Saturday, December 14, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 19-Membership in a Supportive Fitness Community

Training BJJ has brought me into contact with a community that I was pretty sheltered from for a very long time--the fitness community. I won't hasn't really been a positive exposure. Of course, there's an emphasis on physical health, and that's important, but in all honesty, what I've seen is a culture that focuses on a very narrow aesthetic and encourages a level of personal self interest that reminds me too much of executive/acquisition culture.

I'll admit that I could have been biased as an outsider, or just misunderstood what was being paraded in front of my face, however, considering the frequency with which I see the terms "hater" and accusations of jealousy or unattractiveness tossed about...I'm thinking I wasn't 100% wrong to question the motives of some of the voices I'd heard. I was reminded of this during the recent hullabaloo over the two new mom photos that have been flying 'round the 'net over the past few weeks.  

I honestly only have beef with the situation connected with the photo on the right, and that's only because of the words chosen to go with the image. It was an interesting debate to watch...supporters praising Maria Kang's physique (which is admirable), detractors condemning the wording. Watching the two groups talk past each other day after day, something hit me...motivation is about as varied as body types and people either don't, or don't want to get (and implement) that. What one person sees as a motivational "What's your excuse?" another will see as condemnation. Not too difficult to apply one on one...negligent to ignore when posting in open forums like the internet.

I wrote on how much I dislike this type of "motivation" a while back. I loathe pretty much all inspiration porn...I have yet to run into anything with the wording "what's your excuse?" that didn't make my skin crawl over its crass and lazy over-simplification. The image below and the story of Oscar Pistorius is a great example.

Phillipa Willits said something about the photo that I think is highly applicable to the image of Maria Kang regarding oversimplification of the subject and hamfisting of the audience. I switched out a couple of phrases to see what difference it would make in context.

 It does not matter who the people in these photographs are, as long as their representation is enough to guilt non-disabled (aesthetically unappealing) people into action. Their use of prosthetics (having given birth) is the only thing about them that is of interest in these images, and it automatically turns them into some kind of superhero. Along with the captions, the implication is supposed to be, “Wow, they have a great attitude!”.

Having children isn't a disability, but based on the amount of discussion from new mothers on how they work to reclaim their previous physiques and how much raving has gone on over these two new moms, I'm going to go ahead and accept that we expect a certain level of aesthetic loss to come with motherhood, and that the two moms-in-question, have bucked the stereotype and "risen above" post-pregnancy bodies with their determination and lack of excuses. The difference in this case though, is that the losing party is not represented in the image, but instead embodied in the audiece...Shark Girl pointed this out well:

"Not only does it reduce a person to their disability, it also doesn't address the target audience's reality."

The whole thing makes me deeply thankful for BJJ (and the people in it), which still boasts an over-arching culture that is genuinely for everybody. That's not an easy thing to keep up. BJJ somehow maintains an environment that praises gas over defined abs, technique over body-fat% and personal progress over standardized end results. Of course there are bad apples, but I say this as a person who will likely always feel at least a little unathletic...even when I've felt my most uncoordinated and out of shape, I've always felt an undercurrent of acceptance in my training. Part of that is due to our bulky uniforms (gis are some serious body equalizers), but the most important reason is the willingness of most practitioners to take people where they are, and help them to through their goals. That environment right there, I believe, is the foundation of spreading a meaningful culture of fitness. When I start eating badly, all it takes is a night of training and spending time around other people who are also working to optimize themselves to motivate (not inspire...I'm not a very aspirational person) me to do better.

Some people, I honestly think most people, especially ones who don't have a history of being concerned about their physical health, need a community that will allow them to come as they are, fail when they do and not be condemned for either...not even under the guise of motivation.


LadyJ said...

Do you think that jerks shy away from BJJ because of the supportive environment? Is that something you've experienced just at your gym or elsewhere?

Megan said...

Honestly, I think BJJ is low on jerks because it shreds pretty much everyone's ego. Regardless of how young or athletic someone is, they're just not going to start out as good...the most basic movements can make star athletes look like idiots--babies aside, most people just suck at moving around on the ground.

And for women, the idea of "sexy" is just turned on its head. Nobody looks traditionally hot in a gi, or with chunks of their hair torn out, or with mangled hands and feet. Even when someone has an amazing body, it's usually confined by what we're wearing (I've seen more of Maria Kang's stomach than any of my female teammates), so even the body-comparison issues that other activities deal with are different in BJJ.

...and yay for new blogger buddies!!

LadyJ said...

Hmm. We need some gis in triathlon.