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 explores 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 are 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’. Femininity and all that it entails, described above, coincides with the commercialized image of the fit’ woman. This image depicts a slender build, measurements of 36-28-32, and toned but not defined muscles. The definition of fit’ seems to fall into three categories: the muscular body, the fitness body, and the commercialized fit’ body. The commercialized fit’ body we have discussed already, it is associated with commercial ads, videos, and books.
This type of fit’ body has a slim, trim, and sexy appeal which identifies with a model’s body. The muscular body is rectangular with well-defined muscles, it is the ideal shape of the body builder and results from intense weight lifting and physical training. The fitness body is not slim and not rectangular, it has curves but it is not soft. The physically fit body requires regular activity but not intense training. The three categories of fit’ are easier to relate to the feminine ideal once broken down.
Looking back on the criteria of a feminine woman, some of the key factors were a slender build, a fashionable appearance, elegant strides, flirtatious, and sexy. Comparing these factors to the three categories of fit’ will quickly eliminate the muscular body and the physically fit body. The muscular body is eliminated by its rectangular shape and well-defined muscles. The physically fit body is curvy and shapely discarding it from the ideal slender build of the feminine woman. Which narrows the categories down to the commercialized fit’ body.
It seems to correlate with the feminine ideal because of the slim, trim, and sexy appeal related with ads, videos, and books. The commercialized fit’ body is fashionable and elegant, these women are also photographed working out with men. All of these criteria match the ideal feminine woman, therefore the commercialized fit’ woman could be classified as feminine. However, there are a few factors that have not been covered which will complete the ideal feminine woman. An complete feminine woman not only looks a certain way but she also acts in a particular manner and is expected to fulfill a specific role.
She acts like a lady’ which requires her to be gentle, courteous, sensitive, prim and proper (speaking only when spoken to and answering intelligently). The feminine woman must also perform certain duties such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. These are stereotypical roles accorded to an ideal feminine woman, these are my conceptions associated with being feminine. There are other words associated with feminine qualities such as fragile, dainty, passive (vs. aggressive), refined, graceful, and delicate.
The commercialized fit’ woman is slim, trim, and sexy which is similar to the feminine woman. However, these woman must participate in physical activities such as aerobics and dance classes, recreational sports, and moderate amounts of time in a gym. These activities promoted by commercial ads, exercise videos, and fitness books take time away from woman which the ideal feminine woman would spend doing household chores and taking care of their family. Exercising requires woman to sweat and be aggressive rather than passive.
These are not feminine qualities, “a lady never sweats”. It is these factors which differentiate between the commercialized fit’ woman and the ideal feminine woman. In my personal opinion, the ideal feminine and commercialized fit’ women are both negative models for young women to aim towards. The ideal feminine woman is stereotypical of a patriarchal society where women convey a passive role behind men. In our quest for equality woman must be aggressive and strong, they must not allow themselves to disappear behind overpowering men.
The 1990’s has presented women with many challenges, one of the most profound has been the change in the family structure. The numerous single parent families have left women to fend for themselves, from the workplace to the household. This requires women to be versatile, smart, and powerful. The stereotypical feminine woman does not cut it in the 1990’s, she would be shuffled in the chaos of trying to stay afloat. Making ends meet means pushing yourself to the limit, mentally and physically. Therefore, the ideal feminine woman would be ill-equipped to hack it in the 1990’s.
The commercialized fit’ woman is also a negative model for young women to aspire towards. Helen Lenskyj states that exercise videos and commercial ads are “reducing the instructors to sex objects distorted and devalued the activity; many televised classes’ resembled soft porn rather than exercise”. This is giving young women the impression that the purpose of these exercises is to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. Featuring women posing beside men in commercial ads and promoting exercise books written by actresses and models has presented a double standard.
They are increasing physical activity in young women, however, the purpose behind the exercise is being replaced with fashion and sexuality. Physical exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle and increases self-confidence in women, this is being undermined through the commercialized fit’ ideal woman. The two women’s bodies which present positive outcomes are the muscular body and the fitness body. Surveys reveal that the muscular body is still not universally accepted. Both men and women have associated this body type with a typical male body. Men are intimidated and feel threatened by women who are stronger or equally as strong as them.
These muscled women are labelled as a butch or a “he-she”, however I believe that this identification will change in the future. The physically fit woman is also a positive ideal image to aspire to. This type of woman is physically active and has defined muscles. She participates in various activities for recreation or competition, she can hold her own against men and never stops trying. She does not have the perfect model body, she has curves and features which set her apart from the scrawny stick girl. The physically fit woman has a healthy body which leads to a healthy mind.
In conclusion, the fit body in a woman may or may not be more feminine it all depends on your definition of fit’ and feminine’. By my definitions the fit body is not more feminine. The fit body is defined as a mesomorph, strong and shapely with defined muscles. However, the feminine body is an ectomorph body, slender build with little or no defining muscles. In the twentieth century more people have begun to think of the fit body as more feminine than the slender, skinny body. Therefore, as we begin to change our perspectives on what an average woman looks like, I believe that a fit woman will become more feminine.