Persephone Fraser looks at our generation’s rapid approach to health, disagreeing that a healthy body image equates to a healthy mind.
The diseases that plagued generations before us are no longer of concern. Injuries that once would have proven fatal can now be re-broken, re-attached, re-set or replaced. Hunger and cold are no threats to most of our lives, but health and wellness continue to consume our time.
The senses are bombarded at all times with personal training sessions, health care that includes acupuncture, and raw, paleo or gluten free diets. Our lives are easier, and there is less need for survival to occupy our thoughts; so do we spend our time, money and energy on our bodies because we enjoy it? Is it perhaps just the successful and clever commodification and marketing of our basic needs and wants that has us thinking we need these services and products? Yes, but like all good marketing, we’re sold them because these products appeal to real anxiety felt over the state of our health; or perhaps our wellness, the feeling that we ought be better.
It seems that a conflation of health and wellness has occurred and a pervasive longing, restlessness or discontent has been met with pharmaceuticals, spin classes and quinoa. So pervasive has the blurring of health and wellness become, that the marketing of our own exercise or diet rituals, through social media and good old-fashioned lycra-donning, stands in for “I’m doing well,” or “I’m happy.” “I’m fit,” or “I’m eating health foods,” is an attempt at projecting “I’m well,” “I’m successful” and “My life is enviable.”
“I lift, therefore I am.”
Success looks different to what it did twenty years ago, and perhaps expensive clothes or the corner office no longer satisfies our criteria for having attained it.
The problem with this of course is that, although tied, looking after the body does not mean a well mind. And in fact, being consumed with our exterior can detract from a healthy inside, either through distraction or the adverse effects of superficial goals.
Beyond this, while wearing the clothes, attending the classes or buying the food may make us feel like we’re improving ourselves, these activities do not show a true caring for, or working on, the self; they are no greater measure of ourselves, our success and wellness, than our clothes, job titles or cars are. It is a false indication, a band-aid for deeper concerns and a costume for our peers. So what is wrong, if not our bodies, and what should we be doing about it?
Undoubtedly there is not a single answer, but it does seem that our lives largely lack in one significant area, and that is time. All of us find ourselves lacking in time, because modern lives and jobs are time-demanding and because we ourselves pride ourselves on being busy.
Everyone you speak to will tell you that they are so, and do so with pride.
We push always to have achieved more in our days and weeks, to have more side projects and commitments and to be putting in more hours to our jobs or other, while maintaining social commitments and relationships; being busy is not only an aspect of our lives but of our psyche, strongly linked to our prioritisation of productivity.
The flow on effect of the pressure to compartmentalise and sanction off the hours of our days is that when our minds do turn to our health and wellness after a long day, tired and only willing to commit 45 minutes an evening to improving it, slotted in between work and domestic duties, we reach for the quick fix.
It is a symptom and an example of our attitudes and lifestyles generally, firstly that our bodies are under pressure, and secondly that we wish for the least time intensive solution. It is not just our bodies under pressure though, and the impact of our busyness (sic) is probably most intensely felt in our minds. The steps to alleviating the impact on our minds is less clear, being only unsuccessfully packaged and documented for us, and require a more considerable commitment. The obsession with improving our bodies means a furthering of our problematic pursuit of busyness and productivity, with fitness or health another time intensive activity to add to our schedules, with clear indicators of the progress we’re making and what kind of return we’re getting on our investment. To look after our minds, on the other hand, would mean abandoning our schedules to some extent.
I am not trying to say there is anything intrinsically wrong with any of these practises individually, but it is important to consider what we wish to achieve when we set goals to join the gym or eat more grains. If the problem is perhaps the fatigue and mental consumption that our careers and obligations bring upon us, the answer is not another appointment on an already time poor schedule or another item on an ever growing to-do list.
The cure for busyness is not slotting in another activity, it’s a reconsidering or rebalancing of the way we are spending the rest of our time, requiring the confidence to be satisfied with internal indications of success and wellness, and less of a reliance on what can be seen by others and that we ourselves recognise as meaning we’re doing well.