May 13th, 2009


Richard Simmons

I was doing an architect mission* in City of Heroes with terrycloth last night, and it made fun of Richard Simmons**. It always bothers me a little when people make fun of Richard Simmons, because he's the only exercise guru that -- it seems to me -- really cared about helping people be healthier.

Sure, he's weird. I'm weird. I'm not gonna judge. All I know is that when I was growing up in the 80s, the TV was full of attractive young exercise gurus in perfect shape doing exercise shows surrounded by attractive young people, none of whom ever broke a sweat or missed a move.

Then there was Richard Simmons, with his frizzy 80s hair and a show full of ordinary, overweight people, all doing their best, all being encouraged by this kind, friendly, enthusiastic man. He always seemed to be having a good time.

Simmons defied the traditional belief, that exercise shows were about selling people a fantasy of what they could become, showing people with perfect physiques and claiming "with just ten minutes a day you'll look just like this!" Instead, he showed real people, with an accompanying subtext of: "You can do this, and it will make you healthier."

The message I got from Richard Simmons was this: "You don't have to be embarrassed to exercise. You don't have to feel ashamed because you don't have a perfect physique. Exercise is for everyone, not just the young and thin and beautiful. Whoever you are, whatever shape you are in, you can do something to make yourself fitter and healthier, and that something, even if it's just walking around the block, is worth doing."

Maybe there are other celebrity exercise gurus like that now and I just don't notice it because I'm not paying attention any more.

But it's a good message. It's a good message for life, not just exercise. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for him because of that.

* "Architect missions" are user-created.
** I should note that this particular case of satire didn't strike me as mean-spirited or cruel, the way some jabs at Simmons do. It just happened to make me think about this.