Lori Feffer: “Definitely, when I’m older, with a family, I can’t imagine a belly-button ring."

Sanguinetti has been whistled at by girls who’ve noticed his physique. “It feels good! But I just do this for myself. It’s just to keep myself in shape. I don’t do it for any other reason. Sure, I get more positive attention, but that’s secondary. Honestly, I just do it for myself. It’s all about feeling good and feeling healthy.”

Simon Cottriall: "You don’t see it in Britain, because nobody cares."

True to Ali’s assessment, the nine people on the machines in the ab room are all women. One of them, Mary Ann Olsson, a fitness instructor, claims she has been working out her whole life. An immigrant from Sweden, Olsson, 35, is a pixie in size and a tan Olympian in build. “I’ve been coming here almost ten years. I always worked out and always ate healthy. It’s been the natural thing for me to stay healthy and keep my body in shape. In college, I was overweight — when we’d drink beer and eat a lot of pizza — but I made some changes after that. Genetically, I’ve never had the problem of that ‘women’s pooch’ that they talk about, but I’m also an instructor here, so I have students that complain about that all the time. But it makes me feel good and it makes me happy. I like to move.” Probably the least self-conscious person in the gym, Olsson doesn’t seem concerned about the flatness of her stomach, yet her waist size is a slight 24 inches.

Ron Jackson: "You take a guy who’s got the ripples down there, he don’t want to be touched anyway."

Wearing an oversized University of Pittsburgh T-shirt, Colleen Fisher, 24, slowly works out behind Olsson on another machine. Doe-eyed and talkative, Fisher is thin, yet solid-looking at the same time. She’s doing a type of reverse sit-up on a device that allows her to angle herself facedown and slowly ease up from the floor and back down again. This exercise is supposed to strengthen the back — an often overlooked part of building the perfect stomach. “It’s essential for good abs to have a strong lower back. It balances out every muscle. I used to work hard on the ab exercises, then I slacked off for a while. I used to do 20 minutes of ab work per day.” She points to invisible love handles. “When I’m standing, you can see I have fat back here, and the only way you’re going to tighten that up is by working the lower back. So it’s my whole midsection that needs to be worked to get tight.

Skip Chew: "I get enough workout at Albertsons. I work in produce."

“I’ve been working out almost two years. I maxed out at 180 pounds and started working out at about 165. Now I weigh 120.” Even with her slender figure, she disparages her waist as “the largest part of me. I think it’s 26 inches. I work out probably two or three hours a week. I’ll try to do a half an hour per day, but this week I didn’t. My eating habits are totally different now than before. I used to be a vegetarian and I ate all carbohydrates. I used to hardly ever eat meat, but now meat is, like, a huge part of my diet. Turkey and chicken mostly, but I do eat red meat too. I don’t eat so much bread. If I eat carbs, it’s vegetables, fruits, and wheat bread. I used to binge-eat too, but not anymore. I would continue to eat even when I was full. I’ll try to eat my last meal three hours before I go to sleep.”

Bob Adams: "I lost about 40 pounds recently by switching to light beer."

Fisher’s worked to change her body because “I wanted to feel who I felt I was inside — which was a disciplined and beautiful person, and I thought that outwardly I didn’t reflect that. I didn’t look disciplined or healthy having fat on my body. I don’t think fat is beautiful at all. It just so happened that it also changed the way people treated me, but that’s not what kept me going through all of the weight loss. It was definitely intrinsical and what I expected from others. It was totally in my head. Now I think people are friendlier to me than they used to be — a lot friendlier. I think men looked at me before, but differently.”

Rick Strassman: "The only six-pack I’m interested in is what I drink."

The more Fisher talks about her abs, the more apparent her dissatisfaction becomes. “Everything else in my body came out the way I wanted it to, but my abs have challenged me the most. If you look at other parts of my body, you can’t tell that I was ever heavy, but if you look at my stomach, you would know. There’s looser skin, though it’s all flat. It looks like I’ve had a child, like a little kangaroo pouch. It bothers me. I would like to have a flat stomach because I want it to go along with the rest of my body. I like every other part of it; like, I think that it’s beautiful and I want that to be as, well, as close to my idea of perfect as I can get it, and I don’t see that it is. If I see somebody whose abs are better, then that bothers me. I’ll think, ‘Is it my lack of discipline that I can’t get my stomach that way?’ ”

Michael Dolan: "I have a little potbelly, but my wife says it’s nice."

At 49, Tom Olmstead is probably the oldest man in the weight room. The red hair that falls over his forehead disguises his age. It also helps that he has a muscular, though not bulging, physique. “I kind of always worked out, but I’ve been coming here for three years. I’ve lost about 35 pounds over a 12-month period. I work out here for maybe eight hours a week. Of that, I’ll work on the abs for maybe 10, 15 minutes, every three or four days.”

Mike Player: "I work out for different purposes — for my heart and lungs more than my stomach."

For Olmstead, working out is preventive medicine. “It’s being able to function normally and avoid the aches and pains that a lot of people get, which is certainly from their diet and not exercising. I know people at work that are a lot younger than I am and are always going to the acupuncturist or the chiropractor, but they don’t have time to go to the gym. The only reason they’re going to these people is because they don’t exercise. You’ve got to do it just to maintain normal body activity.”

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