Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Congratulations on Winning the Genetic Lottery!


Perhaps you’ve seen the latest pictures online of the lingerie wearing new mom Caroline Berg Erickson who took a “selfie” just four days after supposedly giving birth to her child.  Or maybe you can remember from a few months ago the “what’s your excuse”  “fit mom” Maria Kang who posed with her three young children in skimpy work-out attire to show off her well-toned body. While Erickson has claimed that her picture wasn’t meant to shame women, and Kang has strongly resisted claims of being a bully because of her pictures, I think the message stands out loud and clear. 
'LeBron James' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: you’ve heard it said that we can be anything we want to be in life. That sounds great and all, but at 5-11/185, I’ve got no shot at making an NBA roster. Some say that anyone can be anything they put their mind to—baloney I say. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I don’t and won’t ever have the size, strength, or quickness required to compete in a professional sports league like the NBA.  My point is that these two women, who I am sure maintain rigorous physical fitness regimens, are also winners of the genetic lottery.  
LeBron James is an incredible basketball talent who works very hard at his craft. He also happens to be 6-8, 250, built like an ox, and able to jump out of the gym.  LeBron could say all he wants about his “hard work and dedication” getting him to where he is today, but let’s be honest, his “God-given” physicality and talents had a LOT to do with it. Heck, LeBron is such an athletic freak of nature that he has expressed desire to play an NFL game one day, with many thinking that he certainly could compete. NFL stars such as Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, who played little or no college football, also demonstrate this reality.  So much for “hard work and dedication” being the keys to success.  
Here’s the thing, like the ancient Greeks, our society has given preeminence to those with incredible physical attributes like James and Erickson while conversely critiquing everyone else for not being able to meet those same standards.  It’s basically an aristocracy of physicality.  At least ancient Greece seemingly recognized what they were doing —our society is messed up enough to believe it’s simply “hard work” and “dedication” that gets you a body like Erickson or a jump-shot like LeBron. 
'2013 Boston Marathon' photo (c) 2013, Sonia Su - license:’s a reality check, all humans are not “created” equal—not all have the same gifts, talents, strengths, or abilities. Neither do we all start off with the same basic “tools” to work with.  I am a runner.  I have run a marathon, something 99.5% of the population hasn’t done. I ‘d like to think that makes me pretty special. But here’s the thing, my dad was a very good runner, far better than me in fact. He has qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon 3 times (the top marathon in the country) and ran a hundred mile race! By that standard, my single marathon doesn’t look that fantastic anymore.  I’m not a scientist, but I’d say chances are pretty good that my dad passed along some genes that predisposed me to being good at endurance sports, not to mention passing along an environment and culture of running!
Being I’m a self-proclaimed theologian, I of course recognize a religious dimension to all of this. According to author Luc Ferry,  one of the defining things that separated early Christianity from Greek thought was its insistence on the value of humans no matter their differences or “weaknesses.”  Christianity continues to affirm the intrinsic value of each and every human being as created in the “image of God” (theologians have argued for centuries on what that actually means).   So then, I find it troubling that in a culture that claims to be overwhelmingly “Christian” people are not valued simply by virtue of their humanity but rather by their physical appearance, their earning potential, or their abilities. 
Worse even, our culture shames people for not living up to these impossible standards. I’m sure many women wish they could look like Kang, but they don’t have the same body size, structure, genetics, etc. Or perhaps they don’t have the time or motivation to work out like Kang. Yes, physical health is important, but there are many people who simply find other things to enrich and enhance their lives in other places than the gym.  That’s not a bad thing. There isn’t some eternal law that says we must all have a certain BMI or body fat percentage—our culture defines such. 
What I’m saying is, first of all, be you. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.  I can’t be LeBron James, and I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could be. Second of all, take care of yourself—however that works for you. We all know the things we should cut back on and we all know the thing we need to do to improve our health. But third, and most important, don’t freak out about it. I’m never going to be an elite runner, to me I’d have to give up too much to make that even a possibility, and despite what Maria Kang might think, all woman aren’t supposed to look like her, and that’s ok. Because you know what? In the end, I think we’re all winners of the genetic lottery! We’re the only us that exists in the world! And when recognize that fact and start truly being ourselves, we’ll be the richest people in the world!
So be you!
Take care of yourself!
Don’t worry about what others think!
 Go us!


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