What Peloton Got Right Exposed Just How Much We Have Wrong
I try not to pay much attention to the social media cause of the day. Because, well, sanity. But this past weekend, I noticed that my little corner of the social media interwebs was awash with the Peloton commercial controversy. I'd seen the ad before, I wasn't offended (if you haven't seen it, here ya go). In fact, I think that much of the controversy surrounding the commercial exposes what we have so very wrong about our bodies and exercise and movement.
Now before you get all huffy with me and start in on your lectures about body image. A few things to know about how I work and view the world. I'm a Registered Dietitian and I specialize in eating disorder recovery. I'm a fan of the HAES® movement, I live and breath Intuitive Eating and I work with my clients on healing their body images every day. If you don't know what some of those things mean, that's OK, I just say them to show that I fight against cultural messages that undermine women and their bodies every day.
If I can do my best to summarize the criticism, it sounds something like this: The husband bought his wife an exercise bike (how unromantic!) for Christmas because he wants his already skinny wife to get even skinnier. And she, in turn, spends a whole year slaving away on said bike to make her already skinny body super extra skinny and then thanks her husband for all of the skinniness that he forced her to pursue.
Much of the backlash surrounding this commercial is rooted in our firm grip of the very things
that hurt women and the ways they view their bodies and enjoy movement. First of all, she clearly knew what it was and was obviously thrilled to get it. Everything about the opening of this commercial makes it clear that she wanted this bike and her husband was getting her something she desired. If you don't want an exercise bike, you don't immediately A) recognize a Peloton and B) light up when you see one. Please stop shoving women into a narrow view of what they should deem romantic and what they should want. Furthermore, there is not a single scene throughout the commercial where the husband is forcing or even motivating her. I see a women who is motivating herself and looks pretty darn proud of it.
Secondly, and this is the crux of the matter to me, we assume that the sole purpose of the bike and exercise must be for weight loss. As a culture, we seem to have no ability to associate exercise and exercise goals with anything but the pursuit of thinness. If the wife, who is already thin was in fact being told to lose weight, then that would be incredibly offensive. In fact, if any woman, of any size is being told she has to lose weight, I find that very offensive. But that's not what's going on here. We see her take a journey throughout a year. We see her motivated and proud of herself and excited about the change. And through it all, we see nothing whatsoever change with her size. And we have no paradigm for it.
Show us empty promises about weight loss supplements, programs and diets and we applaud the transformations we're promised happen. We ourselves become the encouragers, the pushers. But show a woman who seeks out the benefits of movement disconnected from weight loss or body transformation and we are confused, outraged and oh so offended.
Its hard work to disconnect the idea of weight loss, calorie burning and body shrinking from exercise. They are so intertwined in our minds that we can't see movement any other way. The truth of the matter is that exercise is a terrible method for long term weight loss. And furthermore, when we start exercise regimens with that being the sole goal in mind, it's a recipe for burnout. But enjoyable movement has a multitude of benefits. It's fantastic for mood, cardiovascular health, maintenance of a healthy muscle mass, energy and blood glucose regulation just to name a few of its perks. When my clients choose to pursue movement that they enjoy for benefits apart from weight loss, they are able to stay active more consistently and pursue health in ways that are meaningful to them.
We should certainly never feel obligated to pursue someone else's definition of health for ourselves. And we certainly should not tolerate women being told they must shrink their bodies for a man. But, we have a lot of healing to do when it comes to how we view our bodies and I believe that one vital step in that is unlinking movement with weight loss. Every person should be free to pursue movement how they choose. This next year, I want to find ways to swim more often, run occasionally and spend plenty of time playing soccer with my kids because those thing make me a happier, healthier person. I don't want a Peloton, but I certainly won't begrudge anyone who does.