It’s natural to want to improve one’s appearance. But don’t be held prisoner by your looks.
Perhaps no other civilisation has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Greece. Its appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society was unparalleled in history. The Greeks believed that development of the body was as important as that of the mind. Physical well being was necessary for mental well being. Many medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Greece, including the likes of Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen.
Historically the human race has always admired physical beauty. We have tried to achieve it in many ways. Besides improving one’s physique, we are always coming up with newer ways to “look” better through beauty treatments, implants, cosmetic surgery, make-up…
It is quite natural, therefore, to want to improve one’s appearance or, at least, make the best of it. Look better; take better care of skin, hair and body. However, I am not sure that focussing on physical beauty alone will take one very far in any aspect of life including the happiness quotient. It fact it can be quite stressful to be a prisoner to one’s looks, whether by trying to build your body in a gym or doing makeovers in a parlour.
The question is: are we really better? Does improving one’s looks and body actually make for a better person? It may improve confidence levels that, in turn, create a happier or more productive person. It may improve career prospects. It has even been found (though it seems unfair) that people respond more favourably to good-looking people, thereby making for a more positive life experience.
The physical aspect should be just one part of the whole picture. (There are exceptions, of course, for professionals whose careers hinge on their physical appearance. Their approach would certainly have to be more focussed on the physical in order to be successful).
There is no doubt that most people dream of physical perfection or at least what they perceive as perfection and beauty. This is more prevalent today with media focus on physical beauty. One has to, however, use one’s intelligence even while attempting to improve physical appearance. Most people who start exercising do so with a single goal in mind: to lose weight. Fair enough. You have been told that weight matters and warned repeatedly about the hazards of being overweight. More importantly, I suspect it is the search for physical beauty that one sees as the end result of losing weight. But here’s the thing.
First, there is no guarantee that losing weight alone will make you beautiful. Second, we know that weight loss by dubious means (starvation diets being the most common) certainly don’t leave behind a pretty picture. You wind up looking gaunt and unhealthy; your skin, hair and nails suffer, you feel irritable and unhappy while on extremely restricted diets; you don’t function well and certainly cannot be productive. You could even develop nutritional deficiencies. A deficiency of vitamin B 12 for instance (found most commonly in meats, whole milk and fermented food) could be disastrous for the brain and nervous system and could lead to depression and fatigue, even mania and psychosis. A deficiency of iron (found in red meat, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, seeds, nuts, pulses), which is required for the oxygenation of the muscles and important organs, can cause extreme fatigue, depression, sleepiness, breathlessness, inability to exercise and more.
Another problem with bizarre diets that promise weight loss is: how long can it be sustained? And what happens when you stop? Eating unrealistic restricted diets is not only foolish but also bad for your health. Eating a balanced diet with all the necessary nutrients, however, is sustainable and, in the long term, shows better (though slower) results.
Dieting, therefore, has to be done with care and cleverness. Training your body to eat the right foods in the right quantities is important. It is not something that can be achieved overnight. It takes time and effort. Making small changes slowly makes it more sustainable. For instance, the simple act of cutting out the butter from your bread every morning will save you approximately 75 calories a day. This may seem like nothing but, in the long haul, it is a big deal.
Aspire to improve your appearance by all means. Train to get a better body, visit the parlour to get that cutting edge haircut, wear the right clothes to look great and feel good… It’s up to you. Stimulating the mind, nurturing a relationship, caring for friendships, growing a career, harbouring and exploring a passion, indulging in a hobby, travelling, learning a new skill, going beyond your comfort zone interacting with people from different walks of life to gain an understanding of a bigger picture than your own circle of existence… these are also important stimulants that add meaning to life.
Spend some valuable time on improving the self along the way. The world has much to offer. Physical fitness can help us experience and participate in life more fully. Let it be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Respecting our body, treating it well, nourishing it and exercising it properly pays its own dividends. It instils discipline, creates body awareness and improves body intelligence and self-confidence. It helps you value yourself more and live more thoughtfully and graciously.