I was a history and german studies major; in other words, a social science student. At the time, I was not able to fully appreciate these subjects. One of the things that often floated in the back of my mind as I studied historical events and broad scale social and cultural movements was the feeling that our models of these events were rather abstract. The idea that something which we now label a movement, i.e. the enlightenment, humanism, etc. was actually influencing individual lives and actions seemed hard to grasp. At the time, I simply didn’t feel I had first hand experience watching a popular movement affect my real world life. Then I became a personal trainer. In this career, I have worked with many individuals on a personal level. When I work with these people I see clearly that I am not dealing merely with the individual that is in front of me, but with the world in which they exist. I am seeing first hand how the macrocosm of society trickles down to the microcosm of the individual, and what I have found is as fascinating and instructive as it is alarming.
My primary task as a personal trainer is to help clients become healthier. This is no small responsibility. As such, I have delved into anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and exercise science in an attempt to hone out the very best solutions for the bodies that are under my care. However, what I am amazed to find is that when many people come to see me for the first time, they already have a very clear idea of what it is that they expect from me. Many are even completely uninterested in what I, the ‘expert’, have to say. This spawned two important questions for me which are: 1) Where exactly do these ideas come from?, and 2) Why can they so difficult to overcome?
There is already a great deal of scholarly work out there examining the fitness industry’s current form, its cultural influence, and its direct effect on society. Here are three examples: 1
. What I personally find more informative in trying to answer these questions though is not looking at what the fitness industry is, but more how it got there. Why do we seek to alter our physiology through supplementation, or cleanse ourselves of toxins, or transform our physical appearances on a nearly unlimited scale? Why do we allow ourselves to think that we can control so much with so little?
This requires a look at the themes on a macro level. We must understand how fitness intersects with economics, philosophy, science, medicine, popular culture, and more. As I have started down that path I have been surprised at the directions it has taken me. I would not have suspected that I would be re-familiarizing myself with Descartes, or that I would be reading the history of economics, the history of medicine, or even find myself pouring over the connections to sustainability. Nevertheless, I have done so and it is what I have discovered that I will begin sharing under the category Cultural. I hope, reader, you find it is scintillating as I.