The producers of a new short documentary hope to spark a conversation around well-being in the arts and the limitations of fitness culture when they launch the project this Thursday, 9 March, in nipaluna/Hobart.
Artgym owner Eilish Kidd instigated the project after getting to know one of her favourite gym members; musician and songwriter Gus Leighton, a familiar face to jazz and swing aficionados around town.
Definition: A Year to Remember is a 22-minute reflection on body image and physical transformation, through the story of Gus’s journey. From weighing over 200 kilos he’s now down to under 100 kg has embraced a new passion for resistance training.
During her chats with Gus, Eilish had a realisation that the Tasmanian community could do better to offer support to anyone – no matter their skill level, age or background – who seeks to improve their fitness.
“Once someone has been labelled ‘fat’ or has begun to think of themselves as ‘not the sporty type,’ it’s so hard for them to see that gyms can be for them too. The sad thing is that when an overweight person does finally summon up the courage to cross threshold they are often met with indifference. Or ignored.”
Before finding a gym that suited him in 2022, Gus experienced this sense of disillusion as a larger person wanting to try something new.
“In this industry we are all sometimes guilty of being too inwardly focused, and not welcoming enough to newcomers,” says Eilish. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to highlight Gus’s story.”
The story so far
Gus Leighton grew up in Cressy in the north of Tasmania. As he recalls in Definition, in 2021 when he was 27, a doctor told him that he was at serious risk of heart attack. Despite a successful career and loving family and friends, he realised that part of felt resigned to this.
This led him to understand that his mental well-being was in decline. It was not only his body that required better care.
So Gus took radical action.
In early 2022, despite a workload of teaching, performing and undertaking a PhD, he launched a charity weight-loss challenge called Gus is Losing It, raising funds for The Black Dog Institute and Musicians Making a Difference. This method of public accountability was effective – but it was only step one of a year-long endeavour.
After losing 20 kilograms, Gus joined Artgym and started working out regularly. He also underwent bariatric surgery, on the advice of doctors.
By mid 2022 he was visibly altered and people were starting to comment. But the change wasn’t yet felt by Gus.
The focus of the short documentary is what happened next, when he began to really prioritise physical fitness.
He had already found a community of friends and trainers. Encouraged by their acceptance and camaraderie, he signed up for an intense 12-week training program offered at Artgym known as the Amazing 12.
Art meets sport
Definition also touches on how a background in music helped Gus tune in to the discipline of repetitive workouts, contrary to the common wisdom that “arty” and “sporty” pursuits don’t mix. His skills as a singer and saxophonist have also evolved, as a result of his greater capacity and strength.
This series of shifts in thinking, including new pursuits like kettlebell sport and a self-nurturing lifestyle, has been transformative – and on a deeper level than your average “before and after” story.
The adventure is just beginning but Gus wants to share what he’s learned so far, especially with his peers in the arts. “A lot of us are not great at putting our health first,” he says. “I spent years entertaining others but I wasn’t happy with myself. Now that I have taken positive steps, I want to let everyone know that the supported needed is too hard to access.”
“I’m so grateful to everyone who backed my weight-loss challenge. But a public campaign and a social media following shouldn’t be necessary to do what I’ve done. We need to have more open conversations around body image, depression, obesity and fitness. Including talking about the fact that our services often fail to help individuals to navigate these complex issues.”
This short film premiere screening and discussion is presented by Artgym and Gus Leighton Music
Definition: A year to remember
With post screening discussion with subject Gus Leighton and Artgym coaches
DATE: Thursday 9 March 2023
TIME: 7.00 pm – 9.00 pm ish (film starts at 7.30 pm, discussion at 8.00 pm)
VENUE: The Founders Room, Salamanca Arts Centre (entry off Woobys Lane)
TICKETS: $10 + BF, please pre-book as space is limited
BOOKINGS: EventBrite listing