Last week, I went down to get the mail from box in the foyer of our apartment building and found this charming bookmark-sized flyer sticking out of the top of each mailbox along the wall:
Image Description: The bookmark-sized flyer is a coupon for a free one-week trial membership at Boston Sports Club, a local gym franchise. The text on the flyer is black on white reading “Reading Expands Your Mind. Sitting Expands Your Butt.”
It was something about the heady combination of book hatred, body hatred, and invasion of my personal space (er, mailbox) that momentarily filled me with such rage that I had this vision of myself setting fire to the leaflet and letting the thing burn before dropping it in the toilet.
And filming the whole thing so I could email it to the BSC marketing department.
Just to let them know they’d lost a potential customer.
I haven’t done this yet, but as you can see I still have the flyer and every so often I consider actually following through on my evil plan.
Why, you may ask, do I have such pent-up animosity towards the neighborhood gym?
For the past few years, Hanna and I have been observing the marketing strategies of the various gyms around Boston (note: I have never lived in a place with such a high gym-to-population saturation level!), and Boston Sports Club is consistently the most in-your-face with their messaging. Other gyms might make flexible hours or convenience to work a selling point, their on-site-trainers, or the fact that they’re women only. But Boston Sports Club relies 100% on peddling shame and anxiety.
“Two-thirds of Americans are overweight,” reads another advertisement at the gym I walk passed on the way home from work, “come see how the other third lives.” As if people who are “overweight” and people who exercise are two completely different demographics.
Other ad campaigns have encouraged people to worry about their bodies in relation to bathing-suit season, and about food consumption during the holidays. None of this is particularly novel — lifestyle magazines for both women and men have been successfully selling these messages for the past hundred years, at least.
But the constant exposure to these ads on the street and in my freakin’ apartment building is grating and has started to provoke feelings of rage. After finding the flyer in our mailbox, I happened to walk by a BSC promo table outside the local CVS and was this close to stopping and reasonably explaining my rage:
“Excuse me,” I had the script all worked out in my head, “I just wanted to let you know that I find your advertising strategy so offensive that I will never, ever purchase any of your services, and I will strongly recommend to anyone that asks that they find a gym that doesn’t resort to body shame as a marketing strategy.”
It seemed a little rude to just dump all that on the two lackeys who were probably just college students working a $8/hour summer job. So I didn’t stop.
The next time I walked past the BSC with the “two-thirds” sign in the window I gave the establishment the finger.
With both hands.
(Much to the alarm of the man who happened to be exiting the building as I walked past.)
Hanna and I have talked about their approach and come to the conclusion that body shame must work to get people in the door buying memberships — but probably not much else. Certainly the best research on self-care is that self-hatred and shame is not a motivator in terms of changing harmful behavior. So even if the goal of the BSC is to encourage people to exercise, this is a piss-poor way of doing so. Even from a bottom-line standpoint, I doubt it’s going to do much by way of retaining customers. So they must be counting on a high and continuous turn-over in memberships to be sustainable.
Or they’re just convenient to where people live or work, and the convenience factor out-weighs the insult factor (which is actually, I think, the most likely scenario).
I haven’t torched the flyer yet. But it’s an option I’m still considering. Because if there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s one more piece of paper telling us to hate our bodies — and the conflation of intellectual activity with getting FAT OMG.
tl; dr: Boston Sports Club = For The Lose.