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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Vanity and sanity

Whenever the subject comes up about our motivation to work out, my standard answer is the three word response above. Occasionally I'll add, "in that order."

(For some strange reason, rhymes always seem to imbue a statement with more meaning. Saying, "Oh, because I'm vain and because the endorphins elevate my mood" wouldn't have quite the same ring.)

Most men and women work out primarily in order to be more attractive. A lot of people will tell you they're doing it for their health, and that may be partly so. But usually, vanity is a much larger part of the equation; health is merely a side benefit.

Some will say, "I just enjoy the camaraderie down here at the gym," which is a little disingenuous. Maybe they do enjoy the social aspects of working out, but there is usually more warmth -- genuine or not -- to be had at the local bar.

But most answers you'll get are relatively honest. Some people will say something to the effect of, "Oh, this is the only way I can eat what I want." That is at least a tacit admission of vanity.

"I'm just trying to stave off old age" vaguely touches on all the motivations.

"I enjoy it" tends to be true among those who play a game like basketball for exercise.

"I like the way it makes me feel" and "It's a good way for me to burn off steam" and "I'm addicted to the endorphins" all express essentially the same, very real reaction that most get to exercise.

Statements like, "I have a bet with another guy at the office about who can lose more weight," or, "I want to beat my wife at a 10k" are usually true, and don't try to hide anything.

"I hate being this skinny" and "I hate being this fat," are exceptionally honest.

Few people will tell you, "It allows me to indulge in the fantasy that I'm younger than I am." But, with ex-jocks, that's often part of the equation.

Nobody ever says, "It improves my sex life." That would be true on two levels: it improves your appearance, and it improves the blood flow to your genitals. (If a guy ever tells you, "I exercise because it gives me better boners," you've met a truly honest man....and, maybe, someone with Aspergers.)

Of course, it's always tacitly assumed that you're at the gym at least partly for your sex life.

Some guys will actually admit to something along the lines of, "I like looking at the babes here," or, "This is a good place to meet women."

The real perverts -- men who do Pilates or yoga or take some other class filled mostly with women -- never admit to that. They'll always tell you they do it because they like that form of exercise. And the longer they go on about how and why they like that exercise, the bigger liars they are. (Not in every single case, but almost always.)

An earlier post described how you can tell practically everything about someone's personality from the way they work out. You can make a similar judgment from someone's explanation as to why he works out.


purpletigerbot said...

What about those people who work out to lift more. Just insane?

John Craig said...

Purpletigerbot --
No, it's always good to have a goal. I'm actually one of those people too, even though I don't lift much. Actually, in a post titled "What a man should be," from 2011, I suggested that a man should always have some sort of physical goal in his life:

Having something to keep you motivated would go under the "sanity" category, I guess. Though taking satisfaction from an accomplishment would have to go under the vanity category. So I guess that fits both.

Steven said...

For me,

push ups: vanity and to gain actual strength.

Swimming: enjoyment, something to do, good way to relax and the endorphins. The hot women in bikinis are a bonus.

I think guys lift to increase their status, to be more attractive to women and more respected by men. And just plain vanity.

If I ever do it, I'll be happy to get bigger but I will focus on strength gain rather than size gain and I'd never take steroids.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I can't quite divide up the exercises like that. Push-ups and heavy lifting and swimming all sculpt your body in different ways (say, being cut vs. having long muscles vs. having bulging muscles), and all three appeal to one's vanity in slightly different ways. And actually, all three of them get the endorphins going, too. And all three can make you more attractive to women.

I don't know if I can categorically say I'd never take steroids. If I'm 75 and my testosterone levels have dropped precipitously and I'm getting feeble and a doctor says he'll give me a prescription for some relatively safe testosterone pills, well, I'd probably do it. All I can say with complete assurance is that I haven't taken any yet. (And I've gotten the distinct impression that some of the older competitors in both masters swimming and masters track have gone on TRT.

Steven said...

I suppose if I was that old and the doctor prescribed it then I would but not to become jacked.

I divided it up like that because I don't enjoy push ups at all, I just want the effects whereas I swim because I like swimming. I don't even do it often or intensively enough to make any difference to my muscles.

I guess it feels like I'm doing something positive when I'm on a push ups kick so it does fall into sanity that way but definitely not enjoyment. They are a pain.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Push ups are good for you, they improve your strength and endurance, and work more muscle groups than, say, bench press does. Also, all exercise, if you do it hard enough, is painful, but the "sanity" aspect comes afterward, after you stop, when you have that totally warmed up, relaxed feeling, when the blood is flowing, and you're in a good mood because the endorphins are flowing.

Anonymous said...

The age factor matters. When I was younger, vanity was 97% of the reason I exercised. Now it's down to 95%.

Joking - I'd say it really is 50/50 now. Blood sugars, bone health, etc. It's important to me. The old people I know who exercise have better quality of life.

I quit smoking because of health, 100%. It's true smoking ages you before your years but that had zilch to do with it, John. I saw relatives die of smoking and I told myself to quit and I did. Smoking related deaths are horrible.

Puzzled and Stuff With Thanksgiving Desserts

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Good to hear from you. Yes, old people who keep moving seem less old than those who don't.

You used to smoke?

The problem with Thanksgiving is that it's supposed to be a big feast to begin with, and then everybody feels obliged to have a couple desserts on hand, and you have to try all of them, and then, yeah, it's an unpleasant feeling being stuffed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I used to smoke. You ask the question as if you're surprised. A lot of people smoke when they're young to be be cool. I see that all the time, even now.


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Yeah, but you're smart, and smart people are less likely to smoke. So, yes, I'm surprised.

I have to admit, I smoked marijuana in 10th grade in order to be cool, though I stopped doing that after a few months.