Standing in the checkout line of your average grocery store is a telling cultural experience. For the few minutes it takes for the checker to ring the person in front of you, there you idle with your cart—surrounded by the ironic juxtaposition of junk food aisle caps and fashion/fitness magazines. The images of impossibly smooth or ripped celebrities and models—strategically lit and otherwise doctored—stare you down on your way to check out. And people buy these magazines with gusto, even though they’re basically all the same—featuring the same rehashed articles or selling the same impossible body expectations. Is it any wonder so few people can meet their bodies with acceptance? But this got me thinking: what would a Primal magazine cover and its models look like? (I have a few thousand ideas for both.) I’d like to think it would have a lot to say toward optimizing physical function and embracing individual variance over imposed media standards, but I’ve always been that contrary type. So let’s go down that road a bit and look at some down-to-earth, practical takeaways for encouraging Primal body positivity.
It’s impossible to take apart the topic without looking at the obvious social static we’re bombarded by—and not just on those magazine covers. For women, of course, the common (although thankfully changing) standard has traditionally been thinness—the waif look with its slight waist, skinny legged jeans and bone contoured shoulders. Sure, this comes naturally (and healthily) for some women and might be attainable for others. But it’s definitely not the healthiest form for most women. In Grok’s day it probably wouldn’t have been terribly practical either. There’s a reason most cultures have valued a little softness in a woman’s form. Evolution selected for women as a whole (there are always outliers) to carry more fat (18-21%) in preparation for pregnancy, since those fat stores could serve as essential reserves to nourish the fetus, particularly in times of food insecurity. Furthermore, when women of childbearing age get below a certain body fat percentage (like the percentages depicted in a lot of idealized images in popular culture), their hormonal balance becomes disrupted enough that they can stop menstruating, temporarily shutting down their fertility.
For men, it’s a different picture. There’s the pressure to build bulk and look swole to unnaturally sustainable degrees. The simple fact is, most men don’t have and never should have the muscle mass often depicted in popular culture these days. And, yet, the media standard persists, encouraging a physique more graphic novel than Grok.
A perfect antidote to the insanity is an evolutionary perspective on what is healthy adaptation rather than modern fad. Strength and mobility would’ve been evolutionarily useful. Being bulked beyond reason or fragile would not have been. The respective bulk eating and nutrient restriction required to maintain these looks wouldn’t have been reasonable either.
The ultimate crux of Primal body image is and always has been function over form. What can your body do versus what does it look like? Run a 6-minute mile? Deadlift twice your weight? Do a perfect Dragonfly Pose? Given birth? Fed a child? Split a season’s worth of firewood? Climbed a 13,000 foot mountain? That would’ve told Grok a lot more about your health and fitness than your size.
When we dump the pervading culture’s nonsense of obsessing over comparative perfectionism, we’re free to own our own sense of worth. We’re free to enjoy living in our bodies and reveling in their abilities. We’re free to actualize ourselves physically to our own unique potentials. That sounds to me like a much bolder and worthier project in this lifetime. Let’s look at a few ways to take up this challenge.
1. Kick your scale to the curb.
First things first. Literally—as in this week’s garbage pick-up. Not only do pounds/kilos mean virtually nothing, but there’s no reason to hold onto a device that you’ve likely used against yourself for years. Go Office Space on it for the added benefit. Grok wouldn’t have cared what that thing said, and neither should you. Trust me, you won’t miss it.
2. Get clear on how you measure your self-worth.
Guess how much sympathy someone crying over their appearance would have gotten 40,000 years ago when there was field dressing to do and a fire to build? I’m sure great hair or a broad shoulders would’ve been nice then, but the stakes were higher than that in Grok’s day, and it offers some useful perspective. Appearance has always been a factor (among many) in the genetic game, but the insane obsession over it is a first-world problem, as they say. What do you value in the people you love the most? Think of the experiences you’ve had with these people that make up your favorite memories. Did a single one have to do with them having a perfect appearance? I can safely answer no to that. Stop applying a ridiculous, irrelevant standard to your own self-regard. When you’re dead, people will remember things like how good you made them feel or how fun, kind and creative you were. Let this sink in—every day. Make an active, conscious decision how you will measure your own self-worth and self-development as a human being, and never look at the mirror the same way again.
3. Power dress.
A friend of mine has a 5-year-old son, who these days wears a pirate hat wherever he goes. (Those of you with kids know exactly what I’m talking about.) For him, that hat has nothing to do with making him look good or fit in, but in making him feel powerful and (in a 5-year-old boy kind of way) badass. Consider it time to embrace your own badass by finding garb that makes you feel powerfully yourself. You know what I mean here. The clothes that make you feel most comfortable—not in terms of waistbands and fabric, but in terms of what best flatters your form and expresses your self-image. Grok’s set wasn’t above adornment, and you’d be surprised at how much “primitive” fashion was devoted to making people look larger than life. Find it in yourself.
4. Scrutinize your media and cultural exposures.
Grok had none of it, and maybe you should consider that. Look at the images you consume in a day. That goes for T.V., Internet sites, social media feeds, magazines as well as your social environments like restaurants, bars, gyms and other places. What are the influences that constantly push unreasonable or unwanted “standards” in your face. Dump them. Cancel your subscriptions or your cable. Join a different gym. Find a new coffee shop or happy hour bar. Cull your Facebook followings. Sure, we might be ultimately responsible for the impact of an image on our emotional well-being, but don’t waste the mental energy fending off what you can just turn off.
5. Surround yourself with positive people.
The above point holds for people, too. Be selective in who you surround yourself with. It’s doubtful people who were too negative and annoying would’ve survived small scale band life back in the day. If you have “friends” who always seem to offer back-handed compliments or who spend their time critiquing the appearances of everyone around them (or even themselves), it’s time to make new connections. Hint: you’re not responsible for unconditionally accepting other people’s behavior. You are, however, responsible for the company you choose to keep.
6. Shut down the comparisons.
I’ve written about this before, but suffice it here to say that you weren’t born to look or be anyone else. What anyone else looks like or does isn’t really any of your business anyway, is it? Put your energy into making your own life as awesome and adventurous as possible, and you won’t have time to worry about anyone else.
7. Set goals that focus on experience or performance rather than appearance.
Sure, feeling good about how you look is a side benefit of getting healthy. I don’t think anyone will debate that. This said, when people make appearance their goal, I’ve found they often end up unsatisfied. The “bar” against which they compare themselves just keeps getting moved because the “end result” didn’t end up exactly how they visualized, or because their self-concept wasn’t whole enough to be happy with any change. Shoot for a certain look if you want, but also invest yourself in enjoying the changes you’re making to get there. Make the process worth it in other, fulfilling ways, and relish the benefits of feeling better, lifting more, running faster. This is what living Primally is all about.
8. Show off what your body can do.
Lose the false modesty. Let people take pictures of you doing things you love—or take them yourself. Post them in your home, since that’s the perfect place to fill with shots of you doing your favorite things (often with your favorite people). And that doesn’t mean hiding them all in albums. Sure, you’ll want to have those, too, but put them on bold display wherever possible. We’re happy to fill our walls with other people’s art, but we feel funny putting up photos of ourselves rock climbing or dancing or hiking our favorite trails. But we should considering changing that. (Which do you think Grok would find more interesting?) Those moments are potent reminders of how we live the life we love, which is a rare and infinitely attractive thing.
9. Revise your story.
Maybe you grew up in the shadow of an all-star sibling or athletic parent. Maybe you’ve carried extra weight for most of your life, and over the years others came to identify you by it. Eventually, you came to do the same. Make a new choice by creating a new story. You are not the social role you played (or were given) in high school. You’re a fully autonomous adult who’s free to choose the life and identity you want. They’ll be no do-over when this existence is done. Start making and living your vision of yourself and who you want to be now. One reason I think folks dig the Grok concept so much is his fleshed out reminder of who we all really are beneath the modern window dressing. Start there. Embrace your bad and beautiful Primal self first, deciding how that lives on the page for you. Then create your new story choice by choice, day by day. Keep reminding yourself of it until it becomes the default backdrop of your life as you see it. Let other people accept it in their own time—or leave them behind when they won’t.
10. Have your picture taken.
I have a photographer friend—an artist, really—who somehow has the extraordinary talent of capturing the essence of people, capturing them in moments when everything amazing about them shines through. Photos he’s taken of the people I know and love have left me speechless—seeing my wife’s sunlit profile in a quiet, thoughtful moment, catching the giddy height of my children’s smiles when they were playing. I’ll take the recollection of those images, the most intimate and true reflections of who they are to me, to my grave. As incredible as his talent is, I know there are many like him out there. Find one—and have your picture taken to finally see a reality the mirror will never show you.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to read your thoughts on living with body positivity from a Primal perspective. Have a great end to your week.
Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.