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March 28, 2018

If You Hear It Enough, You Start to Believe It

by Michael Hughes

One thing you may not know about me is that I’m a sucker for a good cartoon, especially on a Saturday morning. Every Christmas, my nephews and I bond over cartoons; I sit there in my adult reindeer onesie, sipping on coffee, totally relaxed and happy. Ever since I found out I was going to be a Dad, one of the activities I’ve secretly looked forward to is having Kennedy join me for a Saturday morning dad/daughter cartoon. 

It finally happened last weekend! Being overly conscious new parents, we have limited how much (if any) “screen time” Kennedy is exposed to; so we could only justify watching one 8-minute Silly Symphony. Paden and I grew up on these simple hand drawn cartoons, and we thought it would be good to pick a more dated, old school cartoon, because it would be slower paced. We picked the Three Little Pigs or some variation of it. 

There I was, snuggled up with my little daughter, watching a cartoon, revelling in how cool it was to be a dad when suddenly, the show took a bad twist and it showed the little pig “torturing” the wolf. I couldn’t believe it. The wolf was almost getting waterboarded and forcibly spanked by a metal torture device. What were they showing kids in the 40’s?!? This stuff would never fly today! I couldn’t believe it. My romantic notions of cartoon watching with my daughter faded into a guilt trip about how to pick cartoon content that wasn’t offensive.

I started to think about Tom and Jerry (one of my favorites), and the Loony Toons, and I began to realize that there is a lot of violence in cartoons that I’ve never thought much about…until now, being responsible for exposing Kennedy to it. Looking back, I grew up watching lots of cartoon-form violence, without thinking it was wrong or in bad taste. And those are just my favorite cartoons, not even Paden’s. I’m not even going to get into the harmful messaging around Disney princesses . I’ll save that for another time.  

It seems to me that what we grew up with and what impresses us initially in most contexts, is what we adopt and come to think of as “normal”. Another way of seeing this is when we become desensitized over time to incorrect or harmful messaging. Pretty soon we can accept it as fact. 

In fitness, I believe we have put out some harmful messages that shape many of today’s athletes and cause harm to functional fitness training. Those of us who grew up in the 80’s or 90’s may have become desensitized to some messages such as:

  • We work out so that we can eat whatever we want.
  • We obsess about ideal weights and never feel satisfied with how we look.
  • We work out with heavy weights to build muscle that looks good. 
  • We work out to look good naked.
  • A workout is only good if we are so sore that it hurts to move the next day. 
  • A coach is motivating when he/she is yelling at us to work out harder and faster than we think we should.
  • We compare ourselves to “fitness models” who have been photoshopped for magazine covers, as if that body type is normal.

As a coach and fitness facility owner, I feel responsible to re-frame antiquated and harmful messages that many of us grew up with. I’d prefer to say the following: 

  • We eat to fuel our body so that it performs the way we would like it to. 
  • We practice gratitude for our bodies, and if we value weight loss, it’s simply to live a longer healthier life.
  • Our muscle mass is strong, balanced and apparent when we move. 
  • We work out to move better and do cool things.
  • A workout is good if it challenges you physically and mentally and leaves you feeling uplifted. 
  • A coach is motivating when he/she shows genuine care and knows how to connect my goals to that day’s workout
  • We celebrate the real life athletes that model what is possible and, they inspire us to stay dedicated.

If we challenge yesterday’s “normalized” mindsets with positive and more empowering messages, think how much better our children’s generation of athletes will be. Let’s correct negative mindsets, limited perspectives and superficial “whys” and build a better future.

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