After the failed revolutionary period of the
1960’s came to a close, the communist specter haunting the Western world was crushed. But there was a new specter looming. The history of fitness culture is really interesting. Originally, fitness was seen as a distraction
from your worldly duties by Puritans, but slowly morphed into a way to foster a closer connection
to God by the 1800’s. The movement that came to popularize it in
the 1900’s is known as, I kid you not, Muscular Christianity. Deeply tied with white athleticism and the
rise of football, the ideal Christian man was fibrous, sinewy, strapping. Following World War II and the Cold War, a
renewed interest was placed on the importance of fitness. Both the Soviet Union and the United States
feared the athletic superiority of the other, so an effort was launched by their intelligence
agencies to promote fitness and ‘healthy living’. This didn’t come from nowhere either. Rates of obesity and sedentarism were on the
rise as well as unhealthy lifestyles. Yet as fitness exploded as the default modern
way of living during the 70’s, the fat acceptance movement started gaining ground, arguing that
we should all, specifically women, feel comfortable in our bodies as they are. To understand the fitness phenomena, I think
it’s important to look at the religious aspect of exercise. Specifically, our good friends the Nazi’s. The Hitler regime financed countless sports
and gym facilities because fitness allowed them to foster religious dogmatism in the
building of the Aryan identity. Fitness was at the core of Nazi philosophy. And it’s not hard to see why, unlike religion,
exercise, specifically group exercise, is the perverse combination of hyper-individuality
and community. No mucking about trying to establish a good
relationship with God, with exercise you work on you, and only you. The entire point is to look desirable, or
at worst to be healthy. And when you work out with a friend, whether
it’s at the Hitler Youth Facility or at the “box” you get the sense of community
you don’t get elsewhere under capitalism, not unlike a visit to the Church on Sunday. Under the lens of collective struggle, it’s
easy to see why the explosion of fitness culture occurred during the dark-ages of socialist
organizing in the West. Both globalization and communism had brought
unprecedented challenges for domestic capitalist markets and in its attempt at reconstructing
itself to survive, capitalism found its acolyte in fitness. In the fight between endless atomization or
collectivization, the individual won. As the labor
market slowly accepted more and more women, women were expected to maintain their body
as a career move. While men have other aspects of themselves
they can pin their identity, a lot of the time, women are instructed that their self-worth
is entirely based on their looks. While men were told to work-out for the good
of their nation, women were told to work-out for the good of their career. Secondly, its class aspect. The shift towards individualization wasn’t
just some metaphysical cultural change towards focusing on personal identity, it was rooted
in the economic model of the time. Call it late-stage capitalism, flexible or
postmodern, the 20th century saw the move towards a capitalism built on service work,
of which appearance and personal branding become paramount to success. As the individual became a commodity, fitness
became a business strategy. But it’s not one available to all of us. Healthy living is more and more out of the
reach of lower class people. Health is a class issue. It becomes even more noticeable at a global
level. As nations of the Global South accept development
and “modernization”, obesity has increased. It’s not hard to see why when capitalist
development is synonymous with unhealthy food and empty calories flooding the market. So it becomes a bit paradoxical when it’s
middle class white women who have championed the fat acceptance cause, when they’re the
least affected category. But it’s important nonetheless! Because fitness is pretty good for you. It’s sinister brother, dieting, however,
that’s a different story… Fad diets have been around since forever,
whether it’s mostly drinking alcohol to live longer, or only eating fruits, get-slim-quick
gurus have sold anything and everything for a quick buck. The rise of dieting along with the fitness
fascination, however, has led to eating disorder symptoms starting at earlier and earlier ages. And as someone who has been both overweight
and underweight, cycling through yo-yo diets since middle school, I think I can comment
sincerely on fat acceptance. So what’s the right response? It’s easy to say that we all deserve to
feel comfortable in our bodies, but what does that mean concretely? Let’s start on the obvious, under capitalism,
fatness will continue to be stigmatized. Health is just another axis of exploitation
that will be stratified along class lines. Yeah it tickles our inner liberal when Dove
releases big boned shampoos, but that’s worth nothing. We should still try to support increased representation
and diversity in workplaces, movies etc. because discrimination is pretty messed up. But the most concrete thing you can do is…
not be a dick! This one weird trick, not shaming fat people,
will make them not hate you! If someone wants to lose weight good, if they
don’t cool. If we accept that you should feel comfortable
with your body, then we need to learn to stop policing others for not following a commercial
ideal. But I will add that if you’re doing any
form radical organizing, or believe in revolutionary emancipatory politics, you should probably
hit the weight room, so you don’t end up like these
guys. Just a thought!