Fitness: An umbrella term describing the physical prowess of an individual in the areas of Strength, Flexibility and Endurance.
Pornification: The gradual degradation of a subject into pornography and its acceptance by the general public, leading to normalisation of the same.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Once upon a time, people would join the gym looking like Average Joes and Janes and soon, with the right training and nutrition, they’d walk out with pride, Beast Mode activated. “No Pain No Gain” was the mantra they lived by and their transformations were a testament to their dedication and hard work.
Growing up, I was quite physically active. Naturally, my idols were Bruce Lee and Michael Jordan who not only adorned my bedroom walls but also made an indelible impression on my mind and soul for one simple reason – they were incredibly, unbelievably athletic!
Back then, popular media would use terms such as “World’s Strongest Man” or “World’s Most Flexible Woman” to describe these Gods and Goddesses of the fitness world. They were showcased as aspirational role-models, someone worthy of emulating.
Unfortunately, something peculiar started to happen somewhere around the mid-’90s: as men’s chests grew bigger, women’s shorts became shorter and shorter. A shapely posterior was no longer seen merely as the result of a well-rounded (no pun intended) exercise and nutrition plan but became a goal in itself. “Booty Gains” became a legitimate fitness goal and the gradual commodification of the human body began.
The advent of Social Media further damaged the image of a strong man or woman. Today, amid a flurry of hashtags such as #SexyBeast and #Bootylicious, social media accounts have devolved into a sexed-up mindless cesspool overflowing with shot after shot of topless, sweaty, ab-flaunting men and crop top wearing women, all deadlifting in the shortest booty shorts possible. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d accidentally stumbled upon a porn site.
Where did it all go wrong?
How did we go from being iron-bending beasts to #SexyBeast? Now I’m no psychologist but I’m pretty sure it has a little something to do with being self-obsessed attention seekers in desperate need for validation.
This narcissistic behaviour has its roots in our childhood. Right from infancy, children are constantly told by their parents that they are inherently special and unique; the child’s need for attention finds instant gratification with each cry and thus, the seeds of self-obsession are sown and nurtured very early in life.
Unfortunately, by the time reality hits us like a tonne of bricks and we realise that we’re not any more special than the person next to us and there really is no reason for other people to stop and take notice of us, there are already millions more just like us living with similar delusions of grandiose and self-importance.
Social Media & Self-Obsession
When faced with the reality of their own inadequacies, most people used to be driven to learn new and useful skills, develop their personalities and do other things that would add value to their lives and give it meaning and purpose. Striking out on their own and standing on their own two feet was their way of cutting the umbilical cord and achieving self-actualization.
These days, even after people move out of their parents’ houses, many of them are unable to leave behind their infantile narcissism. The reason: they are constantly being coddled by their Social Media followers aka Virtual Mom & Dad.
When an infant wants attention, all it needs to do is howl at the top of its lungs. When an infantile adult wants attention, all they need to do is to turn up scantily clad on social media and pretend to motivate others by lifting weights. Then, they can sit back and bask in the glory of social validation offered by random strangers on the internet with their likes and comments. Quite often, they have very little to offer by way of actual strength, athletic skill or knowledge but a gullible audience doesn’t know any better. In many cases, these daily posts become a source of income as well, thus completing their transition into an amateur softcore porn performer with 50,000 online followers.
Many would say that the above description is a bit harsh; after all, you only live once and if someone wants to go to the gym dressed for the bedroom, then who are we to stop them? I would have to somewhat agree with the advocates of aesthetics and the whole InstaFitness lifestyle to the extent that at least this whole phenomenon is helping drive more people into the gym. However, as a professional Strength and Conditioning coach, I know for a fact that it takes decades of mental and physical discipline to call oneself an athlete, where self-obsession is replaced by self-sacrifice and callouses (unlike hormone-driven followers) have to be earned. Unfortunately, modern media and irresponsible social media celebs paint a picture wherein a strong, aesthetically pleasing body is the product of a few weeks of dieting, camera angles and just the perfect amount of skin show.
Sadly, even some fitness coaches have jumped onto this bandwagon with “4 Weeks to Abs” and “6 Weeks To A Bubble-Butt” training plans being sold with the promise that your dream physique will be ready faster than a packet of Maggi noodles.
Videos of well-endowed/artificially-enhanced women squatting in nothing but bikinis and high heels hashtagged YOLO is but a mere click away. The danger here is that people start associating words such as “Strong “and “Fit” with this kind of imagery.
What the average Joe does not realize is that the ultra-ripped, barely clothed celebrities who have become mascots of fitness are captured on camera under very specific conditions. In most cases, these models are clicked right before or on the day of a contest when they are on a dangerously low calorie and water depleted diet. Coupled with perfect lighting, they are able to create the illusion of glowing health packaged in a desirable body.
In addition, the whole idea of being a student who is willing to learn and work for years as an apprentice in the ancient art of strength is tossed right out the window and a perverted, distorted concept is sold to the public – “It’s not about how much you can lift, it’s about how much you look like you can lift”.
All said and done, I understand that sex sells. It is easier for someone dressed in skimpy clothes to sell a box of protein or become a “Fitness Coach” than someone who has a mere PhD in their resume. However, with this article, I hope to inspire the educated reader to rise up against the perversion of this great discipline of strength and athleticism.
Let’s put down the selfie sticks for a while and go back to being bar-bending beasts.
Author Credits: Rupesh Choudhury