Fitness as a tool to discipline body and mind

Monica Stroe

20160306_121234The market for body care services in Bucharest (sports halls, spas) addresses a need to support ones’s body to become “a personal affirmation, a mode to stress an aesthetics and a set of morals” (LeBreton 2009: 294). The visuals and the motivational quotes that adorn or advertise two fitness centres in Bucharest seem to indicate a strategic declination of body care services into personal development services.

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One fitness hall in northern Bucharest posts mentoring messages on its walls and windows, that divert the focus from the training of the body to the training of the mind. The practicing of fitness is portrayed as an all-transforming experience with a higher meaning: “Skinny for summer? How about fit for life?”; “Will it be easy? Nope. Worth it? Absolutely.”; “Know your limits but never stop trying to exceed them”. The key words that complete the motivational props borrow mantra-terms from the corporate language: performance, team, success, progress.

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The poster of a chain of fitness halls typically positioned in the proximity of office clusters or inside upscale hotels, named – revealingly – World Class, presents a manager in his prime (30 y.o.) in an active pose (working out using a fitness machine). He describes himself as “100% willpower” and invites his audience to transform their lifestyle by becoming a member of the gym. The chain’s proposed programme (branded as Lets go you TM) is a promise of a multidimensional – and personalised – control of the self that includes – according to the poster – a nutritional plan, a training programme, as well as “motivation and monitoring”, which one can reasonably assume is overseen by a personal trainer.

The focus on self-mobilisation, transformation, becoming, progressing etc. recalls the endless race discussed by LeBreton “which proposes adhering to oneself, to an ephemeral identity, which is nonetheless essential at a certain point in time. These tyrannies of appearance request a continuous work to address the self” (LeBreton 2009: 295). The quest for control and discipline over the body and the mind instead of a quest for beauty draws the practices of keeping in shape closer to personal development goals.

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Livin’ la vida…Deutsch! Children’s Extracurricular Activities and the Bucharest Middle-Class (1)

Alin Savu

Living la vida Deutsch! “Hm…I don’t remember the song sounding this way!” I think to myself as I pass by a girl and her grandmother carrying a violin case. The girl, about 10 years old, has a cheap blue back-pack marked with the logo of a German language centre in Bucharest and a cursive line underneath spelling the words “Living la vida…Deutsch!” Her grandmother is asking the girl about her day: “was it 10 or 11 when you were playing? What about the violin lesson…?”

Losing their discussion in the distance, I come to think about the experience of childhood, how it evolves over time and how it differs along the various strata of our society. Thus begins my fieldwork into children’s time, their extracurricular activities and the Bucharest Middle-Class.

The consumption of extracurricular activities has been interpreted in various theoretical keys over time and over different fields of expertise. In the 80s, David Elkind talks about the hurried child[1] whose childhood is under the pressure of high expectations from parents enrolling them in extracurricular activities in order to reach those expectations. More recently, Anne Trine Kjorholt  and Jens Qvortrup discuss the increasing number of institutions offering extracurricular activities as being intertwined with the neo-liberal transformations of the labour market – increasing its flexibility and the demand for more women to work.[2] In what regards class and social reproduction and mobility, Carol Vincent and Stephen Ball have approached the subject of children’s extracurricular activities as a strategy of making-up the new middle-class in an age were social reproduction appears uncertain. They also discuss the issue of children as agents of consumption and how this process is highly classed.[3]

Drawing upon all these theoretical considerations, with focus on the latter, in the next parts I will present the case of Bucharest families enrolling their children into extracurricular activities (such as various sports, arts and crafts, foreign languages, etc.) offering snippets from the daily lives of children involved in this process and fragments from interviews with them and their parents, thus opening to discussion the constructions and practices of the Bucharest middle-class.

[1] David ELKIND – The Hurried Child: Growing up too fast too soon, Cambridge, MA:Perseus Publishing, 1981
[2] Anne Trine KJORHOLT & Jens QVORTRUP (Eds.) – The Modern Child and the Flexible Labour Market. Early Childhood Education and Care, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
[3] Carol VINCENT & Stephen J. BALL – Childcare, Choice and Class Practices. Middle Class Parents and Their Children, London, Routledge, 2006.