Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is THIN Still "IN": Women's Health vs. Body Image

Statement of the Issue

Over recent years, many women have turned their concern for diet and exercise from “how to look thin” to “how to become a healthier person”. Instead of solely working out and dieting in order to satisfy a physical appearance standard of having to be “stick thin”, women are breaking stereotypical gender roles by focusing on their health and well-being. Women are beginning to learn that a healthy body is much sexier than an anorexic body. In the past and even still today, the media and society has put a lot of pressure on women and their image. Men have helped to create this obsession with body image by giving precedence to women who are more physically appealing. Women therefore have been led to believe that they are incapable of affecting the world unless they first shape their bodies into a socially accepted form. Through research, we are learning that today the expansion of women’s involvement in sports has helped to alleviate some of this focus on purely physical images. Our first research article, “The Discourse of Empowerment: Foucault, Marcuse, and Women’s Fitness Texts” by Tina Eskes, Margaret Duncan, and Eleanor Miller, discusses how several women’s fitness and health magazines try to blend physical health with what society defines as beautiful. Our second research article, “Physical Activity and Women’s Health” by Christine Wells talks about how women are more active today than in the past, but are still less active than men. Our study takes a look at people who are taking an active role in changing the health views of today’s women.

Purpose of the Research

Through the topic, how women are using diet and exercise to become healthier, we will be looking at how women are increasingly more aware of their health, especially through diet and exercise. Over time, the stereotype of how women’s bodies should look has changed. What is fashionable has become more of a healthier body, as opposed to an unrealistically thin frame. Women are increasingly more aware of the medical benefits of physical activity and how they can improve not only their physical appearance, but also their overall health and attitude through exercise. To find out exactly why and how women are working out for their health, we interviewed a woman who exercises and a trainer. We also interviewed a dietician to find out how she is teaching people about the medical benefits of a healthy diet and the amount of women who are watching what they eat for those benefits. The more we have examined our topic, the more we realized that the media is also showing more ways to be healthy and fit, not ways to be skinnier. The media is using the terms “eating healthy,” “being healthy,” and “dieting” instead of just suggesting that women need to be thinner. The focus is more on a healthy body image, as opposed to being a skeleton. 

Jena Mitchell(trainer)

Through talking with Jena Mitchell about women’s health and exercise, the 24 year-old shared with us the ins and outs of her job and how she deals with this issue daily. Jena is the New Member Experience Coach at the Omni Club, a workout facility, in Athens. As she put it, her job requires her “working one on one with the new members to ensure their comfort level at the club and helping them reach their goals.” She trains new members, if they need it, or she may take an exercise class with them. When we asked if she thought that being healthy has become more influential to women than being very skinny, her answer was slightly contradictory to our project. She said that it all depends on the age group of people as to whether health or being thin is more of a concern. Pressures to fit in attribute to this logic. Jena commented that once women get in they’re thirties they more readily see the importance of health. She also said that our culture is becoming more health conscious, which is one reason why women’s health is more in the spotlight. Through Jena’s job, she has seen many women who originally began working out for vanity, the number one reason women start working out, but women also want to feel good and look healthy. She tells people that they’re going to look good, but also get the health benefits; emphasizing the results of working out as a “package deal”. She also said that many people come into the gym because their doctors tell them that they need to begin a workout regimen to improve their health. Next we asked Jena what her daily regiment is for working out and dieting. Jena began working out in high school to stay in shape for sports. She commented saying “I enjoy feeling healthy,” which she said was one of the benefits to working out and eating healthy. Currently, Jena works out four to five times a week with at least three days of strength training. She does cardio everyday and strength trains to increase metabolism and keep her bones healthy. Strength training also gives females a more toned look. We asked her if she emphasizes an overall healthy lifestyle and she said yes; emphasizing exercise and nutrition. She said it’s about “what we put in our body, being active, and being particular about what you eat.” The tips she shared with us were to stay away from processed food and sugars and look at the quality of food that you eat, not the quantity. It’s better to eat more, healthy food than less unhealthy food. She stressed how important it is for women not to focus on weight, but worry more about body composition. Showing people how important eating right and working out is for your heart, bones, and mental health is what Jena wants others to focus on. In closing, Jena explained to us how she feels like she is accomplishing something with every person she helps become healthier and improve their quality of life.          

Katy Petrosian(trainee)

To gain perspective on how a college female feels about women’s health, we interviewed Katy Petrosian, a 19 year-old who attends Gainesville State. She was very helpful in showing how the college age demographic views women’s health through working out and dieting. When asked if she thought that being healthy has become more influential than being skinny, Katy said, “I think it has because there has been a lot of negative attention to girls who are super skinny and more emphasis on girls who are healthy and fit.” She also said that health in general, especially women’s health, has become a lot more important now than it has been in the past. To further see how Katy views working out and dieting, we asked about her personal life and what steps she is taking towards being healthier. We first asked why she began working out and she honestly admitted to us that it was to “drop a few pounds.” She said that with her family’s health history, she also knows that she needs to do her best to be healthy so she can avoid any problems she may have in the future. Katy works out four times per week and she does cardio and strength training. She says the strength training helps her get more toned. In regards to her diet and exercise, she said it is very important to her. It’s important to be healthy in general. Katy said, “I gain weight easily, so in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle I have to eat good and work out.” The advice she gave us for other women her age is to not compare themselves to other people and only focus on what makes you feel good. Since she began exercising, she said she has seen an increase in her health. She said she can run better and has a lot more energy all the time. Katy commented that she feels happier and a lot of that is contributed to the way working out makes her feel.                                  

Alice Bender (dietician)

Alice Bender is a licensed dietician in the state of Georgia and currently works for the University of Georgia Health Center. She has over 20 years of experience working in the education field as a dietician. Alice earned a masters degree in Nutrition and Public Health and is a nationally certified Dietician. At the university, she helps students seeking to improve their dieting habits and general health. Alice suggests personal diets for each specific person she works with, as well as provides avenues for maintaining those diets successfully. Besides a good diet, Alice is a proponent of sufficient sleep, stress reduction, physical activity, and abstaining from drug and alcohol abuse. Alice warns young women about obsessing over body image because of the high risk that this could lead to eating disorders. The most important thing one should know about Alice Bender is the dedication and passion she has for her job. Alice told us that the most satisfying thing for her is to see the results from the people she helps. She knows that in her line of work the most important thing to do is to help women feel better about themselves. Specifically if she can help someone recover from an eating disorder, adopt a healthy diet and exercise routine, or simply provide information on health and fitness she will go home feeling a sense of accomplishment towards what she does.


After researching several articles and interviewing three women on their prospective, we have come to our conclusion. Women have historically been pressured into maintaining a certain image in order to satisfy social norms; however the upcoming new trend for women’s image is health, not weight. Due to the fascination with the female image, a plethora of new information, research, and studies over the last decade has expanded our understanding of exactly what it means to be healthy and how to do so. Now it has become easier to relate to women that an iconic body image does not necessarily dictate good health. All of the women interviewed agreed that it takes more then being thin to be healthy. It takes a sound mind, a good diet, and a healthy workout schedule. Through our research, we believe that as the idea of what is “sexy” changes from being thin to being healthy, so will women’s attitudes. This will be a positive change, where the amount of women with eating disorders will decline, and the amount of women who become active in their fitness will rise. As long as this trend continues and more women become aware of the steps to becoming healthy we hope that more and more women will pick up personal fitness, while less and less turn to extreme measures that could endanger their lives. 

Group Reflection

            The interview project allowed us to take our preconceptions on the issue of women’s health and body image and contrast them with the way real women perceive their diets and exercise habits. Through the interview process, not only were we able to share our ideas with these women as to how and why fitness is such an issue for women, but we were also able to rely on their experiences in order to establish our ultimate conclusion on the matter. More importantly, we are very excited to be relaying our research and analysis to our class, and whoever else may read it, as we feel it clears up a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround the topic of women’s health and body image. The knowledge we gained is applicable in life not only for the women in our group but also for the men, as we can better understand the habits, social implications, and biological factors that contribute to why and how women participate in dieting and exercise.

We're hoping you were all inspired by our presentation, so if you're on the lookout for a great workout routine, you can walk it out with Richard Simmons! 

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