Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The scarcity principle, or ‘how to look good naked’

scarcity principle
© Glenn Francis,

A beautiful, fit body is a rare thing. And it is that very scarcity which makes us place so much value upon it.

Paradoxically perhaps, our lives are inundated with images of lean, healthy, sometimes thin and sometimes muscular models. Yet, despite the omnipresence of the body-beautiful on our walls and our screens, despite what looks like a readily achievable goal, there is no escaping the elusiveness of this physique: it requires a significant effort to make the image in the mirror match the perfect images we see all around us.

Physical beauty –the one achieved rather than the kind you may have been born with- comes at a price. That price is not merely a monetary one (gym memberships, personal trainers, etc), it is also paid in units of sweat.

And make no mistake about it: there may be shortcuts, and there may be optimal ways to eat and train for fitness and for leanness, but there are no magic-bullets.
The fitness industry is rampant with such quick fixes and promises, but does it actually deliver?

Seemingly, it does: people, when they start a training regime, often experience good results and early promises. But in the long run, the attrition rate suggests endemic failure...
Why then, would people give up, having come a little closer to their goals, or even having achieved the body they desire? Why do gyms make fortunes out of the lifetime memberships they sell which their clients never take full advantage of? Well, more often than not, life takes over. Commitments, tiredness, boredom, and the foregone conclusion of our battle against time. Achieving and sustaining a desirable body which matches the standards we see in the adverts takes, for all but the very genetically gifted, a life of dedication and effort. And, the truth is, our efforts often fail in the face of our expectations...

Consider for an instant professional athletes, men and women dedicated to the pursuit of fitness who spend countless hours a day training –not for looks, certainly- but following principles and methods not all together dissimilar to those you use in the gym. How many of them have –compared to the images of beauty on our walls- substandard bodies? A fit and sexy body is rare and valuable, because it is at best a passing stage in our lives, or more likely a mere promise we caught a glimpse of.

In the end, is the prize you have to pay worth it? In my simple economic terms, because of the sweat, and time and money you invest in your body, and because of the scarcity of its beauty and function, it is obviously valuable. However, having value does not mean that this value is readily cashable.
There are of course added benefits to fitness training: health, quality of life, the social aspects, the feeling of well being in a body that moves like it was designed for... but in an age where you can replace the parts you have messed up through your unhealthy lifestyle with artificial ones, in an age where time can be invested in financial pursuits the rewards of which may buy you far more goods and vacations and experiences than a fit body ever will, does it actually still make sense to pursue physical beauty and fitness?

If it truly did, why would some 80% of the population fail to meet national guidelines for exercise?

The truth is, the quest for fitness and the quest for the body-beautiful, in their more extreme forms, are tragic enterprises: they are doomed to failure, though they are superb reflections of our vanities and egos, our dreams, our hopes and aspirations. They are one of the things that make us human, rather than calculating robots with growing bank accounts and a comfortable existence.

Whatever our fitness aspirations are, whether it is beauty, improved performance, health, a sense of well-being, why let failure get in the way? We should fail gladly. 
The ability to manage failure, to bounce back and fail again, is as scarce and precious as the elusive beauty, fitness or performance we seek. But it transcends them all, and makes our lives worthwhile.


  1. Ah! Very deep and insterting article. I agree and feel too that you must somewhat embrace failure if you want to excel.

  2. Very well put! Thank you for this inspiring article. :)