by Lexi Cooke & Libby Chalamish, Opinions Reporters
graphic by Julie Wang
“Come on, you can do this!” the woman in the video screams. “Just one more set to go!” She has blonde hair pulled back in an alarmingly tight ponytail, and her obnoxiously bright leggings and lively voice lead me to believe that she downed at least five energy drinks before filming her workout. Sure, I might be biased considering I just completed 30 sets of squat jumps and am not in the most chipper mood, but you have to admit there’s something very discouraging about dying your way through a workout while the woman in the video seems unfazed.
Ever since quarantine began, home fitness routines and workout videos have been on the rise, which, considering how much free time we’ve had over the course of these past few months, makes sense. Since their rapid rise to fame, long term workout programs have caused a heated debate, raising the question of when a workout crosses the line from being a healthy way to burn calories to promoting a toxic body image. Although workout programs are a good way to stay fit, they too often end up building off of people’s insecurities.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to get in shape, it can be hard to determine which workouts are focused on gaining strength and which are glorifying certain body types. Workout programs often center around achieving a specific look and build their brand around highlighting people’s insecurities; many tend to name their workouts things such as “perfect body,” “hip dip fixer,” “muffin top remover” or “flat stomach.” Instead of focusing on making people stronger or healthier, as workouts are intended to do, these types of programs are geared more toward making people look a certain way, often praising slimmer body types.
For instance, Chloe Ting, an Australian trainer, went viral on YouTube for her body-centric workout programs, with a few of her most famous being “flat belly in 30 days,” “love handle workout challenge” and “two-week weight loss shred.” Rather than focusing on strengthening people’s bodies, she focuses on making people look like her, using her body as an example of the desired result. Marketing workout programs in such a way creates an unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standard, often leading people to believe that the problem is with them and not the workout if and when their body doesn’t mirror those on their screens.
Although workout programs may say that their main goal is to help keep people in shape, the majority of them care more about profit than they care about people following their workouts. Fitness programs similarly tend to lure customers in with attention-grabbing titles such as “6 second abs.” This program includes a type of ab-tightening machine that claims to give its users the appearance of abs in as little as six seconds. Programs like this that are marketed in this way are almost always scams, but fitness companies continue to advertise as such because they care more about money than they do their customers. By preying on vulnerable people and their insecurities, workout programs are able to harm people’s body image while making a profit.
However, workout videos and programs aren’t always bad. Those that do not focus on “fixing” people’s bodies and instead on legitimate fitness aren’t promoting a toxic beauty standard and are a better choice for those who want to workout in a safe and healthy way. Working out is a great way to stay active and strengthen one’s body, and virtual programs are an easy option for those who can’t or don’t want to go to the gym. As long as people are having fun and exercising to build strength, no problems arise. Workout videos, routines and apps were especially helpful last spring, when gyms were shut down due to the pandemic.
While there are both positive and negative aspects to workout videos and programs, all too often the bad outweighs the good. While seeking positive, or at the very least neutral, programs will likely lead to a better experience, it can be hard to resist workouts with enticing yet toxic messages. Body positivity is extremely important, especially now when “quarantine weight” is a constant object of discussion. Everybody is beautiful, and no one body type is superior to another. Rather than creating division between people and creating programs intended to “fix” people’s bodies, brands should celebrate our differences and recognize that everyone has a different body that is beautiful in its own way.
That reminds me, my own workout needs finishing. “It’s the final stretch, almost done!” exclaims the colorfully dressed woman. “And … done! Great job everyone!” In the end, I’m puffing and out of breath, but it was certainly worth it. While that workout was a good fit for me and possibly lots of other people, it might not be right for everyone. Finding the perfect workout for yourself is key to enjoying and growing from it.