I spend far too much time on Twitter, it's one of my many mundane vices.
If nothing else, it's an excellent way to find things to be angry about when everything else in your life is going well.
Recently I saw people getting angry about Chris Hemsworth having small legs, or at least a disproportionately developed lower body compared to his upper body.
But they weren't just angry about his legs, they were angry that his upper body is making people unhappy with how they look.
In other words, roughly half of Chris Hemsworth's body is bad because it represents an unrealistic (or "unattainable") standard, and the other half is bad because it's not unrealistic enough.
But unattainable for who? And why?
I would argue that it's manifestly attainable for at least one person, Chris Hemsworth, but that's not what they really mean.
It's clear that:
- Superheroes are not real;
- The actor playing the superhero is an ordinary person like you;
- They obtained their physique using essentially the same methods available to you (although drugs are often involved);
- They have access to professional nutritionists, trainers, and chefs who take away much of the hard work;
- They don't look like that all the time, it's only for the role (and they're often digitally enhanced).
But knowing this, does it change anything about how you look at his physique? And does it make it any less desirable?
In his lectures, Slavoj Zizek often refers to Lacan's objet petit a, the unattainable object of desire, and its role in ideology.
I believe it's applicable here too.
What you are really striving for is the pleasure you think you would get if you looked like a superhero, if you embodied the thing it represents.
Instagram is full of people with unattainable physiques and unattainable lifestyles, many of them enhanced or completely fake.
Those people can tell you how to eat and exercise, how to find the most flattering pose, and how to touch up your photos to look better than you really do, but it will never give you the thing you're after.
Sharing confessions about the emotional impact of performing for the camera, or the negative physiological effects of trying to look that way all the time, is a charade that only serves to reinforce the unattainability, but can never diminish the desire.
The solution is to recognise that you cannot eliminate this desire completely, you can only reveal the thing you actually want in the process of striving for it.
By engaging in the same activities as these people, by lifting weights and eating the right food, you can discover things about yourself and your own life.
Over the years I've had clients come to me with all kinds of goals in mind, often unrealistic ones.
But I realised that it is almost irrelevant if those initial goals are unrealistic or not, provided they're paying attention to the changes they're making on the way, like a spotlight slowly shifting to reveal the thing they really desire.
In Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says "It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."
Ignore anyone telling you what is or isn't attainable, but always understand that what you're seeking is not the thing itself, but what it points to.