By Joseph Orosco
I was walking to class today–an abnormally warm, sunny day for Oregon in October–and I was struck that almost every student I passed looked like they were dressed for going the gym. The fashion on campus these days seems to be some version of yoga pants/leggings and tank tops for women, and tank top-athletic shorts for men.
Later in the day, I came across this status update from the site Anarchist Memes on Facebook:
“I would just like to take the time to remind people that beauty standards are based on the image of the class that’s in power. When only upper class people could eat enough to gain wait and not have to work outside all day that was what was considered beautiful. Now that healthy foods and exercise equipment are more expensive the beauty standards have changed to reflect that.”
I think there is something to this!
In the past couple of years, the sales of athletic clothing for men and women has skyrocketed. This is not just old t-shirts and sweatpants. New materials and fabrics have allowed big time designers to develop their own active wear lines, and certain brands of yoga pants, like lululemon, have become fashionable outside of yoga. The popularity of fitness classes such as Barre, Pilates, or Crossfit has also erupted into active wear fashion particularly around aficionados of those exercise forms.
But people are not buying this gear in a utilitarian way to participate in those classes–they are wearing them in everyday settings. Indeed, its not clear that people are even exercising more to explain the rise of sales in the gear. They have simply come to be fashion symbols associated with appearing healthy, active, practical, and on the go.
Yet, as the status update remarks, we ought to be aware that these are images inflected by class status, representing a certain class status, or (more likely) an aspiration to certain class status, in much the same way that shopping at Whole Foods, or consuming organic food in general, has become a luxury in our society and taken by some to be a sign of a socially conscious person. What are we to make a society that appropriates health as a commodity?