Celebrities & Pop Culture

Here’s Why I’m Inspired By The Controversial Peloton Commercial Everyone Hates

People are calling the commercial sexist and body-shaming.

Commercials are meant to get people talking about a company and its products. When an ad goes viral, company marketers typically jump for joy. But corporate representatives from the fitness company Peloton got quite the shock when their 2019 holiday ad went viral for all the wrong reasons.

The 30-second commercial looks like a typical holiday ad in which a mom with her eyes covered gets pulled to the living room for a Christmas surprise from dad: a Peloton bike. Ta-da!

But what happens after the gift reveal seems to have offended many people.

The ad shows the woman looking unsure of herself as she starts to document her first experience on the Peloton bike and the virtual spinning class.

“Ok, first ride,” she says into the smartphone camera she’s holding up. “I’m a little nervous, but excited. Let’s do this.”

From there, we see clips of our leading lady celebrating consecutive day workouts, bemoaning 6 a.m. wake up calls to get a ride in and essentially snapshots of her year of exploring her new fitness hobby. The end of the commercial shows her with her husband, a year later, watching her video and thanking him for the gift.

Not everyone got the warm fuzzies from this commercial for “The Gift That Gives Back.” In fact, Twitter went all abuzz with the outrage over the commercial, labeling it as “sexist” and “body shaming.” One comedian even created a parody ad that totally roasts the commercial, highlighting how weird it is a husband would buy a gift like that for this wife and how much she hates it even though she uses it every day. Warning: this video has some strong language.

Twitter user Petty Crocker seemed to agree with the idea that the commercial is sexist and condescending. She took issue with the woman’s insecurity in the commercial and thought the character was “pleading for her husband’s approval.”

Podcaster and coder Scott Hanselman went so far as to say the commercial is “nightmare fuel” and alludes to an abusive relationship.

So, people got worked up about a commercial. What’s the big deal? Well, the reaction spread to Peloton investors who got nervous enough to start backing off their support. Peloton’s stock dropped about 9% on Dec. 4 as the negative press continued. Translated into actual dollars, that’s about $942 million in market value.

Peloton claims viewers missed the point of their ad in a public statement issued to CNN:

“We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them. Our holiday spot was created to that fitness and wellness journey.”

Sure, it’s a corporate response to an overwhelmingly loud and negative reaction to what is supposed to be its seasonal high-water mark in advertising. The thing is, I agree with Peloton in this case.

I’ve watched the offending commercial, and I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. In fact, the first couple of times I saw it, the ad resonated with me. Watching someone take those first tentative steps into a new lifestyle is something I connect with because I’ve experienced that same nervous energy in the pit of my stomach. As a woman who is overweight and two years into my own wellness journey, it is refreshing to see a fit-looking woman feeling the inevitable first-workout jitters.

I had no idea about the uproar over the ad until I sat down with a male friend of mine at dinner the other night. He joked about the commercial’s “weird vibe” and how he was turned off by it, too. I think he assumed I was equally offended. When he noticed my confusion, he showed me the news stories and social media posts about the commercial.

I’ve watched the ad a few times since then, trying to find the sexist and off-putting elements within it. I’m just not finding them, no matter how hard I try.

Is it sexist for a husband to give his wife an exercise bike for Christmas? Sure, you can imagine a story where the man believes his wife is out of shape and needs to look better in order to be the perfect trophy wife. But where in this commercial is that narrative implied? Maybe she wanted the bike for Christmas but never thought she’d get it because they cost a couple of thousand dollars. If anything, that might make the commercial a bit elitist. But sexist? I don’t buy it.

A husband can support a life of fitness while not being repulsed by his partner’s current body. We don’t know the story behind why the husband got the gift. We’re not meant to, so we shouldn’t create a narrative just so we can be appalled by it.

Other people complain that the woman is already in good shape and doesn’t need the exercise bike. This makes no sense at all. Exercise is NOT solely about weight loss. In fact, studies show exercise is not the key factor in losing weight. We can’t outrun — or in this case, outride — our own metabolism and calorie consumption. Instead, exercise is about keeping our cardiovascular system in good shape and our muscles strong. A regular fitness routine makes us feel better!

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I am an overweight woman who is training for a half marathon. Many people may not see that when they look at me. They might assume I’m not active and do not exercise regularly. Fair or not, that is an assumption many might make about me.

But people make surface judgments about “skinny” people, too. How often do we assume a thinner person must be a fitness nut or constantly watching what they eat?  They might be doing both of those things. But, then again, I know quite a few people who are closer to “normal” weight who don’t get any regular exercise and don’t pay attention to what they eat. The bottom line? A fitness routine that makes us feel good is essential for people of any size.

People also mocked the vlog-style entries by the Peloton lady. Is she kidding with the workout videos and commentary? Who does that, right? Well, I do and so do many others. I’ve been documenting my fitness journey on my website and social media platforms.

I mostly do it to chart my own progress, but I share that journey with others as a means of encouragement: Anyone can improve their life both physically and emotionally through a healthier lifestyle. I don’t always post about my success. Often, I’ll share my fears, frustrations, and challenges along the way. It’s real and it’s not always pretty. I find it amusing how, in an age where we overshare everything, an ad featuring a woman documenting her insecurities and ultimate transformation is seen as condescending and sexist. To me, sharing the less-than-perfect journey continues to change my life and it’s something I hope will help others see they can do it, too.

That is the point Peloton was trying to make with this holiday commercial — how one gift can go beyond its primary purpose. Yes, it’s a fitness bike. But it’s a tool the woman used to build her heart, her mind and her confidence. For me, that’s why the commercial hits all the right notes and makes me smile when I see it.