Strength, and the way it enables you to push your body to work for you, is a glorious thing. It’s our personal desire to amass this strength that sends us flocking, one by one, two by two, three by three, to workout facilities of all kinds. And when it comes time to enter these mirrored, generally monochromatic environments, a certain sameness of look is impossible to ignore, particularly for women. It’s what I like to call the cult of athletica.
Members of this cult have been known to wear overly complicated sports bras with crisscrossing back straps, cutout leggings and barely-there tops. I suppose what upsets me is how fitness, how taking care of our bodies, something so human and effortless, has become so consumerist and labored. Entire Pinterest boards are dedicated to “Cute Workout Outfits,” featuring costumes that seem to derail and complicate exercise; Instagram posts pose the question: Who can down-dog in the most exotic destination? My question becomes, why have we allowed ourselves to trade in the inherently human and accessible joys of fitness for those of consumption, be it of Lycra or locale?
When did cultivating personal power through developing body capability become about looking the right way, about being perceived as attractive by the rest of society? Why is the spending of money, say on a pair of $165 leggings designed to draw attention to our legs in a frankly risqué and borderline perverse fashion, tied up with the experience of fitness? It seems as with many things, we are far removed from original intent, deep down the rabbit hole of aesthetics and shallow understanding.
This same critique could be made regarding our relationship with food. Foodie culture in the modern sense has become about consuming farm-to-table and then sharing these experiences of health with our networks. But when all’s said and done, how many of our relationships with food extend beyond that of consumption? Sure we can all go to restaurants and pay for someone else to understand the food production and distribution process, but who among us can identify where the food from our last meal came from? We are living in a world in which we have been made consumers, targeted for our desires to participate in the rat race of 21st-century life, but who wants to be a rat?
To pull back from this far more reaching conversation about society’s acceptance of capitalism at the expense of those more effortless human experiences like exercising and eating, and to return to the matter of female athletic culture — I submit it has been taken over by branding. And not just in the sense of lululemon or Nike, two giants in the world of athletica, but in the disturbing notion that to be fit you have to look a certain way, participate in the brand of being “in-shape.”
Call me a purist, but what ever happened to working out because it made your body feel good, not just look good? If what we are seeking is physical and mental wellness, it shouldn’t matter if we work out in a t-shirt we got for free with a pair of old running shorts. We must not lose sight of the reason we do things, or of how simple our enjoyment of these things can be once we divest from all the manufactured complexities of these experiences. We must resist that capitalist agenda that seeks to make us one-dimensional consumers, because we are so much more than that. These experiences we seek — connectivity with our bodies via fitness, taking care of ourselves through the foods we eat and know — are accessible to us in their purest forms even without all the “right” equipment.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.