LINK to article as it appears in Finger Lakes Times: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-wrinkles-sags-and-aches/article_39b2bd36-7a77-11e6-9c26-278d24dc4d0d.html
I wonder what the spirit of narcissism that has enveloped our culture will finally lead to.
Every time I go to the gym the difference between those who seem to be there for health and those who appear to be there for beauty is jarring. Of course there is no way for me to actually know anyone else’s motivation, and surely for many people it is a combination of health and beauty, or even a confusion of the two. But often, and with many folks, it appears that sculpting the body is more important than exercising it for health.
It seems so very human: to become obsessed with one thing, and the less vital thing, on the way to another.
Building muscles into shapes that the fashion shepherds have determined are icons of beauty is not a lot different than plastic surgery that obscures one’s actual age but does nothing for health other than to risk it. Skin wrinkles and sags, muscles change in shape and density, aging happens. The critical issue is the health of the total body-system: skeletal, muscular and vascular, and vital organs including the brain. Emphasizing one part over the rest, and the one most related to outward appearance no less, is a hazardous strategy for long-term health.
The same is true for mental health, only in this realm we tend consciously and intentionally to ignore or reject certain areas and capacities of the mind and personality. In other words, we actually resist exercise and health when it comes to the mind.
The idea, for example, of going to a mental health professional to exercise and add new capacity for emotional and mental health when there is no crisis driving it, would likely seem ludicrous to most people. Or spiritual health, if even acknowledged as an actual component of human health and development, is rarely considered something to exercise by intention and with regularity. Yet people spend hours and thousands of dollars on tightening up and smoothing the outer layer. It would be laughable if it were not so tragic.
As I experience aging I often marvel at how my body is letting me down as a result of some stupid thing that does work quite right any more. It is often something I never expected to have to deal with, like tendons in my hand or nerves in my feet. I exercise far more than my parents who lived into their eighties and nineties ever did. Unlike them, I quit smoking in my thirties and in my fifties got more serious than ever about how I eat, which is also more conscientious than my parents were. Yet none of that is any guarantee that I will be as strong, flexible, healthy and vibrant as I want to be in the years ahead. Still, it’s an edge.
Underneath all of it, whether health or beauty obsessed, is the nagging question of what it is for? Is it to do something, serve someone, achieve or create? Or is it for itself? That question and the answers underneath it matter.
If we have a society of people engaged primarily in narcissistic pursuits we are in serious trouble. If however, we have a vast citizenry that desires to serve others, builds level playing fields and enjoys watching others prosper along with them, then good things will happen.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to keep reaching for and encouraging health over beauty, even as I continue to wrinkle and sag and ache.
Bradley Sowash says
I’m with ya – all kinds of unexpected physical nuisances pop up as I stay active. Maybe this is why elders become “more spiritual” as their bodies become “less physical.”
Think how Yoda felt. How many millenniums was he?
R. Sue Rhodes says
Me too, as long as I can. Health and Blessings!
Kate Smith says
I was looking forward to your tackling yesterday’s gospel……what happened?
Ah, that’s a good one to wrestle with! But I started a series on Christian spiritual practice that needs to be addressed in my congregation more than the lectionary readings at the moment. The lectionary is a guide not a tether. Thanks for asking though, good questions.
Kate Smith says
Also want to mention that, seen through the lense of science and evolution, our sense of beauty is rooted in a primitive recognition of health and its relation to reproductive fitness. Thus to early man, beauty was health.
That’s a brilliant, but even with beauty to attract a mate, health was necessary for the continuation of a particular gene pool. Natural Selection still depends upon healthy beauty. But it is interesting to wonder if the criteria of beauty changes as much in other species as it does in human culture.