In a word . . . gym

The gym obsession is not about health, but pursuit of the body beautiful

It is remarkable how people can find apparently objective signs to give them permission to do what they really want to do anyhow. Years ago I heard about a zealous convert to a particularly hard-end branch of Christianity in the UK explain how he was born again.

He had been wrestling with doubt until one day, while walking along the street, he saw an advertisement that read: “Take Courage.” It was the sign from God he had been hoping for.

So he took the leap of faith and, fuelled by fevered conviction, went on to make miserable the lives of very many earnest people who listened to him in later years.

The sign he interpreted as pointing the way for a beer and, truly, the world would have been a better, even merrier place had he just gone into the pub and had a pint.


The other day, passing a pole on the street, I saw the sacred words on a sticker there and was uplifted. At last the madness ends, I thought. Because attendance at the gym now seems the unacknowledged addiction of our age.

On further investigation, however, I discovered the sticker was an advertisement for its opposite: “Don’t quit” (the gym). The disappointment was such I just longed for a pint of Courage.

St Patrick works out

Everywhere I look these days, there’s a gym. Were St Patrick to come back, his Breastplate would now be: “Gyms before me, Gyms behind me, Gyms above me, Gyms below me ... ”

And do not be fooled. This is not about health, but pursuit of the body beautiful, sometimes one’s own. There is a very up-to-date gym I pass daily that, in the very best aspiration of openness and transparency, had all its young men and women exercise inside great windows.

Passersby began to cast a less than cold eye through the glass, darkly. Video cameras were installed and signs, facing outwards, announced their presence. But to inadequate avail.

So the windows were rendered foggy and opaque, the better to prevent shapely forms inside being studied as they suffer for their vanity and, like King Canute, fight the uneven fight. Yet they too will fade, grow old, spectre-thin, and die.

Gym, short for gymnasium. From Latin gymnasium "school for gymnastics". From Greek gymnasion gymnos "to train naked". (Ahem!)