Body Image

How new urban jobs are changing the way Indian men look

Dutch anthropologist Michiel Baas is studying how new urban professions, like gym trainers and coffee baristas, are transforming middle-class notions of the ideal male body.



In 1996, Café Coffee Day opened its first outlet in Bangalore and transformed urban Indian life forever. For the middle- and upper-middle classes, coffee shop lounging soon became the new way to socialise, and the new spaces came to be celebrated in films and pop songs.

But there was another cultural shift underway, captured in this popular tune by pop band Aryans in 2001. In the music video, a humble, albeit dapper-looking coffee shop waiter wins the love of a female customer over the mugs of coffee that he serves her. Cafés, evidently, were not just a cool place to hang out in, but also a cool place to work in.

For young men and women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, a job at a coffee shop became one of the many new opportunities for social mobility in post-liberalisation India. In the 2000s, these opportunities exploded across Indian cities, with new malls, telecom companies and fast food joints constantly in need of attendants, salesmen and servers.

The men who work at these new jobs are the focus of a study by Dutch anthropologist Michiel Baas. “Most youth who take up jobs as coffee baristas or fitness trainers come from the lower-middle classes," he said. "These jobs provide alternate career options where you don’t necessarily need a degree but still make the kind of money that was once reserved for those with degrees.”

Baas's research focuses on how these new professional categories are changing patterns of upward mobility and the experiences of young professionals working for global brands such as Starbucks and Gold’s Gym. To  Baas, the most intriguing of these new urban Indian professions is undoubtedly that of the fitness trainers – the lean, muscular men ubiquitous in the many gyms and fitness centres mushrooming across our cities.  He's studying how the fitness training industry is shaping notions of masculinity.

A good gym trainer, he says, makes between Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 a month if employed by an established fitness brand. If he also works as a personal trainer on the side, he could earn up to Rs 1 lakh a month. But the move to the upper rungs of middle-class life is not just economic, says Baas.

Recruitment to these jobs – particularly ones with international brands – is largely based on merit, so it is empowering and liberating for most applicants when they are not judged for their caste, region or religious status.

“Moreover, a job at a gym is seen as glamorous – you get to hang out and connect with clients who are all from the upper middle classes, people who make more money than you," Baas said. "I’ve met trainers who have picked up different dressing styles from their clients, who are exposed to a larger world and who talk of travelling abroad.”

Woven intricately into such aspirational living is the glamorisation of the ideal body. Most gyms, Baas explains, recruit trainers on a commission basis. The more personal clients each trainer is able to bring in, the more commission he gets. So what makes a trainer more successful than others? “In most cases, the one with the better body, the larger, more toned muscles, will end up getting more clients,” he said.

Baas believes that in the recent past, Bollywood has provided a ready reckoner for the ideal, glamorous male body, by going “out of its way to create scenes where the muscular actor can go bare chested”.

“For years, women have been struggling because a certain kind of female body type has been glorified," Baas said. "Now, this is affecting men too, and because of the influence of Bollywood, the body that is considered desirable is a physique almost impossible to achieve.”

In a fitness industry driven by Bollywood, trainers seem to take this as a challenge – they want their clients to ask them how they managed to get their perfect biceps or six-pack abs.

“The lean, muscular body, then, comes to stand for a particular kind of masculine ideal – not just attractive, but also a symbol of accomplishment, because everyone knows it takes immense amount of dedication to build that kind of a body,” said Baas. “Ultimately, the goal of most gym trainers is to work as trainers within Bollywood.”

 

 

 

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When house hunting is as easy as shopping for groceries

The supermarket experience comes to a sector where you least expected it.

The woes of a house hunter in India are many. The dreary process starts with circling classifieds in newspapers and collecting shiny brochures. You flip through the proposed and ready designs that launch a hundred daydreams on the spot. So far so good. But, every house hunter would attest to the soul-crushing experience of checking out a disappointing property.

The kitchen of a 2BHK is carved from the corner of the hall, the 3BHK is a converted 2BHK, the building looks much older than in the pictures…. after months of reading the fine line, and between the lines, you feel like all the diagrams and highlights seem to blur into each other.

After much mental stress, if you do manage to zero in on a decent property, there’s a whole new world of knowledge to be navigated - home loans to be sifted through, taxes to be sorted and a finance degree to be earned for understanding it all.

Do you wish a real estate platform would address all your woes? Like a supermarket, where your every need (and want) is catered to? Imagine all your property choices nicely lined up and arranged with neat labels and offers. Imagine being able to compare all your choices side by side. Imagine viewing verfied listings and knowing what you see is what you get. Imagine having other buyers and experts guiding you along every step while you make one of the most important investments in your life. Imagine...

MagicBricks has made every Indian house hunters’ daydream of a simplified real estate supermarket a reality. Now you have more than a pile of brochures at your disposal as the online real estate marketplace brings you lakhs of choices to your fingertips. Instead of bookmarking pages, you can narrow down your choices by area, budget, house type etc. Just so you aren’t hit by FOMO, you can always add a suburb you’ve been eyeing or an extra bedroom to your filter. But there’s more to a house than just floor space. On MagicBricks, you can check for good schools in the vicinity, a park for evening walks or at least an assured easier commute. Save time and energy by vetting properties based on the specs, pictures and floor plans uploaded and have all your niggling concerns addressed on the users’ forum.

Shortlisted a property? Great! No need to descend down another spiral of anxiety. Get help from reliable experts on MagicBricks on matters of legalities, home loans, investment, property worth etc. You can even avail their astrology and Vastu services to ensure an auspicious start to life in your new home or office. With its entire gamut of offerings, MagicBricks has indeed brought the supermarket experience to real estate in India, as this fun video shows below.

Play

Get started with a simplified experience of buying, renting and selling property on MagicBricks here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MagicBricks and not by the Scroll editorial team.