Privilege in Boutique Fitness: Can Studios Create An Inclusive Community?

One perk that comes with going to SoulCycle is that it can feel like walking into your local bar. The kind, as the Cheers line goes, “where everybody knows your name”. There’s a sense of belonging and camaraderie that’s hard to come by in a commercialized brick-and-mortar gym.

This community-feel is huge part of the reason why boutique fitness studios have taken over.

Attendance at boutique gyms like SoulCycle, Pure Barre, Orangetheory Fitness (OTF), and countless others grew by 70% between 2012 and 2015, according to a recent report from the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). And high-end boutique fitness studios now make up 35% of the $25.8 billion fitness market.

But there’s a catch. While these studios feel welcoming for some people, for others, the boutique fitness scene can be as ostracizing as a clique of high school cheerleaders.

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few not-so-glamorous consequences associated with the rise of boutique fitness. If the price tag wasn’t a dead giveaway, these studios tend to cater to the very well-off, very young, very skinny, and very white demographic.

And as much as we love cool new workout spots—and even hype them for the community-building, high-energy workouts—we have to pause to pose a question that needs answered: can boutique fitness break its exclusive mold to create a community for everyone?

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Misha Gajewski