When a Person with Visible Abs Says Visible Abs are Meaningless

I HATE fitspo images of headless female torsos. So why did I use a picture of my headless torso for this blog post? Because ti gets people's attention. And when you get someone's attention, they click. And when they click, they read. And when they read, ideas take root. And change begins.

I HATE fitspo images of headless female torsos. They are dehumanizing and objectifying. So why did I use a picture of my headless torso for this blog post? Because it gets peoples’ attention. And when you get someone’s attention, they click. And when they click, they read. And when they read, ideas take root. And change begins.

prag·ma·tism

noun \ˈprag-mə-ˌti-zəm\

: a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories

Source: merriam-webster.com

On a fundamental level, I approach problems from a practical standpoint. What is the shortest and most efficient route to a solution?

A few years ago, I recognized that there is a problem with our fitness and diet culture. It is mired in disorder. It’s central tenet is that diet and fitness are a means to an aesthetic ideal. Quality of life, health and self esteem are not primary, and rarely even secondary foci. This is wrong. But it is the culture in which my children are growing up. I need to change it.

Another thing I recognized early on is that my appearance afforded me an opportunity to reach more people. This is a frustrating reality for me. I want people to focus on things other than appearance, but my appearance is often the reason people notice and pay attention to me. My appearance affords me a platform I may not otherwise have, but I want to use that platform to promote a non-appearance-based message.

Rather than focus on the frustrating dichotomy, I decided to use it. This is pragmatism.

Some people like my message but really don’t like that I am the one spreading it. They don’t like that I promote self-acceptance but have a socially sanctioned body type. They don’t like that I say visible abs are meaningless, but I have visible abs. They think that I am a hypocrite when I say ‘love yourself’ after I changed my appearance through weight loss. They get mad that my statements about the uselessness of BMI standards went viral, when others who have been saying it for years have gone unnoticed (in fairness, I’ve been saying it for years too).

You know something? I don’t really like it either. I would like these ideas and the people speaking so eloquently about them to get more mainstream media attention. I don’t like that it takes a culturally approved appearance to get these ideas recognized. But, I recognize that this is the reality we live in right now.

My pragmatic world view says: if this is what it takes to get these concepts out there into mainstream consciousness, then I will work with that. And when I get noticed, I will promote others who have been saying these things. And slowly, over time, we will see the tide begin to turn. I see it happening already. These ideas ARE taking root. And as they spread, more and more voices will be heard. And that is a good thing. Change is the goal.

So I am the one with visible abs saying visible abs are bullshit. I am the fit-looking person saying you don’t have to look fit to be healthy or valuable. I am the one who lost weight saying your weight does NOT determine your worth. That is the role I play in this culture shift. I am ok with that, because reality. Getting from where we are to where we want to be is gonna take a lot of creativity, open-mindedness and compassion.

And I know some people are still not going to like me, and call me arrogant and hypocritical. I’m going to keep fighting for the world my daughters are growing up in, though. Because THEY are the reason I do what I do, they are my motivation. They deserve a world in which their appearance doesn’t define their worth. And I see the practical utility of my appearance. It is a tool, and I will use it.

19 thoughts on “When a Person with Visible Abs Says Visible Abs are Meaningless

  1. It’s a tough message, but I understand what you’re trying to say and I love reading your blog because you explain why our culture is so obsessed with weight. I feel like every female I meet HAS to talk about how they need to lose weight, how horrible they look, or what new diet they’re trying out. I’m totally sick of it. When someone skinnier than me is complaining about how they look, it gives a message to me and others that they’re not happy, we shouldn’t be happy either. Keep up the good work!

  2. I just think of you as someone who is using her powers for good instead of evil. And I’m really glad that you continue to spread this message.

  3. Hey Amber, I love your blog and what you are doing. However, I’m not sure I really understand this concept, especially this part:

    ”I would like these ideas and the people speaking so eloquently about them to get more mainstream media attention. I don’t like that it takes a culturally approved appearance to get these ideas recognized. But, I recognize that this is the reality we live in right now. My pragmatic world view says: if this is what it takes to get these concepts out there into mainstream consciousness, then I will work with that.”

    Isn’t this similar to changing your body to fit society’s standards of beauty, because this is the reality we live in right now that bodies play a huge part in how a person is perceived? Ie., ”if this is what it takes to get people to like me, then I will do that”?

    • Yes, it is like that. And some people don’t like me because of it. But some people (a lot of people, actually) are able to see past the physical and hear what I’m saying. 🙂

  4. I never really notice how other people look, I just concern myself with myself. Probably cause I’m getting old.

    Either the message is worth listening to or it isn’t, has nothing to do with the appearance of the messenger. If someone advocates doing a 7 day water cleanse he or she could be the most beautiful person to ever exist, it’s still a ridiculous message, as is putting half a stick of butter in my morning coffee (unless you are really into hot buttered coffee, different strokes …).

  5. Your message is right on. You may have changed the way you look but you have not changed the way you think. You did what you did for yourself and not to be recognized. That is the message. You are awesome.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

    • “You did what you did for yourself and not to be recognized.” It’s true! I didn’t start my blog until after I’d made these realizations. I have something to say…and a platform to say it on.

  6. Another awesome post! You say what I think so much more eloquently than I ever could, so thank you! The way I see it is that you work hard and nurture your body and your appearance is the natural consequence of that work, for YOU. Others could live exactly your life style and their bodies will look different, and the point is that how their bodies choose to look as a result of that nurturing is inconsequential, or should be. I’ve been on a mission for a lower body fat percentage for ages now, but – reality check – I’m pretty damn happy at 27% body fat, with my current fitness levels and my persistent little pot belly. It’s all good – after losing just over 60 pounds my body loves me now and I love it 🙂 Today. Tomorrow might be a different story 😉

  7. Great post! Of course, the flip side is also true. If you didn’t have visible abs and said that visible abs don’t mater, I am sure idiots would say that you were just envious and/or you didn’t know what you were talking about. It amazes me how dogmatic people can be about diet and fitness issues.

    As far as I can tell, you changed the way you look because you are happier with the way you look now. I always appreciate your sensible viewpoint!

    • Yep. It’s hard to accuse someone of ‘making excuses for being fat’ when they’re not fat – and in fact are visibly fit. That’s what people do, they dismiss body acceptance rhetoric as excuse making. It’s fucking lame, but it’s reality.

      My appearance is actually a case of form following function. I exercise and eat the way I do because it makes me feel better and impoves my health. The aesthetic effects are a side effect. 🙂

    • Being a psychological professional who has specialized with food and weight issues for the last 25 years, I’m LOVING that this type of dialogue is happening! I should ad that the type of perspective you put forth is a bit of a tight rope from where I sit, but one that you walk nicely. The conventional focus on “eat less and exercise” more has created the diet yo-yo and no lasting results to show for it. The cultural focus on appearance has created a multitude of psychological and emotional deficits. It cannot be said enough that our value lies not in what we look like or what we do, but in who we are. It’s also not arrogant to revel in our own value, as long as it comes from a place of humility and we don’t think we’re better than anyone else. Thanks for being the advocate that you are. Our culture needs A LOT of this kind of message.

  8. YEESSS!!!! I don’t think you need to justify yourself to anyone, BUT I’m glad that you did because this issue gets raised a lot. We need as many voices as we can in the body positivity movement and using what you have to achieve a greater reach is commendable. Your daughters should be so proud.

  9. I love your level-headed advice and ruminations.

    It’s wonderful to see someone who has a culturally approved appearance acknowledge the priviledge that comes with it.

    It’s hard to negotiate the looks-based oppression of our society (especially as a woman). No woman is spared, though. Some things can be easier (e.g. people paying more attention to your words) if you are visibly fit, but looks based judgements continue, nonetheless.

    Each woman has to choose her own path on how best to deal with it, since the opression affects each differently. Thanks for sharing how you’ve decided to navigate these waters! And giving us the benefit of your perspective.

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