Why people hate ‘Fitness’

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At a recent workshop, Bodytribe trainer Maurice admitted to disdain for the word ‘fitness,’ voicing what many of us feel about the modern applications being antithetical to what we believe our industry should represent. It seems a daunting task for us to reclaim the word, I’ve even contemplated removing it from my gym name. But if we love a good challenge within the gym , why not be willing to put up the battle to own the word again, bring back the original purpose and glory of the word Fitness?

Sisyphus wouldn’t envy us. Glamor-and-glitz gym chain Equinox challenges the word fitness, but not with our intended effect. Their motto, ‘it’s not fitness. It’s life,’ reduces the word to something baser, almost repulsive, especially when their campaign is completely steeped in sex appeal, sending the famous ubiquitous message of commercial gyms – ‘you are ugly, we can help’ – but with an even more damaging spin: ‘…and that health nonsense isn’t really important compared to getting laid.’

Although I can be accused to being prone to exaggeration, this case doesn’t need any additional spin from me:

Equinox ad campaign article

‘“We knew it would be a little controversial,” says Bianca Kosoy, creative director at Equinox in New York, which is owned by the Related Companies.’

Controversy because they’re using sex to sell fitness? C’mon!

“She presents images that are provocative as well as playful, meant to illustrate themes like inner beauty and fantasy.”

What ‘inner beauty’ are these photos representing?

“Indeed, according to Hillary Benjamin, senior marketing director at Equinox, Ms. Von Unwerth ‘is known for making women feel beautiful about themselves.'”

Her work is “sexy,” Ms. Benjamin says, “but respects the female sex.'”

I need someone of the opposite gender to weigh in here. Anyone feel better about themselves, or respected, through this ad campaign (besides the models themselves)? Anyone?

“That dovetails with the company’s goal of “taking a different approach to fitness,” he adds, by stressing “the life benefit of working out” rather than the short-term results (as appealing as they may be). “

Huh? Let’s play a game. List how many ways is that sentence utter bullshit.

I know in this case I’m not even preaching to the choir, I’m preaching at a preacher’s convention. And for this, my tribal kin, I thank you. The wind beneath my tattered wings is the hot air that all of us can produce together rallying against public attempts at dumbing down the word that was originally the banner our passion flew under. So do we dismiss the word ‘fitness’ as beyond saving?

I say not, but we’ve got some to do.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Andy

    So I have a challenge: Why not put out a new series of Bodytribe promotional posters, flyers, etc. That depicts normal-looking folks moving incredible-looking objects. Or is that too much like the whole Dove “real beauty” magazine ads?

    This is why I don’t work in marketing.

  • chip

    I’ve already done that, in book form. It’s called Lift With Your Head.

  • Zac

    Eh, just more of the cognitive dissonance I’ve come to expect from the establishment. Doesn’t bother me too much. Much like I don’t even try to explain my musical tastes to anyone who just listens to commercial radio, I don’t explain my training too much to folks who are just venturing into the gym. I’m just happy to do my part by moving heavy stuff in plain view of normal folks (and blaring acid house from my car).

  • camille

    Here in Slovenia, the word for weightlifting is “fitnes” so when I live I always say I’m going to fitnes see you later, and I always cringe a little because it makes me think of Jane Fonda and Sweating to The Oldies and stuff.

    Thanks for pointing out theseEquinox ads. I remember Crunch Gym in New York always had ridiculously irrelevant ads, but these really take the cake!

  • jane when i order coffee

    natural healthy body = the one that looks just like the rest of them except for the dotted sharpie lines. i feel so legitimized! whatever, you know most of what i have to say about this.

    how very calvin klein kids-in-underwear ads-designed-to-get-press-instead-of-explain-the-thing-they-promote. stupid, but seems to get press. and this:
    “(As for the idea of the men in the ads being treated as sex objects, well, perhaps turnabout is fair play.)” I’d just like to point out that this is not my feminism.

    The one thing that this set does seem to do slightly differently is describe itself as targeting high-paid professionals age 25-55, but doesn’t specify that the target audience is only female. However, the ads do seem to be talking first to the women, and historically ads targeted at both sexes talk to men and expect women to include themselves (all men are created equal, and all) while ads that talk to women are understood as not targeting men. (I could probably say this more efficiently, but I’m exhausted.) That’s not applause of course, but if there is anything to be interesting to me, it’s that.

    ps i do not thrive on this!

  • Mikey

    They say up front the ad works better in NY or LA……I think that’s equivalent to “But will it play in Peoria?” and just about as complimentary.

    The ads aren’t any different than the covers of Shape or Women’s Fitness. The models just look a little more stupid and embarrassed. It fails to interest me looking further, so I’d call it unsuccessful at best.

    Whatever happened to Rachel McLish? She could kick all those models’ &*(%$

  • Brian W.

    “Fitness” ends up being another homogenized, neatly packaged in cellophane “product” to sell to an unsuspecting, and rather gullible, public. Being a “fitness” trainer myself fully submersed in the counter-cultural approach to real fitness (for both me and my clients), I have the unique opp to play double agent; I can expose my clients to the fitness “definition” in a commercial environment and get away with it. The good part is that this allows me to deprogram people away from crap like the Equinox ad and set them straight, all while being paid by “The Man”. The bad thing is despite any of our best attempts, crap like that ad will always be the model of what the public considers the ideal, the “he/she is soooooo fit” way of thinking. So whatsa a person to do?

  • chip

    Hence the Sissyphusian battle of education. If we worry less about people as a culture and only focus on the person right in front of us, maybe it seems less daunting. But that’s tough.

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