More substantively, workout culture is individualistic in the most corrosive and shame-inducing sense, pretending that the individual exists in a vacuum, and that socio-political problems like obesity, sedentary jobs, automobile dependency, and subsidized junk food, either do not exist or are merely wholesome opportunities to exercise self-restraint. Workout culture admits no possibility of societal sickness or policy solutions to the problems of being unhealthy or overweight. It is a sort of glossed-over eugenic ideology, a cult of self-improvement in a broader society which is deeply and perhaps terminally inconducive to self-improvement. The gym rat is social Darwinism made flesh.
Eugenics! Social Darwinism! Structural reorganization of society! So far, so woke, you might say. Just another predictable jeremiad from the fat-positive, pronoun-announcing, reality-is-a-social-construct side of the Internet. But no! Some of you might have already noticed that link goes to The American Conservative. Yes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the competing brands of collective-mindedness these days, but it’s evident in the details:
In a society which has lost a sense of civic togetherness and mutual support—that is, the communitarianism of “intermediating institutions” between the lone individual and the all-powerful state—self-improvement itself becomes a sort of self-loathing. Individual responsibility becomes an exercise in bashing one’s head against the wall. Genuine good health—like faith, family, and so much else that actually matters—is done in community. Many of our particular problems lie far downstream from a broader and more general breakdown. “Excuses” might actually be opportunities to probe what has really gone wrong with us.
Yes, yes, all problems are social problems, social problems have to be addressed as a whole rather than piecemeal, and individualism is the cancer eating away at the marrow of the ideal Rousseauian community, where the Volk would get their exercise the way God intended, by doing communal labor in their idyllic, car-free villages. It just goes to show the fluidity of political identity — compared to the woke left, I’m a release-the-hounds reactionary. Compared to the communitarian right, I’m a libertarian, almost a libertine. I’m an orangutan among chimpanzees, and all I want is for these equally-obnoxious conformists to swive off and leave me out of their stupid salvific schemes.
Anyway, if our hero could pause his sermon for a moment, he might consider that many people exercise not because of self-loathing caused by Madison Avenue brainwashing, but because being fit feels better than being out of shape. It could be that they actually enjoy the challenge of building and maintaining fitness. Possibly, they might even subscribe to a Stoic realism which focuses on changing what lies within one’s power to change, starting with one’s own body. Del Mastro might enjoy posturing as a bodhisattva who refuses to enter the Nirvana of fitness until all sentient beings enjoy equal access, but Occam’s Razor says he’s just lazy, and clever enough to rationalize it as social criticism.