The decision to boycott is a complicated one: There will be plenty of collateral damage before Ross’s very thick wallet takes a hit. This, after all, is the tycoon who is one of the primary developers of the entire Hudson Yards on New York’s West Side — a place that houses an assortment of fashion boutiques as well as a SoulCycle studio and the first Equinox-branded hotel. The route to Ross goes through employees and other executives who have nothing to do with his fundraiser and have declared their disdain for it. Equinox and SoulCycle issued statements noting that they “have nothing to do with the event and do not support it.” In addition, “Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business.”
And yet, how else do Trump opponents make their displeasure felt?
The branding contradictions between these fitness companies and Ross-the-Trump-supporter are legion. SoulCycle markets its studios as especially welcoming to LGBTQ clients while the Trump administration is busy rolling back protections for that community. SoulCycle is a beacon for women while the president has spoken openly of degrading them. Equinox advocates fitness; Trump considers exercise a fruitless depletion of energy. Ross has said in a statement that he’s known Trump for 40 years and that “while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions.”
But to be clear: These fitness companies are not merely selling exercise. They have racks of overpriced leggings and cafes stocked with revitalizing smoothies, too, but their fundamental product is the same one that Seventh Avenue sells: an idealized version of you.
It’s hard to boycott that.
The dilemma over what to do is a more intimate angst than that churned up when Uber and Chick-fil-A were caught in the crosshairs of our cultural and social wrath. The choice is more complicated than simply being confronted with a Trump-branded product and turning away. There’s little of the twisted glee that might come from declaring a boycott on the Hudson Yards — that glittery, sterile mall in the sky.
These fitness temples are different from the corner gym where workouts are just sweating and grunting. They stand apart from weight-loss programs that focus on counting calories. These spaces are like the fitting rooms at fancy boutiques — the rooms with the skinny mirrors or the warm lighting or the reassuring salespeople. This sweet-talking may seem superficial. It certainly begins that way. But ultimately, it touches something below the surface, which is why so many end up buying the outfit, the membership, the class. They make you feel good about yourself. And that feeling can sometimes be hard to come by.
These modern fitness companies have created an environment in which the workout floor is not a generic space stocked with yoga mats and treadmills; it’s a place of self-creation. The promise of these studios, with their posters of evocatively sweaty bodies, flickering candles and energizing music is that with dedication and loyalty you will become better. Yes, perhaps that means thinner, which has long been the reason people have flocked to gyms. But today the pursuit of thinness is wrapped in a mantra about striving for strength, calm and confidence. You seek wellness, not a six-pack of abs.
SoulCycle has been especially skilled at this new language, at this evolution of intent. Its message is that beauty is bespoke. Made-to-measure. Uniquely you. The instructors are part coach and part preacher; they exhort clients not just to do better in class but to be better in life. The gym becomes a place that’s focused on empowerment above all else.
And at the end of a sweat-drenched class, having all that power feels good.
But as the story of Ross and his fundraiser has unfurled, for many people, it’s as if all that sweet power is slipping away. The false certainty that, if only for 45 minutes, everything was just as it should be in their world, is suddenly upended. Blown apart.
Everything is not as they hoped. Instead, everything is just as they suspected: The power is not in their hands. That’s the essence of the emotional upheaval. The puncturing of that beautiful magic is not the source of all of the upset because everyone is different and everyone has their individual challenges; but today, in 2019, it’s enough.