Sex Appeal, Fitness, and Fat Shaming

The History and Biology of Getting Jacked 'n Tan

Is our standard of beauty too harsh? Is leanness unfairly prized? Here’s what science and history have to say about fitness, fatness, and our preferences.

Butt-Hurt and Wrong

Read anything related to body image and you might think that marketers have unfairly set the standard for “looking great naked.” Have they? No. Is their idea of fitness really anything new? No. Have they warped our perspective of beauty? Nope. Have they changed what we think of as sexy? Not a bit.

If you read any of today’s weak-minded puff pieces on body image, you’d be led to believe that our standards for fitness are new. You’d also be led to believe that fat-shaming is new as well. You’d be wrong on both counts.

Biological Preferences

As a species, we haven’t changed from a physiological perspective or biological perspective in, well, forever. But let’s narrow this down, because beauty or sexiness can be defined very easily. Here’s what defines them:

  1. Symmetry – both in the face and body.
  2. Health – appearance as a representation of vitality and wellness.

Neither of these are really up for debate. You can argue them, but you’d be lying to yourself. And they’re connected. We desire someone whose appearance represents good health because, from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, it would give our offspring the best chances in life.

Attractiveness has been defined by science through symmetry, both in regards to the face and physique, and it has to do with someone appearing more worthy to mate with.

As a species we’re designed to do two things: survive and procreate. So we look for a partner that gives our offspring the best chance at survival. This has scientific ties to symmetry, and that symmetry is basically what makes people more or less attractive.

Women with a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7 are generally the most desirable to men. As should be expected, women with such proportions often have better health. From a facial perspective, symmetry is a representation of health. There’s a reason why plastic surgeons (really good ones) can make someone more attractive. They fix their symmetry.

From a physiological perspective, estrogen stops bone growth in a woman’s lower face and chin, making the jaw small and short and making her eyes appear proportionally larger. More estrogen means better fertility, which is what we’re naturally attracted to. No, we don’t look at a woman and “see” her fertility, but we do recognize it through her appearance, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

For men, higher levels of testosterone shape the face with that strong jawline women love so much. This signals the same thing to her: a better mating partner.

All of these characteristics indicate overall health quality, and healthier individuals are more attractive individuals. That’s science. Not opinion.

What You Can Control

Outside of plastic surgery, no one can fix their face if it’s ugly. But you are in total control of your body. This is why the social push to make someone “beautiful at any size” is a farce.

Sure, to an extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, people have different preferences, and the content of your character can make you more (or less) attractive. But, strictly speaking of appearance, most of us understand why certain men and women are considered sexy by the general population.

Males often get started lifting to increase their chances of attracting females. Females keep fad diets and aerobic classes in business because they want to be slim and “toned.” But the fact is, whether our goals change or not, we still want to attract a better mate by carving out a better physique or trying to create sex appeal through lifting and a healthy diet.

But there’s now a huge, politically-correct push for us to accept that people of all shapes and sizes are just as attractive as those who are physically fit. You can pretend to agree, but biologically, you probably reject this notion.

You probably don’t like even this topic because everyone is so easily offended now, but it doesn’t change biology, history, evolution, or the facts. There’s a reason why Kevin James is never going to be named Sexiest Man Alive, while David Beckham is.

The History of Fitness and Fat Shaming

Fat shaming isn’t new. The term itself and the hypersensitivity to it is new, but fat-shaming has been around for centuries. So has the beauty standard which celebrates physically fit bodies.

Centuries ago, the only people who had the ability to be obese were the wealthiest in their respective lands. Royalty essentially, because they could afford to eat and didn’t have laborious jobs. And guess what – they were mocked for being fatties.

Ptolemy Euergetes, a ruler in ancient Egpyt was nicknamed “Physkon,” which basically translates to “fatty,” due to his obesity.

The ancient Greeks were obsessed with physical fitness too. Wouldn’t you expect the culture that invented the Olympics to be? In The Naked Olympics, Tony Perrottet writes, “Few cultures have been quite so shamelessly vain and superficial in their worship of physical perfection as the Greeks. Flabbiness and pale skin were subjects of derision, and vase paintings show fat boys being mocked by their peers.”

Basically, the Greeks liked their people jacked and tan. They revered a physically fit body while shaming and ridiculing those who were obese. Their obsession with exercise had a lot to do with warfare preparation, so you could make the claim that it was really all about that. However, all you have to do is take a look at the statues from that era to know that the Greeks admired and respected men and women that fit the mold of what we’d call muscular and lean, even today.

The Greeks believed that to have a healthy mind you needed a healthy body, and vice versa. Physical well being contributed to mental well being, and for their civilization to be strong and robust, they both had to be taken into account. (A new five-year study presented in the journal, Neurology, somewhat backs this up, claiming that getting too fat is associated with cognitive decline and a lower IQ. Hey, don’t get mad at me; get mad at science!)

If you want a lesson in the downfall of a civilization due to obesity, then consider what became of the Roman empire. During its time of conquering kingdoms, Rome put a huge emphasis on being physically fit for warfare purposes. Once Rome became a superpower, their obsession for warfare and physical fitness waned, and they became more obsessed with entertainment and wealth.

Prosperity, as they say, breeds weakness. And a physically weak, fat, and lazy Rome fell to a much more hardened and more physically fit tribe of barbarians from Northern Europe.

Why Should We Care?

It’s true, we’re not piling off of boats with swords in hand to conquer new found lands. We’re living in a modern age where civilization, prosperity, and technology helped create an obesity epidemic – an epidemic that has caused a burden on both the healthcare system and the general workforce.

Obese people miss more work than those at a healthy weight, costing the economy around 8 billion a year. The medical costs associated with obesity were estimated to be around 147 billion in 2008.

Some people like to point out that the obese live longer, but the quality of life should be taken into account. Living longer doesn’t mean living better… especially when you’re taking medications to fight the side effects of your other medications… which fight the side effects of being sedentary and eating shitty food.

Despite all this, there’s an overriding narrative now that as a society we should accept obesity as beautiful, sensual, and profoundly good-looking. But the reason we don’t is because it’s the physical manifestation of an unhealthy body, and an unhealthy body isn’t an ideal mating partner. The “health at any size” mantra has taken hold, but from a medical standpoint, it’s a complete lie. Obesity and optimal health cannot and do not go hand in hand.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto reviewed studies going all the way back to the 1950s and determined that you can’t be obese and healthy at the same time. The concept of “healthy obesity” is relatively new, only dating back within the last decade or so, and isn’t backed by any medical evidence.

This hasn’t kept the healthy-at-all-sizes agenda from moving forward however. And both males and females have taken on various social campaigns in order to celebrate obese bodies as being just as attractive as fit ones, or really average ones (the “dad bod”) as being the standard for what’s sexy. A few times a year we all get told some sub-standard physique is the “new sexy.”

None us really believe it of course. And our eyes still linger on fit bodies, even if our politically-correct consciences tell us that’s “wrong.”

You Aren’t Buying It… Even if You Think You Are

Women with low-self esteem claim they love a dad bod. But that’s because a dad bod doesn’t make them feel embarrassed about how they look. It’s relatable. But let’s not kid ourselves here. A guy who’s 220 ripped is going to be awfully intimidating to a female who funnels beer and hits up Waffle House at 3 AM on weekends.

Mr. Jacked Body is the manifestation of discipline, work ethic, and dedication. She’s the manifestation of Jager shots and McGriddles. No one wants to date someone whose body (and the effort it took to get it) makes them feel bad about themselves. People can make excuses all day, but that’s what it’s really about.

So should we just lower the standards all the way around? Should we celebrate dad bods and morbid obesity? Should we pretend they’re just as sexy as the 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio on females or the ripped up abs and broad shoulders on males?

Some media outlets want you to think so. Some have even tried to compare Amy Schumer to Aphrodite, but they keep using the wrong sculpture to do so. Any one of the sculptures of Aphrodite where she’s standing shows a woman with a hint of abs, and a good waist to hip ratio.

Beauty Standards and Those Who Fight Them

Some say our culture has become inundated with images of fit bodies, and that those images alone “fat shame” anyone who doesn’t live up to the same standards. But upholding high standards for physique development isn’t new. It’s centuries old. It is and always has been something to be proud of.

Finding unhealthy bodies unattractive isn’t new either. But celebrating obesity actually IS new, and it’s tragic.

The social movement that insists obesity isn’t a problem is an attempt to force us to believe obesity is sexy and normal, when biologically we’re screaming, “Do not want!” And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re called fat-shamers. When in Rome, I guess.