Santa brought me the new Wii Fit Plus for Christmas and I’ve been playing for the last week and a half. I mostly missed the Wii Fit hype and shortage last year, so I began knowing very little about this fitness game. Using a balance board and the Wii remote, I’m able to do yoga poses and various aerobic, balancing, and strength-building exercises.
The box for Wii Fit Plus suggests children and old folks can enjoy Wii Fit. I appreciate that it helps folks exercise and be active because I believe everyone should have access to exercise. Of course, most of the world’s population can’t afford a Wii and Wii Fit is not accessible to many people with disabilities, but it introduces exercise to the temporarily able-bodied middle class folks privileged enough to game.
I’m a pretty active person and find the virtual jogging and cycling a wimpier substitution for the real thing. But I’ve been doing the yoga and strength building routines on rainy days, and they do make me sweat and sore the next day. Even if I don’t get a cardio workout with Wii Fit Plus, it’s already helped my flexibility, balance, and strength.
Flexibility, balance, and strength are fair things to work on. I appreciate that the game can track my improvement. What I’m less thrilled about is the game’s use of the body mass index (BMI) to calculate whether I’m underweight, “normal,” overweight, or obese. I am surprised this contemporary game still uses the archaic BMI (invented over 150 years ago). The BMI does not account for muscle weighing more than fat and often classifies athletes as overweight or obese. It also standardizes white norms because it is based on white people.
Wii Fit has already drawn criticism for sparking potential eating disorders for diagnosing an active girl as overweight. It also classifies my partner, who is slender with a fast metabolism but rarely exercises, as underweight. The game says the average BMI for someone of his height is about 30 pounds heavier than what he is, which he could never gain, nor does he need to.
I don’t appreciate how the game assumes everyone wants to be thin and lean. I buy into it. As a feminist, I’m aware of how I’ve internalized mainstream beauty standards and know that is why I flirt with eating disorders myself. Wii Fit enables me to obsess over my weight when I’d previously refused to own a scale so I wouldn’t let it measure my self-worth. While my Wii praises me for fitting into the “normal” category, it asks me how I screwed up if I weigh in at a few pounds heavier than I had on the previous day. Did I over eat? Did I have a late night snack?
My advise to Wii Fit gamers is the same advice I’m telling myself: don’t take it too seriously. Have fun doing sun salutations and virtual ski jumps, but don’t let the game make you feel bad about yourself. Know it’s using old fashioned measurements of “health.” Perhaps in future incarnations of Wii Fit we will be able to set more goals than just losing weight (or gaining, in the case of my “underweight” partner). I hope a future incarnation of Wii Fit will use a more creature measure of “progress” than the body mass index.