Women celebrating strength and wet patch
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from London

When a woman opens her eyes in the morning she offers something like a prayer over the scales in the form of chanting hypnotic mantra. The mantras of mantras are her constant calculation throughout the day, of the calories taken in and expended. The calorie chant, a low hum, is so habitual to many women’s minds that the Hare Krishna practice of chanting seven hours a day would be child’s play.

The weight cult teaches women a new kind of meditation. They are instructed to handle, fondle and experience a single orange for 20 minutes. Once a woman gets into the weight cult there is no escape and she is never alone. The politeness people extend as a mater of course to the bodies of men does not apply to those of women who have no physical privacy. Each change of weight fluctuation is publicly observed, judged and discussed – "Oh you have put on a bit dear!" or "Goodness me, you have slimmed down a lot, how did you do it?"

Until a century or so ago in the male artistic tradition of the West, women’s natural amplitude was their beauty. Representations of the female nude reveled in women’s lush fertility. Various distortions of sexual fat were emphasized according to fashion – big ripe bellies from the 15th to the 17th centuries, plump faces and shoulders in the early 19th, progressively generous dimpled buttocks and thighs until the 20th century, but never, until women’s emancipation entered the law.

Dieting and slimming began to be female preoccupation from about 1920 onwards. In the regressive 1950s women’s natural fullness could be briefly enjoyed once more because their minds were occupied in domestic seclusion. But when women came en masse into the male sphere, that pleasure had to be overridden by an urgent social expedient which would make women’s bodies into the prisons that their homes no longer were.

The 1970s jolted women into positions of power. As they entered the workforce and upgraded to executive levels and senior positions they were caught up in the women’s movement and the nature of what women would desire became a serious issue and a serious threat.

The women’s movement with ‘burn the bra’ campaigns took apart the ‘romance", "science" and "adventure" of homemaking and suburban family life. The sweetened domestic fiction of ‘togetherness’ lost its meaning, and middle-class women walked out of their front doors in masses. So the fictions simply transformed themselves once more: they reimposed on to liberated women’s bodies all limitations, taboos and punishments of the repressive laws, religious injunctions and reproductive enslavement that no longer carried sufficient force. Inexhaustible but ephemeral beauty-work took over from inexhaustible but ephemeral house work. The beauty myth redefined a woman’s primary social value as the attainment of virtuous beauty once could no longer be defined as the attainment of virtuous domesticity.

An American survey once revealed that ninety percent of respondents thought they weighed too much. On any day, twenty five percent of women were on diets, with fifty per cent finishing, breaking or starting on a new diet. Fifty percent of women who were not usually overweight but believed they were and their ideal self. "I lost a stone in two weeks" attitude put these women well below the weight that is natural to them.

Fat is regarded as sexuality in women. Victorians referred to fat affectionately as their "silken layer". If one’s culture’s fixation on female fitness or slimness were about sex, it would be a private issue between a woman and her partner; if it were about health, it would be between a woman and herself. Researchers at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago have found out that "fat is not fertility in women but desire; plumper women preferred sex more often than thinner women and to ask women to become unnaturally thin is to ask them to relinquish their sexuality"!

Twenty percent of women who exercise to shape their bodies and tone their muscles are said to have menstrual irregularities and diminished fertility. The body of a model is twenty three percent slimmer than that of an average woman and the average woman wants to be as lean as the model! Fat is defined as not mere fertility in women but desire. Researchers have found that plumper women desire sex more than thinner women!

There is another type of women, the so called fashionable, young and sophisticated who like to call themselves ‘with it’, whatever it may mean. This type of women do not worry about eating or drinking but nevertheless want to take care and maintain their shapely curves and tone their sagging muscles. They are supposed to be suffering from ‘eating disorder’ as they are obsessed not on dieting but with exercise. An American psychiatrist coined a phrase for the malady as hyper-gymnasia!

Now, who are Hyper-gymnasts? They are women who are hooked on sweat, the latest rage in bodies. They breathe heavily while exercising to music, hips bumping and grinding, strutting out in skin-tight panty hoses or jogging sweat suits and work on their pelvic thrust to the beat of heavy rock music. Typically some professional women work out to extremes because of their deep rooted psychological problems. Naturally, they seem to get pleasure from the joy of sweat, the ecstasies of muscle and hot breath. Where once they let fall tear drops upon nicely made up cheeks, now they spray sweat stains under arms and across aching breasts. They believe they are celebrating strength and wet patch! The vast numbers of women who are into aerobics live and jiggle.

Hyper-gymnasia is believed to hide under a thick cosmetic coat of looks but sufferers of Hyper-gymnasia are hurting themselves just as much as anorexia and bulimia victims. They have the same low self esteem. Some wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see them larger than they are. Then they start running miles in the morning and work on their bodies for two hours at home in the evening.

Exercise is vital to one’s health and no one could dispute that, but it needs to be done, like everything else, in moderation. Doctors advise that exercise is good for about 45 minutes but one should listen to one’s body and stop when it begins to hurt. The latest ‘international love affair’ with fitness is, no doubt, fanned by the media, particularly women’s glossy magazines. Hyper-gymnesia sufferers seem to harbour only one thing in mind – "I am going to work out to lose weight". They get obsessed with weight and calories. They feel high because of the endocrines they get from working out and when they stop they go through withdrawal, anxiety and insomnia exercise attacks and become unable to stop running and doing aerobics even when it hurts.

It is said that a nine stone aerobics fan thrashing about with sweaty zeal, in a ten minute session, can produce a shock loading of 378,000 – the equivalent of the weight of twenty five elephants on each foot! Manufactures of designer sports footwear Reebok warn against the dangers of exercising in bare feet.

University of California, in a study once criticised almost all aerobics tapes containing harmful visual and verbal symbolism, as twenty nine percent of aerobics engagers are said to use video tapes, and today millions of such tapes have been sold all over the world.

Researchers over a period of two years, watching these tapes, sometimes fifteen times each, have come out with their verdict. They say academia is wonderful but are concerned, for example, that women sitting on their buttocks with their legs in a ‘V’ raise serious questions of submissive posturing!