Why can’t I stop using Carrie Underwood’s fitness app?

It’s a bit overwhelming to think of how many famous people we’re bombarded with every day. Ten years ago, I was content to keep a Facebook profile connected to my aunts and friends from math class, and to chill on obscure message boards where my avatar was a Neopet. Now that the internet has largely centralized, I’m constantly surrounded by photos, videos, and opinions of famous people who are more financially successful than I am. It’s as if my entire high school gym class took place in the Basketball Hall of Fame — look who you could be!

So I was curious to try Fit52 with Carrie Underwood, a new fitness app that the singer created with her personal trainer, Eve Overland. Underwood’s app is, the press release claims, “a fresh and balanced approach to wellness, that follows her knowledgeable and fun fitness routine.” I signed up for a free trial.

When you create your account, Fit52 asks a few questions to indicate how committed and advanced of an exerciser you are. Based on your answers, you’re assigned to a “Path,” which is a series of video-guided workouts purported to reflect either Carrie’s or Eve’s daily regimen. I was put on one of Eve’s paths originally, but switched to one of Carrie’s (sorry Eve, I’m sure you’re great).

“Standing quad stretch!” demands a robotic narrator. “Inchworms! Alternating lizard lunge with rotation!” You’re shown a series of people who are not Carrie Underwood doing the exercises so you can follow along. But while Underwood isn’t present for the workouts herself, her photos are plastered across the app: on loading screens, the homepage, and a number of the individual paths’ pages.

Speaking as someone who’s used just about every fitness app under the sun, the workouts are nothing special. They’re made up of very standard exercises that aren’t harder, more creative, or more fun than anything you can find online. And yet I’ve been using it all week more consistently than I usually use other fitness apps. I keep going back.

Underwood said in an interview with Women’s Health that she created Fit52 (her book, to which the app is a companion) in part because she was struggling with other people’s opinions of her. “I shouldn’t care what people think about me,” she said, after recounting body shaming she received on message boards in her American Idol days. “I was tired, and I kept buying bigger clothes. I knew I could be better for myself, and I let my haters be my motivators.”

Body shaming is terrible, but it was almost reassuring to read this interview because I very much understood. As John Mulaney eloquently put it, “I need everybody, all day long, to like me so much.” I think there’s very little, especially in today’s Centralized Online World, that isn’t at least partially motivated by the abstractly vague idea of people liking, respecting, or envying me more. Maybe “they” will like this outfit. I can’t wait to post this Instagram story so “they” can see my great vacation. (The other day, I was trying to talk a friend out flying to San Francisco and risking COVID-19 to compete in a prestigious college debate tournament. “I just want people to think I’m smart,” he said.)

So even Underwood, a beloved artist who could not have less to prove to the world, is doing things for people’s approval. I can see myself as Underwood, with seven Grammy awards gleaming on a shelf behind her, staring and staring at a single message board post that says “Carrie’s getting fat.” I can see myself, as Underwood, getting up and going to work out.

In one of my favorite advice columns in The Cut, Heather Havrilesky speaks to a reader who can’t stop comparing herself to more successful writers.

Your comparisons are just you, opening your eyes and then translating what you see using your insecurities as a lens. You are translating with your assumption, born out of your competitive parents or your competitive high school or your competitive college or your competitive soul (these exist — some souls are truly cutthroat!), that SOMEONE IS WATCHING AND MEASURING.

Take a minute and imagine this judge, watching and measuring. “She’s late,” the Judge in the Sky proclaims. “She has made many mistakes. She is ALMOST 30.” The crowd gasps, then giggles at how old, how late!

I think I keep going back to Fit52 because Carrie Underwood is my Judge in the Sky. I know she isn’t actually watching my “Hindu Pushups” and “Modified Crab Toe Touches With Dip.” But I feel like she is present, maybe in the same way she felt like her “haters” were present when developing her paths (but in a positive, encouraging way). Neither of them actually care about us, but we want to succeed for them nonetheless.


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