TikTok disabled fitness

TikTok fitness: meet the disabled TikTokers showing that fitness can – and should – be inclusive

Posted by for Wellbeing

Tired of seeing the same slim, young, white and able-bodied fitness influencers online? Then hop over to TikTok for some real inspiration, says Jerry Silvester 

Are you new here? Yah. *Raises eyebrows, shrugs and walks away*.

If that line wasn’t lost on you, then we definitely have an unpredictable yet somewhat loveable friend in common: TikTok. With so many of us finding comfort in the online world, it’s not unusual to settle down for a brief scroll on your phone… only to find yourself three hours later still glued to watching a TikTok of a man slowly peeling the shell off an egg. You scroll on, and suddenly, someone appears on your screen who looks just like you – disability and all.

The platform may have its ridiculous side, but it’s also a hive of representation. Up until now, fitness content on social media always seemed to revolve around young, non-disabled, white women stretching and talking about cheat days. But in my experience at least, TikTok has made it far easier to find the disabled women who are making it their business to show us that fitness really can be inclusive.

According to disability charity Scope, one in three people see disabled people as less productive than non-disabled people, and as the largest minority group in the UK, those living with disabilities are often not represented in the fitness and wellbeing industry. 

While many fitness creators provide workouts for followers, often these are only accessible for non-disabled participants, which can be incredibly isolating for those of us unable to take part. The Office for National Statistics found that people living with a disability are four times more likely to frequently experience feelings of intense loneliness than those living without one.

Paralympic swimmer Alyssa Gialamas, 26, grew up wanting to see people like her being active. She tells Stylist: “Growing up in the 90s, I didn’t know anyone else with a disability. Kids now can see all the wonderful things you can do with a disability. They can see how one girl curls her hair or how this disabled mum picks up her baby. I take a lot of inspiration from watching those people. Social media creates a sense that you’re not alone. TikTok is special in that sense; you can reach people all over the world.”     

When I asked whether she believed that the fitness industry is welcoming to those with disabilities, Gialamas, who was born with arthrogryposis – a condition that affects joints and muscles – explains: “In the health and wellness industry, they don’t target people with disabilities. There’s not a lot of representation in it. A lot of people don’t know that it’s something that could change their lives. I want people to see that those with disabilities are able to feel so much better in many different aspects if they get their bodies moving.”

Gialamas recently founded a non-profit training programme, AMG, which provides guidance for exercising for people with varying disabilities. “I learnt what the world looks like when I’m strong and healthy, and what it looks like when I’m not,” she says. “I want to show people through my TikTok account that with consistency, exercise is something they can get so much from, and it can change their lives.”

29-year-old TikTok creator Jesi Stracham, a fitness coach and founder of the Wheel With Me Foundation, started using the platform to help other wheelchair users realise their capabilities. “When I see people doing fitness on TikTok, it inspires me,” she explains. “I hope my content gives others ideas on exercises and the importance of implementing it to support the longevity of our independence.” Stracham, who is a T4 paraplegic, goes on to stress how significant the representation of disabilities is as a core component of building healthy self-esteem: “The more inclusivity we have, the more confidence we have in ourselves.”

Of course, not everyone sets out to be an influencer when they start posting. Morgan McKain, who has cystic fibrosis, started posting on TikTok with no real intention of many people seeing it: “The video I posted went viral overnight and the next day I told myself, well, I guess I gotta keep posting on here now and keep telling my story.”

While McKain thinks that fitness is important for everyone, especially those with disabilities, she wonders if the lack of representation in the industry may in part be due to fear of being bullied or overlooked. She believes that the disabled fitness space is slowly growing, in part due to TikTok, and hopes it’ll contribute to a healthier public perception of disabilities. 

“Some people aren’t sure what we’re capable of, but from my experience, I can do anything a ‘healthy’ or non-disabled person can do. Over the years I have pushed my body to its absolute limit and have never let my disease keep me from doing so. I definitely believe that more people should put themselves out there because our stories will inspire others just like us.”

There are currently over 14 million people in the UK living with a disability, and platforms such as TikTok have the potential to enable their voices to land on the ForYou page – perhaps for you. While we wait for the rest of the fitness industry to catch up, these women are here to take ownership, not by serving as inspiration porn or to tick boxes, but to be visible in their authenticity and strength.  

For more fitness stories, check out the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Jesi Stracham/Alyssa Gialamas

Sign up for workouts, nutritious recipes and expert tips, plus our Strong Women magazine with expert advice on building strength & resilience sent to your inbox.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Share this article