That’s right, put in work
shake that a**, go berserk
eat your salad, no dessert
get that man you deserve.
Kanye West, “The New Workout Plan”
We've been mislead
Kanye West wasn’t just laying down a sick beat when he recorded The New Workout Plan, he was providing some sadly hilarious commentary on how we think about health and fitness: stick to a specific, prescriptive formula and you can make yourself skinny enough to snag the man (or woman) (..or rapper, or NBA player…) of your dreams. Easy recipe for success, right?
Our society’s paradigm for health, fitness, and well-being is deeply skewed and unaligned with many people’s actual biology and experience. For instance, science is beginning to demonstrate that the Size 2 ideal is even less easy to achieve and maintain than we previously thought. Dr. Jeffrey Friedman’s research on obesity and the appetite regulating hormone leptin has shown that genetics play a pretty significant role in our weight maintenance. Most people, no matter how many salads they eat and desserts they skip, will probably never be the size of Gisele Bundchen or see the six pack abs of The Rock.
Also, people who exhibit that physical ideal, that flawless portrait of what Western society thinks peak health and beauty looks like aren’t always the happiest. As I was investigating this issue, Facebook friends readily admitted to me that some of the “thinnest” periods in their lives weren’t when they were most mentally healthy. There’s even some data to support this — a 2005 study that tracked 3,000 people over the course of 16 years found that their risks of anxiety and depression actually fell as their BMIs rose.
FITNESS FOR EVERYONE
To borrow from the Occupy Movement, fitness culture is often positioned for the 1%, not the 99%. In a world where $100 LuluLemon yoga pants, $34 SoulCycle classes, and $200 a month Equinox memberships are marketed incessantly, it can feel like an active lifestyle is only accessible to those with means.
Plus, while the benefits of regular exercise and activity are pretty indisputable, they’re rarely the focus of our energy. The current picture of what a healthy body looks and feels like is dubiously attainable, expensive, and doesn’t even seem to be making a lot of us that happy. It’s time for a new model. One that’s not within the reach of just an elite few - a model that seems feasible for anyone to follow.
The tricky part is that there is no ONE model to turn to as an alternative. The road to a healthy, happy life is as distinct and diverse as the 6 billion people on this planet. Living well is only sustainable when it feels like a natural extension of who you are, not a mold you have to force yourself into.
I’ve borne witness to many people around me who have struggled to adopt healthier habits into their lives, with inevitable fits and starts, largely because fitness doesn’t seem obtainable. If the end goal looks like something that’s impossible to achieve, what’s the point of trying in the first place?
99% is A NEW CONVERSATION ABOUT what FITNESS really looks like
99% Fit is a new conversation about fitness. One that dismantles fitness stereotypes and promotes healthy fitness examples through personal stories, essays, and social content. It aims to showcase a range of ages, body types, and approaches to fitness that help demonstrate that a “fit” life is hardly a one-size-fits-all endeavor. People with disparate backgrounds and personalities CAN integrate physical activity into their lives in ways that feel natural, seamless, and above all, enjoyable.
Through this conversation, perhaps we can all start to reframe our personal wellness goals. Instead of “perfection” as our north star, we can strive toward “good enough” — good enough to stave off disease, improve mental health, increase strength and stamina, and live longer, fuller, more robust lives.
ABOUT the author
I'm Whitney Bryan. I'm a brand strategist by day, and a fitness junkie by night. This combination has resulted in many hours pondering behavior change, health culture, and body image.
I definitely benefit from what some corners of the Internet call “thin privilege”; genetically, I tend to have less body fat and overall mass. There was a time in my young life when I exercised as a means to hold onto this privilege. Gaining weight was to be avoided at all costs because my body and my size had become such a core part of my identity and sense of self-worth — would people like me if I wasn’t thin? Without my body, would I be interesting enough, smart enough, talented enough to be worthy of love and friendship? Over the course of my lifetime, as I’ve cultivated a diverse array of interests and become more self-aware and confident, exercise has become less about maintaining how I look, and more about how it makes me feel. How it makes me my body able to accomplish feats of strength and endurance. How it makes me feel less sad and anxious. How it gives me a sense of control in a world that often feels chaotic and messy.
My hope is that sharing these stories will help others create a similar relationship to fitness. One that's ultimately self-defined and internally motivated.
You can reach out to me here: