Do you want a 340 lb exercise instructor?

Donnacrop1_2                                            …or…                                                    Aerobics_2

Last week, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about a new exercise (Nordic Walking) that targets the "less than fit."  Part of the effort to lure the couch potatoes and non-athletic type people into an exercise class is to have overweight instructors lead the group.

In the article one of the instructors, the 340 lb. Donna Mirabile, explains the tactic as "we want people to think if big fat Donna can do it, so can they."


Now the politically correct answer of course, is…it doesn’t matter how much she weighs.  And maybe it doesn’t.

But I find myself wondering if this isn’t a case of someone marketing based on what they wish people thought/wanted rather than either recognizing or wanting to acknowledge the not so flattering human truth.  (Sort of like the recycling movement.)

I get the whole before and after technique that is rampant in weight loss marketing.  They show a picture of "big fat Donna" and then we see the after version "svelte, sexy Donna" while she tells us she could still eat chocolate.  The premise of these ads is to encourage the mental leap — if Donna can transform herself, so can I.

But if "big fat Donna" is leading the class and she is still "big fat Donna" does that imply that you’re going to stay "big fat you?"

Be honest — both women are friendly, kind, love animals. But one is fit and one is fat.  Who would you, as a consumer, want to take the exercise class from?

Do you think it matters, from a marketing perspective?

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11 comments on “Do you want a 340 lb exercise instructor?

  1. I read about Donna and Elizabeth in the WSJ and then saw that they had also been on a local Salt Lake City TV newscast. My only reaction was admiration. I too posted a couple of articles about them on

  2. Paul McEnany says:

    I think it’s totally ridiculous, and doesn’t actually solve the problem that keeps people from working out in the first place…

  3. Hannah Steen says:

    I can appreciate the fact that they’re trying something new…but I personally like to work towards looking like the instructor, it give me something to strive for.

  4. Claire,

    I think the women in the WSJ article are worthy of our admiration as well.

    But…does their teaching of the class actually boost interest and attendance? Is having the very fit instructor getting in the way of unfit women signing up for exercise classes?

    Or it is a publicity stunt to get some buzz?


  5. Paul,

    That is my first reaction as well. I know some people don’t want to work out where they feel on display. I get that.

    But it seems to me that most people would want to take exercise advice from someone who has already succeeded.


  6. Hannah,

    Your take is sort of what I assume most women’s would be.

    But, do you think you’d feel differently if you were a very unhealthy weight or would having an “after” to inspire you be even more important?


  7. Elizabeth says:

    I was telling my son about the WSJ and KSL articles, so we googled “Donna Mirabile” and stumbled across this website. I was intrigued by the discussion. I would like to answer Drew’s question: The majority of the students who show up for our classes are thrilled to find that we are “normal” women, who struggle with weight issues, yet are actively striving to be healthy. Our focus is on fitness and health and sustainable change. Our students are happy with their individual results and with us as their instructors. To answer your question, Drew, yes: people DO feel differently when they’re an unhealthy weight. They’re intimidated by the gyms, and the ultra-fit.

    Donna’s Partner, Elizabeth

  8. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your unique perspective.

    I’m curious — when the class is marketed, are the instructors spotlighted? In other words, are the students choosing the class because of the instructors or are they choosing to stay, aftering getting to the first class and discovering that the instructors are not, to borrow your phrase, “ultra-fit?”

    I’m still wondering if the instructors are the draw.


  9. Elizabeth says:

    I honestly think it’s a combination of the activity itself and the unique instructors. We do not hide who we are. We do not use “bait and switch” techniques. We specifically market to the “no so fit” because we understand them. We WERE them. Donna’s resting heart rate is an astounding 54 beats per minute. That is comparable to most of the ultra-fit, world class athletes. We are demonstrating, by our actions, that change is possible for us “mere mortals”, but it takes time and effort. And even if we never make it down to a size 2, we can still have vastly improved health, which is much more important. Our students really respond to that and are grateful for that.

  10. Elizabeth,

    I have no doubt that you inspire many men and women to get up and take that first step. And that many of your students hadn’t given it a shot before because the goal seemed so distant.

    Your success is also proof that one marketing technique or message will not work for everyone. For every person who wants the “ultra fit” instructor, there is someone who would run away screaming from that option. You are providing choice. And in today’s consumer-centric world, that’s money in the bank.

    Continued success!


  11. Melanie says:

    check out the November 19, 2007 issue of Newsweek

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