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Woman-Owned Gym in Waukegan is Reshaping Fitness Ideals | Chicago News

With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, gyms can seem more crowded than usual as new gym goers work towards their fitness goals. While this renewal period feels natural to some, many new gym members find the traditional gym experience daunting.

One 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 journeys.

Inspired by her own love of fitness, Wilson wanted to share her passion for exercise with women in the community who may struggle 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 too can go out there and feel great every day,” Wilson said.

Member Mireya Martinez said that attitude is exactly what she was looking for.

“I started with my, I guess you could call it weight loss journey, where I was in a place where I was most vulnerable,” Martinez said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence.”

For Martinez, WWM offered 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 and carrying crops,” Martinez said. “… I didn’t want to be taken in by it. I didn’t want to be brainwashed by the image of having to be like an Instagram model. No, I have to be myself.”

Psychology professor Jocelyn Carter, who directs the Healthy Families Lab at DePaul University, said media can often influence how individuals see themselves.

“A lot of the media, including social media, in kind of the fitness athletics space is very much geared toward white women and has historically been a woman with a specific body type,” Carter said.

As girls age, physical activity often declines, especially for black and brown girls as they move into adolescence and become more self-conscious about their bodies. That’s 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-centered approach.

“We can get women into gym spaces, where it’s not just a focus on what the weights are or what the different equipment is, but there’s some kind of sense of community,” Carter said. “Maybe people learn how to do specific things together and make a connection and that it’s more of a family and community space.”

WWM takes a community approach to fitness by creating events that go beyond workouts.

When not in use as a gym, the space hosts talks for the community. Past events include discussions about breast cancer, sex, miscarriage, abortion and infant 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 members became more comfortable with each other.

“I have women here talking about all kinds of things,” Wilson said, “… so I feel like this place has become an outlet for how we grew up.”

For Martinez, the goal is no longer to lose weight. It is about much more.

“It’s not about weight loss anymore,” Martinez said. “It’s about meeting new people. It’s about being me. It’s about finding myself again.”

Whether it’s a mental or physical workout, members said they strengthen the bodies they’ve sometimes struggled to love.

“I want women to feel empowered after they leave WWM,” Wilson said. “I want them to feel that they can do anything in this world, anything in this life. They can make any changes.”

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