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.