This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
Beloved readers, it is time for me to announce that I (Tanya) am in a cult. But it’s a good one, I think, or at least it is so far. I’ve been initiated into Peloton nation.
I don’t own a bike, but my friend who lives nearby (hi, Lisa) lets me use hers as much as I want because I look after her cat from time to time. I’m hooked, literally (I’m attached to the bike) and figuratively. My new obsession could be due to the fact this is my first foray into a fitness craze, or perhaps because the company has figured out a way to hold my attention in a way that’s not just about working out.
Many of us who are privileged enough to afford it invested in at-home workout programs during the pandemic. Even though Peloton was a laughingstock for much of 2019, by 2020, there was an absolute surge of people buying in as gyms closed.
For me, though, being a Peloton member is about more than pragmatism or convenience. I have become a full-blown convert. I’ve started to look forward to their classes, which is so unlike me.
Either something mystical and cultish is taking over my brain, or the company has created an experience more engaging and entertaining than any fitness company has before. In my opinion, it is the latter, and it has entirely to do with the instructors they’ve hired and the access we have to them on and off the bike.
Last week, Stephanie wrote about the spectacle and fun of being able to watch instructor Ally Love’s wedding in a way that felt ~intimate~, even though over 770,000 followers looked on. As Stephanie wrote so insightfully, Ally crafted her brand thoughtfully and strategically leading up to her wedding.
Perhaps what was more interesting than seeing how her wedding turned out was seeing which of the other Peloton instructors attended. Viewers got to flirt with fun, voyeuristic questions like: Who’s actually friends with whom? Who might secretly not get along? What type of relationships do the instructors have with each other off the app?
We will never know for certain, but that’s beyond the point. This is exactly like the titillating appeal of gazing at celebrities, reality TV stars, and influencers!!!! It’s like being in middle school and wondering which of your adult teachers actually liked each other and which ones didn’t.
The way the company has enabled its instructors to be personalities first instead of regimented and soulless fitness gurus is genius. I find myself gravitating toward certain instructors not because I know or care if they have perfect form (I met a squat for the first time during quarantine), but because they are so magnetic. The internet is well aware of Cody Rigsby, whose monologues during his rides about life and pop culture have gone viral on multiple social media platforms, but he’s not the only star. There are even entire social media feeds dedicated to special and funny one-liners from various instructors during their classes.
I personally love taking classes from Tunde Oyeneyin and Jess Sims, who deliver heartfelt mantras that fall somewhere between a therapy session and a sermon. They also offer personal anecdotes about their challenges and accomplishments while they’re riding and instructing us how to do a spider plank. It’s engrossing and makes me wonder how much of their real selves they’re showing. (And does it matter? It’s tantalizing nonetheless.)
The same way that the Bachelor franchise has become an almost foolproof stepping stone to becoming an influencer, Peloton has possibly become the first cultish fitness company to draw talent in for their personal branding before their fitness cred. This is not to say its instructors are not incredibly talented and don’t have impressive credentials. But at Peloton, it seems to be more important for an instructor to be relatable, likable, and aspirational to their students than the most talented fitness trainer.
That parasocial relationship is what is holding together and rapidly growing the influencer industry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the company continues to seek out charisma over traditional credentials in its instructors.
It will be interesting to watch how Peloton grows as its roster of instructors inevitably changes. Peloton might continue to push its most-followed instructors to the front while unintentionally leaving others to fall to the sidelines. Will the company expand to include other kinds of personalities and body types? Will we see its most lucrative instructors pursue other opportunities, like in traditional entertainment? It feels sad and exciting to think about the possibilities.
Call me duped or brainwashed, but the company has tapped into my compulsion to be a voyeur into pretty people’s lives and tricked me into enjoying working out along the way. I’m still open to being disappointed by Peloton, like many other trendy corporate companies. But for now, I catch myself saying Jess Sims-isms like “you can do hard things” to myself or really meditating on Cody Rigsby’s preachings about not settling for an ugly boyfriend (this is a joke), and not hating it.
And I hate so many things, including working out.
Until next time,