Fitness for Every Body
By Julie Pauletto
Are we discouraging good health by showing images that are nearly impossible for the average person to achieve?
Look at the airbrushed beauties that stare at you from glossy pages, posing, promising that you, too, could look just like this if only you followed this meal plan, used this exercise equipment or took that pill.
I'm the President of Power Systems Inc., which distributes exercise, sport and fitness equipment primarily to the professional market (i.e., personal and group fitness trainers, high school, college and professional sport coaches). We've been in this market for more than 26 years, and, like most companies in our industry, we have a catalog and run print ads in various trade publications. But up until a few months ago, you couldn't tell us from anyone else.
I've always been active, moving from one type of exercise or activity to another depending on my mood or the season. I was lucky to inherit some pretty good genes. But, like most everyone else, genes can only take you so far. After that, you have to work at it. And, like everyone else, the desire to work out has its own ebb and flow. I have a job, and not all the activities I choose to do require any measurable movement. So, I think I represent a large part of the fitness market.
I took a short sabbatical a couple of years ago and found myself taking a real hard look at magazines, television and online advertising. I might have been a little bored. But an image began to form in my mind. What does a real person look like, and why aren't we talking to them? Why isn't anyone? The images being put out there really showed the most extreme form of health, and I use that term reluctantly. I'm not sure it's a healthy image at all.
My first thought was about women, since I just happen to be one. I was, frankly, put off by the imagery used in the glossies. It actually made me a little angry. Why were "fitness" and "athletic" companies showing these painfully thin women and screaming that this was the perfect (healthy) body?
Something else I noticed. I wasn't the only one getting fed up with it. Major magazines were being called to task for using super thin models. Didn't they know about anorexia and the damage it does to so many young women?
What about children? So many of our children are morbidly obese, and many now face diabetes at an alarmingly young age. Why do you think that is? A lot a people blame it on television, video games and fast food. I can't deny those reasons. And it doesn't take a lot of research to realize that physical education is being removed from many schools.
But what if it's something more? Are we inadvertently discouraging our youth from playing? Why doesn't little Johnny try out for a sport team? Is there a generalized feeling that if I can't be the star, then why even try?
We did a photo shoot at one of the local high schools and it was such a charming picture I'm going to frame it. Here was a typical group of young men on a football team, sweaty, some red-faced, some a little chubby, some a little scrawny and every one of them so happy to be there. Not one of them had the perfect athletic body but they had heart. I hear they're pretty good football players, too.
Why aren't we showing these guys in our magazines and catalogs? These are the young men coaches deal with every day. They take these guys and show them how to do a workout for their sport. They teach them physical endurance and use the skills the boys are naturally born with. Most coaches know the odds of even one of them becoming a professional athlete are one in several million, but they don't discourage the child from playing.
I think our images should reflect the diversity of real teams regardless of sport. That kind of imagery celebrates the effort and the satisfaction of the effort. We in the sporting good industry should lift up our youth and help them feel good about themselves. By showing only the so-called best, are we measuring the world by only one yardstick?
What about the middle-aged and aging society? You read everywhere that 50 is the new 40 and so on, and that aging people are more active than ever. But you'll only see them in magazines directed at the elderly and sometimes even that's iffy. Think about the wrinkle-removing cream being hawked by a 20-year-old.
After taking stock of the misleading and limiting images being peddled by the industry, my company has stopped using airbrushed models with perky little this and that. Nor will we be using Mr. Absolutely Gorgeous. Instead, we've started to portray real people, captured in their own glowing glory. I love to see the healthy, happy faces of people when they've felt the success of a good workout or tennis match, or nice long hike.
I've had professional fitness trainers tell me their biggest hurdle in soliciting new clients is helping the client overcome the feelings of intimidation. One of the reasons most often given for people not joining a gym or fitness group is they feel intimidated. Gee, I wonder why?
In the past few months the response has been overwhelming. We get notes, letters, calls and e-mail almost daily from people telling us how happy they are to see average people in our catalogs and ads. Speak to the people and they respond.