Every Wednesday morning of last semester I would walk down South University Avenue from my apartment to my sociology lecture in West Quad. As the days got colder and cloudier, I found comfort in a warmer future from the bright yellow that had overtaken one of the glass storefronts on South U. “SOULCYCLE – Your second favorite shade of yellow. See you soon, Ann Arbor.” was imprinted on the yellow backdrop. I did some research on the new fitness studio to see exactly what the hype was. From the videos I watched on YouTube, I observed that SoulCycle is a boutique fitness studio that creates a workout environment I would describe as similar to that of a Delta Tau Delta frat party: music raging, lights dimmed and sweat everywhere.
The first few times I passed the soon-to-be SoulCycle studio, I was excited – I thought it might be a fun outing for me and my girlfriends. Eventually this excitement wore off and was replaced by confusion.
In my sociology lecture, we discussed socioeconomic disparities. I began to associate what we were learning about the gaps between socioeconomic status and opportunity with the campus population, and I realized how absurd it was to have another boutique fitness studio pop up on campus. At SoulCycle’s new studio in Ann Arbor, a single class is $26. That could be spent on groceries, rent or more importantly, student debt. Paying that much for a fitness class is just not a realistic option for many students.
Sure, there are out-of-state students at the University of Michigan getting their $51,200 tuition paid by daddy’s money, but there are also students paying for their own tuition or receiving scholarship money. There is a lack of access to opportunities on campus for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, and fitness and healthy food are just a few examples.
The affordability of fitness has become a problem across the nation with the boom of boutique fitness studios and increased gym membership prices. When I went home for winter break I noticed that an Orangetheory and a Pure Barre, two popular boutique fitness studios, were now in the downtown strip mall right next to China Buffet and Kroger. I am from Grand Blanc, Mich., a town right outside of Flint, and I never would have expected those types of franchises to come to my town. However, franchise fitness studios like Orangetheory, Pure Barre and SoulCycle have become the new norm, especially for millennials.
For many in their mid-20s, it is not so much about the act of getting in the day’s workout as it is being a part of the experience. SoulCycle and other popular fitness studios use platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to promote an experience that drives people to pay $26 or more for a 45-minute class. Many of the SoulCycle instructors are social media influencers with thousands of followers. The instructors also represent the brand by wearing clothing with the SoulCycle logo on it that can be purchased in studios or online. So, if you happen to have any money left in your bank account after you get done with cycling class, you can purchase a pair of their Ultracor Exclusive Python Skull Leggings for $198.
Studios like this exert a pressure on people who can’t afford to experience fitness like their peers can. Can the majority of college students really pay for this type of fitness?
No, most students can’t. I am guilty of succumbing to the millennial workout routines. During my freshman year on campus, I found myself going to a yoga class at the Tiny Buddha studio almost weekly. It was a nice break away from my studies and helped me to destress, but it also left a dent in my bank account I had to refill with a job that following summer.
Access to affordable healthy food is another major issue on campus and I didn’t recognize the shortage until I moved out of the dorms and started to cook for myself my junior year. There would be times between class I didn’t have time to stop home and would be looking for a quick, healthy, cheap lunch, but would usually end up choosing between an overpriced salad or a slice from South U Pizza. The new food options appearing on campus are tailored toward students that can drop $12 on a green smoothie.
It can be overwhelming when everyone at the gym is wearing Lululemon or students at the dining hall are talking about the workout class they just got back from. It is becoming increasingly expensive to keep up with the social demands of working out and eating healthy in Ann Arbor. The new boutique fitness studios and organic juice stores plopped right in the middle of campus are contributing to the price of fitting in and living healthy at U-M.
Emily Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.