An Ab-sence of Perspective

When you look at the above picture, what’s the first thing you see? I can probably guess. Don’t worry, it’s the first thing I look at when I see similar photos. When it’s flaunted out and made so glaringly obvious, how could you not, I suppose?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, then I think you can skip this post. You’ve already proven me wrong. For most of us though, it’s the abs. The ultimate pinnacle of fitness many would say. I see them every single day plastered across adverts, magazines and social media. The tensed abs, the ‘nonchalant t-shirt lift’, and the transformation shot providing visual representations of a ‘successful’ health journey. Heck, I’ve been responsible for one (or five) of those photos on your feed, I’m sure, and I’ve admired a fair few myself. However we engage with them, there’s no denying it. We’re a community obsessed with abs. We’re obsessed with six packs, with sculpted obliques, with chiseled cores.

I’ve been watching the ongoing conversation within the health community about abs’ fickle nature these past few months. Influencers showcasing their bloated selfies. Athletes explaining that, for some, abs aren’t achievable or, if they are, on many occasions it comes at a sacrifice. We’re now aware of the blessing good light can endow us with and that a subtle shift in the hips can mean the difference between washboard and washed out. It’s a good effort in the industry’s attempt to promote body positivity, but somehow our quest to care less about the all-importance of a ripped stomach means that we’re focused on them more than ever. We just can’t stop looking at them, thinking about them and talking about them.

We blame the media for our obsession. We blame magazines, television, models, bloggers. We blame the world for imposing this aesthetic pressure upon us. But we forget that, with social media giving us an interactive forum, every one of us has a role to play in the wider discussion of health and fitness. How we engage and respond to the continuous onslaught of ‘flawless’ physiques contributes just the same to the issue and only fuels our focus.

When I see these beautifully sculpted bodies across my timeline, it’s not their continued appearance that bothers me. I can only admire the self-confidence possessed by an individual willing to share with the world many-a sports-bra selfie each day. But our response to these photos and our hunger for more concerns and baffles me more than anything else. We seem incapable of looking elsewhere or asking for more from a person than the presence of their fit and toned appearance. We express a total lack of interest into whether this person is happy, whether they’re having a good day, whether they’re kind, genuine, decent and honest. It leads me to question, do we really see these abs as belonging to a person at all?

In every one of these ab selfies is an individual who has a story or a message to share. Whether they know it or not, they have a voice of value that can connect people to new ideas or experiences. But so many of us don’t. Why? I think because, most of the time, that message would fall on deaf ears. Because, for some reason, as an audience, we don’t engage with inspiration and education like we do a perfectly posed selfie.We’re visual creatures that feast with our eyes and so when we express admiration, it’s usually along the lines of ‘body goals,’ ‘abs, abs, abs,’ or the forever-flattering *heart eye emoji.*

There’s nothing wrong with complimenting someone’s appearance. There’s no fault in admiring the hard work, strength and dedication a person displays to construct a body they’re proud to showcase. But if that’s all we’re willing to comment on and appreciate in a person, then where’s the incentive for us to be more than our bodies? Where’s the incentive to learn more and give more to the world, put our efforts into greater things and expand our perspective of life?

It’s unsurprising that some do nothing more than share a flawless physique without provoking thought or spreading insight, when perfecting our bodies is the only conversation anyone wants to have in health. The more we see this perfect physique, the more we applaud it, and the more we applaud it, the more we’re fed what we desire. It’s a viscious cycle. But so long as aesthetics remain the centre of discussion, the wellness industry will only struggle to move talk of health away from physical composition and towards turning happiness into the ultimate goal. Our perspective will remain narrow and clouded by things that are, in actuality, totally irrelevant to sustaining a truly healthy lifestyle.

In the era of balance, isn’t it time we quit congratulating people solely for the way they look and start paying notice to what other wisdoms they share? Isn’t it time we took a step back and admired people as more than the body you wish you had? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing a shallow social media. I’m tired of consuming empty words and images that teach us nothing about true health and happiness.

Let’s use our words to put back some perspective and promote the real essence of a healthy lifestyle. Compliment more than the body and appreciate more than the physique. We can all be so much more if we just focused our energies on the bigger picture of health.

Maxine Ali