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My Take on That Controversial Peloton Ad as a Health Coach With a Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

A recent ad for Peloton exercise bikes shows a husband getting his wife a bike for the holidays. Upon receiving the gift, she starts making periodic vlogs about her experience to show her husband how much the gift has “changed her life.” 

The ad has received a lot of backlash, with people saying it is sexist, misogynistic and supports unhealthy body image (because the woman was already thin when she got the bike).

Listen, I can’t speak to the real purpose of the messaging of this ad. The ad is short and has no context, so I can see how it could be interpreted as terrible or good. (Peloton has issued a reply that the ad was misinterpreted.)

What I can speak to is being a woman who would love all the exercise equipment for the holidays, or any day. In fact, years ago, my husband bought me a membership for a local CrossFit gym for my birthday. Best thing I ever received and, yes, as the woman says in the Peloton ad: “I didn’t realize how much this would change me.”

Now, I had been talking about wanting to do CrossFit for months, but I didn’t do it because I thought people like me (plus-sized and not an athlete) wouldn’t be “allowed” to do CrossFit, or any type of fitness. I grew up in a culture that said if you exercised, you had to lose weight and become “healthy” (and all that meant was “look skinny”) and if you exercised but did not get skinny, you were not good enough, you were lazy and you were wasteful of the money you were spending. I had exercised before and never lost weight, so I thought I should not be “allowed” to spend money on CrossFit.

My husband got me the CrossFit membership because he thinks our social constructs around weight, exercise and health are silly. He knew I wanted to do CrossFit because it looked fun (seriously, lifting heavy weights and throwing them around — how cool is that?) and he knows that anyone can do any type of exercise they want. You do not need to be a certain weight or ability in order to be an athlete. If you want to do something because you think it would be fun, do it — forget what other people say. Exercise is about having fun and feeling great. (OK, with CrossFit, I would say for me it is about feeling badass.)

So, I was terrified to go to CrossFit but because my partner in life had my back and gave me an alternative message to our messed-up diet culture, I went to CrossFit — and it was amazing.

That was nine years ago. Now, I am a Primal Health Coach who is also a CrossFit coach and a brain health and dementia specialist. That first gift of CrossFit did change my life. Not only did my husband disagree with society norms about fitness and body image, but so did my CrossFit coaches. I showed up as me and they did not want me to be any different.

CrossFit also helped me integrate research on brain health — and how specific forms of exercise (constantly varied and high intensity) can help support brain function — into my own life. My anxiety started to go down, my bipolar disorder mood fluctuations became more stable, I was able to remember things I read and learned and my attention deficit disorder (ADD) symptoms went down. Plus, I was having fun, and we all need more fun in our lives to support our mental health.

Was the Peloton ad appropriate? I think it was poorly executed. Considering how exercise is typically portrayed, and considering how many people I know who do have husbands or partners who say they need to lose weight, it was so easy to just see this ad as another example of a controlling husband or partner. They could have made it way better by showing she had wanted a Peloton. They could have shown people of various genders and sizes getting exercise bikes as gifts and talking about how their life changed, which had nothing to do with weight.

While the ad started a lot of good conversations, the assumptions people make about the ad, and by extension anyone who would buy exercise equipment for their partner or anyone who feels exercise changed their life, hurts real people.

We definitely need to fight diet culture. It’s messed up. At the same time, we need to know each other’s stories. If I told someone my husband got me a CrossFit membership for my birthday and they made a lot of wrong assumptions about his integrity and our relationship, I think that is just as detrimental to mental health as supporting diet culture.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: December 11, 2019
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