‘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.