A 2008 edition of The Sociology of Sport Journal featured a highly illuminating article entitled “Fatness, Fitness, and the Moral Universe of Sport and Physical Activity“, it consisted of an ethnography which suggested the existence of a “moral universe that makes the moral superiority of the fit, athletic body possible”.
This article is one of a slow and gradual trickle of written works that are hinting at an unwritten moral law within contemporary society, whether approvingly or otherwise. This is the law that says: those with athletic, toned bodies have superior moral compasses to those whose bodies show any signs of imperfection. We see this moral universe at work in the micropractices of our economy, from increased job prospects for the toned and bronzed, to the demeaning moral reasoning that links moral objections of commercial practices (particularly in the porn industry) to “physical unattractiveness”, to the adjustment of bodies to pornographic templates as a means to regulate or even save human relationships.
And solutions abound for such imperfections, be they the more corporeally engaged methods of gyms and plastic surgery, to the more electronic method of airbrushing one’s profile picture to suit the pornographic image du jour, or even all of the above.
It must be stated that the Christian tradition does recognise a link between the direction one’s moral life takes and how the body is positioned. However, such a deterministic causal link our culture currently makes between the seemingly invisible universe of morality to the tactility of the body has been identified, albeit obliquely, by Herve Juvin in his The Coming of the Body. There, Juvin spoke of the collapse (engineered largely by advertisers) between the spiritual universe with not creation generally, but the human body specifically. Furthermore, he notes that this link is shallow and facile, since the soul, Juvin writes, is “located on the surface of the skin”. Thus, the more the skin is perfected, tightened nipped and tucked, whether in on the treadmill or the surgical table, the more divine one’s soul becomes.
As one’s muscles become more visibly toned, one’s moral compass is deemed by the culture to be better honed and primed to not only set the moral criteria for oneself. As Foucault suggests in his Discipline and Punish, the more visibly athletic may also end up setting the moral compasses of others whose participation in the spectacle of health is not as prominent.