Save me from more pictures of slender women in down dog
December 1, 2017 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Help me find articles supporting the idea that aspirational fitness photos might be harmful or off-putting. Or tell me if I'm being too sensitive.

The company I work for designs and develops multi-family residential projects. These projects always include a well-equipped fitness center as a residential amenity. The fitness centers have walls. I have input into what goes on the walls.

My boss has ultimate decision-making power over the finish selection, and his preference for these areas is "big, close-up pictures of fit, attractive people working out". Bulging muscles glistening with sweat. Perfect and effortless triangle pose. The back side of some joggers running up that hill.

This idea makes me feel squicky, but I'm having trouble articulating exactly why. Feminism? Ableism? Body positivity? Avoiding perpetuation of unhealthy self-image that comes from the proliferation of images of unrealistic expectations?

My boss can be convinced by a good argument, especially if he thinks that people other than me (homebuyers, renters) might be put off by this type of imagery. Please either:

a) Point me to strong, concise essays, articles or reports that explain why this type of imagery is harmful, or

b) Tell me to get over myself, that this type of imagery is normal and expected for fitness centers.
posted by rekrap to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The person you want to be reading is Jessamyn Stanley. She has a book and I think maybe videos and essays, and has definitely done interviews on podcasts.
posted by bilabial at 6:14 PM on December 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Multi-family projects have residents of all ages. If children and young adults will be using these fitness centers... (links on media's impact on body image, eating disorders, etc.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:30 PM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Something I would have liked to see at the gym are pictures of actual people I might follow on IG and not just generic fitness models.
posted by Marinara at 6:52 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe share some counter examples: Planet Fitness is decorated with slogans like, No Judgement Zone. Kaiser, one of the largest, most successful HMOs who's whole business model is preventative health puts up billboards with cute, chubby seniors in the pool looking healthy and happy.
posted by latkes at 7:25 PM on December 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: No, no, no. What should be on the walls are things that are pleasant or calming or beautiful. Not images that make you feel shitty. I go to gyms. Why would I want to look at images of people working out when there are people working out next to me? Why not lovely, calming, or fun images instead?

Hospitals are paying attention to design these days. (Maybe it's a derail, just saying...)

Some people, largely women, are actively avoiding exercise. Let's say they actually make it to the gym. One look at traditional images, and they will leave.

This study examined the relation between weight stigma, exercise motivation and exercise behavior. One hundred female undergraduates (BMIs [kg/m2] 17—38) completed measures of experiences with weight stigma, body dissatisfaction, self-esteem and exercise motivation, and reported on their exercise behavior. Stigma experiences were positively correlated with BMI and body dissatisfaction. Importantly, stigma experiences were related to increased desire to avoid exercise, even when controlling for BMI and body dissatisfaction. Exercise avoidance was in turn related to less frequent strenuous and moderate exercise. These findings suggest that weight stigma (through its impact on avoidance motivation) could potentially decrease physical activity levels.

posted by Bella Donna at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think you want to go positive here, rather than making the case for what not to do. Some experience as the squeaky wheel SJW at my job has taught me that I'm more likely to succeed if I offer a better option than if I explain why the current option is wrong.

So in a two-pronged approach, if I were you, I would:

1) Find images of a more representative sample of humans doing exercise. Like the Jessamyn Stanley suggestion above, and Planet Fitness mentioned by latkes.

2) Make a case for why these images are more dynamic, more interesting, and more relatable and inspirational for the average person who'd be working out in these gyms. Point to how the slender white yoga lady is BO-RING and also way over-used by all your competitors.

You are not being over-sensitive. I would bet that more people are going to find these spaces appealing and welcoming, and that's just good business.
posted by witchen at 7:37 PM on December 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's funny, I go to a gym that's rather notorious for an extreme form of this kind of imagery--at least in its ads, and what you see when you first walk in, if not in the workout space itself--and it doesn't bother me there, but if it were somewhere I didn't have a choice about seeing it, like a common space I had to pay for, it would annoy the ever-living crap out of me. Like, I know what my gym's brand is, and it just seems silly to me, but I hold the power in that relationship. They're not asserting moral authority over me, they're just using sex to sell their gyms. It's silly. But take away that autonomy, and, yes, I'm feeling lectured and patronized by people who probably think they have the right to lecture and patronize me.

So, no, you're not being over-sensitive. But I wouldn't necessarily emphasize the "harmful" angle because, frankly, your company, unless it is a real outlier, will value what sells over what injures people's esteem. You want to talk about why those images as opposed to, say, peaceful images of nature, aren't appealing to potential buyers.
posted by praemunire at 8:13 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The thing I'm wondering about when I read your question is, what is the real purpose of this imagery?

Because if it's to make people who already live in this building use the amenities more, that calls for one kind of image. If it's to make people who are considering renting/buying space in your building more likely to do so, that may call for another kind of image.

In the first case, I'd say you want to go with something relatable and welcoming so as to reduce any possible intimidation factor.

In the second case you may want to go with something aspirational and chic to convey an idea of luxury and exclusivity.

I once had to listen to a pitch for some incredibly expensive high rise condos. The amenities included, in addition to the gym, the bar, the restaurant, the steam room, the private chef and the maid service, a regular lecture series where the concierge would bring in well known authors and professors and such to give little talks to the residents on culture and society.

My personal guess would be that nobody actually went to the damn lectures. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if people were willing to spend an extra couple hundred bucks a month to live somewhere that projected an image of cultured sophistication.

I don't know what market segment you're aiming for. If your whole pitch for the project is supposed to be neighbourly, family friendly welcoming vibe then I think you can successfully pitch your boss on the idea of all-shapes-and-sizes, everybody's welcome imagery. If you're going for a higher end segment, trying to get yuppies and other people with cash to pony up a little extra to live in a hip space, then I'd say stick with the black and whites of sweaty ubermensch.

Either way, both landlords and gym owners tend to hate it when people actually use the amenities, it causes wear and tear and therefore cost.
posted by Diablevert at 8:59 PM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

can i ask why anything is going on the walls? i don't think i've ever been in a gym that's had pictures of people, aspirational or otherwise, on the walls. or any sorts of pictures at all -- just gym rules, or 'please wipe equipment down' reminders, or exercise guides or similar. it would seriously weird me out to encounter such pictures, tbh.
posted by halation at 9:36 PM on December 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Riffing off halation's question, why aren't there mirrors on the walls? I always want more mirrors so I can check that my knees aren't going the wrong place, etc.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

I hate that kind of shit and I don't see it in overpriced upscale gyms, and my hating it has nothing to do with how attractive or fit the people in the pictures are, and the last thing that would help would be someone diligently seeking out images of people whose appearance rests at a level my presumedly feeble aspirations can handle. then it would be condescending as well as gross. the distastefulness of it all has a teeny tiny bit to do with the general male gaze and stock photography feel of it all, but only a bit.

when I go to a gym, there are enough horrible humans there with real sweat and whatnot to avoid looking at and touching and making eye contact with, why would I want to avoid looking at them only to find myself faced with a giant enlarged simulacrum of exactly the thing I am trying to pretend is not there? the best kind of gym/fitness center is the kind where you can pretend there is nobody there but you. and if there's enough wall space for giant inspirational posters of any kind, there's not enough mirrors and gym equipment.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:20 PM on December 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing that mirrors are important, in order to check your form, and to make the gym not seem as cramped. My gym has a wall of mirrors and the other walls are bare. It's peaceful, plus gyms are visually busy enough with all of the machines and the moving parts and the TVs (will there be TVs?).

The only gym I've ever used that displayed photos was a Jazzercise studio where the women depicted were literally wearing leotards and leg warmers. Women's fitness clothing fashions change pretty frequently (men's too, but more slowly) so if these are "glamorous fitness model" type photos they'll end up looking dated sooner than you'd think.

If your boss cares, there's also the research on 'thinspo' images being harmful to body image and how fat shaming doesn't work.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:28 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for resources, Real Body Fitness Photos from the Body Positive Fitness Alliance is a great place to get stock photos of real people doing real gym stuff.
posted by platinum at 10:41 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hate that kind of shit and I don't see it in overpriced upscale gyms

How quickly we forget those Terry Richardson Equinox ads...although I guess Equinox is only entry-level upscale.
posted by praemunire at 11:11 PM on December 1, 2017

1) If I were say, going on a tour of the facilities, and saw a gym devoid of actual people, but decorated with a giant mural of Stock Image People working out, it would seem really pathetic.

2) Any photograph of people will look dated in a few years, as fashions and trends change rapidly.

3) Why not some plants?
posted by shalom at 12:46 AM on December 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

If your boss doubles down on his preference, you may be able to accommodate it with close-ups of things that don't show enough of the body to know anything about the model's fitness level. Close-ups on hands holding a bar, sneakered feet, an out-of-focus thigh as the foreground of an in-focus weight or machine, etc.
posted by metasarah at 10:30 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

The best gym decor I've seen was a small wall painted with chalkboard paint. The info for local outdoor services were written on there, like local parks, kayak rental, etc. There was also a regularly updated list of upcoming marathons and other athletic city events. THAT was inspirational.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: You might do a quick search of Renee Engeln's work at Northwestern University's Body and Media Lab. I know she has spoken and touched on this issue several times but haven't ever looked for a study.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:40 AM on December 2, 2017

What you should do is take a tour of some high-end gyms/your competitors' facilities and report back. (Or, realistically, look at pictures/trade mags on the Internet.) Then show him the things you think are appropriate for a high end gym (because it's not giant butts! That's just for the ads.)
posted by kingdead at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I marked a few best answers because they had resources that I asked for, but really all of the discussion was super helpful. Although I didn't ask for alternate decor ideas, some of the ones that were mentioned might get some traction.

To answer some of the questions - high end rentals and condos, not many kids and the fitness center rules are 16-up or adults only. Plenty of mirrors are planned. Unfortunately, I don't see my boss going for more inclusive fitness models - if he comes off the fit-and-pretty idea I'm sure it will be for some totally different direction. The ideas about framing it from a marketing perspective are good ones.

Frankly, I WANT to have the discussion with the boss about the possible impact of these images. We have a thoughtful and considered working culture and I might actually make some headway.
posted by rekrap at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Need Portland Periodontist, Ideally female   |   Congressional Strategy for Dummies Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.