The Oatmeal's take on "vanity". Point taken!
I am regular reader and admirer of theoatmeal.com and his web comics and posters. Well, their whole lineup really! Matt Inman's creativity and absolute candor regarding: work, widgets, food, the internet itself and everything in-between is hilarious, true and refreshing. Imperfect and delicious, I enjoy each and every article, including the comic he created about running. Check it out here: epic running comic
In Part 4, Matt goes off on a relatively angry rant about "bad" fitness and gym culture. You can read it if you like, it has deep veins of truth buried under an indicting and judgmental deluge. Impossible to defend really, as I never stepped into a big box gym or competed in a bodybuilding show. Matt's references draw heavily from inspiration around a Venice Beach or Beverly Hills styled, superficial, out-of-touch, self-involved and insecure picture of gym culture. He qualifies this caricature as "bad" gym culture. This straw man is not my concern.
My issue with The Oatmeal is that this picture paints gym and gym-goers as inferior in every regard to the cerebral and in-the-know tech employees. This played into the narrative that everyone who goes to the gym is selfish and applies exercise knowledge poorly. Confirmation of this subliminally held, preconceived notion plays into whether or not people decide to get off the couch and make changes. Running works as a mediation, and so does a barbell complex... IF you choose to be in the moment and live through proprioception.
My journey into the occupation of strength coaching was and is based on a desire to connect with myself, and to help people get out of pain, whatever that means for them. I'm a highly functional trainer, and while I never had my clients doing curls combined with tanning, I know some of them need chin-ups and sunshine on their pale bodies. I have been blessed with a city, clients and mentors who were far beyond me in understanding of what it means to both BE strong and LOOK strong. Emphasis on being strong, with the definition of strength as this: You are strong when you accept full responsibility for your total health. When you are free of blame and shame around this, you are strong.
Matt's a smart guy and we've actually been inspired by the same authors (Millman) and similar backgrounds. His article is a great example of the state that most people perceive the physical culture of America. Those who invest in themselves are superficial and stupid (creating spinal pathology with crunches and cancer with tanning beds). Those who want to be like them are also self-absorbed assholes, which is usually how people feel who DO want to take care of themselves but have negative associations with self-care. Or think that gym memberships and trainers are luxuries like health insurance and doctors (that was a purposeful distortion).
I can't reform gym culture, I was a renegade from day one. I do struggle with how to frame my message on improving your physical condition, and empowering people to create their own journey. Yes, in a gym, or a yoga studio, or a mountain or on a road bike. The gym is preferred because resistance training is how Jedi would have trained if George Lucas wasn't afraid of the gym as much as Matt Inman clearly is.
I would gladly coach Inman into a love affair with his body, or any of his readers. All it takes is a little courage to get out of your comfort zone, some will to let go of the trail mix and Luna bars... and even Matt could get his wiry frame to respond to balance out his legs. The point isn't to become a vapid gym rat (not that there's anything wrong with that). The point is to become the strongest version of yourself, both mind and body. I would love to reset Matt's references around resistance training, if not for him but for the hundreds of thousands of his readers who may actually be inspired to something that could change the way they see themselves.
Whether it is through running or another path!