As a former Sociology major and someone who tends to over-analyze things, I’ve always been interested in trends, social expectations, and why people do the things they do. Living in New York City you see some pretty weird things that are subject to question (i.e. public defecation or waiting in line at Shake Shack for 2 hours). One such “New York” thing is SoulCycle (though it’s not just in NYC anymore). Why is SoulCycle so popular? Why are people willing to pay so much for it? Why did it take off exponentially? So I took to Facebook to enlist people to answer a brief survey in search of these answers.
What I found is probably not surprising on the surface. The number 1 reason people said they go to SoulCycle is that it’s a good workout (I can attest to that) and the number 1 reason people said they don’t go to SoulCycle is that it’s too expensive (I can definitely attest to that). What was interesting though were the contradictions in people’s depictions of the brand. Many people said they love SoulCycle because of the feeling of community, yet they also described it as elitist. Lots of people said it’s trendy, but then said it’s #basic – wouldn’t that make it not trendy anymore? Others called it spiritual or “zen”, but then called out the loud music and sweaty room – not your typical idea of zen. And finally, many people associated SoulCycle with celebs or rich New Yorkers, but yet (to my knowledge) none of the survey takers were celebrities or of Gossip Girl wealth and they still pay the hefty fee for the class. I did have a fair share of celeb sightings back in the day, but on the outside, most people were seemingly normal like me, barely making enough money to pay for a 250-square foot studio let alone fund their daily SoulCycle habit.
So what’s up with all the contradictions? My guess is that SoulCycle is at this tension point where it’s no longer for the elite or just a trend, it’s part of today’s zeitgeist. It’s helped to form this new “health as wealth” culture. As much as SoulCyle seems like it’s for the rich and famous, more and more “regular” people are buying into it – despite the steep price – along with other boutique cycling chains or Barry’s Bootcamp and crossfit. Now, saying you do crossfit or carrying a SoulCycle bag is as much of a statement as carrying a Birkin Bag. These fitness crazes have become more than a trend, they are brands; they are a symbol of status. By carrying that SoulCycle bag you’re making a statement to the world that says, “I workout. I take care of myself. I’m healthy.”
But what does “healthy” even mean anymore. Pretty much every workout, recipe, beauty product has been tied to the word “healthy” or promises to make us “healthier” that the word is rendered meaningless. What we’re really talking about when we say we want to be healthy is that we’re aspiring to be better than we are now. To be thinner, faster, cleaner, more environmentally conscious. Not that those are bad things, but healthy is no longer just about a good BMI or cholesterol, it’s about an entire aspirational lifestyle. And that’s why we’re shelling out $35 a class for SoulCycle even though we can’t afford it or think it’s for the elite: because we too want to be better, thinner, faster, cleaner.
Social media – Pinterest and Instagram in particular – are also part of this “health as wealth” culture. How many pictures of green juices and avocado toast do you see in your feed every day? But how many people actually post a picture of the bag of Doritos or Coke they ate later because let’s be honest, no one gets full from a green juice. These channels are all about sharing your best moments, creating an aspirational brand of yourself on your best days, not your worst, or even mediocre moments.
I think us Milliennials are especially susceptible to this aspirational culture. We were raised being told you can be anything you want to be, you can be the best at anything if you just try hard enough. We’ve also grown up with social media and constantly hear about the seemingly overnight success stories of start-ups and bloggers. Millennials are constantly seeking this better, more successful life/career/clothes/body/etc., but if we’re constantly striving and seeking, how do we know when we’re there?
This aspirational culture that the whole boutique health and fitness movement is part of definitely has its benefits. By constantly pushing ourselves to better ourselves, we in turn better the world and people around us. More and more great ideas and businesses are starting up everywhere. And I don’t think there’s a negative side to people exercising more, regardless if they paid $35 for it or not.
But I think what we need to be aware of – or at least I do – is are we running ourselves into the ground trying to be perfect and be the best at everything? We think being fit and having the perfectly decorated living room will make us happy, but in an aspirational culture like ours, once you have those things, there will always be something new to want. In a generation and culture that’s so ingrained in social media and success, we need to learn to take a step back, live in the moment, cut out the noise, do what works for YOU, be honest with yourself. After all, isn’t that what SoulCycle so famously preaches? Find Your Soul.
image via healthybex.com