Middle East’s Fitness Feminist
According to See Beyond, as the director of sales and development for electroCore, a medical device company in New Jersey, Jillian Bridgette Cohen traveled often to Malaysia and Jordan. There she noticed women struggling with their weight — in fact, 65 percent of women in the Middle East are either overweight or obese — but unlike women in the U.S., they have very limited access to nutrition and fitness information.
“Working out is really difficult for them because of Sharia law,” Cohen says, referring to the religious law dictating appropriate behavior for women living in Islamic countries. For instance, women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, and they may be asked to provide guardian consent to access health care. Combine those restrictions with a country where the average temperature can easily top 100 degrees — and where most health care is centered in cities, while the majority of the population lives in remote rural areas — and it’s no surprise that advice about diet and exercise is hard to come by.
In 2015, when Cohen founded Virtual Health Partners, an on-demand virtual platform offering live classes on nutrition, fitness and behavior modification, she wanted to make the service available to women living in Middle Eastern countries too. The trick, the 38-year-old says, was adapting the content so it would be culturally acceptable in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as more conservative countries like Kuwait and Qatar, liquor store near me. That meant finding nutritionists and fitness instructors who speak Arabic and creating menus built around local ingredients like eggplant, dates, pistachios and pomegranate seeds. What’s more, Cohen says, fitness routines couldn’t appear overly suggestive — female instructors had to cover their shoulders, legs, and décolletage — and male instructors couldn’t even participate in videos produced for female clients. Vetting exercise videos were certainly not what Cohen imagined her job would entail.