Exercising to Look Good: Signing up for dissatisfaction

Sixteen years ago as a work experience student I had my first exposure to a gym. I was looking for something that I was vaguely interested in, and thought exercise was cool so I ended up at my local workout centre. My lasting memory from this time is of men and women doing bench presses and bicep curls in front of mirrors. They watched their chests and arms intently, admiring their shapes. The moves that they performed were mechanical and repetitious, and required little thought. I suppose this simplistic type of routine allowed attention to be directed towards the appearance of one’s body under exertion.

Then, on every wall, were large pictures of male and female icons. It was as if these were to serve as a constant reference as to how we should LOOK. The problem as I saw it was that these people were in pursuit of an aesthetically based ideal that had been determined by somebody else (and their airbrush, perhaps). In reality, what was genetically, functionally, metabolically and specifically ideal for them may have actually looked quite different.

The pursuit of aesthetics through exercise is disappointing. It minimalises the amazing and complex processes that occur within our bodies when we move, and lands us in a realm where ultimate satisfaction is rarely acheived or maintained. Exercise with intent breeds internal intelligence. It challenges and alters the paradigm of exercise, and opens a world of possibilities that lay beneath what we can see in the mirror.

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