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.

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.

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