In the American panorama, fitness culture has taken a front-row seat. Sculpted physiques have become the driving force in our self-image-fueled society. An aesthetic representation of health has hijacked the popular consciousness, becoming not only coveted but also expected. It’s a celebration of the human body, but with its glorification, the “healthy” standard morphs into an unreachable Everest for many.
Couched in the language of possibilities without borders, fitness campaigns shine a spotlight on personal responsibility, with Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra being the poster child for such efforts. It’s not about selling sneakers, it’s about selling the dream that we can all ascend to athletic greatness. Their website continues this narrative, stating, “Your daily motivation with the latest gear, most effective workouts and the inspiration you need to test your limits ––and unleash your potential.”
The push is persuasive, especially for young customers grappling with identity, schooling, or job hunting. Similar slogans resound from the likes of Equinox, LA Fitness, and Shadow Fitness, all tapping into the ethos of self-determination, willpower, and personal growth.
Contrast this landscape with the stark reality: many Americans remain outside this idealized circle of health and fitness, intensifying the quest for better bodies. The message to our ageing, overweight, and unwell population is unequivocal: “get in shape or get left behind.” And this pressure isn’t limited to one demographic; it’s an equal opportunity oppressor, driving men, women, and the non-binary to chase this epitome of health. Fitness obsession seeps into every corner of our lives, from diet plans to gym memberships, from yoga studios to the booming wellness industry. Even giants like Amazon have recognized this lucrative market, snapping up Whole Foods.
Yet, the resources needed to meet these standards often remain out of reach for many, leading to a disturbing dichotomy. Work pressures and financial constraints impede exercise routines and healthy eating for many. As a result, the U.S. is home to a growing population of overweight or obese individuals. The fallout is profound. Studies reveal startling figures: by age thirteen, over half of American girls feel “unhappy with their bodies,” and by seventeen, that number soars to 78%. Extreme measures take the stage with eating disorders affecting young women, with mortality rates 12 times higher than all other causes. The surgical route is also being considered by nearly half of all teens. Men aren’t exempt from this fitness craze either, with 85% yearning for a more muscular frame.
This pursuit of perfection can be traced back to the sense of powerlessness that has seeped into American society. Now more than ever, in the digital era of Twitter and Instagram, these sentiments find a resonance chamber. Fitness becomes a means to cope with insecurity, a way to exert control over one’s destiny.
The desire for self-improvement isn’t inherently bad, but when taken to extremes, it can breed harmful ideologies. This can be seen in our burgeoning fitness culture, where athleticism is becoming a societal norm, connoting virtue and psychological balance. Carl Cederström and André Spicer, in their book “The Wellness Syndrome”, argue that self-improvement culture is transforming optional behaviors into societal expectations. They warn of a looming stigma, where failure to conform to this ideology of good health equates to decreased personal value.