Over the past decade, the women’s fitness industry has started to change, slowly but steadily. As a culture, we are still not entirely comfortable with the fact that women choose to increase rather than decrease in height. Female bodybuilding remains a sort of side sport, in part because of a fundamental lack of understanding of the “Why?” ” Why Would a woman feel compelled to get that big? But there are signs of progress, perhaps most strongly evidenced by the rise of CrossFit, the popular muscle-building regimen with nearly 50 percent female followers.

When women first show up at CrossFit gyms, writes journalist JC Herz in “Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Prime Future of Fitness,” they balk at the idea of ​​becoming a day as big – as “torn” – as more seasoned weightlifters. “But then two months go by, and these women decide they want to climb a rope or lift their body weight.” And finally, “their bodies become a by-product of what they are able to do.”

Shannon Kim Wagner, founder of the Women’s Strength Coalition, a group dedicated to helping members of all gender identities build muscle, described her experience with bodybuilding thus: “For me, taking a bar meant focusing on my muscle. body, for the first time. time, in a way that had nothing to do with shrinking or making myself smaller. It seemed radical to me to seek security in myself, rather than to seek it in the approval of others. When I chose to stop getting smaller in my physical body, I ceased to exist for others.

Today, I exercise not only for physical strength but also for mental strength. I exercise to feel the endorphin peak of fulfillment and to deal with the lows of life. I exercise to remind myself that I can persevere and that I am not alone. Most of the women I know (as well as the many women I have interviewed across the country) consider regular physical activity to be essential to their emotional and physical well-being. My mom, who’s in her early ’70s, calls her weekly cardio dance classes “a sure-fire source of joy.”

It wasn’t that long ago when I mentioned Get in Shape, Girl! on social networks, an acquaintance sent me this note: I totally remember Get in Shape, Girl! and could sing the publicity jingle for you. I grew up chubby and overweight in college precisely because I started dieting in fifth grade. I remember asking for it for my birthday or for Christmas, thinking: This will be the thing that makes me “normal”, which I meant “thin”. Of course not. It wasn’t until my late twenties and early thirties that I realized that exercise didn’t have to be punitive.

I now know how lucky I am to live in a time when a growing number of fitness professionals are selling exercise not as a punishment, but as a celebration of what our bodies can do; a time when women are encouraged to cultivate their strength not for someone else’s pleasure but for our own. More and more, that’s just what ladies To do.

Danielle Friedman is a journalist in New York. This essay was adapted from her new book, “Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Refused the World,” a cultural history of women’s physical condition.