3 Inspiring Women Share What Fit Means to Them

We’re drip-fed a stereotype of what fit looks like: lean, slim and magically, maddeningly sweat-free. But real fitness is messy, sweaty and comes in every shape and size.

Featuring our favourite new season sportswear picks from Very, we spoke to three women who are breaking down the stereotypes to find out what fit means to them, and why they love what they do.

Rini Jones (@abrowngirlruns), marathon runner

‘I got into running at 21 after moving to Paris as part of my degree; a friend signed up for the marathon and it sparked the idea in my head. I’d had quite a chequered past with disordered eating and exercise in my teens, and training for a race helped move the focus away from what I looked like and onto what my body could do.

‘My family’s reactions were complex. When I completed my first marathon, they were surprised, proud even. But when that first turned into a fifth, the novelty quickly wore off. Once I started lifting weights, their confusion turned to concern. In South Asian cultures, women are meant to be soft and demure, not strong and muscular. Even now, my family will say to me: “You look great, but don’t get any bigger.” I think to myself, “Don’t they understand that I can run for four hours straight, that I can squat 80kg?”

Ian Harrison

‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rocked up to the start line and not seen a single other brown woman. Even now, I can’t think of a major campaign in which I’ve seen a South Asian woman running.

‘I’ve run at lots of different sizes. I’ve been thinner, I’ve been bigger than I am now, and I’ve been able to complete a marathon at every size. You don’t have to look a certain way to run, which I find really affirming. I didn’t expect to get messages from so many other women when I started my Instagram page, but it’s hugely motivating. I want to be the representation I wish I’d seen in my teens.’

Clara Holmes (@rollinfunky), boxer

‘I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is an inherited connective tissue disorder. It means my hips can no longer support me, and I’ve been a wheelchair user since I was 25. For the first five years after I became wheelchair bound, I was definitely grieving.

‘But I didn’t want to take that into my 30s. I could be here for the next 20, 30, 40 years – I don’t want to live like that. I had to accept that this was my situation, and start putting things in motion to improve my life. That’s when I started exercising again.

Ian Harrison

‘I began with stretching, then moved on to using dumbbells and resistance bands at home. Last year, I joined a gym and I’ve just been growing in confidence ever since. I’ve started boxing with a trainer – it’s a great way to get out your frustrations and one of the best workouts you can do for your upper body. Exercise stops me from getting stiff, but I do it for the mental health benefits. I’m addicted to the feeling of invincibility it gives me.

‘When you see disabled people in the media they’re often Paralympians, and us mere mortal wheelchair users can’t always aspire to that. We can’t just throw our bodies into things. But hopefully, by sharing my experiences I can inspire others. Because, for me, fit is a state of mind.’

Yanar Alkayat (@yanarfitness), competitive lifter

‘Fit to me means having a body that’s going to withstand whatever life throws at you, whether it’s having to run for a bus or lift a heavy suitcase.

‘I’ve always been into sports, but my reasons for doing it have changed. In my 20s, I worked out to stay slim. In my early 30s, I ran marathons because I wanted the challenge. But suddenly I could see 40 approaching and I realised I needed to future-proof my health. I’d always been fit, but I’d never been strong.

‘I started CrossFit classes at the Royal Docks Fitness in London. I remember the first time I walked in, seeing the grit, the sweat, and men and women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds smashing their workouts. It was so inspiring.

Ian Harrison

‘After a few years, I began one-to-one coaching for the olympic lifts, and within six months, I was doing my first lifting competition. It took a while to adjust. My coach would say: “You’re looking strong,” and I’d think, “That means I’m looking big.” I just had to get over it. I was building muscle, which is what I wanted. I feel really comfortable in my body now. I’m toned and strong. Before, I’d always worked out purely for aesthetics, and you’re never going to be happy if that’s your only focus. I used to cover up my legs and arms when I worked out – now I wear as little as possible!

‘As soon as fitness became about performance and achievements instead of aesthetics, it was incredibly liberating. I encourage everyone to work out with purpose, because that’s when you feel free.’

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