Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear NYSC: Do You Realize How Sexist You Are?

Recently my gym went through some minor renovations.  Mostly it was just a redecoration.  The walls got some new paint and wallpaper.  I think they did some stuff to the floors as well.  Let's hope working out amongst the fumes didn't do my health a disservice (as if I, or any of my fellow gym rats could part with our workouts due to fumes).

Not only were the walls covered with new paint and wallpaper, but there are some new wall decorations as well (and fewer clocks, which really irks me).  Once you pass through the reception desk and head to the main floor, you will see on your right side two mural-sized photos.

The first photo depicts a group of men playing a friendly game of touch football.  The men are all adults who could be anywhere from their twenties to their forties. They look like ordinary guys.  Their bodies are mostly obscured by jerseys and sweatshirts.  Some of them look a little thick, but it's hard to tell if they're overweight or just very muscular.  They don't look like fitness models.  They look like guys you might know.  They seem to send a message that as long as one stays in shape, an adult can still have fun.

The next photo is for the women.  It depicts a lone woman running.  She is pushing a jogging stroller with one hand.  She is dressed in a sports bra and bike shorts.  Although the photo is in soft focus, it is clear the woman is quite lean.  Unlike the men in the other photos whose faces are in sharp focus, but whose bodies are hidden under clothing, you really can't see this woman's face.  All you notice is that she has thin thighs, defined arms, and a flat stomach.  What message is this sending to the viewers, especially in contrast to the men's photo?

The men in the first photo look old enough to be fathers, but are not pictured with their children.  They're enjoying their "guy time".  They're not dressed to show off their bodies.  Men, it seems, are allowed to look sloppy, have less-than-ideal bodies, and be away from their kids.

If the photos were meant to show how working out is supposed to enable one's real world activities, it seems  New York Sports Club assumes taking care of kids is the only real world activity women are involved in.  What's worse is the assumption that she must look good doing it.  The woman in the photo does not even have a face.  She's just a hot body running with a stroller.  She is almost inhuman.  How many mothers with babies do you know who look like that (and have the energy to run)?  How many women realistically run dressed like that?  (I suppose if I had that body I'd run dressed like that if the weather were warm enough.) 

Why not show a woman playing a sport and show it in a realistic way?  How about a woman in uniform in a martial arts studio?  How about her playing tennis?  How about her riding a horse?  Maybe you could depict a woman surfing or paddelboarding (and then you can somewhat realistically put her in a bikini if sexing it up means that much to you).  Grown women with children participate in any number of physical activities every day and often without their children.  I don't like this depiction showing that the only way a woman can be active outside the gym is to jog with the kid while her husband plays football (and she has too look impossibly good while doing it).

Family time should be encouraged by the gym for both genders.  Active children should be a priority for parents, so I think we need some photos showing active childcare.  Why aren't the kids playing football with the men in the first picture?  How about showing the whole family biking or hiking or kayaking together?  I would love to see photos of women with more diverse body shapes while we're at it.  What's good for the gander is excellent for the goose.

I guess that's not what sells gym memberships.  Although that's what you might think on the surface, NYSC isn't about trying to showcase the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in a realistic fashion.  It's selling a fantasy.  The first photo is really saying, "Work out at our gym and you will be able to best your friends in physical competition."  The second photo is really saying, "Work out at our gym and you will have a hot body even if you have children."  Those are the true assumptions they are making with those photos, and I guess it works.

So I guess they do know how sexist they are.  Unfortunately, they feel it sells and retains members, so I doubt anything will change.

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