First off, the pursuit of a beach body doesn’t necessarily equate to good health
The internet, boasting of all the good it’s managed to do for us, is less happily a hotbed of comparison. I began my regular yet benign use of it to browse social media in my adolescent years and was speedily inundated with more visual stimuli than a caveman would have likely received in a lifetime. The fact of the matter is that much of the material poured into online media is about the human body, and more specifically what media has come to accept as the ideal body.
A body is something each internet-browser, beyond doubt, has. And so, any suggestion that “a beautiful body looks like this” is relevant to almost any netizen insofar as he or she has one. Now, I’m in touch enough with the reality staring back at me in the mirror to know that I do not in fact have Zac Efron’s build and am obviously not running around with Michael Phelps’ metabolism. Further, I understand that upon grabbing my smartphone and browsing online, I am riddled with images and blurbs confirming that summer is here, and more relevantly, that my beach body should be ready.
With each image I see of some guy smugly smiling, plastered on the cover of a health or even a fashion magazine, I am quickly “reminded” as if it were common knowledge, that the key indicator of a healthy human is a good number of abs lying under their T-shirt. Is it not upsetting to think that it is the non-presence of an eight-pack keeping me from considering myself healthy and contented with my appearance?
I’ve been to my doctor for checkups numerous times in the last year and have been positively reinforced for my being in good health, with a notably calm runner’s heart rate. This clean bill stands on top of the growing distance of running I put in each week. But more than keeping a reassuring smile on my doctor’s face, running gives me a feeling of control and well-being—and that should be enough. Yes, I remain fairly skinny and not all that tall but am contented with what I’ve got.
Yet it may seem that the ideal body for whipping out at any given time looks something like Kilmonger (from “Black Panther”) or Captain America. Muscles bulging out every which way, abs one could wash clothes on, and notably towering height are touted around in popular films and surface online—now a channel by which movies are marketed. I, as your average internet-onlooker cannot help but scroll past these pictures and wonder how far I’d have to run to look anything like that. But then, the initial pang of comparison washes off me and I return to my being content with the body I’m in—gently tapping my heart.
These thoughts however, don’t always wash off so easily or so thoroughly, and so I try to relax into the thought that in training for the role of Captain America, Chris Evans hit the gym in a way he describes as “absolutely brutal,” skipping cardio almost completely. It is after all, the man’s job to look a certain way. If he didn’t resemble the Captain America that Marvel had in mind, he wouldn’t have gotten the job. My job—and thank goodness for this—isn’t contingent on such a thing.
And so I come to the realization that this glamorized and propagated “ideal” beach body is not something I want to strive for. This is the sort of thing a man browsing a health magazine or a woman perusing the Victoria’s Secret store can kindly remind themselves of. The images we are flooded with—in malls, on TV, online—are put in front of us for a reason. To generate interest, to motivate a purchase, and to convince. The folks in these images are dedicated to looking a certain way because it is their job to do so and are often put in their best lights by talented teams of digitally adept individuals with very specific cameras and computer software.
The moment the question of how I look relative to an idealized body pops up in my head, I rush to the thought: This is not a fair fight. My mirror is not doing its all to make me look my best no matter how good-natured I’d like to think it is. Nor is it my job to look a certain way. I can rest assured that I am a healthy individual motivated by the terrific feeling that regular physical exercise imbues me with.
The fairer fight would be one with yourself. The urge to strive harder when I run is borne of my desire to be faster. My first steps out the door are made easier by reminding myself that I will feel stellar on my way back in. Rather than trying to look like the digitally rendered, glorified, smug dude on the cover of that health magazine or hurriedly taking the advice of the article urging me to be fit for summer, I can be settled and happy with the body I’ve been given and continue to work on. This is the sort of motivation that finds itself unhampered by what I find while scrolling online, keeping me healthy but additionally, kind to myself. It’s not my job to look a certain way nor is it my job to be happy or healthy. But then again, the last two are naturally strived for, the former is certainly not.