The Correlation of Femininity and Fitness


The purpose of this essay is to discover whether fit bodies in women are more feminine. In order to properly address this question, it is imperative to define what ‘fit’ and ‘feminine’ represent in this context. If the definitions of ‘fit’ and ‘feminine’ are similar then it is quite possible that a ‘fit’ body is more ‘feminine’. In Helen Lenskyj’s Women, Sport, and Sexuality, she uses words such as slim, trim, and fashionable to describe what it is to be ‘feminine’. My definition of ‘feminine’ is a little more all-encompassing, it includes a fashionable appearance (hair, clothes, accessories), flirtatious, sexy, ectomorph body type (slender build), elegant strides, clean and clear speech with a soft voice. The definition of ‘fit’ is divided into the internal and external body. The internal body is the heart, liver, lungs, and so forth; the external body is the muscles, bones, and skin tissue. A ‘fit’ internal body is defined by blood pressure, resting metabolic rate, and well-working organs according to an ideal model based on height and weight. A ‘fit’ external body can be defined as a mesomorph body type which includes hard and tight skin tissue, well-developed muscles, and strong bones. All of these features lead to a more shapely body and an upright posture. Keeping in mind the definitions of ‘fit’ and ‘feminine’ I will now explore Lenskyj’s ‘commercialized fit’ and my distinction between ‘being fit’ and ‘looking fit’.

Helen Lenskyj’s article Women, Sport, and Sexuality explore the commercialization of the ‘fit’ body. She traces the image of the physically fit woman as it transforms from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. The 1960’s ideal of the sedentary and decorative woman was replaced in the 1980’s by an active and physically fit woman. However, Lenskyj notes that although the image has changed there have been other factors which have worked to reinforce the 1960’s stereotype of the fragile and petite woman.

Commercialization has bought into the new ideal and packaged it into many products which capitalize on the image of the new physically fit woman. By 1984, the industry promoted the physically fit woman through fashion (tight-fitting clothing), cosmetics ( ‘natural’ make-up), and advertisements which show men gawking at ‘fit’ women. Therefore, although commercialization has been beneficial for the overall physical fitness and health of women, it is two-fold. The negative side is the stereotypes associated with the new physically ‘fit’ women. The ads show women in tight clothes exercising with men not women, the aerobic video’s feature movie stars and models (not athletes) working out with men, and the exercise instructors serve as an ideal body image. The positive image of the strong female working out and staying fit is being distorted by emphasizing being slim, trim, and sexy. There is a double standard between the commercialized image of ‘fit’ and the actuality of ‘being fit’. This leads to my idea of ‘being fit’ and ‘looking fit’.

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