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A woman without curves is like a fish without a bicycle

February 22, 2012

Man without muscles

This is not the post I had planned for today!  But we’ll put that post on the back burner for now, because I just saw something that made me realize need to cover another aspect of health that’s just as important as eating well and exercising– if not more! One of my favorite resources for banishing fitness boredom is BodyRock. The “home workout movement” features free daily workout videos, and their challenging moves fall under the category of high intensity interval training. Their instructors are encouraging and upbeat, although it feels a little gratuitous to see the female trainers only work out in sports bras and very brief shorts.

I also follow them on Facebook, and today they posted “like this post if you feel the same way!” with a picture of a very zaftig lady wearing lacy pink briefs. The picture was captioned “a woman without curves is like jeans without pockets: you don’t know where to put your hands.”

First of all, this message isn’t about the woman, it’s about the person wanting to put their hands on her. Why is she just an object? Second, I don’t want soft-core images from my workout gurus. I want pictures of people challenging themselves, pushing their limits, and being active, not come-hither. Third, women come in all sizes and shapes. They’re all capable of being happy, healthy, and attractive, although I’m more concerned with accomplishing my personal goals and less concerned with which men want to put their hands on me (actually I’d prefer not to think about that… otherwise I’d never walk down the street).

Men come in all sizes and shapes, too, although I’ve never seen an image that says, “a man without muscles is like jeans without pockets: you don’t know where to put your hands.”

Your sense of self matters more than having six-pack abs. Call it inner health, call it self-esteem, confidence, or whatever makes sense to you. I’d rather be happy and comfortable in my own skin than obsess over every morsel of food that goes into my mouth. I never want to feel that I need to work out to maintain my dress size, rather than just exercising because it makes me feel good. Yes, I admire my arms (frequently), but I don’t beat myself up if I skip a day, or if I can’t lift as much as the woman at the next bench. Each and every athlete is different, and I’m not in competition with them. I’m not even in competition with myself!

The problem with being interested in health and fitness is that you see a ton of health and fitness messages by companies who want your repeat business. Magazines want you to keep subscribing. Stores want you to keep buying. Gyms and trainers want you to keep up your membership. There are some great people out there who really do have their customers’/students’ best interests at heart, but at the end of the day, that magazine/clothing store/gym is a business, and they need you to make a profit. What sells?

Insecurity, that’s what.

There have been many studies done about the number of messages women receive in a day. Ads, articles, commercials, TV, internet, movies, magazines. You’re bombarded with people who are Photoshop-perfect, smiling with white teeth as they effortlessly glide through life. These unattainable, aspirational images are meant to sell you on the product, whether it’s deodorant, pink razors, diet pills, or shapewear.

I try to avoid generalizations, but I think it’s safe to say that most women have something they’d like to change about their bodies. Ads used to blatantly dance along the edge of women’s desire to lose weight. Then, finally, women started fighting back with body-positive messages like “I love my curves” or “kiss my big butt!”

Did companies respect this message? Did the people behind the ads say, “hey, we should stop telling women there’s something wrong with them?”

If you believe that, I’ve got this great bridge for sale…

The message is still there. It just has a new face, or a more subtle hook. Some companies, like Nike actually do a pretty decent job with positive motivation:

A WOMAN IS OFTEN MEASURED by the things she cannot control. She is measured by the way her body curves or doesn’t curve, by where she is flat or straight or round. She is measured by 36-24-26 and inches and ages and numbers, by all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become. Because every woman know, measurements are only statistics and STATISTICS LIE.”

Great message, right? Although they’re still trying to sell you shoes/pants/sports bras, this is at least a step in the right direction.

What I have a problem with is messages that try to play women against each other, or elevate one body type by bashing another. The biggest weapon in this body battle royale is one simple word: “curves.”

Having curves used to mean that you weren’t as thin as society thinks you should be, and you were okay with that. That you were proud of your womanly figure. That in itself was problematic (you can still have a womanly figure if you’re not terribly curvy, right?) but it was a stand against the “thin is in!” tsunami.

Then curves became a gauntlet in the face to any woman who wasn’t voluptuous enough. “Real women have curves.” I’m pretty sure a real woman… is anyone who identifies as a woman. Curvy, not-so-curvy, two X chromosomes, transgendered… if you feel like a woman, you’re a real woman.

I’m simply not a fan of this body-conscious trend. What does it matter, as long as you’re happy and healthy and comfortable in your own skin? And when did curves become the new C-word? Women get enough messages telling them they’re not ____ enough (fill in the blank with young, sexy, skinny, successful, etc.). We shouldn’t be encouraged to turn on each other and judge who gets to be a woman and who’s left out.

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6 Comments
  1. Alex permalink

    Brava! I’ve always felt that “real women have curves” is just as bad as “you have to be skinny to be attractive.” Any time anyone defines what a “real woman” is, it means that anyone who doesn’t fall into that limited rubric is, perforce, not real. I don’t need to deny the validity of another woman’s femininity to affirm my own!

  2. Ján Sabo permalink

    Great post. I also came across Body Rock recently, and was amazed by the high quality of the (free) workouts, so I googled around it a little bit. Regarding your point that “…Second, I don’t want soft-core images from my workout gurus….”, I understand that that’s the background where Body Rock’s co-founder Zuzana apparently comes from.

  3. @Alex- you said in one paragraph what I took a much longer post to articulate. 🙂

    @Jan- I don’t mind if Zuzana or the other instructors have a background in adult entertainment, or still participate in that world on their own time. But while I know sex sells, I don’t think you need to be scantily clad to give good fitness advice (our KM t-shirts and gi pants are functional, not form-fitting, after all) and I especially didn’t like seeing this picture on their wall (original pic is below the one I made): http://lorskie.tumblr.com/post/18081074423/man-without-muscles

    Putting the emphasis on looks rather than fitness and health does everyone a disservice.

  4. Ján Sabo permalink

    Let’s explore this.

    I agree that the photo you posted is primarily sexually gratuitous, and there are contexts when this is wonderful and entertaining and arousing etc.; and there are contexts where this should be a by-product of a more important message, such as on a fitness website.
    As an instructor of a physical activity, I guess that you’d want your attire to do several things, including be functional as you point out, but also to present your credentials.

    1) BE FUNCTIONAL – In the world of martial arts, we wear gi pants because they are strong and will not tear an embarrasing crotch hole when you throw a high kick, or when you’re grappling on the ground. They’re long so that they cover shin protectors. We wear tee shirts for shirt grabs, and sometimes a gi top for grappling. But there are divergent functional needs even in martial arts. Imagine an instructor of a kicking art trying to teach a complex kick wearing aikido pants that were actually designed to obscure the motion of the feet (http://127martialarts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/1f5chqdefault.jpg). I got a dose of something like the when I used to take argentinian tango dance lessons, and one particular instructor who wore such aikido-like pants and then would get frustrated weren’t able work. On the other hand, tighter pants help students see the motion better. I would even say that pants with Addidas-stype stripes on the side highlight the instructor’s legs even more and may help the student see even better and threfore lear faster.

    For a purely streching workout towars martial arts training, wearing a skin-tight constume is perfect, because it keeps the muscles warm and doesn’t impede the streching motion. Such as the Tae Kwon Do practitioner Sang H. Kim (http://www.powerbreathingforlife.com/images/large_photo6.jpg). I guess you could say that the outfit may be skin tight but modest, so it’s a sort of burkini approach to athletic attire by being functional yet modest (http://www.ahiida.com/skin1/images/burkini-freedom-flexibility-confidence.jpg).

    My view is that in the functional sense, seeing a fintess instructor showing off a lot of skin during exercise actually helps the student see the true form of the motion.

    2) PRESENT CREDENTIALS – Here’s a perspective from Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I think the public thinks I am narcissistic because I look in the mirror. What they don’t understand is that is the only way I can check my progress. … A swimmer uses a stopwatch like a mirror. A jumper’s tape is his mirror. …” (http://arnoldnation.com/bodybuilding/)

    In the world of exercise to be sexy, showing off a lot of skin and the muscles beneath that skin is a choice some people make. I would guess that at least part of that choice is to monitor progress (like Arnold), but also to build credibuility and inspire students by showing off results. A fitness instructor who has visible abs is obviously taking her own advice. Even that doyenne of Big Losers, Gillian Michaels, for instance (my wife and I have 3 of her DVDs, that’s how I know, I workout to them occasionally). Incidentally, I suspect that the reason she wears her pants rolled down to beneath the her hip bones is to not only show of her abs, but to emphasize her hips and thereby visually reduce her naturally wide (i.e. boyish) waistline (http://images.agoramedia.com/jillianmichaels/cms/jm08/homepage/v2/img-jillian-hp-main-rot6.png).

    In martial arts we wear belts or patches, or bruises, sometimes even names embroidered into belts and tee shirts. This is to show off rank and achievement, and inspire students to follow the same path of hard work that will lead to rewarding results.

    As you pointed out, sex sells. I would add that the prospect of sexy also motivates, and this motivation can augment the motivation one gests from the prospect of being functionally fit.

    On the big point, I agree (how could anyone not?) that people’s goals should be their own, and not held against a standard they cannot achieve. After all, even a man without muscless can have deep pockets. Just ask Henry Kissinger, whose masseur noted that he “did not have a muscle in his body” (http://books.google.com/books?id=1ouw7wxedwQC&pg=PA356&dq=kissinger+he+did+not+have+a+muscle+in+his+body&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qPJIT9XYHOPv0gHjub21Dg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=kissinger%20he%20did%20not%20have%20a%20muscle%20in%20his%20body&f=false).

    • My issue isn’t with what the instructors wear, although I actually wish it were more equal. While the norm is to tiny bra/shorts on the female instructor, the male equivalent of her uniform seems to be a sleeveless shirt and baggy shorts, which doesn’t show how his body moves through the motion in quite the same way. Also, if you check out the website, the female instructor is quite often screencapped in provocative poses that have little to do with the exercise.

      I just didn’t like seeing a woman in lacy pink lingerie lounging on their Facebook page. With a body policing quote, no less.

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