You may have heard about our biannual Linked Not Ranked event, where we bring fitness instructors and influencers together to help build a greater sense of community in a highly competitive industry.
But what's the real story behind this series? And why does it matter? Here, co-creator Natalia Petrzela describes what Linked Not Ranked is really all about, and why you should get involved, too.
My first visit to Terez HQ struck me for what it wasn’t: no sizing each other up, no humble-brags about how busy/connected/fit we are, no empty or worse, gossipy, small talk. Instead: co-founders Zara and Amanda, decked in the brightly patterned leggings that put their brand on the map, introduced themselves with hugs and a gift of my own spandex souvenir of peacock-print capris. A mutual friend who took my intenSati class and who had written about Terez connected us; she just knew “we had to do something together.” Settled into an acid-washed denim couch beneath a neon pink “You Can Sit With Us” sign, we talked fitness, fashion, and feminism (in between bouts of laughter and bites of jumbo rainbow Rice Krispie treats) and tried to figure out just what that “something” would be.
Linked Not Ranked Co-Founders (from left): Patricia Moreno, Natalia Petrzela, Zara Tisch, & Amanda Schabes
“Linked Not Ranked" – our event series dedicated to extending that same vibe of celebration, collaboration, and consciousness to the women of the fitness and wellness industry – was born that day. It’s probably the most unique project I’ve ever been part of – what else do you expect when a group includes fashion designers, fitness instructors, feminists, and an academic? – and one of which I’m most proud. Here’s what we’re all about:
Teaching fitness is incredibly rewarding, but it is also really, really hard work. It is easy to forget that, however, since Looking! Like! You! Love! Every! Second! Of! Your! Life! is often part of being a motivating instructor. Chances are the super-smiley instructor at the front of the class does love her work, but is also racing around the city teaching multiple classes a day at several different clubs, is not compensated for travel time or sick days, and has unpredictable income if her paycheck is based on class counts. Benefits are also rare, not to mention salaries that would allow most instructors to enjoy the very classes they teach (at full-price, anyway)! Linked Not Ranked events acknowledge this hard work and pamper the instructors for a change.
One thing teachers of any subject – from history to HIIT – share is the fact that we spend most of our time away from our professional peers, since the most common setup is one teacher in a room with students. The rise of boutique fitness has intensified this solitude. Unlike ten years ago, when an instructor might have worked at a couple of gyms and gotten to know other instructors by hanging around in between classes, today many instructors bounce around town teaching for several standalone boutique studios. That makes it logistically challenging to form community, as does the brand tribalism that inevitably arises.
Isn’t social media the answer? While I do believe Instagram can be a force for good, the fact that we only “see” each other through the lenses of “filters (look how tan/thin/ripped she is!) and followers (how many does she have?)” doesn’t exactly breed genuine connection. Instructors from as many studios as we can think of are invited to Linked Not Ranked events where we acknowledge these challenging dynamics head on, encouraging our community to put away our phones and to connect as people, rather than competitors, on a shared mission. At our last event, our presenter Lacey Stone of Flywheel embraced a SoulCycle instructor in the middle of her talk just to make the point!
One of the results of the current fitness boom is that instructors more often choose this career, as opposed to “teaching while I audition” or “part-time while my kids are in school,” as was common twenty years ago when being an instructor was (wrongly) not quite considered “a real job” by many, according to tens of interviews I’ve conducted. Today, by contrast, I have college students who aspire to teach fitness and stories abound of lawyers and bankers who ditch the desk for the mat and microphone.
This moment presents an incredible opportunity for us in the fitness community to raise our collective consciousness.
- One, as professionals we can and should collaborate to advance our creative practice and thus our students’ wellbeing. What if we regularly shared knowledge and introduced each others’ communities to new formats?
- Two, we should focus on our own holistic and economic wellbeing, by working to improve the conditions of this “pink-collar sector” – a field that employs mostly women in which compensation is relatively low and protections weak – that is also a “superstar economy,” in which a handful of high earners are the exception to the struggling majority. What if we fought for better conditions for all fitness instructors?
- Three, let us remember that our responsibility to our students is not just to their bodies but to their minds. For better or worse, many students attend classes more than therapy or date night. They listen to us. We frequently assume that our students mainly want to lose weight, and mindlessly use the “bikini-body language” that unfortunately is an industry and cultural standard: “Memorial Day is right around the corner… work off the weekend… summer bodies are made in the winter!” What if we dared to use new language, inspiring students to train for grander goals than thinner thighs?
Our mission is inspired by feminist Gloria Steinem’s vision of “a world in which we are linked not ranked,” where collaboration and collective consciousness – rather than competition – are guiding values. To think that stretch pants-and-sweat parties can advance such lofty ideals is a bold proposition, but it’s a dare I’m honored to take with Team Terez, Patricia Moreno of SatiLife, and the incredible women at each event… and a reality I see taking shape.
Check back here for future stories, Q&As, updates, and general magic related to Linked Not Ranked.
[Natalia Petrzela is a scholar, writer, teacher, and activist. She is a co-founder of Linked Not Ranked a Premiere Leader of intenSati, and is writing a history of fitness culture in the postwar United States. She is a history professor at The New School and a host of the Past Present podcast. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Slate, The New York Times, and Well+Good. More @nataliapetrzela -- www.nataliapetrzela.com.]
Interested in requesting an invite? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief explanation of your involvement in the fitness industry and why this mission is important to you!