Fitness and Body Image: The Existential Crisis

I have never really known “what I want to be when I grow up.”  At almost 29 years old, this would seem to be a problem, no?  But it has recently dawned on me that I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to be doing.  I basically made up a career out of intersecting interests and talents.  Even as recently as a year ago, I wished on a star that whatever I ended up doing, it would involve helping people.  I was afraid of getting sucked into a career of selfishness.  And secretly, I have hoped since I was a child that whatever I ended up doing, I could be writing.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I do not feel I should be doing something else.” –Gloria Steinem 

Well, shit.  This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.  I thought I’d be in Africa volunteering and writing about it.  Turns out, I help people get fit and I write about it.  Fitness?  Really?  God, are you sure—this must be some kind of mistake!? Not exactly earth shattering stuff, and I have a tendency to get discouraged.  How is fitness important in the grand scheme of things?  Why, of all freaking things, would God put me to use in this way?  I have spent the past two years running desperately away from fitness because, as important as it is to me, I haven’t wanted to see its importance to others.  I wanted to employ my mind, not my body.  I wanted to lead people, help people, and write. Once I use the word “bodybuilder” to describe myself, no one remembers or hears anything else I say.  This used to severely frustrate me!  Besides that, I have two degrees in Women’s Studies—if I were supposed to focus on fitness for a career then why didn’t I go for kinesiology or some other health-related degree?

I have recently changed my outlook on things, as I have come to realize what it really is I am supposed to do with this opportunity.  The truth is, my purpose in life is not to push fitness on anyone.  I am not here to send the message that going to the gym is a life priority.  I encourage it, and I love it and want to help others learn to love it, but that is not the end all of what I am called to do.  My degrees in Women’s Studies have been, ultimately, focused on body studies—how we think of the body, how we learn to use our bodies, body image and the influences surrounding it.  Through bodybuilding I have pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine it.  And these things put me in a perfect position to do what it is I really am meant to do: affect change in the way we think of our bodies.

For some people, positive change happens when we employ our bodies in some physical way, pay attention to what we put in our bodies, and find pride in what our bodies can do.  For others, it comes from the realization that “bad” food tastes good and fat is ok.  I am not a mlitant health and fitness evangelist—I am not trying to save the world by forcing everyone into fitness.  If you don’t work out, we can still be friends.  I am, however, attempting to question the norms of what we consider healthy.  I am calling into question what healthy can look like, what bodies should look like, and how we define fitness.  If you define fit as skinny, or use the term “fat” as a slur, then the odds are pretty solid that we are not friends.

There are, truly, people who are content with their bodies and have absolutely no desire to change them; I envy these people.  But there are also a lot of people who have given up on themselves and would rather pretend to be ok with their bodies than to face the public admission (by way of gym membership or any other public act of fitness) that they want to change and don’t know how.  I have met both types, and I have also been surprised at my own mistakes in identifying them.  I am frequently surprised to learn that people I’d have never expected to care are suddenly in the pursuit of fitness.  I have learned that there is no community, no subculture, no type of person, no religious or political subset, that is immune to the desire to be fit.  Fascinating!

Do you ever catch yourself prioritizing fitness in a way that scares you?  Really—in the

This is one guy who could have used some heavy compounds!

grand scheme of things, how important are these miles I’m about to run?  People are starving and here I am counting calories.  I call this my Fitness-Induced Existential Crisis.  But I am reminded that people commit suicide over body image and low self esteem.  They eat themselves to death in self-pity.  They harm others to make themselves feel better.  Maybe Napoleon wouldn’t have been such an asshole if he’d have realized short guys make good squatters.  Maybe Hitler wouldn’t have committed mass genocide if he’d have learned to deal with his own insecurities.  Did I really just suggest that fitness could change the world?  Don’t let me make more of it than it is.  My point is that rather than reaching out for help, people hide their own insecurities and act them out in terrible ways.  My job is to send the message that we all have them, and we need to rethink the sources of those insecurities.

There is no moment more absolutely flattering than when a woman comes to me for help with health and fitness—this moment is so incredibly personal and requires a tremendous amount of trust.  For her to approach me, she has to feel certain that I will not judge or criticize her, and she has to feel comfortable admitting to me that she wants to change.  As a trainer, it is absolutely necessary for me to honor this trust.

To that point, I want to thank every single reader and subscriber to my blog.  If you’ve clicked on my blog EVER, I’ve gotten your attention to the extent that you care what I have to say.  If you’ve made it to this paragraph, then I’ve succeeded as an entertaining writer.  If you’ve visited my blog and read more than one post then I have succeeded as an engaging blogger.  But these things also mean something more—it means that I have earned your trust.  Thank you; my site stats alone are reminders that what I’m doing with my life is not insignificant and unnecessary.

Tell me about you—your experience with body image, your outlook on health and fitness, your struggles and triumphs.  Leave a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Fitness and Body Image: The Existential Crisis

  1. I enjoy reading your insights on fitness. I have always been a fitness yo-yo. It kind of goes in cycles and then I do nothing for a while until something else ( like your posts this time) to get back to moving or eating better. So fitness to me would be maintaining an interest and feeling better overall. Thanks for what you do. I am sure you inspire many in a variety of ways.

  2. Pingback: Body Image Fitness - Who Bears with All That Burden?

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