Health, Fitness, Neoliberalism and Niche Markets: Does Planet Fitness Deliver?
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In today’s neoliberal climate, a burgeoning health consciousness pervades American society. Health and fitness discourses are increasingly framed through neoliberal ideologies, contributing to the rise of “healthism”. This theory prescribes that health should be taken up as an individual responsibility and moral obligation. Healthism, coupled with societal pressure to adhere to certain cultural bodily ideals, propels individuals to take ownership of their health and well-being. More specifically, Americans are encouraged to strive towards cultivating a “healthy” body, which is a fit body, because the physical body has come to symbolize health and morality. With the phenomenal growth of the health and fitness industry, gyms have become an increasingly popular venues where individuals go to address their health and fitness needs. However, class status plays a critical role in Americans’ capacity to pursue health-promoting knowledge and resources. Structural barriers related to economic inequalities alienate individuals of low-socioeconomic status from mainstream health practices, including gym participation. The current project draws upon ethnographic fieldwork in a commercial gym in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Through a qualitative investigation of Planet Fitness, I seek to contribute to the empirical base of knowledge surrounding gyms, specifically, and health and fitness discourses, at large. Planet Fitness, a hugely successful gym franchise across the United States, has developed a unique brand that recognizes the various economic and social barriers that prevent and discourage gym participation. Findings reveal that by dramatically lowering the price of memberships, developing an inclusive environment, called the “Judgment Free Zone”, and offering the convenience of nearly 700 locations nationwide, Planet Fitness makes health and wellness more affordable and accessible for Americans.