Come to Vanderbilt and you’re bound to see it. So much of it, in fact, that our university is known for this green, leafy, swirling wonder. No, not the trees–money. Vanderbilt is rich with it. You can find it in tuition rates, the price of a meal plan, the dues in Greek life and the exorbitant amounts donated by alumni. Of course, Vanderbilt is need-blind and incredibly generous with aid for the students whose finances demand it most. However, as the success of the newly-established Experience Vanderbilt suggests, financial aid is a necessary, but certainly not a sufficient, requirement to participate in all Vanderbilt has to offer. For these students, campus life can be frustrating–despite being surrounded by money and a desire for inclusion, they find difficulty accessing either one.
Imperfect as it may be, money is the prerequisite for participation at Vanderbilt and many other green, leafy wondrous places you may go in the future. Access to money warrants access to food, shelter, and basic necessities – it’s the way of the world. It is not in this money/survival exchange that I take issue. The flaw, to me, comes when money becomes seemingly necessary for goods or activities that have no inherent need for payment, both at Vanderbilt and, for the purposes of this article, the fitness sphere.
For those who are starting a workout regimen for the first time, the journey is filled with roadblocks, including time management, lack of motivation, and the real hurdle: pain. However, another surprising roadblock is growing, and has exceptional impact on our collegiate demographic: money.
If you personally cannot relate, just imagine: you want to try working out, an activity you have only experienced in high school gym (where your experience was likely quite negative). You go to the Rec and your clothes feel hot and heavy while everyone else is breezing by in Dri-FIT, sweat-wicking shirts, shorts: everything. Now, you think you need a new wardrobe, which might also include new bras. Much to the surprise of your blistering feet, you discover you need new socks. With even more surprise, your still-blistered feet announce you need good running shoes, too.
When summer break arrives, free access to the Rec disappears and you think you need to find a gym. Anything affordable is miniscule and sparse. Inevitably, the people you know workout too. They invite you to come to spin/hot yoga/boxing/crossfit/etc. classes, but your wallet says you cannot. You feel like you’re missing out, and your friends sadly confirm that notion, claiming, “You just can’t get the same workout on your own.”
In the best case scenario, this investment immediately gives you the body/abilities you desire. However, as per my previous articles, bodies do not mold on a whim, and they are not meant to. To get results, the investment is not only large, but long term. For many beginners, an unchanging body is the biggest roadblock of all. What was once an investment seems like throwing money down the drain. What frugal person would continue the cycle?
Unfortunately for those who do not have much to spend but want to join the fitness sphere, fitness has become a huge trend, especially in urban areas with a large population of young people (i.e., Nashville). As I write this, I acknowledge that I am a part of the trend. Lululemon, Orangetheory, and CHAARG are all taking my money, and it’s easy to see why. Designer workout gear is just that – designed to make you look good while working out (or doing much of anything, hence “athleisure”). Expensive studios have the best facilities, equipment and trainers to do all the motivation for you. Looking good, feeling even better, and best of all, being able to document the whole aesthetically-pleasing ensemble on Instagram–what kind of trend like that wouldn’t become popular?
To me, the problem only materializes when the trend exists without the message of body positivity. Feeling confident in Lulu is completely different from only feeling confident in Lulu, just as finding a trainer motivating is completely different from only finding your motivation in a trainer. The drive and love for your body that brings you back to the gym can be adorned with any number of materialistic bells and whistles, but should not be contingent on them. This drive should be so independent of money, in fact, that you could find just as much confidence working out in your basement in a tee shirt. Yes, finding this inner confidence is challenging, but isn’t that the ultimate goal of working out? To feel comfortable and worthy in your own skin, despite what you once viewed as flaws? With this mindset, I hope we can each play our part in breaking the money/fitness bind and in doing so, empower ourselves and anyone who doesn’t have much money to spend.