So I’ve just started doing group fitness classes at Les Mills. Well, it’s not a fitness class, it’s more like having an evangelical transformation experience in a nightclub.You’re elevating yourself to a higher plane through delicious pain.
We’ve even got God-like figures, the instructors, who zip about glowing faintly with fake tan and enthusiasm. They really are God-like in that people worship them. People gaze longingly at them, hoping that they will be noticed and thrown a verbal biscuit of praise. I know this because I’ve been there, basking in the light of their sheer physical power and shiny teeth.
It was during one of these sessions that I realised that these instructors are the highest form of sex god. We all want to be - or to get with - a personal trainer (PT) or gym instructor. And it’s not just the people in my class, it’s my whole generation. PTs are my generation’s rock stars. In the 80s, we would have want to get with a heroin chic rocker. Now we want a shiny toothed PT.
In the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s the most idolised, desirable icons were drug-addled musos like Keith Richards, Slash and Kurt Cobain. Having a good night meant going out to an illegal warehouse party, getting high and waking up in a skip at 9am handcuffed and covered in marmite with no memory of how you got there.
Now, our sex gods are Ashy Bines, The Rock, and Joe Naufahu. They’re all hard-working and healthy, with scarily defined shoulder muscles. Our biggest rap stars are people like Drake, who likes good girls who stay home in the zone, yo.
Even our bad boys are just nice boys going through a bad phase. Justin Bieber at his nastiest is just a chihuahua that likes to bite weak targets. Our version of a good night is a killer group workout, followed by a yoga session with wheatgrass shots all round.
Everyone I’ve told this theory to agreed, but the older they were the more disgusted they were by it. “Your generation’s like watered down milk,” said one 32-year-old, “I’m so glad I wasn’t born into it.”
Conversely, when I asked people my age if Kurt Cobain was attractive they said things like, “Ugh, heroin chic, how sad and gross.” We don’t care that Baby Boomers and Gen X are sneering at us, we like our gods healthy and hot.
I understand why older generations don’t like our fitness gods. They see them as boring, self-involved and vain. But you know what, I’m not at all sad that we’ve lost the tortured artist idol.
It’s not just that it’s an unhealthy image. Being drug-ravaged, drunk and self-destructive is obviously not good for yourself, nor for people who love you. I’d rather we idolised PTs, who may be more pretty than gritty but at least they’re going to live past 30.
It is more that anyone who tries to be a struggling creative spends more time trying to look like they’re struggling rather than actually being creative. It’s therefore very ironic to accuse PTs of being vain, when the wannabe Byrons are just as obsessed with their aesthetic.
It’s also ironic to call the tortured artists creative. Every destructive artist type I’ve met doesn’t get anything done. Oh, the really good ones do. The ones who had enough talent outstrip any destructive lifestyle.
But most ‘artistes’ you meet never actually make anything. They’re working on a novel that never has more than title. I guess being permanently hungover, on a come-down and malnourished doesn’t exactly help rigorous working methods.
Caitlin Moran put it very well when she said, “I stopped being a skunk addict in my late 20s and with six months had tripled my creative output.” This tortured artist dream often just justified doing nothing - as long as you looked edgy doing it.
PTs may be less a creative role model, but their bodies are living proof that they get shit done. They are often people who used to hate how they look and so they changed it.
They are a symbol, probably unconsciously, of self-determination. And when we idolise these people, we too have to get shit done. Beautiful bodies don’t appear, you have to sweat and cry for them. So by aspiring to be fit, at least we’re teaching ourselves self-discipline along the way.
Yes, it’s less subversive to be fit and wholesome - but it’s much, much harder than looking artfully wasted. And I’ve always liked a challenge.