The line for the chipotle chicken bowl at Bruin Plate seems to wrap around the building. The Bruin Fitness Center and John Wooden Center only get busier by the hour.
As we shift into week three, newcomers to UCLA may already be getting a feel for the culture here on campus – the fitness culture, that is.
At the core of this so-called fitness culture is a push to be more active, which often goes hand in hand with the demand for a more health-conscious diet. It is a culture in which “gymming” becomes an acceptable verb, salads become a religion and everyone wears Lululemon leggings.
It is important to acknowledge that this fitness culture is not exclusive to Los Angeles. Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute found that California was among eight states, including Colorado and Arizona, with a higher number of residents that met 2008 exercise amount guidelines.
As a whole, the increased frequency and severity of fitness has become a norm in the United States. Heather Havrilesky, a columnist for New York Magazine, comments in a 2014 article on the increased fascination that Americans have with extreme fitness, characterized by a “more is better” mentality.
Despite the general increase in a fascination with fitness culture over the past years in the United States, the fitness culture in Los Angeles may actually be rooted in early Hollywood. Since Hollywood emerged in the early 1900s, many have attempted to achieve the cut and chiseled bodies of their favorite stars. Such ambitions are especially common in Los Angeles because of the city’s geographical proximity to Hollywood.
Paddy Calistro, who was a writer for the Los Angeles Times Magazine’s Looks column, published an article in 1988 referencing the “LA body.” She describes it as a Southern Californian obsession that fascinates nonresidents and the marketing industry, which still holds true today. How many times have you seen pictures of Bella Thorne leaving SoulCycle in Brentwood or read whole magazine articles raving about the Snapchats of Kim Kardashian’s gym workout?
“LA culture is centered around media and aesthetics. Hollywood has fashioned a society that is used to being judged within a couple seconds,” said Alia Hakki, a second-year English and political science student. “People have an acute awareness of their image; fitness is a way to control that image, and has even become an image in itself with brands like SoulCycle and CorePower Yoga.”
The premium on appearance and struggle for the ideal body have not faded with time. Rather, these fixations have become even more embedded and pervasive. The Otis College of Art and Design found there were twice the number of people employed in California’s creative industries – including entertainment, fashion and publishing – than in the computer and electronic manufacturing sector, or the state’s hospitals. These numbers suggest Californians’ focus on appearance is no longer just a personal matter of choice, but a pervasive trend in people’s choices of livelihood.
Los Angeles’ relatively high $64,500 median household income has allowed fitness culture to become such a priority, especially in more affluent areas. Charlotta Mellander, professor of economics at the Joenkoeping International Business School, found that states with higher incomes tend to exercise more. Restaurants catering to clean diets and trendy studio fitness classes are ubiquitous in Los Angeles’ trendy neighborhoods, such as in Westwood, on Melrose Avenue and on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The high density of these services only make the fitness culture more accessible and sustainable to Los Angeles’ residents.
However, not everyone is able to equally participate in this fitness culture and enjoy its benefits. Fitness culture is not always financially accessible.
No one is complaining about the relative increase in corporate dollars or the increase in consumer services, but Los Angeles does shut marginalized and working-class groups out of its fitness culture. Expensive monthly memberships, $20 salads and hourlong studio classes are a luxury not everyone can afford, although Los Angeles seems to expect it to be.
The question then becomes should we, as participants or bystanders, support Los Angeles’ fitness culture?
“I feel like the entertainment industry that runs in LA does place emphasis on physical appearance,” said Rohan Kumar, a second-year cognitive science student. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It puts pressure on people to live healthier.”
And he’s right – California is in fact ranked as the third-healthiest state in the United States. It seems counterintuitive to argue that the presence of a healthier population, with its lower mortality and obesity rates, can bring a negative impact to the surrounding communities. Yet, in Los Angeles, this argument can exist as participation in this fitness culture has increasingly become an unhealthy obsession than a supplemental way of life. Participants in this fitness culture must carry the responsibility of moderation in their fascination with the “LA body” to reap the positive physical benefits that come with a fitness culture.