The tyranny of looking good

There are no short cuts to fitness. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G. P.

There are no short cuts to fitness. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G. P.  

— Photo: Sampath Kumar G. P.

IMAGES OF a supersvelte, midriff-baring Shakira gyrating to her song, "Whenever, wherever". Babes with manufactured bodies in Baywatch, the American beach saga that is more of an apology than a serial, women with two-dimensional figures plugging everything from toothpaste to refrigerators, beauty queens with plastic smiles swanwalking down the ramp. The media, especially electronic, is full of them and the messages they send to ordinary women are powerful.

In her book, The Beauty Myth, feminist Naomi Wolf writes how such images of perfect bodies, many times unrealistic, make women insecure and unhappy about their own bodies. They begin worrying about their imperfect breasts, wide hips, not-so curved waistline or flabby tummies.

Considering we're in a global village and Bangalore prides itself in being a happening city - we even hosted a Miss World pageant, remember? - we are not immune to such messages. How else would you explain all those mushrooming fitness and slimming centres in the City?

So, what is it that prompts women to be unhappy with the way they look and weigh?

"Who doesn't want to look trim and slim?" asks freelance PR consultant and mother of two, Sumitra Manmohan, who has sweated out 13 kilos in eight months, at Talwalkars. For Jyoti Bhat, it was comments made by her husband and friends, which prompted her to join the Vandana Luthra Slimming and Beauty Centre (VLCC). Forty-one-year-old Sneha Naidu, who lost 12 kilos last year at the Talwalkars, says: "It depends on who you are losing it for. While some do it at their husband's insistence, some others do it when their obesity borders on health complications. But whatever the cause maybe, one should be realistic and never go overboard. Shedding four to five kilos a month is considered safe." To lose those kilos you could either sweat it out at gyms or let the machines do it for you. All this depends on your will power and, of course, the size of both your waistline and wallet.

If you head for the machines, VLCC helps you lose five kilos at a basic rate of Rs. 3,500. This is minus massage, physiotherapy, and so on, which could hike the price to the vicinity of Rs. 9,000 to Rs.10,000. Spot reduction to sculpt and squeeze out two to six inches fat from your tummy, hips or thighs could cost you anything from Rs. 7,000 to Rs. 15,000.

You could also walk into Berkowits, where the basic technology helps you shed three to six kilos at a starting cost of Rs. 6,500, while a seven to eight inch spot reduction and toning could set you back by Rs. 6,000. Berkowits also has an ayurvedic product, NaturoSlim, to be taken half an hour before meals. "This product doesn't allow fat accumulation," explains Geeta Prakash, manager.

At Dr. Ayaz Akbar's Bodyfocus, a package to lose five kilos is priced at Rs.7,000. The final cost depends on your Body Composition Analysis (BCA) result.

Exercise freaks turn their nose up at such artificial ways of losing weight. "Exercise converts your fat into muscles, but these artificial ways take off the fat altogether, which may not be good for your body," believes Ms. Sneha Naidu.

Dr. Hunter of Bodywrap believes that electric waves may have side effects later on, and fat removed by liposuction almost always comes back. But, counters Mahalakshmi, chief dietician at Bodyfocus: "You cannot ask a 50-year-old man to workout on treadmills. Besides, many people do not have that much time to exercise."

Dr. Hunter, and Savitha, chief dietician at Talwalkars, believe that a sensible diet, with food taken at regular timings, followed by exercises, is the best way to shape up. Maintaining the weight loss is crucial and can be doubly difficult, says Ms. Savitha.

Ms. Sneha Naidu concedes she has put on some weight again due to "lack of focus on the diet". Timings of meals too matter a great deal. Indians generally have late dinners and then head straight to bed, whereas having an early and light dinner, at least two hours before bedtime, is advisable.

Dr. Hunter prescribes a programme of sensible diet and exercise, devised by him. The Bodywrap method is just that. It involves wrapping the body in elastic wraps soaked in a special solution, which is applied tightly on areas needing inch loss, and lightly, on other areas for one hour. He claims this helps tighten tissues and wards off flab after weight loss. Each wrap costs Rs. 1,000. A five-kilo loss would need three wraps, and, the entire treatment could cost Rs. 3,500, while a 10 kilo loss with six wraps will make you lighter by Rs. 5,950.

But those who believe in the good old way of sweating it out should head for gyms. Explains Vidya Shiralkar, head of business development, Talwarkars. "(Here), we believe in spreading the message of fitness." This personalised, professionally oriented three-floored gym boasts of state-of-the-art equipment, instructors, and dieticians, all armed to help you sweat out 10 kilos in three months for Rs. 6,300, or 20 kilos in six months for Rs. 10,500. Talwalkars is currently offering a summer discount scheme. Most of the weight-loss clientele at the various centres are women as they tend to accumulate fat because of child bearing. Surprisingly, of the 2,000-odd clients at VLCC, the men-women ratio is as high as 40 to 60.

The charges at the various centres also indicate that most of the clientele are middle and upper middle class. According to Dr. Hunter, obesity "is a disease of the rich". It is indeed a fact that obesity is an urban, upper class disease that leads to complications like hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, heart diseases, and so on.

If it is health that motivates one to lose weight, one is right on track. However, if one falls prey to a perceived image of pencil-thin `beauty', one is in serious trouble.

Only a thorough sense of well-being can improve self-esteem. If an obsession with losing weight comes from borrowed images or perception, it is definitely unhealthy.

As Janaki K., a self-confessed feminist who is quite comfortable with her looks and weight, points out: "One must do these things for oneself. But if it is for others, things can get a bit complicated."

Today's women are bombarded by images of false goddesses such as the anorexic Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal or the abs-flaunting Gerry Halliwell.

We then must stop and ask: "Does it really matter if I don't have Cher's waistline or Madonna's hips?" Ms. Naidu feels "proud to look like a mother of two teenage sons" and not like those "jean-clad mothers".

Shilpa Shankar, student at Mount Carmel College, believes that the craze to look young and good, while it is important, may begin to fade when maturity sets in. Then, "either you work on your body for the sake of being fit, or accept it the way it is". And of course learn to cherish and respect it.

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