Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper


Colby College. Sociology Dept.


Terry Arendell

Second Advisor

Tom Morrione

Third Advisor

Carleen Mandolfo


I performed qualitative research in the form of participant observation, surveys, and in-depth interviews to examine Curves, a fitness franchise for women found throughout the United States and, increasingly, the rest of the world. I conducted this exploratory study specifically at the Curves in Waterville, Maine, and made several trips to other franchises in the area for comparative purposes. One of my key findings is the importance of understanding Curves’ organization as a business, specifically, its status as a franchise and the effect that this has on its popularity and growth. Additionally, my research revealed the role, surprising to me, that religion plays both at the corporate and franchise levels. The founder, Gary Heavin, is an evangelical Christian, who carries his beliefs into his business. In the text I argue that Curves can be compared other organizations founded on religious principles, and examined as a place where ritualized practice of deeply held beliefs takes place. Gender also proved to be salient in my analysis: Curves is a distinctly gendered space and I explore the consequences of this fact. I also examine women’s evaluations of the Curves program and their reasons for adding it to their lives. Personal reflections on body image were solicited as well. I integrate these results through a larger theme I found to be significant during the project: the tension between autonomy and constraint. Personal reflections on the research experience and specific questions for future research are also offered.


Curves, participant observation, surveys, interviews, fitness franchise, women, Waterville, Maine, religion, Gary Heavin, Personal reflections