Abs(olute) Vanity

Drogin's Heroes

If you're like me, you've seen the seemingly endless infomercials and the Calvin Klein advertisements in Rolling Stone. You've been to the Malkin Athletic Center to play basketball, only to find the gym deserted and the mats in the basement occupied. You've descended into the usually crowded Lowell House basement to do laundry, but it seems as though everyone's using their own washboards.

If you're like me, you've come to the conclusion that 1996 is "the year of the abs."

America's present infatuation with the abdominal muscles is undeniably universal, appealing to all genders and races.

Men, who in the past have largely shunned sit-ups and cardiovascular work in favor of building their pectoral muscles and biceps through free weights, are now monitoring their fat intake and working overtime to develop their abs.

And women have put aside their thighmasters, stairmasters and Buns of Steel videos to devote more attention to sit-ups.


The phenomenon has also cut across racial boundaries. Marky Mark Walburg--he of the Funky Bunch--perhaps started to trend several years ago with his music video "Good Vibrations." A few years later, Janet Jackson's sexy stomach captured the imagination of all races. And it would be a travesty not to mention "Baywatch" as a key contributor to the ab craze.

These pop icons have glamorized the abs to such an extent that over the last year an entire industry devoted to developing the abdominal muscles has been created.

The Abroller, Abs of Steel, the Abdominizer, the Abmaster and numerous other ab-enhancing products have flooded the market. Hour-long infomercials with Denise Austin have become commonplace. The makers of Nordictrak have even gotten into the act.

The stereotype of the average American as "Joe Sixpack" is beginning to take on an entirely new meaning.

This "fab" ab fad is, of course, grounded in vanity. Unlike cardiovascular exercise which strengthens the heart, or weightlifting which enables athletes to compete at a higher level, developing the abdominal muscles offers little reward aside from physical appearance (unless your name happens to be Li Xioa-Xuang and you are performing the iron cross on the rings).

Even so, there is no denying that most people who buy the "Abroller" or subject themselves to hundreds of stomach crunches are doing so for the explicit purpose of looking good.

Not that this is entirely a bad thing. At Harvard, where students focus so much attention developing their minds, the body tends to be neglected.

Indeed, men and women at Harvard generally hold such a low opinion of the other sex's physical appearance that this type of vanity is actually welcomed.

But isn't our culture going a bit overboard with this ab infatuation? Should we really be promoting such vanity by emphasizing the importance of physical beauty?

I don't know, but I'll see you at the MAC.

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