Explore the importance of inclusive fitness images in today’s culture. From size inclusivity to ethnic diversity, learn how to craft visuals that depict an inclusive fitness world.

Inclusivity is widely discussed in today’s culture. As society trends towards increased civil liberties and more realistic depictions in advertisements and media, it is the privilege and responsibility of the photographer to champion inclusiveness.

From fashion runways to lifestyle fitness photoshoots, audiences demand more realistic depictions of people. This change in tides has led to a marked ratings decrease for lightning-rod events like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which historically features models who fit an extremely narrow and demanding standard. 

Inclusivity in Today's Culture
Inclusivity should be a top priority for any fitness visual. Image by Luna Vandoorne.

Changes in Fitness Visuals

Fitness brands have reacted to changing taste faster than many fashion giants, recognizing that consumers want relatable visuals, not intimidating or exclusive imagery. While seeing athletes at the top of their game is inspiring, it can also make the average consumer or weekend warrior feel unimportant.

From the well-documented diversity problem in outdoor imagery to photoshoots that historically favor ultra-fit athletes modeling high-end gear, there are plenty of forms of inclusivity in fitness visuals that can be addressed. All of them are important, and here’s how to be more inclusive when selecting your next fitness visuals. 

Changes in Fitness Visuals
There are plenty of forms of fitness inclusivity to address. Image by Denis Kuvaev.

4 Tips on Selecting and Creating Inclusive Fitness Visuals

Tip #1: Know your audience 

Fitness brands encompass a wide variety of markets, from putting shoes on NBA players to offering sweat-wicking T-shirts for everyday joggers. So, whether you are selecting images or planning a photoshoot, it is important to know your audience.

Some goods are aspirational. Brands sign massive endorsement deals with professional athletes in order to create positive brand recognition. Other products are more accessible and used by a far wider variety of fitness users. In both cases, how the products are featured in photos and positioned to their audience makes a big difference in the sense of inclusivity they feel. 

Know Your Audience
It’s important to know the audience you’re trying to reach with your image. Image by Master1305.

Tip #2: Inclusiveness should be organic 

In the transition from outdated photo tropes to more natural and inclusive visuals across the fitness and fashion world, brands are hyper-aware of the need for more diversity in their content. Whether this inclusivity is ethnic, body types, athletic style, or simply more accessible personalities, audiences relate to it.

However, brands and photographers must be aware that true inclusivity requires equal parts of concerted effort and organic outcomes. The distinction may seem subtle, but there is a big difference between genuine inclusivity and images that result from a focus group. Whether the goal is a product line photoshoot or images promoting a given sport, the most important thing is making all potential users and participants feel welcome without feeling pandered to. When it comes to fitness visuals, being inclusive means being realistic and aware of the many different people who participate in sports and recreation. 

Learn more about capturing diversity in sports photography.

Inclusiveness Should Be Organic
There’s a big difference between genuine inclusivity and perceived inclusivity. Image by shurkin_son.

Tip #3: Everyone is an athlete 

Ad campaigns, the ESPN Body Issue, and social media have all taken notice of the shift in who and how sports are practiced. From former football players practicing yoga to the rise of recreational sports like disc golf, to weekend cyclists and runners who are as diverse as the entire global population, there is no way to define what an athlete looks like. That is, unless your answer is simply: “any human who wants to participate.” 

Everyone is an Athlete
Inclusive fitness visuals should allow anyone to participate and feel welcome. Image by B Wright.

The photographer or creative director is tasked with creating and selecting images that celebrate the sport, the product, and the participant in a way that is equal parts aspirational, educational, and inclusive. Almost everyone who engages in fitness has a story, a routine, and an inspiring ability and desire to sweat and achieve. Photos can capture the most epic moment in anyone’s athletic endeavors, whether they’re a Red Bull downhill mountain biker or a rec league basketball player.

In this way, fitness visuals become one of the most powerful ways to portray a variety of athletes. Self-improvement, mindfulness, or friendly competition are all worth celebrating through photography. Whether the aim is journalism, marketing, or action portraits, fitness visuals have the power to unite a diverse group of humans in their athletic pursuits.

Athletics Can be a Force for Unity
Inclusive fitness visuals are a powerful way to portray a variety of athletes. Image by Blanscape.

Tip #4: Fitness visuals for all

As an avid cyclist, runner, camper, and fly fisher, I am familiar with the common tropes in outdoor imagery. I’m also inspired by the talented and thoughtful photographers, magazines, and brands who are changing the narrative to include a far wider variety of athletes and activities to reflect real life rather than glossy magazine pages or Instagram ads. No matter the assignment, being mindful of real-world athletes who participate in activities of all types makes more for successful, inclusive imagery. As the world recognizes the need for inclusivity, the fitness world is at the forefront of the changes in how we think about and portray athletes. 

Fitness Visuals For All
Real-world athletes make images more successful. Image by Mike Orlov.

Top image by Jacob Lund.

For more tips on creating inclusive imagery, check out these articles: