Pumping Iron: Quest for Beauty and Sense of Self

I propose, there is development everywhere; the quest and realization of rapid and frequent haphazard progress is a reality. However, I do not limit myself to Elizabeth Economy’s and Yi-Chieh Lin’s research and observations on China’s fiscal and social development. After approximately two or three months at the H&H Gym (天行健), I have to address this yearning for personal, physical development, which in my opinion transcends this fixation on beauty… it must include muscles. Lizhu Fan and James Whitehead precisely and profoundly stated that China’s youth is attracted and “reduced to food, sex and money;” and it’s an acute observation (Chinese Religious Life, 13). Today, I concur that Chinese youth are obsessing over their bodies and remedying their imperfections – lifting daily, seeking “professional” assistance, attending classes and more. I ask myself, what does this say about Chinese individualism and what are the trends between communal and personal development.

I remember my first few visits to the gym and being utterly amazed at people doing 20 crunches followed by flexing their (nonexistent) abs in the mirror (and repeat until satisfied). It’s fascinating because this pattern is far from common in the United States, excluding our prepubescent youth’s similar obsession. There is also this display case of generic protein powder and advertisement boasting images of fit and cut men. This only advocates that if one takes this product, then that desired outcome is within reach, and maybe at an expedited rate. Of all my experiences, I’ve never seen people demand for such rapid results. However, it makes sense that people want to quickly jump into the spheres of beauty and sex; to distinguish themselves among the homogenous, zestless mass. But what happens when that agglomerate mass opts for individuality? It seems that the Chinese populace is wrought with the paradox of collectively wanting individuality and thus, the true self-made identity is utterly unrealizable.

Still, everyone desires to look and feel beautiful, whatever that entails. We already explored the contested idea of feminine beauty, but there something unique about masculine beauty. Unlike its female counterpart, masculinity is conventional and transnational; to be fit, muscular and cut is an ultimate goal, but men can expect several health benefits as byproduct. Even some of the elderly crave the same benefits. Just recently, I saw this old guy in the changing room that put my body to shame! Simply put, being situated around these “iron addicts” challenges me to work as hard, if not harder. I mean, people are developing here – not just China, but there personal self – and are creating a sense of identity. Although the quest for self is a catch-22 now, I feel that eventually the coveted individualized would eventually be realized.

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