Some thoughts on how we've lost the art of pleasure as media defines what our bodies mean to us.

The way we see the human body has undergone a significant transformation.

What we once thought of as a holistic system through which we, the people, experience joy and pleasure, has now become a collection of features meticulously optimised to increase our asset value.

I just described a body. How depressing is that?

What I’m trying to say is that rather than seeing our bodies as a source of pleasure and leisure, we’ve started seeing as more of an investment to be optimised.

And for what?

Some elusive sense of a “better life”?

This change has significant consequences, for both our physical and emotional well-being.

Because the body is now seen as a means to an end, a tool by which we acquire this “better living” that we’re being advertised on shows, in movies, on social media, as the pinnacle of human existence.

We measure every step, track every minute slept, use AI to plan how we use our time, and track the calories we put into our bodies.

It used to be about overall health and well-being.

Now it’s about achieving specific physical features: six-pack abs, thigh gaps, ideal shapes and silhouettes (think BBLs and fillers) – anything that makes us look younger and more doll-like.

Solitary workouts at the gym have become the norm, just like we see the movie stars doing, except without the expensive personal trainers and private chefs to complete our regime.

This emphasis on individualism and self-improvement is sucking all the fun out of physical activities.

Playing a sport, dancing, running, or any other physical activity used to be for the joy and pleasure of doing that thing.

But as we TikTok and Instagram our way through our days, life has become more about the performance than about the process itself.

It’s so sad that we’re forgetting how to live. We’re forgetting how to enjoy.

As much time as we spend worrying about how we look, grooming and sculpting our bodies to live up to the standards of being attractive, we’ve detached our physical attractiveness from the pleasure it can bring us (and others).

The desired features of the physical body are no longer pursued for the purpose of enhancing comfort, health or personal happiness, but rather to increase the perceived value of our bodies as assets.

The focus has shifted from desiring connection with others to an internalised drive for personal achievement based on external standards set by an invisible “other”.

There’s also an expectation of emotional self-reliance, and the desire for physical touch or intimacy is often viewed as embarrassing or co-dependent.

Addiction to arousal teaches us all (boys and men especially) to view sex as an isolated incident of just the man climaxing.

Philip Zimbardo argues that the problem is “they now prefer [the] asynchronistic internet world to the spontaneous interaction in social relationships”.

The porn industry is the fastest growing industry in America, it’s churning in around $15 billion annually.

For every 400 movies made in Hollywood, there are 11,000 porn videos made – that’s about 27 porn videos per movie.

Zimbardo further states, “So the effect, very quickly, is a new kind of arousal. Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal. That means they’re totally out of sync in traditional classes [in school], which are analog, static, interactively passive. They’re also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which build gradually and subtly”.

Real sex is confusing, emotional and muddy.

Zimbardo argues that men have a fear of intimacy, they fear a close physical and emotional connection with someone else, especially with the opposite sex, in large parts due to the overuse of the internet.

Porn is available all the time and it’s free. It’s easy.

There’s no emotional involvement, there are no complications, there is no fear of procreation (and so no thought of the future, trapping boys in the present moment).

There’s also no touching, no romance, no kissing.

And there’s no performance anxiety when there are only cum gutters.

Guys are failing academically, wiping out socially with girls, and flaming out sexually with women.

– Philip Zimbardo, “The Demise of Guys”

The ancient Greeks considered physical symmetry and harmony an expression of divinity.

The ancient Greeks held a distinctive perspective on the body and beauty, considering it a reflection of their cultural values and ideals.

Physical beauty, both in terms of the human body and overall aesthetic harmony, held great significance in Greek society.

They celebrated the human form as an embodiment of idealised proportions and sought to cultivate physical beauty as an expression of inner excellence.

The concept of beauty in ancient Greece was closely associated with the pursuit of balance, harmony, and perfection.

They believed that a well-proportioned body was indicative of a balanced and virtuous individual.

The idealised male physique, often depicted in ancient Greek sculptures and artwork, emphasised muscularity, athleticism, and strength.

These characteristics were seen as attributes of a courageous and disciplined citizen, reflecting the ideal Greek male archetype.

Similarly, Greek ideals of female beauty emphasised qualities such as grace, elegance, and fertility.

Although the portrayal of women in ancient Greek art often highlighted more modest and reserved figures compared to their male counterparts, they were still depicted with an emphasis on physical harmony and proportion.

The Greeks also believed that beauty extended beyond the physical realm.

They recognised the interplay between physical attractiveness and moral virtue.

The concept of kalokagathia, which referred to the harmony of physical and moral excellence, was highly regarded.

The Greeks believed that a beautiful body was an outward manifestation of inner goodness and moral character.

In Greek society, physical beauty and athletic prowess were celebrated through various cultural events, most notably the Olympic Games.

These games showcased the physical abilities of Greek athletes and provided an opportunity to admire and appreciate the human body in its peak form.

Do you see how we’ve inherited a lot of our concepts of beauty and what it means to be beautiful from Hellenistic culture? (And women were treated just how unequally in this time and place? Just some food for thought.)

But I digress.

You don’t get cut without help and considerable sacrifice.

This shift towards beauty without pleasure has created a culture in which individuals strive to meet physical standards set by societal norms rather than seeking genuine pleasure or fulfilment.

Yet we never openly speak about what it takes to have that perfectly sculpted body, which we see plastered all over every movie screen.

Extreme calorie restriction, often associated with bodybuilding and eating disorders, has severe consequences on both physical and emotional well-being.

The body, perceiving a lack of sustenance, prioritises essential life support systems over non-essential functions, such as sexual desire and high-level abstract thought.

People who engage in such practices of depriving the body often experience a loss of libido and diminished mental capabilities.

The body’s focus shifts to survival rather than reproduction or holistic well-being.

Make up, strategic clothing, camera angles, editing technology, and other means of artificial support can still make you look healthier, even if you feel like crap.

Because god forbid anyone look tired.

Or human.

No, we should all strive to look like statuesque sex gods and goddesses, just like the superheroes in the movies.

The portrayal of sexuality in contemporary media has become increasingly limited, particularly in the superhero movie genre.

The varying cinematic superhero universes, often adhere to a strict PG-13 rating, preferring depictions of violence over human sexuality.

Despite the rows and rows of beautiful people, there’s a notable absence of sexual themes.

As RS Benedict argued, “Modern action and superhero films fetishize the body, even as they desexualize it”.

The idealised bodies of today’s stars exist solely for the purpose of inflicting violence upon others, devoid of the pleasure and joy that human sexuality can bring.

Prioritising external standards and self-improvement at the expense of the pursuit of pleasure and genuine human connection has a profound effect on our physical and emotional well-being.

Because while we’re busy performing life, our real lives are passing us by.

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