“Peloton is offering three months free,” a friend told me in early 2020, “you should try it.”
“I don’t do cults,” I responded. Like many people, the only things I knew about Peloton were that it involved an expensive stationary bike, had produced that commercial, and had a rabid following. Having a complicated past with diet and exercise culture, I was skeptical.
“Trust me,” my friend said, “it’s not what you think it is.”
But I was pretty sure it would be exactly what I thought: a bunch of really hot people tricking me into buying an impossibly expensive bike, while simultaneously telling me that my body would never be good enough. That I was too fat or too weak or if I really wanted abs, I would commit to eating baked chicken breasts for every meal for the rest of my life. It would perpetuate the endless body-hating cycle I’ve been stuck in since puberty.
I mulled it all over for a few minutes before downloading the app. I am a sucker for free things, after all. I promised myself I would give it a shot, but as soon as my free trial ended, I would be outta there.
Within minutes, I was scrolling endlessly on the app, overwhelmed by the workout options: yoga, HIIT cardio, strength, meditation, running. I didn’t need to buy the bike to taste the wonders of Peloton. Where would I begin?
As though I’d been overcome by a mystical force, I reached out to my sister, and she agreed to join me virtually for a live strength class the next day. “We’ll probably hate it,” we agreed.
Reader, we loved it. In class, we were greeted by Robin Arzón, the strongest person I’d ever seen. 90s R&B was blasting. The vibes were right. The workout was hard, but something about it was different. It was peppered with encouragement, affirmations, and love—not the yelling, body-shaming, and put-downs that I’d grown to expect from mainstream fitness. I closed my laptop, feeling an unfamiliar mixture of strength, energy, and confidence.
Hm, I thought, must be a fluke.
To get to the bottom of this strange, physio-emotional sensation, I decided I needed a bigger sample size to really prove that Peloton was, in fact, a cult that feeds on negativity. So, I did what any normal person would do and began taking a mixture of cardio, strength, yoga, and running classes every day for a week.
“By the end of the week,” I said, “I’ll find the flaws and swear it off forever.”
But that week passed. Nothing damning turned up. No mention of diet culture. No talk of “bikini bodies.” Instead, there was all this chatter about “strength,” and “listening to your body,” and “resting.” It was infuriating. Cults don’t generally encourage healthy behavior. What the hell was happening?
That night, I was scrolling on my phone when I decided to visit the Peloton merch store. Of course it’s a cult, I thought. They want their members to buy clothes to match one another. My thumb took over and put some leggings in my cart. A few days and $100 later, my initiating round of Peloton merch arrived at my door, beckoning me forth. It was… surprisingly comfy and high-quality. This made me curious: is it a cult if the matching outfits are actually cute, comfortable, and functional, as opposed to oversized, ugly, and unflattering? All my assumptions about Peloton being a dark cult were being challenged.
Then, it dawned on me. Undoubtedly, I thought to myself, the whole scheme is to get you to buy the bike, take a cycling class, and that is where you learn the dark truth. So I exhibited completely normal behavior and rigged my road bike to be stationary. I was certain that on my bike I would see, once and for all, why the millions of Peloton members were misguided, blindly following these instructors to their mutual doom. Instead, what I experienced was the ever-chipper Cody Rigsby coaching me through “…Baby One More Time,” reminding the class that “When Britney comes on, we fuck shit up.” And that shit fucked me up. Why didn’t he yell at me? Call me ugly and worthless? Everyone knows that cult leaders tear their subjects down—they don’t actively build them up!
Wondering if perhaps Peloton’s alleged positive ethos was clouding my judgment, I decided to enlist my college friends. During our weekly Zoom, I pitched Peloton to them. I implored them to download the app and report back. I told them that, though I had begun this journey wholly believing that Peloton was a cult, I was starting to doubt my intuition. If I, the most skeptical of skeptics, was enjoying this fitness program, then it couldn’t be a cult, right? RIGHT? I needed one of my five
new recruits pals to come back with a definitive answer.
The next week, another friend was giving away an old stationary bike, and I jumped on the opportunity, because, as mentioned, I love free stuff. And okay, fine. I’ll admit, I was becoming mildly addicted to the positive feelings I’d been experiencing. I found myself feeling strong and confident. I’d stopped looking in the mirror and seeing my flaws. And this bike would allow me to build on that progress. Not that it really mattered because my free trial was ending shortly, and no way in hell was I going to pay for Peloton.
Like clockwork, I received a notification asking if I would like to add a credit card to my account to keep working out with Peloton. I was so close to cracking the code, finding out what it was that made Peloton pernicious. So obviously I gave them my credit card.
When I reconvened with my college friends, I was ready for them to tell me to knock it off. To shake me and say, “Courtney, you need to get out of there!” This intervention did not happen. It turns out, my friends were sipping the Peloton juice as well. Their reviews were glowing. “I liked that I could do modifications without feeling bad,” remarked one. “I like that they call that floor move a ‘super human’ as opposed to ‘super man’—so subtle, so inclusive” added another. “I love that they don’t body-shame!” cried a fourth. “It’s too nice to be a cult, right?” I asked. “Oh, it’s definitely a cult,” the final remarked, “but it’s amazing!”
I threw in the sweat towel.
I decided to stop fighting and admit to myself that, in trying to expose it, I, a girl who swore she never would, had, in fact, been sucked into a cult. But, not a nefarious cult. It’s, like, a good cult. A positive cult. A cult filled with people of varying abilities, ethnicities, races, sexualities, genders, and body types who gas each other up instead of tear each other down. I swear. And sure, perhaps I’m too close to the matter. Maybe I’m not a trustworthy source. But the only way to find out is to sign up and try it for yourself. Just make sure you let them know that Courtney sent you. I’m falling behind on my recruitment quota.