Monday, December 12, 2016

On Fitness

An Education in Doing It Well

On the first day of Bio 100, my professor walked in and announced that we should and would love this class. “In biology,” she said, “everything is about sex.” Biology, I learned, is the study of life, ergo; life is all about sex, too. Ultimately, every decision we make relates back to sex. Not necessarily sex in the romantic soap opera sense or even the drunken MTV spring break sense, but sex in the sense of survival, continuation, and necessity. Because of this, everything we do in life revolves around fitness.

Biologically, fitness is defined as being the ability to survive and reproduce. By “reproduce,” I mean “have sex.” Lots and lots of sex. An individual’s fitness is his or her reproductive success.
It has to do with alleles (the possible arrangement or outcome of traits in DNA; e.g., “A”, which is dominant and “a”, which is recessive),
and genotypes (the actual traits existing in the DNA; e.g., Aa, Aa, AA, or aa)
and phenotypes (the expressed traits of DNA; e.g., A or a)
and sex (i.e., sex).
Lots of sex.  Think punnett squares, and if you can’t because it’s been too long, I’ve got one right here for you.

Punnett Square by Lindsay Lelivelt.
Punnett Square by Lindsay Lelivelt.

Let’s say the letters on the side of the box are the man and the letters on the top of the box are the woman. The four squares shown represent all the combinations of some particular gene that can occur if the two were to mate. Three out of those four times the A trait is expressed, because A is the dominant. The a trait is only outwardly expressed when there are two of them together. Let’s say this expressed trait is height. Three out of four times, the offspring will be tall. According to this theory, the taller offspring will do better in life than the short. Therefore, females are more attracted to the taller males, in hopes that this tall gene passes on to their children. The reason we are attracted to someone is inherently because we want their attractive qualities to pass on to our children.

How many children are you able to produce to ensure that continuation of your species? It’s an important concept that humans don’t really have to deal with in modern times. But other species of the animal and plant kingdoms are obsessed with it. It’s their jobs to have as much offspring as possible or it is probable that their species will go extinct. That’s why individuals with a higher fitness (i.e., those with the most offspring) are those with the most dominant and strong alleles (lots of As) to pass on. From a biological lens, if you’re a fit individual, you get a lot of tail.

In modern society, the same thing rings true. If you are fit, you’re probably getting some. Of course, fitness has a different definition in our culture than that of being successful in sexual endeavors.

But, if you are successful in such endeavors, it is more likely that you are fit—fit, of course, meaning in excellent physical condition. Buff. Jacked. Strong. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, sucker punch bad guys straight to the moon, lift large objects without breaking a sweat. You are the modern-day super hero. And with a reputation like that, yeah, you’re going to be getting some.

What is the fascination with being so physically fit? With having 0 percent body fat? Why have we as humans reprogrammed ourselves to be attracted to individuals with such svelte physiques? In men, it makes sense; as they are (biologically) seen as the protectors and providers. But in women? Physically, we are the child-bearers, the comforters, the consolers. Our bodies are made to be a little plumper, a little comfier than the bodies on the cover of women’s fitness magazines. We are not meant to be fat, mind you. But we’re not meant to have washboard abs, either. For a woman to be extremely thin, with no body fat and thighs that don’t touch, is no good for fitness. If your body can’t support and nurture a child due to extreme leanness, than you are biologically unfit. In short, if you’re too fit, you’re not fit.

So ladies, embrace your bodies; embrace your curves. The pouch, the little pooch of belly near our hips is supposed to be there. Because we’re the gender that carries the offspring, we’re supposed to have a little extra softness to nurture them. We are not meant to have chiseled biceps and calf muscles, because biologically, that does not help us to feed or support our offspring. Our curves are praised and celebrated. Don’t believe me? Turn on your radio:

The clothes she wears
the sexy ways
make an old man wish for younger days
She knows she’s built
and knows how to please
Sure enough to knock a man to his knees

She was a fast machine
She kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I ever seen
She had the sightless eyes
Telling me no lies
Knocking me out with those American thighs

You can do side bends or sit ups, but please don’t lose that butt!

Women, be proud! Our bodies are wonderlands. Legs, breasts, and booties. We’ve got some nice curves to work with.

Men, contrary to popular opinion, are also under exceeding amounts of pressure to be fit to secure a sexual partner. Sex drive and libido are the main components of the pressure, but of course media and society don’t help either. Women and men all around are luring them into gyms and marathons and kickboxing tournaments to prove that they are the fittest individuals for the job. And it is appreciated. I love a man who can open a pickle jar for me, or help me move into my third floor apartment without breaking too much of a sweat. Or bulging too many muscles.

There is a difference between being fit and ripped, a distinction between bulging might and defined lines. There are the individuals who take it too far. In attempts to win the affections of the opposite sex, sometimes the line between attractive and atrocious is crossed. I’m going to be so fit. I’m gonna get jacked. I’m going out tonight, gonna get some chicks. I’m so jacked that I could run to the bar, I could bike to the bar, I could bench press the bar. So fit. Too fit. Check me out. I look good. But there’s no point in looking good if you have nothing to back it up. And that’s where we as humans differ so greatly from our fellows in the animal kingdom. We put a lot of emphasis, or at least we’re taught to, on personality, intelligence, and achievements—as well as physical attractiveness.

With all of this emphasis on being well-rounded, attractive individuals, the outliers of that bell curve are looked down upon. The outcasts, the freaks and the geeks, the crazy cat and bag ladies—these people are stereotyped and seen as unworthy of time.

Fitness is not just about being sexually active and physically active. Fitness also refers to the appropriateness of something. Fitness is a way of deciding if two or more objects go together. Does the key fit in the lock? Does this class fit in my schedule? Do I fit in on campus? Is everyone else hanging out without me?

Often loved, often loathed comedian Dane Cook talks about this kind of fitting in with his joke about “The Friend That Nobody Likes.” He says, “There is one person, in every group of friends, that nobody fucking likes. You basically keep them there, to hate their guts. When that person is not around the rest of your little base camp, your hobby is cutting that person down.”

This is a very real and true fear for many people. What if I don’t fit in? What if nobody likes me? What if my friends aren’t really my friends? A lot of stress is placed on this type of fitness. It is considered important to fit in on the scale of normalcy. To not stand out or be an outcast. To have friends and surround yourself with other people like you, who like you. To work and function properly as a part of the bigger picture, the bigger mechanism (be it societal or literal) is what we are taught from a young age as the appropriate path to follow into adulthood. Nobody wants to be the weird kid, the weird adult, the one that no one can relate to. If your hobbies and interests and weekend activities are strange, no one will want to hang out with you. More often that not, if we deviate from that path of normalcy, we are considered less desirable than those that stick to it.

Being undesirable is not a characteristic of a fit individual. Neither is being morally questionable. Being competent in both moral and societal standards are attractive qualities to have. This kind of fitness keeps one from setting buildings on fire, raping and pillaging towns, chewing with our mouths open or taking bank patrons hostage. This type of fitness keeps us from treading the line of insanity. Crazy people are rarely found attractive or desirable by the masses. Because of this, it’s likely they are lacking company in the boudoir.

Möbius strip by Lindsay Lelivelt.
Möbius strip by Lindsay Lelivelt.

So where does this leave us? To be fit, you must get fit, in order to be fit, so that you are fit. Right? Right. Fitness is a living Möbius strip. A Möbius strip, as I learned in an entry-level college math course, is something that is hard to define.

It is a two-dimensional object with only one surface. You can’t tell what’s inside or what’s outside because they are the same thing. It is a multi-faceted object that lacks a clear definition of end points; a continuous loop. Your perspective changes as it does.

Fitness is much of the same. It is a word with many definitions, many angles and facets. It impacts our day-to-day lives more than we may be able to realize. To be fit is to live well, and to live well … well, you know the rest.

Lindsay Lelivelt (contributing editor) received her B.A. in English w/ an emphasis on writing from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2011. Her writing has appeared in The Gustavian Weekly, The Tangential, Examiner and Minnesota Monthly. Lindsay is an avid shoe wearer with an aptitude for puns and an affinity for otters-and is very understanding when you have a hard time pronouncing her last name. She tweets, tumbls and has an online portfolio of writing clips and fun, artsy things she has made.