Exercise Videos and Eye Contact

Exercise Videos and Eye Contact

I’ve been looking for ways to pace the morning workout, and so I mentioned this to my sister. She enthusiastically told me that a workout DVD published by Self magazine really helped her, and thus encouraged she started looking for a suitable DVD on my behalf. A few days later, she reported that there weren’t many workout DVDs for men, with the exception of a popular “nude yoga for gay men” series. That is a little too manly for my tastes, so I passed. But I wondered: why are there so few videos of this nature?

Do Men Hate Exercise Videos?

Compared to the hundreds of women’s exercise videos, why are there so few for men? A few months ago, I was visiting with a woman friend of mine in Concord. We were at Border’s Books, and got on the topic of how certain fashion cues establish what “status” you have in high society. For men, it’s $35,000 watches or $100,000 cars, or perhaps a certain cut in your suit. For women, it’s apparently how long your fingernails are and how you talk.

Curious, I went over to the magazine rack and grabbed a few girly-looking magazines to compare with their equivalent guy magazines. My first haul of magazines, consisting of Bust, Bitch, and Lucky, were apparently not “girly” enough, and I was sent to fetch an issue of Elle. For comparison, I grabbed the latest issue of Maxim, which seemed to be a guy’s guy type of magazine.

Follow the Eyes

The first thing I noticed about Elle was just how much more beautifully photographed it was, especially in the advertisements. And the advertising itself didn’t go on and on, as Maxim did, about specs and benefits; each ad just listed the brand name and that was it. I commented on this to my friend, and she said that these are brands that all women know growing up. I guess the male equivalent would be knowing the names of baseball stadiums and the cities they are in, which beers are brewed in what states, what kind of kielbasa is best for grilling, and how many cubic inches of engine displacement is worth talking about. We’ve got Hemi, and they’ve got Hermès. It had never struck me how different our brand-o-spheres are, once we get away from the familiar mainstream nameplates: Campbell Soup, Walmart, Sears, Jif, Hershey’s, etc are pretty mainstream middleclass household brands. But beyond that, the brand markers become wildly divergent.

Another interesting thing about the Elle advertising was that each photograph showed a scene that was part of a story. A typical photo might portray a woman running down a street, or showing a tear-streaked cheek, or getting out of a car to some glamorous or romantic event. In multi-person photos, I noticed that arrangement of people was such that they were all looking at each other, emotionally interconnected through glances and posture. I didn’t actually notice this until I was flipping through Maxim; in that magazine, the bulk of advertising photography showed men in isolation, looking away from each other, never looking right at the camera. In group shots, no one looked at each other at all, even in parties. Or, there was clearly some attractive woman or powerful object monopolizing the spread. Even in “couple” oriented ads, the man might be holding the woman from behind, but both would be looking right at the camera instead of each other. No one makes eye contact in a men’s magazine.

I don’t think that this is accidental, though I didn’t flip through all the men’s magazines to verify this observation. Maybe the male demographic for this magazine doesn’t like being confronted with emotion-laden eye contact from other men, and maybe this is the famous difference between men and woman again: men are object focused, women are personal relationship focused. Nurturing from other men makes us uncomfortable unless a certain bond has already been established in a work context. Establishing those bonds for the sake of establishing bonds is, perhaps, somewhat more difficult.

An exercise video needs to maintain engagement with the viewer. Men aren’t going to respond, I’m guessing, to encouraging “attaboy! work those glutes! you’re doing great!” emanations from a tape. Or even from another live person, unless perhaps it was an attractive female. In a sports team or coaching situation, it’s different because the focus isn’t on emotional encouragement, but getting to the goal. The emotional bond is formed through achieving the goal after-the-fact, not before. We save our eye contact for looking at things that don’t look back, and for unusually intense moments when we need to confirm that an understanding is in place. Then, we look away.


When I explained my theory about eye contact to my sister, she perked up and exclaimed something like, “OH, is that why guys don’t make eye contact when dancing? I thought it was because they were scanning the room for dance moves!”


“You know, when a guy doesn’t know any good dance moves, he looks for another guy that has good moves from across the room, and starts imitating him. He probably has to pick a guy that the girl he’s with can’t see.”

I was flabberghasted at the concept. So simple! So effective! But the downside is that you don’t make eye contact with the woman you’re dancing with, and if women are using eye contact on a WHOLE ‘NOTHER LEVEL, we’re losing points. On the other hand, the fact that we’re dancing at ALL scores huge points, so it probably is a net win. On the other other hand, if you’re thinking in terms of points and technique (and blogging about it) you’re probably not scoring any points at all :-)

Anyway, I still don’t have an exercise video regimen.


  1. Guillaume 18 years ago

    Two things: first, on picture quality, the budget of Elle and I think for any advertisement within Elle is in a complete different league than the budget of any men magazine. Second, when you are doing eye contact with another men, it’s part of testosterone-ladden rituals: who is the strongest, who can I beat … and you do not want to confront yourself to the 180 pound guy going to the gym every day. (And I guess it’s pretty much the same on the dancefloor: evaluation of competition.)

    Cheers, Guillaume


  2. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Guillaume: excellent points! I wonder if a better magazine to look for comparison would be a business magazine of some sort, or one that’s read a lot by the successful status-seeking male. Golf magazines? Cigar Afficinado?

  3. Ian Muir 18 years ago

    If you want a more direct comparison with Elle, I’d reccomend GQ. It caters to a similar economic demographic. I think you will find that the photography and production value is higher and that there is less of the specs and benefits stuff.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the eye contact thing is the same though.

    As far as the exercise thing goes, Yourself Fitness has been very helpful to me. It’s a “personal trainer” for the XBox. Dance Dance Revolution is also a great workout.

  4. Emmanuel 18 years ago

    <blockquote cite=”“>In group shots, no one looked at each other at all, even in parties</blockquote>
    …yes, clearly we’re always looking out for talent that might cross our field of vision. Sometimes, annoyingly so, like how often were you engaged in a conversation with a friend whose eyes suddenly wander…and how often have you caught yourself doing it! ouch…I hate it when I do that.


  5. Frank 18 years ago

    dude, videos for working out? man u know.. it’s a matter of will, get up from your daily morning dialogue with yourself and move it!

  6. Mew 17 years ago

    Wow… really interesting observations. I don’t get to look through many mens magazines (only at the dentist’s office! XD) but I’ll be sure to look out for that next time.

    If you’re looking for a sort of exercise video… would it be crazy of me to suggest the Dance Dance Revolution game? It’s not exactly a video, but it’s a game that plays on your TV through a playstation 2 (or on your computer if you get the right adaptor). You play by stepping on the arrows on a dance-pad peripheral. A quick google search would pull more information up on it.

    I remember you saying you were a bit of a gamer, so this might be great for you. Since it’s a game, it can keep your attention for hours!

  7. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    My DDR pad is busted :/ It was a nice Red Octane one too, and this has bummed me out. My floors are also carpeted which makes for a terrible DDR workout. I tried buying some stuff panels to put the pad on, but they’re still not stiff enough. But otherwise YEAH, it’s a good workout. For a while I was going to the local arcade and playing “MoCap Boxing” and the other shooting game where you have to move your whole body. That’s a good workout too!