APPEARANCE BASED CONSIDERATIONS
by M. Doug McGuff, M.D.
The Truth About Why We Exercise
Probably the most profound truth we can acknowledge about exercise is the fact that what we most desire from an exercise program is to improve our physical appearance. The reason we want to improve our physical appearance is to meet our most basic biological need...sex. The honest reason why most of us exercise is that we want to improve our sexual attractiveness. Despite the legions of exercise experts and gurus that tell us exercise will improve our health, we know that the real reason we buy the home exercise apparatus for "24 easy payments of $49.95" is that we want to look like the hunk or hunkette on the commercial. So in the interest of staying true to the theme of this book, the next chapters will be focusing on the factors that determine your body's appearance.
The Biological Basis of Beauty
Beauty, what is it really? Anthropologists tell us that what we find sexually attractive is to a large extent an instantaneous assessment of that person's health. Bright eyes, shiney hair, smooth skin, visible curves from strong underlying muscle, and a modest, but not overabundant degree of bodyfat all send powerful sexual signals that this person is healthy. Stereotypically, males respond to health markers that signal youth, while females respond to health markers that signal power and dominance. The degree to which you improve your health and functional ability through proper exercise will be the degree to which you maximize your own appearance and sexual attractiveness. The key is to shoot for the best "you" possible, not to aim for the appearance of someone else whom you admire. The best statement I ever heard on this topic was made by D.C. Maxwell who owns an exercise facility in Philadelphia. D.C. tells her clients "exercise is like the Army, it can make you "all you can be"...but that's all...but that's also a lot".
Rarity: An Economic Basis for Beauty
Beauty is a value that we pursue, just like many other values in our life. Anything that we value and that may be of limited supply can be evaluated using the science of economics. One of the main determinants of how we value something (including beauty), is The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. Originally conceived by an Austrian School economist named Bohm-Bawerk, the concept is probably best described by modern economist George Reisman in his book Capitalism: "the utility or, equivalently, the importance or personal value that an individual attaches to a unit of any good diminishes as the quantity of the good in his possession increases". Stated more simply, the rarer something is, the higher we tend to value it. Water is certainly more beneficial to human life than diamonds, but in the modern world water is very abundant and thus the price we attach to it is quite cheap. Diamonds, even though not very beneficial to human life, are rare and are thus valued highly. By looking at economics, we can see that it is in our nature to value that which is rare. Thus, to some degree, our assessment of beauty is not strictly biological, it is also economical. This explains why we might admire characteristics found in supermodels, such as height around 6 feet, leg length longer than 38 inches, narrow hips and broad shoulders, body fat less than 14 %, a large amount of breast tissue despite a low amount of abdominal fat. All of these characteristics are not biologically beneficial and do not support survival or reproduction and therefore, should not trigger biological cues of sexual attractiveness. However, because of the rarity of these characteristics we find them irresistable.
Don't Be Manipulated
The saying "God grant me the courage to change what I can, the humility to accept what I can't and the wisdom to know the difference" really applies here. In contemporary society we have become obsessed with the aspects of beauty based on rarity and relatively unconcerned with those aspects based on health. This is largely because people who market products operate in the economic realm and know how to manipulate our desires based on rarity. The implication behind the advertiser's ploy is that you too can look like this person if you buy their product or use their techniques. The truth is that the models used to entice us to buy are genetic anomolies who possess the rarest of physical characteristics...it is this rarity that makes us buy. For example, the popularity of a given aerobics class at any health club is usually tied to the appearance of the instructor. The models for the Bowflexª commercials possess a level of bodyfat that can only be achieved by about 1 out of 1million people. Billy Banks' physique is certainly not the result of Tae Boª, it is a result of his genetics. The problem with the rarity aspect of beauty is that it is totally out of our control. Despite the implications that "you too can look like this", these people have been bestowed a genetic gift that is very useful to them but can never be given to you. The fact that we fail to understand this truth is the driving force behind women's (and men's) fashion magazines, almost the entire exercise industry, food supplement industry, sporting goods industry and on and on.
The Good News
The good news is that you can to a very large extent impact the biological aspects of beauty through proper exercise. You can also, in a round-about way, take advantage of the rarity aspect of beauty. When people succumb to the ploys of advertisers and repeatedly fail, they go from disappointment to dispair. Those that tend to carry a little more fat try repeatedly to become lean and instead end up morbidly obese. Those of modest muscular potential who try to develop bodybuilder physiques end up overtraining and become smaller and give up. Because advertisers have been so successful in selling us empty dreams, our society has become more despondent and thus more out of shape than we ever have been. Recently I was waiting for my wife at the Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta. I was struck by how horrible the people walking by looked. I decided to count people as they walked by until a person who appeared reasonably healthy and attractive walked by. I counted to above 250 before I found someone who did not appear overfat, overtired and generally unhealthy. What this means is that someone who has maximized the biological determinants of beauty is actually a very rare person. In this way, someone who applies the truth about exercise can take advantage of both the biological and rarity aspects of beauty.
The Best News
The best news is that the process of maximizing the biological factors of beauty is actually quite simple. Ken Hutchins (the developer of SupeSlow) was the first person to point out the simple truth that there are only three things that control your body shape and you can only control 2 of those three variables. The three things that control your body shape are 1) your skeleton, 2) your muscle, and 3) your bodyfat. Your skeleton is simply the scaffolding on which everything hangs; its shape is determined by genetics and cannot be altered. Every desirable shape of the human body is accounted for by underlying muscle. Every undesirable shape is accounted for by underlying bodyfat. The degree to which you can increase your muscle and decrease your bodyfat is the degree to which you can improve your physical attractiveness. The degree to which you can achieve these two goals is also genetically modulated however. In this book we will show you how to most efficiently achieve that goal. But first, in the next two chapters we will explore how genetics regulates how much we can expect from our efforts to increase our muscle and decrease our fat. Understanding the truth about our genetic limitations will give us realistic expectations and prevent the despair that will stop us short of our true potential. As we will come to find out, reaching our best potential has very little to do with sudden inspiration and very much to do with the application of consistent, logical effort over a prolonged period of time.