The misleading images of fitness
November 25, 2020
In the past 10 years, chain gyms, such as Planet Fitness and L.A. Fitness, comprised the image of fitness. Their advertisements boasted a low price of $20-$50 to obtain a healthy lifestyle that consumers crave. A decade later, these gyms still exist but a new type of fitness dominates the world of health.
Boutique fitness studios, small gyms that tend to focus on one or two specific areas, now make up much of the growing exercise industry. These new studios draw in younger generations of gym-goers because of the trendy nature associated with them. Studios, such as SoulCycle, Orange Theory and 9Round, show up among Instagram feeds through fitness influencers. Social media users see influencers raving about these fitness studios, despite collecting payment for promoting such gyms. Especially for young users, photos of people with “perfect” bodies and lifestyles riddled throughout social media can hurt one’s self-esteem. These studios cost more than a chain gym with classes ranging around $40 each. Millennials and Generation Z generally view fitness as a priority and will spend this massive amount of money on a membership to a boutique studio, possibly due to the image it promotes on social media.
“I have been to my school gym before and it’s nice, but I personally prefer group workouts overall because they keep me motivated. I love SoulCycle because I love cycling, and they work hard to make it a fun and accepting environment. I never feel the need to overwork myself,” NC alum Brianna Hewitt said.
Orange Theory, a boutique fitness studio founded 10 years ago, built over 1,000 gyms in 49 states and 18 countries. They focus on heart-monitored workout classes consisting of cardio, rowing and weight training. Fortunately, I received the chance to try out a class at OrangeTheory. I chose to avoid reviews before attending the class to form my own opinions. As soon as I walked in the door, my temperature was taken and I was given hand sanitizer to make sure that gym-goers were safe and adhering to COVID-19 regulations. Members buy heart monitors, but they allowed me to borrow one. The “theory” that attendees must stay in the “orange zone” based on heart rate for 12 minutes to have an effective workout made sense to me, so I gave it a shot. Members rotate between stations (treadmill, rowing, and weight floor) and complete “blocks” of workouts. I could see why Orange Theory had become a massive trend after I finished the 60-minute workout. The motivation from the coach and the heart monitor tracking on televisions around the studio sold it for me, in addition to the interval-style training. Orange Theory actually became a part of my weekly routine.
“I feel like boutique gyms are more of a phase, where chain gyms are more reliable. Boutique gyms are more expensive since you are usually paying for each session or class rather than chain gyms where you pay monthly and can come whenever. With the boutique studios, they are not as flexible with time, since they correlate with a class, but with the boutique gyms there is someone there to motivate and structure your workout,” Magnet senior Skylar Chan said.
SoulCycle, a primarily cycling class, focuses on the mind and the body during the 45-minute class. Another popular addition to the fitness industry focuses on kickboxing for a full-body workout. These classes may prove successful for a workout, but the trendy nature associated with them can do more harm than good. A study by BMC Public Health showed that even popular fitness influencers’ social media accounts can negatively impact social media users’ perception of exercise. These fitness influencers promote different products, athletic brands and gyms. Instagram accounts flooded with gym selfies in perfect hair and makeup with airbrushed abs display exercising as effortless and simple. Since models receive payment for promoting these brands, consumers may see a false image of a product. If a brand pays to promote, the influencer will not say a negative remark about it.
The main issue with these “fitspiration” accounts occurs when the influencers fail to display the full picture to their followers. If you use Instagram regularly, a picture of a toned woman posing with a mug and a bag of Fit Tea rings a bell. This detox tea claims to boost metabolism and support weight loss by simply drinking a $50 tea. Fitness accounts rave about this brand, but fail to mention that the tea has caused cramping and bowel issues within users. Those that have endorsed the product, such as the Kardashians, convey the image of a thin body thanks to this detox tea. The Instagram posts do not show Kim Kardashian’s strict plant-based diet and her 90-minute workouts 6-days a week with her personal trainer. It shows, predominantly young women, that all they need to look like Kim Kardashian comes in a teabag, and their unmet goals only skyrocket their insecurities.
Popular among YouTubers, juice cleanses show an easy way to detox after failing to eat healthily and exercise. Those who “vlog” their daily lives show their exercise and eating habits, including the popular juices from Pressed. The company advertises their juice cleanses as a way to “start over” or “reset” by giving your digestive system a break. A day of only juice costs $40 per day cleansing. Replacing solid meals with juices can provide the body with beneficial vitamins and nutrients, but when dieting for several days, the body needs proteins and carbohydrates to supply energy. Juicing usually takes the sugar from the fruit, but does not give the consumer the necessary fiber that a body needs. Because YouTubers tend to promote juice cleansing and detox practices, subscribers and fans try these techniques, ignoring the needs of their bodies. The trendy nature of the cleanses overpowers the real effects of depriving the body of solid food for days.
Fitness influencers often pose on Instagram stories in matching workout clothing sets to promote brands such as Fabletics, Lululemon and GymShark. Their sweat-free “just worked out” selfies promoting athletic brands can also give social media users the wrong idea about exercising. Of course, athletic clothing that makes you feel confident can motivate you to head on a run or to the gym, but the unrealistic notions of fitness presented throughout Instagram, Twitter and YouTube can disappoint people when they do not look like the models. The effortless exercise they promote hurts self-esteem when exercise does not appear effortless for them.
“I would personally like to SoulCycle because I have seen Emma Chamberlain do it. I would also do Orange Theory because I heard of it through Summer Mckeen. They often post only good things about fitness. They also have the money to pay for classes and the diets and trends that teens, who make up much of their fanbase, can’t pay for,” Chan said.
Not all fitness influencers and aspects of them serve as a detriment to society, though. Many preach self-love and will open up about their struggles in the world of fitness. Sarah’s Day, a fitness Youtuber and blogger, opened up about her body image struggles on her podcast, especially after her pregnancy. She mentions that the expectation for her to constantly be toned made her confidence drop after attempting to lose weight. Ali Bonar, a health and fitness food blogger, announced her eating disorder struggles in 2017 and since documented every step of the journey towards recovery. Between juggling her own internal struggles and promoting positivity on social media, she co-founded Kween, a granola butter company. Influencers should create a relatively transparent image to their viewers, without this they tend to display only the positive aspects of fitness.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with the busy routines of many can present a challenge, especially while scrolling through the seemingly endless photos of gym selfies and beautifully crafted salads. Confidence drops comparing your life to an influencer who receives payment to post and exercise all day.
“The most important thing when working to tone your body and try new diets is to listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard or you will not feel any better. Just because you see a celebrity juice cleansing does not mean that it is best for you,” Chan said.
No matter the trends that you scroll past on Instagram encouraging expensive workouts or bizarre diets daily, finding what works best for your routine and body holds importance. Influencers and celebrities may alter the perception of fitness to viewers, but with thorough research, you can find the perfect recipe to achieve your goals.