Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Part of the World: Appearance (Part II)

Previous entries in this series: Appearance (Part I), Eating, A Part of the World, Conquest


It's hard to know where to go from there.

What is natural is not popular. What is popular is not natural. What is popular is not healthy, and does not lead us toward healthy behaviors or healthy attitudes.

And we, as athletes (or, if you don't consider yourself an athlete, health-conscious people), have very special relationships with our bodies. We move more than other people; we're more active. We exercise! Which means we build a degree of kinesthetic awareness and proprioception that is greatly above the norm. In other words, we know our bodies better.

Oddly enough, this doesn't necessarily mean that we love our bodies. In fact, it can mean just the opposite. Instead of seeing the body as a tool, an ally, a friend that allows us to do some remarkable and crazy things, we see it as an enemy. There's too much of it (or not enough). It's too flabby. It's too short. It doesn't look the way it should. So instead of having an exceptionally close relationship with our bodies because we spend so much time one-on-one with them, we end up (in some cases) developing ever-greater animosity towards them.

And this is not okay. This is not living as part of the world.

So what are we to do?

Oh, nothing too big--just completely revamp our perception of what "healthy" and "fit" look like.

It wasn't that long ago that bustles were considered attractive. Or--even better--hoop skirts! The Modern Victorian Woman says, "I don't care that this fashion makes my butt and hips look enormous--I am wearing it!" Similarly, fashionable Victorian men and women cultivated pale skin; tan was the look of peasants, because they were always outside working. Granted, the peasants were probably much healthier than the fashionable aristocrats, but I am trying to make a point here.

And the point is that we (21st century "civilized" people) have made a habit of tricking ourselves into believing that pursuing what is (currently) fashionable is actually healthy.

Look around the health clubs. People are not necessarily helping their bodies, there. They are doing asinine exercises in pursuit of larger pectorals, bigger biceps, flatter abdominals. Why? Because our cultural perception of how a healthy person looks is so screwed up that we equate those things with fitness, capability, wellness.

And it's just bullshit.

On the other end of the spectrum, we do have to take into account that a large segment of the population is carrying too much body fat on its collective frame. Which has led me recently to ask, "Man, what would these people look like if they were lean and toned, the way evolution predisposed them to be?" Really. What might America look like behind the fat?

Man, this point is so hard to make. What I'm saying is that there must be something between this and this, between nausea-inducing obesity and hyper-focused fitness (you know, the kind of fitness that would prefer a six-pack to a stable spine).

I've said it before: the problem of being part of the world is too big for us to tackle all at once (Tyler Durden, are you listening?)--we have to start with ourselves. So although it would be great to try to change America's perception of a "healthy" appearance, why don't you change your own? Stop trying to fit the frickin' mold! If you're anything like me, your genetics will make that impossible anyway. And don't go too far in the other direction; if you're carrying too much weight, you know it, and it needs to come off.

Now assuming you're still with me and you're willing to change your perceptions, here's your practical application (step 1: change perception, step 2: change yourself): let a healthy appearance be a result of your healthy lifestyle. Stop trying to look "healthy." It is not a goal; it is not an end, in and of itself. It is part of the entire package. The clean, healthful eating. The regular, sensible exercise. The meditation. The spiritual pursuit. The enriching relationships. Rather than trying to look healthy and fit, you are healthy and fit! It's a pursuit of being a better, stronger, more capable person. Of being who and what you were meant (either by evolution or by a higher power) to be. Of being part of the world.

Which does not necessitate a six-pack.

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