Some of you may have recently read an article I wrote on eating disorders and how I struggled with but overcame my own. well, yesterday I read an article that hit the nail on the head, just really "hit home" with me. It was written by Kenny Kassell.
Kenny is a Fitness model and Talent agent, writer and Business manager to Don "The Dragon" Wilson amongst many other things. His articles have been featured in Oxygen magazine, www.Femuscle.org, Genex online as well as on Bill Dobbins site.
So, I thought I would spread the word and interview Kenny on his thoughts on Fitness Models as "Role Models" and how society will shy away from featuring us on the cover of today's fashion magazine's and instead promoting "fragile" women with the TRUE unattainable bodies.
What Do You Really Want?
Is it easier to hit the weight room and with drive and dedication, sculpt your body beautiful and be healthy, while still eating, but making the SMART food choices and positively changing your entire lifestyle? Or is it easier to live your life eating next to nothing, sometimes reaching such desperate measures such as, anorexia and bulimia?
Is this "positive?" Is this the healthy role model we should be plastering all over every catalog, magazine and television show? You can decide for yourself of course. Which body type do you prefer, which body as a man would you desire?
Skinny Runway Model
Let's get it on... with Kenny Kassell.
[ Tisha ] Kenny, when did you become involved in fitness and is there a specific reason why you did?
Kenny: Well, Tisha, I got involved in fitness when I was 13 or 14 because I wanted to be stronger for football, so I started working out. I was inspired by an athlete from my high school who was all state in football and in track. His name was Brian Derwin and he went to college on a football scholarship and took up Olympic weightlifting and was actually the US Olympic Weightlifter of the Year the year when I graduated high school. He had won the Nationals in Olympic lifting.
Anyway, I started training and enjoyed it. I competed in some powerlifting meets myself and had fun with it. I had always been intrigued by bodybuilding and great physiques that I saw in comic books and in magazines like "Strength and Health", "Muscle Builder", which is now called "Muscle & Fitness" and then by Bob Kennedy's "MuscleMag"
I was blessed to have been able to go to California in the 1970s and went right to Gold's and World Gyms. Joe Gold treated me so respectfully, and I got to train in the gym with great champions like Tom Platz, Danny Padilla, Leon Brown, and Robby Robinson.
It was such a fantastic experience and I learned a lot about intensity and proper training. I went back east and bought a gym and started training athletes. I worked with all kinds of athletes. I used to look at a piece of equipment and analyze it, and I would sit on it the wrong way, or a different way, and come up with different exercises.
People would look at me with a strange look, but then a month later they would be asking for training advice. I trained bodybuilders who were getting good results in contests.
In addition, I was judging contests and working as an expediter at contests. Because of my relationships with many of the magazine people and photographers, I was introduced to many of the women who were training and wanting to compete. So many of them were not getting the proper training advice and so I found myself suddenly as a sort of guru to many of the women competitors.
It got to the point where I would be at a national event and women who I did not know, were coming up to me and asking me to help them get ready for shows. At my gym, I also had a few of the members of the NY Giants 1986 World Championship team training there. I had also been working backstage as an expediter (stage director) at NPC National events and at IFBB events.
I am still an IFBB official to this day just about 20 years later. I started my agency when I was training some producers who would call me when they needed fitness people, and there were no agencies that had this type of model. I did some casting for some films in the early 1990s and they were loving the fact that an agency like mine existed.
I also discovered a few early fitness people who became mainstream stars, like Raye Hollitt, who I discovered when she was 18. She was "Zap" on the hit TV show "American Gladiators" and also starred in a number of films, such as Blake Edward's film "Skin Deep" starring John Ritter.
[ Tisha ] What is your role in the Fitness Industry today?
Kenny: I see my role in the fitness industry today as multidimensional. I am still an IFBB official, and also at the major NPC shows. I am master of ceremonies at many events, including the Jr. USA and Jr. National Championships. I was the voice-over artist for the television show "Musclesport USA" for 14 years on Fox Sports Network.
I still act as a consultant to athletes getting ready for shows, but what I see as an important role is teaching those in the fitness industry to better market themselves, and get their message across to more mainstream people about how important fitness is to quality of life. The problem we have is to make sure that the mainstream media is not intimidated by our fitness models/rolemodels. I think what this entails is some creative and thought-promting marketing and a lot of patience and cooperation FROM our fitness models/rolemodels.
I am going to get more involved in things such as infomercials about fitness products that are honest and real, rather than deceiving the public. So many people get discouraged because they have been sold "the Brooklyn Bridge."
For example, many of the ab infomercials "sell" the concept that you can train your ABS 3 times a week for 5 minutes and have ABS like the models in the infomercial or commercial, when in fact the models in the infomercials train their ABS an hour a day 5 or 6 times a week. People want to take a pill that will make them look like Debbie Kruck or Mike O'Hearn.
I am also getting more into the entertainment industry, and I am teaching seminars and through articles, how fitness people can get into the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry is appealing to me for several reasons.
First of all, I have always loved films, and have seen so many potential stars make mistakes in their pursuit of this industry. Here is another major reason - it is no secret that many of the infomercials in fitness use major celebrities to endorse fitness products.
What better way to get across the message about the importance of fitness than to use people who are a household name?
People want to be like them. I feel that I can develop a new breed of star that will illustrate that fitness needs to be a part of your daily routine, and even people who are so busy making films, can still find the time to get their fitness routines into their day.
I also want to set up a network of fitness models and role models all across the country and then to the rest of the world. We need to really focus on the US first though.
[ Tisha ] What are your thoughts on Fitness Models losing jobs for being "Too Fit"?
Kenny: This is something that I am asked about all the time. There needs to be an education process so that people understand that an athlete who competes has to have their bodyfat very low, and that is how they look at the show, but 95% of the year, they have a higher level of bodyfat and they have a look that is more attainable.
Fitness athletes have to understand that if they want to be in commercials and infomercials, that they may have to compromise a little and increase their bodyfat so that they have a more "Attainable" look.
The point that WE in the fitness industry have to get across to the media is that when they put women who are like supermodels on a pedestal, that their look is LESS attainable for the average women than that of a fitness model who is not in competition shape. Both sides have to compromise.
I speak to a lot of fitness models who don't want to be photographed unless they are in contest shape. I speak to media people who think that the women who are in contest shape are not appealing because they are too muscular. I think both sides need to compromise. I will tell you a story that illustrates this point very well.
Women's bodybuilding was most popular in the mid 1980s, and one of the biggest stars of that time was Gladys Portuguese. I remember once taking 2 pictures of her and showing it to a large group of people and asking what they thought. This was for my own research. The first picture was Gladys in top shape. Most people said they did not like the way she looked. "She looks like a guy" and, "that's gross" were comments I got. Then I showed them the second picture, which was her in the off season.
The men I showed it to were all drooling over the picture and the women all said, "Wow, she looks awesome." Each time I told them that the pictures were of the same person. Most people were shocked. They did not really even look closely at her face, which was like that of a fashion model. When people see muscle and vascularity on a fitness woman's arm, they immediately think that she is a bodybuilder. People need to be educated about this. Education and patience is needed.
[ Tisha ] Why do you think that Fitness Models should be represented as today's Role Models?
Kenny: Fitness women who are not in top contest shape are ideal role models because they have a look that most women can achieve if they were willing to work hard enough to achieve it. People think that to look like a fitness model that you have to work out 6 hours a day and eat nothing but lettuce, broccoli and skinned chicken breasts.
They don't realize that if you worked out 3-4 times a week doing 30-40 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes with the weights, and followed a moderate protein, moderate complex carb and low fat diet, they could totally change their look. I have found that the majority of fitness athletes who were not top athletes before did not start out wanting to look muscular.
They started just to get into, or back into shape, and as they got deeper into it, they got more intense, and wanted to be more muscular. See the deal is this - most people never get those endorphins going. It is an amazing feeling to be in incredible shape, but most people have never felt that, so they don't know how great it is, and once they get that feeling, they want it all the time.
Fitness models who are motivated to be role models, are perfect for the job, because they have the look, and in many cases, they started out just like those they are trying to inspire.
[ Tisha ] What does the fit model bring to the table that a "Fashion" or Commercial model does not?
Kenny: The main thing that the fitness model brings to the table that the other models don't is that they have the tools to show people how much better the quality of life can be when you are in good shape and your health is at it's peak. They live their lives as a perfect example of how good life can be if you are healthy and in shape.
They can also reach the general public through training clients, or offering a free class at gyms on how simple having fitness be a part of your life can be. I would encourage them to speak to the owners of their gym to set up a free introductory class for women and men to learn about the basics of fitness.
The gym owner would get new potential members, and the fitness model has a pool of potential new clients for her personal training business, and both are providing a service to the public. People need to learn that fitness cannot only enhance the quality of life, but it can SAVE lives.
[ Tisha ] What type of work to you produce for your clients?
Kenny: What we try to find for our clients depends on what our client's
goals are. We try to work to develop of persona and a niche for our models. If they want to get into acting, than we encourage them to take classes and when they are ready, we can send them out to auditions for acting roles.
For those who want to pursue commercials, we again encourage them to take commercial acting classes and then send them on commercial auditions. People do come to us when they are looking for fitness looks, or for an extremely athletic look for print ads.
Just as preparation is important for competitors, it is crucial to a successful career in the entertainment industry. We attempt to find work in the entertainment industry for those who are elite athletes or top fitness athletes. I see myself as a bridge between the fitness and entertainment industries.
[ Tisha ] Kenny, define what "Strong and Beautiful" means to you...
Kenny: I have to tell you that I think all women are beautiful in their own way. Each has an inner beauty and what they need to do is to bring it out. I love the way a muscular woman looks, as long as she stays within the boundaries of her genetics. Because of my involvement with fitness models, there are a few who think that I don't like the way women bodybuilders look. That is absolutely not true.
I think there are a few who have tried to gain more muscle than their frames can hold and so they have lost the aesthetic quality of their bodies. My preference is a body that has great symmetry and proportion. I like wide shoulders tapering down to a small waist, a nice flair to the hips and a nice sweep to the legs. It does not matter whether they are 5 "2 or 6' tall.
One question that I have heard thousands of times is "do you think muscles on a woman is sexy?" First of all, I don't think that is a relevant question, because I don't think most women develop their bodies to make them sexier. I think sex appeal has nothing to do with muscles.
Sex appeal is something that comes from within a person. I do think that someone who is confident about their look and body will project a sexier image, which is a side benefit. I think what is very cool is that fact that women who work out intensely to develop their bodies, even those who don't compete actually do have a trophy. Their trophy is their bodies.
I have to thank you Kenny for taking the time to interview with me, Kenny has become a friend as well as an inspiration to me. His work is the industry is incredible and should be awarded. He has so much heart for the sport and for all of the people that surround him.
I think it is wonderful to see such a positive attitude bestowed when there are so many misconceptions on fitness modeling and competing. I know that I cannot personally tolerate the ignorance of people who know nothing and choose not to know about the industry or the concept of contest training, bodyfat %, contest weights on and off ect... But yet continue to make false statements on especially the women involved in the sport. How we starve ourselves or look like men, or that we are so deprived or depressed to do what we do. Instead of taking the time to learn and listen.
I recently signed with an agency in NY as a commercial and fitness model. The problem is I am constantly turned away for being "too fit,,' which is pretty uncanny as I look quite small when compared to some of my fellow competitors. I actually have been turned down for fitness related work for other "very thin" models. It's a mystery to me.
I always thought being "Strong and Beautiful" was a good thing. Maybe if I were to just stop eating all together and throw down my dumbbells, I could actually get a job in the "modeling Industry." As if that will ever happen.