I like to consider myself a healthy person -- I'd even go so far as to say a "fit" person. I exercise regularly and enjoy taking care of my body. I'll be the first to sign up for the newest fitness trend and I'm eager to try anything from trampoline to aerial hoop classes. So when the spinning hype started to garner more attention than usual a few years ago, you bet I jumped on the bandwagon (... stationary bike?) and took my first class.
There's no denying that spinning is an optimal way to stay in shape. Not only can you burn anywhere between 400 to 600 calories in a 45-minute class, but there are other incredible benefits, like the euphoria associated with this kind of intense exercise. The music and enthusiasm promote an environment where you can push yourself, and the (typically) dark room allows for a "judgment-free zone." Which is great -- if you have the bank account to afford a $34, 45-minute class.
I knew that when I signed my lease in New York City I was simultaneously signing up for a particularly high cost of living. But when a single spin class is more than half of many monthly gym memberships, it gets tough to rationalize.
If you're a recent graduate and newly established resident of New York City with a $45,000 salary before taxes (about the average for my alma mater), just 10 SoulCycle classes per year add up to over one percent of your annual income after taxes.
And hey, if that's what keeps you motivated and gets you up in the morning or if that's what gets you to lose the last five pounds you've been battling for years, all power to you. My problem isn't with the class itself or even the rates they charge -- it's with the merchandise.
SoulCycle recently released their fitness line and I'm fuming over it. It's one thing to spend $165 for less than four hours of working out. It's another to walk around the city in a $58 flashy tank top that is essentially shouting "I have enough money to not only afford my rent, but to also spend $45 per hour to work out" to the world.
Obviously, this phenomenon isn't anything new. It's a concept called conspicuous consumption -- which is defined as lavish spending thought to enhance social prestige -- and we encounter it every day. That Louis Vuitton luggage with the LV's splashed hundreds of times across the leather suitcase? The Bentley you see cruising up Park Avenue? The sweater-clad Maltese on a walk in Central Park? People aren't buying these for their functionality, they're buying them because it proves they have the money to afford it. And the SoulCycle gear is no exception.
When I express my distaste for the t-shirts, sweatshirts, leggings and even candles (...yup), I am bombarded with combative responses. There were two in particular that stood out: 1. "Don't knock it until you try it," and 2. "So... why are you wearing a Lululemon tank top?"
And so, I tried it. I signed up for a class (with an oh-so-generous $20 fee for my first ride) and made the most of every second in that sweaty, cult-like room. And I'll admit, the class was one of the best spinning experiences I've had. The instructor was intense yet encouraging (and didn't use calories as an incentive, which I appreciated), the room of participants were supportive and enthusiastic, and the studio itself was pristine. Yet I left without the desire to show everyone on the street where I had just spent my last 45 minutes -- in fact, I would have rather been invisible as to spare innocent pedestrians my flush complexion and sweat-stained shirt.
As for those with the Lululemon retort, I had a ready response. Recent scandals aside, when a customer purchases and wears an article of clothing from Lululemon, the only message they're sending is that they are (likely) an active person (or perhaps they just like wearing leggings to run their errands). These consumers could be running in the park, biking to work or participating in free work out classes -- it is not a financial declaration. I may have spent $48 on a tank top, but that one-time purchase is not indicative of my methods of exercise. There's a purpose behind the pricey, and quite frankly, ostentatious SoulCycle gear: to let you know that the person wearing it has enough expendable income to afford the SoulCycle lifestyle.
And so, for the foreseeable future, I'll continue taking my soul to the West Side Highway, where the exercise and endorphins are free for all.