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07 September 2010

Gender Specific Workouts

This week, our student wellness center here at Georgia College, as part of their Fit Fridays series, is focusing on something they're calling "Gender Specific Workouts." I can't find any particulars about it online, but I think the average person could speculate on what some of the differences might be. One might recognize that muscularity is masculine and thinness is feminine so he might assume that the male workouts would focus on strength and speed while the female workouts would focus on endurance and flexibility. There is nothing inherently gendered about these different types of workouts, though. We have simply assigned them as such.

In fact, there are a growing number of places where we can see this binary being renegotiated. Take a favorite sport of mine: cycling. I was struck watching this last Tour de France by the change in appearance of one of my favorite rides, Chris Horner, over the three-week event. Chris started as a fairly normal looking rider, but by the time the peloton reached Paris, he looked almost emaciated and, by association--sadly--traditionally feminine. Take also for example the changing physiques of many elite women athletes like Serena Williams. Theirs are not the lanky forms of yesterday.

All of this ultimately leads to something larger, though. Health itself is a social construct, that is, what it is to be healthy varies from time to time and place to place. One might argue that we are approaching a more scientifically universal definition of health that is absolute and free of moral judgment. I would not. Indeed, the direct threat of obesity seems to have been largely overstated. Instead, our growing disgust with fatness says more about our social definitions of beauty than our scientific definitions of health.

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