2018-05-22 09:52:57date was

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  • Noor Says No: Gym Culture & Body-Improvement in Cairo


    With summer ahead, Cairo’s gyms are beginning to experience the annual rush of seasonal gym-flocking as Cairenes race to achieve their ‘perfect’ body in time for beachside shenanigans.

    I don’t have an issue with wellness and fitness, but I do have a problem with the baggage that comes with it in Egypt.

    I refuse to buy into the cultural imperative that women have to shrink and men have to bulk up leading into the ‘Sahel season’. If life is anything, it is definitely more than a glorified fashion show. Certain body types do not make you more attractive than others and it’s harmful to glorify bodies that, at most, only 10% of the population will ever be able to attain. I’m not talking about health; I’m talking about our very narrow conception of what kinds of bodies are attractive.

    We should acknowledge that, even in Egypt, there are multi-billion dollar industries only in business because of men and women’s physical insecurities, and we should understand that if we were all to wake up tomorrow feeling good about ourselves (not feeling like we need to lose a few, not feeling that we need makeup to be presentable to the world), these conglomerates would be swiftly and surely out of business.

    That being said, I like physicality. Until a back injury benched me, I played rugby, rowed, and coached gymnastics. I like what my body can do as a holistic entity. I do not like dividing my body, splitting it into different body parts and then working on them individually. I especially do not believe in ‘problem areas’. It feels very unnatural to me to treat my body with such detachment – I am not a machine.

    Unfortunately for me, I go to the gym. The gym, beyond being an absolute human cesspit that seems to attract the most unevolved amongst us, is not an area designed to make you feel good about yourself. Like any other ‘self-improvement’ industry, it is an arena designed to make you feel that, if you purchase their product/service, you will be better.

    Gyms dehumanise you. You are not you, you are a walking amalgamation of specific body parts that could be better. You think about yourself in terms of meaningless numbers. How much do you weigh? How much can you lift? How many calories are you consuming?

    It is not difficult to become obsessed with improving your body, sculpting it to some semblance of what society tells you is perfect. It’s easy to see why – your body is constantly judged (ask anybody who’s overweight), and society extrapolates your worth as a human being from your weight (as in, ‘Oh she’s fat? She must be lazy’ ‘Thin? Takes care of herself’). As with anorexia and other eating disorders, controlling your body with the sadism of a Nazi commander gives you the illusion of control in a chaotic world. If this addiction happens to make you look ‘better’, well, you’re all the better for it. 

    What the hell is a ‘cheat day’? What’s wrong with just eating what you want? Are we deliberately trying to foster problematic relationships with food? We’re all going to die soon and this endless crusade for self-improvement – the guilt and body-shaming vortex – isn’t making any of us any nicer as people. We’re turning things that are meant to be enjoyable into things we have to work for to deserve. The ultimate evolution of this phenomenon is the beach as a glorified cattle market with well-built peacocks strutting up and down, dementedly taking selfies. I’m not OK with my summer turning into that.

     By Noor Salama