They did it for the ’gram.
More than a few of us have gone out of our way to craft the perfect selfie. Even in the fitness business, studio owners have learned that if they want to slay the competition, they need an environment that’s aesthetically pleasing enough to rack up likes on Instagram. In a world of “pic or it didn’t happen,” workouts have become a source of pride and bravado on social media.
“People will go to a studio just to take a shot,” says Mark Partin, founder of B/SPOKE Indoor Cycling Studios in Boston and Wellesley. “It becomes a badge of honor. ‘Hey I was here.’”
When Partin set out to design his first Boston studio in the Financial District, he went with a “hotel chic” aesthetic, while his Wellesley studio embraced a more suburban, laid-back spa vibe.
But to design B/SPOKE’s Cape House, a pop-up studio, Partin went straight to a residential interior designer to convey the feeling of a surf lodge in Montauk. They tapped into one of Instagram’s favorite backgrounds — the banana leaf print, made famous by everything from the Beverly Hills Hotel to Golden Girl Blanche Devereaux’s bedroom. They placed a neon pink sign — another Instagram favorite — on the wall reading “Cape House” in casual, cursive writing. These “feature walls,” which serve as Instagram backgrounds for class attendees to take selfies, are must-haves for new studios hoping to compete in a competitive market driven by social media.
When Cassandra Foster, owner of Mission Hill Yoga, wanted to decorate her new studio, she went straight to Instagram to search for artists. Now, the entrance is emblazoned by a colorful mural by the artist Sneha Shrestha, known as Imagine, that meshes Sanskrit scriptures with graffiti influences. Shrestha’s handle, @imagine876, is included on the mural too, allowing everyone who walks by to find her work on Instagram.
“Everybody has a wall. That’s kind of like, a thing,” says Sarah Dussault, fitness blogger and the creator of Sarahfit.com. “A wall and natural light are the two key components. And the people that don’t have natural light aren’t gonna get good pictures, and people aren’t gonna post them because they’re not gonna match their aesthetic.”
This chronic posting on Instagram has become a form of free advertising for studios. Partin calls it a “no-brainer.”
“You’re basically leveraging other people’s social media circles to promote and market the brand indirectly for you,” he says. “It’s free marketing, in a way.”
Sadie Kurzban, 29, started ((305)) Fitness after winning $25,000 in a business plan competition in her senior year at Brown University. With brick-and-mortar studios in New York and D.C. and a successful pop-up in Los Angeles, Kurzban just opened ((305)) Fitness’s new studio in Kenmore Square. The new studio is a feast for the eyes, and as a result, for Instagram, too.
Clients are greeted by a colorful front desk board by artist Raul Bussot done in Memphis style, the 1980’s Italian design trend most people associate with the TV show “Saved by the Bell.” (Think loud colors and lots of squiggles.) A neon pink sign on the wall above features ((305))’s trademarked phrase, “make sweat sexy.” In the shower room, a mirror mosaic wall with blue backlit LED lighting shines on the repeated phrases “This body is bitchin’” and “I like you better naked.”
In the bathrooms, bright banana leaf print wallpaper (there’s Instagram’s chosen leaf print again!) is complemented by Millennial pink, and neon pink signs. Each class, a challenging cardio dance workout, features a live DJ, enhanced by a rhythmic light show. And of course, there are signs reading, “Selfie or it didn’t happen. Tag us @305Fitness #305BOSTON.”
But with the constant need to post our personal highlight reels on social media comes a darker element. “Fitspiration,” or “fitspo,” is the Instagram hashtag for content meant to inspire a healthy lifestyle. Search the term and you’ll find 60.7 million results -- everything from gym selfies and protein shake ads to transformation photos and workout tips. Many are inspirational blurbs consciously placed under attractive photos of chiseled bodies belonging to “influencers” -- people with large followings who can influence the choices of their followers -- often to buy things they’re compensated to promote.
“I think the amount of influencers that are trying to make a living off of posting these pictures can sometimes send the wrong message,” says Dussault. “They’re making it over-sexualized, triggering unhealthy behaviors. There are a few select influencers that give it a bad name. And of course, Instagram has a made a lot of these wholesome things into the ‘hey look at me,’ self-obsessed Millennial thing.”
Kurzban says it’s a complicated juxtaposition as both a Millennial who uses social media and a business owner who needs to promote her brand.
“I have mixed feelings about how social media related to fitness can both hurt our social values and our culture but enhance the business,” says Kurzban. “I think the pressure that young people feel related to social media can be very toxic. When we see a lot of people showing off things on social media, whether that’s an incredible dinner, or engagement ring, or their workout, all of that can feel very confusing,” says Kurzban.
The key, she says, is to keep in mind that the images we see on social media are not an accurate depiction of one’s reality.
“I think any smart Millennial knows that what we’re seeing on Instagram is a curated, projected, and well presented, well-thought out version of someones life,” says Kurzban. “Of course I want people posting on social media, but I want to make sure the messaging never shames, embarrasses, or makes anyone feel guilty, and really just celebrates what we’re doing here.”