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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

My perfect body...

East Dunbartonshire Council have it wrong...

We are having a new bathroom hammered and scraped and crowbarred into the house at the moment. Besides the fact it's painful - only having a toilet that is flushed by a bucket, no door on the room and no shower or bath for a week- it has changed my life in other ways- for a week. Or who knows- more? We'll see.

 I hate not being clean, so rather than booking into a hotel (we couldn't afford to), we've been using the local leisure centre for our morning ablutions.

And what a revelation! I swim for 15-20 minutes, slowly, managing around 15-20 lengths of the pool. At 50, I'm no longer racing anyone! We use the showers and quickly get dressed.

My wife takes a little longer than I do to dry her hair. She has hair, which is nice for her. I towel dry my beard and shine my baldy heid. And as I wait for her in the reception area of the Allander Leisure Centre in Bearsden, I notice the glossy adverts created to attract people to use the wonderful facilities- facilities always under threat from Tories who feel health and wellbeing are a market to exploit and squeeze profits from. And I think, "One day I will have a body like that 20 something, active looking bloke in that shiny, well taken photo..."

I'm a bit taken aback by the adverts, in all honestly.



Buffed, tanned, perfect bodies don the walls, urging us to change our lives by joining the gym or coming for a swim. But after over forty years of worrying about how I look -a lifetime of putting off working hard to achieve the perfect body, I see these adverts as a really negative thing. Who are they aimed at? Me? They can't be. My 19 year old son? I hope he really doesn't pay any attention to them.

I look around the reception area. And in the queue are pensioners, children, harassed parents, middle aged women and men in all shapes and sizes. And I think of who I shared the pool with a few minutes before. None of them looked at all like these professional models- people whose lives are dedicated to looking this fit and tanned in order to make money from lenses that tweak, deceive and retouch their poses into the sculpted visions of perfect humanity, torturing the rest of us.



Yes- torturing. Creating mental blocks to health.

East Dunbartonshire Council don't seem to have heard of social marketing- the latest craze in the high street and on the catwalk.

Social marketing is about persuading people to buy/do something by showing them that other people like them, buy it/do it. It is a way to show that ordinary folk with bodies like me or other people who have lifestyles that mean they are working 9-5 NOT feeding a camera lens; people who have reached that golden time called retirement; people who need sticks to walk; people with the real imperfections that everyone has that are never shown in GQ or Vogue; people with bumps lumps, smiles and resilience through the onslaught of the media scrum that seeks out youth and holds it above reality- an unhealthy obsession with youth going back to the turn of the 20th century and under aged model, Evelyn Nesbitt and the IT girl and resulting in the dreadful diseases of self hatred, harm and nihilistic eating, drinking and smoking some of us resort to! The unattainable as an ambition. A reality divorced from the streets and the coffee shops and the pubs and the supermarkets where real bodies slouch and run hurriedly to their work.



Of course, this social marketing is beg used at present by really unhealthy brands. Ordinary people- with ordinary bodies and faces and habits- are showing us that fast food and fizzy drinks and tv channel hopping as a lifestyle choice are for them.

But the counter to that really is not what East Dunbartonshire Council seem to think it is- presenting what is unattainable for most of us as "health."

My revelation has been this. I don't look like that model. I'll never look like that model. I don't have the time or the narcissistic tendency to spend my time, money or mental health in achieving the perfection of the East Dunbartonshire Leisure Centre photo models. But I feel good! The necessity of having to go to the Allander this week and having a swim has made me FEEL good.



As a young person, I used to run, cycle and I did my time sweating in a gym. And even though, for a short time, I was addicted to the reshaping of my 20 something year old body- it was in vain- I did not become Adonis. I was still a 6 foot 1, slightly stooped, bandy legged, buck tooth *me.* Just a fitter, healthier me. Well, physically healthy- not altogether mentally fitter as the unattainable just seemed to become more and more unattainable as I strived to attain it. The high and happiness I got from exercise was negated by the presentation of perfection the media, Holywood and advertising presented to me.

And at times when I realised the Adonis me was unattainable, I gave up. I over ate; I over drank; I smoked and I slumped in front of the telly (not always as a reaction to my imperfections- I enjoyed these things, and the alcohol marketing man or woman showed me another way to attain the photo model/movie star look through a cigarette balanced between my lips and a drink in my hand!) All the time, though, knowing that I didn't feel that good. And all of these unattainable images telling me; torturing me; taunting me.

Now, after a few years of casting off things that make me feel bad, I think I am going in the right direction. I don't drink- and after four years of being alcohol free, I feel confident enough in situations where alcohol is the social driver, to drink non alcoholic beer or sparkling water and still have a good time. I don't eat meat and am transitioning to vegan- and this makes me feel good in that I am not supporting the torture and slaughter of other beings on the planet I share with them. I stopped smoking many years ago; and the only drug I take is caffeine in coffee and green tea. And I feel good!

Swimming this week has made me feel good as well.

I dipped my toe in the pool for the first time last Tuesday. And it was with trepidation. Embarrassment. Embarrassed at my shape and lumps, bumps and imperfections. I wasn't the model that they used to advertise their facilities.

But no longer. Because the reality of the Allander pool is not the perfect bodies on their adverts. The reality is that those sharing the pool with me are all shapes, sizes, weights and ages. And they look happy and healthy.

Social marketing - reflecting reality..?
Of course there are a few people in the pool, in the lanes, powering up and down the pool; gliding through the water -being almost perfect. They are noticeable, only because at the start of the week they showed me how unfit I had become. There was a time when I could swim fast, with a perfect stroke. But they no longer put me off. I no longer focus on that perfection. And I think, "are the same things goading them that goaded me when I was twenty?"

I look to the other people-the people like me- the majority of us of different ages, shapes and lives- and I am comforted that real health is about feeling good. Looking good is for those who are blessed with faces and bodies that magazine editors and marketing women and men (who are probably imperfect like the rest of us), seek to create in art that the photographer and her lens presents as perfection.

The models East Dunbartonshire Council have donned the place with, make the place look good, like the pages of a glossy fashion/unattainable lifestyle magazine- but their perfection honed in a studio is off putting. It is damaging. It does not promote the reality of good health.

Good health is not feeling shame walking from the changing rooms to poolside. Good health is knowing the short swim I do is protecting me from our societal diseases -diseases our marketing people have a huge responsibility in raising to the dreadful heights they are at.

But I am feeling a bit more confident despite their photos. I am feeling more energised by the exercise, and I am happy with some of my imperfections. And that's where I am.

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