Physique Attitudes and Self-Presentational Concerns: Exploratory Interviews with Female Group Aerobic Exercisers and Instructors Page: 192
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Greenleaf, McGreer, and Parham
Perceived Body Ideals
Constrained Body Ideals
Both exercisers and instructors had specific con-
ceptualizations of the "ideal" body. Ten of the 11
participants described the ideal body as lean, toned,
and strong. One exerciser said "... if you look
strong and healthy and have a little bit of mus-
cle mass showing ... I think that's the most perfect
[physique]" (Exerciser 1; El). Similarly, an instruc-
tor said "I think the body is really beautiful when its
tone and cut ... no love handles, just really tight and
tiny" (Instructor 5; I5). Further, two of the exercis-
ers indicated that the ideal body was curvaceous, as
well as thin and lean, "like the supermodels in the
Victoria's Secret catalog" (E5). These descriptions of
the ideal body are consistent with dominant sociocul-
tural ideals of the female body (Bordo, 1993; Krane,
Choi, Baird, Aimar, & Kauer, 2004). Although popu-
lar, such ideals rarely occur naturally; rather women
go to extreme lengths, such as undergoing cosmetic
surgery, to attain the ideal physique (Sarwer et al.,
Consistent with Markula (1995), participants in-
dicated that although the ideal physique was toned,
being too muscular was unattractive and undesirable.
For example, one exerciser described her ideal body
as "... a toned body, like the fitness competitors, but
not muscles showing everywhere" (E3). Another ex-
I want Madonna's arms. Actually I saw her in a mag-
azine and she didn't have the same arms ... people
said she was looking too manly. That really bothered
me, so now I guess I don't like her arms, but you
know, I just want to be thin, trim and buff. (E4)
Along similar lines, one instructor stated that
the ideal body was "not too muscular ... I think
people are intimidated when you're really muscular"
(I1), and another said that the ideal body was "strong
... not to the point where they're so strong it's over-
The undesirability of being "too muscular"
seems to stem from gender ideologies that have
long served to reinforce the place of women in so-
ciety as subordinate to men (Choi, 2003). If women
are too strong and muscular, they can be independent
and self-sufficient; not needing men's help or pro-
tection. Muscles symbolize masculinity (Choi, 2003;
Krane et al., 2004), and, as such, they are viewed as
"inappropriate" and "unnatural" for women. It is in-
teresting that among the small group of participants
in the present study this concern about becoming too
muscular was common; it was mentioned by four of
the exercisers and four of the instructors. It was as if
the women believed that they had to monitor their
activity to ensure that in trying to achieve the ideal
they did not go too far and become overly muscular,
and, therefore, unattractive and/or masculine.
Functional Body Ideals
It is interesting that two instructors also de-
scribed the ideal body in terms of functional fitness.
For example, one of the instructors said: "I don't
think size really matters as long as you are lean and
in good shape. The focus there is not on looking good
so much, but on feeling better or being more healthy,
or being able to get out of a car" (14). The other in-
structor said: "I don't see aerobics as a means to a
perfect body, I see it as a means to a good life" (I1).
These statements reflect a refreshingly healthy view
of physical activity and, in particular, group aerobic
classes. Haravon (1995) suggested that we embrace a
"feminist aerobic pedagogy" in which group aerobics
offers empowerment experiences to women. These
two instructors, by their de-emphasis on appearance
and weight loss and their emphasis on health and fit-
ness, have demonstrated a philosophy that is consis-
tent with Haravon's (1995) conceptualization.
Attainability of Body Ideals
Ten of the participants believed that, through
exercise and dieting, they could achieve (or at least
come close to) their ideal body (Grogan, 1999), yet
there was a tone of uncertainty in their expressions of
this belief. Exercisers made statements such as "Like
if I had worked at it and had a really good diet, I
think, and really start to exercise all the time I think
that I could be where I wanted to be in a couple
of months" (E2). Other exercisers said "If you work
hard enough and eat right, if you are motivated, you
can do whatever you want" (E3), and "If you work-
out hard enough and you change your diet, then any-
thing's possible" (E4).
These statements reflect the culturally ingrained
belief that with enough discipline and effort, a
woman can shape and mold her body as she de-
sires (Maguire & Mansfield, 1998). At the same time,
there was a sense that, although the ideal was at-
tainable, it was unrealistic without extreme effort,
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Greenleaf, Christy; McGreer, Rosemary & Parham, Heather. Physique Attitudes and Self-Presentational Concerns: Exploratory Interviews with Female Group Aerobic Exercisers and Instructors, article, February 2006; [New York, New York]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc31089/m1/4/: accessed May 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Education.