Several times a week, motivational messages and photos are posted to my gym’s Facebook page. About two weeks ago, this one appeared:
Initially, I had the intended response, a silent yeah! because surely I cannot be counted among the lazy, and therefore, I am not obsessed, but dedicated to my fitness.
But then I began to think about these words… obsessed…dedicated…lazy. It’s not exactly a message of positivity, but of enabling and discrimination. Per Merriam-Webster:
obsession: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>
dedication 2: a devoting or setting aside for a particular purpose
4: self-sacrificing devotion <her dedication to the cause>
Obsession is defined as “disturbing,” but then “broadly” defined as compelling motivation. “Motivation” is a positive word, isn’t it? (It’s only when it morphs to “motive” that it becomes ugly.) But “obsession” is often given a negative connotation. It’s classified as unhealthy and, as the definition indicates, unreasonable.
Dedication is described as “devoting or setting aside,” but then goes into “self-sacrificing” as part of its meaning. Normally when we talk about someone being dedicated, it’s with praise, virtue, respect. But with a word like “sacrifice” in the mix, particularly of the self, does that not qualify as unreasonable?
Assuming we stick with the knee-jerk connotations of both obsessed and dedication (the former being positive; the latter, negative), we introduce the idea then of the lazy.
lazy: 1 a : disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous
b : encouraging inactivity or indolence
This is problematic for several reasons. Even if this is targeted at people who are “disinclined to activity or exertion” on a regular basis, lazy people are not the only ones who might consider someone’s dedication to be extreme or obsessive. Can’t this also be applied to the jealous, the negative, the critical, the disenchanted, the fearful, the ignorant? Laziness does not automatically make someone critical of those who are fit.
Furthermore, this message, albeit subliminal, does not necessarily motivate. In fact, it could promote the very thing it attempts to decry: obsession. At what point does dedicated become obsessive? Where is the line drawn? Clearly it cannot be drawn by the lazy, because they cannot possibly relate. But doesn’t this imply that no level of dedication is bad? After all, according to its meaning, obsession does compel motivation.
This message is dangerous, especially in an environment that is meant to promote healthy living and welcome people of all fitness levels. This alienates people who might consider their fitness level lower, and therefore, compared to the “dedicated” they are “lazy.” This might encourage the easily influenced to work harder, but not understand the difference between laziness and limitation, and therefore develop an unhealthy mindset toward fitness.
Dedication means different things to different people. My level of dedication might look like obsession to someone else. I train 5-6 days/week. I have been working with a trainer, and I try to take classes and do things that challenge me. I was called “crazy” by at least three people when I mentioned I went to a 1,000-calorie-burning boot camp last Saturday morning. My trainer, on the other hand, was very proud of me for pushing showing up and that hard. Who is correct? Am I obsessed or dedicated?
We already, as a society, have an unhealthy relationship with exercise. It seems to be all or nothing, with so few taking a moderate path. Either you’re a gym rat, or a couch potato. Both come with stigmas, yet, moderation is seldom seen as the solution or middle-ground. But to promote the idea that there is no such thing as obsession only continues to fuel unattainable, unrealistic goals, which will result in absolutely nothing that resembles a healthy mind and body.