Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Women’s History of Gen X(ercise)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CWU chapter.

Want some sweat-spiration? Will sexy spandex, fuzzy sweatbands, metallic leotards and permed curls spring you out the door? If so, then you too could change the world just as the women of Gen X did. From punchy fitness fashion to preaching pelvic pulses, this iconic era from the 60s to 80s did not only pave the way for female exercise, but empowerment, body autonomy and for women and girls to follow a passion for sports and athleticism.

Before the 1960s, women exercising was greatly discouraged. It was seen to be dangerous and too vigorous for the feminine body. However, in the early 70s and 80s, times were changing as the “New Woman” emerged. Driving in her manicured Mini Cooper, names like Jane Fonda, Misset and Jackie Sorenson influenced the fitness crazes of Generation X for decades.

3…2…1, DANCE! In 1969, entrepreneur Judi Sheppard Misset created Jazzercise, which made women move like never before. In a world where men ruled the fitness industry, Jazzercise allowed women to have a space in society where exercise was not only accessible, but fun! Previously, Misset taught girls’ dance lessons, where she would glance empathetically toward the mothers sitting and watching their daughters perform. She then pondered if she could design a class that would allow women to not abandon their right to exercise after adolescence, but instead empower it.

Misset acknowledged her calling and created not only the first adult dance class, but an ability for fitness to be enjoyed by all. Toning down the technique and turning women away from the mirror, her classes filled, and “Jazzercise—first called Jazz Dance for Fun and Fitness—was born.” (Petrzela, The Atlantic).

Pursuing her passion within the Women’s Exercise Industry, Jane Fonda brought fitness VHS tapes into almost every household, making exercise even more available and motivational in the early 80s. Pioneering alongside her were the women of Gen X themselves. Putting aside the bouncy beats and the neon pink pandemic, these women strived for equality and advocated for body autonomy.

With the new boom in the industry, stereotypes and pressures became even more prevalent from the marketing companies. Women were soon bombarded by advertisements, magazine covers, commercials, and peer pressures to be perfect. To this day, these challenges are still faced. However, what has changed are the communities of inclusivity and support that people have built for each other.

There has been a shift in women’s sports and fitness. The world is starting to see on a global scale that women can be champions, leaders, and inspirers. Now, little kids are wearing pro female athlete jerseys thinking, “I want to play and be like her one day.” Those thoughts would not have been possible without the fitness revolution of Gen X.

Thank you to the pioneers and every woman who broke barriers so the next generation could have the opportunities you only dreamed of.

Kinesiology student - skier - soccer - runner