When Did We Become So Ugly?: How P90X Reflects Our Culture of Body Shaming

by: Jonah M. Lefholtz

America is obsessed with its body image. Capitalism sells it, and it sells it hard. Images of our bodies are airbrushed, eating disorders encouraged, fat is taboo, diets are marketed to us while we sit at home on our couches watching television at night. It’s not about health, you know, it’s about a target market, and the vehicle used to sell “fitness” is shame.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine asked me if I’d heard of a work out program called P90X. They knew multiple people currently in the throes of the rapid weight-loss/body toning’s hungry clutches and were concerned for their friends. After looking into the program myself, I too, became concerned. I come from an eating-disordered background, and I have a pretty sensitive radar when it comes to unhealthy eating and exercise choices.

P90X, short for Power 90 Extreme, is a ninety day workout and diet program that is one of these things marketed to us. According to the site Livestrong (which, interestingly, had several ads hawking Michelob Ultra – which is a different post in and of itself), it’s sold as a 12-DVD set. One of the things that scare me about it is that you’re tricking your body into thinking that it isn’t stressed by the exercise. It’s intense. It’s employs a device they call “muscle confusion,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. The program calls for intense workouts every day, involving different muscle systems and movements, so that the muscles never get used to the exercises, thus avoiding the fatigue that would normally be experienced by the muscles. But it’s still an intense every day workout that tricks the body and stops the natural and intentional communication that exists between the body and mind. That communication is present for a reason.

The accompanying diet scares me, too. It screws with your caloric intake, which is dangerous if it isn’t being handled by a personal trainer. The temptation to screw with the suggested diet is too tempting, in my opinion, for a person who already has an inclination towards obsessing about their bodies, which, if one is partaking in P90X or a program like it, is presumable. Tinkering with your metabolism is a dangerous activity. You could damage it forever. You could make it so that you have trouble maintaining a “healthy” weight. That’s kind of the opposite of what you want when you do a program like P90X, right?

The thing is, unless you already know a lot about fitness and managing your diet, you could really hurt yourself. Not just by over-exerting your muscles, but there can be serious complications to your health. According to a site called Sports Injury Bulletin, rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which the muscles excrete too much potassium, an electrolyte, that the kidneys cannot filter out correctly due to an excess of myoglobin which also leaks out of the muscles with too much exercise. The kidneys fail and the condition can be fatal. And there are tons of other injuries somebody exercising alone can get. Old fashioned pulled muscles, torn ligaments, sprains, etc. P90X isn’t for a novice.

I’m not sure what’s happened here. It seems like a few years ago, people, at least my friends, were all about body positivity and loving themselves. Maybe “they” got to my friends, making them self-conscious about their curves. Suddenly, it seems, the queers have taken to diet and exercise fads, and I’m disappointed. As somebody who struggles with loving their body, I feel a direct loss of solidarity and the community validation that it’s ok that my body isn’t conventional. The younger queers, the 25 and under bracket, I think they still have it. But what will happen to them in 5 years? Are they going to be joining the minions? When does confidence turn to hate? And how come so many people I know doing the program have bodies that are average-sized and not at all in need of drastic change?

I like to stay in shape and I have to be careful by not engaging in harmful or excessive restrictive eating and exercising, so I know I can never do a program like P90X. But I don’t think that anybody should. Our bodies, as long as we treat them well, are exactly what they should be. We are all shaped differently, and that’s fucking beautiful. When did we become so ugly?

The thing that bothers me the most, though, is that many of the people using P90X still claim their body-positive stances. Really? While you’re working on your perfect body, somebody with a not so perfect body is being shamed for being what society thinks is imperfect. Your hypocrisy isn’t helping anything. Folks, nothing is perfect. Especially not our bodies. We’re hairy, smelly, loud, cumbersome creatures. We’re animals, remember? The incredible thing about us though, is that we’re thinking animals, but I don’t think we’re really thinking this body image thing through. Whether or not we are body-positive about other people’s bodies isn’t the issue, it’s the secret self-loathing that may be addressed. Getting skinny won’t actually make you like yourself more, because we are not our bodies.

I’m not advocating that we lead sedentary lifestyles or anything. I’m advocating for a less body-conscious community, because we know better than that. Do your yoga, go on your walks by the lake, work on toning your muscles and don’t eat transfats, msg, or scary genetically modified huge tomatoes. But don’t obsess about your next workout, and don’t place unrealistic expections on your self and your body. You only have one, don’t break it.

Jonah M. Lefholtz is a student and care-taker in Chicago, IL. He recently came out as a femme male and his life is better for it! He likes spending time with his family and friends, has two cats, and appreciates complexity.

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10 responses to “When Did We Become So Ugly?: How P90X Reflects Our Culture of Body Shaming

  1. “The thing that bothers me the most, though, is that many of the people using P90X still claim their body-positive stances. Really? While you’re working on your perfect body, somebody with a not so perfect body is being shamed for being what society thinks is imperfect.”

    Y’know, sometimes I’m going to do weird and possibly deadly exercise programs, not eat for a while, or any number of harmful things because I’m crazy. I’ve had an eating disorder for years, it’s not going away, I can’t just decide to love myself because I’m body-positive or whatever.
    This is me experiencing the effects of a fatphobic culture and getting fucked over by it. I’m sure that a vast majority of the people doing these programs are fucking crazy self-hating messes, and that’s not their fault. I’m tired of trying to hide my diet and exercise from my friends or make excuses that I’m doing it for health, self-defense, or because exercise is an anti-depressant. I’m tired of being scared that having an eating disorder means I’m not body-positive enough. Sorry, I’m fucked up. Deal.

  2. “It’s employs a device they call “muscle confusion,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. The program calls for intense workouts every day, involving different muscle systems and movements, so that the muscles never get used to the exercises, thus avoiding the fatigue that would normally be experienced by the muscles.”

    No, muscle confusion is just a marketing term. It has absolutely no practical significance. It’s just variation in the program to keep people from feeling that it’s monotonous, and therefore keep them engaged. They try to give it a scientific-sounding spin to convince the fitness-illiterate that it’s special.

    “It screws with your caloric intake, which is dangerous if it isn’t being handled by a personal trainer.”

    What is your objection to the diet, exactly? What is the specific danger? Why is it ok if a “personal trainer” handles your diet? Would you be ok with the diet if I told you that P90X employs “personal trainers” to design their diets?

    “Tinkering with your metabolism is a dangerous activity. You could damage it forever. You could make it so that you have trouble maintaining a “healthy” weight.”

    What evidence do you have that this could occur?

    If you don’t want to engage in strenuous exercise, that’s your prerogative. But moralizing about your fear of exertion is absurd.

  3. Why do you bother posting things you clearly know nothing about? Your post is completely lacking in terms of scholarship and general knowledge of the subject, and like a true dumbass, you didn’t even research the subject you wrote on.

    On the subject- you just seem lazy and pathetic to me. You lack any sort of motivation to learn about fitness and as a result, gravitate towards “body acceptance” because “body ‘I worked really fucking hard at this'” seems to be a little too much for you. Not to mention that you picked p90X, the most fad of the fad workouts. Misinformation like yours is what kills the movement that involves bettering oneself both physically and mentally.

    How about bringing actual fact into the argument? Is that too hard for you too? Seriously, everything you said is wrong. It’s just so unfathomably wrong and lazy that I don’t know where to start picking it apart and destroying it. I will though, don’t you doubt.

    I’m not here to flame you, but you are wrong. You write like a freshman, research like one, and you write things that are wrong- just wrong- in hopes that someone out there will accept you. Well, guess what, people who are better writers, better researchers, and in better shape than you will come and bring the arguments with them.

  4. what did i just read…
    you have a problem with americans not wanting to be obese?
    you have a problem with people doing strenuous exercise?
    you didn’t research a single thing and based your entire opinion in this article around what words like “muscle confusion” sound like to you?
    if you want to be lazy then don’t drag everyone else down with you by calling it “acceptance”. Yeah, that’s a much easier solution to being obese or unhealthy than actually changing anything in your life. Why don’t we all just drop out of school and promote uneducated-acceptance? Why don’t we quit our jobs and promote unemployment acceptance?

  5. I’m fat and I personally see nothing wrong with fat people. They might be ugly, unattractive and unhealthy but that’s their damn problem!

    We shouldn’t shame people into being something they’re not.

    We should always accept people for what they are and respect their decision to teach their kids that biology is pretty much destiny when it comes to being fat.

    Nevermind biology being destiny when it comes to your own gender – that is something you can do something about. But fat? I’m sorry, little Billy, there’s nothing you can do about that. That’s fixed.

    Besides, losing weight is so so hard! Who cares if some people say articles of this kind are just desperate attempts of rationalizing fatness as something non-disgusting?

    At least I’m fat and I’m proud of being who I am. Unlike all of you self-obsessed self-hating health nuts, with your low cholestrol and your regular hearbeats and all those oppressive measures that only a white male cysgendered culture would impose on others.

    Grow up. And check your privilege, skinnies.

  6. I do believe that everything in this article is exactly wrong, false, and opposite from teh truth, with a sprinkling of personal opinion and self pity thrown in

  7. Mr. Lefholtz, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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