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The Purpose of the Body
You may find this hard to believe, but when I was in my twenties, I was a brick house. Planet Fitness would have referred to me as a lunk. I spent hours in the gym, running, playing sports, gobbling creatine and egg whites until I resembled Luke Voit. I was so statuesque, I had designs of running off and joining the porn industry.
Then I turned 30, and everything changed.
I found that I was so consumed with work that even though I may have had the time to work out, I didn’t have the will to work out. Lehman Brothers stole my mojo. So my V-shaped torso turned into a cylinder. My weight bounced around, but at that point in my life, I had the determination to eat salads for a few months and take the pounds off.
Then I turned 40, and everything changed.
When I was 40, I tore my ACL and meniscus, and I found that, as a result, I gave less of a shit what I looked like. I was still going to the gym, playing racquetball pretty regularly, and I still paid attention to what I ate.
Then the pandemic hit, and all fucks went out the window.
I will tell you what I have learned over the years:
I learned that the only sensible purpose of the body is to carry around the brain.
I know a guy who is beyond obsessive about what he puts into his body. Eating only spinach and chicken, never any carbs, no soda, no dessert, no chips, no ice cream, no processed food. The obsession borders on neurosis. Any free time is spent in the gym, or running. Unsurprisingly, the guy is a brick house, coming up on 50 years old. Actually, I probably know twenty people like this.
In contrast, I am not too obsessive about what I put in my body. I get burgers from Cook Out, roast beef sandwiches from Arby’s, and I put queso on my Chipotle. I eat salads more as a carbon offset. I don’t have much in the way of physical activity other than the occasional racquetball game. I do not look like a brick house—I look like chewed bubblegum.
Do I care? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I don’t like what I see when I look in the mirror, especially with the knowledge of what I have been and could be now. That’s vanity talking, though, and vanity equals pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins. When you’re young, you want to be Peter North, and then you grow up and your worth isn’t measured in hammer curls or your hammer, but in intellect, and your intellectual contribution to society. I could lift heavy things when I was 26—I picked them up and put them down. That did not get me a job at Lehman, it did not get me a successful newsletter, and it did not get me a bunch of books. In fact, it’s not good for much of anything, except for hanging around in bars, and that has never been an aspiration of mine.
I look at this in terms of absolute advantage. Those with good bodies should use their bodies, and those with good brains should use their brains. Athletes, for sure, should eat chicken and spinach and spend hours in the gym. Their livelihood depends on it. Mine does not. In fact, it takes me away from the things that provide me with a source of income, and the things that give me joy. Working out is pure drudgery—I would be doing it out of duty, and I don’t do things out of duty. In fact, I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I do the mental math on the amount of physical and mental energy I’d have to expend to look like my friend, and the time it would take away from the things I like to do, and it just doesn’t make sense.
So I just laid out the argument for being a fat fuck. What are the counter-arguments?
Well, hard work and effort is a virtue. So if you spend a lot of time and effort on your body, you are virtuous. But that’s not the only kind of virtue. If I spend 16 hours a day writing, or investment banking, or painting, that is also a virtue. So that argument doesn’t hold water. Hard work of any kind is virtuous.
So, if you eat right and exercise, you will live longer. Not precisely. There is a correlation between diet and exercise and longevity, but it is not a strong correlation. You have elite athletes that die at 39 and fat smokers that live to 100. Diet and exercise does not guarantee longevity. If it did, then I might feel differently about it. If I knew I could definitely live an extra ten years by eating right and exercising, then I would probably do it. Or maybe not! Maybe the joy of eating cheesesteaks outweighs the benefit of the years added to my life. There are trade-offs in everything we do. People make this choice all the time—they continue to smoke, even though they know it will kill them eventually. In their calculation, it is worth it. It is a rational decision.
One argument I hear a lot (from my brother, in particular), is that if you’re physically fit, you’ll be mentally fit as well. It is a known fact that exercise is one of the best antidepressants around. I don’t fundamentally disagree. When I exercise, I always feel better. But if the argument is that I will perform at a higher level mentally if I am physically fit, I dispute that claim. I mean, for God’s sake, take a look at Vitalik Buterin. Jeff Bezos is now a brick house, but crucially, it wasn’t until after he stepped down as CEO. There are plenty of out-of-shape weaklings who are billionaires. It’s just not all that important—in fact, it doesn’t matter at all. I will concede one point—when I was finishing up my MFA, and I hadn’t exercised in three years, I was getting a little bit strung out. Some occasional exercise would have done me some good.
Or maybe the argument is that you want to be healthier, longer. You want to be mobile and active well into your seventies and eighties. Well, Stephen Hawking was able to accomplish a whole lot with one muscle in his cheek. I don’t need to be downhill skiing when I’m 75, and I generally view things like that with some skepticism. That’s not your role in life, anymore. You’re not Bode Miller, you’re a sagacious old man, and you’re supposed to sit in a chair and dispense wisdom. My grandfather on my mother’s side didn’t have his mid-life crisis until his sixties. He got a divorce, bought a plane, a sailboat, and a motorcycle, and built a cabin in Vermont with his bare hands. I thought that was pretty cool at the time, but in retrospect, it was clear he was running from something.
I just don’t think the body is all that important. It’s flesh, it decays, and all of us will be underground, someday, getting chewed apart by insect larvae. It’s like that scene in Casino Royale where Mads Mikkelsen is torturing Daniel Craig by hitting him in the nuts with a rope. “You have taken good care of your body, Mr. Bond—such a waste.” In the universe of investments, it’s not a very good investment. It’s like an option that decays. You can fluff it up as much as you like, but eventually it is going to expire worthless. All I really care about is that my clothes fit and I don’t get so fat I have to start shopping at Haggar. And I don’t think other people’s bodies are that important, either. Now, I am not one of these “it’s what’s on the inside” that matters, because frequently, people’s insides match their outsides. As much as we deny it, we are all a tiny bit shallow. But you wouldn’t go spouse-shopping amongst vapid Instagram models—that’s not the best way to find a life partner.
The only sensible purpose of the body is to carry around the brain. It’s the brain that counts—it’s who you are, and your body is not who you are. It’s just a vessel. Your intellect, your character, your capacity for love is what is important. And this isn’t left-wing body positivity talking. If I could wave a magic wand and not be fat, I would do it. But one of the things we’re learning in the age of semaglutides is that genetics is responsible for at least 50% of how you look. If I could look like one person in the world, it would be Rafael Nadal. Until then, I will have to watch my churlish figure.