Lowering the Bar II: A New Brand of Exclusion

I have written about a disturbing tendency for people to drop their standards when faced with truly challenging tasks. I think I made my point clear in that post, so I won’t rewrite my entire argument. Essentially, I do not agree with relaxing standards in the name of self-inflation, as is the trend in far too many physical arenas nowadays (as well as several business ones, but we won’t go into those today).

There was a discussion not too long ago making its rounds about “the dad bod”, which The Odyssey identifies as a “nice balance between a beer gut and working out.” This physique’s popularity is attributed to the relative lack of discipline required to achieve and maintain it, which is supposed to promote a balance between minding one’s health and cutting loose. The “dad bod” isn’t intimidating or indicative of an iron head. It lets you know that its owner doesn’t work out twice a day and militantly watch his diet. It lets you know that this guy is relaxed, friendly, and approachable.

But does it, really?

People assign meaning to things. I get that. I understand that when you see a chiseled physique, you assume its owner must have little else to do but hit the gym and chug protein shakes. I understand that powerful physical specimens make you feel weak in comparison (a discussion I’d like to have some other time). What I don’t understand is the need to exclude those who pursue this perfection.

A while back, Eliana Dockterman wrote about how the film 300: Rise of an Empire and its predecessor 300 cause men to develop negative body images. Dockterman claimed that the chiseled physiques on-screen were responsible for weight disorders among men, and that the rigid training implied to be the key to such a body was actually detrimental to the psyche. She claims that the bodies you see on screen and aspire to match are an impossible standard that may be causing more harm than anyone realizes.

Now, Dockterman may have been attempting to represent the problem with how female bodies are portrayed in the media through a different lens. Since men do not generally suffer from anorexia or bulimia, she chose to use the 300 body – and the extremes to which the cast was pushed to achieve such a form – as an example of something unhealthy yet pursued. Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out there and turn themselves into Spartans, but I question the assertion that those who actually did that shouldn’t be role models for anyone.

First off, I concede that there is some truth to the stance that attempting the 300 challenge – as it were – can be dangerous. I likewise concede the risks in setting standards that are simply out of reach – God knows I’ve found myself depressed by failing something anyone else would have thought not even worth attempting, and I’ve even managed a couple of injuries by pushing too hard, too fast. It hurts, and it sucks.

Why, though, do we need to alienate people who are willing to go that extra distance? Do we really need to blame Mark Twight (the head trainer on both 300 films) or the cast for deciding that the Spartans needed to look like gods of war? Do we need to tell the guy with 20-inch biceps that he’s wasting too much time with the iron?

There’s nothing wrong with chasing fitness. I think we can all agree on that. Where we disagree is the extent to which one can chase his dreams before being shunned. I have no problem with someone who would rather go to the gym than grab some beers. I see nothing wrong with the actor who refused to take a break between shoots in order to nail his shirtless scene. It’s his choice, and his goal. As long as no one – himself included – gets hurt, why should we do anything about it, except perhaps respect him for chasing it?

For me, fitness isn’t about the body – it’s about the mental strength you develop, and the confidence instilled by overcoming physical challenges. It’s a question of how far you are willing to go for what you believe in, and I respect anyone who is ready to make the journey – whether they’re signing up at the starting line or on their hundredth kilometer.

Someone achieved a six-pack. Someone dumped his beer gut. They chose to work hard for that, and they did so. I’m not saying we need to feel bad about not being able to do the same – which is what both The Odyssey and Dockterman’s articles implied – but that we should give credit where credit is due. Aside from the occasional asshole, most gym-goers aren’t there to show off and make others feel insignificant. They are there to better themselves, and many will be all too happy to help you do the same.

You don’t tell the Straight-A kid that he’s a loser. You don’t call the Ph.D-holder a dork. Let’s not thank the dad bod for making us insecure about ourselves; let’s thank the Spartans for giving us a standard to aspire to.

Workout

2×10 Push-up

2×10 Squat

2×5 Pull-up

Circuit

3-5 rounds

5x Pull-up

10x HSPU

15x KB Swing @ 24-32kg

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