After spending a decade building a substantial online following as one of the UK’s leading fitness influencers, Courtney Black is taking her work offline, into schools in both Britain and the UAE.
Aiming to improve knowledge of fitness and healthy eating among teenage girls, in particular, Black has already delivered talks at some schools in Dubai and after recently moving to the UAE full-time, is now hoping to roll out a more extensive program across the emirates.
Her work is inspired by the disillusionment she felt as a teenager, when the traditional sports-centric Physical Education curriculum failed to strike a chord with her at a time when she was also suffering from an eating disorder.
“When I was at school, I wasn’t really into fitness because PE was always about netball, rounders, football. It was all very sporty sports,” Black tells Livehealthy.
“If you’re not a sporty person, if you don’t enjoy it or feel a bit insecure doing it, you kind of get left out. I would constantly forget my PE kit on purpose.
“I want to reassure girls that if they don’t like sport, there are many other ways they can be healthy, like running or boxing or just simple home workouts.”
At the heart of Black’s approach is nutrition. and she has been trying to encourage girls to develop a healthier relationship with food.
“I’m only in my twenties so I think I can speak to these girls and understand what they are going through. So many of them are suffering the same way I did at school, with eating disorders rife and a lack of understanding about how to make good food choices.
“I’ve had some extremely emotional conversations with girls who were already counting calories, under-eating and spent a lot of their time holding their bodies to unrealistic standards. Some of them didn’t even want to get into the bath because they didn’t want to look at themselves.”
Black, who has 847k followers on Instagram, 113k on TikTok and more than 60k subscribers on YouTube, believes that developing a repertoire of recipes and improving confidence in the kitchen can be a valuable asset for young girls.
“Learning how to start cooking your own meals is one of the most empowering things that young people can do. It is so helpful later in life and once people start discovering flavours and finding new ways to enjoy healthy foods, they can see that nutritional food doesn’t need to be bland.
“I also think that often kids don’t realize that when they’re flagging at 11 or 12 o’clock and they’re getting angry with their teachers or snapping at their friends, it is mostly because they’re not properly fuelled.
“They’re not feeling good because they’ve not been eating the right food or not been drinking enough water. They’ve just been relying on quick fixes like chocolate and they don’t realize that having a proper breakfast in the morning can really help fuel their day.”
The negative impact of social media is a theme that Black has encountered a lot in her discussions with teenage girls. The trainer admits that she was also guilty of not representing herself authentically in her early days on social media — though she insists she is trying to make amends now.
“I know I used to post pictures that were over-edited and I’m very open about this,” Black says. “I wasn’t being true to myself and I was part of this problem. But now, my channels aren’t like that and what I show is real. I show how to have a healthy lifestyle but importantly, that includes both the ups and the downs.
“A lot of the girls I speak to recognize that social media can be toxic and TikTok, in particular, can be a very negative platform — especially around eating disorders and body dysmorphia. I see videos all the time praising the super skinny and promoting unrealistic morning routines.
“Young girls are very aware of the dangers of it, but they also find it hard to not get dragged into it.”
Black feels that having more frequent and open conversations about fitness, nutrition and body image, is key to helping young girls in the UAE and beyond.
“The response has been brilliant so far,” she says. “Not only do they really open up about how it really affects their mental health, they also start asking questions about how their bodies are changing. Many don’t know how to deal with it, so to have this space where they can ask me questions and we can chat about it is great.
“They’re really interested to know what foods they should be eating, what foods will make them feel healthier and how they can get started doing different bits of fitness that aren’t in the school curriculum.
“I’m sharing with these girls how they can cook and really enjoy fitness in different ways that doesn’t make them feel so insecure; I feel that I have a responsibility to help educate.”
Schools interested in working with Courtney Black can contact her through her Instagram account, @courtneydblack