Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Selling Fitness Lifestyles and Beauty Standards

So I enjoy challenging myself physically through different workouts. Much of the time I'll view what I know is a very difficult workout as an opponent that I will eventually "defeat." Definitely a blessing and a curse, but if I feel a workout augments my running, I'll at least give it a shot.

In any case, one cannot help but notice how the fitness industry is not so much about physical and mental health as it is about physical appearance. Yes, stating the obvious. A few times a week I've been doing this workout called "Insanity," and I have to admit, I love it. It's not the most difficult workout I've ever done, but it's certainly up there (although admittedly they say you're supposed to do it six days/week, and I stick to only two).

I learned the "Insanity" crew is part of a larger fitness corporation called "BeachBody," which sells other workouts put on DVD (P90X, Hip Hop Abs), nutritional supplements, workout attire, and they even have their own social networking system. They're not simply selling a product, but a lifestyle and community that encourages ongoing spending and selling of multiple fitness products.

A central dimension of that lifestyle is pursuing the fountain of youth. But again, this youthful pursuit does not seem to revolve around staying physically fit as a means to lower cholestorol, lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and so forth. The fitness pursuit seems ultimately about reaching a socially constructed aesthetic ideal where one turns heads at the beach.

Hence, the standards of beauty for women as portrayed through this industry are not the tall, gaunt models, but instead the ripped fitness instructors with rock hard abs, thighs and triceps for everyone to see; the same goes for men. By setting the aesthetic standards so high, the public must keep working out and purchasing the fitness lifestyle. All the while, consumers continue to age away from the unatainable standard, thereby requiring an even stronger pursuit, ostensibly achieved by purchasing more products.

In the following video describing "Insanity," there is little (if any) mention of physical or mental fitness, unless that ultimately leads to looking fit. Starting at 4:18:

"…because Insanity is going to test your limits physically and mentally. You see Insanity is probably the hardest workout ever put on DVD. But if you can stick with it for 60 days, you’ll end up with the hardest body you’ve ever had."

In the realm of popular culture, it is critical to keep tabs on how beauty standards are shifting and coinciding with capitalist ventures. How will this industry spread to other countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and other global markets? For men, these beauty standards are not terribly new. However, the ultra-toned, athletic look is definitely emerging and spreading as a new standard for the average female consumer.

But will the pursuit for that look truly be healthy, or eventually ridden with laxatives, supplemental muscle mass products, bulimia, depression, credit card debt, etc.? Genetically, we're all very unique, and no matter how hard some people work and discipline their diet, some simply cannot look like those in the video, nor should anyone feel pressured to do so. Fitness should be about health, not vanity.

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