It had been a hot summer, and today was no different. I could feel the sweat sliding down my stomach as I walked, heading south along Yonge street towards my client's condo. The huge buildings seemed to cradle the heat in the mass of concrete and steel, but a cool breeze that somehow managed to sweep past the man made towers helped make the walk bearable. My sunglasses had snapped apart a day earlier, forcing me to squint at the people traveling the sidewalks and the ones relaxing on the various patios that lined the street.
The past three days had been interesting, if not exhausting, as I'd waded through the large and emotional reaction my last article had generated. I'd thought it blunt, to be sure, but the anger had been visceral. Triggering an emotional response was usually a good thing for a writer, as it usually meant that you'd managed to engage your readers, but this time I wasn't sure. Twenty five hundred words was not enough space to include everything (you really needed something book length) about a topic like finding a partner. It had been written as a guide for singles, but I found a great deal of the responses coming from married and divorced women with children. I still wasn't sure what to do with that.
Up ahead, I noticed a couple of university age girls crossing the street. They were both slim, with long dark hair. The one on the left was wearing pink booty shorts cut so high that there wasn't much left to the imagination. Her t-shirt was rolled up and pulled tight. Her friend was wearing white corduroy shorts, also rolled up into her cheeks, and a black, low cut shirt with a V-neck scoop that almost went to her navel. They were laughing as they walked, seemingly oblivious to people around them. They passed through the Starbucks patio on the corner, walking between the packed tables. I watched the men as the girls strolled past, and without exception they all looked (one of the guys was not so subtle and simply stared at them) at the girls. Everyone noticed them, I thought. Like they were merchants with goods. Or female versions of Matthew McConaughey. I thought too about my article, and how many women found a man's analysis always tinged with either boorishness ("Oooh… those young women… soooo hot!")or disingenuous protestations that they preferred modesty ("I saw them, but I was disgusted. They should cover up.") I figured they were probably right. And since I'd mentioned in my article that my wife was a very fit size 2, a number of the people who'd read it had taken offense to my seemingly shallow capitulation. (Steve must be the boorish one!)
The idea of someone being fit as being more attractive to the opposite sex is not exactly a breakthrough in thermonuclear physics. However, getting fit solely to attract a partner isn't healthy. When I was a young Fundamentalist zealot, I would have looked at those girls, enjoyed the view, and then buried those feelings in dark, self-righteous comments about how "women should be modest" and "women shouldn't act so sleazy." As some of you who have read the comments from the previous article would know, back then I was hyper about my girlfriend being fit (who did the right thing by um, releasing me, and marrying a great guy who had the guy-girl thing better figured than I did at the time), and also about controlling what she wore. And that, I think, is one of the dark sides of not only the fitness industry, but culturally as well. When we (read:men) regard our partners as sex objects designed for our fulfillment.
Fitness should be used primarily as a tool to lift up someone's sense of well being. Unfortunately, under the dishonest gaze of most religions, fitness and sexuality are inevitably linked, and it's always destructive. Some cultures require women to wear a robe (e.g. a burka) that covers their entire body, or states that a woman can not, for example, swim with men. The woman is akin to the serpent. She is the temptation. Men are pure, but are tempted by women, who CAUSE them to sin. This is patriarchal garbage, on any level, and I refuse to accept as valid any religion or culture who so demeans half of humanity. Women should wear what they want. So should men. And as soon as we say, well, "she was advertising sex" we might as well drape a robe over her body. We are just as guilty as those in the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and or other places around the world that refuse to acknowledge basic human rights. That said, while fitness is needed to attract people of the opposite sex, it cannot be the primary tool of attraction. As soon as a woman has to, essentially, sell her body to find a partner, she ends up in a relationship that promises to be one sided.
Elizabeth Eaves, a journalist and former stripper, documented in her memoir, Bare, that she learned at a very early age that she could control men's reactions by what she wore. Loose baggy clothes when she wanted to be unseen. Tighter clothes and more skin if she wanted or needed to be noticed. However, she could never trust men because she felt like they were simply responding to her sexuality. (That she worked as a stripper only heightened that revelation.) Being fit is not solely about sexuality. It plays a role, because biologically, the more muscle you have the more testosterone your body produces. (And yes, that's true in both men and women) But sexuality is, in my mind, a minor role, although fitness magazines use it FAR too often to sell their products.
Being fit is about being whole, about not separating our 'flesh' from our 'soul'. Who we are on the inside is partly reflected by what others see, and partly by what they hear. And when fitness is directed towards ourselves, towards who we are and who we want to be, it is healthy and attractive. When it is directed outwardly, it becomes a product, something we sell or use to acquire things, and it becomes unhealthy.
It is a difficult line to walk, but I refuse to back down from this idea that to celebrate fitness is to celebrate boorishness or sleaziness. We may not like the fact that our fitness level matters to people of the opposite sex, but it does, and whether that is evolutionary or cultural should make no difference, because that's not what a healthy idea of fitness represents anyway. Just remember that taking care of what we look like is still about us, about figuring out who we are and what we want, and about honouring what God has blessed us with. How we do that is up to us, and while others will see the difference, I think you'll find that the biggest change will not be in how you look or in how others perceive you, but how you feel about yourself. Single or not, that's something we should all be working towards.
AUTHOUR'S NOTE: I hadn't intended on writing a follow up to the past article, but felt the response somewhat demanded some clarification. I am working on the next 'original' article, The One Myth that will Destroy Your Relationship. Hopefully I'll have it up in a couple of days. Thanks everyone.