If it wasn’t already clear that SoulCycle was an evil empire dressed up in motivational sayings and an attractive shade of yellow, Business Insider released an investigative report on Tuesday morning with enough tea to potentially drown the business in Earl Gray. According to the fascinating article, several top tier SoulCycle instructors have been accused by riders and their own co-workers of abusing their status within the company by sleeping with riders, fat-shaming customers, and verbally harassing other SoulCycle employees. All this while the company allegedly protected their star teachers—ignoring accusations and doling out treats like a Benz, private offices, and fully paid memberships to SoHo house.
Will shitty entitled instructors finally be the thing that sinks the SoulCycle brand? Doubt it. Is any of this a surprise? Nope! In the world of stationary cycling boutiques, instructors are demi-gods. Riders follow them from studio to studio because they are physical manifestations of what riders strive to achieve in class: They are beautiful, charismatic, and above all, in the best shape possible. It’s all part of the packaging and it works like a fucking charm because the reality is everyone in those classes—from the pros in the front row to the ones hiding in the back—are there because places like SoulCycle monetize fear of being fat.
The instructors that BI names who are all accused of a melange of different abuses of power are Conor Kelly, Laurie Cole, Mike Press, Janet Fitzgerald, and Mantas Zvinas. Press, who was one of the few extremely popular senior instructors of color in New York has been accused of “sexual impropriety” including pressuring a rider he was dating to perform oral sex because she “owed him at least that,” after she refused to have sex with him at all when he showed up at her dorm room, BI reported. (Press, who now teaches in two studios in Westchester, New York, has a full schedule this week with two of his Bronxville classes so full that riders are being waitlisted.)
While each instructor listed has paragraphs dedicated specifically to their own unique brand of assholery, the worst offender has to be master instructor Laurie Cole who allegedly exerted control over the studios where she taught in order to create a desirable aesthetic, which included employees at the front desk.
Three people told Business Insider that Cole had “fat-shamed” studio staffers. One former assistant studio manager in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan said that on multiple occasions Cole ordered studio managers to remove certain staffers from their shifts because they weren’t in good enough shape.
“She has taken photos of staffers who were maybe curvy and said, ‘This is not on brand for my check-in. I don’t want this at the front desk during my classes,’” the former manager recalled.
One SoulCycle insider claimed that if Cole’s demands weren’t met, she would threaten not to teach that day, despite customers competing for the coveted spots in her classes. Cole’s antics, which included moving a pregnant woman from her bike in the front row of a class in favor of a thinner rider, were allegedly known by upper management. Still, Cole faced almost no disciplinary action. “In more than one instance, Cole’s conduct got her taken off the schedule temporarily, another former longtime senior staffer said. But the behavior didn’t change,” BI reports. Laurie Cole is also listed on SoulCycle’s website as teaching this week at the Hudson Yards and Tribeca studios. Four of her classes for the week are at waitlist status.
This latest info is horrifying, but it should come as no surprise that some instructors who have been treated like celebrities in the cycling community let the fake fame go to their heads. After all, the brand is built around the instructors’ outsized persona; the company’s own CEO has repeatedly said that the instructors are the product. But SoulCycle has made clear what its values are—thinness, whiteness, wealth—and it hasn’t impacted the business.
This isn’t even the first scandal. Despite backlash, SoulCycle remained relatively popular after one of its owners was found to have hosted a Trump fundraiser. There was no noticeable fallout when the company was sued for firing employees in the middle of their maternity leave. The company has been pivoting to digital with some success, although not as much as its main competitor Peloton and studios are re-opening amid the pandemic.
The magic of SoulCycle has been that unlike a regular studio or gym that loudly points to your flaws, SoulCycle takes a subtle approach. Instructors don’t talk about weight loss in class, they talk about how you feel. There are no metrics readily available on the in-studio bike (they send your stats to your phone but you can opt-out of that) because the push you put into the bike shouldn’t be about a number, it should be you challenging yourself. I’ve lost count of the number of times an instructor buoyed me with the line that we were all in that room because ‘we love ourselves’ and love means pushing beyond our limits. Not pushing yourself is “cheating yourself” or “selling yourself short.”
Even though we’re all smart sentient human beings, we buy the shtick because the idea that exercise is synonymous with self-care or self-love is an easier pill to swallow than admitting that we’re all buying into fatphobia. Instructors creating an anti-fat environment swathed in self-care shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s selling the company motto with a smile. Really the only thing that can bring SoulCycle down is coronavirus getting worse and making it impossible to sustain. But even then, fitness capitalism will always find a way.