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!
See in Your Fitness Quest: It’s Dangerous To Go Alone in Geek Fitness (of course!) Reprinted this week In Fitocracy.
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….
3 thoughts on “Fitness as warfare? No. Fitness as a gaming quest? Sure.”
The only thing I like about the military-themed stuff is that, a lot of times, it’s also more intense and rigorous. (That usually equals “more fun” in my mind.)
I also see something potentially really annoying about it, though — who are you fighting against in this metaphor? Yourself? Your body? I don’t really like either of those.
I like the gaming frame, too, but the way it makes sense to me is more as an RPG — you are leveling yourself up as you get stronger, faster, master more skills etc. I like that a lot better than I like the idea of boss battles against Lady Laziness or the Evil Lords of Gluten. (Also, gluten? Totally not a problem for most people! Dietary cargo cults can GTFO.) Because Lady Laziness is a part of you, and I’ve always hated conceptions of exercise that make it sound like you’re fighting yourself. That’s just not how I experience it. At most, you might be competing with yourself, trying to lift more or run a faster mile than you did last time, but for me it’s a friendly competition — look at how good I’m getting! Yay! — not a “must destroy all that is weak and unworthy in myself” perfectionistic hedonic treadmill.
The concept of a fitness boot camp is actually crazy, and it is most certainly is shame-based. Shaming behaviour can be used to force people to do things, for certain. It is effective. But it is also crippling in so many ways, and this crippling self-hatred and inability to accept all facets of yourself – to love yourself – then gets passed on to future generations. Perhaps this forms part of the basis for the vicious hatred in our society of people who are fat? But at the same time, we all motivate ourselves by controlling and focusing our aggression – especially when it comes to physical pursuits. So I really don’t think we can or need to throw the baby out with the bath water here. We can still talk about anger, aggression, focus, strength, being resolute, etc., etc., without engaging in shaming behaviours. Fitness on certain levels cannot be only about self-love, holistic thought processes and forgive the sarcasm, about jam sandwiches and bunny rabbits. It won’t work that way – no one would actually be capable of motivating themselves to actually get through a real hard workout this way. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boot camp – and fueled by shame and shaming behaviours.
I love the idea of gamifying fitness. That’s part of the appeal for me in sport-specific training, because then every workout becomes part of a larger plan to achieve a goal and get faster times, higher placements, whatever. It turns it all into a big game, and I’m one of those people who finds games fun. It motivates me very nicely, I’ve found, mainly because it becomes a pleasurable thing for me to do instead of some kind of punishment I must perform so I can justify my existence on this planet.
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