With a health service that is more under threat than ever, physical fitness is a useful and helpful thing to promote. promote. The more we as individuals can do to look after our own health, the better it will be both for us and for society as a whole. The economic benefit doesn't begin and end with health savings, it means we are less likely to need to take time out of work, and exercise can also improve mental health.
Using a gym is one way of achieving and maintaining fitness that has become popular. It's not right for everyone: running, dancing, cycling or just about any form of physical activity might be more suited to many. For some though, a gym can help achieve a certain physique, maintain or lose weight, tone muscles or sculpt the body in a way that other forms of exercise may not.
Having used a gym myself since 16 years of age I am familiar with these environments that may vary in size and atmosphere, but generally contain a large diversity of people, with different backgrounds and body shapes: from enormous body builders to pensioners working out to maintain mobility, from those aiming to lose excess weight to those with slim toned bodies that have clearly been accustomed to intense physical workouts for a number of years.
Given this diversity I am often disappointed by fitness magazines that adorn their front pages with only taught, tanned, ripped male torsos and slim, young, female bodies. I wonder how this helps promote fitness to the wider population? Gyms and fitness products often make the same frequent mistake but one poster, bought to the attention of the No More Page 3 campaign this weekend really does take the biscuit.
The poster, which is basically a glamour or soft porn image, albeit with nipples hidden behind logo stickers, is promoting the gym chain 24/7 Fitness. A little investigating reveals fairly quickly that it appears to be employed widely across their nine chains, scattered from Birmingham down to Portsmouth, and is displayed prominently on high streets.
As a regular exerciser and advocate of fitness I am frankly at a loss to see how this poster in any way promotes a gym, fitness or the potential to shape or tone a body. Instead, this random, female torso used as a canvass for the gym logo adds to the sea of images that have become the background white noise of our world in 2014.
At a time when we are supposed to be, as a society, aiming for gender equality, our media, our high streets and shops and our TVs are awash with this type of image of women which reinforces to girls and women their place as sexually available décor, as passive things to be acted upon; that teaches young men and boys that women are an "other", not full thinking or feeling humans, but things to be judged, commented on - "look at the tits on that" - and acted upon.
At a time when society is beginning to reject this hypersexualisation and realise its damage, this promotion seems grossly out of touch. As a promotional poster for a gym, where the message surely should be against this passivity and resoundingly about what you can do with your body, this crass, sexist and misleading image does nothing to promote gym use or exercise. As a woman this would be more likely to put me off ever entering a gym and if men are signing up in the hope that this is what they will encounter inside how will the reality measure up?
The message apparently scrawled across the abdomen of the model suggesting she was "made at 24/7" has me confused. How was she made there? Perhaps she was created in a bedroom laboratory akin to the 80's film Weird Science, but that body was not created in a gym. In all my years of using the gym I have yet to find a single machine or exercise that will create large breasts. There's a reason for that - it doesn't exist. Whilst there are numerous exercises that work chest muscles, none of them will enhance or create breast tissue in any way and for many women weight loss will actually reduce breast size rather than enhance it. The only way increased breast size can be achieved is through surgery and unless 24/7 are selling that too how is this helpful?
Here's a radical idea 24/7 Fitness: how about you stop using sexism and the exploitation of women to sell you product, because some of them could be potential customers. Why not stop adding to the frankly boring sexual objectification we encounter everywhere we go and start using people, the men and women who are really achieving something in your establishment? Show us those who have improved their physical or mental health, achieved weight loss or are just having fun getting their body active. Show me something to aspire to. Until then, an increasing number of people, including me, won't be buying it.