The “It's complicated” column is Ben Sharp’s uninhibited (and English-language) approach to subjects that deserve attention but perhaps shouldn’t always require academic research or too much intellect. Discourse over doctrine or coded commentaries. Ben – a British-born, Berlin-based, gay 20-something with passions for fashion, fried chicken and overthinking – looks to pose questions that are answered differently, in intrinsic relation to our individual experiences and identities.
Two weeks ago, my 88-year-old grandmother fell and broke her hip. Love her heart, she had walked a good half a mile and made it down six flights of stairs, which I can confirm is quite an achievement for my beloved but not supremely fit and active nan. All to fall at the final hurdle – both literally and figuratively – as she tripped over a step in the bathroom, ultimately breaking her 88-year-old hip.
I am of course entirely aware of my age difference to my nan, whose bones and joints are 60 years my senior. I’m equally aware of how it might sound for a 28-year-old to talk about his own health and fitness by recounting such an accident experienced by an octogenarian. Nonetheless, being with her as she fell and understanding the fragility of her body in that moment, has offered a wakeup call of sorts.
Personally, through no fault or merit of my own, I’ve always been quite slim. Not skinny, but not fat; certainly not fit. I exercise extremely rarely, because I truly despise it. Perhaps once a year, normally in January because of a myopically made new year’s resolution and probably with no more than a quick burst of Burn To The Beat with Keaira LaShae. Yet somehow, I’ve always got away with it.
I don’t care and haven’t cared for the vanity side of staying fit. I don’t work out to ensure perfect abs and a V-shaped torso for topless Grindr pics. As a rule, in fact, I am not interested in showcasing my body, and am as such not inspired to make it showcase-worthy. As for trends that come and go – and bring with them a need to flaunt flesh or figure – I’m equally uninterested. In short, I’ve spent my adult life unconfronted by enough reason to “get in shape”.
Up until this point, a privileged combination of genetics and predominantly my youth have kept me slim enough. Slim enough to not have me thinking too hard about the way I look in or out of clothes. (I am of course also a white male, so generally speaking, few come for the basics of my body type with shade or hatred.) This recent flashforward to an aged version of myself suggested, however, that I might have inadvertently been pulling the wool over my own eyes.
To this point, there’s something to be said about how fat and fit are presented to us as polar opposites. I urge you to see my previous point that, while I may not be fat, I’m certainly not fit. Not that I am suggesting a total disregard for the correlation between bodyweight and health, but we are – as a rule – so concerned with looking good that the representation of good health is restricted to slender form. Whether by means of billboards or sponsored advertising in social media feeds, nobody could argue that we're not pressured into looking good far more than we are feeling good because of actual fitness.
Add to this my passive penchant for usurping any image-driven pressures to “get in shape” – here's looking at you, particularly pointed clichés of "gay culture" – and the recipe is one for tricky results. In short: society has not pressured me (enough) to do anything about my suboptimal physical health, so I haven't.
Observing my grandmother as she fell, what was awoken with in me was an understanding that the body itself isn’t something to be taken for granted. And yet I definitely have. So while I might have oozed pride as I read of Beyoncé’s FUPA and finally had a name for my own similar attribute, I probably shouldn’t be overlooking the importance of exercise and giving a f*ck about my body’s wellbeing. Especially during “my prime”, when staying fit is no doubt easier than it will be in the years to come.
Right now, the aforementioned melange of factors – all of which can be boiled down to no more than luck – have allowed me to ignore the argument that working out can and should be as much for tomorrow as it is today. (Interestingly, this HuffPost Canada article discusses the difference between working out for arguably more superficial, short-term goals and a longer-term idea of healthy living. Cut to me, reading about exercise...?)
And so it is that I find myself making new year's resolutions in May. I vow to acknowledge my luck and my privilege, and to understand and assume a more active role in maintaining my physical health. I also vow to fully know that the wellbeing of my body cannot be defined or, by the same token, disguised by its outward appearance alone.
Of course, this experience with my grandmother, who is fortunately well on the road to recovery post-op, as well as other similar thoughts that have circulated my mind for some time now, have thus far inspired litte more than this article-cum-therapy-session. I suppose this is the part where I actually do something about it. Cue a gym membership starting tomorrow? We’ll have to wait to see what my immediate future self says.
Artwork: Lena Stewens