You don’t really want abs

“I don’t want a full six-pack,” you tell yourself, “Maybe a four-pack–just enough so I don’t need to walk around sucking in my stomach all the time.”

Right underneath your desire for a four-pack is a desire to feel good about yourself. In order to feel good about yourself you need status, because culture has instructed you that people with less fat on their stomachs have more status. You want more status so you don’t have to feel shame.

The last paragraph is worth re-reading. All of us, all the time, are wired to seek status (GPA’s, jobs, houses, girlfriends and boyfriends, clothes, gifts, ‘likes,’ and on and on forever). In the end you don’t actually want abs–you want status in order to avoid shame.

Sounds like a terrible way to live to me.

This is why marketers of diet and exercise programs have such an easy time convincing you to buy their products. They’ve sold you on the idea that you ought to be ashamed of yourself for not having abs, and hence, you have inferior status, and hence, you cannot feel good about yourself.

Indeed, getting abs to avoid shame is one way to go, but there might be an easier way: practice feeling good about yourself regardless of what your stomach looks like.

The ancient Chinese tale “Independence” by the philosopher Chuang Tzu (390-365 B.C.) is instructive here:

“Chuang Tzu was one day fishing, when the Prince of Ch’u sent two high officials to interview him, saying that his Highness would be glad of Chuang Tzu’s assistance in the administration of his government. The latter quietly fished on, and without looking round, replied, ‘I have heard that in the State of Ch’u there is a sacred tortoise, which has been dead three thousand years, and which the prince keeps packed up in a box on the altar in his ancestral shrine.  Now do you think that tortoise would rather be dead and have its remains thus honoured, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?’  The two officials answered that no doubt it would rather be alive and wagging its tail in the mud; whereupon Chuang Tzu cried out ‘Begone!  I too elect to remain wagging my tail in the mud.'”

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