If you spend a few moments looking up the dictionary definition of ‘aesthetic’, you are probably wasting your time! Even the boffins of vocabulary can do no better than offering ‘having a sense of the beautiful’ as a meaning for a word that refers to nothing more than a matter of opinion. Take modern art for example…. what is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to one eye is a few random daubs on a canvas to another. Beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.
And so it is with body shape. Aesthetics are fast becoming an obsession for those seeking ‘the body beautiful’. They are the embodiment of physical fitness achievement and provide the motivation behind many a 5.30 alarm bell screaming ‘Gym Time’ at broken dreams. But why exactly are mere aesthetics a source of sweating and striving? Are we really that vane?
The perfect body for tennis is different from the perfect body for rugby is different from the perfect body for gymnastics is different from the perfect body for swimming etc… a female shot putter may not turn heads with her heavy muscular shape but if she is in serious contention for medals and records, she knows she has got to bulk up to be competitive. Aesthetics are a little different. They ‘should’ be what we see in the mirror and (secretly) like the damn look of. And that’s ok as long as our poor bodies are happy and comfortable with the facelift we have decided to give them in pursuit of our own version of ‘beauty’.
Among serious gym-goers, aesthetics tend to be associated with fitness, muscle mass and a lean physique. Fitness fanatics and athletes seek a body shape that they believe will ready them for competition or achieving personal targets. It is a version of aesthetics that they will certainly associate with ‘good health’. But how healthy is this rather desperate need for abs attainment and muscle definition? Is ‘aesthetically pleasing’ necessarily ‘healthy living’?
An interest in fitness is central to my work, my play, my hobbies and my social life. It is my passion, my income and my motivation. Passions are good but they are hazardous if we get carried away by them. Some recent press has questioned our version of ‘good health’ as an unrealistically dangerous level for the majority of people to aspire to. The big question is does the ‘good life’ promoted by fitness bloggers set a bar too high for your everyday office worker or sales assistant? Does it push them harder than is actually good for them?
What exactly is the problem here? Is it aesthetics? Is the biggest danger that appearance becomes the sole focus of fitness and ‘a version’ of health? If someone chooses to set their main goal at losing 5 kilos, once that weight has been shed, what next? It is only human nature that such a focussed individual will then set a new target for further weight loss and that is when they can slide onto a slippery slope towards something ‘unhealthy’. The original goal for healthy aesthetic change can quickly turn into an obsession. Outside influences feed the frenzy. Social media, celebrity magazines and seductive advertising campaigns show you what might be possible. It’s a perilous spiral on which too many people become dizzy and disorientated.
But what if we flipped the whole process on its head? How about if we set goals that were not driven by aesthetics or by appearance? Let’s put fitness and health first. This is not to say that during one’s journey aesthetics won’t change because the right training and a healthy diet are bound to affect our physical look. That’s science. But the targets should be increased strength, power, endurance and overall fitness. If we take fitness back to its root and begin to strive for a better way of living, the transformation for the body will come naturally as a by-product. Feel good, look good.
If someone wants to increase their deadlift by 10kg, they will have to develop more muscle mass in order to improve their strength and power. Such a change to the body would inevitably produce more prevalent muscle definition and in doing so achieve the desired aesthetics. What is different is the focus. Now this person can achieve their target weight and, rather than falling into a mission to lose more weight for the sake of it they can reduce their body fat through a controlled increase in weight. This path will lead to new strength and power along with a further sense of achievement but without the unhealthy imbalance. This health is both obtainable and maintainable and will result in long term health rather than a short term fix that is briefly pleasing to the eye.
It is time we began to concentrate on what fitness is all about. It should be about bettering our bodies, not battering them. We exercise not only to look better, but to feel better. It is all very well having the body you’ve always dreamed of but if you become exhausted and emotionally drained in the process of achieving this it will not benefit you at all. The glow of health you set out in search of will quickly fade. I for one can vouch for this.
Yes, in recent months my body has changed. I achieved the lean look I trained very, very hard for. I got my desired results. But did it leave me feeling fulfilled? Nope. Why?… because the results were not maintainable alongside an active and happy social life. Inevitably, some of the progress I made has been lost since I ended the challenge. I guess that’s a kind of a negative. I could react by seeking more from my body once again. But when I count up the number of times I was being told how tired I looked and asked if I was ‘OK’, I can handle the odd backward step. These types of questions should not have been the ones I was getting after working so hard to achieve an ‘aesthetically pleasing’ look. I was kidding myself.
I have not taken a step back at all. Quite the opposite. Since starting to refuel my body correctly with normal, constant and healthy amounts of food, I not only feel healthier I am also more focused, driven and happy. Our bodies are not built to give everything and run off nothing. It’s the reason athletes have a peak and an off peak season. They need a break from their extremes. Most of us are not designed for truly competitive levels of commitment. For us, indulging in fitness should be for the betterment of overall health. Extremes are not natural, results are not vital.
Aesthetics are just that. They are concerned with outside appearance rather than inner fulfilment. And that is why I have chosen to go easy on setting goals. It is time I began to give a bit back to the body I demanded so much of and remember the real reasons that fitness and health matter so much to me. I want to live a life, not a dream.
Keep your eyes peeled to see what’s next for one half of TTH…