40 years of faulty wiring

The Body Beautiful Remains a Dangerous Obsession

Ever heard that expression? The Body Beautiful? I am not referring to campaigns like the one launched by Campus Recreation. This campaign seems to be an effort to encourage men and women to love their natural, normal bodies in spite of the media obsession with perfection. One problem: the website uses Portia de Rossi (actress) and Serena Williams  (athlete) to reinforce this message. What? Has CR noticed these women are beautiful, very thin (Rossi) and coiffed and made up?

The Body Beautiful expression I’m referring to was a reference to an unhealthy obsession with body perfection that began in the early 1980s. That was a time when women’s aerobics was a relatively new concept. Ads featured svelte women in skimpy bodysuits who were exercising or advertising health bars or what have you.

shiva-20-minute-workout-original-music-96710The 20-Minute Workout was launched during the mid-80s. The show consisted of attractive, thin women in their early 20’s. There were a lot of crotch and rear end shots. I liked the warnings at the beginning of the show that advised women (or men) not to push themselves to the “point of exhaustion” and all manner of things. That was legitimate advice. The silly advice came from the bubble-heads at the start who giggled about how “fun” aerobics was and how great they liked now that they participated in it. It was a bitter-sweet program for women who enjoyed this new concept called aerobics but not for those who didn’t have the impossibly beautiful bodies the instructors flaunted.

The media presented the body beautiful as just that – someone’s beauty ideal that many women couldn’t achieve. It made women I knew without a svelte physique feel inadequate. Yet hundreds of women jumped (pun) on the aerobics bandwagon, joined gyms, tuned into the 20-Minute Workout, bought Jane Fonda videotapes and did anything they could not to be healthier or more energetic but to become more attractive. The healthy and energetic aspect of exercise and healthy eating is a wonderful thing and everyone should strive towards it. The beauty regimen isn’t all bad either. It’s motivational and it feels great when you can achieve a slimmer, more attractive version of you.

But therein lies the rub. programs like The 20-Minute Workout and Jane Fonda’s videotapes and a host of other media outlets make beauty the number one reason for exercise, no matter what they say. It made me feel a little sorry for women who couldn’t slim down and tried their hearts out (pun).

Jane Fonda was her own aerobics empire. She admitted in her 40’s that her very energetic aerobics tapes were article-1230066-029B50DE000004B0-502_468x505designed to stay “whippet-thin,” and had nothing to do with health. She eventually adapted her program to reflect the needs of women who weren’t in Olympian shape although she continued to wear the classic 1980s revealing high-legged leotard. However Fonda was revolutionary in using fit women in their 50’s in her videos, an unheard of concept for most celebrities at the time and today.

Other celebrities, such as Raquel Welch tried to emulate Fonda with their own version of aerobic exercise. Welch made a fool of herself in one of her videos where she used an exercise bicycle with a pained look on her face and broke out into a sweat in about 4 minutes flat (pun – there is nothing flat on Welch). Perhaps her PR people responded to what must have been negative feedback or poor sales on this video because eventually she released a video that was much more professional and made for women in “great shape, not in such great shape or you’ve never been in great shape.”  Certainly that targets a wider and more profitable market.

Skip to the 1990s and Cindy Crawford dominated the aerobics videotape scene with Workouts by Cindy Crawford. Her contemporary approach involved a coach who was present in the videos, Crawford exercising outdoors on a roof (?) and Crawford admitting there were certain advanced exercises she wasn’t capable of completing. There were also a few exercises in the videotape that looked quite useless – her swinging back-kick while she balanced against a chair for instance. Isn’t that using g-force to do the work for you? So far however, this would be a reasonable series of celebrity exercise workout programs. But nowhere near as healthy and effective as Jillian Michaels. I just wish she’d stop calling us guys.

Look, there’s nothing bad about promoting exercise and healthy living. If women are inspired to follow in Crawford’s footsteps (another pun) by tackling her videos then so be it. Besides it’ a great way for celebrities to make more money and if anyone is in the business of turning a profit it has to be a star. The issue I’m making however is that some of these videos aren’t about that. Ever notice how carefully coiffed and made up these women are in their videos? Really? Why can’t any of them look sweaty and gross like everyone else when they’re working out? They must have a lot of monroe-marilyn-workout“cuts” and “takes” to keep looking that pretty while they exercise.

Actresses and models have always worked hard to stay in beautiful shape. Marilyn Monroe is a prime example. of course this clip isn’t an exercise program on videotape and she is as dolled up and gorgeous as Monroe ever was in her photo shoots. What was trailblazing about her however was that she was the first celebrity ever to be photographed exercising which was akin to admitting that she had to “watch her weight” as they used to call it (and probably still do). Certainly the world watched Marilyn’s weight and the rest of her body.

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is a 21st century approach to what a beautiful face, hair colour and body really looks like. Cool. It attempts to change the media portrayal of attractive women and to boost women’s self-esteem when they simply cannot look like de Rossi or Williams. Whether women are buying into this notion or not, I admire the effort and the sincerity. Is this campaign going to change the North American perspective on women and beauty? Probably not. There is a woman at my work who was naturally thin during the last two years that we met. For some reason she got herself a fitness trainer and now she truly has no figure left. I don’t consider her to be at all attractive anymore. No I’m not envious. It’s the truth. I am within a healthy weight range and I have a fit body myself. But there’s a line between slim, fit and almost emaciated. Like the Dove Corporation, I believe it’s about time we knew where to draw it.

November 3, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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