‘Fit-shaming’: Can it get more ridiculous?

Fitness. Diving. Lifestyle.

‘Fit-shaming’: Can it get more ridiculous?

If you live in the UK you’ll doubtless have heard of a certain advert on the London Underground which has recently sparked minor uproar, including an actual protest in Hyde Park.

If you don’t and you haven’t try and guess what this advert displayed, to cause such an outrage.

More images of the Prophet Mohammed? A blasphemous depiction of Jesus doing something unspeakable?  Overt racism?  Idolisation of the Ku Klux Klan or claiming that rape is ok?

No, it was much, much more serious than that.

It was a picture of an attractive, but obviously strategically lit and photoshopped slim young woman in a bikini, with a tagline asking you, the viewer, if you were ‘beach-body ready?’

I know, it was unspeakable.

I’m loathe to actually post a link or a picture because the company has already far-exceeded its aim of publicity due to the very campaign against it, which would be fine if it were not continuing the fitness industry tradition of selling results in the form of some useless crap in a pill.

A quick google search with ‘beach-body ready’ will turn up the goods if you are interested, though I take no responsibility for any outrage/offence/destruction of self-esteem it may cause you.

I know that by writing this post I too am directing more views its way but I felt compelled to use this example as a point for something that has bothered me for a while and I’m sure you too, as people who train or take pride in our physical achievements.

Over the years, as I’ve got more and more into training and the pursuit of physical goals I’ve sometimes been called ‘obsessed’.

Others have said, “I could look like you if I spent as much time in the gym as you”, with the implication that actually, they had better ways to spend their time.

At the same time, there has been a growing trend that seems to be trying to keep pace with the expansion of waistlines in the Western world: the celebration and normalisation of being overweight or out of shape, with imagery such as the aforementioned advert deemed to be an attack on the sensitive consciousness of the general, increasingly fat, public.

I know what you may be about to say: it’s not about celebrating being overweight, it’s the fact that there are all sorts of body types! We shouldn’t be pressured into thinking only one type is ideal!

First off, I agree.  There is no ONE body type, and everyone has different genetics to work with.  Some people are larger framed, some are naturally petite, others put on weight easily while others can eat (seemingly) whatever they want.

However I don’t care what type of body type you start with; to be muscular, fit, toned, flexible you HAVE to work at it, to some extent.  Some more than others, for sure, but you still have to put effort in.  There’s not a bodytype where you just wake up and have a great figure.

From the reaction to the advert and the prevailing mood against those who take pride in their fitness, I ask myself:

Since when was it ok to settle for what you started with and not bother to try and improve yourself?

Imagine if this was applied to schoolwork.  Everyone has different levels of natural aptitude and intelligence, just like physical abilities. If one kid finds it hard to make progress in a subject should we just let them be? Should they not be encouraged to work hard to try and get better? Is there no point in trying to improve yourself to the best of your abilities?

Moreover, is the more naturally gifted child of the class or those who work hard around them in some way offensive to the one that isn’t so bright?

Not everyone is cut out to be an astronaut or a professor, just like not everyone is cut out to be a model.  But between zero and 10 there are plenty of levels: it’s up to you to find out what yours is, not just settle for naturally being a 1.

Going back to the advert, the protest organisers made a point of welcoming all body sizes and types to their gathering as a kind of two-fingers up to the company, because they were ‘all beach body ready’.

Well, evidently.  There’s not a current law I know of that means you have to look a certain way to go to the beach.  The only barrier to taking your shirt off or wearing a bikini at the beach is between your ears.

People who took offence to this advert, or those who call those who train obsessed or vain, are projecting their insecurities.  Everyone has some in some form or another, and often they can be extremely complex, like issues about your race, your identity in a society, your class, a lack of education etc.  I’m not claiming that insecurities are easily fixed.

But one thing they all are is individual.  Sometimes, like issues about race, they do call for society to change.  When people have insecurities about their colour because of racism or prejudice then the movement for social change is legitimate.

However I’m afraid insecurity about how fat you are is not the same.  It’s not society that has to change, it’s you.  Being in shape is about health.  Striving to keep yourself healthy is not just in your interest but in the public health interest as well.

It’s not about being a model or having a 6-pack or looking like an advert.  You can be perfectly healthy without those things.  But if you’re not willing to de-robe on the beach because of your belly, then whose fault is that?  Would the world be better if everyone was fat so that you could feel better?

It’s actually a question of what sort of society you want: one built on the pursuit of improvement or one which tries to pull everyone down to a level of mediocrity?

At the same time, I know that not everyone is interested in devoting as much time as I do to training, and that there are others who would much rather read a book than go to the gym.  Everyone has a different interpretation of a worthwhile pursuit, and I’m definitely NOT saying that everyone should be devoting all their free time to the gym. To each their own.

But everyone knows WHY they’re not in shape.  With the exception of a miniscule proportion of people with a genuine medical condition it’s because you don’t exercise, or you eat too much, or both.

If someone is overweight and they know they’re overweight because they don’t exercise AND don’t complain about it, then I salute them, not for being unhealthy but for their logic and their ability to not blame the world for their own choices.

They were among the sane people who saw the advert and immediately forgot about it and got about their day.

I would like to play the piano well, but I don’t get offended when I hear someone doing just that: how can I, when I simply haven’t put in any time to reach that goal?  Should I start a campaign to stop anyone playing the piano better than me? How illogical does that sound?

Most recently I’ve just heard of the term ‘Dad Bod’ from the USA, which apparently is a new fad idea that an overweight, virtuously ‘un-obsessed with the gym’ and unfit young man (who has a body like a middle-aged ‘Dad’) is the new crush for women who don’t want to be ‘intimidated’ or made to feel insecure about their own bodies by going out with someone who actually gives a shit about their health.

As I said, narcissicm and obsession with ones abs is equally undesirable, but come on, this is just a licence to be a slob masked in some sort of faux rebellion against the society that is apparently responsible for every choice you make and every problem in your life.

I would prefer to live in a society where trying hard, not taking the easy option and looking after something as fundamental as your health is appreciated, not shamed.

I, for one, would prefer to live in a society where someone hears a virtuoso piano performance and feels inspired to take lessons and improve themselves.

Let’s all take responsibility to make it so. 


6 Responses

  1. Renna says:

    Well said buddy. One of the most reasonable and logical articles I’ve seen written on this subject.

  2. nadia says:

    Hey Steve,
    I generally agree with you and with the idea that physical and intellectual achievements require a great deal of effort and time. But I do also feel that the problem here is not the obsession of being fit and thus healthy, but the importance that is given to the looks. Implying a girl is not worthy of showing her body in public because she is not fit or rather she doesn’t fit in the beauty standards promoted by the media is kind of unhealthy as well. What about girls having plastic surgery during their adolescence? If the focus was on the “healthy” side of the matter people would just exercise more. What about girls “waist training” like Kim Kardashian? They do it to look like her and clearly not to be healthy, or they just wouldn’t risk displacing their organs to have that kind of silhouette.
    Trust me, I’m all about educating people to work hard for their goals! And I wouldn’t even think about protesting against an ad showing a pretty girl.
    I just can’t stand the idea that a girl HAS to be “pretty” and thus have certain proportions (probably accessible only to models who starve themselves and are born in a certain shape) to be taken into account.
    First of all, I would like people to differentiate a healthy and fit woman from a busty “zero size” model.
    Being healthy doesn’t mean to fit in a certain size and should not be related to a certain physical stereotype.
    People should be rewarded and praised exactly as you say for their hard work and not the “looks”, which is something entirely subjective and probably easily obtainable with surgery or make up.
    Second of all, I probably feel more sensitive about women’s issues, but why is there so much more pressure on the looks of a woman? Why is a female scientist/politician/sports personality or else always judged on her looks as well?

    I guess this is what probably shocks more the crowds than the “obsession” of being fit: the obsession over women’s bodies and curves especially. Which is probably related to their feeling a little less insecure with a fat-ish guy.

    OK I’ll stop now cause I could go on and on about this subject.

    I will end this comment by saying that I do really like your blog!

    • steve81570 says:

      Hey Nadia,

      As I say in the article, I do agree with you regarding the fact that there are many different body types, and there shouldn’t be pressure to be just like one type like the one in the advert. I would also hope that most people could easily see that the model in the advert did not represent a real woman- the lighting, the photoshop and the general editing mean that, just like in every magazine picture what you’re seeing is not realistic.

      My point is that if you are someone, male or female, who does exercise and tries to be healthy then you should not be affected by this poster, because you should have no insecurities about your body and the way it looks- you are trying to be the best YOU can be. I know that I don’t look like the guys on the Men’s Health covers but I try my best to improve myself with what I’ve got, so I don’t care.

      I also agree with you that it’s not right that women do seem to have more pressure, but I honestly think that a lot of this comes from other women. There are plenty of adverts around which show ‘perfect’ men with six-packs and muscles, including all the ‘health’ magazines but there doesn’t seem to be the same reaction from men. It appears to me that men either don’t care about these adverts or use them as motivation to go and workout, whereas a lot of the reaction (from mostly women) to the beach body advert was to be very offended, simply because it touched their insecurities and/or guilt about not actually trying to stay or be in shape.

      It worries me that in society more and more there is an acceptance of being overweight, like it is not your fault (I’m speaking more from a UK and USA perspective), and that it seems increasingly popular to criticise people who like to keep fit.

      I have a lot of sympathy for women, especially in the public arena, who are scrutinised about how they look- it is not right but unfortunately it seems like it is mostly women who do the judging. You only have to open a women’s magazine to see plenty of ‘what dress did they wear?’ or ‘have they lost weight?’ nonsense written by women themselves.

      The main thing I would like to see is everyone making an effort to be healthy and slim so that they can see an advert like that and think “Yes, I am beach body ready, not because I fit a certain image but because I am proud of the effort I put into my health and my body to make it as good as it can be.”

      Beauty standards will always evolve (look how we have moved on from the ‘Rubens-esque’ standard of physical beauty) but I truly believe if you work hard yourself to be the shape you want to be then it should not affect you.

      Sorry for the long response, it is a passionate subject for me too! Thanks for reading and commenting , I’m glad that (overall) you like the blog!

  3. Nice read : ) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The furore over the ad was unnecessary. I don’t look like the model but am not bothered by it at all.

    We do what we can, that’s all. I exercise daily for about 30 minutes and don’t over-eat because it feels uncomfortable afterwards. I’m still relatively toned and bikini-ready, so don’t see the need to hate the model nor the ad.

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