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Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. (Sort of.) For those of us who aren’t totally satisfied with our bodies (our hands are raised), summertime can mean a continuous struggle with body image. There’s pressure to suck in our stomachs and long for perfectly toned arms as we slice the waves with an expert stroke.

That’s why Town Sports International (the company that operates New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia Sports Clubs) just launched the “I Am Buff” hotline, a number that people can call for free answers to a range of health and fitness questions. While the company is marketing the hotline as a way for people to do last-minute prep for bathing suit season, other campaigns focus on the psychological aspects of body image. We called the hotline to see if we’d get legit advice, and to try to answer the question: Is there one “right” way to get people to feel better about their bodies?

What’s the Deal?

This weekend (Friday, June 21 through Sunday, June 23), Sports Club trainers will be waiting by their phones and computers to answer questions. Dial 1-855-I-AM-BUFF or email IAmBuff@town-sports.com between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. to get information about kick-starting a fitness routine, working out in hot weather, and the best bodyweight exercises. Non-Sports Clubs members who call will also get a free one-week pass and one free Ultimate Fitness Experience small group training session. The best (or funniest) part? Callers cautious about getting advice from a couch potato can request a (free) photo of the trainer on the other end.

This isn’t the first time the Sports Clubs are offering last-minute health and fitness advice. Right around Thanksgiving 2011, the company launched the “Don’t Be a Butterball” hotline, which people could call for advice on prepping for the Thanksgiving meal and losing weight afterward.

Why It Matters

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal — or at least a fun call. But these hotlines suggest an issue that goes way beyond how to get six-pack abs. There’s certainly nothing wrong with working to improve our bodies and figure out the fitness routine that works best for us. But the fact that people feel they need “emergency” advice on how to get a beach bod implies they aren’t satisfied with their physical appearance in general. Summertime, and the deluge of skimpy swimwear, can exacerbate a body image issue that’s present year-round. Research suggests that, at least among women, just the thought of trying on a swimsuit can bring on a bad mood.

Beyond the Sports Clubs, other organizations are taking a more holistic, and radical, approach to helping people feel better about their bodies. There’s the “fatkini,” a swimsuit designed to allow plus-size women to feel good about themselves in a bathing suit, and the “30 Days in a Bikini” initiative, in which two women walk around in bathing suits all day, every day for a month in order to promote positive body image.

Obviously, the Sports Clubs shouldn’t be held responsible for boosting people’s body image, or providing on-site psychotherapy sessions. And advice from professional trainers could actually be really helpful for a lot of people who want to get active but don’t know where to start. But those who decide to dial up this weekend might want to think about whether they really need such urgent answers to their questions, or whether the more pressing need has to do with their self-image.

The Takeaway

We called the I-Am-Buff hotline to ask some questions, and were pleasantly surprised to find the trainer on the other end wasn't telling people to eat only grapefruit if they wanted to fit into their string bikini. Instead, she told us to combine strength training with other aerobic exercises if we want to get muscular and to consider opting for lower-cal booze when we want to lose weight.

The trainer didn't miss a beat when we got to some real talk, and asked about feeling more confident in our bodies — her advice was to take classes such as yoga that promote a mind-body-soul connection. And she told us how important it was to do a little something to stay active every day, which sounds a lot like our philosophy on making small changes that add up to a healthy lifestyle. It's nice to know there's a way to address people's body image concerns in a way that makes them feel confident, and empowered, to take charge of their health and fitness.

Would you consider calling the I-AM-BUFF hotline? What would you ask? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.

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