So there’s this play that was made into a movie, written and directed by Neil LaBute, and it’s called the Shape of Things and it has messed me up. WARNING: spoilers for that 2001 play, and that 2003 movie start… NOW!
The Shape of Things is about dorky, unloved, Paul Rudd — unrealistic casting, if you ask me; who doesn’t love Paul Rudd? — who meets and falls for this suave, mysterious artist gal, played by suave, mysterious Rachel Weisz. Paul (his character’s name is Adam, her’s is Evelyn — very Garden of Eden, I know) starts doing whatever Artist Gal says, including dressing better, working out, shedding the glasses, even getting a nose job. He’s a new, better looking guy in love with a great girl. The only thing is: she’s not a great girl. She’s an artist. And, as we know, artists do nefarious things. This artist has turned Paul Rudd into a performance art piece. Her senior MFA thesis prompt was to change the world, so she changed Adam’s. She never loved him. She loved her degree. Nefarious indeed.
All of this to say I’ve started working out again.
There are several factors that led to this active development: I tried playing basketball again and couldn’t breathe after five minutes; my jeans felt a little tight; a doctor told me that, despite my experience to the contrary, our bodies deteriorate and I actually, really heard it for the first time; Rachel Weisz turned me into her art project.
After seeing The Shape of Things in the midst of this work-out phase, I did have to double check my constitution. Did I pay the forty-five dollar summer gym fee for me or for someone else? On a philosophical level, I think it could be argued that everything we do, we do for someone else. But that’s too broad of an answer. Also an obnoxious, uninteresting cop out. So I did what any intrepid investigator* (*I am not an investigator, but a watcher of investigator TV shows) would do: I looked at the patterns of my exercise habits. This is what I found.
A realization: your pants fit tighter than they did a few weeks ago. Maybe you should cut down on the late night Jack in the Box orders or all that beer you’ve been drinking (you’ve just turned twenty-one). Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, right? Wrong. Mac and cheese tastes way better than skinny feels.
The REAL realization: wow, but mac and cheese doesn’t taste as good as looking seriously awful in that picture your “friend” just uploaded on facebook. You should ACTUALLY go to the gym.
Out of breath while walking and talking to an executive at your job. They ask “Where are you from again?” and you say “The elevator. I’m gonna take the elevator.”: you should go to the gym tomorrow.
First day at the gym: you say you’ll spend an hour at the gym, but after twenty minutes on a treadmill you quietly give up, and go home, remembering how you used to be able to run a quarter mile in a literal minute when you were eleven and why did that have to change? Sure, you quit playing sports at age fourteen because, let’s be honest, you weren’t gonna get an athletic scholarship anywhere. And despite the fact that shooting a ball into a basket brought you instant joy, it wasn’t going to pad your resume. So you focused on academics and leadership and you got a great scholarship at a great college, but now your body hurts if you carry a 24-pack of water from your car to your front door, and death is on your doorstep, so who’s the real winner here?
Second day at the gym: it’s a little easier.
Routine: you’ve gotten into a groove better than Stella’s: leg day, cardio, rest, arm day, cardio, rest. You read an interesting article about how scientists in Sweden have discovered a gene that activates after you’ve consistently gone to the gym for two weeks in a row and it’s called “bättre än dig” which roughly translates to “better than you.” You probably dreamt about that article, but it’s hard not to develop a Gym Superiority complex anyway.
Retail therapy: you’ve googled new high protein, low fat recipes. You’ve bought ingredients for them. You’ve downloaded six fitness apps. You’ve bought a lot of new workout clothes. If you’re really a better person for going to the gym, shouldn’t you start shopping like a better person, too?
Damn, I’m starting to look better: your jeans fit. You can’t wait until you have a six pack.
Plateau: you don’t have a six pack. You’re discouraged. You realize one day, in the locker room, that it’s so humid all the time because everyone is sweaty. You are in a Sweat Swamp, and you can’t believe it took you this long to realize that. And now all you think about when you turn the wheel of your lock is how you’re breathing in Mary’s profuse perspiration. And remember: you don’t even have a six pack.
You quit: you look good enough. Your clothes fit. And you’ve already forgotten to enter your food into your My Fitness Pal today, so what does it even matter?
These were the facts that were presented to me. And after writing it down, my gym motives became a lot clearer. I am a person who likes feeling good. It’s tough going to start, and tough going at the end, but that middle, the shape of how I felt going through a workout sprint… well. I guess I was working out for me, all along.
Just to clarify, this is a piece about why we (read: just me) work out. If you want to learn how to lose weight, and other helpful exercise tips, I highly suggest watching the video below.