Entrepreneurship, fitness, health and wellness,

Gym-Timidation: How Gym Owner Jaliyla Tillman Is Empowering Women Through It

As the owner of this female-led establishment, Tillman is creating a unique space for women, especially minority women, to embrace their fitness journey and build their gym confidence. 

Jaliyla Tillman is breaking barriers and empowering women through fitness at Mission Slimpossible, a 24-hour gym she founded in 2022. As the owner of this female-led establishment, Tillman is creating a unique space for women, especially minority women, to embrace their fitness journey and build their gym confidence. 

According to a recent article published by the American Cancer Society, Black or African American women exhibit a higher likelihood of being less physically active compared to white women. Approximately 38% of non-Hispanic Black women reported little to no engagement in leisure-time physical activity, in contrast to 23% of non-Hispanic white women.

Tillman, a Hampton University alumna, experienced metabolic changes combined with hormonal changes due to birth control, which resulted in significant weight gain post-college in her mid-20s. Determined not to become a statistic, Tillman dedicated herself to the gym and became a certified fitness instructor in 2020. Three years later, she opened the doors to the first Black female-owned fitness facility in the Glover Park section of Washington, D.C.

For Women’s History Month, Tillman shares her insights with Black Enterprise on overcoming gym-timidation, fostering a fitness community, and celebrating small fitness goal wins.


“Gym-timidation,” a feeling of anxiety related to joining or going to the gym, is more common than you might think. A recent study conducted in the UK revealed that almost half of women experience feelings of judgment when exercising, while 37% express concerns that others may perceive them as inadequate for gym workouts.

Tillman’s journey into fitness entrepreneurship was born out of personal struggles and triumphs. Reflecting on her experience, she notes, “I wasn’t a fitness or gym person originally. It wasn’t until my metabolism changed after college that I realized I needed to be more physically active.” 

Battling weight fluctuations, Tillman found solace in a kickboxing gym and eventually lost 35 pounds. However, setbacks with her weight and acceptance of her body composition still lingered. “I was never obese, but I did have to learn to appreciate my body composition and find the right fitness path for me,” shares Tillman.

Among the top 10 reasons women avoid working out are feeling too intimidated (25%), worrying about looking unfit (21%), and worrying about what other people think (19%). 

“Once I accepted myself, I began to build more and more confidence every time I walked into any gym,” remarked Tillman with enthusiasm. 

This newfound confidence and mindset led Tillman to rediscover her passion for fitness and pursue certification as a trainer, which she completed in 2020 and soon after opened her gym. 

Creating a Welcoming Gym Environment

Studies have shown that several barriers, including individual, interpersonal, social, and environmental influences, limit women’s participation in physical activity. Body image perception, haircare concerns, adherence to gender norms, fear of sexual stereotypes, and family responsibilities are specific considerations for Black or African American women.

Central to Mission Slimpossible’s ethos is creating a welcoming and inclusive environment where women feel comfortable and supported. Tillman emphasizes the importance of her presence in the space, stating, “I make sure there’s a kind, female-friendly face at the door when you come in.” 

At the core of Mission Slimpossible’s mission is creating a gym environment that boosts spirits rather than triggers anxiety. “The fear of judgment from others is real and often causes “gymtimidation” and hesitation,” mentions Tillman. “Our values revolve around the idea that exercise is about self-perception rather than external appearance. Regardless of your physique, fitness level, or size, you are welcome at Mission Slimpossible. 

Fostering Community and Celebrating Small Wins

Beyond physical transformations, Tillman emphasizes the significance of celebrating small wins and fostering a sense of community within a gym. “It’s not just about weight loss anymore,” she explains. “It’s about celebrating every achievement, whether dropping a dress size or increasing water intake.” 

Through initiatives like the Small Wins Wall, where members share their accomplishments, Mission Slimpossible cultivates a supportive environment where individuals feel seen, heard, and encouraged. 

“Acknowledging and celebrating each milestone empowers women to embrace their progress and stay motivated on their fitness journey,” mentions Tillman.

Reframing the Value of Fitness

Tillman challenges the notion that Black or African American women will continue to exhibit a likelihood of being less physically active than their white counterparts. “We must embrace our being and know that physical activity is the highest form of self-care and an investment in one’s self for everyone on the planet,” she asserts. 

Recognizing the barriers Black or African American women have, Tillman emphasizes the intrinsic value of prioritizing wellness. “I want you to pay yourself through great health and vitality,” she emphasizes. Through her approach to fitness, Tillman reframes the narrative, highlighting the transformative impact of prioritizing health and well-being.

As Women’s History Month unfolds, Jaliyla Tillman’s commitment to empowering women through fitness is a testament to the resilience and determination of female entrepreneurs. 

“Through Mission Slimpossible, I want to help women reshape their mindset around barriers to fitness and inspire women to embrace their inner strength and confidence, one small win at a time.”

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