Gearhart - I feel like an invader. I've entered a land where males are outsiders, and now I'm treading the inner sanctum of franchised female fitness - Curves for women.

No men, no mirrors, no drugs, no passive exercise. These are catch phrases at the more than 5,000 Curves locations in the United States. Inside the cheerfully appointed Gearhart locale, the largest Curves on the Oregon Coast, I'm amid nine actively exercising women. No mirrors is a good thing; otherwise I'd have to witness how embarrassed I feel.

"That's why women are so comfortable here," says the chatty, exuberant owner Dianna Blankenship about the absence of men and mirrors at her Curves franchise. INFO.BOXNo men, no mirrors - Curves for women is a franchised women's-only workout facility. North to south in our area, you can find a Curves location in Ilwaco, Wash. (124 Spruce St., (360) 642-2405); Astoria (1154 Commercial St., (503) 338-1294); Warrenton (1655 E. Harbor Drive, (503) 861-2770); and Gearhart (3607 Highway 101 N., (503) 717-1111). Or visit ("Nothing against men, but there's a whole different set of dynamics that happens in a fitness facility when there's only one gender." Dressed in a cobalt blue sweatshirt, bright red pants and soft-soled red slip-on shoes and sporting eyeglasses with multi-colored frames, the Hood River native appears as vibrant as the Curves decor.

Blankenship assuages my self-consciousness and guides me past the front counter where Curves clients shed their outdoor footwear. Next we enter an expansive workout room painted in bright yellow. Heart rate charts and how-to stretching diagrams share wall space with smiling female caricatures who look like they've stepped out of the comic strip "Stone Soup." A Mouseketeers wall is decorated with 100 or so mouse-head cut-outs. "As you lose weight you earn your mouse ears," the 47-year-old Blankenship says.

We walk through a door into NU 2 U, an adjacent new- and used-clothing boutique also owned by Blankenship, who has resided in Gearhart for two years. "As gals lose weight, they need to change sizes in order the see and feel the difference," she says. "Otherwise they might put the weight back on."

While shedding excess pounds is important, the Curves concept is broader. "We're trying to associate losing weight with nurturing a healthy heart and a healthy body," says the well-traveled Blankenship, who has a background in sales. "I want women to start coming in and exercising on a regular basis. Then they can think about losing weight. I don't like my ladies walking in and out of the office and standing on the scale."

Although she's ensconced across a table from me at the moment, I get the impression Blankenship, who's on duty six days a week, doesn't usually sit still. Every client receives a individual attention, she says. "Too much, if you ask them," she adds with a smile. "I'm spotting a lot, making sure they're using the equipment correctly and getting the full benefit from it."

I notice nobody's standing around. All nine women are rotating among the 22 workout stations, 11 equipped with exercise machines, the other half with what Blankenship calls "recovery pads." Up-tempo tunes blare from speakers, and a spoken cue every 30 seconds on the music system tells clients when to switch - "change stations now," a woman's voice announces. "We call her the lady in the sky," says Blankenship. Women check their heart rates every 71/2 minutes to insure they remain in a predetermined zone. Warming up, cooling down and stretching are emphasized.

"Curves is simplicity and fun," Blankenship says. Typically women - "her girls," as she often calls them - exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes. None of the fitness machines have weights; they use hydraulic resistance. Clients push and pull, rather than lift and lower weights.

Blankenship claims the Curves concept has eliminated the typical excuses not to exercise - being too self-conscious; not having enough time; not knowing what to do; and so on. "We help women achieve goals that they set for themselves," she says. "Our clients don't need a personal trainer, and Curves works for all levels of fitness."

All ages, too. The 2-year-old Gearhart Curves counts 350 members, most between 35 and 60. The youngest is 10, and Blankenship says she has a sizable group of women in their 70s. "My oldest is 82," she says with a look that suggests considerable pride. "She dances circles around some of the girls out there."


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