Ms. Fit: A Lesbian-Friendly, Feminist Fitness Mag for All Women

The online publication offers inclusiveness and encouragement instead of shaming.
By: Trudy Ring
December 03 2013 9:05 PM
Some of the Ms. Fit team, from left: editor Marian Haas, publisher and editor in chief Kathie Bergquist, supporter Jeff Ramone, and "gal Friday" Nikki Rinkus, who is also Bergquist's wife

A couple of years ago, after running a marathon in Prague, Chicago teacher, writer, and editor Kathie Bergquist looked at the state of women’s fitness magazines, and she didn’t like what she saw: unrealistic body types, guilt trips about diet and exercise, and little acknowledgment that lesbians existed.

“I wanted something that reflected the real-world lives of real women and something that didn’t make us feel bad about ourselves and like we weren’t doing enough,” says Bergquist. So, seeing nothing like that available, she joined with other health- and fitness-conscious women to offer an alternative: something representing women of all sizes and body shapes, all ages, all abilities, all ethnicities, all sexual identities.

Their brainchild, the online Ms. Fit magazine, is a feminist, body-positive, LGBTQ-friendly fitness resource that debuted in January. In its first year, it’s published more than 100 original articles and generated more than 100,000 page views from 40 countries. The name has both a feminist connotation and an outsider one. And now Bergquist, who is editor in chief and publisher, and her team are gearing up for a second year and have launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for it.

A look at the campaign page shows what sets Ms. Fit apart. The editors point out some articles carried by other magazines that you won’t find in Ms. Fit: “The Fastest Way to Lose Belly Fat,” “The Real Reason Your Skin Is So Oily,” “Three Weird Foods for Weight Loss,” “Lean Sexy Legs and a High Tight Tush: Get Them Faster Than Ever,” and “11 Skinny Holiday Cocktails.”

What you will find: “Know Your Body Systems,” “Chatting with Michelle Tea About Getting Pregnant and the Families We Create,” “Do You Need to Eat That? Coping With the Family Diet Police,” “Rebirth: Black Girls Run Helps an Unlikely Runner Find Her Stride,” “Body as Weapon: Fighting Back With the Tools Close at Hand,” “‘I Did It!’ Readers’ Stories of Personal Triumph,” “All Hail the Fathletes,” “Mommy, Is That a Girl or a Boy?” and much more. It’s all about pursuing a healthy lifestyle but recognizing that no one is perfect and we shouldn’t berate ourselves for not meeting some unattainable standard, says Bergquist.

In its first year, Ms. Fit published four issues, each organized around a theme, starting with “Re:” as in rethink, reimagine, etc.; “The Body Issue”; “Move!” about exercise; and “A Family Affair.” This being an online magazine, the issues remain available at any time, and content is added frequently, in addition to the official issues. Issues planned for 2014 are “Food and Sex,” “Pleasure and Pain,” “Stretch,” and “Queer Health.”

Bergquist, who describes herself as a recreational runner, says she was pulled into becoming a fitness enthusiast when a friend persuaded her and her wife, Nikki Rinkus, to do a boot camp. Bergquist and the rest of the Ms. Fit team are fitting the magazine into busy lives. She teaches writing at Columbia College Chicago, edited the anthology Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches From the Third Coast, and coauthored A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago.

Managing editor Amber Ponomar is finishing a degree in fiction writing at Columbia. The other editors are Marcia Brenner, an adjunct professor at Columbia, writer, and Pilates teacher; Searah Deysach, a sex educator and owner of the feminist sex shop Early to Bed; Jessica Young, a writer, teacher, and expert on vegetarian and vegan cooking; and Marian Sherrell Haas, a writer, artist, and chef. “Design goddess” Nicole Bender Sankowksi has a Web design business. The editors are all Chicago-based, but contributing writers are drawn from all over the U.S. and Canada.

Bergquist and the other editors work as volunteers, but producing the magazine involves some expeditures. The IndieGoGo campaign, which seeks to raise $3,500 by December 31, will allow Ms. Fit to cover other these for 2014. The editors hope to eventually make the magazine financially self-sufficient through advertising, sponsorships, affiliate programs, or some combination thereof, while keeping the publication free and avoiding any advertiser interference with editorial content. There are no plans right now for a print issue, but Bergquist thinks a likelier option is an occasional digest, in book form, of the best of the online content.

She admits that she and her team undertook an ambitious project when they launched Ms. Fit, but she’s pleased with what they’ve done in the first year. “I’m really proud of what my team of Ms. Fits have been able to accomplish,” she says.
 

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