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“Am I supposed to be upset that you gave me a spin bike?" my dad called to ask recently.
Yes, I got my 70-year-old father hooked on indoor cycling. About four years ago, I discovered the pure joy and rush of spin classes, and suggested my dad, for whom exercise was never a fun thing, try it out, too. Soon, we were going to the gym together, dragging two stationary bikes side by side, and doing our own make-it-up-as-you-go spin classes. Next thing I knew, he wanted a bike of his own, and this year I gave him one for his birthday. His weight has dropped, his heart doctor gets more impressed with every visit and he has a really good time, spinning to the beat of his favourite 60s tunes, three times a week.
I’m Amberly McAteer, an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe, and spin enthusiast. I couldn’t be more proud of my dad’s transformation. Yet somehow, the gift of exercise is supposed to be cringe worthy, if you believe the backlash to the recent Peloton Bike ad, which has garnered such headlines as “Peloton’s terrifying new ad is the best horror movie in recent memory” and “The Peloton ad woman is absolutely not OK.”
In the commercial, a husband and wife watch a collage of selfie-videos she has made to document her experience with the Peloton, a Christmas gift from her husband the year prior. It begins with her receiving it – “a Peloton, are you kidding me?” she exclaims. (My guess is at the price tag – the bike retails for $2,950, plus the monthly membership fees for access to live classes.) Then she begins her exercise journey, telling the camera she’s nervous but excited: “Let’s do this.” Soon, she’s getting up at 6 a.m. for a spin, and sweatily announces afterward, “That was so worth it.”
None of this is surprising, or scoff-worthy. All of this – the anxiety, the effort, the payoff – is relatable to anyone who’s ever tried a daunting exercise class and felt great afterward. Only if you view exercise as a punishment would you see this commercial and think the wife is somehow being held hostage, or she’s a victim of the oppressive patriarchy. Sure, a man gave it to her. But that doesn’t automatically suggest that it’s some kind of passive-aggressive insult (i.e. please lose weight, wife) or an attempt to force her to exercise against her will.
At my first spin class, I actually felt just like Peloton Woman seems to in the beginning: I was nervous, in a room full of gazelle-like riders, all moving perfectly in sync with the beat of the music, and doing wildly complicated choreography with their upper body. When it was over, I was more exhausted than I ever thought I could be. But for about three minutes, somewhere near the end, I had found the beat, and was matching the movement of the bopping bodies around me. The music was amazing, the instructor was an inspiration, and for a brief, brief moment I was one of the gazelles. I was hooked.
One of the most unexpected benefits of spin for me has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with my friendships. I started to fit into my clothes more easily, and my girlfriends took note. They wanted in. One night, after several glasses of wine, we were chatting about the best feelings in the world. My girlfriend said, “a Sunday morning spin class,” and I nearly cried. We were addicted together. We had this thing we both loved, was very good for us, and we were doing side by side. We now live on opposite sides of the country, but we still text about that great class we just had, along with 100 sweat and clap emojis. What’s better than that?
As you may or may not remember, I really tried to like running. I wrote several columns about the endeavour, mostly as a way to force myself to continue doing it. I ran a 5K, then a 10K, and then – what on earth was I thinking – a half marathon.
The truth is I never felt like it was for me; it was always a chore, even when I became somewhat competent. For many others, running is really fun. It was an asthmatic, knee-pain inducing huff fest for me, no matter how hard I tried to like it. But if I saw a commercial about a husband buying running shoes for his wife, and she became addicted, I would think: good for her.
Because here’s the thing: Shaming a woman (even a fictional one) for trying exercise, loving it and, sure, maybe becoming addicted to it – is in fact the most cringe worthy thing of all.
So the answer to my dad’s tongue-in-cheek question is, of course, absolutely not. The gift of exercise – especially exercise that the receiver finds exhilarating, even addictive – is one of the best gifts ever.
(Husband, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late for a Peloton under our tree.)
Editor’s note: We’re still interested in hearing your personal and professional goals for the New Year. Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org and it could be featured in a future edition.