The Monolith of the LBD
The Little Black Dress has been present in popcultural iconography for decades, from Coco Chanel, Breakfast and Tiffany’s, all the way to Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, it seems since the dawn of the fashion industry both historical and fictional icons of white femininity have popularized the trope.
Gyms all across the country advertise 30 Day Little Black Dress Challenges targeted towards women with the idea that after a brief stent of exercise, often paired with a restrictive nutritional plan, will render them thinner, sexier, and thus worthy of an LBD of their own.
According to Leah Provo in her work “The Little Black Dress: The Essence of Femininity” she states that “A dress is interpreted as a garment of femininity and sensuality. When we envision a dress, usually on a woman, we picture her enveloped with lush fabric, draping next to the body for the entire length of her curvy goddess-like figure (pp. 17). “
Throughout it’s evolution, elements of the LBD have come to represent various things from Coco Chanel’s difficult growing up her her life long relationship to mourning, financial elitism to afford a garment made from expensive dyes, to erotic sexuality.
It is not my belief that these things are bad or harmful unto themselves but my argument is that when we sell gym goers on a Little Black Dress challenge that we divorce ourselves from acknowledging a fashion statement with a complex and interesting history to sell to the idea that the consumer, in this case the gym goer, is not yet worthy of feeling elegant, sexual, powerful, or attractive.
Divorced from a gym setting, the LBD is fascinating and certainly an interesting point of history, fashion, and global social dynamics surrounding women with a thread of women’s empowerment running through it at times.
Within a gym setting however, the focus on how individuals look in clothing already often overwhelms the ability of the gym goer to the point of preventing them from going to the gym out of fear or embarrassment over how they look. Furthermore, the idea that physical endeavors are there to make us smaller and less of ourselves rather than simply making us stronger, more capable, and thus more of ourselves is a potentially caustic narrative and one that coaches and gyms should be cautious about enforcing.
Furthermore, in a world where obese, aging and elderly individuals, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people struggle to see themselves represented and face undue barriers to health and physical fitness LBD challenges simply add one more layer of non-belonging for these populations within gym environments.
In the words of Joseph Mucicci’s “Living in a culture that is heterocentrist, if not overtly homophobic, in which youth, attractiveness, and physical fitness are perhaps even more idealized than in the 1980s, aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) persons continue to be invisible and marginalized (2006).”
In the same vein, advertising narratives that focus on young, thin, white stereotypes gate keep a diverse array of people from benefiting from physical fitness endeavors. This is tragic because research indicates that physical activity interventions have the potential to improve mental and emotional well being while reducing all cause mortality even in the absence of weight-loss.
I’m not here to write a Masters Thesis on the LBD and gym culture, but I am here simply to caution gym owners and trainers from creating programs that do more harm than good. It is essential that as fitness professionals we examine the ramifications of our intervention efforts to ensure we are helping and not hurting.
Unbreakable Strength Co. aims to create an environment where all individuals can feel embraced as they are while being encouraged to develop themselves to become all they can be through strength, weight loss or no-weight loss. We believe what you can accomplish and how you feel are more important than how you look or what you weigh and that will never change.
For more reading on some of these topics you can visit the links below: