I’m sure you’ve heard about the latest Peloton ad—the one where a husband buys his wife the bike for Christmas, and she vlogs about how it “changes her life” throughout the year.
I’ll be the first to admit that Peloton puts out commercials that are eye-watering in their privilege: Everyone is thin. Everyone is white. Everyone lives in a three-million-dollar glass house in the Hollywood Hills. But this specific Peloton commercial has caused so much outrage that it drove the company’s stock down by as much as 10%, according to Bloomberg.
Let me back up for a second: The commercial in question shares a 30-second story of a woman whose husband buys her a bike—a fancy, $2,200 Peloton bike—for Christmas one year. The “wife,” an actress who’s a thin, white woman, then records her “progress” on the bike for a year, playing back a video for her husband at the following Christmas.
That’s it—that’s the commercial. The negative press associated with the ad, however, comes from commenters believing the commercial’s plot is that of a passive-aggressive husband who buys his wife the workout bike because he wants her to be in better shape, or thinner. They remark that she seems desperate and anxious. They read into how her “eyes crinkle in quiet desperation” when she receives the bike as a gift. They believe she’s “trapped” in her house, forced to ride the bike like a canary chained to its cage and forced to sing.
We’re so quick to jump to conclusions to accuse a company of ‘body negativity’ and ‘submission to diet culture’ even though nothing outward about the commercial indicates those things. Sure, they exist, and they’re still issues in our society. But not here.
In reality, we’re making up an entire backstory to a commercial and extrapolating our own feelings and judgments onto it, creating a story about an oppressed woman, a misogynist husband, and a bike. These assumptions are all in our imagination. Not once did the wife step on a scale, or did her husband mention her weight.
What if, however, another alternate reality had been created: Maybe the bike changed the woman’s life because she finally found a workout she loves. Maybe she’s happy because she made a ton of friends and a sense of community from the Peloton leaderboard. Maybe she fully understands her privilege and is grateful that her family can afford such a damn expensive bike. Or maybe, IDK, she really did feel better about herself after riding for a year. Paints a slightly different picture, don’t you think?
Instead of being outraged at something as innocuous as an advertisement, I’m much more angered by the conclusions that we, as a society, made about the wife’s body. We automatically tied this woman to diet culture—but why? Because she’s thin? Because she’s working out? Why do we feel entitled to comment on her body at all? And if, by some chance, Peloton had cast a woman in a larger body to play the wife, the same outrage would still be there. Either way, her body wouldn’t be “good enough” to her husband—at least in our minds.
My point in all of this, because I promise there is one: We’re upset over a commercial. It says nothing about the patriarchy, diet culture, normalizing negative media messages, or as some articles say, the subjugation of a woman. But maybe it does say something about how we as a society may not be as body positive (or body neutral) as we’d like just yet.
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