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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I've always had a hypothesis about the physical/mental dynamic of the Peloton experience, and how it becomes addicting: you have a very attractive instructor looking directly at you, telling you how good you are, while you're washing your brain in endorphins. There's got to be something there.

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I actually get weirded out by too much instructor eye contact--I think this is why Ally Love classes have never worked for me.

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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

The first time I was aware of PC was at the mega-Methodist church in Kansas City where the pastor devoted part of his sermon to his friend, who is well known in Peloton World. But this friend is not an instructor -- he's a participant who is very expressive about how much he enjoys riding his Peloton. And he's known for having >> lost a bunch of weight << on Peloton. and gets joy out of riding. Take out the weight loss story, and he's just a goober in the background.

I find it almost impossible to express the joy I feel in running, so I don't. I also don't talk about my times or how it keeps my weight artificially low. Yesterday I ran with a running club for the first time in over a year, a group I hadn't run with before. Lots of older runners, another grandpa, a woman going through a divorce. We ran and yakked for 90 minutes and it was so pleasant because it had no structure no glamor and no purpose other than running -- an activity that was very important to each of us for reasons we did not advertise.

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This makes me think a lot about Putnam's "Bowling alone". We have replaced real communal physical activity with processed food version of it like Pelaton. Things like Core Power Yoga/Soul Cycle/etc were predecessors to Pelaton in this faux social contact. At least the former were in person.

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Yes! Of course being overly nice to people is a feature of IRL life, but it's not shined up like it is in social or traditional media -- and Peloton is traditional media with social media marketing. (Spoiler alert for those who haven't read Bowling Alone, it's like a whodunit but the killer is revealed to be TV, i.e., screen-based entertainment.)

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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

AHP tysm! I have a big Peloton section in my Master's thesis and i can tell my advisor secretly thinks it's super weird! I think this series will help lot to give us common language hahaha

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Hi! What is you thesis about? I've been thinking about researching parasocial relationships and feeling kinda lost (I've been out of school for more than a decade!)

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Hi! Thanks for asking! I'm researching the impact of technologies of personalization on storytelling with an emphasis on the physical sensors that enable embodied experiences. I had a full time job at my university as a research developer focused on virtual and augmented reality for most of grad school. My original plan was to contextualize some of that work in a way that would prepare me to transition out of an engineering role into something more product/research oriented in those domains but when a lot of smaller companies folded at the beginning of the pandemic that kinda felt like I'd just be preparing for a role at Facebook so I decided to reframe and broaden my focus. Contextualizing VR/AR as simply media personalization that extends to our bodies and environments, gave me a different set of precursors to look at than the ones I usually think of for considering how VR/AR design might evolve (so instead of thinking about videogames, I'm thinking about what parasocial relationship tell us about what we might want from conversational AI and how every time Olivia shouts "This is personal training at scale!" I think about how Hatsune Miku is coming for her job). Basically its super weird and probably no one will read it but I'm having a lot of fun.

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"I think about how Hatsune Miku is coming for her job"

I thought the same thing while reading, especially considering the proliferation of vtubers and vtube companies recently (or at least recently in the West). I'd be really interested in reading how the same cultural critical lenses can be applied across industries.

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OMG the idea of using parasocial relationships as a way to improve conversational AI is mind-blowing! Your thesis sounds incredible and probably very much up my alley. Can I ask you what you majored in? If you have any recs for books and pieces about this I'd love to take a look. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Well, I never heard of them until the pandemic (though I assume they've been around for awhile?) and I thought Pelotons were just...fancy uncomfortable exercise bikes that were basically another form of, like, Soulcycle or whatever, except also available for super expensive personal purchase and they let you watch instructor videos (or live sessions, maybe?) at home -- so, a way for rich and/or busy people (or people who didn't live anywhere near whatever gym has them) to take a class they otherwise probably wouldn't be able to regularly. But...apparently it's not that At All. (Full disclosure: I still don't get it, though, I think? Like, just in terms of...what they are, if they aren't just take-home versions of a thing that was/is in a gym? Have they always been only take-home and it's kind of a weird group video game situation, sort of. Like, instead of playing Fortnite with a bunch of strangers everyone is trying to do a long exercise bike ride together? I realize I sound very unhip right now...)

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It's funny because at the beginning of the pandemic I had about that level of understanding of Peloton, and then we ordered one about three days into the shutdown at my husband's insistence (he wanted to be able to ride with his friends and I started to try to research cheaper alternatives but didn't have the bandwidth so I threw up my hands and said fine, Peloton). Now I use it all the time so I'm conversant in the instructors and have given their personal branding and the system that produced them a fair bit of thought but I remain a total outsider to the reddit and Facebook and so on Peloton culture.

For me, I've always exercised regularly but for most of my adult life I was hit or miss on how hard or long I went in any given workout. The last few years I'd gotten a lot more disciplined, but the pandemic threatened that by dismantling my routines. By having so many classes to choose from, Peloton gave me a way to push and not get bored. But ... I think I may be saying that for me it's exactly what you originally said: "a way for rich and/or busy people (or people who didn't live anywhere near whatever gym has them) to take a class they otherwise probably wouldn't be able to regularly."

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I did my century ride this morning and then gleefully consumed this piece during my post-ride stretch. The irony is not lost on me.

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I have to say I was really apprehensive about this series as I have a probably unhealthy relationship to this bike and tread and the community it has fostered but I think this is a good way of looking at it as a cultural phenomena. I think one of the impressive developments is the zeal of the community that does a lot of the defacto preaching about the bike and experience. I enjoy participating in the peloton Reddit and find it to be one of the more helpful and kind places in that world. I’d love some discussion about how a company that preaches positivity and “good vibes” can let something like their official Facebook page become such a cesspool of toxicity. Also the unsanctioned groups like hardcore on the floor and the short lived peloton closet have sprung up to fill the gaps and the approach the company has taken to these groups. Excited to see this continue!

Also a small nit but I think you meant Ken Doll Ben alldis vs Ben King.

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I DID! Thank you so much. And don't you worry, we are going to talk about the Hardcore on the Floor

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Totally here for that discussion. I love HardCORE. After two years of orangetheory, I really needed someone to just tell me what to do each day. I unfollowed the group but I still pop in once in awhile and use the calendar.

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I can’t wait to read it!

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I am extremely pleased about the mention that many of the adored lifestyle fitness instructors are dancers. My most successful modern dance college classmate is a performer with top NYC companies and also a popular Obé instructor. And of course he is, because do you know what the top 5% of professional dancers are? Still poor like the other 95%.

Dance is the most underfunded art form (besides puppetry I guess lol). It feels like in U.S. culture, almost no one wants to allocate funding to dance or buy tickets to performances but *everyone* is eager to cash in on the very lucrative skills of a theatrical performer who is also an athlete. The value of dance is invisibilized.

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I don’t know what it says about me that I don’t have a single friend or family member that does Peloton. Or at least no one who has made it part of their personality. Well, I do sort of know. My family is mostly working class, and most of my friends are academic types. Somehow I don’t think they and I are Peloton’s target demo.

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I thought, Oh, I do know a couple of people who do Peloton, and then I realized they were just people I follow on Twitter and don't know IRL. I'm not even sure where I would PUT a Peloton if I bought one. There's a certain amount of privilege just having a dedicated space in your home you can use for exercise equipment. (I'm assuming here that Pelotons are on the bulky side and you can't just fold them up and put them in a closet.)

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They have lots of classes/content you can use without the equipment -- running (outdoor or you can use their treadmill classes while running outdoors), cardio, strength, yoga etc. I now have a non-Peloton bike but I was using the app for many months without any equipment and loving it.

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Totally. My one bedroom apartment doesn’t have room for one, folded or not.

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You'd be very surprised where people have put these bikes in their living spaces — including very, very small apartments. I know someone who has it smack in the middle of the living room (with three small children) because there's truly no where else.

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That is some serious dedication!

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I just wanted to pop into the comments and say that this is the thing that finally pushed me over the edge to the paid newsletter subscription. When you mentioned that you were getting ready to explore this subject matter a few weeks ago, I was in the middle of my 6 week wait for the Bike +, and I found myself dreading it. I was really afraid you were going to take apart this thing that I had just financially committed myself to, and that I wasn't even sure about myself...I breathed such a sigh of relief when you said you had one yourself. I'm about a month into actually riding the thing, and I can't believe how much I enjoy it. And now I am fascinated by this subculture that I didn't even know existed. I just wanted a reliable form of class-based exercise I could do at home. I shifted from being a stay-at-home mom to full-time employment about two weeks before the world shut down in 2020, so going to the gym was no longer an option on multiple levels.

Anyway, this was brilliant, and I'm excited to be here and keep reading.

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Okay I have a question: Is there anyone who likes to ride an *outdoor bike* who also likes the Peloton? Because for me, biking indoors sounds like the worst. I am not a Peloton hater, but the main reason I personally would never consider getting one is because I'd soooo much rather be outside. (Yes, winter is an exception.)

I feel the same way about running & treadmills. Being outside is the whole point for me. Perhaps I will understand more as this series unfolds!

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I am not an outdoor bike rider but know of many outdoor cyclists who use the PZ training, particularly in the winter/inclement months.

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LOVE outdoor riding/running but over the past two years have transitioned more indoors (using app and Schwinn pelo dupe). I have two little kids and my childcare situation require I work out in the house (before they wake up or after they go to bed). I know a lot of other women in similar situations. I never thought going for a solo ride/run would be privilege, but right now I can’t swing. It won’t always this way, and I’m so thankful I’ve had Peloton to see me through this!

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I see these two things, outdoor riding and indoor with the Peloton, as very different exercises. Unless it is super warm and muggy out, I can't remember getting off my outdoor bike soaking wet and drenched in sweat. I am like a wet rag almost every time I get off the Peloton. Yet, I also get a good workout on the outdoor bike--its just a different kind of workout. One helps the other I'm sure but I like the variety. Maybe if I had someone in my ear while outdoor pushing me to ride faster, attack the hills etc, it would be similar but I don't do that. I ride hard outside when it is safe to do so but the damn Peloton instructors get you to do more than you expected every single time. You have to have some internal discipline not to excel on the Peloton, even when you tell yourself you are going to take it easy that day. Never happens. Plus, the other lifestyle changes that can happen with the Peloton never happened for me while playing racquetball (I'm a sponsored player), riding, or running outside. Maybe it has done that for you but there are so many other things you can do with the screen you just get sucked into this healthy lifestyle. For example I have done over 100 stretch classes, something I knew I was supposed to do but rarely did consistently before. I will sometimes ride the Peloton in the mornings and do an afternoon ride outdoors later in the day. Never rode twice in a day before getting the Peloton. Anyway, good luck to you and keep on riding!!!

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Yep same: mad about the outdoor bike. Not a peleton hater just a not-for-me feeling about it. No space, apart from anything else. And just a bit fearful about quantification killing rather than upping the hedonism of vigour (this is, of course, my way of being cheesy/the worst)

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I have two outdoor bikes: a beach cruiser and a hybrid street/trail bike. I also have a Peloton. I love them all and use them all for different reasons... My beach cruiser is just that; it gets me to the beach and back and allows me time to cruise up and down the beach during low tide. I use my hybrid bike in my hometown where the conditions are ever changing. My greatest love is my Peloton (I’ve only had it for a month and a half). I can choose a ride to match what my body needs! Do I want a hard ride with lots of sweat? A recovery ride because I did too much running on the sand over the weekend? Do I want to laugh my ass off with Cody and his Boo Crew? Do I need some ass kicking from Kendall? Plus the Peloton community is amazing and supportive! I belong to some Facebook groups who keep me accountable! Having indoor and outdoor options is a win-win for me!

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Thank you for sharing. I am jealous that you live somewhere that calls for a beach-specific bike!!

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I think the cycling classes on Peloton app probably work best on the indoor bikes.

HOWEVER, I run outdoors and use the treadmill running classes all the time and think they are great. They also have "outdoor" running classes as well (audio only and they track your running distance/speed) but the selection is more limited. Another great thing about Peloton -- you can use their classes/content without buying any of their equipment. The monthly fee for the app alone is very affordable -- $12.99/month and you can try all their classes and decide if you like them (there's cardio, strength, yoga etc in addition to running/cycling). I have been using the app for 1 1/2 years now and love it; I don't have any Peloton equipment, though I did buy a Schwinn indoor bike for about 1/3 of the price of the Peloton bike...

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Peloton has outdoor running content, basically a playlist and a coach in your ear. I really love it and mix it with my race training.

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I am an outdoor cyclist - with three bikes (road/gravel, mountain and hybrid), regularly doing longer riders (50 - 100 miles). My wife got me a Peloton a few years ago - I initially rode it only during winter months, and did outdoor cycling more in the summer. This has changed with the Pandemic, and riding multiple times during the week. I have also taken advantage of the strength classes. I find that I can spend 30 minutes on the Peloton, and get a better workout than getting the bike out and going for a similar ride - I do miss seeing the deer on the route I've used for short training rides, but think I am in better shape.

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I’m an outdoor cyclist and a spin enthusiast—I see them as two different activities, which is why I think it works. I’m also a dancer so I love the dance-y aspects of spin classes, and hate any sort of indoor cycling that tries to recreate biking outdoors.

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I’m not a cyclist, but I strongly prefer to run outdoors. However, both me & my fiancée have chronic GI illness that means on some days, it’s not possible to stray far from the house, even if we want to exercise. We just bought a treadmill to use on “bad” days when running miles from the toilet is ill-advised! And also, living in California, for days when the air quality is too awful to exercise outdoors due to fire smoke. I bet there are others out there with disabilities who use machines in the home for reasons of accessibility.

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Oh what a phrase…the inconvenience of community. You are onto something here Anne!

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I don’t have a Peleton but I consume it via the app and am very intrigued by this series! One thing I’d love to see you explore is the “social justice” content. I do frequently seek out that content, but after taking one recently (I think it was Chase Tucker’s Black Pride strength class), I said to my husband I bet there are people who walk away from a class like that and think they’ve done a good deed. Like that’s their social justice badge for the day/week/month. Because the instructors can certainly convince you you’re doing something for the greater good! As If this bougie in-home workout I just did blatantly for myself somehow fights homophobia and anti-Black racism…it’s a really fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand, cool that instructors seem to have quite a bit of control

Over their class themes and messaging (emphasis on seem to) in what is otherwise a massive corporate likely white cis dominated environment, but on the other, my planks aren’t solving any pressing world issues…

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As a decade-long, award-winning cycling instructor and, most importantly: body image coach (master's degree in how mass media + interpersonal communication impact female body image), thank you for including the paragraph on lack of any body diversity. I love my peloton, and am grateful to not hear much appearance/weight-loss related language in classes, but the complete lack of any body-size diversity is impactful to riders, psychologically. It's actually a very sneaky body image trigger because it's not said explicitly, but is implied via how the instructors look. It's a very subtle message of, "this is how you should look" that sneaks into our psyche and can cause a whole range of mental health problems related to body image and disordered eating/exercise habits. It widens the gap of how we perceive ourselves to actually be (look) and how we think we should look. And the wider this gap becomes, the bigger the discrepancy, the more body dissatisfaction we experience, the more self-esteem goes down, and ultimately our self-worth takes a hit.

The best move Peloton could make next is to hire an instructor (well, many instructors) with (gasp) fat on their bodies. But this would mean an entire paradigm shift for how they are defining: fitness, inspiration, health, motivation, etc.

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Living for this! Like many things in my life Peloton was one of those things I was NEVER going to do (stationary riding in a dank ass basement? hard no) but now find myself haranguing poor strangers about “exorcising” on my bike (ugh!). Hoping you touch on how Peloton reinforces idea about gender, especially femininity, especially motherhood. While most of the instructors aren’t parents there is something striving and mom-ish and geriatric millennial about the whole thing (from my geriatric millennial mom POV). I know there are many other types of users out there, but it (Peloton) is spreading like a nasty case crabs between EVERY one of my friends (also older millennial moms). And we used to be, and maybe still are, a critical thinking crew? We’ve been distilled to some sort of data point and can no longer resist.

Also, the economics of Peloton is SO fascinating to me. I thing saying “it’s for rich people” is dismissive and misses much of the nuance. Yes, it’s certainly for people sitting a certain economic bracket, but many parents were/are weighing cost of childcare vs ability to work out. In my small New England town it’s 15-20/hr to get a sitter for two kids. My dear old YMCA had free (!) drop off childcare for up to two hours while you worked out but that closed down in March 2020. I spent an evening running numbers thinking about how often I could get a sitter to workout vs having something I could use every other day. The answer became obvious VERY quickly (I’m using the app and iC4).

I’m SO looking forward to reading this!

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I am so excited to read this. I got really into Peloton during quarantine along with two of my college friends. The three of us are spread out across the country and would never have been able to work out together without it, so in a weird way, it has made exercise somehow MORE social than it otherwise would have been during this time? We often do rides at the same time and text during the recoveries, or work out on our own and send each other rides that we think the others will enjoy. And, of course, we're rolling our eyes together at EXACTLY these patterns that you're talking about.

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I've only done a few Jenn Sherman rides but what I got was less mom and more ... well, Staten Island (apparently actually New Jersey, but Staten Island is how her style was first characterized to me and it stuck in my mind), but that's to say there's a different class presentation than most of the other instructors. She is definitely the instructor who came up first in all my friends' "which Peloton instructor might be a Trump supporter" conversations, though the yacht rock ride where she said it was ok if covid took out the White House, but not the NFL, suggests otherwise.

But am I the only one who regularly thinks of Yasmin on Ally Love rides? https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/stock-images-always-political

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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I actually think Peloton has a lot more working class culture representation than a lot of media. I have never felt more personally represented in a piece of media than when Cody was talking about how terrible working Santacon is without offending riders who enjoy Santacon 😂 I'm not a regular Jenn Sherman rider but I think its interesting that I see a lot more criticism of her views on social media than say Tunde who is also often quite politically frank. If you're going to be offended by Tunde you're probs not taking her ride, but it seems like the views of people who view Jenn as "their" Peloton instructor vary pretty widely. I am an Always Olivia and Never Kendall rider, but I know they're very similar. But if you're looking for a "Jenn-type" who isn't specifically Jenn, you don't really have anywhere to go (Dennis?)

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Jun 20, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

This is really helpful -- as you mention Cody, I think there's an important point, because while he was raised working class or poor, he *left* his original context (both geographically and in another sense by being gay and out), where Jenn reads as coming from the New York-area white working class kind of specifically and she's still there. In a weird way because obviously Peloton is, well, Peloton, but she is still living in the region she's from.

I think also what your final point gets to is that Jenn's personal branding is probably a little slipperier than some of the other instructors, and she's probably drawing different people depending on which aspect of her they're identifying with.

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And also interesting to remember that Jenn was the *first ever* Peloton instructor, the entire base of the brand

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I just meant that if you want a moderate ride with a 40+ instructor and have fairly conservative taste in music, you don't have a lot of options, whereas some other demographics offer pretty fine grained choices-- but your point about mobility is really interesting.

Besides Cody, Alex is the other instructor who comes to mind as speaking very frankly about class in ways you don't see depicted much on television and both he and his home (although its apparently also in New Jersey) read as *very* Long Island to me. He's very much of the geographic place where he is, but when he talks about knowing he can't stop because he is his family's safety net, that's a narrative of mobility and achievement, like the moment I mentioned with Cody. The story presented around Jenn seems to be one of stability, fun and sustainable movement to Justin Bieber--her social media still looks a lot like that of the most sought after spin instructor in a big suburb, just at a larger scale (although especially considering the early equity she must have, I'm sure her situation has changed dramatically). She sells a narrative about enjoying and maintaining the good things that you have which is, of course, a "small c" conservative story.

A lot of the Peloton instructor narratives currently place their riders' fitness journey's parallel to their own journeys with Peloton/as celebrities and sometimes even the company's journey as a startup. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves as both the company and these people grow up. I'm definitely not trying to say that I think Peloton is media made *for* working class or poor people but I think there are some interesting stories being told there right now (and I would be surprised if the "next generation" of instructors has those same stories now that streaming fitness instructor is something a person can "aspire" to be and spend a lot of money trying to prepare for)

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This is SUCH a good point re: Jenn — and definitely worth exploring more. Also omg I forgot about Yasmin

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