By Aly Teich
I have to admit, my DVR list is most certainly not free of reality television indulgences. I tend to enjoy competition shows, and I have enjoyed one of the best social experiments of our time (in my opinion), The Bachelor, since I started watching it with my girlfriends in college. However, in general, I am not a huge fan of most reality television. While I appreciate the need to sometimes just shut your brain off and indulge in a little mindless Kardashian action, I cringed when I heard that Bravo — the network that has turned Housewives with too much time and money on their hands, into some of America’s most loved and hated women — was going to be making a show on NYC fitness: Work Out New York.
Considering Bravo’s track record of not exactly portraying the lives of the CHARACTERS (yes, characters) on their shows in the most accurate light, I was both fascinated and nervous about how they were going to portray the NYC fitness scene and several of the trainers that work in this town.
As predicted, the show has almost nothing to do the fitness industry in New York in any realistic way. (In fact, fitness seems to simply be a backdrop to the drama that has been created among the show’s characters.) Additionally, in no way does Work Out New York reflect what the life of a trainer is actually like, or show in any real way the aptitude or true value of the trainers in the cast. The show does not, in fact, even focus on the trainers as trainers, but instead as a dramatic cast of characters with an unrealistic load of interpersonal drama.
The “best” personal trainers — especially in New York City, which has become the Silicon Valley of wellness — are some of the hardest working people I know, especially when they are just starting out. Their schedules are insane, working late and waking up early. They are pushed mentally and physically, and they are spending their free time honing their craft and educating themselves, often doing a crazy balancing act of hustling to fill classes and client spots, teaching and training those classes and clients, working with brands, and doing additional events for whichever gym they are associated with. The life isn’t easy, the pay is modest, and the hustle is real.
It was a complete miss for Bravo to not highlight this, and this alone. What they created is something not only completely fabricated, but also a true bastardization of a truly incredible industry. The group of trainers on the show are portrayed as a tight-knit crew within the industry, when several of them had never even met prior to filming. In the show, they work together out of a co-working/training space where they train clients, which I don’t even know exists (as several of these trainers are actually instructors at other gyms, who wisely decided to disassociate from the show!). Even worse, the show created situations which made these trainers look straight-up unprofessional, to the point that, if it happened in real life, I would tell any client to ask for their money back and run away. Tip: Your trainer should never be gossiping with other trainers WHILE training clients!!!
But hey, that’s reality TV, right? So why am I even bothering with this conversation? For me, and I know for many other professionals in the health and fitness industry, the seemingly thin line between health and entertainment is getting more and more blurred these days — and that is just dangerous, literally and figuratively. Fitness is just as important to people’s health as medicine (if not more so in many cases), and turning it into entertainment and so inaccurately portraying the space and its professionals is confusing. It can lead people to make unsafe or uninformed decisions when it comes to their health, and blur what they should expect from health professionals.
We are already saturated with Instagram and YouTube stars who have somehow become “experts” in health and fitness purely based on their social and digital following. Many of these so-called experts actually have no idea what they are talking about, and aren’t even healthy themselves — but because they have a certain following or are on television, people listen to them. And since health and fitness is the new trendy space, so many of these influencers are abusing the power of their following, and offering up advice that they have no right or education to give.
What’s worse — health brands are willing to put their dollars behind these people. I understand that in the influencer-driven age we are living in, it is a smart marketing tool to capitalize on influencers with an engaged audience to push your brand. However, if you are a health brand paying non-health experts to give health advice, create nutrition plans and workouts, and even teach classes at your events, you are quite literally putting your own consumer in danger, when you are supposed to be in the business of helping them get healthier.
Now, I know this all may seem a bit hypocritical coming from someone who is, herself, an influencer in the health space and offers up her fair share of health and fitness advice. However, if you pay attention, and those who work with me can attest to this, I never give advice I do not feel I am qualified (literally or morally) to give. I have been asked to create workouts, to teach classes, to put together meal plans, and more — and I always have a similar answer — I am not a trainer nor am I a nutritionist, but I work with some great ones and am happy to make the introduction. I am an expert only from the standpoint of media- and life-experience. I can speak to trends and news in this space on an expert level, as this is what I spend all my time doing and studying. The life advice I offer is most often based on personal experience. Furthermore, I am a curator for the experts of this space, and could not love that position more. I get to share the methods and voices of some of the most talented people I know (and some who I don’t know as well), and am beyond proud to do so.
I know I motivate a lot of people to get healthy as I lead a healthy lifestyle myself, and try my best to lead by example. I have been an athlete my entire life, and my father is one of the most brilliant doctors I know, in addition to my brother who is a miracle worker on the alternative end of health. I also started The Sweat Life when my mother was battling ovarian cancer, and I became frustrated with the conversation that was being had in media about health and wanted to be a part of changing it. So I can say with confidence that not only has health been a lifelong passion of mine, but the reasons I am here are true, real, authentic, and if they were driven by the goal of getting rich (which I really hope happens and will take you all out on my huge yacht once it does), I would be living in a much bigger apartment (to say the least!).
In the end, I get it: Money makes the world go round, businesses need to be run (including mine), and entertainment has value for all of us (and I hope to be entertaining all of you on a regular basis). This is just the reality (or lack thereof) we live in. However, I think this conversation is beyond worthy for two reasons. First: It is now up to you, the reader and consumer, to educate yourself on whom you choose to listen to and follow when it comes to your health (and anything really). Second: It is up to the media, influencers, and brands to take responsibility for the power of our platforms, and do the best to keep our readers and consumers healthy and safe.
Aly Teich is Founder and Host of The Sweat Life.
Aly is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She left Manhattan for Madison, Wisconsin to become a proud Badger for four years, and since then has lived on both coasts, traveled around the world…twice, and found herself right back here in The Big Apple.
Aly has always been an active kid, and now grownup (although she still acts like a kid.) She danced her way through the School of American Ballet until her teens, competed on horseback at a pre-Olympic level, lettered in three varsity high school sports, and completed three marathons and numerous triathlons. She’s also an avid skier, golfer, aspiring surfer, and can do a mean belly flop.
Following a ten-year career in television and media — including the Late Show with David Letterman, CBS Television, Tribeca Film, and Conde Nast — Aly switched her focus to health and wellness five years ago when her mother was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. Trading in her Late Show with Letterman badge for Nikes, Aly made it her goal to help people live healthier lives. In the fall of 2013, she decided to bring all of her experience and passion to one place, The Sweat Life.