Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Oct

A Primal Take on Body Image

Even with the close of the Primal Challenge and its final week of reader content, I still have all those great successes on my mind. Whether in photos, videos, or description, it’s incredible to see people enjoying health and feeling great in their own skin. This got me thinking about body image. It’s a loaded subject in our society. Occasionally, it’s a loaded subject even on MDA’s comment boards or forum. As much as we’d like to edit out the less complimentary, even judgmental threads of discussion, to tuck away the uncomfortable conversations, I’m not sure that’s entirely right. This blog encompasses everything about pursuing vitality and living healthily in this world. That includes the sometimes thorny topic of body image – both as personal experience and cultural backdrop.

Like anything in our world, no issue is immune from controversy, tension, or just plain difference of opinion. My one hope of course – and I know many of you share this – is that we speak with respect to one another, owning our opinions as solely our own, recognizing that we all come to our Primal pursuits with varying experiences and interests. We start from different places. We meet our own challenges along the way. We work toward individually determined goals that – while commonly embracing ideals of good health and vitality – may diverge from there.

These goals of course reflect what we want for our lives but also for our bodies. We may begin the journey wanting to lose weight. We want to get strong. We want to be able to spend a full afternoon hiking with our dog or run our community 10K. We want to be able to chop this winter’s firewood and still have enough energy for a bike ride later. We want to gain entry into the world of competitive body building or other sports. (Maybe we’re part of it already.) We want to kick a lifestyle disease to the curb. We want to show off a six-pack or rock a new bikini.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on vanity – a response to a cheering reader onslaught (who knew?) after I casually listed LGN (“looking good naked”) as one more reason to go Primal. Since then the phrase has kind of taken on a life of its own. I stand by that rationale. Nonetheless, I want to go on the record saying that this isn’t some interest in promoting artistry- and computer-enhanced magazine type representations. (Guess what – we all look better backlit. Keep that in mind next time you’re redecorating the bedroom.) Besides, has anyone looked at a J.Crew catalog lately? (No, I don’t shop there.) Someone please give these young men and women a t-bone steak.

A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times ran a feature about Gym Jones called “The Cult of Physicality.”

Some of you may have heard of the club. As the article reveals, Gym Jones has been the makeover mecca to many a Hollywood star, including Gerard Butler, Henry Cavill, Jude Law, and an undisclosed number of Navy Seals. The manager, Robert MacDonald (a.k.a. Maximus) runs a tight ship and makes no bones about the awesome demands of the program. Any of us who have even seen his clients in a passing commercial or magazine ad can believe the results. The fact is, with massively rigorous training, people can do pretty astounding things with their physiques. (Of course it helps when they’re getting paid millions of dollars to do it.)

While a lucky few of us can achieve looks like those without entirely super human efforts, most of us would find ourselves giving up unreasonable amounts of time, energy, and focus to achieve and continually maintain them. The result would be too costly without serious passion for the form itself – whether it be for athletic or aesthetic interest.

The beauty of going Primal for most people is the great return on time investment – the incredible results they get with relatively modest effort but also the extra energy they gain, the better sleep they get – all of which makes their lives easier and in some ways more efficient. They have more time and energy for what they enjoy doing and the people they enjoy doing it with. Flipping the logic on that proposition isn’t a deal most people are interested in. And they don’t need to be. But if they are, that’s cool too.

For me, a Primal take on body image naturally revolves less around appearances and more around utility. From an ancestral point of view, utility was the originally intended source for selection interests. Certain appearances, yes, suggested a level of health or “fitness,” but they weren’t the final arbiter: function itself was. There’s nothing more real than picking up a tree stump, hunting down your meal, hurling a rock, carrying a child, building a home. Want body love? How about loving what your body has accomplished and what you can do today?

I think people who have been through serious illnesses or other life changing physical events may get this in a exceptionally poignant way. I know, for example, plenty of women who have had children and said it entirely changed their thinking. It makes you stand in awe of your body in a new way, I believe. You recognize your body as a force of its own rather than just a canvas for your own inclinations. Whether it’s licking diabetes, bearing and caring for children, recovering from severe injury, or working off major weight, these accomplishments should absolutely help define one’s body image.

Body image isn’t some static declaration about what you see in the mirror any more than a body is a two-dimensional still representation. Bodies move and do. They work. They lift, run, build, have sex, nurture, toil, and create. Body image, then, should encompass our full relationship with our bodies. Everything we do and accomplish with our bodies should enrich our image of them. Some of us add steps to pursue demanding sports or fitness standards because – well, we love it. No further justification needed.

That’s what I love about the ancestral framework of the Primal Blueprint. It’s all about a rich, vigorous, and genuine life. It’s about respect for action – for true, useful, and pleasurable utility. Here’s my endpoint. Primal takes back body image from the modern precipice of insubstantiality and unapologetically re-roots it in the world of authentic vitality and dynamic living. I say work it.

What’s your Primal take on body image? Let me know your thoughts, and thanks for reading, everybody.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This article hits home Mark!
    I’ve ridden the the CW rollercoaster in the past, dropping 125lbs only to gain half of it back. While I have changed my lifestyle to primal, many of those CW idioms stick in my head. I’ve been increasing upset on dating sites as of late. As a bigger girl with much to loose (and actually working on it) I constantly feel out numbered by the skinny college girls that have been that way there whole life and the boys that chase them.
    It’s dawned on me that I really have to get back to loving myself and body, no matter what my size.

    Holly H. wrote on October 13th, 2011
  2. lower! Lower! Lower!

    dasbutch wrote on October 13th, 2011
  3. I think with age comes wisdom and as we age the goal becomes more health oriented than looks; not that LGN isn’t a good thing it just becomes less important.

    The PB lifestyle change has been the best thing that has happened to me and my health. Finally, I can eat the food I love to eat without guilt (I was starving on WW)and my body is changing, the fat around the middle is slowly going away and the scale is showing weight loss. I am stronger and for the first time in my adult life (age 55, female) I can do 10 men’s pushups. For me the change is for my health, I am not going to be another overweight American taking prescription medications because I’m too lazy to make the changes that need to be made. I love PB and am happy looking ok in a one piece.

    Terri wrote on October 13th, 2011
  4. After being an undiagnosed celiac for 38 years, and having a long hard recovery, I cannot say that my body is svelte…or even lean – autoimmune diseases are the devil, and tend to run together – thyroid issues have prevented me from losing as much weight as I would like, however, I am pretty sure that the primal blueprint diet is responsible for me still being alive and able to type this comment – I am still very much a work in progress and hopefully will continue to get better :)

    Lahoma wrote on October 13th, 2011
  5. Being 51 I can definitely say that LGN is achievable, possible, inevitable…just take the time to retrain the body and the mind will appreciate the change, incidentally LGN is all in your own mind. For that I think you need to take the time to notice how this Primal lifestyle affects a lot more than how you look. How does it feel to be able to do 100 push ups, pull ups, cycle that 100ks…awesome….look yourself in the eye and appreciate what you see..not focus on the wrinkle or grey…

    BT wrote on October 13th, 2011
  6. “That’s what I love about the ancestral framework of the Primal Blueprint. It’s all about a rich, vigorous, and genuine life. It’s about respect for action – for true, useful, and pleasurable utility.”

    Samantha Moore wrote on October 13th, 2011
  7. Right up my alley. If it weren’t for vanity, I can’t imagine how unhealthy I’d be! hahahahahah!!
    Thank you vanity.

    Clint White wrote on October 13th, 2011
  8. Love this post today. I was just noticing some changes in my body (abdominal area specifically) today. I’ve a long way to go to LGN, but it will eventually come!

    BeccainSC wrote on October 13th, 2011
  9. I am not so obsessed with body image anymore at all.
    I am obsessed with Nutrition!
    Everything I buy I inspect with a microscope before making the final purchase.
    I don’t waste good money on crap anymore, things I don’t need and foods that literally kill.
    I rather carry around 5-10 extra pounds that I know is pure nutrition storage, because of what I ate, than weighing in 5lbs under with 5% body fat knowing that if I do intermittent fasting I will lose bone because there is nothing to fall back on.
    Screw this ideal image obsession, I’ve said good-bye to it the day I discovered the Primal Blueprint.

    (p.s. lost 20 lbs though not even trying :-) )

    Arty wrote on October 13th, 2011
  10. God didn’t create us to be skinny – He created us to be healthy.

    Most women lose their period at too low of a weight – points to the fact that our bodies know what’s healthy.

    Meagan wrote on October 13th, 2011
  11. Health = Beauty

    Emily Mekeel wrote on October 13th, 2011
  12. Mark, This isn’t really about body image, but the images you post of yourself have a common feature that bothers me.

    I’m a physical therapist, an expert in human movement and posture. Each of your photos shows well developed and contracted abs. This has the effect of depressing your rib cage and pulling your shoulders forward.

    I don’t know if the camera just catches you this way, or if you walk around like this. If the latter, it’s not optimal and could potentially lead the various chronic pain conditions.

    Just wanted to let you know,
    Chris Johnson DPT

    Chris Johnson wrote on October 13th, 2011
  13. Looking Good Naked is much more about feeling confident and healthy in one’s own skin than the cultural definition of “sexy” or “healthy”. Maybe you should modify it to be FEELING Good Naked. A lot of your readers are young, but those of us marking a half century can feel great about being naked even if we don’t have Sisson abs! 😉

    Frankly, I believe age is far more attractive than youth only because youth is all about young, taut, tight skin (all looking so much the same to me) where maturity brings wrinkles, ridges, and unique character of looks, expressions and ,more importantly, personality and humor. I always think of Ernest Borgnine – not a true beauty, but MAN – what character! Beauty IS skin deep.

    How discriminatory is the world? How discriminatory can the “paleo” world be? If you see an overweight person, do you pre-judge them? Are they eating the wrong food? Are they lazy and morally inferior? How do you know if they aren’t on the down side of their peak and have lost the kind of weight you couldn’t even imagine! They fight tooth and nail DAILY to lose weight that those of us more genetically dispositioned for find so much easier?

    Some of us are endowed with a thin gene – some are not. Women are naturally supposed to have more fat. Knock out a few babies and see how that affects your body.

    I happen to like curves on a woman. I am so proud of my wife because she FEELS better since we changed our lifestyle. She has lost a ton of weight, but more importantly she FEELS better naked if for no more of a reason than she has the energy to be naked (and enjoy it). But still – we walk down the road (on a healthy walk) and idiots stick their heads out of the window of passing cars to heckler her for being fat. They don’t know how far she has come to be out having a long walk to be 40 pounds less than she was 15 months ago.

    But really, is our paleo community more or less accepting of those that are overweight? Are we asking the right questions or jumping to conclusions like everyone else.

    Good post!

    Be wrote on October 13th, 2011
  14. Function. Today I accompanied someone in house hunting. One house had very low beds in the bedrooms and the conversation turned to how hard it is to get into or out of bed. I sat on the side of one of the beds and showed the others that I used to “have to use my arms to push myself up high enough for my knees to be able to pick me the rest of the way up.” The realtor watched and asked if I could get up easier now. I kneeled down on the floor and sat back on my feet then raised my hands over my head and stood up effortlessly. She was amazed that I could do that and started asking questions about how I’d accomplished the change. I was happy to tell her.

    W. J. Purifoy wrote on October 13th, 2011
  15. “How about loving what your body has accomplished and what you can do today?”

    Inspiring words right there. Makes me remember swimming in the deep end as a little kid and being amazed at what my body could do, just by asking it. So maybe we should all revel in the little things more often to really appreciate what our bodies do on a daily basis. They truly are amazing.

    Bethany wrote on October 13th, 2011
  16. Great post!

    Just a thought: maybe our general community motivation to LGN as a prime motivator for many is not just our cultural stress on the value of appearance. Maybe it is in part that it is one of the only real remaining vestiges of our evolutionary selves to be sexually attractive. It is great to be able to run, jump, lift and climb in our modern lives, but it isn’t really necessary for survival anymore. What’s left? Look as sexy as somebody who could hunt a boar, carry it home, save your family from attack and carry children across the mountainside.

    Seth wrote on October 14th, 2011
  17. Thank You Mark!!

    All to often we get wrapped up in what we think we should look like, and stop focusing on who were are, how we feel and what we do!

    Personally I love my body, its amazing what it does, pregnant for the third time it never ceases to amaze me! I kicked gestational diabetes out the door and feel great!!

    I look forward to getting my “body” back later and being able to keep up with my soon to be three kids! And really my major goal being Primal is about being the best I can be for them. I want to set a good example for them!

    So whether we look thin and trim, big and muscular or whatever in between, if we are happy and healthy and loving life!!! I say Grok On!

    Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on October 14th, 2011
  18. Good article!! Alot of people dont understand that the “fit” images of today are airbrushed photoshop magazine photos. Its good to be a healthy weight and not rail skinny. I have been fighting and parkouring in combination for a while now and utility is all I focus on. Faster, stronger, longer, and the good looking mirror image follows. I keep this in mind every day when I look in the mirror: I can defend myself, I can get away, and I enjoy it.

    Joss wrote on October 14th, 2011
  19. Amen to this one, too! A REAL life, never mind an image. Sure, I want to look better, but more importantly I want to be able to DO more! And enjoy it…

    Kate (Cathy Johnson) wrote on October 14th, 2011
  20. I love this site because it gets your thinking adjusted. In this case I was just thinking this morning that I want that skinny high school volleyball player body. You know, the guys that are as skinny as greyhounds. Well I’m down from 190 to 165 lbs since getting serious with PB and thinking, “yeah it can be done”. But this article gave me the right outlook. Let your body define it’s ideal. Why should I cram it into a 150 lb body if that’s not it’s ideal? So along with eating right, I am trying to also eat the right amounts for my level of activity each day.

    As the PB motto goes, let you genes express themselves. It’ll be exciting to see what the body will finally morph into :-)

    RobG wrote on October 14th, 2011
  21. One of the sexiest men I know is my partner. He’s not a sculpted model; he’s a man who works hard in his own business every day, lifting and carrying and moving things, who also takes joy in playing, running with his dog, and hitting the gym because it’s fun to see how much iron you can haul off the floor. Has eating primal helped his body composition? Absolutely. But what it’s really allowed him to do is function better and get rid of the aches and fatigue that he was chalking up to getting older. He’s in better shape now and has more energy than a lot of guys 20 years younger. That energy, far more than his muscles, is what makes him so attractive.

    As for growing back limbs, not quite, but he did cut off the end of his finger with a saw a while ago. His doctor says that the post-reattachment healing went amazingly quickly and attributes that to a high level of overall health and the nutritional quality of the foods we eat. Primal might not regrow body parts, but it definitely helps when you mess them up really badly and need to recover from a serious injury.

    Owly wrote on October 14th, 2011
  22. OMG, this article couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m 5’3″, 129lbs and a steady 20% bf…it will not drop. I’ve been Primal/Paleo for over 3 months now (no slips ups at all – swear!!) and it is not budging ;/ It’s very frustrating when I see blogs all day long about “I’ve been Paleo for 1 WEEK and I’ve lost 10 lbs already!” I’m like, Geez, that didn;t happen to me – I went from 23% or so to 19-20%. I do Crossfit 6 times a week (I <3 it!) and I'm getting stronger every WOD! But i would think that being Full Primal would have dropped my BF to around 15% or am I missing something? It's a bit frustrating…

    Emx wrote on October 14th, 2011
    • Don’t worry about numbers and focus on how you FEEL! Anything below 14%BF is unhealthy for women because that is considered essential fat. That is why women will not menstruate properly when they are below this. And as for others seeing more results, it is most likely because they had more bad habits to change. I know this is the case for many of my personal training clients and Boot Campers I’ve trained. Best of luck with your fitness goals and your happy and fit ever after!

      Leah wrote on October 14th, 2011
      • I agree!! Women need to have fat for their hormones. Too skinny women aren’t cycling.

        Meagan wrote on October 14th, 2011
  23. A tremendous message to send. You really sum it up: Authentic Vitality. That is what is important in life, not societies’ perception of who we should be.


    Mark wrote on October 14th, 2011
  24. I’ve been primal for over 2 years. I am in the best shape of my life and think I look about as good as any 34-year-old woman who has had a child possibly could. I also feel great and am overall happy with myself. But…I’m getting breast implants in two months. It’s the one area of my body I just can’t do much about, and I figure silicone is about as primal as the Miraculous Bra from Victoria’s Secret. Only when I’m naked, there’s no bra to fix what having a baby and 18% body fat has done to my girls. 😉

    Jamie wrote on October 14th, 2011
  25. Thank you for all your great words and your positive outlook, Mark!

    Myra Marshall wrote on October 14th, 2011
  26. Has anyone’s view of what’s attractive towards the opposite sex changed after going primal? Mine sure has. It used to be the standard hourglass (“BON-kyuu-BON” as they call it here in Japan) shape. Now, strangely enough, its exactly what Mark said here, and I find myself more attracted to women who look like they can DO things and have a good amount of strength and energy. Okay, if they have the “BON-kyuu-BON”, too, I certainly don’t complain, but the girls who don’t eat much to keep that figure are less attractive to me these days.

    TokyoJarrett wrote on October 14th, 2011
  27. I always thought I looked good naked, alone in front of the mirror in that special pose that flatters all women, with soft lighting from behind. But I was a big apple. Now I am turning back into a pear, with strong legs, butt, arms and back. I think it doesn’t matter what size clothes you wear, it is the shape you have. And a smile ofcourse!

    Cat Alberts wrote on October 15th, 2011
  28. Sure, the Gym Jones guys look great and I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend that much time working on my body, but you know who I would rather be like? Mark, the unconquerable Dave and the badasses in the flickr photo stream (really though, it doesn’t get more badass than the GROK seal hanging off that truck in Iraq wearing his vibrams). Here’s what I know: I feel better eating this way, I’m leaner, I’m happier and I’m not as focused on aesthetics. That’s worth a lot to me. It has given me my life again.

    Jay wrote on October 15th, 2011
  29. Funny thing is, I’ve always felt that I looked better naked than in clothes. I have a petite, fleshy figure where most clothing tends to create lumps and bumps that aren’t really there. So I work out to look good dressed. 😀

    (If anything, it’s an even better motivator, because I can’t walk around naked most of the time.)

    Joyce wrote on October 15th, 2011
  30. There was this foraging Native tribe long ago that were super duper “metrosexual”, if you will. European settlers noted that they smelled and looked better than civilized folks. The men would also spend a majority of their time grooming and cleaning, plucking out every single body hair with clam shells.

    Wang wrote on October 16th, 2011
  31. All I can say is: YAY! MARK! for covering this topic! I noticed all kinds of comments…some still obsessed with finding something wrong with their body…THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT EMBRACING YOUR body, LET GO of the tirade of “disappointed how you look naked”…We have these beautiful bodies- they are such a gift! LOVE IT, cherish it, take care of it, have fun it in! Woo hoo! LGN is in the mind- “proud of how I care for me!” attitude!

    Sportkini Queen wrote on October 16th, 2011
  32. I am 42 and think I look as good as I ever have, and am one of those people who has always been pretty fit.

    However – I started a primal diet mostly the past year and xfit a couple months ago and am going from a pretty good looking twit to a stronger, healthier and full-of-energy twit :>)

    I find typically folks are motivated to change their body appearance via diet and exercise. If they notice results externally, they believe they are successful. Look at those J Crew models…success???

    I’ve observed some people following this lifestyle (granted, reasonably newer to it) that appear somewhat overweight BUT I bet they are much healthier than me (stronger, better endurance, better immunity to sickness and disease).

    Quality of life is my motivation. I think that naturally, the human body will form to the activities it’s exposed to and if it doesn’t look like a model in a catalog – good. I also like surrounding myself with those that can kill a hog, run it up a mountain and eat it over a fire :>)

    mototrionic wrote on October 17th, 2011
  33. The point of this article is better summed up by discussing the opposite case.

    What is the body image of the growing number of obese people in this country and world.

    In a word: Denial

    And that single word has caused so much damage (and collateral damage) in so many lives for so long, it really invalidates any argument for the contrary.

    Body image is intimately tied to self image, just as our body carries our ‘self’. Self image is what drives us to be healthy, good, caring, loving, selfless, honest, and ultimately happy in our bodies. These concepts are unassailable.

    Great article!

    Deuce wrote on October 20th, 2011
  34. To the people who can’t manage to reassure the overweight without insulting thin people, be assured that your snarks aren’t holy things, above the snarks aimed at fat. They’re just as rude and obnoxious, just as small-minded.

    I’m one of those “sticks.” I’m very thin, but I dare anyone to be around when I eat and call me anorectic. I have a very enthusiastic appetite. And does being able to do up to eighteen pull-ups in a set sound “fragile” to you?

    Mel wrote on November 5th, 2011

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