Before I start this article, I feel the need to preface it with this:
Life isn’t perfect. It isn’t ideal. In an ideal world everyone would handle their business, and be fully self-sufficient. The reality, however, is that there are people who can’t adequately take care of themselves for completely legitimate reasons, and through no fault of their own.
This article isn’t addressed to that small group of people. This article aims to address the far larger group of willful dependents in society. People who have the means to take care of themselves, but instead, choose to rely on others because it’s easier.
It’s a bit disheartening that this differentiation has to be made when urging people to take command of their own lives. That, when personal responsibility is mentioned, we in our culture tend to indiscriminately mix the two groups together and conclude the conversation to be an “either/or” scenario… “Either you care about the misfortunes of others, or you’re just a callous, cold individual who has no compassion when you urge people to take charge of their lives and cast off dependency”.
Sadly, the distinction does have to be made though, and it is what it is.
Recently, on Twitter, I engaged in a short banter in response to a retweet I’d made. The tweet, in question, basically showed artistic renditions of superheroes, then juxtaposed them with another rendition of the same superhero with a “realistic body”. Basically you were entreated to “dad bod” Superman and full faced Harley Quinn (or, as I jokingly call her “Double-Chin Quinn). I echoed the sentiment of the original tweet jokingly, saying that nobody wants a fat superhero. It was a half-serious, half-amused comment, but I should’ve known that someone on the internet would have a push back comment to my thin privilege.
Sure enough, upon checking the notifications later that morning, I had a commenter who noted that “super powers have nothing to do with looks and weight”, and went on to state that “beauty standards and norms are created by society and media”.
First of all, superpowers aren’t real, but she wasn’t technically wrong when she stated that superpowers have nothing to do with looks or weight. Superheroes are generally created to tell a compelling story, and this is where I take issue with the push to create “representation” in a variety of mediums simply for the sake of representation. I talked about this phenomenon a while ago when I was a guest on one of Satsu2Cent’s live streams. When people push to “normalize” superheroes, or give them “realistic body types” they are not only not adding anything of substance to the original story arc, or driving idea behind the character, but they are also embodying a dependent mindset.
They want the story to cater to them rather than to allow the story simply to be. They crave a tacit acceptance from the creators of the work, and society around them to validate their particular life situation (in this case not being fit).
We bantered back and forth for a bit, my argument was that obesity was largely a choice in America and not the product of genetics that prevent people from losing weight, she argued back that people don’t have the right to insult others based on their physical appearance, I countered by saying that people have the right to say whatever they’d like as long as it isn’t a direct threat of violence. Words are, after all, words and people have the right to express themselves however they’d like.
I think the biggest problem that I had with her arguments is that they begin from a place of helplessness. They assume that a person is without the resources, either psychological or physical, to rise above the adversities they face. I believe the opposite. I believe that the vast majority (notice I didn’t say all) of people have the wherewithal to take charge of their lives. From the food you consume, the choices you make with your spare moments to become a better person or not, to the criticisms you choose to entertain, you are likely far more in control of your life than you’d believe.
This is a recurring theme that I find when I read about life’s most successful people. Many started at incredible disadvantage yet still managed to land on top. How was this possible? Because they understood that they, and they alone, were responsible for the trajectory of their life. They understood their disadvantages, but they weren’t ruled by them. They understood that complaining about how “hard” life can be wouldn’t propel them to the upper echelons of society but, rather, they knuckled down and got to work. They made their life what they wanted to it be.
I think that far more people in our culture have that ability than we realize. The United States has made personal success far more attainable than any other culture in history, and it isn’t because of some magical government program. The secret to that success has always lain in the caliber of people that America has attracted, people who were driven to make a life for themselves in spite of starting from square one. It is the people not the politicians who make the engine of industry and entrepreneurship drive in this country.
So when people complain about how “society” causes them to be obese because of the “unrealistic beauty standards” which are foisted upon them I can’t help but roll my eyes.
Am I fit? Nah. I have a mean “dad bod”, but the difference between myself and this individual I bantered with is that I don’t expect society to cater to me. I don’t expect society to tell me I’m hot and sexy at any size. I don’t hashtag “Make Dad Bod Great Again” and chastise people who criticize me. I’m realistic with myself. I understand that providing for my wife and children is the number one priority and that I’m not in the best shape of my life, and that’s ok. I’m confident enough in my own skin to admit that I’m not all there, and I also try to take proactive steps to counteract the busyness like shopping for fresh foods to counterbalance the fast food we grab on the way to dance practice.
That, to me, is personal responsibility.
It’s understanding that your mind, your body and the way you interact with the world, are largely determined by the individual choices you make. It’s about accepting this fact, and being honest about differentiating between the things which are absolutely uncontrollable, and the things we don’t want to do because they’re hard.
Life isn’t easy, but we in Western society live in what is, quite possibly, the easiest time in human history. The “struggles” we face are really quite laughable when one takes a look at the long, bloody history of humankind, and yet struggles are struggles and can, for the most part, be conquered.
I’m reminded of the unbridled optimism of William Thatcher in “A Knight’s Tale” as he told his friends that he was going to become great one day, and how it applies to people taking charge of their own personal circumstances…
When his friends try to “ground” Will, and tell him he can’t change his situation, that he’s stuck in the life assigned to him he replies simply by saying, “And how did the nobles become noble in the first place, huh? They took it, at the tip of the sword! I’ll do it with a lance! No matter what man can change his stars!”
Don’t let society determine who you are. Expect better of yourself.
Personal responsibility isn’t mean, it’s empowering.
It’s the freedom to be the best version of yourself and to live a life with no regrets.