Volume 91, Issue 61

Friday, January 16, 1998

Mr. Rogers


In the thick of the thin trend

©Photo by Tom Baumgartner

By Natalie Henry
Gazette Staff

In an effort to feel alive and brimming with vitality, some people perform deadrow lifts during their lunch break while others roll over in bed turning off a ringing alarm clock to break-in their new dumbells before breakfast. But is the drive to do this simply for health reasons, or does it have to do more with one's body image?

Maclean's year-end poll in December showed that 43 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men believe they are overweight. This widespread public dissatisfaction with physical appearances has led to an explosion in the fitness industry that has littered many cities with an increasing number of health clubs that cater to varying needs.

"Years ago it was difficult to get financing or a lease from landlords to open a fitness club," Blair Henry, director of personal training at Goodlife Fitness, says. "But now they're begging us because of the high traffic that fitness clubs reap.

Larger clubs and even ones which are open 24-hours are catering to a growing need to deal with thickening waistlines, or the desire to shed pounds. "Weight loss and nutrition are a concern to men and women who are overweight according to the Body Mass Index," Evelyne Michaels, editor of Women's Health Matters newsletter, says. The Body Mass Index is a guideline that suggests what a person's healthy weight range is, depending on their height.

"Most of us tend to strive. It's okay as long as they're not overexercising or obsessing – like skipping class to workout," says Madeline Lennon, art historian and chair of the visual arts department at Western.

Although many people venture to health clubs for different reasons, they do share similar goals pertaining to body image. "People say they want to feel better, but they have more physical, aesthetic goals," Henry says. "Most people want to trim up some spots. For example, women want to work on their hips, butt and thighs and men want to work on their beer belly and abs."

Most goals are to lose weight or to slim down – that seems to be the biggest concern, Carey Horn, president of the 24Hr. Healthplex, adds. "It's a bad thing because muscle weighs more than fat."

A poor body image can also lead to other anxieties. In a fast-paced and aesthetic-aspiring generation, smelling the roses has been replaced by the fearful fume of appearing foolish while working out – a whiff of jealousy that the jockhead in bike shorts can benchpress 400 pounds and the stench of sweat from overexertion.

Some men and women feel if they go to the gym and work-out they'll look foolish because they're out of shape, Henry exclaims. "We have a separate facility for women to give them a better comfort level. We also have a large population that comes here for religious purposes because they can't let men see them unveiled," Henry adds.

"I have clients work on a daily journal and weekly journal so they can make the equation to change all aspects of your life and not just fitness – to make working out and fitness come together," the director of personal training explains. "It's proven that divorce rate and stress level is down among fit people. How you feel is more important than how you look."

When asked about his definition of a healthy person, Henry synopsized a thoughtful conclusion. "A healthy person has balance in mind, body and spirit." His advice is to believe in moderation in everything you do – it's okay to go to excesses once in a while. You are able to complete any physical task you want to do without physical risk.

Is the pressure to conform wearing thin?

"People have a love-hate relationship with their bodies," Lennon says. They love it by indulging in different foods, yet they feel guilty afterwards and not that eating is bad, but they punish themselves with exercise, she explains.

"Normal ideals change, yet not much," she says. "For example, Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14, yet people still look for big breasts."

Although some people may be waiting for the waif-like look to wear thin, model Kate Moss has a thriving, fruitful career and models who grace magazine covers rarely boast over a size seven.

"There are tastes in appearances as there are in anything else," Lennon says. "I'm waiting for this trend to end, however, I don't see it ending yet, partly because it's not only a fashion statement but also a health push. There's a sense that healthier means skinnier, both in the fashion and health world – this ideal is not going away, at least not in my lifetime."

It's quite disturbing when younger girls around ages nine and 10 are concerned with what they eat, Michaels adds.

"There are women like Tammy Lee Web, Kathy Smith, Karen Voigt who endorse fitness videos and say that women can have a body like them; although, what people don't know is that Tammy Lee Web is married to a top plastic surgeon."

However, the modelling market has, in some ways, become more diverse. "Now we have nice, strong role models like Gabrielle Reece," Henry says. "She's a strong woman who is considered a supermodel and who won't do runway shows during the volleyball season – that's pretty amazing.

Although women are under pressure to conform more than their male counterparts, the female gender is not alone in overcoming barriers and striving for self-acceptance.

"There's a thing called reverse anorexia which involves men and women," Henry explains. "It's where instead of people looking in the mirror and saying that 'I'm too big', they say they are too small. A lot of young kids are taking steroids. It's the same body image problem that [people with anorexia] have, but just the reverse."

"If a guy can't bench press 400 pounds he thinks he's a loser," Horn agrees. "It's a problem that's only getting worse."

"The media is our worst enemy," Henry says. "Look at home shopping networks, they're always selling some piece of fitness equipment. Yet at clubs, people have a better chance at making a lifestyle of commitment to fitness; we make an effort to call people every six weeks and say 'we haven't seen you in awhile'."

In the quest for happiness, sometimes things can get blurred by a desire to please others. Although the answers to a growing problem can not be solved over a session at the gym, perhaps a clearer picture can be painted despite the sweat and tears of frustration:

"I teach a seminar and one of the things I introduce is five steps to goal setting," Henry explains. "And the first step I teach is to start strongly with unwavering commitment. Picture where you want to be and how to get there, create a good strong visual step and take action. Fitness takes place anywhere, even outside these doors."

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998