Daniel Engber righteously stands up for the right of the husky, the portly, the pear-shaped to serve in our military. Well, thank the gods. I can’t tell you how much sleep I’ve lost, worrying that we don’t make it easy enough for the maximum number of young people to sacrifice their lives for the glory of the corporate imperium.
When it comes to body fat, the regs declare that too much flab connotes, first of all, “a lack of personal discipline.” Another document suggests that it “detracts from soldierly appearance.” So excess weight isn’t just a health problem—it’s a personality flaw. Oh, and it makes you ugly.
I don’t want to suggest that the military discriminates against the thick-bodied alone. The high standards of appearance apply to skinny people, too. And short people. And tall people. (Forget Prussia’s army of giants: If you’re a man who’s over 6-foot6 or a woman over 6-foot, you can’t join the Marine Corps.) Those with severe, untreatable acne may also be excluded from military service, along with anyone with an insufficient number of teeth, extra fingers, or severe ingrown toenails. Some of these requirements seem to have more to do with keeping neat and trim than fighting off baddies in the desert. It doesn’t matter if you can do as many pushups as the next guy. Without the “self-discipline to maintain proper weight distribution and high standards of appearance,” you’re not welcome.
Well, it probably does help pacify the wogs more easily when they can clearly see that they’ve been invaded by a race of perfectly sculpted superbeings to whom resistance would be futile, but still. In addition to “insane, bloated, resource-consuming, world-straddling, hellspawned colossus death monster”, you can now add “lookist” to your denunciations of the U.S. military. Of course, if you’ve been reading the brilliant and entertaining Jennifer Michael Hecht (and you should be), this wouldn’t be too surprising:
Through studying history, I came to believe that gyms are occupying precisely the role they did in Ancient Sparta and in Fascist Germany. Being obsessed with bodies is actually a pretty rare thing in human history and we’re in lousy company.
…So what is the real story with gyms and gym bodies? What does the cult of exercise really mean?
Whenever it pops up in history it means the same thing. It always means: We are strong even though the peons do all the real work for us. We have special arenas marked as leisure where we get muscled at play.
…When we see this behavior in Ancient Sparta (where the population of Helot slaves outnumbered the Spartans) and in Fascist Germany, and we see the art of those two cultures focusing on the beauty of the toned but clean and uncallused body, we know what we are looking at. It’s more than shallow, it is military, it is deluded, it is oppressive, and a bit grotesque.
Well, that’s unnerving to consider, but never fear. Other experts aver that the majority of Americans remain too fat for fascism.