Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 110
Chrissy King on merging social justice with the fitness industry
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 110. Similar to our last episode, I'm sharing a Zoom conversation that was not specifically recorded for the podcast, in which I discuss with Chrissy King diversity, inclusion, and the work that still needs to be done in the fitness industry.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. As you know, if you tuned in to our last episode, Alive Magazine recently approached me to write a piece about how the COVID-19 pandemic and recent discussions about diversity and inclusion have changed the fitness industry for good. I interviewed many fitness coaches in my own network and the folks at Alive set up an interview for me with Chrissy King. I'm extremely grateful I had the opportunity to connect with her, and I appreciate the time she took to speak with me. Again, I acknowledge that I am not an expert when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and the work that still needs to be done in these areas. And I do come from a place of privilege, and I'm continually learning.
Chrissy King is a writer, speaker, strength coach, and educator, with a passion for creating a diverse and inclusive wellness industry. She empowers individuals to stop shrinking, start taking up space, and use their energy to create their specific magic in the world. She's been featured in Self, Shape, Health, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Muscle and Fitness, and Lift Strong among many others.
With degrees in Social Justice and Sociology from Marquette University, Chrissy merges her passion for social justice and her passion for fitness to empower individuals within the fitness and wellness industry to create spaces that allow individuals from all backgrounds to feel seen, welcome, respected, and celebrated. When she's not serving her clients by empowering them to create stress-free and sustainable lifestyles and feel confident and empowered in their skin, she spends her time lifting all the weights, reading, traveling, and hanging with friends and family. Here's my discussion with her for my article, which you can read at our show notes, nobullshitvegan.com/110. Keep in mind, this is raw audio from Zoom, so the sound quality will be a little different than what you're used to on this show.
So basically just three questions, straightforward questions, but loaded questions I realize. So, of course, we in the fitness industry, like we are working in it. We're not, well, we are consumers of it, but we're mostly like the ones who are, you know, providing information and putting out content. We have noticed a lot of discussions around diversity and inclusion, especially in the last year, but probably in the last two years, I would say. In your view, what have these discussions actually changed, if anything? Like what has already happened out of these discussions?
Chrissy King: Yeah, so that's actually a question I'd love to talk about because I've been writing about and talking about diversity inclusion for the last five years probably, when that really wasn't a popular conversation within the fitness and wellness industry and people weren't talking about it. And I think, you know, I really think it's been over the last a year, but I would even say since like June, when we had a lot of Black Lives Matter protests happening, that the wellness industry has really been more open, in my opinion, to having these conversations, which is I guess a positive in the sense that we're having more discussions. But also for me, it was a little bittersweet because, for me, I think about the events that happened in June, we're talking about George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, those were new phenomena right, or occurrences. And so for me, it's like it’s the same thing that's always been happening. And so for people to suddenly like awaken to racism in the wellness industry, to suddenly be like, oh yeah, racism is an issue, was frustrating in certain ways, you know? Because again, this is like, and just to be inundated with requests from people who have never wanted to talk about this when I've been trying to talk about this for a really long time.
Karina Inkster: Right!
Chrissy King: So I think what I would say is that I do see that more people are willing to have the discussion. And so I think that is important and positive in the sense that we need to be talking about why racism is a public health issue, how racism is a public health issue, how talking about health and exercise and fitness and overall wholeness, we have to talk about issues of race, right?
So I think that's been really positive. The side and the way in which I think we have a lot more work to do though, is because I think talking and having these realizations is important, but then when we're talking about how do we actually do the work of diversity inclusion right, that requires a lot more than just conversations. That requires really changing systems that are in place. And when I think about the wellness industry as a whole, I think there needs to be a massive overhaul of the way that we're doing wellness, because wellness is very exclusive in a lot of ways. Wellness is not accessible - accessible in terms of like race dynamics, but also accessible in terms of finances, right? There’s a lot of privilege in the wellness industry. And so I think that we have to also be willing to dismantle some of the systems in place if we're going to really talk about doing the work of diversity and inclusion.
And then when we're talking about even the words like diversity, inclusion, they have become kind of like buzzwords, right? So even that, like people don't have a true understanding of the fact that diversity is just having different representation. Inclusion is how people feel in those environments. And so it's easy to check the diversity box on things, but if people aren't coming into spaces and feeling welcome and seen and celebrated and recognized, and really feel like the space was designed with them in mind and not as an afterthought, we're not actually doing the work of inclusion. And so I think the, you know, it's great that we're talking about more, but I think that the reality is that actually doing inclusion takes a willingness to see power and privilege in certain circumstances and a willingness to really make difficult changes to really bring about the environments that are truly inclusive for people of all backgrounds.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Yep. Yep. That's a super important point. So basically, you know, like, yes, it is a positive thing overall that we are finally discussing this, even though folks like yourself, who've been talking about this way before it was on the global conversation. But the work that we need to be doing is also looking at dismantling some of these systems that are in place in the first place, right?
Chrissy King: Yeah. Correct.
Karina Inkster: So what else, I mean, I feel like this is again a super loaded question, but what else do we need to do? Like, I feel there's a lot of work in, like you said, the buzzwords and just like actually, what does that even mean? What other work do we in the industry still have to do when it comes to inclusion, diversity, access?
Chrissy King: Yes. I think actually whenever I think about the work of the industry, I always go like, take a step back and say, as individual practitioners of wellness we have to do our own work.
Karina Inkster: Ah-ha!
Chrissy King: So even before we get to diversity inclusion, I feel like so many people skip steps because diversity inclusion is really cool and important and necessary, but we can't do diversity inclusion if we haven't recognized how racism is operating in our own lives. And I know that's the thing that people don't like to think about because when they hear the words in what ways am I engaging in racism and you know, we have like racism, bad person, not racist, good person, right?
Karina Inkster: Yeah!
Chrissy King: It's not about good or bad. It's about recognizing that we've all grown up in a system of white supremacy. And we've internalized that regardless of how good or bad we are. It's not about being good or bad. And so I think that as practitioners of wellness, the first thing we have to do is do the work of unlearning and dismantling racism in our own lives. And along with racism is also implicit bias, which is, you know, ties into it. And when we're talking about implicit bias, we're talking about, especially in the wellness industry, we're talking about implicit bias around what we think about bodies and different sizes and ability statuses, right?
Karina Inkster: Yes!
Chrissy King: And of course it’s things like race, but it's also things like, you know, our own internalized homophobia and transphobia, because even if we are the most well-intentioned people, if we are not examining implicit bias in our lives and these thoughts and stereotypes we have about certain groups of people, it's 100% going to affect the way we engage with people, even if we have the best of intentions.
And so I think for when we're thinking about the wellness industry, we have to, as individual practitioners, take on that difficult work, which is uncomfortable. It's challenging. It doesn't feel good. It's not the work of making you feel warm and fuzzy. In fact, you'll have a lot of the opposite emotions come up, perhaps guilt and shame, as you start to recognize some of the things that you need to unlearn, but it is 100% necessary to do that in order to create diversity and inclusion. There are some books that I recommend for everybody trying to do this work is the book, “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad. And the reason I recommend that book is because it really takes you through all these different aspects of how supremacy shows up in our lives and it requires, not requires, but it also has journal prompts that really ask you to sit with the work, right? And these difficult feelings and emotions that come up.
But I think that is a 100% necessary step for all of us, as we're trying to do the work of diversity inclusion, because the reality is that we have to make those changes ourselves individually. And once we do that, then we say okay, now I'm gonna spread out to my communities, my peers, my coworkers, and together as an industry, we will be able to make some of these changes to make things more diverse and inclusive, to understand like the power and dynamic in place and to understand what true inclusion looks like. And again, in the wellness industry, that means like on a very simple level, when I think about, you know, how to make gym spaces, for example, inclusive. Are there gender-neutral training facilities, right? Do you have an anti-racism or diversity inclusion policy for your gym? Do you have metrics in place too? Cause if you're going to ensure that the space is inclusive and then someone comes in and is harmed, which will happen no matter what you do, then what are the metrics in place of how you're going to handle that, right? Because if you're telling people it’s an inclusive space and then something happens, how are you handling those situations? And so I think those are just some of the really, in my mind, basic things that we have to be considering when we're trying to actually do diversity inclusion.
Karina Inkster: Brilliant, brilliant. Yep. How about like, do you see anything on kind of branching out from this individual work, which is obviously where it all starts, what needs to be done on the larger scale? Like someone, I was just speaking with another fitness coach, and his thing was like, you know, ACE or certifying bodies, like where do folks go now as a one-stop kind of shop in order to, you know, like work on some of these issues? And right now there's not really a ton out there.
Chrissy King: Yeah. I don't think there is a lot right now out there. And so I think that what's important is that we as individual practitioners be doing as much of the work as we can on our own. You know I myself, I did over the summer a series for wellness professionals. The first series I did, it was a webinar series. The first one was anti-racism for wellness professionals, and the second one with diversity inclusion for wellness professionals. And so it was all of these concepts through the terms of wellness, because I personally recognize there's just not a lot out there through the lens of wellness. So that's why I created those courses myself. And I've been doing work individually with companies on these things in the wellness industry. But yeah, overall, I don't think there’s a lot of resources written through this perspective of wellness for people.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Chrissy King: So there is a lot of room for, I mean, there's definitely I think on a larger scale, things that can be done. And I think one of the things though is I, you know, as much as I see change happening individually, I do also think that the fitness and wellness industry overall, these are still topics that are not widely accepted or embraced. And you know, so it's hard, not hard, but it's interesting because you stay in your own little pockets and you see like, oh, everyone's making it. But then I feel like in the greater fitness and wellness space, when we're talking about fatphobia and diet culture and the intersection of fatphobia and racism and the roots of white supremacy and all these things. These are concepts that like in the greater fitness space just aren't being talked about in general at all.
And so, there is just so much work to be done. And I think, and again, this is why I think even though sometimes I feel like a broken record, to continue to talk about the things it's really, the reality is it’s not a broken record because these are new ideas and concepts that, they're not new ideas, but they're just things that people haven't really put together in terms of wellness and fitness. And so I think in terms of education there's so much more that, there's space for so much more in terms of that education.
Karina Inkster: Yup. Yup. That's a really good point. So on that note, like what we need to see happen, where the work is still necessary, what do you see happening in the next six to 12 months in the diversity inclusion access space in the fitness industry specifically?
Chrissy King: That's a really great question actually, because when I think of the next - so one of the things that I talked about when I did my webinars is the fact that, you know, when we're talking about diversity inclusion, access, equity, especially back in June/July when all these things were happening, it was like everyone was like on target. And the thing is that was great, but I already know how that happens. Like everyone's on the bandwagon, so to speak, and then life goes on and people kind of move on to the next thing and I've seen that happen substantially already. So I think I'm hopeful for the next six to 12 months that people will continue to engage with this work in ways that are actually meaningful. Because I think unfortunately personally, my opinion is that a lot of what was happening in June/July was very performative in nature, right?
Karina Inkster: Yes. Yes.
Chrissy King: Like people seeing the whole side of it without actually thinking what does that mean? And so my hope is that, you know, that some people are actually committed to the work and are committed to making actual change. So when I think of the next six to 12 months, I don't know what to expect, honestly, because, not necessarily in fitness, but this happens right, in every industry where people are all of a sudden riled up about racism, or like not riled up, but you know what I mean? They're all like, kind of, yeah. And then life moves on and people just kind of go back to normal life until the next big thing happens, right? Then we start this process all over again. So I don't know what to expect from the next six to 12 months. I know that me personally, I'm going to continue doing work in this arena and sharing this message and hopefully inspiring people to continue. Again, because the work of anti-racism, diversity inclusion, equity is not like, it's not work that you can check the box on, right?
It's like an ongoing, lifelong commitment to the process and the journey and so on. That's what I'm hoping I'm encouraging and inspiring people to continue to do. And I just individually know that I, so I can't speak for what I think will happen in the next 12 months, but I know what I plan to do in the next six to 12 months. And that is to continue doing this work and to share this message and to hopefully reach as many people as I can within the industry. And again, the goal is that collectively, right, we are working to dismantle and to restructure, and to change the landscape of the fitness and wellness industry, so that we have an industry that is truly inclusive and affirming for people of all different backgrounds. And I think sometimes so often the conversation stagnates around race, which race is very important. But when we're talking about inclusion it’s so many - it’s ability, status, it's gender identity, it’s sexuality. It's all of these things. It’s body size and diversity. And so that we're really thinking from a broad lens and taking an intersectional approach to the work we're doing in the wellness space.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Yeah, that's huge. One of the interviewees that I have on the list runs a gym whose entire branding and marketing is around access and diversity and like trans-inclusion and you know, but it's just like crazy to me that this is an outlier and that I have to be like, yes, I'm interviewing this one gym that has this, you know? Like, it's still crazy to me that this is talked about in such a way like, hey, did you hear about this place? That blah, blah, blah, you know? So what can we as individual fitness professionals do? So you're saying that like, part of the important work is looking at our own implicit biases and starting with our own difficult work, which might not be sunshine and rainbows, but how do we as individuals make sure that we continue this work?
Chrissy King: Yeah I think the biggest thing is like, you know, you just have to make a commitment to it, and a commitment to continue doing it. And I think, you know, especially if you are a member of the dominant group, it's really easy to stop doing the work or stop, you know, not stay committed because maybe these, because one, it’s not something that affects you in a real way and everyday basis. It's easy to get busy, right, doing other things. And the reality is that doing, having a commitment to doing this work does require time and energy.
And so yeah, I think that, like you have to have a personal commitment to that. I also think too like really put yourself on the hook for using, to be a disruptor, an interrupter, and a disruptor so that when you're in your workplaces or when you're with your peers and your colleagues and you see things happening, it is your responsibility as an individual who is committed to this work to take the information that you've learned and now put it into practice, right?
Because we can read all the books and can have all the knowledge, but when the rubber meets the road, are we willing to actually do the things that are going to be required to create change? And so one example I love to talk about when it comes to this is like one of the things I was talking about with diversity inclusion is like when I was really early in fitness, I started going to fitness conferences and events. And the first thing I noticed is that there was like no diversity in terms of who was speaking on the panels, there was not much representation. And so I've been talking about that a lot. And so if you're a member of the dominant group and you are going to participate in an event or a fitness conference of some sort, and you're committed to the work of diversity inclusion, one of the first questions you need to be asking is who else is on this panel?
Who else is speaking at this event? Who else is doing this work? And then if they don't have the diversity and inclusion, you need to be willing to either say, I cannot commit to this event unless this is going to change in terms of the lineup. And then there's also times where you're are going to have to be like, you know what, I'm an expert at this, but I don't need more faces or voices like mine at this table.
Karina Inkster: Yeah.
Chrissy King: So that means passing up opportunities to other people, right? And again, this is where things get tricky because you might be talking about passing up on financial opportunities. You might be talking about whatever opportunities that could be really great for your resume, your career, but that's where the rubber meets the road because that's what has to happen for diversity inclusion to actually occur.
Somebody has to be able to say, has to have those conversations. Somebody has to be willing to say, no, I can't. This is not okay. I can't participate in this. And I think what's hard for people is that when you've been used to being in a position of privilege for so long, equality starts to feel, equality can feel like oppression and it's not, right?
Karina Inkster: Right!
Chrissy King: It’s just like part of what equity and equality looks like. And that means that yes, historically people like myself have been taking up too much space at the table. So I have to take a step back in certain situations for actual equity to happen.
Karina Inkster: That's a really good point. I mean, that brings up on a totally personal note, me feeling like an imposter, having been approached by Alive Magazine to even write the piece in the first place, you know?
Chrissy King: So it's all of those things, right? And I don't, this is not about you personally, but I had a conversation with an editorial company recently. I'm starting to Q and A for a large, I won't say who it is, but it's a large publication, around diversity inclusion. And I was saying to them when you were thinking about, you know, what pieces you were assigning to people even, you need to think about like, who is writing this perspective from what identity, right? And it wasn't even about things like this. It was really about like best hair products for like, you know, curly, for like black hair, for example, right. Like if you're writing an article like that, it's really inappropriate to have a white person writing an article on hair products for black people, right?
Karina Inkster: 100%.
Chrissy King: And so having these really thoughtful and intentional conversations and really being thoughtful and intentional about who's writing what story from what perspective and who is given opportunities.
Karina Inkster: Right!
Chrissy King: And so like, I could go on and on about that forever, but it's really true. And another thing that came up in this conversation was like, when it comes to, for me, for example, I do work in diversity inclusion. Like that's the work I do. So it's never inappropriate for someone to approach me to talk about this, or to speak about that. But what happens so often for people that all of a sudden want to be diverse and inclusive is that they call on every black person they know, or BIPOC person or queer person to come and talk about their experience in the industry as X, Y, and Z identity. And that is not just doing diverse inclusion work. Diversity inclusion means I'm going to invite people of all different backgrounds to talk about whatever they're an expert at, not to talk about X, Y, and Z identity.
Karina Inkster: Right! Huge. Yeah, that's a really good point. Yeah, definitely. I feel like I kind of wish that this piece was not a two-parter, you know? Like it's kind of about the pandemic and about the fitness industry.
Chrissy King: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: And also about the conversations we've been having about, you know, inclusivity and diversity and stuff. I kind of feel like really what we need is a series, really what we need is a panel of contributors. But you know, it is what it is, and at least it's putting the conversation out there.
Chrissy King: Totally.
Karina Inkster: But yeah. So is there anything else in that realm? Like what you want to see happen or the fitness industry, like what has happened already that we haven't touched on?
Chrissy King: No, I feel like I've said most of the things that I have to contribute. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: I could do a whole piece just on our conversation, which would be pretty cool!
Chrissy King: I know right! Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Do you follow Ren Jones at all? He's a coach in North Carolina.
Chrissy King: The name is familiar, but I don't think that I follow them, no.
Karina Inkster: He works with Jonathan Goodman.
Chrissy King: I know Jonathan Goodman.
Karina Inkster: So he’s on the podcast that Jonathan runs.
Chrissy King: Oh, okay. Got it.
Karina Inkster: Ren Jones, he's actually been on my podcast three times cause he's so awesome.
Chrissy King: Oh wow! I’ll have to check him out.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, we just actually, right before our Zoom call, I was on a Zoom call with him and he had lots of really good ideas also around like what needs to happen at the certifying body level, like ACE and NACM and all that. I dunno, I just feel overwhelmed sometimes about what still needs to be done.
Chrissy King: It can be overwhelming. So, which is why I also, like when I do my webinars or courses, I always tell people like, what are one to three things you're going to commit to working on right now? Because when you think about the bigger picture, it is overwhelming. And so even when we were thinking about like, yeah, dismantling systems, it's like, that's a long, overarching goal that if we, if I personally thought about all the things have to be done, I would be like, eh, I'm just gonna not, I can't do any of these, right? It's too big. So it's just like, how do the small things that I'm doing that, not to let myself off the hook right, but that, like, these are things I can focus on now. These are the ways that can effect change now.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Chrissy King: Always with the goal in mind that the long-term goal is dismantling, but these little pieces and the progress we're making lends to that bigger goal.
Karina Inkster: Right. That's a good way of putting it actually, so it just kinda feels like you're chipping away at something.
Chrissy King: Yeah, absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Awesome. Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time, Chrissy. Much appreciated. I'm not sure if Alive is going to be on board, but if they are with like showing a couple of clips of our Zoom chat, like on their socials, are you cool with that?
Chrissy King: Yeah. I'm totally cool with that.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. I don't know. Like they might want to publish the article first. It's not coming out until June. They're like way ahead of their publication schedule, but, um, there's just so much important stuff that's not gonna make it into a very condensed article with like four interviewees, right?
Chrissy King: It’s hard, yeah.
Karina Inkster: But I would love to put, I'm going to ask them, but if they're cool with putting out, you know, even the whole thing, I think that would be pretty sweet.
Chrissy King: I’m totally down with that.
Karina Inkster: Awesome. Cool! Okay well, we’ll be emailing you, we’ll let you know. And also, do you want a copy of the magazine?
Chrissy King: Yes! That’d be great.
Karina Inkster: We can set you up with that. We'll just email your assistant and he can give us where to send it.
Chrissy King: That’s exactly perfect. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Awesome. Thank you so much, much appreciated. Great to speak with you.
Chrissy King: Same! Have a great day.
Karina Inkster: You too. Take care.
Chrissy King: Bye!
Karina Inkster: Chrissy, thank you again so much for speaking with me and for sharing your insights. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/ 110 to connect with Chrissy and to read the article that resulted from our discussion. Thank you so much for tuning in.