One of my least favorite fitness-industry products to come out in recent years – and there are a lot of them, believe me – are those pairs of ugly, thick, round-soled shoes that promise a shapely booty to anyone who walks around in them enough. You know the shoes – the advertising for them is impossible to miss because it is in your face every time you open a magazine or turn on the TV or go to the mall to buy a new pair of jeans.
These heinous creations, which are of questionable efficacy at best and actively damaging at worst, are ubiquitous thanks to the endorsements of Joe Montana and Kim Kardashian.
But now Shape-Ups are no longer just another goofy little diet-and-fitness gimmick – at least, not since Sketchers chose to market themselves to little girls.
Other writers have addressed one of the major issues – which is that no seven-year-old girl needs to be worrying about the shapeliness of her butt (and I feel so gross for having written that out, you have no idea) – very ably, so I won’t continue on that. But I do want to talk about three other major issues I have with Shape-Ups in general and the way they are being pushed on third-graders specifically.
1. Shape-Ups are just another gimmick sold to people who want muscular, trim figures without doing the work. It sounds pretty ridiculous when you lay it out there like that, but unfortunately the ridiculousness of the idea doesn’t prevent thousands – if not millions – of people from buying into it. Think about all of the products and magazines and routines that promise flat abs or tight glutes in less than five minutes a day. Even my lady weight-lifting magazines do this. But this is the thing – those buffed-and-greased hardbodies showing you how to do a bicycle crunch? Yeah, they aren’t spending only five minutes a day on their abs.
Diets do much the same thing. I consider myself a pretty healthy eater – lots of fruits and vegetables and lean protein and all that – but I fucking hate diets. Not only are they damaging to the dieter’s health, but they promote this idea that weight loss is something that can be achieved after a week of eating nothing but cabbage soup or a 48-hour juice fast. They also put emphasis on weight loss in general, which is another thing that bothers me. A healthy diet – and I mean that in the scientific sense of the word, not the marketing sense – is one that gives people what they need to be energetic and free from illness.
What Sketchers is doing by pushing these ugly clodhoppers on little girls is indoctrinating them into this mindset before they even have a chance to be critical about it. (And unfortunately for many of them, they are probably already surrounded by adults who love diets and gimmicks, which means they’ll have an even harder time learning to resist.)
2. Shape-Ups are another step in the commercialization of health and fitness. I mean, can’t a girl just go play soccer? Or go jump rope? Whatever happened to climbing trees? Or skateboarding? Or playing at the community pool? I was not exactly the most athletic kid when I was younger – in fact I preferred to read than play sports – but I was active enough, and in ways that were affordable and didn’t require much more equipment than a ball or a pair of skates.
This is one of the things I love about running – you don’t need much besides a pair of shoes. And yes, some of those shoes can be quite pricey, but anyone who knows anything about shoes will tell you that you don’t need a pair of $130 Asics, that a $40 pair of Sauconys will work just fine. That is still quite a bit of money, I know, but think of it this way – a good pair of running shoes will last at least a year, and will help keep you healthy and out of the doctor’s office and the ER. (Also, there’s always ebay!)
What Sketchers is doing is essentially telling girls that they need to get specific shoes if they want to be active and healthy, and that those shoes need to be expensive and brand name. It’s not enough to run around the neighborhood in some inexpensive shoes from Payless. No, they’ve got to be special shoes. They are basically positioning themselves as the Fruity Pebbles of athletic gear.
3. Shape-Ups contribute to the idea that women and girls should not be too active. You can’t really do much in Shape-Ups without running the risk of injury. You can’t really run in them, or play basketball in them, or lift weights in them. About all you can do is walk. Walking is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also very, very passive. Most people are not breaking a sweat while walking unless they are doing so in Florida in July, is what I am saying. Most people are certainly not building muscle, unless they’ve strapped some weights to their ankles.
I am all about encouraging girls and women to embrace their physical power and their innate strength, but Shape-Ups do the exact opposite, by limiting their physical activity to one of the more sedentary forms of exercise possible.
If you, like me, have a problem with Sketchers Shape-Ups for Girls, then sign this petition to let them know. Normally I don’t go for online petitions, but Sketchers CEO unleashed an insulting little tirade at the originator of this particular one, which lets me know its having some kind of effect.