By Tyne O’Connell

Edwardian Ladies FencingThere is something decidedly distasteful about the modern fad for exercise and no amount of blandishments from Gym Zealots will chivy me out of my aversion. I am all for movement and living an active life but there is a cultural divide in those who frequent gymnasiums and those who don’t.

I was brought up to believe that muscles on a girl were ugly and that on a man an abundance of upper body musculature suggested the gentleman in question had done a rather long stretch in the confines of a prison cell.

Nor do I see any evidence that exercise has any link to weight loss, quite the opposite Muscles are a foothold for fat. Acquiring muscles may be done as cheerfully as eating pudding, however by indulging in either pursuit one is building a rods for one’s own back, for the day will come when all that muscle and those puddings will inevitably turn to immovable wobble.

Even as a child I loathed the school gymnasium. I did enjoy our daily deportment classes which to be fair were held in the gymnasium on heavy-rain days – light to medium rain being seen as no impediment to walking up and down our sweeping school entrance stairs with piles of books on our heads.

I think my strident anti-gym stance began in the nineties when a number of people rendered themselves social pariahs through their obsession with “Gyms” as they affectionately referred to these temples of muscular culture. So affectionately in fact that for years I thought all those sweaty men and women rushing off to the Gym, who spoke devotedly about “loving The Gym” were talking about a rather grand personage who demanded the royal article like The Queen or The King.

Exercise zealots and all those who proselytise about their muscles as if there is something inherently attractive about a muscular form are at odds with those of us who hold on to the traditional view that any muscle acquired artificially via exercise or in gyms are seedy. Gyms and muscles, like weight loss and plastic surgery and other health topics are not to be aired in public.

So strong was the bias against muscles on girls until after the Edwardian times that this was the main obstacle preventing them attending schools. It wasn’t that parents were adverse to the education of women as all but the most misogynist of fathers hired tutors for their daughters. However no loving parent wished to ruin their daughters chance at marriage by handicapping them with the heavy calf and arm muscles acquired on the lacrosse and hockey fields of schools.

I subscribe to the view that a beautiful body is more about deportment and carriage and grace of movement than muscles or size. Observing the beautiful young girls of today who walk like they are struggling with a bowling ball between their knees does little to persuade me that the Gym is anything other than a perfidious lie.

While a slim build is generally preferable to a chubby one I would argue a smartly dressed larger man or woman of grace is more attractive that a person of slim build slumping along in stretch fabric or indeed ill thought out attire of any description.

If a Dandy or Dandizette wishes to exercise they should do so in fencing salles or at the ballet bar where one acquires not just a splendid lean physic but a stately posture and graceful carriage to show it off to best advantage. Nor am I impervious to the charms of the spherical Dandy or Dandizettes – for form does not the gentleman or the lady make – fashion does.

The dandizette gets plenty of exercise dashing about in pursuit of the perfect hat, attending balls or running about after bon mots. Surely anything is preferable to a date with The Gym.

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