The introduction of American gyms such as Bally Total Fitness and California Fitness Center in recent years is making significant changes in the landscape of fitness culture in Seoul, Korea. With brand power and pleasant atmosphere, these chains showed remarkable success despite their short history in Asia. This study explores how American gyms have settled in Korea and how they are similar to and/or different from other fitness centers. By examining the changing fashion of fitness space led by these gyms, the researcher excavates the meaning and the impact of Americanization /globalization of fitness space in post-industrial Korea.
The researcher visited three branches of Bally Total Fitness and three local fitness centers and drew up field note. Photographs were taken at limited areas. Participation observation at one branch was conducted along with review of related literature and materials. Additionally, the website of Bally Total Fitness was reviewed as well as handbills and written advertisement.
The result showed that American gyms created a new model of fitness space. Traditional concept that the participants purchase program provided in the facility was replaced by the notion that customers consume quality time and quality space with the help of fitness professionals. The new fitness space is both the site of consumption and production in that people reproduce the images and desire of bodily ideal at the same time they consume the services. Everything in the gym from group exercise classes to personal training to immaculate interior was carefully designed into a form of the theme park. On the other hand, the gyms are shopping malls as well with giant glasses showcasing people in workout while they gaze themselves in the mirror.
The appearance of new trend in fitness space heavily depends on the introduction of American gyms. However, geographical and cultural circumstances of downtown Seoul affected a great deal in shaping Bally’s in Seoul through space-society dialectic. Differences as well as similarities between Bally’s and other gyms also reveal how the theme park of dream-body represents social relations of class, gender and age.
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