The fitness paradox – Looking fit isn’t the same as being well.
I was born a marketing guy. My grandfather ran an ad agency and so did my dad. Following in their illustrious footsteps and armed with my marketing degree, I also enjoyed an 8-year career in the media business before deciding to use my creative energies in the realms of health and wellness.
While I switched careers long ago, I suppose marketing will always be in my blood for better or worse – better when marketing helps support a truthful message and worse when marketing is fad-centric, purely profit driven, or even dishonest. Regardless of its intent, marketing is everywhere and woven into the fabric of almost every facet of our modern daily lives. Marketing is certainly a big part of the health and wellness business as well. When is the last time you watched TV without an ad for a prescription drug? When is the last time you opened a health & fitness magazine without gobs of supplement ads and glossy ‘before and after’ photos? For that matter, when is the last time you saw a televised sporting event without a fast food or alcohol advertisement? Subtle marketing messages are everywhere telling eager consumers convenient half truths that sound too good to be true – take a pill for your optimal health, answers do come in quick fix solutions like diets and fitness fads, and being an athlete is aided by fueling with fast food or recovering with light beer after practice. These not so subliminal advertising examples are all painted vividly through the most powerful marketing tool known to mankind – the picture.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which may or may not be true. But certainly we can all agree that a picture is potentially worth thousands of dollars. Human beings aren’t just visual learners they are visual purchasers, as fitness and wellness marketers know all too well. In fitness, if you want to sell weight loss, you don’t show pictures of heavy people, you show pictures of thin and toned people. If you want to sell supplements, you show ripped and jacked people, and if you want to sell prescription drugs you show pretty much anyone doing anything as long as they’re attractive and wearing a big bright smile.
On my professional and personal journey of health and wellness, it’s been hard for me to remedy the oft-overt conflicts between effective marketing and the sound principles of health. The inherent problem is that the picture of health isn’t a picture at all; it’s a condition of wellness. While we are culturally dominated by the focus on the aesthetic or exterior success, in fitness success is ultimately defined by what resides in the interior. While successful fitness looks different for everyone, by definition fitness is a state of being more than it is a state of looking. In my experience, maintaining a flourishing and prosperous state of fitness is the combination of three critical metrics - Functionality, Vulnerability, and Resiliency.
If fitness is literally defined as a state of being, than moving well has everything to do with getting there. One of the most common misconceptions is that you can’t learn to move well. If I only had a nickel for every time I have heard someone say “ I am not coordinated” as if it’s a permanent state you’re born with. While natural aptitude factors in to anything physically related, ultimately, coordination and proficiency of movement are learned traits. Furthermore, sound movement, enhanced balance, and physical functionality are directly correlated with longer life and better health. Looking ‘better’ on the other hand is simply driven by fancy marketing tactics and correlated with ego.
Vulnerability may seem like a strange word to parallel to fitness, but fitness is all about growth and I don’t know anyone who has shown the ability to find true growth without the introspective capacity to be present and vulnerable. While many associate vulnerability to weakness and susceptibility to harm, vulnerability has other deeper connotations such as being open-minded, free, and uninhibited. Brené Brown describes it this way: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Another word to think of vulnerability is spirituality, or the ability to look beyond the physical to the incorporeal. Real health is the ability to see your health and fitness for what it truly is – a physical expression of limitless qualities such as grace, joy and beauty.
A true commitment to fitness and the battle for wellness over the long haul can be a grind. Fitness is not about hitting some quick fix goal, but about working through failure both literally and figuratively. Each workout is a lesson in failure – you miss the last rep, you struggle with nailing the technique and so forth. The ebb and flow of failure and recovery is where resilience is forged. Resilience is about honing the quality of perseverance and finding the ability to bounce back to your original form. But resilience is more than toughness and grit…It’s interesting to note that resilience is also synonymous with flexibility. It may sound paradoxical, but flexibility merged with tenacity builds an impenetrable will and ultimately the commitment to stay with it.
The journey in fitness is full of such paradox - finding all out intensity by being relaxed. Finding yourself by losing yourself. Looking your best by feeling uncomfortable. The crux in finding success in fitness is to see yourself authentically. Solving the fitness paradox means finding your real essential nature - not as marketers, others or your ego wants you to be, but as you truly are.