When it comes to fitness in 2019, there are some things that are consistent. Dumbbells, yoga pants, circular tracks, and an array of ropes and pullies make the experience that much more exciting. No matter where you go to do your workout, whether running around the neighborhood or attending exercise classes in the park, you are bound to see a millennial somewhere in the mix.
According to a report by the Physical Activity Council (PAC), the millennial generation is more physically active than our forerunners. But what are the cultural drivers for the phenomenon of activity we are witnessing or participating in?
Some believe that our media consumption influences how we see ourselves in ways that may not be the most positive.
“Traditional media have been shown to influence individuals’ body image in mostly negative ways, by promoting unrealistic and unattainable body shapes appearances,” said Rachel Rodgers, an associate professor of applied psychology at Northeastern’s Bouvé College.
“Social media is a newer form of media,” she adds. “However, the research suggests that the effects are very similar. In fact, the impact of social media might be even greater due to it being such a visual platform, and the fact that there is no longer a clear distinction between the idealized images of ‘media people’ and those of peers.” Rodgers participated in an email interview.
Throughout all of what we indulge, there are times where we cannot avoid seeing the model with long legs and tailored frame on every poster. These images routinely challenge the body images of so many people.
And it is impossible to miss the chiseled man on the cover of GQ and gush over his appearance but automatically assume that a larger person is unhealthy.
“It is one of those stigmas,” says personal trainer Breanna Lomax. Lomax is based in Indianapolis and has worked as a trainer for more than 3 years. “Just because you’re bigger doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. People think that because you’re overweight you’re lazy, and that’s not the case at all.”
The world praises weight loss. However, if a person is not losing weight or working out regularly, that can create spaces of comparison. However, we have to analyze all of the factors that go into our physical make-up. With that, working out is not always the cure dealing with a negative body image.
“It’s more than just you working out,” says Lomax. “In order for you to be happy, in order for you to be satisfied, I can fix everything on your body, I can fix as much as I can on your body. But, there is always going to be something. There are some things that you have to be happy with because that makes you who you are.”
In this era of body positivity, the negative connotation of being overweight is being rewritten—and rightfully so. Although there is a social push to love oneself wholeheartedly and unapologetically, actually caring that action out can be more difficult than expected.
Naturally comparing ourselves to other people who do not have the same genetic make-up as we do can have negative results. And sometimes, it is not easy to detect if a personal view is not positive.
“It is very difficult to tell if people are struggling with body image issues, because they can be unrelated to how attractive a person is perceived by others,” says Rodgers.
Trying to muddle one’s way out of self-deprecation is extremely difficult and takes serious amounts of time. Time is something that many of us do not realize is a privilege. However, for others, the thought of having enough time to workout is inescapable.
“It can definitely be difficult. It requires a lot of dedication and discipline,” says Residence Hall Director at the School of Visual Arts New York City, Danielle Watson. “I have had to make the sacrifice of losing about an hour or two of sleep every morning, so that I can go to the gym before work. I know that if I wait until the evening times after work, I’ll be too tired.”
Tired is the word. When we engage with content on social media an examine those who are more physically active, we have to take into consideration how their time is being managed. Are they in school? Are they working multiple jobs? Do they have children? Are they a primary care-giver for a relative of family member? Are they differently abled in a way that prohibits a continuous or rigorous regiment?
“Finding the time is extremely stressful between full-time parenting and work when most personal trainers only offer select classes,” says Kaylah McInnis. The 22 year-old works in customer experience and also has a 5 year-old son. “Limited options leave me with the ultimatum of a healthier lifestyle or much need rest from my daily routine.”
According to a study conducted by the Park Nicollect Melrose Center, approximately 80% of U.S. women don’t like how they look, 34% of men are dissatisfied with their body, and over 50% of Americans aren’t happy with their current weight.
So, for those people who constantly consume images that challenge their body image but don’t necessarily have the time or resources to work out, what are their options? Sadly, there are not very many.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students projected to attend American colleges and universities in the fall of 2018 was 19.9 million. Many, if not all of these institutions provide some recreational facility for students and faculty alike. And for some students, not having the pay to workout is pretty advantageous.
“The financial obligation of having to pay the monthly fee,” says graduate student Quaneshia Chandler. Quaneshia is pursuing a masters in clinical psychology at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. “Growing up where I did, there are no workout facilities. We grew up in a low-income area, we did have those things readily available for us.”
Depending on where you come from, it is not uncommon to not have a local gym. And although going to pursue a degree alleviates pressure and provides access for some, it only pushes the privilege for others.
According to the 2018 Sports and Fitness Industry Association Topline Participation Report, the last couple of years resulted in increased inactivity for those whose annual household incomes are less than $50,000. On the other hand, those whose income was at $75,000 or above saw a displayed increase in activity.
It only makes sense that the average monthly memberships in cities like Boston can cost more than $100. Some memberships are actually double that, like Equinox, which costs $215 monthly.
The financial disparities that we see within our communities is a direct link between health and physicality. Boston magazine reports that there is a total of 1,063 gyms in the Greater Boston area. 581 of those facilities are gyms and health clubs, another 278 are sportwear stores, and the remaining are yoga studios or independent instructors. This makes sense when we consider the job market and the affluence within Boston.
“Maybe implementing some programs for students or for people who fall below a certain income,” says Chandler. “Gyms and recreational facilities should be more accommodating to the financial identity of people.”
Although the millennial generation is dubbed more active and physically than our predecessors, we must analyze why we are working out more and who specifically is working out. There are limitations and layers to the conversation.
Before we can give ourselves a pat on the back for working out, we need to truly dissect what is pushing us to hit the gym. The gym may give you a rounder bottom and more flat tummy. However, it is not the one shot to a more positive perspective.
“Individuals who experience body image concerns are unlikely to see those concerns decrease through engaging in appearance-modifying behaviors,” says Professor Rodgers. “Body weight and shape are by no means malleable to the extent that contemporary culture would have us believe. Very few individuals manage to change their appearance in a lasting way through healthy means.”
So, to my fellow millennials working out is cool. But understanding that working out is a privilege is that much cooler.