More than just a body

Eleanor Bailey meets workout goddess Karen Voight, who wants your mind - and your wardrobe

Once, we looked to priests to tell us how to live our lives. Later, in a more rational age, we looked to political leaders, writers, or thinkers. Now, it seems, we listen to fitness leaders. A quick look in the fitness video section in any store will see a reverent group of mere mortals gazing in awe at the fitness bibles in front of them.

Well why not? For increasingly, the fitness "guru" is not just the person who demonstrates the upper thigh lunge hook but the leader figure so long missing from our lives. Unlike politicians, who are tarnished with sleaze, we know the fitness guru has got it right because they are thin and glow with health and happiness - and they don't have time to do much but work out. The fitness guru can tell us how to be fit, how to look attractive, how to be happy and how we should think in order to achieve all of the above.

Clearly the fitness video is the vehicle for expressing one's world view. To such an extent that the aspirational celebrity now needs to use a fitness video to get their voice heard. Then again, maybe they're doing it for the money. Either way, we, the ever needy public, are buying it.

That fitness is power cannot be overstated. Why else would Karen Voight, fitness trainer creator of Precision Training for Body and Mind which comes out at the end of this month, have been voted one of America's "ten most outstanding working women"? The cover of the new book sees Karen, superbody standing like a classical statue (but with bigger muscles and a swimming costume), looking to the heavens. She is dubbed one of the growing league of body gurus, women who, for a nominal fee (say pounds 12.99), will let you into the secrets of their success. You too can be like them. Glamour magazine call her Empress of Abs.

"I don't like the word guru," protests Voight. "It feels cultish. What I have is good information. People call me an authority and that seems more appropriate."

Nevertheless, from being a mere fitness instructor to the stars (she worked with Elle McPherson on her last video and she has trained Bette Midler, Stephanie Powers, Paula Abdul and Tina Turner) she is moving more and more into lifestyle advice - and spirituality. And her words are likely to be taken with more seriousness by the elusive twentysomething female than those of politicians, of whatever persuasion.

"I make sure that people are conscious of building their self-esteem and gaining confidence. I say if you think of one area only, like you only work on your muscles, you won't look your best. You should put a package together to work on all three important areas; what you eat, what you think and how you look."

In the quest for spirituality Voight is the perfect exponent of Nineties roundness. She believes in cross training, in the quality of the session rather than the quantity. She has had classical ballet training and uses Yoga, and Pilates.

As the Voight bandwagon rolls on she will be branching out into clothes advice. "I will be visiting department stores and telling people about what's a better outfit. I like talking directly to the consumer." Voight will be giving a "masterclass" at the David Lloyd Club in Raynes Park, London, in February.

Many people make fitness videos, but they don't all become role models. So what's special about Voight? Her exercises are simple and safe but there is nothing startlingly new about what she is saying. Apart from the fact that she has the "perfect" body (five foot eight, eight stone, twelve per cent body fat) while being, she says, in her "late thirties" she puts her phenomenal success down to being more than just a body. "I have never been interested in just the gym. Fitness people are often very narrow minded. You need more interests. I read a lot of books. Also maybe I am a good role model for motivation, I have worked very hard to achieve what I have."

She has also achieved her status and $3 million dollar a year earnings having been born with a club foot, and told that she would never be able to run. "She is such a guru for our readers," says Lucy Wakefield, Health and Fitness magazine's fitness editor. "She is good for people who are really into fitness because she is always up on the newest things, like interval training and the body bar. She inspires people and motivates them."

Karen Voight Masterclass at the David Lloyd Club, London SW20, on 1 February, pounds 15. More details: 0181 564 8877

Rosemary's tummy or Anthea's abs? Eleanor Bailey picks and chooses gurus

Anthea Turner

Milking it while it lasts is current golden girl (or "Princess Tippy- Toes" to those that know her better). Anthea Turner has brought out an all-encompassing health and lifestyle video (Body Basics) offering tips on everything from exercise to hair style, make-up and relaxation. What she is really selling is the dream of being Anthea Turner - that with a little work and a Nicky Clarke haircut you to can have your own television show and have a perfect life and no spots.

Sarah Edmonds, programme manager at Covent Garden's Jubilee Hall sports centre who worked with Anthea on the exercise part of the video says: "People see Anthea as someone who they could be like. She has the girl next door image. She doesn't claim miracles, she readily admits that she has a low maintenance body, that she is naturally thin and not everyone is so blessed. But she offers a whole body approach for the customer to take steps that will begin achieve what Anthea does." For example, to relax Anthea recommends a hot soak in the bath, aromatherapy oils and deep breathing techniques.

Rosemary Conley

The grandmother of fitness gurus who, accordingly, appeals to the older end of the market, the thirty- and fortysomething woman. Rosemary, soon to be fifty, has won them over with her terminally flat stomach. There is Rosemary Conley's Health and Exercise Magazine publishing Rosemary's words of wisdom, and constant stream of books and videos telling you how to live. The latest is New Body. She offers pragmatic, but not necessarily the healthiest, "get thin" options - such as drinking large Diet Cokes and eating meringues with no cream. Health and Fitness magazine's fitness editor, Lucy Wakefield, says of Conley: "She is a true-life success story, which people aspire to and want to be like. People think, `if she can do it so can I'. Rosemary herself looks for inspiration from above. Close to a nervous breakdown and about to have a gall stones operation she had a dream in which God promised "I shall provide". She stopped eating fat, recovered, brought out The Hip and Thigh Diet and has been a fitness evangelist (or as she would put it "Delia Smith of the diet world" ever since.)

Karen Amen

Her latest video is The Crunch. She is more of a fitness person's guru, according to Lucy Wakefield. "My philosophy," says Amen, who is in England having just done the dubbing for the Spanish edition of The Crunch, "is to deal with your life from the inside out. You have to think about what you're doing, about the potential benefits. Using your mind to the best effect not just exercising, that's so important. I always thought of myself as a motivator. I appeal to people's mental sense. I don't scream and shout. I help them to feel good about themselves, whatever they look like to start with."

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