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“Physical” has been a hit for Apple TV+, and with Season 2 set to stream from June 3, there’s never been a better time to put on your leg warmers and get involved.
Set largely in the 1980s, “Physical” follows Sheila Rubin, acted to perfection by Rose Byrne, as she builds a fitness empire and navigates a turbulent friendship with Greta, portrayed by Dierdre Friel.
Aerobics proves to be a much-needed escape for Rubin, who is struggling with an eating disorder and a selfish husband outside of the gym. Greta, meanwhile, is dealing with insecurities around being overweight and is also finding it difficult to find her place in the world.
While the show offers an uncomfortable and necessary look at the fallibilities of the human psyche, there are some sparkling — and glittering — rays of light in there too. One of the more colorful aspects of Physical is the reminder that the ‘80s was definitely a moment in history as far as gym fashion. So, did the show’s star, Rose Byrne have any input as relates to the spandex seen on screen?
“Well, I mean we really collaborated closely with our designer, Ernesto,” Byrne says. “He was incredible and you do have to have a dialogue, absolutely. With those leotards, they’re actually very hard to make because we’re all hand-making everything so it’s within an inch of its life, and back then a lot of women would make their own leotards. They weren’t readily available — they were sold mainly in ballet stores. Athleisure was not a thing in 1982, so it’s such a great part of the show. In a way, that collaboration it’s really our ‘special effects.’”
Of course, the 2020s are giving us a fashion moment too with the rise of tight-fitting, high-cut Nike Pro and Gym Shark apparel. In the ‘80s, you could wear whatever you wanted to the gym or for an aerobics session and return to civilian life without the fear of being caught by a lens, but with the growth of social media and the omni-presence of cell phone cameras, there are more insecurities around what we wear for working out than ever before.
In season 1 of Physical, Greta feels that the pressure to look a certain way is too much for her and considers training at home instead, away from the judgment of others. But what does Deirdre Friel think of the world of gym fashion, and would it be better for us all if we just wore the same thing, or should we learn to proudly accept our individuality?
“Embrace who you are,” Friel says. “You are never gonna fit eight-pounds of potatoes into a five-pound sack, you just gotta be you. I’m just grateful they don’t put me in spandex in the show ‘cause there are so many times where I’m like, ‘Good Lord above.’”
Byrne, who lost a significant amount of weight to play the complex character of Sheila Rubin, looks incredible in her ‘80s get-up but unlike the badly fitting garments of the ‘80s these outfits are tailored to perfection.
“We have a mix of vintage pieces, and pieces that we build from scratch so it’s a good combination,” she says. “It’s really still the ’70s when we start the show, so toward the end of this season you start to get into more of that 80s Armani-like power suit. But it’s a lot of fun.”
As a Golden Globe-nominated actress, Byrne has learned to wrestle with her own insecurities, even while wearing body-hugging gym gear, in order to deliver an authentic performance. “As an actor I think it’s fun to, whether you are shooting aerobics or a boxing scene, you can’t be as self-conscious because you are trying to do something physical, so that’s always quite liberating.”
A message that Physical sends out loud and clear is that no matter how we appear on the outside, we are all dealing with our own demons on the inside. While Sheila and Greta may be polar opposites in terms of their body shapes, they are dealing with many of the same internal struggles. This is a point that many viewers have related to, and women have reached out to both actors to thank them for their relatability.
“A lot of people have said that it’s nice to see somebody that looks like me doing what I’m doing, which is nice,” shares Friel. “It’s truly nice to just be able to be myself, and not have to wear Spanx every day at work or anything like that and just feel really comfortable.” So, whatever you wear to the gym, skin-tight or oversized, being comfortable and embracing your individuality is the way forward.