With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, gyms may appear busier than usual as new gym-goers work on their fitness goals. While this renewal period seems natural to some, many new gym members find the traditional gym experience daunting.
A Waukegan gym is taking a different approach with the goal of uplifting women and reshaping fitness ideals.
After leaving the corporate world and having her first child, Marybel Wilson took a chance on herself and opened WWM Fitness, a new gym for women starting their fitness journey.
Inspired by her own love of fitness, Wilson wanted to share her passion for working out with women in the community who may find it difficult to see themselves reflected in the fitness industry. Her Gym has grown to include more than 130 members and serves women of all shapes and sizes.
“I hope to instill hope in other women that they can also go out there and feel amazing every single day,” Wilson said.
Member Mireya Martinez said the attitude is exactly what she was looking for.
“I was starting my, I guess you could call it a weight loss journey, where I was in a place where I was the most vulnerable,” Martinez said. “I didn’t have much confidence in myself.”
For Martinez, WWM has provided a different perspective on fitness.
“It wasn’t like going to a regular gym where a lot of people are already really, really fit and lifting heavy loads and wearing crop tops,” Martinez said. “… I didn’t want to be fooled by that. I didn’t want to be brainwashed by the image I needed to be like an Instagram model. No, I need to be myself.
Psychology professor Jocelyn Carter, who leads the Healthy Families Lab at DePaul University, said the media can often influence how people see themselves.
“A lot of media, including social media, in an athletic fitness sort of space is geared largely toward white women and has historically been a woman with a particular body type,” Carter said.
As girls get older, they exercise often decreases, especially for black and brown girls as they enter adolescence and become more aware of their bodies. This is especially true, Carter said, “if they’ve been victimized or teased about aspects of their appearance.”
But Carter said there are ways to make exercise and fitness more inclusive by taking a more community-focused approach.
“We can bring women into the gym spaces, where there’s not just a focus on what the weights are or what the different pieces of equipment are, but there’s a kind of sense of community,” Carter said. “Maybe people are learning to do particular things together and create a connection and make it more of a family and community space.”
WWM is taking a community approach to fitness by creating events that go beyond workouts.
When not being used as a gym, the space hosts conversations for the community. Past events include discussions about breast cancer, sex, miscarriage, abortion, and newborn loss.
Martinez said the WWM experience feels like therapy, not just fitness.
“I feel like a lot of us have a lot more in common than we think,” Martinez said, “but it’s not talked about.”
Wilson said the members have become more comfortable with each other.
“I have women here who talk about all kinds of things,” Wilson said, “…so I feel like this place has become an outlet for how we’ve grown up.”
For Martinez, the goal is no longer to lose weight. It’s about so much more.
“It’s not just about losing weight anymore,” Martinez said. “It’s about meeting new people. It’s about being me. It’s about finding myself.”
Whether it’s a mental or physical workout, members said they’re strengthening the bodies they’ve, at times, struggled to love.
“I want women to feel empowered after they leave WWM,” Wilson said. “I want them to feel they can do anything in this world, anything in this life. They can make any changes.