bruh, like, I don’t mean you're actually a brother, although you might be. Yeah. So I think that's what I've been able to observe so far. So I hope that's helpful.
Karina Inkster: Brilliant. Yes. That is super useful. This article is coming out in June I believe. They're like always super ahead of their deadlines. Do you have a headshot or some kind of a photograph that we could use in the print version?
Ren Jones: Yeah. I'm sure I can get one to you.
Karina Inkster: That'd be awesome.
Ren Jones. Something that's reasonable.
Karina Inkster: Something that’s reasonable. Haha! Yeah Ren, give me a reasonable photo.
Ren Jones: I mean, I don't know. I'm long overdue for any type of photoshoot. I can tell you that I’m about eight years overdue.
Karina Inkster: Well if you have something, that would be awesome!
Ren Jones: The ones with men are so cheesy. Like I don't want to be shirtless. Like, that's kind of the only thing that I've seen male trainers do. Like I don't want to do that, so I sort of hold off on it, but I can get you a reasonable headshot. I've got a, I'm using the DSLR to have this conversation so I can get against my blank wall and get a normal headshot to you.
Karina Inkster: Awesome! Don't you have that one that we used for the podcast show notes?
Ren Jones: I’m sure I do. It's in my phone. I'll send that one across. Easy peasy.
Karina Inkster: Hey, do you follow Chrissy king?
Ren Jones: I don't think - yes, I do. I follow her through, found her through Molly.
Karina Inkster: Oh, okay. She's my next interview.
Ren Jones: Oh is she? That's awesome.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Yep.
Ren Jones: That's going to be a great freaking interview. Man!
Karina Inkster: I freakin’ hope so!
Ren Jones: I can only imagine what she has to say. Like she, I mean, you know, she’s legit. Like it's what she does. So she'll have like stats and like she's got the whole nine. That'll be awesome. I can't wait to read whatever she says.
Karina Inkster: I know! I wish that this whole article, including the fitness industry part, like the pandemic and the inclusion part, it's 2000 words, which is not that long.
Ren Jones: Yeah that’s not long at all.
Karina Inkster: But I kind of feel like maybe I could turn the interviews like with you and also with her into like a separate piece.
Ren Jones: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Karina Inkster: I’d love to do that.
Ren Jones: And that's why I took a shower, cause… haha.
Karina Inkster: Haha! Me too! Just for you Ren!
Ren Jones: It might show up somewhere, I'm just a coach on a Zoom call, pretending he took a shower.
Karina Inkster: Oh my God, now that we’re all sitting at home and barely staying human.
Ren Jones: Haha right!
Karina Inkster: Other than on Zoom. Like for all you know I’m not even wearing pants!
Ren Jones: Haha right, right! Any chance of decorum has become so few and far between these days.
Karina Inkster: Oh my goodness, I’ve worn jeans like maybe twice in the last year.
Ren Jones: Right! I have not put on a pair of jeans, like legitimately have not worn - I don't think I’ve worn jeans since…..
Karina Inkster: March? February?
Ren Jones: Probably February last year. I don't think I've worn a pair of jeans. I have no reason to.
Karina Inkster: Me neither.
Ren Jones: I don't even know if my jeans fit to be perfectly honest. I’ve gotten thick and rich like Aunt Jemima’s syrup to be honest.
Karina Inkster: Oh love it! Nothing wrong with that dude!
Ren Jones: Haha! Oh my god!
Karina Inkster: Haha! Well, it was nice to reconnect with you. I'll let you go because I got to get ready for the next interview.
Ren Jones: I'm sure you do. I'm sure you do. Always good to talk with you. Thanks for including me and feel free to reach out to me anytime my friend. Talk to you later.
Karina Inkster: No awesome! Thank you so much! Much appreciated. I’ll keep you posted.
Ren Jones: All right, thanks.
Karina Inkster: Thank you! See ya.
Ren, thank you again for speaking with me about some of the most important issues facing the fitness industry today. Head to our show notes at no-bullshit vegan.com/109 to connect with Ren and to read my Alive magazine article that was greatly influenced by my discussion with Ren. Thanks so much for listening and I look forward to bringing you my second interview on diversity and inclusion in the fitness industry as our next episode with strength coach writer and speaker Chrissy King.