‘Fitness Is Not A Look’: Calif. Gym Owner Markets Photos Of Real People, Not Models

By Courtney Perkes
The Orange County Register.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) We love Women in Business who are creating products and or services that are empowering women to be REAL! Gym owner Michele Burmaster is one of those women. After seeing the endless stream of unrealistic photos of fitness MODELS  for sale,  she created her own  fitness stock photo collection with photos of REAL PEOPLE for use by gym owners, personal trainers and fitness bloggers. launched in February, and more than 200 images have sold so far.


When gym owner Michele Burmaster looks at stock photos of fitness models, with their chiseled abs, oiled skin and revealing attire, she imagines they would be bored working out with her. For one, she would insist they wear sensible shoes.

And frankly, she’s tired of them, saying the unrealistic images so ubiquitous in fitness industry advertising discourage most people from joining a gym.

At Burmaster’s Surf City Fit Club in Huntington Beach, Calif., her members come in all ages, shapes and sizes. So she decided to make that realism available for download, creating a fitness stock photo collection for use by gym owners, personal trainers and fitness bloggers. launched in February, and more than 200 images have sold so far.

Her photos show all the expected poses: Men and women lifting weights, hanging from pull-up bars and swinging kettlebells.

But some also include features not normally seen in stock fitness photos such as gray hair, fleshy arms and thick bellies.

“On a lot of levels, fitness is not a look,” Burmaster said. “It is what you can do; it’s your health.

“When you see a picture of a woman with a six-pack, that six-pack is largely hereditary. It has a lot to do with genetics. It’s selling them on something that’s not attainable and drives them to unhealthy behaviors.”

Burmaster sells her images, including several of herself, for $45 each. She shot the photos of volunteers she recruited, including a few of her gym members.

Tracy Miller, 48, of Huntington Beach, became an unlikely subject. For years she ducked out of family photos, self-conscious about her weight.

“I didn’t want people looking at me. I felt terrible about myself,” Miller said.

She used to view exercise as drudgery, but after joining Burmaster’s gym a year ago, she discovered that she could reap strength and confidence while losing inches.

“I’m hoping that allowing me to be photographed, because I’m rather large, it will inspire others to say, ‘That girl has a lot of confidence. I can do that too,'” Miller said. “For the first time in my life, ever, I looked at pictures of myself and went, ‘That’s not that bad. That’s OK, I can live with that.’ Normally I would have been, ‘Oh my gosh, look at the size of my stomach.'”

Using nontraditional photos to market an aspirational industry that seeks to deliver measurable results could require some finesse.

Gail Love, a professor who teaches health communication classes at Cal State Fullerton, said written content will be important to accompany images that have previously only been seen as the “before” photos in “before and after” advertising.

“Many people might automatically assume this is the before,” Love said. “If it’s portrayed in the right way with the appropriate slogan or copy to reinforce the fact that this is real people achieving real goals, then it’s doable.”

She noted the successful Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” soap ads and that one of this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover models is a size 14.

“We’re beginning to see a very small movement in the direction of reality and away from these portrayals of perfection,” Love said.

Love said she hopes Burmaster’s effort will help nudge more people toward working out.

“I think it’s wonderful, especially as we just see obesity continue to be a huge problem,” she said. “We’re to the point now where it’s not necessarily a goal to make you look better or improve your body image, but for your health.”

Susan Ogilvie, a personal trainer and online fitness coach in Brighton, Mich., bought four of Burmaster’s stock photos to use on her blog and for advertising. She said she liked their bright colors and positive tone.

“I was really happy to be able to use photos that look like real people vs. airbrushed people,” Ogilvie said. “When people see my materials they’re going to say, ‘Those people are me.'”

Ogilvie, 38, said she’s struggled to find appropriate images she could use to attract clients who are typically women in their mid-40s.

“Looking at someone who is wearing short shorts and a bikini top doing exercise in a gym is more like a sexification of fitness and that’s my major concern, that people think fitness is only for sexy people or for skinny people,” she said.

Claudia Ackley, who was also photographed, said at 69 she’s probably Burmaster’s oldest gym member. She said it would be fun if an image of her sells, but she’s not sure what demand will be like.

“I think it’s probably going to be a little slow because we’re a very youth-oriented culture, especially in Southern California,” said Ackley, who lives in Huntington Beach. “(But) I think people are becoming much more aware that real people look like real people.”

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