The one and only sign of fitness generally fussed about is weight. Oh no, I weigh too much. I must lose weight.
It’s one of those “simplets” where we pick a number and obsess about it because it becomes our reality. Hell, it even sounds scientific; also take your height into account, and you need a formula (!) to calculate your BMI. It’s got to be good.
Meanwhile, even this obsession hides something we are really after: the looks we associate with the perfect weight. The big problem, though, is that the reality of it all, the view that science would aim for, shows weight to be but one indicator, and even looks to be deceiving.
Your weight is a symbol.
It is but one factor in fitness, health, and well-being.
As argued before, it’s a factor that is of limited importance; at the very least, its development over time should be looked at, and better yet, it would be looked at together with the development of body fat percentage. Otherwise, you may find yourself happy to be losing weight, but you are only losing water and muscle, not making yourself any healthier and stronger. It wouldn’t even make you look better, either. Thinner, perhaps, but most likely in the wrong spots.
The problem goes deeper, though.
As much as saying that you are “thick-boned” or the like are just excuses, it is true that there are different body types. We are set up, genetically, to develop in different ways. To some extent, it is only natural that some of us become heavy-set while others will hardly put on weight – and can hardly bulk up even if they want to.
So, we need to take into account the range of healthy weights (and of body types)… which is, actually, why there are indeed certain ranges of BMI that are considered normal weight, and they aren’t all that bad an indicator for the majority of people.
Still, the focus it puts on weight is troubling, and even bringing in form – looks – doesn’t help much.
Not only is the focus on weight misguided, as described above, it even contributes to the same stress that makes us fat in the first place. Aren’t you, well, fed up with that?
Focus on looks, though, and you’ll probably end up at the same obsession with weight, or at best at certain other indicators.
For young females, the thigh gap seems on its way to being the beauty symbol du jour. Unfortunately, it’s really a sign of malnourishment (if not just based on genetic differences making for a differently-built hip), pushed by the images spawned by modeling and the fashion industry.
Males don’t necessarily have it much easier, though. Sculpted abs, defined pecs, and not an ounce of fat too much are the images of the perfect male put before us – and they are well-nigh impossible to reach for most.
It doesn’t help that, at the same time, a modern man isn’t really supposed to look all that masculine. Who wants a macho – or a narcissist in love with his own looks, for that matter?
Now, of course we are and will be influenced by certain aspects of other’s bodies that our biology and our societies make us consider important, even beautiful. We probably wouldn’t mind being admired for our good looks, either.
Fitness = Function
The better guide for our own fitness, for our lives, however, is our fitness. Function.
Ultimately, after all, it doesn’t matter so much what your weight is or what you look like (which is also a matter of the roll of the genetic die), but that you are healthy and capable of doing what you need and want. Form follows function, and we’ll really want to be able to do certain things. (And here, too, it’s a matter of both the genes/bodies and the doing/practice, see e.g. The Sports Gene.)
To walk, to run, to climb flights of stairs without getting out of breath immediately, to pull yourself up a wall, climb a tree, carry a partner or a child, keep balance rather than fall and break a bone… These are the kinds of things that everyone, regardless of body shape, could use to be able to do. They are abilities we need in daily life and skills we can use to make our lives more interesting.
Focus on a functional specialization, and you’ll need to (and probably will, if you have the bodily make-up for it and do the practice) develop the physique that’s fitting for it. And it will still be different from the single ideals we’re usually seeing, because a bodybuilder needs another shape than a strongman, runners won’t look like cyclists – and everyday people won’t and don’t need to look like athletes.
Incidentally, doing these everyday things, training for movement and moving for training, is probably going to contribute to our physiques becoming (or remaining) better-looking and ourselves being fitter and healthier, even as we age.
Added bonus: Find something like that, that you need to do and that you love to do, and if it’s just going for walks in the park, and you’ll start to forget about weight or looks and feel better about yourself instead.