BIPOC Femmes Fitness Collective

November 27, 2019

An IIS-Hart House Joint Initiative

In recent years, the world has witnessed an increase of Muslim women-identified athletes. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, of the 33 Muslim women athletes who competed, 14 won medals across a range of sports. Audiences were enthralled by these women’s physical abilities and impressive strength, yet public discourse centered on how Muslim women athletes wore hijab, framed as a symbol of oppression, or underperformed relative to their competitors. This focus on Muslim women’s attire, rather than ability, reinforces an assumption that Islam inherently excludes women from fitness. 

We argue that Islam and the practice of hijab does not exclude women from fitness, but the institutional privileging of assumed normative bodies does. Recall the way Gabby Douglas was ridiculed and taunted for her hair in 2012 and again in 2016, despite winning gold medals at both Olympics. Recall also the change room project, a study published in 2016, on the experiences of transgender students in locker rooms at The University of Toronto, who repeatedly expressed concerns around safety and belonging. Based on these parallel experiences, we see that individuals of diverse religious affiliations, racial identities, and gender identities are confronted with an ethos of exclusion from the fitness world.

The underlying issue is an antidemocratic culture that actively excludes non-normative bodies. When institutional spaces privilege assumed normative bodies, these spaces inherently exclude and marginalize those outside the norm. And while those inhabiting non-normative bodies may be a minority of the student population, this minority is dramatically increasing. As student success and mental wellbeing are highly correlated with physical activity, we as actors on behalf of the University are responsible for ensuring access to physical activity for all students.

To this end, the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) Femmes Fitness Collective will function as a peer support group with the goal of fitness and physical wellbeing, peer-based accountability, and inclusivity. The Collective will meet once a week for 80 minutes or less, and activities will range from competitive sports (e.g., volleyball, dodgeball, etc.) to physical training (e.g., self-defense, running, etc.). Membership will be capped at 20 individuals who identity as BIPOC and femme (self-identified women and gender nonconforming/non-binary individuals).

For more information on BIPOC Femmes, please email us at: