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Motivation to change the things I can

Charles Logue | Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It’s no secret America is not the slimmest or the healthiest of countries. This has been lamented and probably exhausted in political cartoons across the world. It is the subject of no small number of government initiatives and social programs, from the NFL promoting activity for kids to the first lady trying to provide healthier food to urban centers. Some offshoots of these admirable campaigns include body-image and love-your-body weeks held to promote awareness of eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can be ultimately dangerous to the body and are extremely poor ways to achieve “fitness” or an attractive physique. It is right and good to educate people regarding nutrition and discourage these behaviors. However, we should be careful how we go about discouraging eating disorders.
A central theme of these campaigns is that people should love their bodies, regardless of what they look like, and should not be concerned with societal standards, pressures and expectations (which, admittedly, can be considerable). This also has a great deal of merit. Certainly, nobody should ever like or do anything for no better reason than that other people do. That mentality can lead to genocide and the popularity of boy bands. Further, some things about a person’s physique are truly unchangeable, as some people are broader or slimmer and built with different proportions. If you don’t like the way your skeleton is put together, then yeah, you should probably learn to like it.
One thing we should not take away from these messages, however, is that people shouldn’t or don’t need to improve. It has been pointed out that society puts forth a body image for veneration and emulation that is impossible to attain. So what? None of us will ever be perfect or sinless, so should we decide that attempting to imitate Jesus is a pointless exercise? Achieving the skill, speed and raw power of a running back like Adrian Peterson requires a near impossible combination of lifelong training and essentially winning the genetic lottery. Yet we don’t tell young football players they are comparing themselves to an impossible standard, so they shouldn’t even bother to try. Peterson is a role model that shows us what’s possible through hard work and determination. Brad Pitt underwear commercials might make us feel a tiny bit inadequate, but they also show us why crunches are good for us.
There is a prayer many have heard at some point: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s all well and good to embrace the first part and be at peace with what is immutable. But too often, the second part is left by the wayside when we shy away from the effort and unpleasantness necessary to make ourselves better. It’s one thing to be happy and content with what you are, whatever that might be. If you like who you are and that’s firmly whom you’ve decided you want to be (jock, nerd, slut, stoner, gamer, hippie, lawyer), then screw everybody else who says otherwise. But, it’s a different case entirely to want to become different (thinner, faster, richer, better-looking, CoD/Halo death machine) and then convince yourself you’re happy with what you are, even when you’re not. Honesty can be hard – most of all, honesty to ourselves. Sometimes we have to accept who we are, and sometimes we have to accept that we don’t like who we are and then get off our butts to do something about it. The American Dream is if you want it bad enough and you’re willing to work and sweat for it every day, you can become anything.
It might be shallow, and sometimes it sucks, but people are judged by their appearances 20 times a day. It’s why girls take forever to do their hair and why Barney Stinson wears a suit. Is pounding back creatine and calling Joe Manganiello to ask for his workout plan just to impress girls shallow? Maybe. But if it makes you jacked and you feel better about yourself, go for it. Should a girl’s self-esteem center around whether guys like her? Probably not, but if it provides motivation to become fit and work at providing a little more beauty in the world, then bravo. Nobody’s perfect, so even improvement in “superficial” ways is still improvement. And really, that’s all that can be expected of a person: to improve a little bit every day. So, as the good Reinhold Niebuhr urges us, ask God for the courage to change.

“The most common lie is that which one lies to himself; lying to others is relatively an exception.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher

Charles Logue is a senior living in Knott Hall. He can be reached at  clogue@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.