In 1982, Jane Fonda's seminal home video Workout carved an instructional video niche that aided in changing the landscape of home consumption. It's an instructional video teaching aerobics to the viewer, split into two difficulties – beginners and advanced. As well as teaching aerobics, Workout constructed the home, more specifically the living room or TV room, as a temporary gym. The video's influence on consumption has led to entire domestic spaces devoted to replicate the gym. What started simply with mats and mobile stairs in the living room has led to complex weight lifting apparatuses in workout rooms. More broadly it further constructed the home as a place you don’t need to leave as long as you consume accordingly.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that Workout was an ancillary product that accompanied Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, which was released just the year before and was quite successful in the nonfiction market. Thus, the video was also teaching consumers how to buy franchise products across media outlets. And certainly, Workout became a viable franchise with installments like Jane Fonda’s Workout Challenge, New Workout, Low-Impact Aerobic Workout, and Complete Workout which appeared later in the decade. Also, the original Workout was such a hit and a marketing home run (partially due to it being an ancillary product of her book) that it even inspired consumers to buy their first VCR as a means of using Workout.
Buying Jane Fonda’s Workout meant you were interested in exercise and getting “fit.” It also meant you were interested in optimizing your home and your time in the home. Actually using the video could have been a way of cultivating an identity of someone who is not lazy, someone who is motivated even. For wives at home, it could also have been an attempt at cultivating an identity of a good wife; a wife who is staying fit for her husband as well as keeping the home tidy. And for women in general, consuming and taking part in Jane Fonda’s Workout video was inherently an attempt to identify closer to the image of Jane Fonda, a female star who maintained an attractive and healthy image in her mid-40s. Both the identities of Jane Fonda and “a good wife” are images of being above average.
Furthermore, for consumers who continued to develop a space in their home devoted to gym equipment, it constructed an identity for the homeowners as people dedicated to staying fit - that exercise is not a passing phase for them.
Jane Fonda’s Workout video was marketed toward women for domestic use. The average household in the early 80s would only have one VCR with which to watch the video, and that would be in the living area. Since the husband traditionally controlled the television programming, Workout would have to be watched by wives when they had the house to themselves. So, Jane Fonda’s video makes the assumption that women were at home during the day. This assumption restabalizes the patriarchal hegemony and perpetuates the idea that women belong in the home and not in the workplace. Workout is further problematic in that it is persuading women to stay in the home through making women feel better about themselves. If they physically feel better about themselves, perhaps they will be distracted from their maligned place in the home.
I suspect keeping women in the home was a powerful way to sustain the aforementioned hegemonic domestic politics for a couple specific reasons. First, the idea of exercising in the home could be seen as convenience and a way to optimize your time (i.e. use the time they would have spent traveling to and from the gym by doing more chores around the home), but what was more likely a probability was the distraction of more housework, as there is always more work to be done. Second, husbands might have wanted to keep women from the gym because it was thought of as a meeting place for singles, such as was plotted shortly after in the 1985 film, Perfect. Not only could women have met other men at the gym, but they would have also seen other men working out (as well as possibly working with personal trainers) and cultivated an idea of the perfect man as more in shape than perhaps their husbands were. In other words, though configured as a way for women to feel better about themselves, the use of Workout is strictly for male’s benefit.
The aforementioned assumptions Workout makes are a product of the internalization of the male gaze, in the sense that Rosalind Gill cultivates. In the context of Jane Fonda’s video, men are the other-ed group, who’s use of videos like Workout is different from the assumed audience’s use. Not only was the video surely viewed by men as sexually stimulating, hence the common 80s and 90s film and TV trope of men watching workout videos (usually for comedic effect, as in Grumpy Old Men, Dirty Work, or Road Trip) as well as the popularity of the show Aerobicise, but the internalization of the male gaze by the women in the video as well as women using the tape refers to the fact that women feel the need to look a certain way for men. I argue that it is this internalization that made this video such a hit, because women’s use of Workout fit into a paradigm that was primarily set for patriarchal benefit in the most persuasive of fashions.
Jane Fonda’s First Workout Video Released. History.com. April 24, 1982. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jane-fondas-first-workout-video-released
Gill, Rosalind. "From sexual objectification to sexual subjectification: The resexualisation of women's bodies in the media." Feminist Media Studies 3.1 (2003): 100-106.