It seems the fitness industry is inching closer and closer to the porn industry.
Maybe I’m being overly dramatic. Maybe I misunderstand because I haven’t done a figure/bikini/physique competition. Maybe I’m just a prude.
But you tell me…when a “fitness” competition requires women to pose like this, is it about sports, or is it about sex?
Obviously, I’m going to step on some on toes here. And while I definitely lean more conservative when it comes to sex, most of my friends will tell you that I’m not a prude. I’m practically a semi-practicing nudist at times, and I could certainly keep up with a group of sailors when it comes to telling bawdy jokes (and drinking whiskey). I’m all for bringing sexy back, and having a sexy back, and admiring sexy backs. But this is one issue that has bothered me for a long time, and as I’ve seen it become more prevalent (or perhaps I’m just becoming more aware), I’m compelled to address it….And I’m not going to apologize for my opinion.
Let me be clear – this is not about body types, aesthetic appeal, athleticism, or personal choice. I am not saying that people participating in fitness competitions are too small, or too muscular, or too manly, or too artificial, nor am I saying that they are not athletes or that they should not be able to compete however they please. I have friends who have competed in fitness competitions, and from talking with them and doing my own reading, I know that such an endeavor requires incredible discipline and personal sacrifice. Although it’s not something care to do, I don’t see any problem with fitness competitions. The issue is how the industry merges fitness with sex.
In other words…
Parts of the fitness industry have become indistinguishable from softcore pornography.
There’s no getting around it, and truthfully, it’s evident enough that it shouldn’t take much explanation. The amount of skin exposed, the kinds of posing used, and the focus on sex appeal – rather than, say, athleticism – are a page straight out of the porn industry’s playbook. While this probably is a bigger problem in female fitness competitions, the men are not exempt from it, either. Although the sexualization of fitness is blatant in fitness competitions, it’s not limited to the stage. Many fitness brands use sex to sell their products, and they’re not subtle about it.
Social media is positively swarming with competitors, both amateur and professional, flooding their feeds with gratuitous “glute” shots and “abs” photos (which for the women almost always include breasts, as well). Of course, there are plenty of non-competitors, folks who are just fitness enthusiasts, who do the exact same. Post what you want, but please don’t pretend that you are sharing your progress when you are really just sharing your bits. I wish I could tell you how many “fitness” accounts I’ve seen on instagram that are really just self-shot softcore porn collections, charmingly hashtagged with things like #fitness, #strength, #strongnotskinny, #dedication, #progress, #inspiration, and #healthyliving…but at this point, I’ve lost count. This is perhaps one of the most bothersome parts, because fusing fitness with sex and stamping the whole package with words like “strength” or “dedication” conditions viewers and participants to see those terms solely in that light. “Dedication” becomes a matter of 4:30am workouts and tupperware meals of tilapia and broccoli, “inspiration” gets measured in pounds and inches lost, and “health” is seen as a consuming regime of workouts and diets and supplements and the occasional glittery bikini/banana-hammock. (This, in particular, gets me riled up. You want real inspiration? Look at this family. You want to see real dedication? Read this man’s story. You want real health? Create sustainable habits…and taking pictures of your own ass is not one of those habits.) It makes people think that these oversexualized images (often featuring bodies that are achieved by means of incredibly damaging diets/training) demonstrate the pinnacle of fitness and health, and insinuates that they should be a goal towards which we strive.
It misses the point entirely. Fitness is about the ability to move well. Sometimes that’s moving heavy weights, sometimes that moving fast, sometimes that’s moving your own body with great control, and sometimes that’s moving to the outer limits of your flexibility. Health is about being well – in body, in mind, and in spirit. None of it requires you to “do sexy” well. Your level of fitness and your level of health are not dependent on how sexy you can be. Being fit and having a healthy body can make you feel good about yourself, and that kind of confidence is sexy. Fitness and health are reflected in your physical appearance, and that can be sexy. But you see, in that case, sexiness is a side effect of fitness, not the end goal. And even then, for the vast majority of folks, it’s going to be a different kind of sexy than the kind promoted by the media (that goes for women and men). we see on stage, on instagram, and on ad pages in a magazine. “Sexy” doesn’t have just a single physical expression, and neither do health and fitness.
So my question is why are we not good enough as we are? Why can’t we be sexy without being sex objects? Why can we lift weights without being some kind of barbell-sporting-dominatrix? Why can’t we be great athletes without being sexy athletes? Why can’t we be badass without being a hot piece of ass?
I know the simple answer is that “sex sells.” In a culture that is becoming more and more desensitized, it takes more and more sex to sell. Shorts get shorter, tops come off, and everything gets more explicit. But that doesn’t mean we have to put up with it. We don’t have to buy into the marriage of the porn and fitness industries and their sexy-fitness lovechild. We can choose to decide for ourselves what is sexy, and ignore those that tell us it requires more spray tanner and more bedazzled bikinis. We can choose to invest in health and fitness, and whatever physical manifestation that takes. We can choose to be strong, to be flexible, to move often and eat plenty and sleep well and play freely and live a fulfilling life that is characterized by wellness and joy. And we can make our choices, live our lives, and move on without a second thought to whether we are “sexy enough” by fitness industry standards.
And of course, when in doubt, a little naked dancing in the privacy of your bedroom will almost always make you feel sexy enough for anything.
Now go get on with your bad selves.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and get a good discussion going!
Do you think the fitness industry has become oversexualized?
Have you ever felt pressure to be sexy in addition to being fit/athletic?
When it comes to “sexy-fitness,” do you think there is a double standard for men vs. women?