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Do Boobs Make the Fit Woman? [The Controversy Over Breast Implants in Fitness Models]

Posted Jan 26 2011 10:10pm
"Knockers!" "Jugs!" "Fun bags!" "Sweater puppies!" Sitting in the darkened audience at the talent show my friend put on as a fundraiser for breast cancer research, I listened as all my friends called out their favorite euphemisms for boobs. I wanted to contribute - what's more fun than sitting in a big room talking girlie bits with all your best girls? (And no men, we weren't wearing panties and having pillow fights.) - but the pressure mounted as all the good ones were getting taken. Looking down for inspiration, it came to me: "Rocks in socks!" I blurted out. Silence. Then my friend next to me giggled, "Really?" I stood firm in my answer. "Indeed."

Nursing four babies has not been kind to me in the chest department. Sure I look amazing as long as I'm slinging the milk shakes but as soon as my drive-in becomes take-out only, I end up worse than before I began. And I'm not the only one. Plastic surgery is a topic that comes up among the Gym Buddies from time to time - it did this very morning in fact! (See, now don't you wish you came and worked out with us?) While there are a couple Buddies holding out for a tummy tuck and one who wants a reduction, the rest of us, if money grew on trees, would get the girls fixed.

Part of it is because while we can lose the baby weight with nutrition and exercise, we can never fix the saggy bits and we'd just like to have our old selves back. But part of it - the part we don't talk about very much - is based on a fundamental unrealistic yet oddly pervasive belief in the fitness world: that you can be very lean and still have very big boobs.

Image from Muscle and Fitness Hers

Reader Juni, obviously tuned in to the Gym-Buddy wavelength, sent me this question:
"So I buy just about every fitness magazine on the market and I gotta say that it makes me sad that I find it quite rare if I see even ONE model without breast implants. It’s such a strange contradiction, you know?? I mean, I do get it, you have a low body fat percentage and you likely have what I like to call “Boobinis”. Yet, as a women who works out to feel strong and happy with her capable body it makes me sad to see this and conflicted…. "
Juni makes an excellent point (and also "boobinis" is hilarious - I'm totally stealing that one from now on!) In case you missed 8th grade health class, breasts are largely made up of fat. So if you lean way out, reason stands that your chest will disappear just like the fat off your stomach. This is a conundrum for fitness models. Traditionally female "fitness models" had a very specific look, something akin to this:

Body fat low enough to show 6-pack abs yet still enough on top to fill out a sports bra with cleavage! Image from Muscle and Fitness Hers

While it's no secret that in the larger world of movie stars, Maxim and reality TV shows stick thin with grapefruit halves is highly desirable, you'd think that in the health and fitness realm with its emphasis on muscle mass over Barbie limbs that we'd get some slack in the chestal department. Not so. If anything, breast implants seem more prevalent in fitness modelling than typical women's modelling.

While some fitness professionals, like the ever-controversial Zuzana of bodyrock.tv, are unapologetic about their augmented assets, others are starting to buck the trend. Top fitness model Kim Strother (if you have read any health or fitness mag in the last two years I can guarantee you've seen her, even if you don't know her as anything other than "girl demonstrating ab crunches on large exercise ball") talks openly about losing jobs because she refuses to enlarge her athletic chest.

Self magazine's features director/fitness Meagan Murphy calls Strother the "new-school archetype" saying that she is "healthy, strong and aspirational." Murphy adds, "The supermodel won the genetic lottery. The fitness model worked damn hard for that body, and you can tell." She even points out that Strother differs from traditional female models in that most of the sample clothes sent for photo shoots are a size medium to accommodate her athletic build.

Kim Strother, full-time fitness model. Image from Slate.com

Normally "athletic build" is seen as a derogatory term - I remember the first time a gymnastics coach told me I had "athletic thighs" I cried for a week and went on a crash diet - but these days some fitness magazines want a model that can do more than just look pretty in booty shorts. They need someone strong enough to hold a plank in the sand for five minutes while wardrobe and lighting are adjusted, someone who can jump 83 times in the air to get the perfect "spontaneous" shot, someone who can demonstrate proper squatting form. And with online video complements to articles, that is getting harder and harder to fake.

Personally I hope that Strother is the wave of the future, if only for the fact that with as many kids as I have there's no way I'll ever be able to afford implants (and also, did you know you have to replace them every decade or so? A little too high maintenance for this surgery-squeamish girl!). On the other hand, I had two mommy friends get implants just this last week and they're super happy with the results (or at least they will be when the swelling goes down.)

What do you think - is the fake boobs/tiny figure still the gold standard or do you think smaller boobs are the next big thing? Are implants a way to restore you back to you and increase confidence or are they just more evidence of the unrealistic standard women's bodies are judged by? Do you have a favorite term for your boobs?

PS. Check out Slate.com's entire fitness issue for more interesting stuff like this - thanks to the reader who tipped me off to this! I wish I could remember who but I'm totally having a brain fart - leave me a comment so I can give you proper credit!

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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