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Reflecting on Peloton Bike Ad, or Giving Exercise Equipment for Christmas

In case you haven’t heard about it, controversy emerged this week about an ad for a Peloton bike, a fancy kind of indoor exercise bike.

Titled “The Gift that Gives Back,” the ad shows a young, fit-looking mom going downstairs with her daughter on Christmas morning and being surprised to receive a Peloton bike from her husband. The wife shows excitement and starts using the bike regularly and recording her progress in videos. At the end, we see her saying how much her life has changed after a year of using the bike.

Why the Ad is Problematic

Critics say that the ad promotes body-shaming since the young woman is thin and appears healthy. Therefore, it looks like this could be a gift from the husband as a not-so-subtle way of saying he’s still not satisfied with her body and wants her to be even more trim.

This has caused problems for Peloton, with falling stock prices (although that may be temporary). The actor who plays the husband has also said that his image is now being associated with sexism and abuse, and he’s worried about the long-term implications. (The actress in the commercial has kept silent.)

Plus, as others have pointed out, the ad is all about privilege, with a young, white, straight (and apparently wealthy) couple who’s able to afford this kind of machine. Some say it highlights the financial divide in our country, where some can drop over $2,000 on an exercise bike while others can’t even make ends meet while working multiple jobs.

What I also find difficult about the ad is that it doesn’t show any real change in the woman between the beginning and end. She doesn’t look any different, and while she says that it’s changed her life, she doesn’t say how.

Does she have more energy? Is she less stressed or anxious? Is she able to do other things in her life that she couldn’t before? Is her mood better? Without that context, the ad invites criticism.

What’s the Backstory?

Peloton is standing by the ad, saying that they hear all the time about how their exercise equipment has helped people.

I don’t doubt that this is true because exercise has many benefits. The trouble is, in addition to lacking information about how the wife changed, we don’t know the backstory in this commercial.

I understand you can only put so much into 30 seconds, but they could have fit something in to provide more clarity.

For example, did the wife ask for the bike? Maybe she wanted it and didn’t think she’d get it – they could easily have put a line in with her saying, “I didn’t think I’d get it!”

Of course, even if she’d asked to get it, I’d wonder if she was asking because the husband made her feel bad about her body.

I also realize that with holiday ads, the mood is supposed to be happy, so perhaps the company didn’t want to start the ad by saying what kind of problem the wife had. For all we know, perhaps she had cancer and wants to recover her strength now. Perhaps she’s been super stressed at work and in a bad mood all the time, taking it out on her husband and daughter, and she wanted the bike as an alternate stress-relief.

We can make up whatever backstory we want for things like this, and unfortunately for Peloton, that also means we can take it at face value – a husband wanting his wife to be even thinner or more toned than she already is.

Should You Give Exercise Equipment for Christmas?

Then there’s just the issue of getting exercise equipment as a gift. Even with the best of intentions, many people don’t use their indoor exercise equipment as much as they think they will. This happens for a whole variety of reasons, but the most common is that people aspire to use these types of machines without thinking about the effort involved in follow-through. From that perspective, giving an exercise bike could well backfire.

I also think it’s very hard to get away from the connotations of exercise equipment as a gift. Even if the person receiving it wants the equipment, giving it as a present feels like saying you want them to change before you’re happy with them.

In those cases, the equipment can be a silent reproach and reminder about how you’re not good enough. And that’s not usually the type of feeling you want to evoke on a holiday.

And finally, there’s the question of cost. Exercise equipment isn’t cheap, and you need to decide if it’s truly worth what you’re paying for it.

Focus on Gifts that Connect Instead of Divide

For me, it comes down to what I want to happen when I give someone a present. I’d like it to be something that connects us, that shows I care about the other person and appreciate them. I don’t want to give something that creates bad feelings or separates us.

Maybe for some people, an exercise bike would achieve that goal, but I don’t think it happens often. I wasn’t planning on getting this kind of gift anyway, but it reinforces my desire to make the holiday season about connection, not division.

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