Are You Too Healthy
Do people exercise for good health or for good looks? I don’t know about you, but when I started going to the gym regularly in my late teens, warding off the risk of heart disease was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to look like Brad Pitt in Troy. I wanted a six-pack, lats that resembled a snake’s hood, wide pecs, curved biceps – you know, the works. It’s another matter that I lost interest before any of those things materialized. But my intentions were – first and foremost – to look good. If it made me healthy as a matter of course, that’s a happy side effect.
The gyms know this, of course. That’s why they employ trainers that have bodies seemingly sculpted out of wax. They have pictures of body-builders and high-performance athletes on their walls. And they have mirrors. What better way to feed someone’s vanity than to place a mirror in front of them?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with vanity. But as we step into the information age where everything is available at the click of a mouse, we’re being presented with unrealistic expectations at every turn. Yes, it is possible for you to look like Aishwarya Rai. You just have to use Loreal Paris. Yes, it is possible for you to have abs like Arnie. Just follow his five-point bodybuilding guide. Yes, it is possible for you to be beautiful. You just have to have a 36-24-36 body, which you will get if you follow our seven secrets of healthy eating. And be about five-foot-five and a half, which you will get if you wear our new shoes with adjustable heel heights. And have a nose to jaw width ratio of 0.7842, which we can give you in a jiffy with our new painless surgical procedure.
From the moment we step out – into the physical world or online – we are bombarded with pictures of the ‘ideal’ and how you should achieve it. Nowhere is this phenomenon more brazenly used than in the industries of health and beauty. The underlying message in every picture looking at you from anywhere is: “You’re not okay. Here’s how you can change that. And this is how much you have to pay.”
What has completed this vanity circle is our new-found ability to be full-time self-presenters. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest allow us to exhibit ourselves and our lives every second of every day to the world around us. No need to dig deep any more to find a reason to lose an extra kilogram around the waist. Why, I will post new pictures of me on Facebook and wow everyone. Isn’t that reason enough?
As a result of constantly running for something, in the process of wishing to conform to society’s every whim and fancy, are we losing out on something deeper and more meaningful? Have we lost all ability to look within ourselves and find what lies within rather than constantly solicit feedback from people on the outside and clamoring to live up to their expectations?
At a time when everyone has a voice and uses it, are our inner voices getting drowned out? It may be useful to pause every now and then and think: all these trappings – of beauty, of fitness, of sex, of money, of acceptance, of insecurity, of narcissism – promise you happiness and fulfilment. After years of running behind the ideal as defined to you by the hoardings and billboards, are you any happier? If you’re not, are they not failing in their promise?
And if you’ve become entangled in this cycle that starts with you and ends with you, if you’ve been chasing fulfillment futilely for a time and are now wondering where to find it, you may want to look into a mirror. And this time, maybe look past the scars on your face, the extra inch or so of fat around your belly, your misshapen breasts, the flabby skin of your thighs, and the creases around your mouth when you smile. Look past all of this and try to take a peek at what’s on the inside.
You may see, then, what makes you happy; and you may see that it is not what the world wants of you at all. You may see that the easiest way to find happiness and contentment is to look beyond yourself – at your family, at your friendships, at causes that you believe in, at art.
Health, fitness and beauty are important, but they’re enablers: they must help you do things that will leave you a contented person. They should not become ends to meet the needs of your vanity.