Thursday, May 17, 2012


Today's story will be replaced by another reflection. Deal with it.

The Abigail and I (and our personal trainer, for what it's worth) have been continuing to think about the weird reactions I get when I tell people that I'm using a diet to lose excess weight and improve my health. However, there's a very specific response that I get from a specific group of people that I'd like to discuss here.

My fellow geeks really don't like my diet.

I've had geeks criticize me for trying to lose weight. I've had the entire idea - not to mention me and my dedication to it - mocked and made light of. I've gotten completely ridiculous advice like "just go to the gym to take care of your health and eat whatever you want," as if there weren't long-term consequences to carrying around seventy extra pounds and filling your arteries with cholesterol. I've had some geeks even try to undermine me, albeit in "joking" ways. I'm pretty blasé about it, but it drives the Abigail crazy.

I think it's interesting that it's my fellow geeks that react this way, and I think there are a couple of reasons why.

Firstly - and most importantly - I think that a lot of my fellow geeks have pretty huge chips on their shoulders. We like to think that unlike those shallow social beings and crude physical creatures - you know, the people who gave us shit in high school - we are creatures of the mind. We are dedicated to the intellectual pursuits that we know will really make a difference in the future. We're engineers, scientists, and artists. We don't worry about our weight. That's for lesser creatures.

I think this is bullshit in a lot of ways. The improved body awareness and self-image that come from getting in shape can improve your life in many ways. Sex is better, food is better, driving is better - hell, walking is better.

Secondly, I think a lot of geeks get upset because they feel like I'm abandoning them. We're all in the same club if we're all too fat, too thin, and out of shape. When I start showing concern for my weight and my eating habits, I think that a lot of my friends feel like I'm abandoning them.

Relatedly, I think that a lot of geeks are about food and exercise the same way that the "mundies" are about alcohol. Have you ever noticed that if you talk to a bunch of people about drinking, what inevitably comes up are stories about the dumb things they've done while drunk? And if someone who doesn't drink - or only ever drinks to moderation, and never gets drunk - speaks up, suddenly all the drinkers get really uncomfortable? Well - I've noticed it.

I think it's because as long as we're all drinkers here, we're all in the club. None of us need to worry about being judged - or even being invited to judge ourselves - because we're all guilty. When, suddenly, someone reveals himself as being not part of the club, the drinkers all freak out. Suddenly they have to deal with judgement, even if it's only their own.

Geeks are the same way about general bodily health. I'm leaving the "let's all pretend that we're happy with our bodies" club, and it stresses people out.

As an aside - before I move on to one final aspect to this little topic - I want to point out that I'm not talking about bizarre body-image fatness, thinness, and healthiness. I'm not talking about wanting exquisitely toned abs or a butt you could use as an anvil. I'm talking about wanting to go from seventy pounds overweight to a healthy B.M.I.. I'm talking about wanting to add an extra five to ten years to my life, and improve my mobility and physical comfort in many more years. And, yes, I am talking about being a little more confident and comfortable in my skin, and with my reflection.

The Abigail has told me about an added wrinkle for geeks who are also girls. She says - and I really need to get her to write a guest post about this - that girls who are friends with boys have to be either for the boys or one of the boys. In other words, they either trade their sexuality for power and acceptance, or they de-girl themselves as much as possible. Unsurprisingly, most geeks girls (no, not all, but most) seem to prefer the latter. The Abigail has told me that when she tells geek girls about her health goals, or her growing interest in makeup, she gets a similar negative reaction.

"Don't do that!" they tell her. "You'll give us all a bad name. People will think that we're like them."

And I have to ask - is that really the best we can do?

One of the things that I always loved about geek culture was its willingness to accept other people on the merits they possessed, rather than demanding obedience and conformity. Of course, that has never really been true. We are a social movement, like any other, and we have our rules, our boundaries, and our qualifications. That said, I thought there was something noble about a group that would take in the broken and outcast, no matter how fat, scrawny, or otherwise unlovely. Are you interested in things nobody else is and disinterested in things everyone else thinks are necessary? Great - you're one of us!

And we know geeks can do it. We've survived the rise of the geek, when geeks have become rich and famous off the power of their enormous brains. Even the other kind of geeks - those of us with interests in super heroes and science fiction and D&D - have our heroes in the likes of Joss Whedon, artists whose works reach wider and wider audiences without compromising their principles (mostly...).

And I like to think that geeks can continue to be open and accepting to those of us who fit the geeky bill, even when we decide to make valid and necessary changes in our lives.


Heidi said...


Becca said...

I think this is pretty much spot on.

Another thing I'll point out is that in some (albeit not all) geek circle, there are some pretty unhealthy group eating habits. For example, going to late night diners multiple times a week. An unending pile of Doritos and candy bars to eat during game. Or maybe it's not so much the presence of these things as the social acceptability of drinking three Red Bulls and eating a whole can of Pringles.*

*I don't want to come off as snobby, because these things aren't bad in moderation. It's when they're a constant lifestyle that you start running into trouble.

Also, for all that geek girls are supposed to shuck beauty standards like geek guys, I find there are a lot of silent attempts to one-up each other regardless. It's a cruel paradigm.

Per usual, it's always a delicate balance between promoting healthy habits and going overboard/causing further body image problems/having unhealthy perceptions of beauty. But yeah, I hear what you're saying about nerd resistance.

I'd be a little cautious with BMI, as it's something of a flawed system. But overall, I see what you're saying about wanting to be at a healthy weight.

Now, to have the best of both worlds with healthy habits an geekery, I recommend this:

kindli said...

I was never "geeky enough" to be part of the geeks in high school, nor was I "cool enough" or "smart enough" for the other crowds, so I'd like to offer the advice of a true outsider: it is your life, ignore the 9 out of 10 geeks who can't be supportive of your goals to be a healthier you. Bad ass scorers don't take shit from middle schoolers, why would they take shit from geeks? ;)