How to Stop Chasing the Perfect Body and Become a Writer Instead

The two noble pursuits share a lot of similarities. The transition from one to the other requires only replacing one kind of vanity with another.

Feb 20 · 6 min read
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

I come out on the other side of 45, having lost the fight for obtaining the perfect body. If I measure the effort in physical commitment, with the exception of a few blitzkriegs — a period of 5 AM boot camp sessions, a couple of half marathons — the fight has been more of a board game challenge. If I measure it in emotional investment and persistence over time, however, it is sadly one of the defining themes of my life. Someone can write a book about how shallow that is. Many others have written books about the origins and consequences of such negative conditioning. After all, why should a man be proud of the size of his penis, even if the shadow of the penis is obscured by the shadow of their bellies, while one wrinkle on a woman’s face immediately chips away at the net value of her existence?

But I digress. All I am trying to say is that I may have not won the fight for the perfect body, but I am a veteran of the war strategies and tactics — overt and covert — that define this Cold War. So when I timidly started to write for fun, not for work, it was easy to spot the parallels between the two achievements: Having the Perfect Body and Being a Writer.

Two Versions of the Hero Myth

Both the Writer and the Perfect Body owner are supernatural myths. The Writer, or Storyteller, possesses superb powers of observation and expression. She is not as much all-knowing, or all-seeing, she is anywhere-meaning-finding.

As with all myths, there are a few distinct archetypes that make the writer’s Olympus juicier, yet predictable enough to enjoy it: the macho hero (Hemingway), the misunderstood genius (Foster-Wallace), the prophet whose voice is only heard too late (Woolf). You just need to open the Sunday New York Times Book Review By the Book feature, which asks fakely intimate book-habit questions to see the myth in the making. If you read the books so-and-so read, if you do follow the same recommendations they do, or consider inviting the same writer luminaries to dinner, maybe you, too, can imagine yourself being a writer. Behind the down-to-earth-ness, you can taste the affectation, so subtle that it makes you wonder if it is real or it is just a reflection of your jealousy and envy.

The Perfect Body myth is very similar. One either has it or they don’t. If they do, they never work for it, because to do so would be to admit two things — that you are shallow enough to strive for it, or privileged enough to afford making it your sole life’s achievement. Like a gift from the gods, it is bestowed upon some, the back story for why they deserved it stitched with barely hidden threads of clichés.

We have the archetype of the Cinderella — slaving not under an evil stepmother, but under the burden of similarly unfortunate circumstances (Vodianova) — an evil political system that robbed her of her chance to be a doctor.

The Donkey Skin princess, in which someone’s noble beauty cannot be hidden by the ordinariness of her upbringing, is the predominant archetype of the mall-rats-turned model myth (Lima).

And, finally, we have the ugly duckling myth, which enchants all of us, who believe that we can transform ourselves into awe-inspiring beauties. In most ugly duckling variations the feature that was ridiculed becomes the very sign of beauty redefined — Brooke Sheppard’s eye brows, Cindy Crawford’s mole. (I have not heard of a single model whose love handles became her signature beauty mark. But again, I digress.)

No Pain, No Gain

Like achieving the perfect body, becoming a writer requires constant sacrifices. For the first one, you skip dessert, you wake up at 5 AM, you chase after the magic food of the day. For the second one, it is not enough to write, you have to quit your job to do it, endure the haters, who question your ability to do it, and above all, write about writing. A common recurring headline is a version of Why I Don’t Write. In true hero mode, the author usually proceeds to tell us about the mental, physical and social obstacles they have overcome to deliver a piece that is as sacrificial and as cleansing as eating only kale for a week. Like the promise of deliverance, the purity of the goal is what keeps you going, despite the setbacks, self-doubt, other-doubt.

Goop : Perfect Body Chasers :: Medium : Future Writers

You know a movement has arrived when it has support communities, advice industries, reward systems and monetization strategies popping up to validate it. Goop, valued at $250M, with its crazy advice that purports to promote a healthy and fulfilled lifestyle is like an ancient bazaar of positive thinking aimed to take you within reach of the ideal of the perfect body. Reading about dry brushing your skin, carrying a jade egg in your vagina, the place where eggs are supposed to be expelled from, or restricted time eating (fancy way of saying 3 meals a day) is the first, most important step to getting on the path to perfection.

Goop screen capture

When Medium launched in the early 2010s, it was with the commendable belief that “Sharing ideas and experiences moves humanity forward.” Less than 10 years later, we all know that not all ideas are worth sharing (maybe this post is an example one of those). Not all of them move us forward either. However instead of changing its model and assuming editorial responsibility to make sure better ideas and writing get exposure, Medium changed its mission: “Ideas and perspectives you won’t find anywhere else.” And let me tell you: what a Jade egg is for perfect body chasers, uniqueness is for wanna-be writers. (Thanks, Medium!)

“The two minutes it takes to read this will improve your writing forever” proclaims one peddler of writing advice, humbleness never being typical of charlatans. “Want to write better? Try cooking,” recommends another. None of these are harmful, yet the illusion that all it takes to become a good writer is some magical method or ritual is as real as the idea that eating no carbs for life will make your body perfect.

Medium screen capture

The Voids within Us

Both the perfect body and the writer dreams are fueled by the same eternal void: the need to be liked and admired. They are two versions of an inherent vane conviction that we are special, that we deserve to be loved, that perfection is within us, only waiting to be shaped externally or expressed into words. Deep inside though, we know both pursuits are futile. There are no miracle cures, no jade egg that if you carry long enough, would bring you to perfection. A perfect body will not get you loved. Loving someone other than yourself might. Similarly, writing or as some call it, producing content, regularly will not make you a Writer.

Having something to say might.

Writing this piece took me an hour. Based on advice about writing regularly every day, I am six days closer to being a great writer.

Emilia Palaveeva

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