We See What We are Conditioned to See

I finally watched that Peloton ad—you know, the one that has everyone in an uproar—and . . . I don’t get it.

peloton ad1I mean, I understand why people find certain aspects of it nettlesome. Some are bothered by the implied degrading message of a woman being gifted a piece of exercise equipment for Christmas by her husband. Others find the portrayal of the woman’s nervousness over starting a new exercise program demeaning. I understand the concerns, but I don’t share them because that’s not how I viewed the ad. Despite buzzy news reports, social media excoriation, and Peloton’s now-tanking stock prices, the commercial’s perception and appeal remains—as most things of this nature—wholly subjective.

In our march toward respect for womanhood and true equality, we’ve been trained to take offense when our significant others give us practical gifts, like stationary bikes or workout wear, that imply we need to keep our bodies fit and attractive. (See also: backlash over household gifts, like vacuums and toasters…) If that is the intent of such gifts, then I certainly agree that offense should be taken. Body positivity continues to be a major issue for women and girls, and while spouses have the right to be concerned about their partners’ health, that doesn’t give them leeway to critique their appearance. At most, that should be a private conversation between trusting, loving and equal partners.

adult black and white darkness face

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

We’ve also been taught to vigorously defend women against accusations of weakness, mental inferiority and emotional fragility, and rightly so. Women have long been maligned for public displays of emotion while men are heralded for their stoic “strength.” We’ve been historically kept out of politics and corporate boardrooms because of our supposed mental inferiority. The backlash to such antiquated notions is that we are now sensitive to portrayals of feminine fear, vulnerability, sadness, and uncertainty—perhaps overly so—even as we push to reframe the expression of such sentiments as natural and healthy for men.

But, people see what they are conditioned to see, and those who mocked and maligned the commercial for outdated, condescending, and sexist themes doubtless have personal perceptions–whether experienced or adopted—that shaped their views of what they saw when they watched it. I share those concerns when it comes to certain facets of modern life. I do not share them when it comes to this commercial, because I see it differently.

I see a woman who is a health and fitness nut being gifted with something that’s intrigued her but for which she maybe couldn’t justify the personal financial splurge. I see a reaction—nervousness and excitement—that is not weakness but completely natural to committing to a challenging new program. I see growing enthusiasm when she finds she loves the experience and looks forward to it every day. I see nothing problematic here.

peloton ad2Okay, so yes . . . the idea that this piece of equipment has “totally changed her life” is a bit over the top, but that’s the point of commercial advertising, right? To convince you that you need x or y product, which will change your life or make you better. Toxic but typical. And I wonder about the whole “video diary” of her experience. Is it a year-long recorded appreciation to her husband for his magnanimous gift (ugh) or snippets for a video blog she runs on fitness that she is fondly reviewing at year’s end (better) ? Ostensibly, it’s a function of how they chose to tell the narrative for the commercial, and exact interpretation is kept open. It’s also reasonable, as we are now a society compelled to document everything for online consumption.

I’ve also seen the commercial critiqued for classist issues: the woman’s first-world problems of being “nervous” about starting a fancy-pants exercise program on a pricey piece of equipment set up in an obvious upper-class fancy-pants home. A large majority of consumers cannot relate to this woman or her life. Hell, I can’t relate because a stationary bike is not something on which I’d choose to drop $2500 plus $40 a month; not when I have free access to a gym at work. If my husband surprised me with a Peloton, I’d be angry at him for the price tag, not for the implication that I needed it. But, discussions on classism and the lives of the rich versus the everyday realities for the majority of the world’s population is a topic for another day.

Suffice it to say, those who find the ad irritating or insulting have valid viewpoints, but they are not the only valid viewpoints, because what each person sees when they watch the ad doesn’t invalidate what others perceive. That’s how subjectivity works. My subjective thoughts on the Peloton ad are that it is a bit cutesy-annoying, a bit aspirational, and maybe even a bit inspirational (I bumped up my run speed on the treadmill at the gym yesterday…), but it doesn’t compel me to go out and get one. It’s just not for me. It’s obviously not for a lot of people, and that’s okay. If you watched the ad, loved it, related to it, and hope to receive one as a gift—or go out and get one for yourself—that’s okay, too.

In fact, I’m objectively certain Peloton is relying on you to get it, especially if the rest of us don’t.

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