If You Have Body Image Concerns, Don’t Join This Gym

by Matt B. on January 3, 2014

One of the more remarkable things about traveling abroad is noticing how overt the advertising and marketing is. In the U.S., Madison Avenue has become incredibly sophisticated at creating images and narratives that convey powerful messages without ever quite saying what those messages are.

Here in Vietnam, advertisers aren’t that coy; they simply tell you what they want you to think. Check out the English text on this display at the local gym I joined.

Here’s another poster from the same gym.

Initially, I recoiled. A perfect life – how deluded! But after a couple of weeks, my feelings changed dramatically. I still think the messages are silly, of course, but I’m also thankful that they’re so fully articulated. Advertising culture in America is more insidious; it’s designed to get in under the radar, to work its effects before we realized what’s happening, to become the air we breathe. And because it’s so stealthy, because it doesn’t declare itself, there’s nothing to object to.

Here, on the other hand, advertisers advance over the horizon with flags flapping and trumpets blaring. You see them coming, and you hear them tell you what they want. Which makes it a tiny bit easier to say no.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh January 6, 2014 at 6:05 am

It’s funny, I found that sign really refreshing. It’s like the marketers believe people are signing up to this expensive gym to actually get in shape, rather than just nuzzling up against that prospect. Sure, there’s a big difference between idealized body shapes and normal healthy ones, but the flip side of this sign actually morphs into the latter, not the former. It doesn’t look like vanity has metastasized into body dysmorphias here, yet.

Matt January 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

Interesting. I think I was reacting pretty strongly to the word “should” – seems to me that as soon as you start foisting a normative conception of body image on people, you’re bound to stir up anxiety, and perhaps even self-hatred. Too strong a conclusion?

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