Two fascinating pieces on how we think about fitness passed through my newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter this week. While I’m sure there’s enough there for an academic paper on conceptualizing the pursuit of fitness, it’s the weekend so I’m just going to share the links. The articles were on the militarization of fitness, on the one hand, and the gamification of fitness, on the other. And my unsophisticated, off the cuff reactions are roughly “boo” and “yay.”
1. The militarization of fitness? Count me out. See Anti-fascist fitness? by Alan Sears in the recent issue of briarpatch magazine.
“When I see a poster for a fitness “boot camp” it makes me cringe. Since when did the military provide our models of well-being? To be clear, the military does not exist for health promotion, but as a machine for killing, maiming, and terrorizing. Military boot camp is designed to break down recruits and re-forge them as obedient units in that machine. Wow, sign me up!
The prevalence of boot camps tells us something important about attitudes towards our bodies – and therefore our selves, in the words of the feminist classic Our Bodies Our Selves. The fitness industry and the obesity panic are two sides of the same coin, both signs of a serious contempt for the body – at least in its natural state. We like our bodies made over: toned, tanned, shaved, styled, inked, pierced, dyed, and scented. Just listen to the contempt people express for the unprocessed raw body, especially one deemed “out of shape.”
…….Yet the proliferation of militarized training is in some ways surprising at a time when work and warfare have been transformed by information technologies, making physical strength and prowess less important. Neoliberalism is also the age of commercialization, where every aspect of life has been invaded by market forces. We are everywhere bombarded with images seeking to sell us something. We are constantly exposed to images of inhumanly perfect bodies on advertisements and in entertainment.”
The article ends with a discussion of alternative models for fitness,such as ecology, feminism, and everyday exercise. Wise words, sure, but not so much fun or motivation.
I’ve written a bit about this before, having done the Warrior Dash this summer. See A few words about the Warrior Dash and what I liked was the party atmosphere. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the Tough Mudder (the photo here is from an ad for the Tough Mudder) or the Spartacus Races. I like Crossfit because we’re a community and we cheer one another on. The boot camp mentality doesn’t appeal.
(An aside: I do like coaches yelling instructions at me. But that’s sport specific skills and it’s what they’re there for.)
2. The “gamification” of fitness. I’m all in favour. Count me in!
B.J. Keeton writes, “Just like in a video game, you really need some support to take on those fitness bosses. If you want to blow up the Evil Lords of Gluten, you’re going to need help. If you want to smash the Council of Three Fats, bring some friends. If you plan to pulverize the Princess of Pilates, pull in a party of positive influences. If you want to escape the seductive grasp of Lady Laziness, you’re going to need someone to slap some sense into you.”
Setting aside all the boy-gamer language, it’s all about finding a supportive community and making fitness fun. (But it’s got to be supportive and fun. I’m not a fan of shame based social networking. See Shame, social networking, and fitness.)
One interesting question concerns the connection between fitness as gaming guest and fitness as military campaign. After all, we’re playing at being in the military in Tough Mudder races. Unlike real recruits in basic training, we’ve paid to take part and we can walk away. And gaming culture is all about waging battles, usually involving mystical creatures and impossible weapons, but still….