Kettle Belle Chronicles: “Why I’m hostile to exercise”, or… “follow the way of the Wrecking Belle in the Real Madrid T-shirt and yoga pants.”


I sometimes toy with the idea of attaining exercise god status. The black yoga pants wearer,  that adored symbol of strength and power.  The all knowing being whom saunters into Pinkberry without a care or a ripple on her behind.  I endeavored to be the cut / toned / tony-excessively smooth pantaloon wearer.

I embarked on this journey with some reservations but higher than proper expectations.   I only wanted to do this if it fit nicely within my carefully crafted idea of invigorating exercise, and I painted a pretty good picture of the journey in my mind.  A precise one in fact.   I would accept it if it was moderately tiring but yet refreshingly rejuvenating.  If I could meet other ladies and affiliate with them and we could form a team of supportive women working toward the goal of being ridiculously hot!   Where shared experience and hardship made the journey that much easier and rewarding.  I couldn’t picture myself caring much about some sweat.  It might only serve to make me look like Jennifer Beals sans chair but still like Jennifer Beals.  I had the curly hair that hung around my face uncannily like her…when I didn’t blow dry that is.  And  I accepted that I may feel a modicum of pain, but that soon my muscles would be toned and sculpted.  But how much pain would be bearable?  And, as I would learn, I wouldn’t get to determine that.

Well it hit me like a kettle bell on the side of the temple when I found out that there was no magical group of women welcoming you into their leg pumping lair. The women arrived, threw down their keys, knock-off sunglasses, squeezed their water bottles into cubbies and threw their white towels round their necks.  They visually organized eachother, preened, hands on hips slowly checking out newcomers.  There were no smiles, just long gazes, that if you caught one, a sort of straight grimace was returned.  I seemed to have entered a paddock of overweight racehorses readying for competition.

I wasn’t exactly sure why all the life lessons I had had drilled into my psyche about ‘listening to pain’ were lost on the Exercise gods.  I reasoned, I was the person who was feeling the pain, the person whose brain was responsible for the urgent messages to cease and desist whatever the particular activity was at the moment, so why was ‘ignoring the pain’ the instruction that I was given? .” I had discovered the essence of the problem that I had with ‘exercise’  Do they believe that our minds are separate from our body? Does the body not work in conjunction with the brain?  does the brain not field signals from the body and then decide what actions to take?  Is it then wise that we keep working the body in the repetitive manner when the body is clearly saying, “NO YOU CANNOT KEEP THROWING THAT KETTLE BELL OVER YOUR WANING LEFT SHOULDER AND EXPECT NOT TO LAUNCH IT INTO THE CHEST OF THAT ELABORATELY SWEATING CROATIAN WOMAN!

We began with two laps around the building and were told not to stop.  One of the evil geniuses was stationed at the opposite side of the building to ‘keep an eye on us and make sure we did not stop.  Our herd returned bounding for the water fountain.  Seconds later we swang kettle bells to and fro.  We then did burpies until dizziness set in. We lifted heavy bars while doing jumping jacks. We swung ropes as though ceaselessly straightening them out.  We did squats that threatened to re-open our episiotomies.  Even if they were given to us years ago.  “Wider, Wider!”  How My mind begged my mouth to shout, “yah? let’s see you open that wide!”  We did push ups, chin ups, and fast weights to keep the cardio effect going.   We army crawls and the dreaded burpie.  Every time my body began to revolt, writhe with the equivalent of a physiological scream, heart pulsing out of my chest easily seen by passers-by, like some comic book grinch in love, and I would point at my chest signifying my lack of breath, The exercise god (female or male),  Impervious to my impending heart attack, would glance at me momentarily finally offer a deliberation,  “you can go further, you can do it Christine!”  As I looked up with long eyes, intentionally trying to clear my double vision, my soaked shirt seemed to bangle in the wind like some latvian wet towel air conditioner.  My jello thighs danced. My exercise god lavished a wide smile unto me saying, “THERE YOU GO!!!” Usually finishing off with the dispassionate and quite routine 90’s meme “YOU GO GIRL!!!”

The exercise gods believe in “pushing oneself” It’s a rite of the baptismal font of back sprains.  The ungainly church of belly crunches and impossibly performed burpies.  “If you push yourself, you will surprise yourself.’  ….”If you push yourself….you won’t be sorry…”  “If you push yourself you will be so proud!”  I find an extreme dichotomy in the fact that the women or men that are ‘coaching’ you, many of whom you do not know from Adam or Eve, are ripped beyond belief and do not remember their own days of cookies and carmel macchiatos. Well not really anyway.   Those discretions are seen through skinny-latte coloured glasses. If you ask them, the cookies are remembered as necessary ‘Tiger Milk Bars” maybe only two a day, and the caramel macchiatos are declared but suddenly remembered as intermittent at best.   The bad ‘ol days of minimal muscle and ripped adipose are forgotten and that is the disconnect.

Half way into the reality of the work out, the dry throat, the slight dizziness.  The women wince in pain and look up as they rise from doing push ups.  They begin to knowingly glance at each other.  The tired faux warrior princesses realize that they need each-other.      They begin to look for the affiliation that they narcissistically did not seek in the beginning of the workout.

Class after class this social machination repeats itself.  Ignore each other, then feel pain and affiliate. Rinse and repeat. Do they like it?  Do they like communal pain? Additionally, Do they enjoy paying the Exercise Gods to “make” them push themselves?  I offer that they do.

Part of the motivation comes from pure peer adulation for ‘just doing it’ being ‘brave.’ I was recently told I was a ‘real trooper’ I kept going in part because I didn’t relish the idea of letting everybody know that I thought it was ‘too hard‘ for me.  I had just been given the rather militaristic moniker of “Trooper” and I was feeling a tad nationalistic at the time.  I pictured myself a sort of stylized  Jane Q. Public  upholder of the exercise ethos. Well, within my circle of soft-bellied family and friends.

Ultimately, I found that the exercise gods wanted me to believe that my body was my enemy and that I must conquer it with my Jedi mind.

It was not proper to let my body tell me that one or another exercise could not be done.  Somehow I was to overcome all of the brutal messages that my body was sending me about my pain and satiety.  I really WANT TO DO THIS, but my analytical nature may be getting in the way, oh! that and my muscle capacity!  How can I know whether I can actually do this? …Guess I’ll just have to trust the ‘wrecking belle’ in a Real madrid T-shirt and Yoga pants.

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Stay tuned for hopefully twice weekly updates on “The kettle Belle Chronicles” (Written by unwilling exercise maven, Christina Long) about the ugly and hopefully someday ‘beautiful’ side of cardio / strength training classes in Los Angeles on “The Trouble With Milk.”  http://thetroublewithmilk.com

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What’s the ideal body? Who says the media gets to tell us? A constellation of sociocultural factors that are making us sick.


We all know that gender roles in media affect people mentally, and consequently physically. During childhood and adolescence these media exposure events become part of a constellation of sociocultural factors that promote a thinness schema for girls and the muscularity schema for boys amongst other ideals.

Consider these facts about the development of body image which begins developing when we are just newborns. A child immediately begins to explore what his or her body feels like and can do. This process continues his whole life. A child’s body image is influenced by how people around her react to her body and how she looks. A pre-adolescent becomes increasingly aware of what society’s standards are for the “ideal body.”

It is long known that the media (television, movies, magazines, etc.) have, since World War II, increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body image, (and now ever more physically fit image) as the ideal body configuration for women. The ideal man is also presented as trim, but muscular.

the association of attractiveness and thinness was present in over 100 female characters appearing in 23 Walt Disney animated films (cel cartoons) produced over a 60-year period.

Thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters.

Since the 1980s magazines have increasingly depicted the male body in a state of objectified undress, such that a significant focus for the camera and viewer is raw, exposed (“chiseled” or “ripped”) muscularity. This might be the reason my oldest son was chomping at the bit at fourteen to gain permission to start working out. (He didn’t get that permission until he was sixteen, but at that juncture he jumped right into it, buying a gym membership and start working on a “six pack.”

Most working class adolescent girls are dissatisfied with their weight and shape. A study done by ‘Field, et., al in 1999, found that 70%  the girls stated that pictures in magazines influenced their conception of the “perfect” body shape, and over 45% indicated that those images motivated them to lose weight. Further, adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet.

Teen-age girls who viewed commercials depicting women who modeled the unrealistically thin (yet ideal by media standards), type of beauty, caused adolescent girls to feel less confident, more angry, and more dissatisfied with their weight and appearance. I wonder what the percentage is of girls that go on to form medical and psychological maladies like shyness, depression and others?

In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show which showcased people thin “media ideal but uncommon in real life’ bodies.

In another recent study on media’s impact on adolescent body dissatisfaction, two researchers found that:

Teens who watched soaps and TV shows that emphasized the ideal body typed reported higher sense of body dissatisfaction. This was also true for girls who watched music videos. Reading magazines for teen girls or women also correlated with body dissatisfaction for girls.

Many children watch between two and four hours of television per day. The presence or absence of role models, how women and men, girls and boys are presented, and what activities they participate in on the screen powerfully affect how girls and boys view their role in the world. Studies looking at cartoons, regular television, and commercials show that although many changes have occurred and girls, in particular have a wider range of role models, for girls “how they look” is still more important than “what they do.”

In a 1997 study designed to study how children described the roles of cartoon characters, children (ages four to nine) “perceived most cartoon characters in stereotypical ways: boys were violent and active and girls were domestic, interested in boys, and concerned with appearances” (Thompson, 1997).

In another study, three weeks of Saturday morning toy commercials were analyzed. Within the sampling,
50% of the commercials aimed at girls spoke about physical attractiveness, while none of the commercials aimed at boys referenced appearance.
What are we teaching our young girls and boys?  Young males interacting with the toys or items being advertised, acted aggressively in 50% of the commercials aimed at them, while none of the girls behaved aggressively. Even voice-over for young male’s toys was overly presented with speed and aggression.

With regard to work roles depicted on television in a study doen by Sobiera in 1995, no boys had unpaid labor roles, while girls were mainly shown in traditional female jobs or roles of unpaid labor.

Dr. Nancy Signorielli, Professor of Communications at the University of Delaware examined the types of media most often viewed by adolescent girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines and advertisements. While the study did find positive role models of women and girls using their intelligence and acting independently, the media presented an overwhelming message that girls and women should be more concerned with romance and dating (as it follows how they look and looks supposedly determine how successful they will be at their roles), while men focus on their strength, aggressiveness and occupations.

I would like to extrapolate out the conversation and ask you to consider the lasting effects of this ‘body image / gender moulding pre-occupation”. Can the high incidence in male and female dissatisfaction and deprssion be linked to these practices in our media or in a larger context, in our society?

Can we further say that physical maladies such as bulemia, anorexia and a host of anxiety disorders are a result of such seemingly unbalanced ideologies? I have to venture a ‘yes.’ Don’t forget about the boys.   Consider the boys who are twelve and thirteen and already asking for ‘muscle building supplements.’ or ‘chin up bars.’ All you have to do is visit any  MySpace profile pics for young boys and we see them flexing their muscles, which have yet to even finish developing!   Our society is sexualizing, under contextualizing / and gender moulding our children into very narrow roles causing them to see a narrow purpose that is connecting attractiveness with general personal worth.  These are dangerous times.  Kids are worried that they don’t fit in. Worried that they don’t measure up.  Some of them have acquired negative mental and physical manifestations of these anxieties and are killing themselves slowly or in a quick and deliberate way.

What can we do at a grass roots level? I invite discussion.

Chrissylong