Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Bodyrock Breakup

Recently I went through a kind of traumatic incident. To put it frankly, I went through a break-up, and a bad one at that. Like many doomed relationships, I didn't realize what was happening right away, despite the many signs. I held on to false hope, defended my love to others, and made plenty of excuses, but in the end I couldn't deny the inevitable. My relationship, after all our ups and downs, good times and bad, was very much over. This particular breakup, however, was not with my wonderful boyfriend Ricky (thank God). No, this breakup was with my internet fitness trainer. 

That's right. As of last Monday, I have officially parted ways with Bodyrock.TV.

I don't know how many of you follow the workout site, but let me give you some background. Bodyrock.TV was founded in 2008 by amateur filmmaker Frederick Light and ex-porn star, Zuzana Marjova. Initially a two person operation, newlyweds Zuzana and Freddy split their time between working in Freddy's family florist shop in Kingston and filming short workout videos in their apartment - videos they would upload to their popular youtube channel. By the end of July 2008, their videos had hit over a million views and Zuzana and Freddy were able to dedicate themselves to filming high intensity, primarily bodyweight workouts full time. They developed a website that, along with their workouts, featured diet and nutrition advice, personal blogs, encouraging "Coffee Talks", and fashion features. With Zuzana as the warm, encouraging, and smoking hot host and Freddy behind the camera handling the technical aspects and cracking jokes, they seemed an unstoppable duo. 

Zuzana and Freddy (and Freddy's creepy glasses) in happier times. 
Then, just about a year ago, in November of 2011, Freddy and Zuzana announced they would be splitting up. Freddy would be continuing to maintain Bodyrock.TV with new hosts, and Zuzana, or Zuzka as her fans affectionately call her, would be finding her own way.

The Beginning of the End
Like many of Bodyrock.TV's millions of fans, I was heartbroken when I heard the news that Freddy and Zuzka would be separating. After years of following their workouts daily, listening to Zuzka's coffee talks, and learning about their lives, it truly felt like I was losing a friend. I knew in my brain that these were just people on the internet that I had never met, but it truly seemed like so much more than that. I had become a part of the Bodyrock.TV community, had shared my fitness journey with other followers, and had even had a brief e-mail correspondence with Freddy himself. Despite not personally knowing these internet fitness gurus, Zuzana leaving the site was going to have a direct, albeit minor, effect on my day to day life. 

However, as sad as I was about Zuzka's departure, I remained steadfastly loyal the Bodyrock brand. After all, as much as I had grown to like Zuzana, I was really in it for the workouts. As a dancer and performer, daily exercise is as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth and I wasn't about to give up on the free, high-quality workouts I had come to expect from Bodyrock just because the face behind the camera was different.

This is when things started to get weird.

New Hosts, New Attitudes
Almost immediately after the sudden and kind of off-putting departure of Zuzana, Freddy moved back to Canada to live with his brother Sean and started bringing in new hosts. Along with Sean, a bevy of beautiful girls with admittedly lackluster camera presence began rotating through the workouts. Finally, after many failed attempts, Freddy and Co. found a winner with peppy Lisa Marie and very slowly, the message of Bodyrock.TV began to change. 

One of the things I really liked about Zuzana was that she genuinely seemed to exude the message that anyone, with hard work and dedication, could change their life for the better. Zuzana made no effort to conceal her past life as a porn star, and while she made it clear that her life had moved in a completely new direction, she was very honest about her experiences and how they had shaped her as a person. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Zuzka stated that those years "led to years of darkness and abuse". "It was an incredibly humiliating situation - working on fitness helped me heal emotionally and rebuild my sense of self worth."

Lisa Marie, unfortunately, is a different story. 

Mere months after Lisa Marie moved in with Freddy and stepped in as host, big changes started happening. Lisa Marie started working out in only her underwear. The promotional pictures that seemed harmlessly sexy with Zuzana, began to take on the edge of softcore porn. We found out that Lisa Marie and Freddy were dating. The camera techniques that seemed flirty with Zuzana - the camera scanning over her boobs and butt while she worked out, began to seem downright dirty. Lisa Marie bent over chairs in overtly sexual positions, Freddy letting the camera linger in decidedly inappropriate places so long that you couldn't even see the exercises or easily follow the workout. 

Example of the now-typical attire and camera angles. 
Then came the body modification. We were given the "privilege" of following Lisa Marie behind the scenes as she got a boob job. Video updates with Lisa Marie in a hospital gown and Freddy in his ever present indoor sunglasses (Seriously, Freddy? What is up with that? It's creepy.) allowed us an insider's pass into the the wonderful world of cosmetic surgery. Soon after, before she even had the chance to recover properly from the boob job, Lisa Marie had undergone a nose job, lip injections, hair extensions, and what appears to be forehead filler. The focus of Bodyrock shifted noticeably from health and fitness to body modification and sex appeal.

One might wonder what the difference between Lisa Marie and Zuzana really is, since after all Zuzana had surgically enhanced breasts as well. On this topic I can only say this: With Zuzana I never got the feeling that she was promoting surgery. She rarely discussed it, it was a personal decision that she made before starting Bodyrock and she left it at that. Her focus was always fitness and health first, and that was something I could respect. With Lisa Marie, her enhancements are featured front and center. Her surgeries are the hot topic at Bodyrock now,and the real reasons for the site - nutrition and exercise - have fallen by the wayside. 

Backlash and the Emergence of the "Haters"
Almost instantaneously, and with good reason, objections, confusion, and opposition took over the comments section of Bodyrock.TV and the host's Facebook pages. People decried the hypocrisy of Lisa Marie's decision to get cosmetic surgery. You can't tout a message of "love yourself for who you are" and then turn around and change every single distinguishable aspect about your body without people sitting up and taking notice. And although Lisa Marie's decision was a personal one, as the face of movement with millions of followers an explanation regarding her decision to alter her body probably would could have saved Bodyrock a lot of frustration. Instead, the hosts of Bodyrock reacted with astounding immaturity. They posted increasingly provocative photos. They posted polls regarding touchy issues, like whether Lisa Marie working out in a bra was too provocative. They continued to feature Lisa Marie's surgeries, while writing blog posts decrying the "haters" and encouraging followers to post "positive" comments. In laymen's terms, they stirred the pot. And they seemed to delight in doing so. 

Lisa Marie before and after.

Freddy currently maintains the site with almost a Big Brother-like attitude. The comments that now fill the pages of Bodyrock's "inspirational" blogs and Facebook posts (which are increasingly a tired refrain of "F*ck anyone who disagrees with or speaks negatively about you.") look like an exercise in extreme ass-kissing. A quick glance down any particular page will yield comments like:

"Screw the haters! You guys rock!"

"People are just jealous and don't appreciate FREE WORKOUTS. You guys are the best, don't let the trolls get you down!"

"I can't believe anyone would say anything bad about you guys. Get rid of the negative energy! F*ck haters."

But if everyone is so ridiculously supportive, why the continuous parade of posts about how pissed off Freddy is and how much the haters are getting them down? Because there is some extreme censoring going on. 

About a week ago, Freddy posted yet another rant about how pissed off he was. In it he stated his frustrations that he and the other hosts were graciously letting their followers into their lives and providing them with free workouts and not getting any respect in return. The comments again were filled with positive affirmations about how wonderful the hosts were - but this timeI wasn't one of them. 

Anyone with half a brain knows how the internet works. Though the workouts may be free for us, Freddy and the gang aren't exactly struggling to make ends meet. Between the site advertisements and exercise equipment endorsements (Oh, did I not mention that? The primarily bodyweight workouts are a thing of the past - you now need a wide array of specialized equipment to complete your "free" Bodyrock workout.) Freddy and the hosts are pulling in over six figures a year. Despite what they would have you believe, these guys aren't putting together these workouts out of the kindness of their hearts - it's their job. And the increasingly provocative content proves that they are trying to pull in viewers wherever they can, whether they are interested in fitness or something a little more raunchy. As dedicated to fitness as they might be, the Bodyrock bunch is also clearly interested in revenue. Very interested. 

The demands for appreciation and respect rubbed me the wrong way. After all, the creators of Google don't send messages to my gmail badgering me for their due adulation. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg haven't been pestering me for an appropriate expression of my gratitude. As a business, you should be accepting of the fact that not everyone is going to agree with your business practices, especially when those business practices are controversial. People are going to express their discontent, differing opinions, and unhappiness with your product, especially when the product has changed so dramatically from where it began. 

I had stayed out of the many, many debates roaring across the Bodyrock terrain up until this point, but I finally decided that enough was enough and I needed to express my opinion. I worded a thoughtful response, and without personally attacking any of the hosts or the site, I expressed why the recent changes had put me off and made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn't unnecessarily negative, I didn't call anyone names, I didn't speak disparagingly about anyone's appearance or even discuss Lisa Marie's decision to get cosmetic surgery. All I did was express why the negativity and glorification of drama made me feel like Bodyrock was heading in a dangerous direction. Within minutes, my comment had been deleted. 

In the beginning of my Bodyrock.TV journey, I was smitten with the site. I preached the Bodyrock gospel with the fervor of a recent religious convert. But the site I loved isn't the site sitting in front of me now. The comment sections and discussion boards, once filled with other bodyrockers posting their workout scores and offering encouragement, are now filled with hate and spitefulness. Anyone not drinking the kool-aid and expressing any sort of unhappiness or discontent is immediately deleted or, if it's a repeat offender, banned from the site. The hosts, Freddy in particular, that once seemed so proud of their encouraging and inclusive community, now seem to thrive on creating unnecessary conflict and controversy. No one can express a valid opinion, unless it's to shower praise upon the Bodyrock team.. 

I finally realized that the site I had once loved, isn't for me anymore. While I personally don't really have a problem with the hyper-sexuality or cosmetic enhancements, I am concerned for Lisa Marie. Freddy has already demonstrated an ability to be controlling (and creepy) and it makes me wonder how much influence he had over her decisions. The perkiness and zest for life that she had when she first started seems to have all but disappeared, and she has dropped an alarming amount of weight from her already lean frame. Even if Freddy had absolutely no influence over her choices (something I highly doubt) the amount of alterations she's had in such  short amount of time seem to suggest some sort of body dysmorphic disorder, and this is not something to be taken lightly. 

The last video I watched with Lisa Marie, her face looked like a lot like it does here - frighteningly stiff and unnatural. 

But even aside from from my concern, my true discontent lies with the zealous destruction of the community I once held dear. A site that encourages blind fanaticism and censors any sort of constructive criticism or disapproval even in the face of controversial topics isn't a site I can comfortably be a part of.

The upside of all this bitterness is that I have rediscovered Zuzana. While Bodyrock.TV seemed to hit the self-destruct button, Zuzana was quietly rebuilding her life and her fitness empire. She's created a brand new program, dubbed Zwow, that reminds me of why I loved old-school Bodyrock in the first place. Her Zwow workouts are short, uncomplicated, primarily bodyweight, and freaking hard - I've done four so far, and each one has left me literally dripping with sweat. Seems like among the distractions and drama perpetuated by Freddy and his team, I failed to realize how much the quality of the workouts had declined. 

No nonsense. Zuzka getting down to business.

So that's it. I'm proud to say I am a Bodyrocker no more. Zuzana's warm, encouraging energy, combined with her kick-ass workouts are exactly what I'm looking for. No drama, no pettiness, no cooked up controversy. Just love of fitness, hard work, dedication, and the message that no matter where you have been, no matter your fitness level, and no matter what you look like, you can love yourself for who you are and strive to be better every single day. And that, friends, is all I need. 

You can find Zuzana at