Years ago I started researching and writing about the concept of ‘Body Capital’. Elle magazine Sweden invited me to talk about this concept and asked some very interesting questions. This is part 1 of a series on ‘Body Capital’
A Work in Progress
Our bodies continue to be a focus of investment, viewed as a form of capital. This is an area of life that we can increasingly control and we see our Body Capital as a way to secure the right job or partner, or just signal success, energy and motivation. Smart Technology has added a new dimension, as it allows us to monitor and self diagnose aspects of our heath and performance. It is not just about ‘tracking progress’, but sharing it across networks – adding a competitive and status element. Even on social media, ‘visual status’ has become inextricably linked to personal branding.
Tracing Body Capital
The evolution of ‘body capital’ is rooted in our survival instinct and can be traced back through history. Physical appearance has always been an important form of capital and status. However, what constitutes beauty has changed greatly over time – especially for women. It was probably first linked to actual physical fitness in ancient Greece, where it became a matter of great concern for men. Where the more ephemeral concept of attractiveness was the female domain, linking beauty to athletic ideals was masculine. These ideals occur often in Greek statues and iconography, rooted also in the Persian Empire, where the main purpose for men was to be fit to fight battles.
Contemporary Beauty Ideals
Contemporary beauty and body ideals really started in the 1960s, when JFK promoted fitness in the US. This exploded in the 1970s, when jogging took off. By the 1980s, fitness had become linked to status, with the arrival of the exercise class and the celebrity fitness guru – Jane Fonda’s first workout video appeared in 1982. During the same decade, we also started to see an increase in sedentary lifestyles among white-collar workers and we were introduced to the undernourished ‘social x-ray’, described in Tom Wolfe’s celebrated 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities.
Thus, physical fitness became a way to signal alpha status with extreme (self) control and success being the core message. In tangent, another kind of consumer excess meant that oversized meals and a ‘don’t hold back’ culture took hold, leading to the US obesity levels we see today. In the 1990s, ‘fat fighting’ became the norm and size zero was introduced – alongside the concept of heroin chic on the catwalk. While the unkempt look and dark under-eye circles have long gone, thin to the extreme remains the female ideal.
Just Call it ‘Fat’
Today, we fight food whereas not too long ago it was a struggle to get enough of it. Once a cultural marker of leisured lifestyles, today being overweight is inextricably linked to low social status. It is also an issue that we have to address honestly. A friend, who is a fitness trainer has said: “Just call it fat – there is no away around it’. Recent research published in BMC Public Health states that the weight gain – mainly here in the west – will be equivalent to putting an extra billion people on the planet if numbers are replicated globally. So being fat is no longer just a matter of our individual health, but that of our planet. However, signs are that our benchmarks are now starting to shift from unhealthy skinny to a more balanced ideal. As my fitness trainer friend has put it: “You don’t want to be Nancy Reagan thin – you want to be athletic.”
* The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
* Global Weight Gain More Damaging Than Rising Numbers >>