In the 70s, being slim was trendy. The 80s saw the spread of a dangerous illness: obesity. At the same time, technology became an important part of everyday life, encompassing both the workplace and family life. Simultaneously, gyms have always stayed important.
By Giulia Barjona / 26.02.2021
Today, as in the past, body shape conveys an image of us to ourselves and others. Does the reflection in the mirror represent a truth, or an anthropomorphic form of perfection that needs to be achieved?
First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that the importance of exercise and its positive influence on health was already emphasised in Ancient Greece. In fact, the Olympic games were invented by the Greeks. The idea of perfection and beauty of the body is linked to the history of sport and mental health. As Juvenal said: ‘mens sana in corpore sano’. Exercising helps with managing anxiety, and thus helps us to think rationally. In this context, team sports can be seen as a good opportunity to learn how to cope with social anxiety by working with others, as a group. A shared goal creates symbiosis and encourages trust between the members of the group.
Activities requiring a great deal of muscular effort and endurance are another test of the extent of our willpower. When the heart is pumping rapidly and our muscles hurt, it becomes very hard not to succumb to fatigue. Dedicating oneself to running, for example, with the ultimate goal of completing a marathon, requires work and constant effort that can only be fueled by passion. The body also changes with training: the skeleton is strengthened and the heart rate adapts to the new situation.
Furthermore, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the best ways to develop otherwise avoidable diseases. In other words, exercise offers the possibility of protecting oneself against thrombosis, and it lowers blood pressure. In fact, the heart becomes more powerful and sends blood throughout the whole body, helping oxygen circulation.
A person with physical problems can enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror. There are only a few types of activities that are not recommended for people with illnesses or disabilities. However, this depends on the disease and the source of the symptom. Paralympic sports are a particularly good example: there are a wide range of activities practised. The benefits for physical and mental health are obvious.
However, the majority of people have a stereotypical image of exercise in their head. This cliché moves away from what sport really is about; it idealises the reality of being physically active and forms unrealistic expectations regarding body image and the opinion of others. This distortion of exercising and the ambition of wanting to look or be the incarnation of this stereotype of beauty is dangerous in itself.
First of all, exaggeration is never good, not even in the world of sports. Children that exercise too much can stop growing; the excessive level of effort prevents the necessary energy from being distributed in their bodies.
Furthermore, the adolescents’ bodily development is not the only thing that suffers. Grades are likely to be low. Academic progress is sidelined as the children dream about athletic careers unattainable for most. In some sports, the end of studies corresponds to retirement: a career in rhythmic gymnastics or another agonistic career starts at the age of 8 and ends at around 25-30. This is the same age many peers finish their masters’ degrees. The new generation, with its big dreams of glory, will be utterly disappointed and end up without good grades in their baccalaureate.
Additionally, exercising, taking part in competitions and training takes time and money. In this case, you have to choose between family and the activity you are passionate about, between saving money and spending it all on your passion. The same felt towards oneself and society outweighs stepping back and risking failure.
Moreover, this feeling of happiness and having to be beautiful is still being forced upon us through advertisements. On the one hand, the bodies of the models shown on TV are a far cry from reality. On the other hand, cities are lined with ad posters for affordable gyms, open almost 24/7.
Finally, physical exercise has always been recommended by the WHO. There is a PE class in every school, and the possibility to partake in sports after class. However, exercising does not necessarily mean we are doing good for our body. Could it be useful to create a PE class that offers the opportunity to both get to know and change our body while also giving it the respect it deserves?